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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Alternate Histories: 6/7, 4/24

6/7/14

When the world ends, there isn’t anything you’re gonna do. I don’t dwell on it like that, but I do think about it. What are you gonna do, walk around with masks on? There’s gotta be airflow from somewhere! But I mean, what are you really gonna do? The most important thing is air. You gonna make filters? You can’t even drink the water. The water supplies, the machines, ain’t nobody gonna filter the water. People are starting to be like, “We’re gonna kill him and drink his blood, we’re thirsty.” If I get a toothache, who’s gonna pull my tooth? If I get these plastic boobs, one pop, who’s gonna be my doctor? And medical — there’s certain people that depend on insulin, what are they gonna do? They’re just gonna die, there’s no two ways about it. Like me, I’m insulin dependent. The biggest thing is air … “Close your eyes and we’ll pretend that’s not [BB] we eatin’.” There’s gonna be the eaters and the — eaters and the entrees. I’ll be a good entree. One leg alone will feed five families. That lady over there, she’ll be a good meal.

*

4/24/15

About 18 years later, BB died.

Before she died, she and her nieces had talked about what she wanted them to do with her corpse. They had walked and wheeled out together to sit in the groveyards. They’d looked at pictures of the raptor platforms, though most of them were too far away from where the family lived. And they’d gone to the rendering house when a niece’s friend died.

When BB died, her nieces and their neighbors washed her and wrapped her in a sheet, singing to her. When the songs were over, what they held was no longer BB, but a corpse. Corpses are strange, and it is fearful to make them useful, but when BB was alive, no one made use of her body and mind.

BB’s nieces brought the corpse to the rendering house and helped to cut it into pieces that humans could eat. The bones they would grind up and pour into the ocean in a year. They cooked and ate the pieces of the corpse, a little each day, during that year. After they poured the dust of the bones into the ocean, they could talk to BB again, and they often did, telling her what the grandnephews, who were alive, were doing and how BB’s old friend, who was alive, was just as rude as ever.