It was a dark and stormy night.
Inside his flooded cabin at River’s Edge, up to his cadaverous ribs in a swirling brown tide, Ezra Baas struggled to keep a round mahogany picture frame pressed to his drenched, woolen shirt.
He pushed toward the open door.
The sorrowful wail of water-logged timbers filled his ears as his home gave way to the onslaught of rain. Lightning lit the ravaged interior. Ezra dared glance over his shoulder.
Except for shirt, tattered pants, and the Sears, Roebuck frame clutched in his fingers—all was lost.
All he’d ever had, and all his sainted mother had brought from the old Dutch country, across the ocean, and across half a continent to the West.
Fine dining chairs of hand-hewn oak circled in Ezra’s wake, struck with rigor, legs pointing skyward in death.
Loose pasteboard photos floated past on a skin of debris, lost in a stinking foam of churning river water.
The old mantel clock, washed from its perch.
A spinning wheel, listing like a ship to starboard.
Too much to save.
Ezra had waited too long, sure that the rain would stop.
Confident the mad river of 1908 would recede.
He stayed awake watching, but fell asleep.
He woke half-drowned.
And reached for the most important thing in the house.
The mail-order frame his mother called “The Mahogany Lily” with its protective glass and spun wire hanger.
Hung above her bed, it was the first thing the sun lit every morning, the last thing she saw each night.
Her eyes held the Lily even in death, her final words making Ezra promise to keep the piece always in the family.
He swore he would.
With renewed vigor, he thrashed against the tide, rocks and nails and who-knows-what slicing into the soles of his feet.
After an endless trek, he fell against a cottonwood south of the place, clinging to the tree with both arms, the treasured frame pushed tight between bark and wool shirt.
Exhausted, he felt pinned like Jesus on the cross.
But he’d saved The Mahogany Lily.
Salvation came with the morning sun and a patch of muddy red clay at the base of the tree.
The waters were receding, and Ezra retrieved the beloved picture frame from the ground beside him.
It was none the worse for wear.
“It’s too bad about the little drawing inside,” he said aloud.
Though it was nothing, really.
Just an old, old drawing mother used as a placeholder in books and finally stuck in the frame as something to show off.
“A drawing of Mary and Martha,” she once told him. “Done by somebody one of our cousins knew in the old country. Somebody named Remberson or Rembrandt. Something like that.”
Ezra peeled the tattered strips of paper from the glass and balled them up into a soggy wad.
He tossed the wad at a bird.
Mary and Martha didn’t matter.
He had saved The Mahogany Lily.