I man the pumps. Been doing it since I was twenty-three, about ten years now. Tomorrow, I’ll have to head up to Charleston to check-in with Dooley, he’s been getting wicked foul-ups from leopard mussels on his intakes. I’ll have to help him clear those out.
But today, I’m driving the Savannah Line, scannin’ for leaks, testing the back pressures and Central informs me that I have to replace a couple impellers. All that, plus keep a eye out. But it’s been months since I had to run off any globateurs. But that’s here. Down in Jacksonville, hoo-boy, they been gettin’ organized. Some of them environmentalists either found a backer, or some dumb-ass inland farmer forgot to lock up his ammonium-nitrate. It’s a federal offense to so-much-as paint graffiti on a levy wall. But blowin’ one up? Hell, you get caught by the folks whose homes you flooded, you’d be lynched for sure.
Get a load of these three. “Hey, you can’t be fishing in the collection pool. You’ll get your lines n’ shit all tangled in my pumps.” Whoa, that’s a big channel cat. “You guys clear out. Head on down to Bolling Pier and fish from that. I catch you here again I’ll send your photos into NLS.”
I’m about eighteen inches below sea level just standing here at pump number one nineteen. The kids I scrambled pull up a big ol’ catfish on a stringer. Water from allover the land seeps up from below, or rains down from above, and runs in collection channels to here where we pump into the river. All kinds of juicy vittles end up in the ponds. Cats get thick on ’em. I wouldn’t eat the fish that comes out of the pools. But some do.
“You guys didn’t lose any tackle did ya? Just tell me straight. I already flipped off my camera,” I tell them, but a smart kid would known better. “Nothing? Alright, so get outta here. Go on.”
I continue on down Savannah Line. It’s clear until I get to pump-station one thirty-one. It sits right at the edge of a cemetery. By the time my truck pulls up near the pool its wheels deep in grey-green water that, thinking about, gives me the willies. I’m sure I can smell formaldehyde leaking from a hundred decaying graves. I wear hip boots but, geeze, I’m sure I’ve got nodules of cancer growing just from whiffing the stuff.
But I get to it.
I drop the intake hose from the truck’s pump into the pool, drag the output up to the spigot that leads to the river side, clamp it and crank up the truck’s sixty-horse pump. I can hear the water gushing out on the other side of the levy. On this side, the water slowly drains, like watching a bathtub empty. Stuff starts showing in the filthy water: bottles, paper, clothing, odd things like sandals, dog toys, hell, once I found a pink dildo. Next to the cemetery I keep thinking I see bones and skulls. But it’s only twigs and plastic bags drifting with the pump’s current.
The truck’s pump sucks air and I kill it. This is one of the impellers that needs replacing. I’ve got to lower myself into the cavity where the blade turns and the thought of being below sea level and below a thousand dead people quickens my fingers. The air is thick with the breath of the dead and that strange sweet smell of preservative…
I’m done in five minutes.
I flip the control panel open, enter my pass key, check the logs, (only a failed impeller) and reset the pump. It starts right up and clears the water that’s already begun to collect.
I wipe my brow with a clean tissue from the box on the dash as I drive away from pump one thirty-one.