All of the men and women in the neighborhood without young children gathered at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church the following morning at 9 A.M. Reverend Lundgren and Mike Jackson took charge as neighbors quickly filled the first few pews. There were quite a few people from Manatee Avenue, but Bluefish seemed thinly represented. Bluefish had too many renters, Tom Kane thought, and most of them had no stake in the homes they rented, so many had evacuated to Orlando hours before the storm hit. The people who stayed were the property owners, residents who had a vested interest in the neighborhood. Tom was a bit surprised to see Jake Russo sitting next to his sister-in-law Melissa in one of the back pews. Where was Jerry? he wondered. He imagined tongues were already beginning to wag as neighbors noticed the cop and his brother’s real estate agent wife sitting awfully close to each other.
The residents of Pompano Drive sat on the left side of the church and the inhabitants of Manatee and Bluefish occupied pews on the right side, although many of the people knew one another from the backyards that abutted the houses on Pompano and Manatee. Even though he was a protestant, Reverend Lundgren seemed at ease in the Catholic Church. He walked over to the raised worship area, climbed the two steps and took a comfortable spot behind a pulpit.
“Thank you for coming,” Reverend Lundgren said with a Sunday smile. “As you know, we are cut off from the outside world and we have no idea when FEMA or the Red Cross will be able to help us out. So a few of us thought it would be a good idea to meet here and discuss how we can work together to help each survive until help arrives. For those of you who don’t know, I’m Jeffrey Lundgren and I’m a minister. The gentleman co-hosting the meeting is Mike Jackson, who lives on Pompano. Mike?”
“Thanks, Reverend. Folks, something really strange has happened and I don’t know how to explain it. I guess most of you know Stuart is gone. Sewall’s Point is gone. Hutchinson Island is gone. The ocean is three blocks away. For some reason we never experienced the second half of the hurricane, but our world as we know it seems to end at 10th Street. You saw the vegetation as you came in the church. Seashell Lane is gone. Sanddollar. All of Sarita Heights is gone.”
A hand from the left of the church shot up.
“Yes?” Mike said.
“Steve Novada. I live on Manatee. Most of you don’t know me. We moved in two months ago. So there’s no power, phone, etc.?”
“Right,” Mike said. “For now, we have plenty of gasoline. John Del Fene is going to let everyone have gas on credit” Mike pointed to John, who held up his hand and said, “Just run your credit cards through like usual. My generator is running the pumps.”
“John has more than 70,000 gallons of fuel, which sounds like a lot, but we may be stuck on our own for some time,” Mike said. “So in the short run that is great, but in the long run we might have to do something else. We might have six months of fossil fuel if we use it wisely, like 10 gallons a day, that’s about 5500 watts maybe…”
“How long do you think until they send help?” Kathy Genry shouted out.
Mike hesitated to answer her question. Tom Kane knew that Mike Jackson was uncomfortable around lesbians, and there Kathy Genry sat, right next to Beth Patterson, her girlfriend. They shared a house together on Bluefish and most people in the neighborhood were civil to the couple, if not overly friendly, but Betty was a good pal of red haired Beth Patterson, an RN who became a midwife at Vanderbilt University. “You keep me in business,” Beth once quipped to Betty. And Kathy, a helped-along blonde, was also a first rate RN who was an O.R. nurse at Martin Memorial Hospital. Betty was charmed at how frumpy looking the two middle-aged women seemed, slightly overweight like many middle aged heterosexual couples.
“How long do you think?” Kathy repeated
“I don’t really know. I’m not sure when we are?”
“What do you mean ‘when,’ Mike?” Tom Kane said, wondering if Mike had come to the same conclusion Tom had by searching the sky.
Mike hesitated to respond, and after murmuring began among the neighbors in the pews, Mike finally said, “It’s only my theory, but I believe we’ve been transported in time somehow.” There were gasps and shocked faces in the pews in front of him.
“Bullshit!” shouted Phil Murphy, a white haired retired police officer from Philadelphia who sat beside his blushing silver haired wife. Adele Murphy seemed embarrassed by her husband’s language and by all the eyes turned on them both. “Stop trying to scare the folks, Jackson,” Paul added.
“I’m not trying to scare anyone, Mr. Murphy,” Mike replied. “I just can’t account for what has happened, that’s all.”
“Seems like a damn hurricane to me,” Murphy snorted. He said to his wife, “Come, Adele, let’s get goin’.”
Adele’s blush was gone, replaced by a look of determination. “Sit down, Phil, and stop making an ass of yourself,” she whispered. Her husband sheepishly did as she ordered. Tom Kane smiled. He was glad Betty wouldn’t rebuke him in public. At least he hoped she wouldn’t. But then, if he were to act like an ass….
“I don’t think arguing is going to get us anywhere,” Reverend Lundgren intervened. “I think it behooves us to work together, get organized, choose leaders for the neighborhood and find out just who is still here among us. My wife has a legal pad and we thought it might help if we all signed in with the names of the people in our household. I thought we might list our occupations as well so that we know what skills we have among us.”
“Who elected you king?” Murphy shouted. Adele jabbed her husband in the ribs and he hushed.
Jeffrey Lundgren smiled in response. “No one elected me to anything, Mr. Murphy. Mike Jackson and I came up with the idea for the meeting, but I do think we should elect a leader.”
“I suppose he would be from Pompano Avenue, wouldn’t he?” Javier Thatcher, a young African-American paralegal chimed in. Thatcher had run for city council three times and been defeated each time. The blacks didn’t vote for him because he lived in a white neighborhood and most of the whites voted for the long-term incumbent. The Thatcher family was one of three black families in the neighborhood, but the other two, the Washingtons and the Wades, had boarded up their homes and hightailed it to Gainesville and Ocala respectively.
“We don’t know from whence he would come, Mr. Thatcher,” Lundgren replied. “But I assure you that I will not consent to be the leader.”
“I think it’s a little early to be holding elections,” Mike Jackson said. “But we do have a social studies teacher who could set up a government for the neighborhood. How about it, Tom?”
“Huh?” Tom said. He hadn’t been paying close attention. He was still considering Mike Jackson’s comment about time and was wondering how Mike had come to the same conclusion.
“Could you run an election for leader, Tom?” Mike asked.
“I guess so…but I thought we were meeting to figure out what had happened to us.”
“We are, but we need a leader,” Mike said.
“Maybe,” Tom said. “But I think it can wait for a day or two, Mike. I think it is important to emphasize mutual protection. Hooray for the Second Amendment, I say. I’d like to see every family have some type of firearm for protection. So if you have a spare gun, share it with a neighbor. The Palmers had an arsenal. We might have to retrieve some firearms from the Palmers’ stock and return them to the Palmers when they come back. What about food and water?”
“Good ideas and good question,” Mike replied. “City water is out. All of us have septic. If you have a well, I’d say you are going to have to use that water when your bottled water runs out. It may need to be filtered. If you don’t have a well? Everyone here I assume has enough bottled water for a week, and food. I think we can forage through the unoccupied homes as well.
“You’re out of luck if you don’t have a well, huh?” Thatcher chimed in. “Well, we don’t have a well on our property, so what we supposed to do?”
Reverend Lundgren intervened. “You are welcome to share our well water, Mr. Thatcher,” he said with his omnipresent smile.
“I think, under the conditions, that if you don’t have a well but an absent neighbor does, break into his house and use his water,” Mike said.
“That’s against the law!” Murphy chimed in.
“I understand, Mr. Murphy,” Mike countered. “But under the circumstances, I’d say we are going to have to bend a few laws if we are to survive.”