I'd been Anastasia Allan for five years when my past finally came knocking in the form of a skinny, chain-smoking blonde who had just rented the floor above mine. When I'd first left Memphis, I'd always expected to meet it: at a gas station in Texarkana, a used bookstore in Chicago, a cyber café in Portland. But all the years I put between me and the flood made me comfortable, and there in New Orleans was the last place I expected it to reach out and shake my hand, as if to say, I knew we'd meet again.

Of course, Zeke didn't know me, and I didn't know him. We exchanged formalities, and I invited him inside as I rifled through a drawer in the kitchen in search of the upstairs apartment keys my roommate and landlord, Dara, had left before she went to work. She worked nights, and by nine o'clock I'd doubted Zeke would show up as I settled in with a book and college radio. If I'd known he was in fact going to show up and was going to be undoubtedly the most charming guy I'd ever encountered, I might have done a little more with my mess of raven hair or touched up the make-up that the sticky night had somehow swept away. I hoped the humidity would provide an alibi for my warming face. I handed the keys over and ushered him to the door as smoothly as possible.

"I didn't expect you so late," I admitted.

Zeke only smiled. He carried himself with an air of unassuming confidence, and I as I stood with my hand on the doorframe, I have to admit it intimidated me a little. He lingered in the immortal glow of the streetlights that were just coming on. "I don't have a lot of stuff to move. No sense in getting an early start."

"Where are you moving from?" I moved my hands to my hips, trying more desperately than usual to act casual. My bare feet shifted in search of a comfortable stance.

"I'm from Memphis, actually."

My heart skipped, but I kept an interested smile on my face and nodded slowly. "One city of Delta blues to another."

Zeke's blue eyes grew amused as he shrugged one shoulder. "Something like that. The place is a great deal."

"Yeah, the couple who used to live upstairs broke up and moved out kinda quick."

"So I got the broken home discount?"

He'd teased my mouth into a smile that matched his own. His joking manner somehow made him seem more accessible, but an awkward pause fell upon us anyway. Our smiles melted into the gesture of Zeke's outstretched hand, and he shook mine warmly, just as he had when we'd met at the door only minutes earlier.

"Nice to meet you, Ana. I'll get out of your way."

I lingered at the door as he headed down the front steps toward an old 4-runner parked by the curb. He began motioning a guy driving a small U-haul into the driveway.

"You too," I offered after him.

My heart beat hard throughout my whole body, as if perhaps it had expanded and threatened to burst out at my throat, my fingers, my toes. I collapsed into the sunken cushion of the armchair and ran my hands over my face and through my hair as I stared at the ceiling. I began to drown in a sea of swirling thoughts and emotions, and I turned up the radio as I changed clothes and headed out into the evening's sticky embrace, not even glancing at the windows of the third floor to catch a glimpse of the Memphian as I began my walk to the bar.


I slid onto a barstool and browsed a menu I knew by heart, waiting for Dara to make her way over. Straightforward and maternal, Dara had taken me in and assumed a maternal role. She leased me a room in the two bedroom house she'd inherited when her grandfather died and had turned into apartments, and she wasn't put off that I hadn't yet received a paycheck from the cashier job I'd recently landed. I was, at that point, broke from making my way back across the country from out west. Dara took a chance on me, and after a couple of months we had fallen into an odd friendship. After the first year, she was so attached to looking out for me that she worried just like a mother, though she liked to say she kept me around because I made her feel young. Whatever worked.

Tuesdays were slow nights at that little hole in the wall bar where Dara worked, especially when it had a dying air-conditioner. Her face glistened as she propped her elbows on the bar in front of me. "Hey, babe, how's it going?"

"Eh," I offered. "I need a drink."

She obliged me with a margarita and swept her short hair back with her hands. "Did the new third-floor guy ever show up?"

"Yeah, about nine o'clock." I sought refuge in my drink. I wasn't sure if I wanted to talk about Zeke, but I knew Dara would get suspicious if I didn't. "He seems nice."

"Good, good. Not an ax-murderer or anything?"

I scrunched my nose and shook my head. "Too cute to be an ax-murderer."

"Ana," Dara scolded. "He's like, eighteen. He's a baby."

"How do you know?" I demanded.

She folded her arms over her chest and stared down at me like a disapproving mother. "Because he sent me a copy of his driver license with the lease." She began to laugh and shake her head. "Ana, Ana, Ana."

"Okay, Miss Twenty-Eight. Maybe eighteen is a bit young for you."

"For me? Ha! You have four years on this kid is all I'm saying."

"Why are we arguing about this?" I took a few gulps of my drink and toyed with the straw.

"Because you clearly have an inappropriate crush on the third-floor guy."

"I do not have a crush on the third-floor guy!" I held up my hands as if to feign innocence. "Really, Dara. Really. Just because I said he was cute does not mean I have developed some inappropriate crush, so before this gets a little too middle school, I'm gonna save us the further embarrassment. 'Kay?"

Dara shook her head, a smile still jesting on her face. "'Kay," she agreed in her high pitched I-don't-believe-you voice.

I leaned back on the stool and fanned my face. "God, it's so hot in here."

"You're tellin' me. How's the air working at home?"

"So-so. I still had to break out the fans."

"That's what we get. We get Mardi Gras, and fate gets us back with excruciating summers."

I smiled. "There should be a warning sign posted at the city limits. Welcome to New Orleans. Sweat your asses off."

By the time I finished my drink, and Dara had diverted into telling me about some of the weird customers she'd dealt with lately, I took it as my cue to head back home. I couldn't avoid the place forever, and the longer I sat in the bar the more I felt like a borderline alcoholic, because I'd read somewhere that drinking to alter your mood was one of the signs, then again, why else would someone drink? As I sauntered down the sidewalk in the direction of home, I toyed with the idea of occupying myself elsewhere. There was always the option of visiting my friend Lindsey, who sometimes let us crash the pool at the hotel where she worked, or I could try to catch the end of a local band's show, but walking all the way to the Quarter didn't seem appealing. The fact that I didn't have too many close friends was somewhat depressing, but I preferred to keep a comfortable distance and spending some quality "me time" was part of the price I paid for it.

After letting my thoughts pull me this way and that, I ended up right where I'd started, and in no better position to understand how I felt about the Memphian's arrival. The confusion carried me into the night, which found me awake, as nights often did, as I melted into the bed in my small room with a worn, heavy copy of The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe across my lap. The fan whirred in the window as I held down the occasionally ruffling pages and listened to the shuffling going on upstairs. Shuffling and creaking and scooting. I glanced at the ceiling and with all the noise couldn't help wondering what the Memphian was doing up there. Even my favorite literary escape could not compete with his presence.

By one I had given up reading and lay with my eyes on the ceiling. I'd been listening for an hour to terrible sounds that warranted construction. Was he knocking out a wall? A morbid part of me expected something to come crashing through the ceiling at any moment.

The air filtering through my room began to smell increasingly of rain. It reminded me of the flood. Zeke reminded me of the flood. My past life seemed to be catching up with me. The Memphian's things rumbled across my ceiling, as if to say, I'm here to stay. The pressure filled up my chest until all I could do was sigh.


A lifetime ago, so it seemed, I'd been the missing and presumed dead Annabel Adams from the island. My parents away at an academic conference, my house empty and groaning against the changing air pressure pounding against it, my TV warning everyone on the Mississippi of flooding. I don't know when it hit me, maybe when I'd been staring at all the college applications I hadn't sent in, to schools I didn't want to study at, if I even wanted to study, or maybe later. Maybe I'd packed a small bag and headed out before I ever realized I wasn't going to go back just to end up being a grand disappointment to my parents. I was bred for success; somehow I knew I was falling short. I paid cash for a bus ticket to Chicago that very night and boarded it about the time the rain began to crash down on Memphis. I didn't know until I stood at the desk of a hotel in Chicago and saw the images on the TV behind the attendant that the island was underwater. They weren't sure how many were trapped there, how many had already drowned there. Everything in my backpack was the only stuff I'd ever see from my house again. My childhood underwater, my college applications underwater, my whole past drowning in the Mississippi. That's when I thought, maybe I could've too. That flood drowned everything I used to be.

It was many and many a year ago,
In a kingdom by the sea,
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
By the name of ANNABEL LEE.


I swam through memories I'd buried and stared up at the white ceiling. I considered hanging things up there, something to look at so I might not focus so much on what the Memphian was up to. When I closed my eyes I pictured his face: that boyish energy paired with strong characteristics. Sleeping wasn't an option. Insomnia gave me plenty of time to complete projects, and I began flipping through magazines and ripping out pages to begin a collection for the ceiling. By two-thirty, the noise from upstairs suddenly stopped. I ceased flipping the glossy pages and making stacks of them, and I listened. I didn't know what I was listening for, exactly.

That's when the music began to vibrate through the floor. The piano melodies, clumsy at first and becoming more fluid, pulled me back to the Memphian. I lay quietly on top of my crisp blankets and watched the ceiling again, trying to decide if Zeke and his moving buddy had actually managed to get a piano into that third-floor apartment or if my ears were playing tricks on me. The music progressed in sporadic bursts, leaving only the sound of my own breathing to fill the silences. I toyed with my usual jewelry, first my rings and then my necklace, pressing into the metal into it grew warm, and listened to Zeke find his way through the music until I fell asleep to the melody that in some strange way sounded just like home.