Alternate Histories: 5/29, 8/24

5/29/15

Where I’m going, what I’m doing next. I was happily married for 35 years, now I’m divorced. My life’s been turned upside down.

Are there people who you could sort of check with to figure out about what’s next for you?

Counselors can help you figure out what you’re doing. I’m not looking for work, I’m disabled. I need a safe place to stay. What I wanna do is spend the warm weather here, this is tolerable, and then go to Florida for the winter. I’m on a fixed income and the money goes farther down there.

8/24/15

What the roads need, F decides the next day, is someone who knows them. A way for people to move toward warmth away from bitter cold, toward coolness away from killing heat, like they would anyway if they could, but cheaply and safely. Plus he needs something to do. He needs someone to tell what to do.

So he becomes a guide. He’s old and his hands hurt, but his head is clear and his feet are okay, and as car traffic becomes sparser and power plant emissions go down, he finds that walking more actually helps him breathe better. He helps people find safe places to stay on the road, which means he has to talk to other people who live in the places they want to stay. They don’t always trust him at first; some never do. He learns to live with it, to recognize other people who have had to live with it, to recognize himself.

He’s a stickler for carrying their trash with them and not dropping it. When the tall woman with the headwrap and the strong jaw suggests that they also plant things along their way, and maybe uproot some of the things there’s too much of like bittersweet and knotweed, it takes him a while to come around to the idea, because it wasn’t his idea, but she says she’ll be in charge of it and soon there are scouts fanning out on each trip to ask questions about what they can eat, what they should plant, what kind of green wake to leave.

By the fifth southward flow, people who stay along the route are building wayside shelters and composting toilets to meet the walkers, fencing off delicate marshes and slopes, scratching or spraypainting signs of welcome, sickness, strained resources on the outsides of their houses or their mailboxes. F makes sure other walkers are listening when stayers tell them things, because although he feels fine most of the time, sometimes a tremor seizes his heart and he has to lie still and take whatever care’s on offer: a doctor who walks with her acupuncture needles, a witch with their herbs, a pastor with his prayers. When he sits by the firepit, someone helps him eat.

By the seventh northward flow, the walkers are leaving earlier and pausing often, so that the strong among them can help restore and adapt towns and neighborhoods damaged by fire or storm, flood or a history of neglect. Small groveyards spring up on sheltered hillsides that can stand the disturbance without landsliding. In one of them, near Baltimore, they bury F. They pray quietly; they plant dwarf blazing star and smooth aster to guide him up and down the road.

There are no humans in the air anymore, but a sharp-shinned hawk or a pipistrelle flying over the migration, or canvasbacks and Carolina saddlebags flying parallel to it, might see the hugely shifting flow, feel the mammalian warmth rising, swoop for the mosquitoes that follow in its train, as it trails the spring north and the fall south, treading lightly.

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