Alternate Histories: 5/15, 6/7


Being homeless, needing medication, needing food. They told me I need preauthorization for my meds and they wouldn’t give it to me. The doctor gave me 15 days supply, that’s nothing. … That’s my sister over there.


How does healing gather cost? Between the need and the idea, between the factories where people and machines synthesize or extract its ingredients and the factories where people and machines pack up what they’ve compounded, between the set of symptoms and the diagnosis, between the person who can’t pay for it and the company who can. The next time M went to the clinic, she brought her sister with her, and the doctor gave them 30 days’ worth of pills, two sweatshirts, 24 rolls of toilet paper, and bananas ranging from green to ripe. Then she and the two medical clerks opened up the Blue Cross Blue Shield windows on their respective computers and prepared to cheat, lie and steal.

Meanwhile, across town, seven or eight Orthodox Jewish women had begun building a mikvah for women with any kind of body and any kind of faith. It should be very, very easy to get clean, they said, looking hard and levelly at the men in their lives. A mikvah needs running or natural water, which meant that they had to work with the DEM and the Blackstone River Watershed Council to keep human-made poisons, fertilizers and waste out of the river.

Further south, in Groton, Connecticut, a woman reading order forms at Pfizer frowned and beckoned a colleague over to her computer. Do you see what I’m seeing? she said, pointing at the order codes, tracing with her finger a message reading down.

M was frowning too. I don’t want to get naked in public, she said,

No problem, said the women of Watershed. They started with a rain barrel on the roof of the high-rise, with a filter top and a length of tubing down the side of the building to M and her sister’s window. After some reflection, they left notes on every apartment door in the building, and several months later, the sides of the building were networks of glistening tubes, water troughs, and filtering plants. They left the scaffolding up, to make repairs easier.

Women throughout New England opened tributaries of Watershed, including one in Groton, at the mouth of the Thames River. The Pfizer buildings there are well-designed, supplying most of their own energy; when they laid off another round of people, some of those people came to work with Watershed Groton to plan an alternate operation: fewer medicines, costing less, with fewer toxic by-products, in case they got the chance.

M’s doctor became too sick to work, and she came to live in the high-rise. From far away, it looked like a tall cactus, covered in green fur and yellow spines. It looked like the hanging gardens of Babylon. The women of Watershed wrote a prayer to the water for taking endings away, making room for beginnings, and washing them again at the very end.


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