Author’s Note: “Something, Somehow, Somewhere” tells the story of a young Brooklyn farmer who travels across the country to meet her estranged father and his seemingly perfect family while a hurricane threatens to destroy everything she was hoping to return to. It is set in the same near-future world as my forthcoming novel Fragile, but earlier in time, focusing on a transformative moment in the life of one of the novel’s protagonists.
Something, Somehow, Somewhere
IT WAS MY LAST FLIGHT OUT OF JFK, but I couldn’t have known that at the time.
It was also the last time I saw my father, and I didn’t know that, either. But my father had always been an enigma to me. Rich, famous, and entirely out of reach, he’d been an absence in my life who only showed up in my mother’s occasional rants. So, I could only guess when he invited me to meet his family on the other side of the country, it was somehow related to Mom’s recent death in the riots, which I felt responsible for, though he never said anything to that effect. Only that he was sorry for my loss or something equally generic.
Whatever the reason, he had invited me to visit his big house in Palo Alto, filled with the half-brother and sisters whose faces I had only ever seen in pictures and on screens. And, unlike Mom, I’d given in. Perhaps I was curious to finally meet my father as an adult and understand why my mother had ruined her whole life for him. Perhaps I was still too numb to think things through. Or perhaps I just wanted to find out why he wanted to see me, now that Mom was gone. Whatever the reason, I went.
My father belonged to a different world. He’d booked a transcontinental flight to San Francisco for me like it was nothing. After boarding the plane, I found myself staring at my seat number and the corresponding seat. I asked the flight attendant to scan my fingerprints again and confirm that, yes, this was indeed my seat reservation, as were the 3-D entertainment system, earphones, face mask, and personal sanitation kit that came with it. For the first ever flight of my life, I sat in Business. Wearing my usual jeans and bright red tank top, I looked like I was making a deliberate statement against the uniform gray, black, and blue of the suits surrounding me. But for once, I wasn’t interested in political gestures.
Feeling incongruous and overwhelmed, I studied the drinks on the menu. Knowing what was ahead of me, I contented myself with the complimentary champagne offered by the impeccable flight attendant who seemed to know everything, including the fact that I’d just turned twenty-one. I sipped carefully, my gaze on the world beyond the cabin window, where the waterline lapped right up against the airport perimeter fence. Behind it, the waterlogged houses of Brooklyn’s permanent evacuation zone gave me a perverse kind of comfort.
Once we were airborne, the plane tipped to the right and turned westward to San Francisco, granting me a panoramic view of the place I was leaving. There was a beauty to it from up here, the blazing morning sun turning the flooded streets of Howard Beach into long channels of silver and gold. As we approached the East River, I craned my neck to see whether I could make out our farm on one of the roofs below. But the bird’s-eye view was too unfamiliar and, truth be told, a few dozen containers of struggling veggies probably weren’t enough to produce the bright splash of green I was hoping for.
I will always be grateful for that moment, that memory. For how peaceful and quiet it all looked from above, just a few months after the riots, and just a few days before the storm. And I find it quite ironic that I owe that memory to my father.
Until that trip, the only other noteworthy memory I had of my father—my only memory of him—was a scorching summer day many years earlier when he bought me a giant cone of ice cream. It wasn’t long after the Second Pandemic, so I must have been seven at the time. I knew that the tall, slim man with the megawatt smile on Mom’s old phone was my father. But he didn’t look, or speak, or feel like a father as he towered above me in his white doctor’s coat and shook my hand before splashing his own with a generous amount of Purell. He must have noticed my stare, his squinting eyes suggesting that behind his mask he was smiling. And then he took the bottle from his pocket again, offering. Mechanically, I reached out my hands. My mom, always the nurse, mumbled something about this being sensible, and then her hands got disinfected as well, even though she hadn’t even touched him.
We took a walk in Central Park, and it seemed endless to me, umbrellas and trees protecting us from the sun but not from the heat. I felt it rise from below and was worried about the soles of my only pair of sneakers. My father asked me about school and such things in between offering money for me to Mom, sounding more annoyed every time she refused with a voice barely audible and eyes that seemed to be looking for something lost on the ground. Her whole demeanor was oddly diminished, like it belonged to a lesser woman and not the mother I feared and admired and loved for the limitless passion she brought to everything. Now she was quiet and evasive, so intent on keeping her distance from him that she stepped onto the brown grass while he walked right in the middle of the path, oblivious or indifferent to her inconvenience. Confused and overwhelmed by all this strangeness, I tried to answer my father’s questions and to coax Mom into being just a little less adamant in her quiet refusal. I wasn’t sure whether I perhaps did want to get some money from him to buy another pair of sneakers, although what I was really hoping for was some ice cream.
He seemed to understand. Just before we were ready to leave, he stopped at one of the green ice cream carts. He asked me what flavor I wanted, and for some reason I said vanilla and chocolate and hazelnut and a bunch of other things, ignoring the alarm in my mother’s eyes as well as her warnings and protests. He looked rich, and I wasn’t getting ice cream often, and never this kind. So, I took my chance, determined to finish the whole giant thing even though I felt the sickness coming on after half of it.
By the time my guts started cramping in earnest around the unfamiliar cold mass of the first-ever dairy in my life, I was already in the backseat of my father’s fancy car. My mom was livid, calling him careless for feeding cow’s milk to a vegan child. He said I was old enough to make my own choices and stepped on the accelerator. I had been in a car before, but never in one that darted forward and stopped dead, then suddenly lunged again at the random will of its driver, so I was terrified. The cars I knew were well-behaved self-driving things, their movements so smooth you barely noticed them until you looked outside. But not this creature. It was fierce and furious, acting in concert with my father’s movements and in response to my mom’s yelling. I could see the other, better-behaved cars stopping and swerving to avoid a collision. But it was when one of them honked, a distress signal I had never heard before, that I started, and my bowels could no longer hold the liquid that had formed in them. By the time we reached the hospital where my parents worked, the air was foul despite the open windows, and my embarrassment so complete that I was glad I’d never have to see that man again.
And now, almost fifteen years later, he had paid for my ticket. Not long after takeoff, I was presented with a three-course meal preordered with my booking. And what a meal it was. I lifted the top of the first container and stared at the colorful array of veggies, dal, and rice, not a single substitute, the real deal. Amazed, I ate all of it while watching reports on the new storm that was barreling toward the East Coast.
Tara had called in the morning to warn me once again that I might not be able to come back in time for the Grand Opening of our makeshift community farm, that my red eye back to New York might get canceled.
“It’s only a long weekend,” I’d said to her on the phone, surprised that she seemed so worried about this. The opening wasn’t until Friday next week.
There’d been a long silence on the other end of the line, prompting me to ask whether she was still there. “You will come back, right?” Tara had asked instead of answering.
I’d laughed then and was smiling now. Tara didn’t worry easily, and it seemed so absurd to question my return. When I told my father about the storm, he just said he would buy me a return ticket on the transcontinental bullet train if everything else failed. Nursing our scrawny crops in the small, battered world of Brooklyn, I hadn’t even known there was such a train.
I switched off the screen and looked out the window again. Gliding like this, lighter than air and high above the clouds, you could easily think there were no storms or heatwaves or blackouts or rationings at all, that life was bountiful, and things down below were going just splendidly. I wondered whether this was a permanent state for him, fancy drinks with lunch and daily desserts, glossy mags, and in-flight entertainment. It all seemed so unreal.
Somehow, his family looked even less real to me when I finally met them. Nicole, the wife, was the one who opened the door, all white teeth, blue eyes, and blond tresses. She looked young, much younger than my mom had looked before she died, although I knew Nicole was almost ten years older. Everything about her seemed weirdly perfect, perfected in a way Mom never had been, and I wasn’t, either.
“There you are,” she said with a happy smile, like it was the most natural thing for me to show up here. Before I could retreat, she hugged me, her skin pale and smooth against mine, the golden bangles jingling. She asked about my trip as she led me past their virus testing unit like I truly was family. But then again, she knew I had been tested before boarding the plane. “I hope you like window seats?” she asked, concerned, like that was important. And “Did you get the right meal?” As I dutifully answered her questions, it dawned on me that she, not my father, had arranged my travel. I wondered whether, behind the façade, she resented me as I followed her through the cool, light-suffused house to the outdoor terrace.
My father was standing by the pool, looking almost exactly the way I remembered him from the park, and just as towering, though I was almost his height now. He wasn’t wearing a mask this time, and a blue shirt and shorts had replaced the white coat. There was no welcome hug from him, just his blinding smile, and he gestured toward the table that had been set up in the breeze of two outdoor aircon units.
“You must be starving.”
I wasn’t hungry after my extended meal on the plane, but Nicole went inside and returned with three people, well- nourished and gorgeous, who I knew were my half-siblings. Joe and Sarah I recognized immediately, but Meryl had been so young when I last saw a picture of her that I could only guess. Apparently, it was the same for Meryl, but for different reasons.
“You’re so thin,” she almost screamed, looking at me in shock and admiration.
I hid my hands behind my back, as if that made a difference, and didn’t know what to say. Everyone was looking at me, measuring the degree of our misery by the lack of pounds on my bones.
“Let’s eat,” Nicole said simply, helping me out, and we all sat down for a feast that was even more opulent than what I’d had on the plane. The hour that followed felt like an amiable grand jury interrogation. If there was any resentment toward me, my half-siblings hid it as well as Nicole. Their wholesome faces lit up with kind curiosity as I politely replied to their constant flow of questions. They wanted to know what I did and couldn’t believe I was serious when I said I was an urban farmer. They wanted to see the farm and could barely suppress their laughter when I showed them pictures of the tattered old filing cabinets we used as planters. They were curious about our situation in Brooklyn, about the rationings, the protests, the curfews, the riots, and the supply shortages that had caused it all. They wanted to know whether it had been as bad as it was on the West Coast.
Once again, I didn’t know what to say. All I knew was how many months we’d gone without proper food and medical care after the supply chains broke down. How many weeks we were cut off from Manhattan after the riots started and the National Guard sealed off bridges and tunnels. How many hours it had taken me to get my bleeding mother to a functioning hospital.
But I didn’t want to talk about any of this. It seemed so out of place in this outrageous palace filled with food and flowers and ocean breeze, and no more than a whiff of the wildfires ablaze farther east and down south. So instead of answering whether it had been as bad, I asked: “Well, how bad is it here?”
That did the trick. They leapt into a barrage of complaints about how it had been all downhill for the past ten years, something they seemed comfortable with. And I could finally be silent and wonder whether my father, a doctor, a medical surgeon, had any sense of what I had gone through. How he felt about the dark irony of Mom’s death, about the fact that she had worked day and night to take care of the wounded only to get hit by a stray bullet on the way home. About the fact that she had instructed her own daughter how to keep her alive until the ambulance arrived. And about the fact that I had failed, in part because the ambulance never came. But I didn’t know how he remembered her. Perhaps as the pretty young thing she’d been when he started his career in New York and not as the drained and overworked woman she’d become by the time she died. On the day he bought me that ice cream in Central Park, she’d never looked at him, not even when she started yelling at him in the car. As if looking into his eyes might infect her in some way that couldn’t be wiped clean with his Purell.
Now that I was finally facing him again, I, too, was avoiding his gaze. I could feel him looking at me across the table, assessing me, the illegitimate daughter from a reckless extramarital affair with one of his nurses. Comparing me, perhaps, either to Mom or to his real family, the contrast so stark. Not once did he ask or say anything to me during that first meal. And not much changed after Nicole called in the maid to clear the table and led me to a guest room so I could unpack and relax. He left it to his wife to navigate our conversations, show me compassion as well as the house. And since I’d asked about the state of affairs on the West Coast, he deputed his children to give me a tour of the parts of the Great Bay that were still safe and above water.
They drove me around, Joe behind the wheel of his Tesla, Sarah in the passenger seat and Meryl next to me in the back, chatting me up and still expressing her unending amazement about how skinny I was compared to my pictures. Deeply relieved that, unlike his father, Joe was perfectly happy to leave the driving to his car, I didn’t mind Meryl’s tactless chatter. She was two years older than I was, yet still a girl who didn’t know any better. We drove down Market Street, to our left the glittering facades of San Francisco’s Financial District, to our right roadblocks and military checkpoints that looked like the ones I had to pass whenever I wanted to cross over to Manhattan. They seemed open.
“Can we go in?” I asked when we drove past another one.
A long moment of silence told me that we really shouldn’t. But then Joe told the car to slow down and turn around. I reached for my ID card, but we didn’t even get stopped. A nod and a slight wave, and we had cleared the checkpoint. I wondered whether it was the license plate or the expensive car that made it so effortless, passing from one world to another, from the dazzling perfection of downtown San Francisco into one of the city’s many broken parts. I looked at Meryl, but she was busy searching her purse. In front of us, Joe and Sarah seemed taut and more erect in their seats. “At least it’s daylight,” Sarah said.
It all looked familiar to me. The boarded windows, the layered flood marks, the hawker stalls, rooftop gardens, pop-up restaurants, and makeshift stores. Signs of precarious living, always on the move, always on the run, always waiting for the next flood or storm. Inescapable facts of life ever since an earthquake had breached the Mission Bay seawall. So yes, I thought, I could now answer my siblings’ earlier question. It was as bad here as it was in Brooklyn. I stared at the faces of the people outside when the car stopped at a red light. Eyes alert, jaws clenched, chins doggedly raised to meet the next challenge. Strugglers. Survivors. I was one of them, inside this luxury ride, looking out through tinted windows.
“Do you ever come here?” I asked.
“Sometimes,” Meryl said, the flickering in her eyes suggesting that the data glasses, which she had finally retrieved from her purse, were now projecting something more entertaining into her vision field. “When it’s open and safe, they’ve got some kick-ass ethnic food.”
We left through the next checkpoint and drove on to their favorite spot, an elusive bar perched on top of a cliff with a stunning view of the sunset over the Pacific. It looked peaceful from here, vast and blue and beautiful, until you walked to the banister and looked down where the water was lapping around the foundations of abandoned houses, another familiar sight. We ordered drinks, and I thought this was exactly fitting, this was their life. Hovering high above the disaster, drinking margaritas.
“Will you stay here?” Joe suddenly asked and caught me so unprepared that I very nearly spat my drink across the table. He looked worried, like my stay was a legitimate concern.
“No,” I returned after I’d managed to swallow. “I have to go home.”
The relief he felt must have been so profound he couldn’t keep it out of his face. That was the only time that any of them came near admitting that I was more than a casual visitor in need of entertainment. We never spoke about their father’s betrayal or about how and when they’d learned about my existence. The ease and self-control with which we all navigated what should have been an impossible situation still amazes me.
My father seemed strangely content with it all, presiding over our meals, taking pictures of us to share with the world. Whenever I felt I could risk it, I studied him. I tried to see in him what his other children did, a real father. But I had no idea what that might look like. I tried to see him with my mother’s eyes when she first met him, on that fateful day when the rising star of the Cardiology Center laid his eyes on her, brilliant as surgical lights. He and Mom seemed so utterly incompatible to me. She devoted, lonely, and eternally miffed, always there for me when I needed her but only a sentence away from telling me exactly how I had failed her. He so dazzling, aloof, and self-possessed, stepping into every place like he owned it. She knew he was married, of course, she’d admitted to me one late Sunday evening when I was seventeen and pressing the issue. It was not what I’d wanted to hear. “He was a surgeon,” Mom had said, as if that explained everything.
Now, watching his family and myself dancing pirouettes to my father’s tune, I remembered my mom’s weary footsteps on the grass that day in the park, her demonstrative distance, her quiet refusal. And his car’s reckless fury, the way it bullied its way to its destination.
By Sunday morning, it still wasn’t clear why he had brought me over. He hadn’t taken any time off from the hospital for the duration of my visit, so I only saw him in the mornings and evenings, when we went out for extravagant dinners. The only time we spoke alone was Sunday morning, when we ran into each other in the kitchen, he returning from an early run, I on the hunt for another cup of their amazing coffee.
“So, can I ask you—what is it really you do over there?” he asked as he walked past me and opened the fridge. “You and your farmer friends?”
It startled me, his sudden interest. We were alone in the kitchen. He had flown me across the country so we could meet. That hadn’t made any difference over the last three days, but now here he was, looking at me, his steel gray eyes demanding an answer.
“We’re building a community farm,” I said, as I had said before to his children. I wanted to say more, but I felt frozen, transfixed by his gaze.
“A community farm,” he repeated slowly, closing the fridge.
“Yes. We’re putting community needs at the forefront of reverse gentrification and the fight against climate change.” That was taken almost verbatim from the website Tara and I had created for the farm. “We’re growing local, organic produce,” I stumbled on, “and we educate community members about creating a thriving farm ecosystem.” I was terrible at this.
My father nodded, slowly. “And where’s that gonna get you?” he asked.
“Get me?” I asked back, my voice laced with irritation. “It’s not about getting me anywhere. It’s about creating a better future for the community. It’s about resilience.”
He threw his head back and laughed out loud, two rows of impossibly white teeth still on display when he returned his gaze to me. “You remind me of her,” he said. “Just as pretty and just as full of surprises. Same misplaced idealism, too.”
At the mention of my mother, something near my sternum became dislodged. I wanted to ask if I was the product of Mom’s misplaced idealism. Instead, I made myself breathe evenly.
“I’ve observed you,” my father continued. “You’re weird but smart. So use your brains to get somewhere. You need an education, and I can help you with that. Your stubborn mother would never let me, but things are different now. I can pay for your education.”
So, there it was, the reason he had invited me. One hundred grand sitting right there, an imaginary heap on the kitchen counter, waiting for me to say yes, change the course of my life. I knew what Mom would have wanted me to say, but she was gone, drained away from me on Williamsburg Bridge, two hundred feet from the checkpoint to Manhattan.
I tried to think as I watched him place a container of milk on the counter. “Med school would be good,” he continued, his voice flat and practical, his eyes now on the spaceship of a blender he was filling with copious amounts of nuts and fruit. “It’s the only guaranteed career nowadays unless you want to go into the funeral business. You’ll go to school over here. Nicole will find you a place to stay in the city.” He must have noticed my silence because, looking up momentarily from his blender, he added: “Don’t worry, you’ll get in. I got everyone else in, I just need to let them know you’re one of mine.”
With that, he picked up a container of protein powder while I was trying to formulate a response that would conceal the flood of feelings I could barely contain. He cut me off before I could open my mouth. “You can deal with blood, right?” he asked, the spoonful of powder suspended above the blender. “You don’t faint or anything, do you? We can’t have fainters, but your mother never did, so I guess we’re good there.”
I hated him then. It was sudden, a flare shooting up from my sternum as the vortex of his words sucked me back in time, back to Williamsburg Bridge, back to the warm, sticky flood drenching my mom and me as I improvised pressure bandages out of my own clothes to cover her wounds according to her instructions. I could deal with blood, all right, but not with this shit. I stood there in his ballroom of a kitchen and knew I was going to be sick again, but this time dairy had nothing to do with it. It was pure rage and revulsion. Before he could say another word, I was off to the bathroom to puke my guts out.
We talked very little for the remainder of my visit, helped by the fact that he spent most of Sunday at the hospital. My half- siblings had gone off to some barbeque in Marine County, so it was only Nicole and me, the screen wall in their living room offering a welcome distraction. We spent the day staring at the floor-to-ceiling spectacle of a coming hurricane, now a Cat 4, churning up the East Coast. Nicole, her face even paler than usual, suggested that I stay with them for another week. But that option sounded more disastrous to me than anything that could happen on my way back to New York.
I called Tara to see how they were doing on the farm. She was in a rush, talking to me while carrying containers down from the roof to the third floor of the abandoned office building we were squatting in. It was coming our way, she said, breathless. And it would be bad.
“There’s no way we’re going to have that opening on Friday, so stay where you are, okay?” she said. “We’ll be lucky if Brooklyn is still around once this is over.” A door slammed somewhere behind her and then she was cursing. “I gotta go. Stay, all right? Just stay there.”
I felt the rage returning that had overwhelmed me that morning, but this time it was directed at myself. For being here, trapped in my father’s obscene kingdom, when I was needed at home. I imagined Tara running up and down the stairs, schlepping our improvised planters, cursing but undeterred. Tara, who had held me upright when the ground was shifting below, who found her way to me that harrowing night on Williamsburg Bridge. Lenny and Judy, who’d given me a home, however temporary, when I couldn’t bring myself to return to the tiny apartment I had shared with Mom. And all the other people who had come on board the daring little farming project we decided to call Roots. People written off, counted out, mocked as misplaced idealists by men like my father. And yet, against everyone’s expectations, still hanging on. Stubborn people, precarious farmers, who had it in their minds that they would help feed other people hit by disaster. There was nothing more terrifying than the thought that they might finally meet their match and I wasn’t there. My red eye still hadn’t been cancelled, and I was determined to board, hoping the plane would be faster than the beast above the Atlantic. Nicole tried to talk me out of it, but I was adamant.
My father didn’t return in time for my departure, a relief because I had no idea what to say to him. It was once again Nicole who took care of me. She was silent on the way to the airport, looking out the side window as the car did the driving. I thought she had finally exhausted her reservoir of friendliness, and so I spent the time texting Tara, trying to somehow be of help, somehow be part of what they were about to go through.
“We had a prenup,” Nicole said suddenly. “That’s why I didn’t leave him after what happened with your mother. You must have been wondering about that.”
Maybe I had, but now my mind was elsewhere.
“We had a prenup, and I didn’t have much when I married him. And seeing what was happening to the world, I wasn’t going to do that to my children, the things you are going through now. I didn’t want them to have to live like that.”
“It’s not that bad,” I returned sharply, realizing instantly that this was exactly what my mom would have said. It was the first time I had ever said it, and it was preposterous to boot, given that our sorry existence was about to be washed away for good.
And yet, I immediately knew it was true. It was hard, the constant living with disaster, but the only thing that mattered to me was that the others survived this ordeal. Then we would go on and, against all odds, rebuild something, somehow, somewhere.
“Why does he want to pay for my education?” I asked Nicole since, clearly, we were done pretending.
“To give you a future,” she said. “He doesn’t like you digging around in the dirt like that with a bunch of have-nots. It’s embarrassing for him.”
“For him?” I echoed.
She turned to me, features frozen. “You are his child after all, that’s what he has decided. And you should be grateful for his generous offer. It’s your only way out.”
“There is no way out,” I snapped. “And I’m not going to be one of his possessions. If he really wants to help me, he can go to our website. We accept donations.”
She stared at me. I couldn’t tell whether it was envy or spite, but it was the end of our conversation. Soon after, she dropped me off at the terminal. Her goodbye sounded as relieved as mine when the car closed the door between us.
Given the news from the East Coast, it seemed impossible that the plane would even take off, but eventually, it did. As we left the ground, I felt a pang of satisfaction, like I had accomplished some arduous task. I waited until they had dimmed the lights before allowing myself to cry, mourning the loss of my obstinate, resilient, wonderful mother—whom I had, for once, not failed—and scared of the losses to come.
It was when I went to the bathroom to wash my face that the captain announced we would be rerouted to Boston due to severe weather conditions in New York. I looked into my swollen eyes in the mirror and heard him say the name that would turn my life upside down once again: Hurricane Shelby.
Tara was right. I didn’t make it home that night. Or even by the end of the week. In fact, no plane would ever touch down at JFK again. It remained permanently closed, like the flooded beachfront communities along Jamaica Bay.
But our farm survived, beaten and bruised around the edges, and so did we.
Alexa Weik von Mossner is a writer and ecocritical literary scholar living in Austria. On the fiction side, she has written 163 episodes of the German TV drama series FABRIXX. Her first short story was published earlier in 2021, in Orca literary journal. Website: www.alexaweikvonmossner.com
Delmarva Review publishes the best of new prose and poetry selected from thousands of submissions. Designed to encourage outstanding writing, the literary journal is nonprofit and independent. Financial support comes from sales, tax-deductible contributions, and a grant from the Talbot County Arts Council with funds from the Maryland State Arts Council. Website: DelmarvaReview.org.