My mother wakes me before the sun rises. She pulls the drawers out of my dresser and dumps my clothes onto the floor. “Hurry up,” she says. “We need to go.” She leaves my clothes in a pile outside my room. My closet is open and dark inside. I get out of bed and replace the overturned drawers. The pile of clothes is surprisingly neat. A smaller one sits outside my brother’s room. He has already begun to fill his suitcase. He is fourteen; I am twelve.

Downstairs in the living room every lamp is on. The television and radio are so loud that I can understand neither. An anchorman wipes his forehead. I get a slow falling sensation in my stomach. Needles of rain skitter across the window. My mother calls from the kitchen, “Come on, your breakfast is ready.” My brother runs heavily down the stairs. The two bowls of Cheerios on the table have grown soggy. My mother hasn’t showered yet. Her hair is in a messy braid and she wears clumsy brown galoshes. She rummages through the cabinet with the phone between her ear and her shoulder. “Come on,” she says.

Matthew Purdy

Matthew Purdy is currently working toward his PhD in English at the University of Iowa. He has previously studied writing Binghamton University and Connecticut College. His work has previously appeared in the Iron Horse Literary Review, and he has a story forthcoming in the Mid-American Review. He is the recipient of an AWP Intro Journals Award. He has recently completed a collection of short stories, Something Outside Is Clacking. Recently, a story of Matthew Purdy’s was selected for Best New American Voices. He is originally from New Jersey.

Q&A by Hannah Tinti

HT: Where did the idea for this story come from?
MP: It was based on a dream I had shortly after September 11, 2001. In the dream, the country was tipping over, sort of like the Titanic. I didn’t quite think I could pull that off, so the apocalyptic flood was the next best thing.
HT: What was the most challenging aspect of writing this story?
MP: To me, the story was inescapably a response to September 11, and I assumed that subtext would be there for anyone who read it. I grappled with whether or not I had the right to tell this story. I’ve never been in a natural disaster; who did I think I was, killing off all those people like that? Conversely, I wondered if I was simply chickening out by not addressing September 11 more directly. So soon after it happened, I felt, as everyone did, that I had to say something, but I wasn’t sure what.
HT: There is a gathering sense of dread in “Dreaming of You”. Did you start out to write an ‘end of the world’ story, or simply a tale of ‘natural disaster’?
MP: I was mostly interested in putting something excruciatingly personal—a first crush—up against something absolutely impersonal—the flood—and seeing what happened. If I set out to write anything, it was a “first love” story. After my aforementioned dream, though, it seemed interesting to graft these two kinds of stories together.
HT: Your writing style hints at the supernatural. Have you been influenced by any science fiction writers?
MP: My initial wow-I’d-really-like-to-be-a-writer moment came after reading Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy when I was thirteen. It was actually a collection of the first four or so books of the series, and I read it all in a weekend. I loved the bigness of it, how thoroughly imagined it was. I wrote a long, rambling novel while still very much under the influence; it even sounds British. Another formative book for me was Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles, which struck me as very sinister. It shook me up.
HT: What is the best bit of advice about writing you have ever received?
MP: At a reading, Jay Parini compared writing to owning a shop. You open the shop and wait for people to come in. If they don’t come in, well, dust the counter, straighten the cans on the shelves, do what needs to be done. Some days, you’ll have lots of customers, some days you won’t have any. But you need to open the shop and give them a chance to come.
HT: What are you working on now?
MP: I think I’m about done with a collection of stories, called Something Outside Is Clacking, which I’ll be shopping around shortly. After that, who knows?