Alternate Histories: 5/22, 4/10


Are the poles really melting, and it’s gonna raise the seas? So we’re gonna lose Manhattan, Nag’s Head? It doesn’t matter! There’s no anxiety–you’ll be dead, I’ll be dead, and new life will come.

I guess I’m thinking about what happens before that, the people who–

[Laughing] The galaxy dies, a new galaxy will come!

But before that happens, the plants, the animals that we’re familiar with—

[Laughing] It doesn’t matter, the dinosaurs died, everything will die!

You keep interrupting me, stop interrupting me. When you laugh, it’s like you’re making fun of me.

[He keeps laughing and I keep giving him stoneface.]

I’ve enjoyed talking with you.



Too many people to count easily form a slow tide that fills the street. Their voices rise to the traffic lights, to the signal towers, to the helicopters, in rage, in grief, in unity, calling for justice for the dead and the living.

A circle of grown people, their faces marked with soot, lay small stones on a circle of dried moss. They say the names of the dead species: the Wopanaak names, the English names, the Spanish names, the Latin names, each according to their knowledge of the dead. I am grieved for you, they say, grieved and in bitterness.

Seven or eight human adults and children, and three dogs, visit a flat stone amid hundreds of other flat stones, between clumps of trees and interlaced with thyme, lichen, moss, bouncing bet and dandelions. There are no bodies under the stones; we have found new uses for human substance, for its elements and components, that we are resigned to because our relation with the dead person has not ceased. The dogs nose around dutifully while the humans speak to their dead friend, telling her about recent triumphs, discoveries, other griefs. Two of the friends announce that one of them is pregnant. They sing a song to her. They pour a little beer over her grave and drink the rest themselves. They leave offerings that they know the graveyard skunks and sparrows and ants and possums and wasps and starlings will eat.

The procession stretches along the sand and back from the edge of the water as far as the eye can see. Each person bends down to the water’s edge and dumps a small packet of what looks like pale sand. It is bone meal, the bones of the dead. They are seeing if it will restore the balance of the ions in that water, to make it less acidic and give the shelled animals living in it more to work with. As each person spills the bones into the inlet, they say the name of a person or a kind of plant or animal they miss.

The family dabs honey on the brow of the new baby and kisses it off, each naming the new baby with ten beloved names.

A person bundled in shawl and coat walks down into the city. “Hey sweetpeas,” they murmur to the fat red buds on the municipal trees in the cold cold morning, “it’s gonna be soon,” saying something they can’t prove or make true, like a doula, like a person who loves a dying person, or even an animal, across that gulf, that opening.

One thought on “Alternate Histories: 5/22, 4/10

  1. this one seems to speak to the lack of empathy i felt from the person who came to the booth and who’s conversation you reported. it has a slow sadness to it. and also feels timeless , as though it is also an ancient story.

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