art by Junior McLean
by Toiya Kristen Finley
*out'er rims*, n. *1*. areas of continents flooded in 2014 by rising sea levels due to climate change; the resulting regions.
Why she brought the kids one last time would be the question always troubling her, never finding its reasonable answer. She told herself she wanted them to see the shore before the world changed again. After all, no one regretted last chances unless they weren't taken. Six years earlier she'd thought of visiting NYC, the bistro where she met her husband, to honor his memory. But she fussed over the budget. Her last chance passed her by, after half of New York City had eventually been submerged by the encroaching Atlantic.
She wouldn't rob her children of one last stay at the place they spent summers with their father. Branden and Shannon were more excited about the world changing than losing the shoreline. Where will the land be next year? One day the whole world'll be underwater! they said, but they could imagine such things because they would be far from here when the storm's eye came roaring up from the gulf.
Shannon's head lolled against the door crushing her afro puffs, and her neck bent down on her shoulder. Yet she could sleep anywhere at any time, even during the biggest move of her life, and dozed in the back. Branden popped gum in the front passenger seat. He leaned his chin on his sharp knee and looked out the window at the highway. Normally, she would tell him to keep his shoes off the seat, but he was relaxed when he talked about things she thought should unnerve an eleven-year-old boy.
"Where's everybody gonna live?"
"Good question. Maybe they'll stay with family or friends like us before they find their own place."
"Everything's gonna get crowded real fast," he said. "The country keeps getting smaller and smaller. One day there won't be room left."
"Well, when that time comes, maybe we'll live on the moon," she said.
He twirled the bubble gum around his tongue and smiled and went back to the view outside. "All those trees'll be gone." No sadness. No longing. Just a fact.
They were minutes away from the shore when she saw a figure laboring with a sedan on the shoulder of the road. The car slowed and she pulled over. Branden spun away from the window. Under those long, straight lashes, his eyes bulged with disbelief. "But he's a stranger!"
She violated every rule she'd given her children about people they didn't know. "He's having car trouble. I'm sure he's trying to get out of here, too."
She lowered the front passenger's window. Branden slinked down in the seat. "You need help?"
A young man emerged from under the hood. In the humidity and car's heat, sweat sealed his hair to his forehead. Trees shadowed him, but the redness around his pupils made the blue look like marbles protruding from his eyes. He glanced away from her and down the road, as if he couldn't believe she'd pulled over, either. "There's a parts place off Exit 6. If you could take me, I'd be much obliged."
Branden pouted and rolled up the window.
"Act right," she said.
"Ma'am, I really, really appreciate this," the young man said from the backseat. "Especially with the flooding coming."
"Where you headed?" she said.
"I don't know. Midwest somewhere, I guess. I'm tired of hangin' around the outer rims. Who knows when the next bad storm's comin'."
"I heard that." Her son wouldn't stop staring at the young man. "Turn around, Branden," she said under her breath.
In the rearview window, the young man closed his eyes. He leaned back and angled his face towards the roof, maybe to pray. With eyes wide, his lips parted.
"Mom," Branden said, "he's shivering."
The young man complained of a headache. He scratched his chest until his arms weakened and fell at his sides. But the guilt hadn't come to her yet. She'd take him to a hospital. If she hadn't picked him up, he'd be lying on the side of the highway. The worst that could happen, he'd be admitted; they'd make sure he was evacuated as a patient. But he could be discharged before then. It could be simple heat exhaustion. He'd walk out of the ER in a few hours and be on his way.
Guilt didn't catch up with her until she saw the white tent in the hospital parking lot and the officers directing traffic. A policeman wearing a surgical mask stopped her. He grabbed his walkie-talkie when he saw the young man in the back.
"Can I get you to park over here, ma'am?" Park away from the ER, where doctors in blue suits and large square hoods waited with pens and clipboards.
She nodded at the policeman. Her son sat up. He put his feet on the floor.
"I'm sorry," she said.