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Everything

Change: An Anthology of Climate Fiction, Volume II. Copyright © 2018


Arizona State University.

ISBN 978-0-9995902-7-0

The copyrights for individual short stories and essays are owned by their respective authors, as
follows:

“Editors’ Introduction,” by Angie Dell and Joey Eschrich. Copyright © 2018 Angie Dell and Joey
Eschrich.

“Monarch Blue,” by Barbara Litkowski. Copyright © 2018 Barbara Litkowski.

“The Last Grand Tour of Albertine’s Watch,” by Sandra Barnidge. Copyright © 2018 Sandra
Barnidge.

“Half-Eaten Cities,” by Vajra Chandrasekera. Copyright © 2018 Vajra Chandrasekera.

“Darkness Full of Light,” by Tony Dietz. Copyright © 2018 Anthony Dietz.

“Luna,” by David Samuel Hudson. Copyright © 2018 David Samuel Hudson.

“Tuolumne River Days,” by Rebecca Lawton. Copyright © 2018 Rebecca Lawton.

“The Most Beautiful Voyage in the World,” by Jean McNeil. Copyright © 2018 Jean McNeil.

“Orphan Bird,” by Leah Newsom. Copyright © 2018 Leah Newsom.

“The Office of Climate Facts,” by Mitch Sullivan. Copyright © 2018 Mitch Sullivan.

“Losing What We Can’t Live Without,” by Jean-Louis Trudel. Copyright © 2018 Jean-Louis
Trudel.

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Center for Science and the Imagination, Arizona State University
PO Box 876511
Tempe, AZ 85287-6511
https://csi.asu.edu

eBook design by Emily Buckell
emilybuckellebooks@gmail.com
Table of Contents

Cover
Title Page
Copyright
Credits
Foreword, by Kim Stanley Robinson
Introduction, by Angie Dell and Joey
Eschrich
Monarch Blue, by Barbara Litkowski
The Last Grand Tour of Albertine’s Watch,
by Sandra K. Barnidge
Half-Eaten Cities, by Vajra Chandrasekera
Darkness Full of Light, by Tony Dietz
Luna, by David Samuel Hudson
Tuolumne River Days, by Rebecca Lawton
The Most Beautiful Voyage in the World, by
Jean McNeil
Orphan Bird, by Leah Newsom
The Office of Climate Facts, by Mitch
Sullivan
Losing What We Can’t Live Without, by
Jean-Louis Trudel
About the Contributors
Honorable Mention: 2018 Contest
Semifinalists

Credits

Editors

Angie Dell
Joey Eschrich

Contest Management

Felicia Zamora

Ebook Design

Emily Buckell

Cover Design

Nina Miller

Business Operations

Dana Tribke

Leadership for the Imagination and Climate Futures
Initiative

Ed Finn
Alberto Ríos

Judging

Lead Judge
Kim Stanley Robinson

Scientific Editors
Hilairy Hartnett
Paul Hirt
Manjana Milkoreit

Literary Editors
Michelle Deschenes
Jake Friedman
Susan Harness
Matt Henry
Kalani Pickhart
Malik Toms
Chris Van Wyk

Associate Editors
Keith Anderson
Joseph Bianchi
Kate Burns
Foula Dimopoulos
Joanna Doxey
Elizabeth Hamm
Matthew Henderson
Tosha Jupiter
Renee Macey
Christa Nichols
Inhye Peterson
Shi Robinson
Shawna Strickland
Olja Sipka
Dakota Thompson
Ashley Wilkins

Foreword
By Kim Stanley Robinson

This year’s finalists for Arizona State University’s Everything Change
Climate Fiction Contest form an unexpectedly coherent collective
accomplishment. The mood of these stories, repeated again and again, is
grief at the damage climate change is doing to some particular place and
culture. The specificity in these stories, the deep knowledge they display
as they describe the places and cultures being lost, make them acts of
love. The love is expressed as a kind of paying attention, as the detailed
articulation of 10 beloved places and cultures in imminent danger of
being lost. If they aren’t lost yet, they are likely to be lost soon—so soon
that even if our global civilization were to start immediately to do
everything possible to slow, stop, or even reverse climate change, these
most vulnerable places and cultures are probably doomed. They are
walking dead—not zombies, but rather condemned prisoners of history
and geography.
In many of these stories, the palpable sense of loss is supplemented
by descriptions of more or less desperate emergency measures, taken in
the hope that something might survive the devastation. Such vivid
slingshot endings make me think that these writers want to have hope,
and want their readers to share that hope, even in the face of unavoidable
loss—and yet without being unrealistic. It’s a problem shared by all
fiction, but climate fiction in particular. People have to create whatever
meaning there is in this universe, if they can, and that’s what stories are
for. And yet to be meaningful a story has to match the facts of the
situation—it has to be “realistic.” If it doesn’t include and somehow face
up to catastrophe, tragedy, and death, it won’t really be creating much of
a meaning. Meaning has to be constructed against the most enormous
pressures of meaninglessness.
Climate fiction confronts a specific instance of this general problem.
We have already initiated climate change, so there will losses for people,
animals, plants, and ecologies. Some of the losses won’t be recoverable—
they will be extinctions, and despite the interesting work of the de-
extinction movement, worth pursuing for what we might learn from it,
most extinctions are final and unfixable. Whatever it was that existed,
extinction means it goes away; it’s death not just for an individual but for
a species, a biome, or whatever it might be. Then whatever meaning that
life-form once held will be gone, or at least contained in the past, its
meaning a matter of memory.
Literature has to face up to this situation. Even escapism, so-called,
lives in a relationship with what it is trying to escape from—as Tolkien
once remarked, no doubt after hearing fantasy literature described as
escapist, very often what one is trying to escape from is a jail. In any case,
even if literature can sometimes be used (or misused) to try to escape
reality, more often it is trying to engage it—even to change it. In this
effort, all kinds of desperation may be manifested in the texts involved,
because changing reality is not an easy project. But human reality is
profoundly influenced by what we think about it, so the act of trying to
create meaning is real and important, no matter how desperate it
sometimes feels.
So these short stories, grounded in grief, and often trying to leap in
their final sentences toward some kind of hope, seem to me in many cases
to be longer stories still in the making. They are in effect the first chapters
of novels. As such, readers are invited to write the extensions in their
heads; and the writers should consider adding to them as well. Caught
between the ending of one world and the beginning of some other world,
as yet unborn and undefined, these stories want sequels.
Editors’ Introduction
By Angie Dell and Joey Eschrich

Climate change is a cultural and political problem. Solutions to this
creeping threat—a clean-energy transition, stricter environmental
regulations on industry, changes in agricultural practice, even, perhaps, a
transformation in our voracious relationship with consumer culture—are
all eminently possible. What’s more, enacting them would have
immediate (as well as long-term) positive effects on the global economy,
far from the crisis predicted by opponents of climate action.[1]
We often imagine climate change as a scientific and technological
issue: a predicament we’ve created for ourselves, abetted by our many
technological achievements, that we could also simply climb out of with
the right suite of technological fixes. This assumption is built right into
the structure of public discussion around climate change—when you read
or hear about it in the news, it’s almost always confined to the science
section, while “green” gadgets of all stripes, from renewable power
breakthroughs to Energy Star–certified dishwashers, are covered in the
technology section.
Since launching the Imagination and Climate Futures Initiative in
2014, hosting leading thinkers on climate and society, organizing and
judging climate fiction contests, and collaborating with researchers and
scholars, it’s become increasingly apparent to us that this struggle is
about stories. The tales bound in books of fiction like this one, sure, but
also the stories at the heart of political speeches, party platforms, news-
media coverage, high school science lessons, and social media
maelstroms. We have the tools and knowledge—the science and
technology—we need as a species to avert catastrophe. The challenges
that remain are about persuasion, ideology, indoctrination, virality,
emotional appeals, and fostering empathy. About changing priorities and
creating a sense of urgency. To achieve the cultural groundswell and
political momentum to change ourselves in the face of a changing
climate, we need stories.
We certainly invented and innovated and disrupted our way into our
current dire situation. And technologies like efficient solar panels, wind
turbines, and other forms of sustainable infrastructure have a central role
to play in digging our way out of this mess. But our Everything Change
Climate Fiction Contest, and the larger Imagination and Climate Futures
Initiative, operate on the belief that emotionally resonant stories are the
most powerful tool we have. Stories about futures shaped by climate
change have the potential to root this global crisis, which often seems
diffuse and abstract, in specific, irreparable physical places under threat,
and in the experiences of individual people coping with displacement,
terror, loss, ennui, or glimmers of hope. Reading fiction, specifically,
sharpens our empathy, transporting us to unseen vistas and broadening
our experience of reality to encompass other lives, other minds.[2]
This goal of increasing empathy has led us to develop a contest that
invites submissions from people around the world. So far, we’ve
published two anthologies featuring stories of climate chaos,
environmental destruction and transformation, and human responses set
in far-flung locales around the world. We hope our stories make these
distant places immediate and newly emotionally real, reminding us that
climate change is both multifarious and monolithic. It makes itself known
differently in different places—a drought here, a species die-off there, a
hurricane here, a mudslide there, a refugee crisis here, a forest fire there
—but it’s also one big thing that we’re all living through.
Following that logic of diversity, we enthusiastically welcomed
submissions from across a variety of literary genres, expanding our scope
beyond science fiction. Each genre has its own set of perceptual tools and
expressive capabilities. We wanted to ensure that submissions to the
contest could incorporate the broadest possible set of perspectives on
climate change and its effects on us, our Earth, and our future.
We called for submissions that explored the impact of climate change
on humanity and the Earth, in the present or near- to moderate-term
future, and that in some way reflected current scientific knowledge about
climate change (with the understanding that writers would embellish,
imagine, and invent their own fictional conditions and situations as well).
We also suggested that writers create stories that illuminate or invite
reflections on climate-related challenges or decisions that individuals,
organizations, or societies face today, or might face soon, including things
like daily decisions and behaviors, policy-making and politics, strategy
and planning, moral responsibility to the future, investment in research
and development or technologies, and public health issues. The idea was
to keep our ambit broad, but simultaneously nudge authors to create
works that prompt critical engagement and ethical exploration, and
address themselves cogently to our present climate emergency.
The response was, as with our first contest, overwhelming: over 540
submissions from over 60 different countries. Again, paralleling the
inaugural contest, our pool of authors reflects incredible diversity in
terms of age, ethnicity, life experience, and professional background.
Our judging process spanned five rounds, including 30 people
representing expertise in sustainability, environmental history,
oceanography, chemistry, conservation, renewable energy, public policy,
natural resource management, political science, cognitive science,
creative writing, and literary theory. Experts were drawn from Arizona
State University’s Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability,
School of Historical, Philosophical, and Religious Studies, School of Earth
and Space Exploration, School of Life Sciences, Virginia G. Piper Center
for Creative Writing, School of Molecular Sciences, Department of
English, and Center for Science and the Imagination. As with our first
contest, the final round was judged by science fiction legend Kim Stanley
Robinson, author of a number of foundational works of climate fiction,
including the Three Californias trilogy, Green Earth, The Years of Rice
and Salt, New York 2140, and more.
Our grand prize–winning story, “Monarch Blue” by Barbara
Litkowski, joins nine other compelling, thought-provoking takes on what
it might be like to live in a future shaped by climate and environmental
chaos, dispatches from a world in flux. We’re incredibly proud to feature
them in this anthology and to share them with you. At the end of the
book, you’ll also find the names and titles of the other 21 semifinalists.
We received so many great submissions, and we hope and expect to see
some of them published in other venues, swelling the tide of climate
fiction stories out there in the world.
This year’s winning stories share a number of common themes and
points of emphasis. For one, several of the stories in this anthology are
concerned with reproduction and the effects of environmental
degradation on women’s bodies. This might reflect a growing awareness
that climate change is not merely an atmospheric phenomenon or a
cataclysm eternally happening in an unspecified “elsewhere,” but a force
that promises to reshape our everyday lived environments and wash
through our bodies. Our authors are keenly aware that human bodies are
fused with the grander cycles of the natural world, and that we’re
degrading along with it. The focus on women’s bodies in particular is
poignant in a year marked by cascading awareness of and attention to the
pervasiveness of sexual violence against women, with the climate joining
a number of forces intruding and preying upon women’s embodied
experiences.
As in our first Everything Change anthology from 2016, the ethics of
reproduction and childbearing continue to haunt the characters of our
stories. Pregnancies, like natural environments and many human lives,
are precarious, a point of acute vulnerability in a world stripped of its old
certainties by a rapidly changing climate. That same uncertainty makes
the very act of childbearing an open ethical question. After all, what kind
of lives will these young ones grow into? Can would-be parents justify the
additional carbon burden that another human life, especially one in the
carbon-intensive developed world, puts on a planet already hopelessly
out of whack?
Water is also a particular locus of anxiety, with stories about drought
and scarcity, but also about floods and megastorms, and water-related
diseases, tainted water, voyages at sea, even human societies built deep
underwater, utterly cut off from the land. For many of us, ever-present
thirst is perhaps our most immediate visceral connection to the slowly
unfolding climate crisis—along with the horror of tremendous
floodwaters, more present than ever in an era of record-setting
hurricanes, freakishly swelling rivers, and always-on ubiquitous news
media covering the carnage.
In the face of all this terror, most of our stories approach climate
chaos not with anger or fear but with wistfulness, a gentle nostalgia for
what we’ve lost and continue to lose. In a moment of scandalous climate
inaction, even in the face of mounting danger to ecosystems and
communities, most of this year’s crop of stories are elegies, not
exhortations to the barricades. We’re reminded of the AIDS crisis, where
mourning and shared grief were precursors to and catalysts for action.
We hope that these stories are stepping-stones to action, reminders
that climate chaos has deep human costs that look different from afar and
across borders but tie back to the same globe-spanning cause, testaments
to how our collective fate is tied inextricably to the natural world. Living
through this climate crisis will require first changing the stories we tell
about our dwelling on this planet as a species. We’re honored to share
these stories in an effort to help kindle that change.



[1] According to a 2018 report from The Global Commission on the
Economy and Climate—an international group of economists and policy
and business analysts—estimates that the world could garner net savings
of $26 trillion by 2030 through a global shift toward sustainable
development. Read more at newclimateeconomy.report. [Back]
[2] Two remarkable, recent scholarly articles make the case for this
connection between reading fiction and increased empathy,
encompassing both behavioral research and neurological studies:
librarian Dora Byrd Rowe’s “The ‘Novel’ Approach: Using Fiction to
Increase Empathy,” in Virginia Libraries, vol. 63, no. 1, 2018,
dx.doi.org/10.21061/valib.v63i1.1474, and cognitive psychologist Keith
Oatley’s “Fiction: Simulation of Social Worlds,” in Trends in Cognitive
Sciences, vol. 20, no. 8, 2016, doi.org/10.1016/j.tics.2016.06.002. [Back]
Monarch Blue
By Barbara Litkowski

She would kill for a Bartlett pear or, better yet, a ripe plum. Like the rest
of the world, she’d been hungry for years, but now her cravings were
insatiable, the despotic embryo in her womb demanding all manner of
foods she couldn’t afford. Even her name, Brie, a childhood derivative of
Bridget, made her mouth water, evoking an aroma of better days. Her
most recent meal, if one considered a pack of stale Day-Glo crackers
nourishment, had come from a vending machine in the San Diego bus
station at two o’clock on Sunday morning.
Now, hours later, Brie hoisted herself onto her knees and peered over
the vinyl seat to the back of the bus where nighttime running lights
illuminated her friend Carmen swaying and praying with the churchgoing
crowd. When she held up Carmen’s canvas carryall and pointed to her
own mouth, her friend nodded.
They had met in the waiting room at the women’s free clinic on Mesa
Verde, the only ones there without the tumescent bulge of impending
motherhood, exchanging shy smiles, first names, and brief histories as
others came and went. Although Carmen was only five years older than
Brie, she had already suffered three miscarriages. Despite, or perhaps
because of those losses, she and her husband were desperate to conceive
another child. At the sound of her name, Carmen stood up and crossed
herself, and Brie gave her a thumbs-up. A moment later, she too was
summoned. When Brie returned from the warren of examining rooms,
Carmen was just emerging, pale and unsmiling. By unspoken agreement
they left together. Coffee, while scarce, was still possible. They splurged,
pooling their money.
“They won’t give me fertility drugs.” Carmen’s lilting voice faltered.
“They say it’s too risky given my history.” Her face brightened when she
heard Brie’s news. “Pregnant. That’s wonderful. You must be ecstatic.”
Brie shrugged.
Sensing her mistake, Carmen reached across the table and squeezed
Brie’s hand. She withdrew it a second later, but not before Brie had
observed the telltale blue knuckles of a pollinator. The skin around the
joints expanded and contracted in ocean waves as the bones shifted.
When their eyes met again, it was Carmen’s turn to shrug. “My
husband hates them,” she confessed, rotating her hands to show the inky
blue rivers—heart line, life line, fate line—that wound between lighter
aqua callouses. “He says they make him look a poor provider. I tell him,
‘We have to eat; besides, it’s just a job.’ He says, ‘An insect. What kind of
a job is that?’”
Pollinators. After the die-off a new underclass had sprung up to fill
the role previously played by flies, beetles, wasps, butterflies, and other
winged creatures. Culled from the ranks of the disadvantaged, a small
cohort of females now earned their wages reaching, squatting, bending,
dusting, turning their hands blue with electrostatic chemicals—all to
ensure that the 1 percent of the population with money to burn on brandy
and figs had access to cross-pollinated fruits and vegetables.
Brie’s stomach growled an involuntary complaint. Carmen cocked
her head, concern clouding her brown eyes. The next instant, she was on
her way to the counter, returning with a child’s carton of milk in one blue
hand.
Gratefully, Brie accepted it. “Some mom, huh? Homeless. No money,
no job, no skills.”
“Skills?” Carmen snorted. “Skills make you too expensive. Here,” she
took out a pen, scribbled on the rough brown napkin. “You don’t have to
show any papers,” she said, draining the last of her coffee. She wiped the
paper cup clean and stowed it in her purse. “Although I suppose papers
aren’t a problem for you.”
The reflection that stared back at Brie from the darkened windows of
the bus was thin and tired. In another life she had been pretty. Now,
except for the growing seed in her pelvis, she was gaunt and ugly.
The corn tortillas in Carmen’s backpack had left a rancid taste in her
mouth, and she wished she had a breath mint. She hated corn the way she
hated fish. Corn cereal, corn chips, corn on the cob, hominy, hush
puppies, creamed corn, corn soufflé, corn bread, corn dogs (sans dog). In
other parts of the world, it was rice. Wasn’t it hard enough being
pregnant without craving foods that existed only in memory? Artichoke
boats dipped in butter, Chenin Blanc paired with pork roast and prunes,
blueberries. When she closed her eyes, her limbic brain flooded her
senses with Proustian memories of smoky almonds. She’d eaten her last
tree nut in middle school when they could still be purchased by ordinary
people, albeit at exorbitant prices.


She’d fallen for one of the oldest tricks in the book—food.
She had met him at a free open-air art show in Balboa Park she’d
seen advertised on a flyer in the shelter’s community room. It was early
enough in the evening that the grass still felt warm under her feet as she
strolled the grounds trying to act swanky, pretending she wasn’t lonely.
She could smell pine and eucalyptus, and when he came up beside her,
she smelled licorice on his breath.
“What do you think?” He gestured toward an abstract sculpture on a
pedestal a few feet in front of them.
Squinting, she saw an opaque pool of white glass topped by a floating
yellow island. She closed her eyes, opened them, looked again. There was
a gigantic fried egg, its white skirt curling and browning around the
edges, its yolk a perfect sunny-side up. In her mind she added sizzling
strips of bacon. She had skipped breakfast—and lunch. She sighed. “It
makes me hungry.”
“Me too.” He grinned. “Say, I have eggs in my fridge. Brown sugar, a
small stash of pecans from the fat years. How about it? I make a mean
pecan pie. We can wash it down with some Chianti I’ve been hoarding.”
She had fond memories of family Thanksgivings as a child. After the
first set of dishes had been cleared, her dad and assorted aunts and
uncles and nebulous cousins who swept through at holidays like Kuiper
Belt comets would sigh with contentment and pat their stomachs to the
whir of cream whipping in the kitchen. And then her mother would carry
out the pies in ceremonial fashion: pumpkin and pecan—one each—the
pumpkin pie’s rich, sweaty face freckled with spices, the pecan’s surface
studded with sugar and nuts.
His apartment was near the ocean, once prime glass-and-stucco
beachfront, now a dilapidated walkup in peril of being washed away by
the next catastrophic storm. They waited until the pie was baked and
eaten, then took what remained of the bottle to bed. Afterward, her
tongue loosened by wine and pecans, she revealed her darkest secret. “I’m
a killer,” she said, grabbing the bottle and licking the last drops from its
glassy lip.
The summer she turned six years old had seemed endless. In South
Haven, Michigan, where she grew up, kids were still playing outside in
shorts in September while their back-to-school sweaters languished in
closets. Boats typically dry-docked at the end of the summer continued to
float in their usual berths through October. Life was good—until
November 22, when meteorologists predicted a killing freeze. Suddenly
everybody in South Haven remembered a presence they had taken for
granted. Within hours of the dire prediction, an army of amateur
entomologists could be seen combing roadsides, rustling through
milkweed pods and dying goldenrod, trying to spot elusive orange wings.
At her mother’s urging, they had joined the crusade armed with one
ancient, green collecting net between them. The holes didn’t matter; the
butterfly clinging to a muddy puddle, opening and closing its tattered
wings, was too feeble to escape. Much of the lustrous orange power was
gone from its wings. Brie lifted it gently, cupping the fragile creature in
the palm of her hand for the journey home, transferring it to a plastic
mayonnaise jar at the kitchen table. “I’ll keep you safe,” she promised,
kissing the jar goodnight and setting it on her bedside table, where it was
the last thing she saw before falling asleep. The next morning the
butterfly was dead, one of thousands of Lepidoptera asphyxiated in a
variety of Ragu, pickle, peanut-butter, and other wide-mouthed coffins.
The delicate black legs that had gripped her palm so trustingly were
curled in death.
Malnutrition was notorious for shutting down one’s reproductive
organs, and she had counted on her body rejecting the pie-man’s sperm.
“Not starved enough,” she speculated one month later, bending over the
toilet, retching.


The bus slowed as the driver navigated a sleeping town’s main street and
turned into the parking lot of what appeared to be a municipal ballpark
and playground. Brie could just make out a Rotary Club sign. Denair,
California: “Oasis of the San Joaquin Valley.” Oasis was a misnomer, she
decided, judging from a broken swing set silhouetted against a tangerine-
and-aqua sky. The lot was empty except for a motor coach the size of two
tractor-trailers parked in the northeast corner and a few scattered pickup
trucks.
On the bus, the singing stopped. Frowsy women roused themselves:
straightening, smoothing, patting, brushing sleep from their eyes and
lips, gathering shopping bags and purses. Earlier, when they boarded the
bus in San Diego, Brie had asked Carmen about the motley collection of
pollinators. Some were nomads, Carmen said, following crop cycles like
surfers searching for the perfect wave before the oceans turned brutal.
But most were just down-on-their-luck gals who needed extra cash to get
over a hump. “Tumbleweed women like us.”
Brie climbed down from the bus yawning and stretching, tonguing
the plaque on her teeth. She could just make out bodies moving around
what looked like charcoal braziers beside some of the pickups. She
sniffed, hoping for bacon, only to be disappointed by charcoal fumes and
smoke. Watching Harvest of Shame in high school as part of a social
justice class, she had pitied the impoverished mother who couldn’t afford
milk for her children. She half expected Edward R. Murrow to descend
from the huge coach, cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth,
smoke spiraling into the dry air, eager to question this new breed of
migrants. “What did you eat for breakfast today?” he would ask, thrusting
a microphone into her face.
The air felt dry enough to combust spontaneously, although after the
stinky bus even parched air was refreshing. A rogue sagebrush struggled
through a crack in the asphalt near her feet. Pale grit, sand or salt or
possibly broken glass, crunched under her feet as she shifted. Behind her
she could feel the bus cooling, its hot metal hardening like taffy.
When a second bus turned into the lot, she felt an insistent tug on
her wrist. Carmen.
“Hurry,” Carmen whispered. “We have to be first in line.”
By common accord the pollinators coalesced into a queue that
snaked across the lot toward the palatial coach. Meanwhile, a dozen well-
fed prisoners in baggy orange shirts and trousers began disembarking
from the newest arrival, followed by a handful of holstered guards. In
contrast to the eager, hungry women, the prisoners’ steps were
unhurried, their labor free, and therefore, presumably, guaranteed. Their
faces were shuttered.
A man with a clipboard emerged from the motor coach.
“Go.” Carmen pushed.
The paperwork, as her friend had promised, was nearly nonexistent.
In return for her signature, a curt woman wearing a California Almond
Growers Association name badge handed her a five-gallon bucket, a pair
of thin latex gloves, and a bag of what looked like blue flour. “You’ll get
paid at the end of each day. In cash. If you run out of powder before
tomorrow, it’ll come out your wages. Use the gloves for protection.”
Without looking up, she motioned to the next person in line.
Killing the monarch had been an innocent mistake, although Brie
still blamed herself for its death. It had been one of the first victims of the
devastating die-off. Summer after summer, the number and variety of
pollinators plummeted. Flowers bloomed ahead of schedule and their
anthers, thick with fertile pollen, dried and withered untasted. Insects
arriving too late for the connubial feast starved. Geneticists asserted that
natural selection would soon reestablish the proper rhythm, given time
and sufficient generations of offspring, but the world was still waiting.
Spring continued to arrive earlier and earlier, and angiosperms continued
to bud and flower before the dwindling supply of pollinators were primed
and ready. Only insects that fed on human blood and skin, refuse and
decay—of which there was a limitless supply—thrived. Blattodea,
Culicidae, Cimicidae, Psocoptera. Cockroaches, mosquitoes, bedbugs,
booklice.
She had committed a less innocent mistake her junior year in college.
After a night of hard partying, she had awakened in bed with one of her
boyfriend’s fraternity brothers. The subsequent messy breakup had
triggered an emotional meltdown. She stayed up nights, sometimes
crying, mostly drinking cheap vodka in an off-campus apartment she
shared with a roommate she rarely saw. Days she slept in, missing
lectures, forgetting to hand in papers, blowing off exams, withdrawing at
the end of the semester. She went home to South Haven to a tepid
welcome and a lecture about “maturity.” Adults, her parents informed
her, were resilient. Adults didn’t lock themselves in their rooms, crying.
Adults didn’t lose scholarships, and if they did, they went out and found a
job. A week later, a little after dusk, a deer leaped across the road as she
was driving home from the mall. Her parents’ car was totaled.
Mexico sounded like a good place to do some growing up. The bus
was almost to the Tijuana border when she ran out of money.
The shelter in San Diego where she found refuge was clean. On
Sundays a succession of local churches delivered an evening meal,
although eating with strangers only increased her loneliness. Calling her
folks was out of the question. They’d tell her to come home.
The second bus, this one chartered by the California Almond
Growers, had padded seats and an onboard toilet. The women perched on
the edge of their seats, clutching their buckets. Glancing down, Brie read
the label on the plastic bag: Warning: This product contains chemicals
known to the State of California to cause cancer, or birth defects or
reproductive harm. She lifted her chin and stared out the window.
The staging area for the almond offensive was an encampment
covering several acres of parched grass. A cinderblock bathhouse stood in
the center of the clearing, surrounded by several large canvas tents which
gave the scene a circus-like feel. To one side, a fleet of bucket trucks
waited, cranes collapsed over their backs like prehistoric scorpions.
The assignment was to work in pairs: the person on the ground
maneuvering the bucket truck and the person aloft “dusting” the flowers
with a flexible wand dipped in pollen harvested the previous week and
stained blue. Through line-hopping and luck, Brie snagged Carmen as a
partner.
“Let’s get out of here,” her friend urged as soon as the pairings were
made, eyeing the other pollinators with suspicion.
Brie hesitated. The metal boom made her uneasy. “But I don’t know
how to work that thing.”
“I’ll teach you everything you need to know.”
Carmen drove fast, a map resting on the dash in front of her.
Stretching ahead, as far as the eye could see, were rounded trees in
regimented rows, each with its own halo of pearly blooms. Their assigned
location was at the far end of the grove. Brie rode shotgun, fingering the
wand like a child with a new toy, watching its filaments jiggle as the truck
bumped over the rough ground. At first the flowering rows seemed lovely
—almost magical—dark trunks and airy crowns stretching as far at the
eye could see, but as they rode on and on, monoculture became tedious
and then frightening, and she began to yearn for a coarse, sprawling
pinyon pine.
True to her word, Carmen gave her a crash course in booms. Two
sets of controls, upper and lower. Rotation. Elevation. Tilt. Emergency
stop. The person on the ground maneuvered the metal arm, while the
other played Tinkerbell with the electrostatic wand. Almond trees, Brie
learned during Carmen’s brief tutorial, were picky about their prospective
mates, so they required cross-pollination. That meant that after picking
up pollen on the electrostatic wand, the boom must swing across the aisle
to a different tree. Back and forth, back and forth, in a swooping aerial
ballet. Even with Carmen weaving the bucket above and around the
various branches, reaching the farthest blooms demanded an athleticism
dormant since Brie’s high-school volleyball years.
Five exquisite, creamy petals comprised a single almond flower that
deepened to a magenta heart. Sharp green sepals stood in contrast to the
delicate petals. One touch from her wand changed all that. “I’m painting
the roses blue,” she hummed, swiping with abandon. The novelty soon
wore off.
They traded places every 30 minutes, sometimes sooner, whenever
the strain became unbearable. After the first few rotations, Brie’s
shoulders felt hyperextended and her neck ached from craning to see the
tallest branches. They broke at noon for lunch, prepackaged corn toasties
delivered by a food truck, although for once Brie wasn’t hungry, thanks to
the cloying smell of flowers. Occasionally they heard other pollinators
shout or a truck backfire. Once when an unidentified jeep cruised by their
station, Carmen called, “Get down!” and she obeyed, crouching behind
the veil of branches until the vehicle passed. Ten feet below, she sensed
Carmen cowering in the cab. When she asked about it during the next
break, Carmen scowled, and Brie didn’t press.
By the end of the day, her arms were so sore she couldn’t lift a spoon
to the bowl of corn chowder served in one of the larger tents. After a few
painful attempts, she returned to her assigned sleeping tent and collapsed
onto the nearest cot. As the minutes passed, she recognized the soft
shuffle of tired feet and heard the beds around her shift. There were no
giggles—no gossip. Midnight confidences—like avocados—were a luxury
for the non-weary elite. Later—she wasn’t sure when—she detected the
random sounds of sleep: throat clearings, sighs, an occasional snort.
Sleep would not come. Her shoulders ached. A sour, yeasty smell
emanated from her armpits and crotch. Filthy and tired, she got out of
bed and groped her way to the exit, where she opened the flap and
stepped into the night. In San Diego, she’d grown used to perpetual light
and noise. Here it was different—silent, dark, remote. As her eyes
adjusted, she noticed a blue glow radiating from the almond grove—not a
flat matte blue, but a shimmering phosphorescence like the ocean at
night, only bluer, thickest where treated branches overlapped. Even the
ground glittered with pinpricks of blue light where grains of powder had
spilled or sifted. The hair prickled on her arms. When she looked down
she saw that they, too, shone blue. Only her hands, protected by the
disposable gloves, were free of stain.
The bathhouse was deserted. Grabbing a towel, she headed for a row
of shower stalls, groaning as she eased out of her jeans. It hurt to raise
her arms to lift the sliver of soap from a wire shower caddy. Clouds of
steam billowed around her feet. She stood under the spray, allowing its
liquid warmth to ease her back to happier times—football games and
sledding, hot dogs with mustard and cocoa.
The plastic shower curtain rippled, and cold air coiled over the rod.
Her chest tightened, and she crossed her hands instinctively over her
belly to protect her unborn child. Why had she come here alone? She shut
off the shower and listened, imagining an escapee from the prison tent
creeping across the tile on silent, rubber-soled shoes. The showerhead
was screwed into the cement. Lacking a better weapon, she removed the
soap caddy from the showerhead, and then, armed with nothing more
lethal than a flimsy metal basket, ripped open the curtain.
Carmen sat on the changing bench, hugging her knees. She looked
up at the flap of plastic sheeting. “You shouldn’t come here alone.”
Brie’s knees buckled with relief. The metal caddy slipped from her
fingers and clattered to the tile. “Do you have any idea,” she began,
grabbing her towel and sinking down on the bench, “what you just put me
through? I thought you were a slasher.”
“It’s not safe here for you—or your baby.”
Safe? Was Carmen crazy? Brie held out an arm, still faintly
turquoise, despite the desperate lathering. “This is what’s not safe. Look
at my arm. It’s blue.”
“So? That’s just dye. They add it to keep us honest. It marks the trees
we’ve treated.”
“Just dye? Didn’t you read the label? It’s toxic.”
Carmen shrugged. “So is starvation.”
In the morning Brie’s muscles, still saturated with lactic acid,
screamed in pain when she tried to move. Only hunger forced her to roll
out of bed and follow the others to the breakfast tent. Cornflakes, a packet
of sweetener, two ounces of synthetic milk. With Carmen behind the
wheel, they reached their post before eight o’clock. As she climbed out of
the truck, Brie remembered her gloves, lying beside her cot where she’d
dropped them the night before.
Brie took the first shift in the bucket. A slight breeze from the east
ruffled the floral sea around her. The sun warmed her skin and her
muscles loosened with each stretch of the wand, until something like
hope began to swell. The wad of bills in her pocket, yesterday’s pay, came
with the promise of more to come. In some deep, unseen cavity of her
body, cells were dividing and specializing of their own accord, creating a
new person. When she got back to San Diego she would call her folks and
tell them about the baby. Just out of reach, a branch of still-white flowers
beckoned. Below, she could hear Carmen talking angrily on her cell
phone, to her husband no doubt. Reluctant to interrupt an argument by
asking her friend to shift the bucket, Brie leaned over the rail and
extended her arms. She was almost there when the first contraction
struck.
Instinctively, she dropped to a fetal curl. The pain was so intense she
could barely breathe. Somewhere in the distance she heard Carmen
shouting up to her, and then, miraculously, the boom began to descend in
a series of jerks. If Carmen had driven fast before when there was little at
stake, she was a maniac now. Brie held her aching belly and tried not to
pass out. Somehow they reached the camp without breaking an axle. As
Carmen helped her from the truck, neither mentioned the plum stain
spreading across the upholstery.
She awoke, groggy and disoriented, in what seemed to be an
infirmary tent, a thin pillow wedged under her head. On the other side of
a flimsy curtain people were arguing about a broken wrist—was it
accidental or intentional? “Escape” was the last word she heard as she fell
back asleep, one hand on her pain-free belly. When she opened her eyes
again, Carmen was sitting in a folding chair beside her cot.
Perhaps it was her friend’s wet, dark eyelashes, or maybe it was the
prisoner, his orange arm bound in a sling, hobbling past the foot of her
bed, that conjured the monarch butterfly. It appeared from nowhere and
drifted toward her bed, wafted by an invisible current. Spellbound, she
held her breath until it alighted on the sheet. The orange powder on its
wings had been restored to its original velvety smoothness. The black
veins were bold and clear, and the white checkerboard markings
sparkled. She half expected to see its delicate tongue unfurl to sample the
sheet’s rough grain; instead it sat opening and closing, opening and
closing its wings like a door to the future. She eased one hand toward it,
index finger extended like Michelangelo’s Adam. It was so close. Then,
remembering the other butterfly, she stopped. Enjoying its untrammeled
freedom, the butterfly spiraled into the air. A moment later, it was gone,
as if it had never been.
The Last Grand Tour of Albertine’s Watch
By Sandra K. Barnidge

The smell is always the first thing the tourists notice, and it usually takes
them an hour or two to adjust, if they ever do at all. It’s unmistakable:
raw sewage baking in midmorning sun, seeping and solidifying into every
crack, every seam, every hole of our town. It’s so bad now that even if the
water did retreat back into the Gulf, which it won’t, but even if, we still
couldn’t save Albertine’s Watch. No bureaucrat or journalist has told us
this. We just know it the way we know there’s no one coming to help us.
Not anymore.
Anyone who comes now is just here to watch the end creep ever
closer, and they pay my older brother for a seat at the show. Before each
of his tours, Clay piles bandanas damp with lemon water into our
pontoon. He sells them for seven each, on top of the tour price, and he
rarely comes home with extras. They’re not bandanas, not exactly, but
rather strips we cut from t-shirts abandoned on the highest shelf of our
last remaining big-box store. The tourists tie them across their faces, over
pursed mouths and pinched noses. It helps with the smell, a little. It’ll be
worse for the ones who come after our t-shirt supply is gone. We have two
bags left.
I toss a Ziploc full of bills onto the seat of my kayak and carefully put
down one rubbered foot and then the other. I balance myself on the edge
of our rotted porch, and for a second I’m suspended, precarious, between
my grounding and the boat. I hold my breath as I shift the center of my
weight off the porch and down onto the bag of money. Got it. The kayak
sways, and I settle in as quick as I can, careful not to drop the paddle in
the water, not too soon, not until I’m ready.
Even after so much time, after so much practice, I’m still less adept
at this than others. I came late to the kayak; I preferred to walk for as
long as it was possible, longer than it was possible, really. I was stubborn
about feeling the ground beneath my feet, and I graduated reluctantly
from sandals to boots to galoshes to waders, until even those swelled with
fetid seawater as I struggled to wade down our washed-out block.
I persevered because I wanted to be the last one anchored to our
town.
Clay’s the one who bought the kayak for me, a single sit-on-top, red
with peeling yellow stripes along the sides. It cost him almost two months
in tips, but he refused to take any of my own crumpled bills, which I keep
zipped in plastic inside my pillow. I knew even back then it wasn’t a gift
so much as a tether to his sinking business, but I didn’t care. By then, I’d
secretly begun to tire of the water-covered streets, of pulling off my
waders to find my legs covered in black and green. I didn’t admit it to
anyone, but I’d begun to suspect that I might be approaching my limit.
The kayak helped.
It’s higher now, much higher. The water. It’s only two inches below
our porch, which is rotting from the bottom up, green spores all the way
to the doorway. Some days, I joke with Clay that there’s so much green
it’s like having a lawn again. On others, when I’m more defiant, when I
refuse to let us drown without a fight, I get down on my knees and scrape
off the top layer with a knife, though I know I’m doing more damage to
the wood than I am against the mold. It waits for us there, on the porch,
like a new tenant impatient for the eviction of the old.
Most days, though, I don’t see the spores because I don’t look. I just
get in my kayak and glide away, through water so dark I can’t see what
remains of the pavement below. I can’t remember now the exact color of
our old streets. Blue, black, or gray? I asked Dad once months ago, and he
batted me away. “It doesn’t matter.” I’ve always suspected this is why
Clay spends so much time talking to the tourists; they’ll listen to what
Dad won’t. The tourists love stories about the way things were, down to
the smallest of details. They like to compare our then to now and to study
the ways in which Albertine’s Watch is like their own hometowns.
But here’s what they like even more: to find the differences. To point
out what we did wrong, our inefficiencies, our corruptions, our filth. It
makes them feel clever and somehow safe, as if what happened to us can’t
happen to them because we made simple mistakes, like painting our
streets yellow instead of red like theirs.
I float down the block, giving the kayak a half-hearted stroke or two
as needed. There’s a current that runs from our neighborhood to the old
downtown, subtle but strengthening, which means getting away from
home is now much easier than getting back to it. I raise a hand to Tilla,
who sits on her porch every morning in a mildewed rocker, a chipped
coffee mug full of whisky balanced on her knee. She nods back at me, but
neither of us call to the other. No news is good news; nothing’s changed.
Most of the rest of our block is abandoned, since our neighborhood
was the first to fully submerge, and our neighbors were the first to find
their limits. Everyone’s got one, a limit. I used to pester Dad and Clay
about what ours would be, but I don’t bother anymore. “We’ll know when
we know,” is always Dad’s answer, and so that’s become mine, too. Not
that anyone ever asks me for it. There’s no one left who would care to
know.
The smell ended up being the limit for a lot of the neighbors who
tried to hold on for a little while after The Big One, The One That Didn’t
Recede. Before it, the town council voted against paying to seal our
sewers and reroute our pipes to an above-ground septic, and that’s why it
got so bad after the water came and stayed. But it’s not the council’s fault,
not really. The state would have said no to a seal-and-shift no matter
what. After all, every household in Albertine’s Watch had already voted,
unanimously, four years back to accept a relocation grant in exchange for
letting the state folks rub their hands together, hold them up, and back
away from us onto higher ground. There would be no more government-
sponsored repairs.
We were supposed to leave after we took the money, but we didn’t.
Some did, but not everyone. Not us. Not Hayden’s people. They have a
different name for Albertine’s Watch, one I can’t pronounce, much less
spell, but it means, roughly, “A Dream Rising from the Mist.” We can’t
use that on the tour website, though. Hayden’s people trademarked it and
they police it, especially from Clay.
On some of his earliest tours, Clay used to make up nonsense
phrases for the tourists in an attempt to pass as one of Hayden’s people,
to give himself a deeper and more tragic claim to the land below the
water. But it didn’t take long for Hayden’s brothers to catch wind of that,
and to retaliate, they set our pontoon on fire with diesel fuel. We saved it,
barely, and Dad told me in his way not to bring Hayden around for high-
tide beers again. So the next time he floated up in his small green
motorboat, I didn’t meet him on our porch, like I always had before.
Instead, I sat with my back against the front door and my hands flat on
the floor to feel the vibrations of him moving around on the planks
outside. He left a trio of water lilies, white with pink edges, on our soggy
welcome mat.
The tributes started after that, from us to Hayden’s older brothers,
due every afternoon, after every single tour.
At the end of our street is a triangular buoy spattered with bird shit.
It’s our traffic signal, our cue to make a right. Before, our street routed
straight into town. Now, straight means paddling into an eddy that makes
for more trouble than it’s worth. So instead we float through the old grove
of big and twisted oaks.
For years we were zealots about those trees. We protested every
feeble attempt to cut a road or even just a pathway through them, and a
group of us once chucked eggs at Dirty Ray’s house after he supposedly
snuck a cigarette in the shadow of the oldest one. I’m not proud of that,
but I am proud of protecting the tree as best we could, the only way we
could think to do. So it was big news in Albertine’s Watch when the
initials CW + DM showed up inside a heart carved into the bark of a tree
smack in the middle of the grove. Clay Walker and Dana McMullen. The
fine was so steep that Clay had to take a bar-back job at Dirty Ray’s Diner.
No one ever liked eating at Dirty Ray’s, but that roach of a restaurant is
the only one that’s made it.
Clay took it hard when Dana’s family hit their limit two years ago:
water moccasins in the toilet. A whole nest hatched under their porch and
slithered through a hole in the plumbing, and that was it. When they left,
Clay disappeared with the pontoon for three days, leaving me to hand out
refunds to the tourists.
We got the house raised not long after that, because Dad wanted it
done before the contractors stopped doing it. He was right; only about
half of our remaining neighbors managed to get their houses lifted up
onto thick wooden stilts before the state told the contractors to stop
accepting our money, to stop enabling us to stay. Dad said yes to the stilts
but no to wrapping them in copper sheets, so eventually the worms will
eat the stilts from the inside out. I sometimes wonder if Dad’s pass on the
copper wasn’t really about the money so much as an excuse to build in a
limit for us, a hard one, nonnegotiable: when the house falls down into
the seawater for good. But whenever I ask him, Dad just says we’ll dive
down and patch the stilt legs ourselves when we feel the floor begin to
wobble.
Out here in the grove, away from our neighborhood, the smell isn’t
so bad. A cloud of salty damp hangs over everything, like it does in any
coastal town, and I close my eyes and breathe in heavy air scented with
budding oaks. For a moment, it smells like nothing’s changed. But the
sound is wrong, all wrong. Before, the grove was quiet, almost silent
except for the chatter of birds, or the rustle of wind through leaves, or the
lazy backfire of a truck in the distance. But now, the grove is loud,
relentless, and my ears fill with the sound of rushing water. I’ve adjusted
to many things, but not to the sound of high-tide waves pushing against
the trunks of our beloved trees.
How long until they, too, find their limit?
I float past the tree Clay once carved. Just the very top of the heart is
still visible above the water. I push my paddle against the current and
reach my hand out to grab a piece of waterlogged bark hanging loose. I
trace the top of the mark with my fingers, careful to keep an eye out for
snakes in the pockmarks of the trunk. The C and the D are wholly gone,
and I dare not slide my hand into the water any further to follow the
edges of the stripped-bark heart.
It’s hard sometimes to accept that things like this don’t matter
anymore. A crime once bad enough to make second-page news in the
Albertine’s Watch Herald has now been washed away by sins so great we
still won’t name them. “It’s a hoax,” Dad says anytime the state paper
calls us climate-change refugees. That’s all we have left, the state paper,
since the Herald writers abandoned their office full of soggy reams. Every
weekend, the state editors send an intern in a boat to deliver the weekend
edition to us free of charge. We don’t appreciate the pity, but we do
appreciate the toilet paper.
I paddle beyond the grove and float above Mom. I touch the necklace
at my throat, a single gray pearl that hangs from a thin silver chain. I
don’t bother to pause the kayak here, not anymore. She was the first
person in Albertine’s Watch to die after the cemetery was officially closed
by frequent flooding. The coroner tried to send her body to the
crematorium north of here, but Dad wouldn’t have it. Hayden and his
brothers helped Dad get her back, and together, they put her out here, by
the trees. In the ground.
I used to wonder what her limit would have been, until I realized she
was the first of us to find it. She was sick long before the first hard rains
came, and she died the first time the hospital flooded. That night was just
a small storm, and the water receded in the morning after Mom was gone.
Later, our neighbors would say Mom was the lucky one, the smart one. I
still have nightmares about her coming up and out of her coffin, of her
floating just beneath the surface of the water, a white rotted hand
reaching out for us as we float on by, leaving her behind. The nightmares
come less often now, but not never.
I hum to myself, a song Hayden’s grandmother taught us when we
were very small. The cicadas buzz along with me; the day has just passed
peak heat, and they’re at their loudest now. I think of the tourists, of Clay.
They should be at their break stop, at Dirty Ray’s, where they’ll order
shrimp and French fries, and if the group’s polite, no one will ask where
the shrimp are from. The truth is, no one knows for sure anymore, not
even Dirty Ray. One of Tilla’s sons brings in a catch for him twice a week,
floating up in a trawler that’s trailed by a crowd of seagulls so dense they
shade the diner dark as dusk.
After he gave me the kayak, Clay used to make me stop by during the
tour break and entertain the tourists as they ate. Our neighbors shy away
whenever our pontoon floats by them with cameras flashing, but if the
tourists don’t get at least one local sighting, they get bored and leave poor
reviews. And without a sighting, a meaningful one, it’s too easy to write
off Albertine’s Watch as a ghost town, as a place already dead and lost to
the drudgey clutches of my brother and some guy named Dirty Ray. But
to meet me, a girl, a woman, well, that changes things. Some like to play
counselor and ask me about college, jobs, my future. But I know as well
as they do that their interest in me is just pretend. When the tourists look
at me, they think of one question and only one: if there’s a woman here,
could there still be children?
The idea unsettles them. The women touch my hair, as if to smooth
away the threat of my fertility, and the men buy me drinks too early in the
afternoon, ready with varying degrees of guilt to put it to the test. After a
while it got to me, and I made Clay choose: I’d play puppet at Dirty Ray’s
or I’d deliver the tributes to Hayden’s brothers. I would not, could not,
keep doing both—no, not even for a better cut of the tips.
I’m not paddling toward Dirty Ray’s.
It doesn’t take long for me to float across the old school ballpark and
come into view of a bungalow on a hill, and the sight of a house still
perched on land prompts an ache down in me. Behind the bungalow is a
whole compound of never-drowned homes; almost two dozen people live
back there, maybe more. When we were children, Hayden was
embarrassed that his people all lived so close together here, packed in
tight alongside growling dogs and overflowing garbage cans. Clay and his
teammates had all sorts of nicknames for the houses behind the park,
nicknames they’d whisper into Hayden’s ears as he carried around bats
and uniforms for them.
But it’s been a long time since anyone’s played baseball in Albertine’s
Watch, or even just regular catch. One by one, the boys lost their balls to
the muck, and these days, no one mocks the dry land behind the park.
I push my paddle against the current to stall out the kayak. I’m
required to light a flare, as a sort of statement of my intentions. It’s a
waste of good flares, which are increasingly hard to come by, but I think
that’s part of the point, to drain our resources until we give up and go
away, leaving Albertine’s Watch to them and only them.
But even though it’s a waste and an insult to make us do it, I still like
to watch the pretty red light burn out against the afternoon sun.
Someone whistles from inside the bungalow, and I paddle up to the
pier they built hastily at the end of their once-long gravel driveway.
Hayden meets me there, as he always does. I don’t look him in the eyes as
I hand up the plastic bag of money to him. He tosses it backward onto dry
land and offers me a calloused hand. I take it and let him pull me out of
the kayak. I don’t bother to tie it up, since there’s nowhere for it to go. I
bend down to retrieve the bag of my brother’s money, and Hayden bumps
into me as I stand back up. For a moment, just a moment, we’re close
against each other like we sometimes used to be. On him, I smell
cinnamon and saltwater, but I know on me he’ll just smell sewage.
I back away, holding the money in the space between us. “Here.” I try
to hand it to him, but he waves it off and gestures at the front door of the
bungalow. I shake my head in a false protest, but both he and I know I
always want to go inside. I finger the pearl at my neck and follow him. He
pauses at the threshold and I think he might speak to me for the first time
in weeks. But he changes his mind and just puts a hand on my shoulder
as he frowns. I know the weight of his hands better than my own.
We go together to the kitchen, where Grandmother is ready for me
with a mug of chicory tea and a thick slice of banana bread. Some days,
when the tour tips are bad or Dirty Ray’s coolers are bare, this dense slice
of bread will be all I eat for a day. I squeeze her hand as I take it from her.
Usually, I sit at the table and eat as she sips from her own steaming mug
of tea. And usually, Hayden sits on a crate on the floor at the other end of
the kitchen, with me but not too close.
Today will not be usual.
“Phee.” The eldest of Hayden’s brothers comes into the bungalow
through the back screen door, with the second-eldest brother behind him.
I pat Grandmother’s wrist as I stand up and offer the plastic bag to the
eldest. But he doesn’t take it, instead smiling at me with cracked teeth as
my stomach falls to the floor. Clay predicted this might happen, just not
yet.
“Rate’s gone up. Thirty percent, per tour.”
I’m upset. “Too high.”
Grandmother gets up from the table and leaves the kitchen, and I’m
relieved I won’t have to see her take their side. The eldest brother comes
close to me. He smells like thawed-out fish. I struggle to speak without
breathing, without taking in the scent of him. “You’ll put us out entirely.
The three of us can’t survive on what you’re asking.” Hayden doesn’t
move from his crate.
It wasn’t always like this with them. Before, I came and went from
Grandmother’s bungalow as if I were one of their own, or at least that’s
how I thought it was. I feel seasick in the grounded house. My ears pound
with blood and I hear Clay’s voice: “This is my limit, Phee. This is it.” I
tuck the bag of money into the back of my pants and step away from
Hayden’s brothers. “I’ll get the rest. Right now. Just wait.” I run for the
pier and jump off it, down into the water, up to my knees. Hayden follows
and watches me corral my kayak. I hear the apologies he’ll never say.
I paddle away, fast and hard. Their green motorboat could overtake
me at any time, and I won’t have long at home before they come over to
collect. I have to get to Clay, to Dad, to tell them it’s over, that Hayden’s
people are going to sink our boat, cut our stilts, drown our bodies. I bite
my lip and tell myself not to cry, but the current is harder this way, and
my arms are tired, so completely and hopelessly tired. The ballpark feels
like an ocean, and when I finally manage to cross it, I let out a sob. I
didn’t notice while paddling the other way, but at the edge of the grove,
one of the trees has begun to lean sharply and dangerously into the boat
corridor. When it comes down, its roots will pull up so much muck it
might create another eddy, possibly big enough to cut off the corridor
entirely. We could be stranded in our neighborhood, alone, for good.
I harbor the hysterical hope that it will happen now, today, when
Hayden’s brothers decide it’s time to follow me. I imagine the tree will
pick that very moment to find its limit and let go, crashing down on top of
the green motorboat. Sink them, save me. As if we have a choice about
when and how we’ll break.
The fantasy distracts me, and I hit a branch of a different tree with
the nose of my kayak. The force of it startles me, and I lean to the side,
irrationally, mistakenly afraid that another branch is coming down on me
from above. The kayak lurches, and I feel the plastic bag slide out of my
pants. I cry out and lunge for it, dropping my paddle. The kayak rolls, and
I’m in the water.
I gasp not from cold but from a pain spreading across my shoulders;
my muscles are already cramping, too tired from too much paddling and
too little food. I fight the current to keep my head up and watch as the
plastic bag bobs away from me, an air bubble keeping it temporarily at
the surface. I’m paralyzed by indecision: swim for the bag or the kayak?
Adrenaline floods me, but I still can’t focus. There are too many things
happening at once after so many days, months, years of nothing
happening at all.
I go under. I come up, and when I go down again, I stay down. The
water is dark and salty. Foul. I clamp my teeth together, trying and failing
to keep the water out of my mouth. I’m seized by an idea, that if I swim
down even further I’ll get under the current, where I can swim along its
underbelly, across the ballpark, and pop up again in front of
Grandmother’s bungalow. I can start the visit over, and this time it’ll go
better somehow, the way it did yesterday and the way it will tomorrow. I
am suddenly overcome with joy, with certainty that this is the right idea,
the best idea I can possibly have. I swim down into blackness and pinch
my eyes shut against the stinging. I orient myself horizontally and begin
to thrust.
I realize that I’ve erred, that of course I’m wrong, that I can’t breathe,
that I must breathe. I jerk upward and hit something, another branch or a
piece of garbage, and I turn over, my nose filling. I open my mouth in
surprise, and the water rushes in. I choke and panic. I can’t remember
which way is up. I hear the voice in my head begin to scream, and my
arms fail. I can’t fight. I can’t push to the surface. I can’t do anything but
feel the water rush past me, over me, around me, below me.
I understand now that I’ve passed my limit, that I’ve been living
beyond it ever since all of this began. But it doesn’t matter anymore,
because all that’s left is water and force, and together, they will pound
me, again and again, until they break up what I used to be and break me
down into what I will. Like an old rock on a stormy shore that takes wave
after wave until it finally just shatters, and then shatters again and again
into sand ground ever smoother.
The collapsing sea has freed my mother’s corpse, and she is rising
toward me now, out of the darkness of the muck. Translucent fingers run
through my tangled hair. A palm runs along my arm, but I’m not chilled.
She wraps both arms around my chest, and I watch her skeletal face as
she pulls me along the current. I don’t struggle but instead lean into her,
into the flow of the rising tide.
I’m disoriented when we break the surface. I don’t comprehend the
sky above me, bluer than our water ever was. I don’t comprehend the
words that Hayden yells at me. I don’t comprehend my brother’s face or
his hands around my waist as he pulls me up from Hayden’s arms, from
the water to the pontoon. I don’t comprehend the tourists who gasp and
shriek, unsure whether to help or take my picture. One of them is
someone who knows where to press me, and he does it. I spit brine into
his mouth, and he stammers at me as the others applaud.
I keep my eyes on the sky as I begin to cry. Clay takes one of my
hands, and Hayden takes the other. They both say my name, again and
again, “Iphigenia, Iphigenia,” in rhythm with the steady waves that roll
endless against our boat. For a moment, I feel no limit.
Half-Eaten Cities
By Vajra Chandrasekera

And the sea came up in the streets, grinding its briny teeth down on
broken asphalt and naked concrete.
And the sea went down the winding lanes, slipping under doors
warping and peeling in the damp, coating the faded red polish of our
bedroom floors so that when we swung our feet down in the morning they
splashed, and we stared down at our shivering reflections in disquiet as
the water slowly rose up our ankles and scaled our shins.
That floor polish came in cheap metal tins, waxy and cherry-toxic,
rated H411 in the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and
Labelling of Chemicals: toxic to aquatic life with long-lasting effects,
inimical to the sea. Hostile to us, suddenly, now that we too were once
again becoming aquatic. Wet apes, remembering.
We relearned to swim, or at least paddle. We learned to float in our
sleep, weightless and dreaming.
And the sea climbed up the stairwells, turn by turn, to spill out again
from windows, to turn rooftops into waterfalls. The sea came uneven like
the future. The sea came unleveled like we already were. The sea
recognized that we were an us, and they a them.
The sea followed us home. The sea filled up our homes; we had never
before noticed how much of a room was empty space. We learned to hold
our breath. We learned not to panic. We learned to reach out for each
other’s drowning hands.
And the sea went all the way to their gated communities, and the sea
stopped.
And the sea went all the way to the gates of their mansions, and the
sea stopped.
And the sea said gate, gate, paragate, parasamgate.
Our scientists investigated this boundary, this difference. They said
the curvature of the sea was an effect of massed concentrations of wealth.
Our scientists hastened to add that the effect of mere currency was
negligible, so that we wouldn’t start stuffing our mouths with paper
money to float, or putting coins over our eyes to see better underwater.
Our scientists entreated us in earnest public service announcements to
specifically not do those things.
Petty physical manifestations of money were negligible to the sea,
our scientists said, even in the volumes stored in vaults. The sea was
affected only by the ownership of broad money, not narrow money: broad
and massive, an invisible seawall to break upon.
The sea was repelled only by true wealth, the kind we had never even
understood, the kind that only they possessed.
They could not drown. They couldn’t even get wet, or at least not in
the sea: they were surrounded by a bubble of the sea’s absence at all
times. The sea retreated from them whenever they advanced. We saw
them experimenting with the boundary. They could walk all the way out
to the original sea bottom and the water would keep pace in retreat,
peeling back like lips over teeth, baring in what they took to be a smile.
Even after they left, the sea was cautious in returning. The sea had been
burned before.
They reclaimed more of the city as their own. By adjusting their
movements and habitats they could claim contiguous zones free of
inundation. They established new lines of supply, installed satellite dishes
and landing pads for their helicopters and delivery drones. They moved
on with their lives, enclaved by towering cliffsides of water.
Sometimes—carefully, so as to not alarm the sea—we visited those
borders. We paddled as close as we could get, trying to find an angle with
a clear view of their windows. We tried to watch the new seasons of TV
shows we’d once loved on the 150-inch Ultra HDTV screens in their living
rooms, but it was hard to follow the dialogue at a distance, without
subtitles. We wrote damp critical essays about why those shows were just
not as good anymore for mostly failing to acknowledge the rising of the
sea, which they always quote-tweeted and said “This.” We found their
depictions of the sea problematic because they always showed it from the
perspective of a beach. They said yes, how true.
We took to observing them instead, in their unnatural habitats. We
tried to follow their drama, but it was too dry.
Without TV to watch, we had more time to practice not drowning.
Our scientists proposed that we should consider having gills. This
was controversial. Our scientists were not as credible as their scientists; a
white coat would quickly become a shroud in the sea, stained cherry red
like the water in our homes from rust and a city’s worth of toxic floor
polish.
We argued for treading water, first indoors so that our faces were
brushing the ceilings, and then outside—by that point the distinction was
moot. The tide would take us far from home while we slept, floating
uneasily in our dreams.
We argued for making dry habitations on the asbestos roofs of our
tallest buildings, the only things still above the waterline, but we could
never get comfortable on their corrugations. They were burning hot
during the day, and we worried about breathing in their carcinogenic
fibres. It was far too late to start worrying about that, of course, but we
were new to a lot of things.
The sea rose above it all. The sea took it out of our hands. The sea
grew cloudy with asbestos and naphtha and the unnumbered plastics of
the dying aeon. The sea grew crowded with all of us treading water.
Gill-doomed we leapt like whales out of the water before we went
down into the mesopelagic evening. When we finally gave ourselves those
gills we had so long denied and sank beneath the surface of things for the
first time, we breathed in that wine-dark sea and it tasted like the salt
that will be left behind on our faces when someday the sea evaporates in
the sun, and we learn to walk again.
Darkness Full of Light
By Tony Dietz

This is not the first time my sisters have tried to drown me.
I was four the first time they tried. They pushed me under in the
deep end of the pool, and my mother had to jump in to save me. I was
eight the second time, when they abandoned me in the deep waters of the
Abyssal Plain. That was after my mother went away, and it was my father
who noticed I didn’t return with their pod, and who punished them after
I’d been found. I was ten the third time. They neglected to fill my air tank,
but by then I was on to them, and I checked it myself. They’re jealous of
me because my mother was our father’s favorite wife, and because I’m his
favorite daughter.
Now I’m fourteen, and I watch them carefully. We live in a
dangerous world where there are many ways to drown. The warnings
have been drummed into us since our first underwater breath: sink too
deep and the pressure will crush you; float too high and your blood will
boil; breathe too hard and you’ll run out of air; and never, ever, swim up
into the light.
We live below the light, in the Midnight Zone, two thousand meters
under the surface of the sea. The Sunlit Zone barely makes it two hundred
meters down. That’s where all life that needs light lives. Beneath the
Sunlit Zone is the Twilight Zone, where fish hide from predators and rise
only at night to feed. Beneath the Twilight Zone is our world, the
Midnight Zone, a darkness lit only by our headlights and the occasional
bioluminescent squid.
That’s what my sisters call me, by the way—Squid. It’s not meant to
be a compliment, but I take it as one. Squids are graceful and beautiful
and fast and terrible.
Our home is the Mata Deep Sea Sphere: a mining base built a
hundred years ago on the floor of the Pacific Ocean. It was built to mine
rare metals from the hydrothermal vents in the Tonga Arc. Now we dig
for what we need to survive.
My sisters and I are fifth-generation Matas, descended from a group
of climate migrants who followed the example of their island home and
sank into the sea. We are taught in school that surfaces create friction,
and that it is better to live far from the interface and the heat and
turbulence that surfaces and surface dwellers create. There was a lot of
friction a hundred years ago: superstorms, rising tides, mass migrations,
water wars, and worse. The lucky ones escaped. They were called the one
percent, the ones who had enough resources to travel to places the
masses couldn’t reach. Some went into space, others into the high
mountains. Our founders chose a ball on the bottom of the ocean.
Waves from tides and storms don’t reach the Midnight Zone. Radio
waves neither. We live in total isolation, getting power from the vents,
oxygen from the water, and food from the ocean. We have no contact with
the surface. Our elders tell us that the surface-dwellers didn’t listen to our
cries when our home sunk below the waves, so why should we listen to
their suffering.
We survive, even as the dodos die. That’s what we call surface
dwellers—dodos—and we like to chant: “dodos can’t swim, can’t fly, all
they do is die.” It’s because dodos went extinct, and the surface dwellers
fast followed them. Or so we are taught.
To tell the truth, we know nothing about the surface. We learn about
the sea, but never the sky. Our library only has books about the sea; our
intranet’s files all concern the sea; our movies are about the sea; our
speech, our songs, our art, are all sea, sea, sea.
We don’t know what we don’t know, but we sense something is
missing. Something big.
Only one of our teachers ever mentions the surface. That’s Ms.
Talanoa. She breaks all the rules and her classes are my favorites, even
though she’s a bit loopy and constantly jumps from topic to topic. Like
yesterday. She started by reciting this ancient dodo poem about how no
one’s an island, how we’re all connected, and how any one person’s death
diminishes everyone. The poem ends by saying: “never send to know for
whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.” Ms. Talanoa asked us what we
thought it meant. I said it was probably a storm bell, tolling to warn the
dodos to do something before they ruin the planet. She said that the
“thee” in the poem means “you,” and she gave me this penetrating look
that made me squirm. She can be weird like that.
Then she jumped topics and started talking about our Sphere and
how it was designed using a principle of compression and release that
some guy named Frank Lloyd Wright dreamed up. His buildings had dark
cramped entryways to compress people before releasing them into big
bright rooms, which seemed bigger and brighter after the compression. It
sounded like a good idea, but I guess the Sphere’s designers ran out of
money for the big bright rooms, because the whole place is dark and
cramped. Ms. Talanoa asked the class to imagine what it would be like if
they had to spend their lives compressed in one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s
entryways without ever getting released into the big room. Then she gave
her weird look again, which made me think she wasn’t talking about
design principles any more.
Another jump and suddenly she was talking about the sky and the
stars, and how our sun is just one of billions of stars in our galaxy, which
is one of billions of galaxies in the universe. I left her class with my head
spinning. When I went to bed I dreamed I was a bright star, streaking
across the sky, and my sisters were smaller stars trailing in my wake. I
told my sisters about my dream at breakfast. They weren’t impressed. If
looks could drown, I’d already be at the bottom of the sea.
My mother was like Ms. Talanoa. She liked to talk about the surface
too. Once she even showed me a picture from the surface that was passed
down to her in secret from her great-great-grandmother. It was of a
family at the beach on a sunny day. You could see all the way to the edge
of the Earth, and the light was so bright and the sky so blue it made me
cry. My mother showed it to my father too, but he took it from her. He
said it wasn’t good to dream about the light when you live in the dark. My
mother looked so sad after that. My father must have realized his
mistake, because when she went away he told me he’d given her what she
wanted, which was enough air to go to the surface.
You see, when they built the Sphere, the founders didn’t think two
thousand meters of water was enough to truly isolate us, not if we could
surface whenever we wanted. So, they set the Sphere’s internal pressure
to a depth of two hundred meters, which is twenty times the pressure at
the surface and about as much as a human body can stand. Our bodies
are all pressurized to this depth. We are taught in school that they did
this to reduce the pressure difference across the Sphere’s walls. But then
they teach us about pressure, and percentages, and significance, and we
understand that they are lying.
We all know the real reason, because they teach us about the bends
too. Anyone who tries to surface after living at two hundred meters of
pressure will get bent. Their blood will boil. It will bubble like a can of
soda: bubble under their skin, in their joints, in their heart, and in their
brain. It will be painful as all heck. And gross. And fatal. And because our
dive suits are only designed for positive external pressure, we can’t swim
higher than two hundred meters in our suits either. If we do, they will
literally explode.
To surface without getting bent we would need to pause at a depth of
two hundred meters, flood our suits to equalize pressure with the sea, and
then surface slowly, decompressing over several days. But our leaders are
stingy with air. We have to meter our air in and out whenever we dive,
and no one is allowed to draw more than eight hours at a time. The air we
breathe is the chain that binds us.
I am glad my father somehow got my mother enough air to reach the
surface. When I think of her, it’s much better to think of her in the light
than in the Deep.
I have nightmares about the Deep. We all do. It’s deep and dark
where we live, but there are places that are darker and deeper. We live
next to one of those, the Tonga Trench, where the ocean floor plunges to a
depth of seven thousand meters. The bottom of the trench is called the
Hadal Zone, as in Hades, as in death. You sink down there, you are never
coming back. This is where our nightmares lie. We call it the Deep, and
it’s the scariest thing.


My sisters and I are forbidden from swimming near the trench, which is
probably what draws us to it. Whenever we dive, we always seem to end
up there. Like today. We were meant to be working. Although we are too
young to operate the heavy machines that grind the vents, our small
hands are perfect for collecting the manganese nodules that are strewn
across the ocean floor. I was swimming circles about my sisters, grabbing
nodules as they reached for them, and filling my bag with twice the
number they did. I teased them the whole time, in good fun of course,
about how slow they were—fat sperm whales to my slick squid. I may
have laid it on a bit thick. Sometimes I forget to be nice without my
mother to remind me.
It’s my new dive suit that makes me so fast, and they are all very
jealous of it. My father’s engineers worked for months to perfect its
design. The suit is made of a woven beryllium composite with
ferromagnetic joints and a graphene shell. I’m not sure what all that
means, but I learned it by heart so I could slip it into conversations with
my sisters. It’s slim and flexible and has a monofin a dolphin would die
for.
Today was the first day I got to take my suit out into the ocean. Its
luminescent surface flashed a rainbow of colors as I darted among my
sisters. I was fast and beautiful and graceful and terrible. I grabbed them
from below, like a shark, which freaked them out. They gave chase, but
they couldn’t touch me. It was the best of fun.
By rights the new suit should have gone to Asherah, as she’s the
oldest. If not her, then her sidekick Daryah, the second oldest. Or any of
my older half sisters: Coralia, who loves to dance; Sirena, who’s always
singing; Pearl, who thinks she is pretty; Kaia, who never stops talking;
Tohora, who always listens; Vaha, the instigator; Kaivai, the peacemaker;
or Anga, who swims almost as well as me.
But our father chose to give it to me, Jozette, because I’m his
favorite.
My older sisters are all named for the sea, but my mother didn’t
follow this tradition. My little sister’s name is Satya, which means truth.
I’m not sure what my name means. My sisters tell me it means “full of
herself.” It’s not meant to be a compliment.
No one was leading—we were just mucking about—but we soon
found ourselves at a point on the rim of the trench known as the Suicide
Drop-Off. It’s terrifying to float at the edge and peer into the ink-black
Deep, impenetrable to our lights, even to our sonar. The terror doesn’t
come from what we can’t see; we are used to floating in darkness. The
terror comes from what we know: that we are at the edge of a vertical cliff
that falls thousands of meters to the bottom of the trench; that if anything
were to go wrong with our buoyancy compensators, we would sink to the
bottom; that the pressure would crush our suits long before we got there;
and that there would be no way to recover what was left. That’s why it’s
called the Suicide Drop-Off. Our doctors are very good at resuscitating
victims of drowning. But pop a valve and sink into the Deep and no one is
bringing you back.
Today we dared each other to swim out over the trench. Although I
am the youngest, I was the first to take the dare. Heart pounding, barely
breathing, I swam out and back again. Then others went, and each time
we dared each other to go farther. I swam way out and teased my sisters,
calling them blubber-heads and scaredy-squids. It was meant in good
fun, but they were very jealous of my new suit.
That was when they decided, once again, to drown me.
“Come here, Squid,” Vaha called. “There’s something caught on your
tank.” I could see her smiling through her helmet’s visor, so I swam over
to her. I thought she was going to help me. Instead, she unclipped my
tank. Coralia swooped past, snatched it from her, and passed it to Sirena,
who taunted me. I pushed Vaha away and propelled myself furiously after
Sirena, but she handed my tank off to Kaia, who dangled it over the
trench. I chased her, but she shot it over to Anga, who swam even further
out over the trench.
I stopped wasting air chasing them. “Give it here, Anga,” I
demanded, and grasped for the worst threat I could think of. “Give it
here, or I’ll tell father.”
Anga waggled my tank in front of her. “Come and get it you spoiled
little squid.” I charged at her and she tried to toss the tank to Kaivai but
its valve caught on her bag of rocks, tearing it from her belt and
disrupting her buoyancy. Anga went up, and my tank, with her rocks
attached, fell tumbling into the Deep.


This is not the first time my sisters have tried to drown me, but it looks
like this time they might succeed. They circle me, undulating gracefully,
feigning concern. I see through their illusion. Nasty, vindictive sirens.
I should cut my hand across my neck to signal that I am out of air, to
ask them to share their air. Some already have their hands on their buddy
hoses, ready. But I’m too angry.
“You can all go to hell,” I say, and I flip and kick down into the trench
to chase my tank.
It feels good for about ten seconds.
Then my fury fades to fear. My tank has sunk fast, weighed down by
Anga’s rocks. I sweep the narrow ray of my headlight, but it shows
nothing but black deep. I listen for pings from my sonar. There it is, faint
but recognizable, a long way down.
The fear clears my thoughts. I pull up in a tight arc, hoping to see
lights following me. There is only darkness. I really should swim back and
beg for air.
I’d rather die.
I dive down, driving with my fin, slipping through the water, sinuous
as a seal. A readout in the corner of my helmet shows my depth: 2500 m.
I’m tempted to kick harder but know I would just churn water and waste
energy. I stretch my arms forward, hands clasped together, and focus on
being one with the water, a streamlined sliver in the dark deep. I’m fast
and beautiful and graceful and terrible.
Why do my sisters want to drown me?
An alarm sounds in my helmet, warning that I’ve exceeded my suit’s
rated depth. I ignore it. My sisters’ suits are only rated to 2100 m, but
mine is rated to 3000 m. I watched them proof-test a prototype of my suit
and remember them taking it much deeper than its rated depth. They put
a seal inside. When the suit imploded, the seal’s blood bloomed like algae
in the water. It wasn’t pretty.
Why do they hate me?
3200 m. My light pencils the darkness. My brain feels fuzzy. I’m
running out of oxygen. The black seems blacker, if that’s even possible. I
wish I could remember the depth at which the seal bloomed.
3400 m. I’m out of my head, like in a dream. I see myself, a tiny prick
of light in the great darkness of the Deep. I am all alone. There are no
stars trailing in my wake.
What did I ever do to them?
3600 m. My tank! A faint reflection in the dark. I chase on, down and
down and down. All I can hear is my heart. Time slows as its beat counts
the seconds I have left.
3800 m. My sight narrows. Been here before. Seconds from blacking
out. If I do, I’m dead. Drowned.
3900 m. So close. My tank is right there. My hand closes on it. I clip
in my hose. Darkness.


Why do they want to drown me? Why? Why? Why? My question echoes
in the dark.
Then I hear a voice. Wake up. It sounds like my mother.
I’m not dead?
Not yet.
4000 m. I’m deep in the abyss and still sinking. My suit has locked
up and it’s making sounds it’s never made before, grinding and creaking.
I can taste fear in my mouth, feel it in my stomach.
You have to stop sinking.
I reach down to inflate my buoyancy compensator. Nothing happens.
The water pressure must be higher than my tank pressure. I’m trapped,
caught in a crushing fist. Help! Please don’t let me bloom like the seal.
The rocks.
The rocks! I unclip my bag and let it go. I unhook Anga’s rocks from
my tank and let them go too. I stop sinking and an enormous wave of
relief shudders through me. I rise, slowly at first, then faster and faster as
my compensator inflates. I am shaking in my suit as I shoot upwards.
At 3500 m my waist unlocks, and I can swim again. I twirl as I rise, a
graceful rainbow fish pirouetting. My sisters will be so glad to see me.
I stop spinning. My sisters hate me. They want to drown me.
Do they?
When I was four, they pushed me under!
They were playing. You got pushed under in a chaos of bodies and
bubbles. They didn’t even know you were there.
When I was eight, they abandoned me on the Abyssal Plain!
You hid from them to see if they would notice. Is it their fault they
didn’t?
When I was ten, they didn’t fill my tank!
You were old enough to fill your own tank.
They stole my air and threw it down the trench.
They were teasing you, just as you teased them. Anga didn’t mean
to drop your tank. It was an accident.
They wouldn’t give me air.
You didn’t ask.
They didn’t follow me.
You didn’t wait for them.
They hate me.
They’re jealous of you.
Because of my suit.
Because their father loves you more, and you rub their noses in it.
I decide I really don’t like the voice.
A vertical rock face looms large in the beam of my headlight. I angle
toward it as I ascend, trying to distract myself from the annoying voice.
Something glints on top of a rocky outcrop. I adjust my compensator to
halt my ascent and hover beside the wall as I peer at the thing in the
rocks. My depth gauge reads 3000 m. I know what it is, long before I
gather the courage to admit it to myself.
Crushed suicide sinkers.
A great pile of suits, all crumpled, like a heap of discarded dolls that
have been stomped on hard and tossed aside. There must be hundreds of
them. It feels so wrong—wrong that they’d felt their only option was to
sink, and wrong that even their wish to sink had been denied. They’d
wanted to lie on the bottom, forever undisturbed, not here, just below
their crush depth, waiting for someone with a new suit to discover them.
I should do something. I fin down and roll the topmost suit off the
pile and over to the edge of the outcrop. I unclip its tank, whisper “Rest in
peace,” and push the suit over the edge. As I watch it sink, my light
illuminates the reflective number on its helmet. All our suits have
numbers. They represent the order of our birth among the Sphere’s
population. Mine is one thousand, which makes me special, the first
millennial. My mother was eight hundred, which made her special too, a
centurion. None of my sisters have special numbers. This suit’s number is
985, which is Tessa’s number.
Tessa was one of Anga’s friends. Once, when I was crying because
Anga had excluded me from a game, Tessa put her arm around me and
told Anga to let me join. I’d been so happy to join the game, and then so
intent on winning, that I’d never even thanked her. Now, as I watch her
sink into the Deep, I worry that I’m not a very good person.
A cloud of dark thoughts gathers. I avoid them by inspecting Tessa’s
tank. I should have sent it to the bottom with her, but it felt like such a
waste. I connect my buddy hose to see if there’s air left. It feels a bit like
stealing, but I forget that when I see the readout in my helmet. I’ve more
than doubled my air supply. Fourteen hours! I’ve never had so much air
in my life. I look over at the pile of suits and see a treasure trove of air.
It’s not a nice way to see, but it gives me an idea. A breathtaking idea.
I could surface!
I could see the light!
And then another thought, almost as compelling—I would never have
to see my sisters again.
I collect tanks, rolling suit after suit off the pile and over the edge. I
don’t look at their numbers and I don’t watch them sink. The chain of
tanks grows and my air supply increases with each one. By the eleventh
tank I have eighty hours of air. But the eleventh suit catches on a rock as I
push it over the edge. Its number flashes in front of my face.
Eight hundred.
Oh no.
I watch my mother sink, the beam from my headlight a thread
connecting us until she is swallowed by the darkness. The pressure
builds. I feel again its crushing fist. The walls of the trench close in on me.
I can’t take it anymore. I open the valve to my compensator and surge
upwards, dragging the chain of tanks behind me. I explode from the
trench, choking on sobs, and continue rocketing upwards, unable to see
through the tears streaming from my eyes. I continue accelerating as the
water pressure drops and my compensator expands. No more darkness. I
need light.
Through my tears I sense the sea above turning from black to blue. I
shoot through a bloom of jellyfish and startle a turtle swimming above
them. A school of quivering tuna parts for my passage. I blink away my
tears and check my depth. 300 m. I adjust my compensator and slow my
ascent till I hang, suspended in pale blue water.
Oh father,
You lied to me.
You said you gave her air.
You said she went into the light.
You said you loved me most.
Was it love?
Or was it guilt?


Sink too deep and the pressure will crush you. Float too high and your
blood will boil. Breathe too hard and you’ll run out of air. And never,
ever, swim up into the light.
Rules, drummed into us till they became part of us, like the language
we speak, the names we answer to. I’ve swum too deep. I’ve breathed too
hard. I’m swimming into the light. What name will I answer to now?
I flood my suit and rise slowly, hanging suspended for hours between
each ascent. Above me the water is blue, below me it is black. A manta ray
wafts by. The water above grows darker, and I worry that I am sinking,
then realize it must be night. I sleep in my suit between ascents. When
morning comes I am higher, and there are shades of green in the blue.
Closer and closer I creep toward the surface. A pod of dolphins cavorts
about me. The turtle returns for a visit.
Hunger makes me wonder what I’ll do for food at the surface. My
mother told me that fruit doesn’t rot on the branch like it does in the
damp under the sea. I wonder if the dodos really did all die. I wonder if
there is anything up there at all.
Meters from the shimmering surface I almost lose my nerve. But
there’s nothing for me below. With a powerful thrust of my tail, I launch
myself upwards, and in a shower of spray, I burst into the light.
Too bright! I shut my eyes and crash back into the water. My second
attempt is more controlled. I surface and slowly open my helmet’s visor.
New air rushes in, fresh, thick, and clean. It’s like breathing life. The sky
is awash in red and orange. I open my eyes wide and let it all in. I’m a
baby being born. It’s too big, too much for my mind to comprehend. My
eyes focus at the range of my headlight—the farthest I’ve ever seen. But
the world is much bigger. I try to focus farther, but the world is bigger
still. I try to focus at infinity, and finally, there it is. The whole world.
What a release!
Clouds glow in the distance, floating above what must be the horizon,
the edge of the Earth. My soul just might burst with the beauty of it all. I
keep wanting to point, to show someone. It’s breaking my heart to see it
alone.
I spin at the sound of laughter behind me. My sisters! But it’s not
them. It’s something even more wondrous than the horizon: an island
city under sail, a hodgepodge flotilla of boats and containers lashed
together and supporting a dense honeycomb of buildings, plants, and
machinery. Not mechanical, not biological, but both, and human, and
very alive. People swarm everywhere. Their shouts float across the water.
And something else … singing. They are singing! No one sings in the
Sphere, where voices are trapped, but out here songs soar into the sky. I
watch and listen, entranced. Patch-quilt sails billow in the breeze. The
sun sinks as the city sails away from me. Only after the sight and sound of
it has faded do I think that maybe I should have called to them. But it is
too late, and I am left alone with the greatest lie of all. The dodos didn’t
die. They survived.
I close my eyes and float alone on the dark ocean. I wander in my
thoughts for a long time. I think about my mother’s sadness, and my
father’s guilt, and my sisters’ jealousy. Lastly, I go to the place I have been
avoiding, and think about myself. I feel like I am in a great big room, and
even though I am full of myself, I am not enough to fill it.
I think I want to change who I am.
When I open my eyes, I gasp. The sky has cracked open and the night
is ablaze with a shoal of light. My mind struggles to stretch wide enough
to fathom the scale of what I see.
I am a tiny speck, floating alone in a vast ocean, on the surface of a
planet that floats alone in a measureless universe.
Adrift, I cry for my sisters to take my hand because I am small and
scared and drowning in this infinite sea of stars, this darkness full of
light.
I turn away, close my visor, and dive back into the sea. I want only to
curl into a ball and hide. I purge my suit and plunge down till mine is the
only light in the darkness. Down and down I dive and I don’t stop till my
light finds the ocean floor and the edge of the trench.
There, in the darkness, ten lights throw their beams into the black
Deep—searching.
My soul sings as I swim toward the lights.
Toward my sisters.
If they ask, I will tell them of the terror of the trench, and the wonder
of the sky. I will tell them not to lose hope, not to sink into the Deep,
because I have air and there is life in the light. I will tell them that
together we could brave the surface. If they ask, I will tell them all these
things. But first, I will hold their hands tightly and beg their forgiveness,
because no one’s an island, and I know now that without them I will
surely drown.
Luna
By David Samuel Hudson

I usually talk to her at some length, but she’s very quiet today. I know she
hears me—I can see her eyes on one of the screens, glancing in the
direction of my sound, and then she turns around and raises her tail
flukes at me. She’s giving me the cold shoulder. And it hurts, because
though the Krueger headset allows me to translate her echolocation
clicks, I cannot know how she feels, why she’s snubbing me this way.
I’m at Lime Kiln Point on San Juan Island in Washington. Luna is a
female orca that I have conversations with. She’s never more than a mile
from shore. I can switch between the cameras attached to billets under
the sea, so I always have a view of her unless she strays too far. The
observatory where I work has a state-of-the-art sonar, which detects her
echolocation clicks and pulsed calls. The Krueger headset translates these
sounds into comprehensible English. The frequencies of the whistles
usually define the content, but the Krueger caters for gestures like pec
slapping too. It’s sophisticated. It has allowed me to have a wonderful
rapport with Luna.
She’s playful, argumentative, highly opinionated. And loves the
sound of petrol boats.
I take off the headset. Analeigh hands me a mug of coffee.
“Thanks,” I say. I gesture to the screen. Luna is turning aside and
swimming away. “She’s playing hard to get this morning.”
Analeigh leans towards the screen and pushes her glasses up her
nose. She’s the orca expert, I’m just the diplomat.
“Her caudal peduncle is swollen,” she says. “And it’s June, so she
may be pregnant. In pain.”
I doubt that. We haven’t had a male sighting in months. Years before,
Lime Kiln was a vantage point for orca sightings—several of them
porpoising and rising out of the water, their skin cream white and
liquorice black. Over the years, their numbers have dwindled to a
handful. They’re starving and the rake marks on their bodies reveal that
they’re no longer the apex predators they once were. They’re weak and
unable to protect their young. But Analeigh is an expert, so I don’t argue.
“Speaking of pregnant,” I say, pointing at Analeigh’s baby bump.
“How’s junior?”
Analeigh puts her hands on her tummy, smiling down at the bump.
“Kicking fiercely.” She sits down on the chair next to mine and sighs. Ever
since she revealed that she was three months in, pregnancy is all she talks
about. She puts punnets of strawberries on her tummy and repeats the
word strawberry for baby to learn. She brings her animal figurines to
work, places them on her bump and names them, one by one.
“Do you want to feel?” she asks.
Crystal and I have never discussed kids and I think neither of us
wants to. But I nod my head and Analeigh pulls my hand over her bump.
“This is Lee,” Analeigh says. “He’s my friend. This is my friend Lee.”
I feel a kick and pull my hand away. “Whoa.”
“Baby says hello,” Analeigh says.

Sometimes when I get home, I start missing Luna immediately. The
conversations we have border on magical. We linger on the beautiful
sounds we make, an aesthetic discourse—we don’t talk about the weather
or stumble on small talk; we talk mostly about abstractions, feelings,
things as universal as mathematics. If Luna weren’t a sea creature, I
would undoubtedly break the rules and take my work home. Crystal
wouldn’t mind, I’m sure. She likes discussing the orca.
We live in a two-storey cement planked house across from a horse
breeding farm. The French doors in our living room lead out to a terrace
with a view of the lake. I used to sit there on the banks and watch the
trout and blackstripe topminnow. There’s nothing there now apart from
water as dry and grey as chalk.
I open the fridge as I unbutton my shirt. I see the Yieldmilk and
make a face at it. I feel Crystal’s hand brush against my shoulder and see
her pull out the carton. She unscrews the cap and takes a sip.
“Don’t look at me like that,” she says, wiping her mouth. “I get an
intake of calcium, you don’t.”
“I’d rather pop pills and vitamins than drink that shit,” I say. I always
thought it tasted like vomit.
Crystal sits at the table and looks up at the ceiling. “Well,” she says,
“since the bees started dying, paddy fields dried up like a sinkhole and
everything else started going to shit, Yieldmilk came through.”
“Pumped with enzymes and fake lard.”
She shrugs.
It’s hot. I take off my shirt and sling it on the back of the chair.
“I hope Luna’s faring better.”
“Not much,” I say. “She’s quiet. She’s worrying me.” I think better of
it but I still say it. “Analeigh thinks she’s pregnant.”
Crystal bursts into a laugh. She puts her hand over her mouth to hide
the high-riding canines. She still doesn’t believe me when I say that I like
them. I smile widely at her and try to wring her hand away from her
mouth. She lets me do so but closes her mouth and pushes out her lower
lip. I lean forward and am about to kiss her when I smell the Yieldmilk on
her breath.
“No,” I say and pull away, pointing at the carton. “You’re looking
scrumptious, but no.”
For some reason I want to talk about Analeigh and tell Crystal that I
felt a baby’s foot push against my hand earlier this morning. I’m about to
bring it up when Crystal pulls something out from under the kitchen
table. It’s a colourful leaflet. I scan the words. “Preservation of the
Permafrost: engineers wanted.”
My heart momentarily freezes. I feel a silvery pain in my chest. I
don’t want to leave San Juan, not yet. “Do you know how much mercury
is running along with the melt, the amount of carbon?” I say. “It’s a lost
cause.”
I can imagine them, all the volunteers in Alaska wearing hazmat suits
and looking down at the trunks of ice like fossilised bones under a red
sky, gallons of mercury—a red hell—beneath their feet.
Crystal looks surprised. “And Luna isn’t?”
“That’s different.” I feel impatient and look down at Crystal’s leaflet
as if it’s a provoking face. “I have conversations with Luna.”
“We’ll talk about it later,” Crystal says, putting her hand flat on the
leaflet. I know what this means. It means that we’ll have to wait until
Luna is no longer in my life, whereupon I’ll be able to leave San Juan
Island without regrets and go to Alaska with Crystal in false hope. Crystal
knows it too, I know she does, that the world is past the point of relying
on our hope.
When we go upstairs and Crystal starts removing her sundress and
asks me to help her with the tie knot at the back, I kiss her neck. The tie
knot comes undone, she turns and kisses me back. The taste of Yieldmilk
is still on her breath but we fall on the bed and remove the rest of our
clothes. Crystal is beautiful, God is she beautiful. She parts her fringe
down the middle but I pull it back. The way it grazes her lashes over her
big brown eyes makes me feel like the luckiest man alive. But then she
looks down at me and there’s a look on her face.
She doesn’t have to say it but I can see it as we make love—the
hyperawareness of the possible consequence of our conduct. “I won’t,
don’t worry,” I say to her, my hand on her head. For this reason, our
lovemaking is a tightrope act.


In the morning I wake up at five-thirty and drive to the observatory. It’s a
little over half an hour from home. I drive along the stake fencing of the
state park. The sun is rising and army trucks are overtaking me, zipping
by. The soldiers in black uniform on the truck beds look at me and nod
their heads. Their eyes sometimes veer to the pink flamingo dangling on
my rearview mirror. It was a gift from mum, back when I saved an
ambitious Andean flamingo that had relocated all the way to Texas—
broken leg, wings thick with blood and mud. I took her to the Wetlands
Centre. She was the last to breed in a safe environment.
“Flamingo man,” I say to myself as I ease onto the parking area. I
give the pink flamingo a twirl and get out of the car. My heel slides out of
my flip-flops as I squeeze out. The tarmac is warm already. I rub the
macadam granules off my heel and spot Sergeant Spoon on the deck of
the observatory, his elbows leaning on the handrail of the spiral staircase.
He gives me a brusque wave.
“Morning,” I say.
Spoon wears the military uniform but he’s little more than a
messenger. He comes to the observatory once a week to bring us news
and relative statistics that are important to us. He’s always chipper, and
strikes me as someone who’s casually and blissfully ignorant. He has a
long, rectangular face and golden eyes. One of his hands has the colour
and texture of plaster but the fingers move in a natural manner. Analeigh
and I believe that it’s some kind of advanced prosthetic. We never asked.
“Back at you, Andes,” Spoon says. He calls me that after he heard of
the flamingo rescue.
I climb the stairs and walk in, Spoon following. I see Analeigh is in
already, arranging the animal figurines on her desk. She turns around
and smiles. Spoon raises his hand at her.
“What have you got today?” I ask him.
Spoon holds out a clipboard and is staring at Analeigh’s baby bump.
“Water’s a pH unit lower,” he says. “Divers found Quasimodo pteropods,
broods are losing their shape in a couple of months.”
I look down at the pages and flip through them. This is happening
more quickly than we thought. Small organisms are dissolving in the
water. Luna can taste the difference too—she’s mentioned this before.
“Thanks,” I say. I look up at Spoon, who is still staring at Analeigh’s
belly.
“Is there a pea in the pod there?” he whispers.
I nod and take the clipboard from him. His weird hand twitches and
falls away.
“What the fuck for?” he says.
I shrug. Spoon nods, gives the observatory a cursory glance and
turns to leave. “That’s that then,” he says. “Have a good week.”
Spoon leaves and I move to the sonar, look at the screen. Luna is
there, looking directly at one of the cameras. I put on the Krueger
headset, desperate to hear her voice.
“Good morning, Luna.” I hold my breath and cross my fingers. I
want her to reply. I wait and watch her somersault away to the next billet.
“You were quiet yesterday,” I say. I watch my voice manifest in green
waves on the sonar. I know she hears me. I see a close-up of her saddle
patch as she comes into view on the next screen. I notice a new mark on
her white skin. It’s a thick and long line of scab, blotches of light red
around it. I see her open her mouth, her teeth perfect white rows.
Protect. I have to protect.
Luna looks around as her sound bounces off the seabed and comes
through. I sigh with relief. I notice it now, a clear puffiness of the caudal
peduncle.
“You’re with child?” I ask.
Luna veers in a different direction. I try to find her on a different
screen, watch her through a different camera. She’s caught by one closer
to shore, turns, and is again out of the shot. She’s restless today.
Yes.
The sonar registers the echolocation. I see her head come into view
on one of the screens. I think she looks sad, defeated. I can barely see her
black eye on her dark skin but her melon seems heavier than usual, her
rostrum pointing towards the seabed, sinking lower. I remove the
Krueger headset for a second and look over my shoulder at Analeigh.
“You were right. She’s pregnant.”
Analeigh pushes her lion collectible to the edge of her desk and looks
up. “Thought so.”
I put the headset back on and look at Luna. “Are you afraid?” I ask
her.
Yes.
She’s being curt, her usual wit temporarily impaired. I want to make
her feel better but I don’t know how. You can put your arm around a
human being, you can divert a person to a distraction, you can tell them
it’s going to be OK. But Luna is alone in the ocean, surrounded by a
handful of predators, in water that is too acidic for the source of her
nourishment to survive for long. There’s nothing I can convince her to do
so she would feel safer or better. We’re running out of fish to feed her
with, and squid has sunk deeper, too deep for her to reach. I don’t want to
fool myself either—bringing Luna closer to shore was initially an
experiment to observe how she could naturally survive—but I hadn’t
assumed that I would want to interfere with the procedure, ruin the
inevitable result, and save her. It isn’t about observation anymore. I wish
it could be about doing something, but there’s nothing I can do.
“Luna,” I say. Her name makes a rippling sound in the water. It
sounds like the trill of a harp.
Are you carrying human offspring?
I stifle a chuckle. “No.”
Luna drifts slowly into the next screen. She pushes her head against
a cluster of kelp. Kelp is a rare sighting these days—she finds solace in the
things that were once so familiar. The translucent green leaves of the kelp
flutter along with the current and Luna sinks right through the cluster,
the leaves creeping around her skin. She nuzzles the algae on the ocean
floor. It’s as if she’s asking the green a question, attempting to find some
answer there.
I think I feel a quick shake of the ground beneath my feet and look
over my shoulder at Analeigh, who looks unfazed. She’s looking through
the notes Spoon brought us and underlining something.
I turn back to the screen. Luna is coming out from between the
strings of kelp.
Not safe. Mate sought colder water, provisions. Will mate be back?
Will I call for mate?
I look at her and put my hand on the screen. We are two different
species of being speaking in two different languages but we understand
each other. I’m on land and she’s in the water. I think this is incredible.
It’s only when we’re at the breaking point of things that we reveal our
potential for godly accomplishments. Luna makes as if she sees my hand
and comes closer to the screen.
“I think you should go, Luna,” I say. “Leave, go deeper.”
I hear Analeigh push back her chair. I turn around.
“What are you doing?” she asks. She approaches the sonar and puts
her hand on my arm. “They dance, you know, before they mate. They
play.”
I shrug.
“Recreation,” Analeigh says. “Their psyche, their environment,
everything supported what they were doing. She’s safe here.”
I look back at the screen and see the scab again. I’d like to think she’s
safer if she’s close to me, if we can still talk. We had asked for heavy-duty
mesh netting a while back to protect Luna from predators farther from
shore but this would have prevented her from reaching out to fetch her
daily bread. I see now that the lack of netting was part of the experiment.
Luna has always had an expiry date. We just wanted to see for how long
she would survive.
I take off the Krueger headset. “You need to give me access to the
freezer. She needs to eat,” I say.
Analeigh shakes her head and is about to speak.
The door bursts open. The sunlight hurts my eyes and I squint and
see Sergeant Spoon in the doorway. His forehead is glistening. He’s
leaning on the jamb and catching his breath. “Andes, rockfall,” he says.
“Come on, out of here!”
Outside, through the glare of the sunlight, I see the moving dust in
the distance. The whole cliff might come undone and collapse over our
heads. I turn around when I’m at the foot of the stairs, forgetting for a
minute that Luna’s in the water, that she is safe from this. But just from
this.
We get into Spoon’s jeep, Analeigh holding her belly, my hand
around her shoulder. We sit on the backseat and Spoon is looking at us in
the rearview mirror, wiping his brow with his plaster hand. I think of
Luna, leaving her without a goodbye. I feel sick and powerless.
“This park is understaffed to hell,” Spoon says. “No rangers, no
docents, where is everybody?”
I look through the windscreen and see the corniche in the distance.
The cloud of dust is still unbroken over the cliff. The cliff face looks like
crumpled foil, the rocks dry and flaking. There are two cars on the road,
teal and lemon dots overwhelmed by the brown fall and the trailing dust.
I only realise when I see Spoon furrowing his eyebrows at me in the
rearview mirror that my hand is on Analeigh’s tummy. She too is looking
at me, mouth open. I pull away and apologise.
“Why do we need rangers, Sergeant?” Analeigh asks.
Spoon pulls over slowly and looks at Analeigh over his shoulder. He
takes his hand out of the window and points at the falling rocks in the
distance. He pulls his hand back, places it on his plaster hand and pulls it
out of his sleeve. We were right. It’s a prosthetic.
“If it weren’t for a ranger, I would’ve lost more than this here hand,”
he says. “There’s not a lot you can do against a pair of grizzlies.” He
squeezes the plaster hand back in its sleeve, gives it a twist, and places it
on the steering wheel.
Analeigh and I look at each other and I can detect a repressed smile
on her face. I don’t react. I look out the window towards the sea. I feel a
heavy weight on my chest and all I want to do is leap out of the car and
tell Luna to leave, leave and never look back. I long for the day when I
would walk up to the sonar and be unable to spot her on any of the
screens.
The last time I felt this way was when I had to leave for San Juan,
leaving Crystal behind me in Fort Worth. She was to join me in three
weeks but I started missing her the moment I waved at her from the
departures escalator. And all throughout the flight I had a sickening,
delirious presentiment that I would not see her again, that her pretty face
and vast intelligence would no longer be sources of comfort and
happiness, that she would abandon me as I had abandoned her.
As I am with Crystal, I am in love with Luna.

Analeigh and I return to the observatory before dark. The sun is just a
sliver of red colour on the horizon. Analeigh packs up her things and
stands at the door.
“We’ll talk about what you said tomorrow,” she says.
I know what this means, this continuous reference to another day—
delaying the exchange until my argument is no longer applicable. This
reasoning is what brought us to the breaking point in the first place. I was
guilty of this too in the past. Hell, I think I did it yesterday, telling Crystal
that preserving the permafrost is a lost cause.
I nod my head at Analeigh and she smiles. She squeezes her lips as
she does so. I know this smile—it foreshadows her obstinate viewpoint.
She turns around slowly and leaves.
I am alone with Luna, the sonar still beeping green. Luna is making
sound. I search for her on the screens and I see her, very still, sinking
ever so slowly towards the seabed.
I put on the Krueger headset. “Luna,” I say. “Sorry for leaving you.”
I am afraid of the darkness.
The littoral zone is sparse of anything that could nourish Luna. It’s a
grave risk but there are still some untouched ecosystems in the deeper
regions of the sea.
The sun is now at its last spluttering flame, a red burst over the
surface of the water, and I see the colour on Luna’s back. She raises her
head up to it. The beam from the lighthouse appears from the west and a
yellow light pierces through the water surface and reaches Luna, a
heavenly trail of yellow. On the screen, I can see some red sea urchins
nested in clefts below the water, a ghostly green anemone pulsing and
moving with the current.
“I don’t want to leave you,” I say.
Luna opens her mouth, wider than ever before, and I hear the sound
she makes before I hear the translation. It’s a French horn sound, made
thundery by the thick water.
I am dying.
I know this is not what she means, that life is not currently leaving
her. I know she means this in a future sense—she will die soon—or maybe
I’m deceiving myself and fail to see how she is currently starving, too
warm, hurt.
I put my hand on the screen. I want to tell her that I love her but she
wouldn’t know what that means. She wouldn’t understand it. I would in
effect be saying it for me, to attempt to make up for my inability to save
her. It wouldn’t help her either, it would just confuse her.
“You need to leave, Luna. It’s no longer safe here. Go north.”
Luna moves her head up and down and shakes her tail from side to
side.
Sun down. You leave also. Go home.
She is quiet after this. She moves away from the camera and goes to
the farthest billet, waits there, turns back. She is unsure, she is afraid.
I turn off the lights. I say goodbye.

I remember the days when Luna and her friends used to jump out of the
water surface, the glistening water like diamonds on their skin. I
remember picking her out from her mates because she had the tendency
to swim belly-up, approach the shore that way, and I always believed she
smiled—a naive and blithe smile that wrinkled the sides of her mouth. I
remember the first time I touched her when we swam amongst the orcas.
I was holding my breath under the water and my hand made contact with
the skin around her blowhole and I exhaled. She flinched at the bubbles
that came out of me and she watched me as if waiting for me to do it
again. We called her Luna because she was the only one that stayed close
to shore at night.

They all disappeared, one by one, but she remained. As constant as the
stars or the light of the moon. It’s only now that she refuses to swim belly-
up, that her smile has receded. Luna—or at least the reason why we gave
her that name—is no more. Their merry nature dies before they do.
Crystal is already asleep when I return home. I sit next to her on the
sofa and run my hand along her hair. She couldn’t sleep during her first
week in San Juan. She listened to solfeggio frequencies on her phone,
took hot baths before bed—she even heated that revolting Yieldmilk and
drank a warm glass a few times. Nothing worked. Then I made her listen
to the recordings of Luna’s squeaks of delight, her whistles, her lunar
pulsed calls, the spacey echolocations.
Luna became Crystal’s lullaby. She had put the headphones in her
ears and slept like a baby. I was happy that Luna was the reason I felt at
home in San Juan and then also the reason why Crystal felt comfortable
enough to sleep. I had told Luna about this, how her language was taking
Crystal to her dreams. Luna had slapped her pectoral fins against the
water surface and unleashed a nasal puff of water through her blowhole.
She was happy.


In the morning, the screens are blue. There is no movement. Looking
laterally through the sea feels like looking at the night sky—a whole lot of
nothingness, but you know there’s life in the distance. It wasn’t always
this way. We used to spy plenty of life on our screens: bluefin, sargassum,
jacks, trevally. Now it’s just a deep blue empty, a thick fluid of floating
debris and bone. All we can hear on the hydrophones is the metal doom
of oil tankers.
And when I say that there’s life in the distance, I’m actually hoping,
not knowing. I’m hoping that Luna has made it to civilisation. My heart’s
in my throat. She isn’t on my screen anymore. She could be dead.
I see a reflection of Analeigh on one of the screens. I see her place a
giraffe on her tummy and smile. I’m holding the Krueger headset and I’m
shaking. I’m bending the headset, it’s about to break. I turn around. I
don’t know what I am—jealous maybe, furious.
Hurt?
“What’s the point?” I gesture to her army of animal figurines on her
desk. “I don’t understand.” I’m shouting at her and she’s going pale and
holding up her giraffe, covering her face. “You’re giving your child the
names of things no longer in existence.” I slam my fist against the
desktop and the hippo, the bear, and a couple of others fall on their side.
Analeigh looks at them in horror. I watch her as she rearranges
them. I wait at her desk for an answer. She’s still pale and I’m worried for
the child in her. I’m about to apologise.
“I want my child to love the world as it used to be. To have the
privilege that we had when we were kids.” She looks up at me and holds
my gaze. I can feel my lips trembling. “I’m sure you would do the same,”
she says.
I don’t know what I’m thinking. I’m looking at Analeigh and
despising her, and I’m not sure why. I take a deep breath and run out of
the observatory. I go down the spiral staircase. The sun is hot on my neck.
I look out towards the sea, still crashing against the rocks, feeling the fizz
of the spray on my face. I run out towards it, skip over the karst, smelling
the salt and the lime on the breeze. The water reaches my feet and I’m not
surprised that it’s warm. I keep pushing towards the waves. I want the
waves to pull me away, take me to a place of certainty, where Luna might
be.
I dive under the water. I see the same view as on the screens, a
dreadful confirmation. Luna is not here, nor will she ever be again. I
swim out farther, noticing the cameras that we had installed on the
billets. I surface for breath and look at the horizon.
I make a decision in the water. It’s the same sentiment that made me
tell Luna to leave. Crystal came to San Juan for me. I will go to Alaska for
her.
Tuolumne River Days
By Rebecca Lawton

That was the summer the Champs couldn’t hit the ball, could barely field
it, couldn’t fill the stands as the team’s stats headed for the cellar. Defense
took their places at the top of each inning with eyes down, shoulders
hunched, braced in case the crowd went hostile. The first baseman was
the one exception, all muscle and bulk, his forearms the branches of a
large tree, his bat alive despite the deadwood around him. I called him
FB: buttocks beefy against the seat of his pants, torso thick and solid like
pistons, legs wide from a lifetime of squats and hard work. He’d picked
up a swagger during the Champs’ second world championship, had
seared that bull stride into our admiring brains by the third.
He was the first person I ever heard use the H-word in public, at one
of his fundraisers. Hydrophilia, “the new cancer.” Water affinity. Not
curable yet; not fully researched. The first casualties were slipped onto
obituary pages the way folks once reported AIDS deaths, without
detailing what had really happened, with euphemisms like “sudden
passing” or “unexpected end.” If it’d been a long fight to inevitable
pneumonia: “courageous battle.” Admitting the true cause of death was
seen as a failing on someone’s part, although now we know that H is
bigger than any one person, any one family.
It spread south from San Francisco, manifesting as increases in
bipolar disorder, hypomania, swings in moods as mighty as FB’s outings
at the plate, worse in the droughty summer and fall months, leading to
muscular degeneration. Was it a disorder of the blood? Or psychological,
starting with eco- or hydro-grief and progressing to the body? Cases were
most rampant in city centers far from mountain springs and sources,
followed by outbreaks in little, unsexy desert towns where swimming
pools had been drained during the first droughts of the 1990s and 2000s.
Spas and greens had gone dry, with none of the exemptions from
mandatory conservation that had been allowed early on for economic
reasons in Palm Springs, Palm Desert, Pebble Beach, and Pacific Grove.
H sufferers flocked to the coast for solace, even with the greens gone
brown. Others flew to Vegas for “therapy weeks,” where groundwater
pumping had finally been restricted everywhere but for spas that could
claim medical exemptions. H victims with prescriptions got a free pass.
My editor was impatient for a write-up, a research-based piece about
this health crisis centered on the Cal-Neva region, with spurs into Idaho,
Utah, and Colorado. I searched in vain for public records that would tell
the story, the numbers washed from agency websites and listservs. As had
happened under the last Republican president, where U.S. EPA and
Department of Interior pages had been disassembled, resource webpages
were missing. Online sites showing years of conservation goals and
outcomes for Cal‑Neva were like the last unicorn: vanished.
The government was staying ahead of the media on H. They knew it
was a game changer, a product of the drought they’d claimed didn’t exist.
It had nothing to do with global warming, they said, but anyone who
cared to look could see that the dwindling water supply due to
intensifying climate was becoming encoded into altered cells. Rogue
DNA, somehow leading to H. If the press exposed governmental
negligence, hubris in the face of boundless evidence, the lawsuits would
stretch from here to Jupiter.

Even with the hitting drought all around him, FB fought on. Whenever
the count went 3 and 2, he’d work the bat like a pinball flipper, swift and
efficient, knocking the ball into the stands at five o’clock or popping it up
so it dazzled the catcher and umpire with either sunlight or kliegs. Every
time, FB in warrior stance, facing the pitcher. Achilles at Troy with his
sword flashing, braced and swinging for his life, nostrils wide, pulling in
oxygen.
How could I have known about his wife? No one could have guessed,
could have seen through his valiant battle to reach base week after week,
his resolve to put points on the board. FB got no support, from his
manager down to the left fielder who’d been rotated to every long
position with no good results. FB’s missiles had nothing but the dry
California air to ride on. Even at the July television fundraiser, the From-
Our-Plate-to-Yours Hit-a-Thon, with his spouse and young son
competing against him, all smiles and lack of coordination, it was his
spirit out there holding the thing up. Three other Champs volunteered
but should’ve stayed home, their air swings pathetic.
FB’s adorable, aqua-eyed wife and child only beat his pure
athleticism because he let them, a mountain allowing a pair of songbirds
to wing over it. They were his tender heel, his only chink. My editor said
to get my ass to the Hit-a-Thon, to “find out if the family man thing’s for
real. Go stick a mike in his face if you have to open your blouse to get
there.” It wasn’t the first such reference I’d heard, although it was the
first from her.
FB was polite from the start, answering with the ball-speak common
in sports interviews, the nothing answers. He didn’t connect my name to
my beat until the manager stopped by. “Good job on The List.” He winked
and added that he was anxious to see The List: Part Two, “where you
name names but of course not ours.” Then FB opened to me like a big
door swinging wide, no longer a wall of cotton jersey pinstripes with a
lucky number on his back.
I left the clubhouse carrying the promise of a tour of FB’s house. His
wife and son passed me on the way in, holding hands. She smiled and
sang out a hello. The son echoed her an octave higher.

That summer, I took getaway days to the river after filing any assignment,
leaving the city on the winding highway that followed an old wagon route
or gold prospector’s trail—I forget which. Parking off the road in a rutted
dirt lot, I carried a small pack and descended to the Tuolumne River via
the Clavey, switchbacking down the tributary on straw-colored slopes.
Earlier in the season, the hills had been green with long grasses and
covered with more poppies than the field guarding Oz. I’d never
witnessed the flowers so thick before, the hills so emerald and carpeted
you might think you could roll down them without slamming into rocks
and branches. Nose up to the hot air, like a deer sniffing the wind, I
hurried to the first ledges of bedrock.
Plenty of water still swirled in the Clavey’s bedrock cauldrons, filling
me with an excitement I associated with the early season, despite July’s
heat invading everything. Cicadas clicked in the hot air. Lizards and
snakes crisped through dry grass. Whenever I could walk on the granite I
did, my boot steps hollow on the exfoliating rock. A few times I stopped
to dip my bandanna in a cool eddy and pick foxtails out of my socks; then
I’d start up again, eager but trying not to rush it.
By midafternoon I’d reach the Tuolumne confluence at Clavey Falls—
a rafter’s nemesis and the main river’s steepest drop. Once when I’d
floated the T (I’ll call it) with a group of friends, all ex-guides like me, one
of the boats crashed into Clavey Hole as if it had been trying to get there.
Really the oarsman, Jude, had put his back into rowing away, but the
reversal sucked him in and held him. The raft bucked and thrashed,
trapped a full minute. An eternity. He stayed with it, a prize rider on a
water beast, though his girlfriend had washed out in the first 10 seconds
and taken a nasty swim, probably the beginning of her leaving him for
that geologist in Menlo Park. As the boat jumped and spun and tried to
shake him, Jude clung to it, his snarled hair hanging wet in his eyes, his
teeth bared like a mama wolf. He never did leave the boat, although he
later said that riding it out had only bruised both his shins and torn a
muscle in one arm and had meant nothing to the river.
By myself on those weekends, I’d set up camp downstream of the
Clavey‑T confluence, hidden in the willows on the lower end of the beach.
Any rafters or kayakers or gold-seekers coming in later could have the
main camp; we wouldn’t have to see each other. They’d probably forget I
was there as they downed the beers and boxes of wine they’d hauled in on
their boats.
On those long, lazy days, I’d read paperbacks most of the morning,
then hike in the afternoon to one of the homesteads a short bushwhack
from the confluence. Miwok metates were sprinkled over the granite,
little depressions no bigger than baseballs. They’d been ground into
bedrock under shade trees and close to shore where the original people
must’ve gathered, maybe talking and laughing, working acorns into meal.
Sometimes I’d linger in an abandoned apple or pear orchard, the once-
tended rows now scraggly but still giving good canopy. If the dam
stopped releasing and the river dried up, I’d walk out to the trickle of
water that remained midchannel, no need even to remove my boots, the
granite damp and showing off black and pink specks of minerals. A few
landlocked trout would be there, slipping like eels from pool to pool,
caught between O’Shaughnessy Dam upstream and Don Pedro down,
migratory urges thwarted.
Sometimes I’d remember my water beat for the paper and the dismal
win-loss record of the Champs that season, the worst in baseball. But I’d
forget the traffic and pounding of the city. Nothing broke the quiet but
the cries of crows, the cack-cack of ravens. If the Champs’s hitting
shortage entered my mind, or the rivers changed by drought concerned
me, I didn’t hold them there. My worries vanished in the deep shadows of
rock cliffs as the sun arced across the narrow river canyon or under the
creamy swath of Milky Way late at night.

FB’s next fundraiser would be a so-called water-conservation event called
Tuolumne River Days. My editor asked me, “What’s the deal with all his
effing philanthropy? He just did one of these.” To hear the T mentioned
on national radio was like hearing a shy friend outed, but instead of
turning down the volume I turned it up. FB was raising money to enforce
water conservation, he said, because of the drought. “And especially
because of hydrophilia.” A gasp went up. Even I—who, as I said, hadn’t
heard that word exposed in public like that—might’ve let out a little
breath. He handed the mike to the city’s GQ mayor to explain. Proceeds
would be used to make repairs to the Canyon Tunnel diverting from
O’Shaughnessy. The funds would ensure the continued flow of the one
thing we needed most for survival, our lifeblood.
Tuolumne River Days began as all such events do, with early-bird
deals advertised on radio and TV. Tickets went like they did for Stones or
Springsteen concerts: immediate sellout followed by scalping and a
general panic for seats. I’d figured people had become inured to FB’s
events, given that he’d put on almost one a month for as long as I could
remember. Now I saw that this event, this cause, could spark a rally.
The day of the fundraiser broke hot and dry. No marine layer had
drifted in overnight to cool the city’s asphalt and steel; forecasts called for
triple digits in the East Bay and 90s at the ballfield. FB stood at a podium
erected near home plate, alongside his wife and son, speaking for the
Champs, who were “grateful to offer our bats for this cause.” The team
lined up for FB’s address and the manager’s, then stayed in place for the
singing of “The Star‑Spangled Banner” by an Irish tenor policeman who
brought the crowd to wild applause even before he hit the land-of-the-
free note. FB’s son stood not with his hand over his heart but in a frozen
salute, like John-John when his father’s casket passed.
FB didn’t take the plate right away, but sat with his family in a box in
the center stands. The other players went in first to hammer the ball,
pulling themselves up to be noble like him, but they failed to connect,
pitch after pitch. An anonymous donor had offered $10,000 for every hit,
$25,000 past the infield, and still the Champs went down in order.
I simmered in the shame of it. This event, to honor the mighty T? It
was like Donald Duck pinch-hitting for Odysseus.
As the Champs went O-fer, except for one hit to the infield by the
catcher to earn 10 grand, the stands began to empty out a few folks at a
time, a family here and there. Was FB going to step up or was he just
going to watch this thing go down? Probably a third of the spectators had
exited by the time his name was called.
Someone had pledged $50,000 for one hit—anywhere in the park, by
FB and FB alone.
FB didn’t budge. The manager stalked over, said something, waved
his arms. Casual, FB said something back, which the manager then
conveyed to GQ. “He’s promised us a hit, folks, out to the Cove in no
more than three pitches. One hit, one magical hit, if we can make it an
even hundred in the next 10 minutes.”
Silence in the stands. The exodus stopped, people turning back to the
field from the rows and aisles as if called to baptism. They began to file
instead to a window designated for donations. On the giant television
monitors, lights flashed $100K—$100K—$100K.
GQ kept up his pimping. “Ten minutes to do it, 10 minutes to save
California from this terrible affliction. Ten minutes of generosity, and
he’ll swing that mighty bat for the bay.”
FB looked unaffected, was hoisting his son from his wife’s lap to his,
speaking to her as if it were just another night, as if he hadn’t just
promised the impossible. As the donations rolled in, announced by GQ,
FB seemed to stay tuned out. When the exact number had been reached,
he handed his son over to his wife as if passing her a soda or a bag of
chips.
We didn’t have to wait long. He hit it on the first pitch, a fastball
caught like a soft toss with the meat end of the bat, a giant arc for the
Cove, held in the air as if gravity pulled the tiny orb away from Earth and
not toward it, weightless and spinning and lunar. The eventual reentry
and splashdown. The boats racing for it, their competition caught by
television cameras. FB didn’t even look, didn’t need to check the
trajectory, knew what he had done. He dropped the bat as if it were on
fire, something he had to get out of his hands, quick, or burn his palms.
Then his wife ran to him, tearful, overacting in my opinion,
squeezing their son between their chests in an embrace that he hid from
the cameras with his big body. They hugged until fireworks startled them
apart. Then all three of them kept their arms around each other’s necks,
wide-eyed faces tilted to spectral explosions that lasted a full five
minutes, a picture of goodness and hope.

July edged to a close, the last week cooling at night, resembling fall. Days
were dimmed due to smoke-filled skies. Fires burned all over the state.
Mariposa, Yreka, Weed, and Santa Barbara were the first towns and cities
to be 100 percent evacuated. My editor had demanded The List: Part
Two, and I’d complied: the top 50 water offenders in Major League
Baseball, an update from The List of last year. It would come out mere
days after the fundraiser; the timing would be “impeccable.” The List:
Part Two had subcategories: Who’d been exceeding his mandatory use
restrictions? Who’d gone over? Of those, who’d paid his fine and who’d
been dodging? The Champs had shown up as the biggest offenders last
year, guys with more than 2,000 square feet of house per family member
and Hollywood-style grounds. With the H event under their belts,
though, and the manager’s hints to me, their expectations for better
numbers soared.
To get to the T before dark that week, I had to file The List: Part Two
while it was still in progress. The copyeditor promised to fill in the
missing data so I could hit the road. He swore to take care of it, and I
believed him; he was the best in the office with details, treating each
submission like his own baby even though he’d never had a byline.
The T ran low that weekend, so much of the river diverted to the
Canyon Tunnel for landscaping demands in the valley that just a pathetic,
midchannel trickle was left in the afternoon. I spent both days sitting out
on cool slabs of granite, feet in the water, nature’s little spa jets working
on my toes, my insteps. FB’s mighty hit kept returning to me, like an
egret in flight, or the drift of pale alder fuzz, or a green apple still clinging
to the tallest branch of an old homestead tree.
I’d been daydreaming about the hit when I saw the unusual: a big
black bear hulking through an abandoned orchard like an oversized dog.
He reached for apples on hind legs but failed to reach the too-high fruit,
coming back to Earth with his front paws heavy as they touched down. As
he strode toward the next tree, his colossal hind legs reminded me of FB,
especially when he kept his foot on the bag while reaching for a wide
throw. Power. Grace.
A single rifle shot cracked over my head, close enough to whistle. I
fell belly down in the kettle of river where I’d been sitting, my breasts
pressed to the clammy rock, afraid to look but peeking anyway, as the
bear fled up the jumbled scree on the far side of the T. When no more
shots came, and I’d been flat for what felt like a half hour, I crept back to
my camp and packed up as if leaving early had been part of my plan.


FB called to chew me out about The List: Part Two. It had come out as
promised while I was on the T. He asked who-did-I-think-I-was, if I was
going to eff with him I’d better bring my A-game. Hadn’t he given his all
at Tuolumne River Days? What was I thinking? He was midsentence,
exploding, then stopped short with a clunk. He’d dropped the phone, or
thrown it. Silence until his wife came on the line, all apologies. Could I
come to the house that afternoon? Meet the family, see what they’d done
to improve their conservation efforts since last year? With every warning
bell ringing in me like that tenor’s voice hitting the high notes, I thanked
the wife. I’d talk with my editor.
Who was steamed about FB landing on The List: Part Two, claimed
I’d “done it this time.” When I mentioned the invitation, she didn’t look at
me. “Do it. We need this—you need this.”
FB’s mansion was up in the East Bay hills, in the town of Piedmont,
an island of wealth, where Clint Eastwood grew up in the 1940s and 50s.
Labyrinthine streets. Old carriage houses converted to garages. Lawns
green despite the drought. A world away from the surrounding, plebian
towns of Oakland and Berkeley.
The cook answered the door, her white uniform clean, her black
slipper shoes hissing on the polished floors. The family would be right in.
She motioned me to a tray with snacks and handwritten labels on silver
stands: gluten-free crackers, Humboldt mushroom paté, Sonoma soft
cheese, organic red pepper and kale chips from Napa Gardens, a single
glass of tonic and lime. As I waited, eating little, looking out over the
sapphire swimming pool and farther-off views of the city rising up
through the fog, the springing sound of a tennis ball wormed into my
hearing, along with the thwacks of rackets making contact. The sound
stopped; there was soft giggling.
In a minute the wife came in, face flushed, her pink tennis dress
fresh. Her racket rested on one shoulder. “Our son’s at the neighbor’s,”
she said, as if I’d already asked the first prying question.
FB entered next, covered in sweat that he dabbed with a towel. His
skin showed tan below the short sleeves and legs of his dazzling clean
tennis whites. He spoke in a soft voice, too low to echo under the high
ceilings, his handshake firm and eye contact steady. Only once did his
gaze flick down over me, then away. Nothing about his anger on the
phone the day before. He took my arm in one broad hand and led me on a
personal tour—not of the indoors, as if that were irrelevant—of the lush
gardens, with unbroken lawns and borders of palm trees. The wife
followed. He counted the drip emitters for me, led me to the Rainbird
timer in the five-car garage that had a brass plaque placed by the National
Registry of Historic Places. It had been scouted as a location in the
remake of Sabrina but in the end had not been used.
He towered over the digital meter for his sprinkler system, clearly
not knowing what the buttons did, his fingers hovering but touching
nothing.
The wife took over. “State-of-the-art and programmed to our limit.
Our gardener consulted with an aide from the governor’s office before
finalizing landscape planning.”
But their swimming pool?
“Not a drop more than we’ve earned back in offsets.”
I asked the inevitable, dreaded question: With all these conservation
measures, admirable indeed, where were they losing water?
FB raised a finger and led us back to a central courtyard inside the
home. It had once been an atrium for birds captured all over the world.
Macaws and parrots and little African birds. Something from the Congo
that you couldn’t get anymore. Cuckoos from Switzerland. Chinese
crested terns, the rarest species you could imagine.
The wife’s eyes teared up. “I had them donated the minute we signed
papers. It was terrifying, seeing those beautiful creatures in prison.”
Now the atrium held fountains. Water coursed among tubs, falls, and
sunken pools, circulated from one receptacle to the next, all gravity and
movement. The very air thick with the ozone scent of water molecules.
Palpable with humidity but cool as a northern temperate rainforest. All
the moving water sent my mind to the T for an instant.
The wife turned to me, her eyes only a shade darker than the
Caribbean-blue pool nearest us. Her mouth curled in a grimace. “I have
it.”
It dawned on me, one stolen step at a time. They’d been allowed a
medical exemption, which we had failed to factor in to The List: Part
Two. They’d cut back and cut back, but—as long as she suffered the
disorder—they’d have to keep the therapy atrium flush with water from
the T. The very river that had inspired FB to bust out the prize-winning
lumber.
His expression went feral, eyes darting over the water like a fox’s, his
bulk for once not his most striking feature. It was eclipsed by his quick
attention, the intelligent assessment that had taken in thousands of curve
balls, seen as many pitches go over the plate, understood at a glance
whether the outfield was playing close in or back.
“We’ll continue to fight,” he said. “Until there’s a cure.”
The wife put her arms around his big torso, looked up with
adoration. “We didn’t want to alarm the fans. Draining the outdoor pool
would raise eyebrows, and besides it’s not allowed by our homeowners’
association.”
“You tell everybody,” he said. “We’re not lawbreakers.”
When we’d published The List the summer before, in the height of
heat and drought, some had called it water shaming. FB had been
baseball’s top offender, apparently part of an entitled couple setting a
poor example for their child. I’d written an op-ed on privilege, suggesting
the name The Piedmont Syndrome for water flagrancy, reminding those
keeping their lawns green that everybody needed enough to drink first.
Had the wife been sick then? If so, FB had opted to keep it secret, to
look shameless rather than ignorant. The southern California teams had
mocked him, but he’d kept his wife’s condition on the down low.
“It’s just not talked about,” she said, moving into his arms.

On the field, FB didn’t falter as his fellow Champs crumbled, week after
week, all the way into August. Then, during one foggy night game, an
outfielder rallied, possibly spurred by the threat of not making the
playoffs. With the prospect of a short season hovering like the gray
marine layer, the previously scoreless right fielder knocked it over the
wall. FB took the plate to hit cleanup, all confidence, the bat over his
shoulders yoke-like. He hit into a double play for the third out. A hush
settled over the crowd.
At least he didn’t go down looking, but he went 0 for 4 that game
while the pitcher threw smoke. FB swung for the stars but didn’t touch
the Moon or hills or even the ball. He wasn’t seeing it, not sensing it, not
knowing where he was or how to get there.

During FB’s hitting drought, we broke the story on his wife. There was no
suppressing it even if we wanted to; she’d been taken to UCSF, the
eightieth case of H known to lead to hospitalization. She gave interviews
to our paper only, “Grateful for their courageous work on The List.”
Lovely even while bedridden, more vulnerable than before, she couldn’t
hide the weakness in her voice, her eyes shadowed with dark circles. FB
held her hand during the brief press conferences she gave for just our
paper’s photographer and me. Her wide-eyed look no doubt entreating us
to do the right thing.
Around then he had his third lousy game in a row, after the sports
page had called him a “bum” and an “overpaid drought-flouter.” I walked
with him to his vintage Camaro with a small crowd of reporters, stayed
until they’d cleared out, and told him he was a hero. How could he not
be? Given the fight for his wife. His fundraisers helped save water. I
especially loved his defending the T.
He looked as weary as a 90-year-old, all defeat until he turned to his
Olympic Gold 1969 ride. Then his eyes picked up a gleam off the paint.
He unlocked the passenger side, invited me to try the bucket seats.
“No.” I laughed. “Thanks anyway.”
“Sure, just check out the optional Deluxe Interior group, it’s
original.”
So I leaned in and he pushed me. Both of his big hands. He turned
me over like he was flipping a doll. For a minute I thought he’d follow me
down, gouge my cheek with the zipper of his leather jacket, squeeze my
left breast as if milking it, ram his right hand under my skirt. I wished I’d
worn jeans. Maybe he’d rip into me, his manhood not as meaty as the rest
of him, but enough. His breath on my face.
Clavey Falls crashing. Jude’s boat bucking, pitching. Him hanging
on. The bear fleeing, hind legs pumping.
I hooked my thumbs into the son of a bitch’s eyes. When he pulled
back screaming, I made a dash for it. Behind me his cell phone ringing
the theme from Rocky.

I didn’t cover baseball after that. I stuck to the water beat. Every so often
I’d hear about FB, that his hitting drought got worse, that he might be
traded. Sometimes I’d still catch a bit of the Champs on the radio, but I’d
switch them off before he came up in the batting order. Or I’d just listen
to American League games, skip the Nationals altogether. The Champs
didn’t trade him, but I hear he went down to the minors and never made
it back to the bigs. When my editor—now former—asked why I gave up
baseball, I told her it’d all be in my memoir, Reaching First Base. In the
end no one touched it, because I had to admit when pressed that there
was not much to reveal, making it a pretty poor tell-all. FB’s wife penned
a bestseller, though, or someone did for her, as she continued to fight for
her life. The H with No Name, it was called, referring to the first days of
hydrophilia and the code that said don’t talk about it. Rumor was she got
even richer from book sales than FB had from baseball, before she
passed.
I spent less time up on the T, maybe once a year, as the drought
became the new normal, and the river lost the last of its fish run. Bears
weren’t seen up there anymore. No more swirl of water in bedrock when
the dam was releasing, not even enough water for the remnant pools.
Down in the city, we were drinking recycled: tertiary treated sewage.
More than 2.5 million people had needed a drink of fresh water, and my
river had poured it, but now it was done. Clavey Hole had turned to stone,
no falls over it. At least there was no more getting thrashed in there, now
that the last boater had run the river at its peak, back in those rare and
faded days.
The Most Beautiful Voyage in the World
By Jean McNeil

Welcome! Welcome! Welcome! GoodBYE, GoodBYE!
The drone of Elin’s voice welcoming passengers tagging in and out
was soothingly familiar. Upon embarking everyone was fitted with a chip
implanted just above the wrist. They presented this to the sensor at the
door and Elin’s voice said, “Welcome to the most beautiful voyage in the
world!” Elin went on to inform passengers of the name of their particular
ship. His was the MV Uunngåelig—the Inevitable. The other ships in the
fleet were the Evighet (Eternity), the Uendeligheten (Infinity), and the
Udødelig (Immortality).
It was ten in the morning and the ship would sail in an hour.
Helpbots were ferrying the last passengers on board. He spotted an
octogenarian couple, youngsters for the usual catchment age for the
journey, nostalgically kitted out head to toe in Berghaus outdoor gear.
It was time to go up to the Boneyard—his private name for the
outdoor observation deck—to watch their departure from Bergen. No
matter how many times he experienced it, the scenery was still stirring,
its ex-glacial islets graced by clapboard palaces owned by Norwegian
renewable oligarchs.
He was halfway up the stairs when a woman tugged at his sleeve. She
was blond, vital, his age or even younger.
“Excuse me—” she began, enough for him to detect an American
accent. “You work here, don’t you? I was wondering if you could
recommend an excursion.”
“The Viking Feast is very convincing. They still make their own mead
for the dinner.” He didn’t tell her about the out-of-work actors who had
been playing Thor and Freya every Wednesday for the last 20 years, or
that the pig’s head on the banquet table was a plasticine replica.
“Thanks.” She gave him a quick, appraising glance and stuck out her
hand. “I’m Linn.” Her voice was surprisingly full and deep, like a man’s.
He gave his name and asked where she was from. Linn was not
Norwegian, as it turned out, despite her classically Scandinavian name.
He’d guessed as much, because he’d detected a spark, a joie de vivre that
hadn’t been extinguished by 130 years of undisturbed sickening
prosperity. She lived in Michigan, she told him, where she taught
economics at university. “I’m descended from Swedish stock,” she said. “I
thought it was about time I saw it.”
“But this is Norway.”
“I couldn’t get a visa for Sweden. They’ve become very selective
about who they let in since the riots. Listen,” she hesitated and for a
moment the reckless bravado he associated with Americans wavered,
“can I invite you for a drink?”
“I don’t drink on board. We have to sign a contract. No alcohol on
the voyage.”
“That must be tough. Everyone around you is packing it away. How
many times have you done this trip? Aren’t you bored?”
“The trip itself doesn’t bore me, but the way they’ve got it mapped
out inch by inch does.”
He took her to the bar. They talked while sipping herbal tea. Linn
had one cup, made a face, and ordered a beer. The entertainment came
on in the bar. He liked the way Linn called them crooners: Eleni from
Athens and Amit the keyboardist from Mumbai, both coastal refugees
with documents, finally, after a 10-year wait. They were actually quite
good but persisted in resurrecting megahits circa 2080, largely ballads of
loss and nostalgia for abandoned cities like “Rising Tide” and “The Lonely
Waves.” There were no teenagers—no one under 70, for that matter—
aboard the ship to roll their eyes in horror.
“What’s that you’re reading? A real book!” Linn picked it up and
flipped the pages. “I haven’t seen one in decades.”
He plucked the book—Ice, by Anna Kavan—from her fingers. She’d
lost his page.
“What’s it about?”
“A new ice age covers northern Europe and society disintegrates,” he
paraphrased.
“Well, it didn’t work out quite like that, did it?”
“It’s a hundred and fifty years old.” He paused. “How can I help?”
“I didn’t come for help.”
“That’s what they all say.”
She laughed and this time he heard its full, musical timbre, like a
xylophone. “I know you’re the ship’s doctor, but I assure you there’s
nothing wrong with me.”
“That’s good to know. Let’s go for a walk in port. We dock in an
hour.”
Her face brightened. “I’d like that.”
“OK, see you around 10.” It was nine at night. The sun didn’t really
set at this time of year, only hovered above the horizon.
She stood. “I’ll meet you by the gangplank.”
“Gangway,” he corrected.
The ship’s siren sounded to signal they were aside. Linn appeared,
kitted out in cherry-coloured polar wear. It was 17 degrees. She squinted
at the sky, where the sun bored at them through a chiffon layer of ozone.
“Don’t look at it directly,” he cautioned. The pasty sheen of factor 150
illuminated their faces in a thin bluish layer, like tungsten.
They walked though the gravel streets. “Do you remember snow?”
she asked.
“Of course. We could see the Øksfjordjøkelen glacier from our fields.
In the winter the Northern Lights throbbed in the sky—we called it the
night sun.”
A contemplative expression settled on Linn’s face. She was a
watcher. He observed her scanning the town, piecing together a story in
its details: the rusted ship’s anchor, the prim fishermen’s houses
repurposed as refugee hostels, the ugly church like a nuclear bunker
stood on its head.
“I was just curious, what do you think of the regime?”
He was startled. “Is that what you call it—a regime?”
“Well, it’s not compulsory in the States. Obviously, if you have the
money—”
“But the States is where this was all pioneered,” he countered. “There
are more Americans doing it than any other nation on Earth,
numerically.”
“Yes, but they all live in California on their Bitcoin fortunes. Here,
it’s nationwide, isn’t it? Everyone has to join.”
“That’s Scandinavian socialism for you.”
He felt a strange need to moderate for his country—not that he was
in any way in favour of the system. For one thing, it was putting people
like him out of work.
“But it can never be universal,” he said. “You know: car accidents and
so on. The medics can’t get to them fast enough.”
“I’m against death, don’t get me wrong, but people should be able to
choose, don’t you think?”
Habit and suspicion told him not to answer her question, which was
rhetorical in any case.
She was silent for a minute. “When we were in Bergen, every woman
I saw was pregnant.”
He nodded. “It’s a proper breeding colony.”
“Is that compulsory too? I read a piece in the New York Times that
said even with all the Sudanese and Bangladeshis the birth rate in
Norway is still falling.”
“There are incentives,” he said, carefully. “I wouldn’t call it
compulsory.”
“I suppose it’s natural, to an extent, that people would confuse an
extended lifespan with having all the time in the world to reproduce.” He
had the impression she was trying to sound reasonable and open to
opinion, but was secretly horrified.
They came to a halt on a corner of the road that curved around the
town, just in front of a billboard pointing toward the Scanway
supermarket carpark. They could see helpbots scurrying behind their
masters, pushing trolleys or laden with jute carrier bags.
“Speaking personally,” he began. “I think people here don’t feel the
same compulsion to have children now. If they’re going to be here for a
couple of hundred years at least, where’s the rush to secure your
immortality?”
“Did you have children?”
“No. I never found the right person.”
He was about to return the question but intuition told him the very
question would cause images of three strapping sons to blossom on her
iscreen. Such an apparition would cause him pain.
They walked in silence for a moment. Her skin was reddening. He
reached into his pocket. “May I? I think you might have missed a spot.”
She frowned. “But we’ve only been out for 20 minutes.”
“High latitudes,” he said. “There’s no ozone at all in the spring.”
She waved her hand in a gesture of assent, and he rubbed more
Silkscreen over her nose. As he did so she closed her eyes, like a child.
“What gets to me is that it’s so uneven,” she said. “That’s my
diplomatic word for unequal. Which of course we’re not allowed to say
anymore.”
“Life has always been incredibly unequal on this planet. Lifespans in
the North were nearly double what they were in the Global South in 2010.
What we’re doing is just an extension of that.”
“That’s another reason why everyone is so desperate to come here, I
suppose. Another hundred or so years on the planet, never mind that at
home you’re starving because the ocean has eaten your land. It’s quite an
incentive,” she gave him another of her cautious looks, “as you say.”
“We should get back to the ship. We sail in an hour.”
She didn’t move immediately. He followed her gaze, which scanned
the granite islets of the harbour, their mustard knit of lichen topped by
colonies of narrow gannets struggling to find enough fish. When she
turned her face toward his he caught a glimpse of red-rimmed eyes. He
quickly looked away. He hadn’t cried in 20 years.
“Where are we going to put all these people who are coming into the
world?” Her voice sounded as if it were being raked across a cheese
grater. “I mean, they’re going to be here for a long time.”
“But not forever,” he corrected. “And it’s a localised phenomenon,
remember. Only Norway and Sweden have the resources to do it—okay,
the States and Canada, but as you say, there the cost is beyond the means
of ordinary mortals. We’re building colonies on Novaya Zemlya, on lots of
uninhabited islands. Now it’s entirely survivable far into the Arctic
Circle.”
He glanced at her, to judge her reaction, and noticed something
about her face he’d missed. She had a tiny, faded scar on her cheek—from
a cycling accident, she would tell him later that night, in his cabin. Her
wheel gave out at 15 kilometres an hour, and she “took a tumble.” He
would savour the expression, the way it skirted the real hurt she must
have been dealt.
When they returned to the wharf a clump of hunchbacks were
waiting. These were the cleaners from the Solomon Islands, Kiribati,
Vanuatu—permanent refugees whose homes now lay submerged between
1 and 12 metres of water—hoovers strapped to their backs. From afar they
looked like a dishevelled convention of Quasimodos.
As they approached the ship, they heard Elin the cruise director’s
voice droning on in three languages on the interface: “to the starboard
side you can see 87 snow-clad peaks.”
“That’s 87 too many,” Linn grimaced.
He laughed, and stole a look at her in profile: dark blue eyes framed
by compelling eyebrows, a strong but not strident chin. It had been so
long since he really wondered about someone, the emotional energy of his
interest drained and replenished him at once. It was as if she were him,
or he her. It was one of the oddest things about life, he thought, how close
we can feel, so suddenly, to strangers.


He and Dylan had done a rotation in plastic surgery together in Boston,
that was how they’d met. He knew of Dylan’s older brother from
anecdotes and photographs. “He’s the black sheep in a family of doctors
and corporate lawyers,” Dylan had told him. “My grandfather would be
groaning in his grave if he knew.”
Dylan’s older brother Alexander was a writer. Their grandfather had
been an industrialist. After plastics were blanket banned, he muscled in
on the packaging market with ingenious inventions made from
organically farmed sisal, which he grew on recovered land in Tanzania.
He had been killed in a helicopter accident when he was caught in an
Indian Ocean cyclone. Not even the best medical care in South Africa
could put together the gruesome slop of adipose tissue.
After they finished the two gruelling years in Boston, Dylan invited
him to South Africa. “It’ll be a friend of mine’s wedding in a month, come
out for that.”
“But I don’t know him. How can I go to the wedding of someone I’ve
never met?”
“Oh, that doesn’t matter at home. Lots of strangers come to your
wedding. It’s the only thing that makes them bearable.”
He flew to Cape Town from Boston via London. The city still
possessed its postcard beauty, but it had been ravaged by drought and
cyclonic winds. Three cylindrical apartment buildings, whose name he
learned was Protea Towers and which nestled in Vredehoek in the skirts
of Table Mountain, had been abandoned, their windows many times
blown out by gales. The city lacked the resources to demolish them and so
they stood, a gap-toothed monument to the ferocity of the Cape weather,
muslin curtains blowing through their shattered eyes.
Within a week of his arrival, he found himself in a marquee at a
private game reserve and winery an hour outside of the city: big tents, a
dozen bottles of wine per table, gold plated electro-Mercedes in the
parking lot. He stood around awkwardly while tanned men slapped each
other on the back.
From across the room he spotted a lithe man walking in his
direction. Belatedly he realised the man was heading for him.
“Knut,” he felt himself encased in a hug. “Finally we meet.” Alex’s
eyes drank him in all at once. Before he could say anything a wedding
guest tugged at Alex’s sleeve and he melted back into the crowd.
Attached to the wedding was a compulsory trip to the game reserve.
They piled into a Land Cruiser and drove to see lazy lions interned in
their own personal predator paradise, haunches of gazelle tossed over the
fence twice a day. The cats lolled in a tawny pool, licking each other
fraternally.
Alex squinted at the spectacle. “It looks like the lions have given up
on life, don’t you think?”
“It does,” he replied. It was the look of fatal boredom in the lion’s
eyes that stayed with him, as if he’d seen a vision of his own future. He
got rip-roaringly drunk at the reception that night. Apparently he and
Alex did the tango à quatre, stealing two women from the bride’s
entourage onto the floor. They ended up crashing on the sofas in the
hotel’s gigantic lounge. He woke up with a buffalo—stuffed and hung over
the fireplace—giving him a stern look.
He met Alex’s girlfriends. At the time he had three—a quiet period.
Alex very generously tried to share one of them with him, but neither he
nor the girl were that interested. They only had eyes for Alex.


Day 5. He knew they were in Lofoten because the main course was quail
wrapped in smoke-cured bacon. You could set your watch by the menu.
He had his morning coffee in his cabin. Elin’s voice floated through
the air. “Here we see the majestic waterfall, the Seven Sisters. In this spot
in 1472, a young woman was beheaded by her village for having a child
out of wedlock. The villagers killed her children, then displayed her head
on a stake as a deterrent to any other young women who were thinking of
doing the same.”
He switched off the livestream—some old-timers on board still called
it the PA system. Usually by the time the Elin had said the ritual
“Welcome to the most Beautiful Voyage in the World,” he’d already
reached for the mute button.
He cast an eye toward the sheets on his bed, which looked like a
piece of paper crumpled in an enraged fist.
They did not exactly lie in each other’s arms but rested on their
backs, their thighs millimetres apart. He found the scant distance
between them more thrilling than the proximity.
“I’m so glad we don’t have to do it any time soon,” Linn had said. “I’d
be so afraid.”
“I wonder if it’s worth it, the fear. Do you miss the time before you
were born?”
“I don’t remember not being,” she’d said. “I only remember being.”
They had that in common—they were the first generation for whom
it would go on and on, not forever, but drastically elongated. After 150,
certain things could appear and assail the body which even modern
medicine couldn’t fix, no matter how much telomerase one received. But
potentially, given his luck to be Norwegian, he was looking at 300, maybe
more.
“Do you think it’s uncool to talk about death the first time we sleep
together?” Linn had said.
“Ah, the lure of the forbidden. It’s like talking about ketamine in a
rehab programme.”
Her eyes were moist. “Sometimes I feel I’m drowning in future.”
“Would you rather be dead at 50 like Bangladeshis and Africans?”
She turned toward him, her blonde hair spiralling on the pillow.
There was a wounded, admonitory note in her gaze. “I wonder if they are
the lucky ones. We’re just living out this pallid purgatory.”
“To be alive is possibility. That’s all it is—the possibility to be
miserable, to grieve for decades, for sure,” he said. “But at least
something might happen.”

That afternoon he didn’t feel like working. There was so little for him to
do on these trips anyway. His presence was a mere legal formality. Two
years before when he’d taken the position, he assumed he’d be on the
ship for the summer season only; by September he’d be back in Oslo, or
even London, whose climate was more agreeable despite the filthy air.
But here he was, still shuttling up and down the coast of Norway, all
11,000 kilometres of it.
The ship was quiet. He’d developed a sixth sense for times of activity,
as when the backgammon tournaments in the observation area caused
180-year-old women drunk on duty-free vodka to brawl on the leisure
deck. At least then his skills were required, if only to pull them apart and
apply a few stitches.
All the passengers must be in their cabins looking at their iscreens.
He never used them; he had no desire to see his innermost fantasies
projected and enhanced. He always had it turned off, but the signal itself
was impossible to extinguish. To seek to switch it off would be, for most
people, like turning off your mind.
He did break his rule once, a couple of months ago, in a moment of
weakness. He needed some kind of unidentifiable succour. If he’d been
allowed to have a glass of wine, that might have done the trick.
“Switch on,” he’d commanded Elin. The screen winked to life. An
African elephant lumbered across the savannah, despite the fact that no
elephants had existed in the wild for at least 50 years. Superimposed on
the animal’s olive-coloured flank was Alex’s face.
The elephant was a memory of course, from that first day they’d met
at the wedding and gone to the game park. Alex had looked at the animals
—coolly, he’d thought, then. And in return the lion, the leopard, the
elephant had returned Alex’s gaze with a frank expression of recognition.
He was the sort of person who had retained his animal self.
After the wedding, he and Alex agreed to meet for lunch in Kalk Bay.
They ate fibrous shellfish and drank crisp Chenin blanc. The sun forced
their eyes shut. He could not help but stare at Alex. His skin was
smoothed, seemingly unaged. He had green eyes, tending to olive, and a
thick carotid—Alex had caught him staring at his neck and asked, “Are
you a vampire?” “Doctors notice that sort of thing,” he’d explained,
guiltily.
All through the lunch he couldn’t settle. The wheeling seagulls, the
spectacular duet of mountains and sea, the glassy residences of the town
painted white and perched above False Bay like albatrosses—all of it
unnerved him.
Alex asked, “What’s wrong?”
“I’m hungry, but not for food. It’s like I’ve just taken speed. I feel—”
He put down his fork. His hands were trembling.
“Let’s go home.”
Alex lived in a house with white shutters above False Bay. Alex
grabbed his neck. Then Alex kissed him with a tenderness so thorough it
shocked him.
They stayed in bed for the rest of the afternoon and into the night.
“What are you afraid of?” Alex had asked.
“That this won’t go on forever.”
“Why?” Alex’s voice was sharp. “Have you looked at the Cast?”
“No, I never look.” As a doctor he had access to his Futurecast but
he’d always demurred, preferring not to know. “Just an intuition. Forget I
said it.”
Alex did not forget. He was living his life so differently, in a headlong
rush, untroubled by the burden of what to do with his future, wealthy
enough not to have to work and to escape the consequences of the
upheavals he was surrounded by, even if they were robbing him of his
beloved Cape Town.
They said nothing of this, then. They knelt at the window, arms
around each other’s torsos, watching the blow spouts of the whales. It was
spring and southern right whales still migrated to the bay, where the krill
population had remained healthy. The whales surfaced nose first, as if
testing the air, then rose slowly, their backs glinting gunmetal in the sun,
like submarines.


They were far enough north now that nighttime temperatures dipped
toward zero, but the days passed under a polar glaze of sun.
Elin’s voice came over the interface. “Here it is said a famous troll
had his lair, right in the hole in the middle of the mountain.”
He found Linn in the Boneyard, hanging over the rail, glaring at the
horizon. She spent a lot of time on deck on her own, he’d noticed,
hanging over the railing—the posture of people who had come on the trip
to Figure Things Out.
“Why is she always blaring on about witches and trolls?” Linn
demanded. “Did Norwegian history stop a thousand years ago?”
He laughed so sharply a Boneyard resident gave him a worried look
from his wheelchair.
“You think I’m jaded,” she said.
“No, the opposite. You’re fresh. It’s been so long since anyone’s made
me laugh.”
“But you don’t want to repeat last night.”
Linn was careful not to pose it as a question, so he didn’t answer. The
ship slid, nearly silently, under a suspension bridge between two barren
mountains.

Day 8. Kirkenes, the turnaround point. From here the ship would slink
back down the coast.
He liked this point in the voyage. He’d grown up not far away and it
reminded him of nights when the temperature still dipped below zero,
when Arctic fox in their winter morphs would accompany him on his
walks through early-spring saxifrage and reindeer moss.
He rose early, at six o’clock. He ascended the stairs and pushed open
the observation deck door. When he’d gone fishing with his father on
their boat, he’d loved the moment when he went out on deck and the air
slapped his face. Cold stiffened his resolve, made him feel the edges of his
mind more keenly. Now the air that met him on deck was like soup.
The ship glided through black water on its silencers. The sky had a
different note, this early in the morning—hungry, expectant. Suddenly he
was surrounded by a wash of guillemots, seagulls, and Arctic terns. They
gathered themselves and flew as one, spiralling around the ship in a
single wave. He watched as they orbited 3, 4, 10 times, their call more a
lament than a screech. They flew so fast and so close together, yet there
was never a collision. Three terns sliced through the guillemots and flew
as a squadron, in formation, advancing as a single arrow. He watched as
one flew lead for awhile before falling back, only to have one of its
companions seamlessly assume its place. He watched the birds until they
melted into the sky.
The ancient Egyptians believed birds were the souls of the dead, he
remembered. “Are you there, Alex?” he whispered, his voice faint but
audible in the glassy morning air. “Where have you gone?”

That evening Linn came to find him in his cabin. She brandished a glass.
“Only $100 U.S. for a vodka tonic. Bargain. It’s a good thing you’re under
contract not to drink. You’re saving yourself a fortune.”
She sat on his bed and gave him a level look. “Is there something
you’re not telling me?”
“No. Yes. My best friend died.” The confession came at him, as if
driven by an external force, and on its back, his elision, or lie.
“But how?”
“Cancer.”
“Didn’t they stem-cell him?”
“They tried.”
“When did this happen?”
“Twenty years ago.”
Her mouth twitched, as if she were gathering then dispersing
possible responses.
“I know what you’re thinking,” he said. “I should have moved on by
now.”
She put her drink on the table. In her lap, her hands curled over each
other, worrying themselves. “Twenty years used to pass in a flash, they
say. Now it’s an eternity. Strange, isn’t it? The more time we have, the
more excruciatingly slowly it passes.”
Outside his cabin window the sea stared back at him. For once he
found no comfort in its steely contract with infinity. Islands slipped by.
Now that they were below the 60th parallel, homestead gardens were
visible, with their hydrangeas and potted palms.
“Do you know Norse mythology?” he asked.
“Isn’t it all about dwarves and fate and killing?”
“Not quite.” He told Linn about the Queen of Hel. How she charged
through an underworld full of dazed men stupid enough not to have died
in battle, and so failed to be admitted to Valhalla. “She’s in charge,” he
said, “but of what?”
“She’s a symbol of cold control, you mean,” she said. “When you
control your life so thoroughly you kill it.”
“Something like that.”

Day 11. The end of The Most Beautiful Voyage in the World. The
livestreaming webcam stopped as the ship docked in Bergen, and a nation
of insomniacs could finally drag themselves away from the television at
four o’clock in the morning, where they had been watching fjords and
skerries fall away in the ship’s wake on their iscreens.
She came to his cabin to say goodbye.
“What will you do?” he asked, as if there were a choice—she would go
back to her job in Minnesota. Michigan, he corrected himself. He was
always getting them mixed up.
“I’ve got a few days before I fly back. There’s the Snodome at
Trondheim. I’ve never been skiing. I hear it’s just like it used to be.
They’ve even got reindeer wandering around inside.” She paused. Her
eyes, a deep, un-Nordic blue, darkened. “You’re waiting for something to
happen. I wonder what it is.”
He nearly said, I’m waiting for my friend to return. This is what
grief is: waiting, perpetually, for the person to appear on the meridian
between now and forever. From time to time you think you glimpse
them. But the frontier always shifts, and they never arrive.
Linn pulled herself upright. “Well, I guess this is GoodBYE.”
“A very good Elin impression. But you haven’t tagged out yet. Let me
give you preferential treatment.” He took her wrist in his hands and
reached for his laser. The chip leapt up to meet the beam; with the other
end he quickly cauterised the scar.
“A few more of these chip implants and I’m going to look like I’ve
been razoring myself,” she laughed. “In Norway they lock you up for that
too, don’t they?”
“It’s a crime not to live your life to its fullest.”
“Which is not quite the same as to the end.” Her eyes tracked across
his face, their gaze vertical, consuming, like cursors. “This could go on
forever, you know, if you don’t do something.”
“I know.” He felt the flare of panic in his lungs.
“That witch burning and troll story algorithm is going to drive you
insane, for one.”
He knew he should say come back and see me. But the moment
passed out of his hands and into the black fission of perhaps, and maybe,
and forever.
“Take care, Doctor Knut,” Linn said. Her voice was light but there
was a wince in her eyes. “I’ll see you the next time around.”
She descended the gangway to the dock, where the other passengers
were milling about and shedding their regulation snowflake-pattern
sweaters. He watched her as she threaded her way through the huddle of
bodies, then dissolved into an immortal sunshine.

Orphan Bird
By Leah Newsom

Frankie’s job is to count. She keeps a small top-bound notebook in her
pocket and draws a tally for every bird she sees. She has a column for
alive and a column for dead.
She is in charge of surveillance for the Salton Sea Hazard Unit, the
section of the Sonny Bono Wildlife Refuge that allows for hunting three
days a week. It is her job to collect data about the birds that move
through the Hazard Unit, species seen, how many are killed by hunters,
how many are nesting, how many die naturally.
As her belly grows bigger, her counting gets slower. She holds her
lower back with her right arm and paces the land cautiously, listening for
familiar bird calls and the sounds of hunters, applying sunblock when
necessary, hoping that whatever has destroyed the water does not destroy
her baby, keeping a watchful eye on the lake, the dead tilapia lined up on
the beach.
Frankie can count the times she’s spoken to Jeremiah. The number
of messages between the two of them. She can open her text log and
review them all, categorize them. Texts he responded to immediately.
Texts he read but never responded to. Texts he responded to in less than
two hours. Texts he responded to in more than five hours. The average of
photos responded to versus simple word texts. The number of phone calls
while he was at the Salton Sea filming his documentary. The number of
phone calls after he returned to LA. The silence after she told him she was
pregnant.
She keeps a tally in the back of her notebook, behind the birds. She
plans her next communications methodically, based on what has worked,
what has failed. She approaches life like she approaches death:
systematically.

Frankie visits Madame Jacqueline in Slab City. Her trailer sits in the
middle of a dirt lot. It’s an old Airstream, the silver covered with royal
purple paint, the brush strokes visible in the texture. Layered over it:
white mandalas, Confucius quotations, kanji.
Frankie knocks and waits. Madame Jacqueline opens the trailer door
with a cigarette hanging out of her mouth, blue sunglasses shaped like
stars covering her eyes.
“Come on in, dearie,” she says.
She is a small woman, her shoulders crouched into her body, her
boney edges jutting out of her skin. She has long gray deadlocks that
retain the black coloring of her youth at the ends. She keeps them
wrapped up on the top of her head with a dirty scarf.
Madame Jacqueline pulls open the curtains, letting light into the
trailer. Frankie sees little dust particles like fireflies in the rays of sun and
wonders how many she’s breathing in, how many are in her now, how
many she’s drowned in her mucus and spit and bile. She is a graveyard of
particles. She wonders if her baby feels them in her, sharing space. If her
baby eats them too.
Frankie’s belly doesn’t fit in the kitchen table booth, so she stands
until Madame Jacqueline brings her a stool.
“So, what brings you to the Slab today?” she asks.
“I need to ask you about my baby’s father.”
“What about him?”
Madame Jacqueline sits in the booth, her knees facing out towards
Frankie. She lights another cigarette and leans her elbow on the table.
“I need to get ahold of him. I need to know where he is. He stopped
responding to my messages and I need him to help me.”
Madame Jacqueline ashes her cigarette in a coffee mug and looks at
Frankie’s belly. She lifts her other hand.
“May I?” she asks.
Frankie nods.
Madame Jacqueline lifts Frankie’s shirt up over her belly, exposing
her pale skin, the great moon hiding beneath. She puts her hands, with
the cigarette tucked between her fingers, around Frankie’s stomach. She
closes her eyes.
Frankie tries not to breathe in the smoke.
“Oh, my dear.”
Madame Jacqueline releases her hands and takes a drag on her
cigarette, the smoke moving between her teeth, out her nostrils. She leans
back and looks into Frankie’s eyes.
“What? What did you feel?”
“You don’t have to worry about your baby’s daddy,” she says.
“Why? Do you know where he is? How can I find him?”
Frankie stands up.
“No, dearie. There ain’t gonna be a baby for him to be the daddy of.”
She pushes her way through the beaded entryway and down the
steps of the trailer.
“I should have known you were a hack,” she yells over her shoulder.
Madame Jacqueline follows her to the doorway, watches her get in
her truck, and flicks the cigarette filter into the dirt. Frankie pulls out of
the lot and onto the road.

Ashley says she’ll be the baby’s daddy. She will be Frankie’s help. They
have a house, an income. They can do it together. They are already a
family.
They had moved seaside when they were kids. Frankie was four,
Ashley was seven. Their parents brought them here with promises of
boogie boarding, sun-kissed shoulders, rainbow umbrellas and mildewy
beach towels. They said children should grow up by the water, that water
determines who someone will become. Their parents, however, couldn’t
afford a real beach house on the real beach in California, so they moved to
the Salton Sea, An Oasis in the Desert!
The whole area is an ancient sea, the land now risen, dried, cracked.
As a result of a mechanical error with damming the Colorado River, a
lake was born. In the midcentury, realtors saw it as an opportunity: a
second Palm Springs. They built houses, resorts, restaurants, ice cream
shops, hot dog vendor carts, everything a beach town needs.
What they didn’t expect: agricultural runoff increasing the amount of
salt in the water. Pollution. Algae. A dying lake. Nearly everyone packed
up and moved away when the stench of rot inhabited the water. Now, an
abandoned lake, forgotten amongst the sand dunes and empty motels
and piles of garbage.
Frankie and Ashley stayed because their parents left them the house
when they died and they had nowhere else to go.
Ashley likes to hold Frankie’s belly in her hands. She speculates that
the baby is a girl—only a girl would know not to kick when someone
wants her to.
Frankie’s belly is round. Some people say like a basketball, or a beach
ball, but she knows it’s a globe. Her belly is the world. Some mornings,
Frankie gets a sharpie from the junk drawer and draws the continents
onto her blank Earth. She always forgets how Europe connects to Russia
connects to China. It’s okay because it’s her world and she’s drawn
heaven at the top, right under her breasts, which are sore and heavy with
the weight of it.
She draws two dots in Southern California. One is herself. One is
Jeremiah. Compared to the rest of the world, they are right next to each
other. Their edges touch.
“I think I felt something in Germany,” Ashley says, her palms splayed
out across Frankie’s world. “Might have just been your stomach growling,
though.”
It is a Saturday afternoon, a few hours before Ashley has to go to the
bar. They are sitting on the couch in their living room, the old TV playing
a local news channel. The clarity fades in and out as the signal adjusts.
“I think I should have said something to him earlier,” Frankie says.
“Maybe it’s not that he’s scared, it’s that he’s mad. I didn’t give him time
to prepare.”
“Or he’s just an asshole.”
“But this is a big deal. He’s probably just processing.”
Ashley lets go of Frankie and changes the channel to a cartoon.
“You don’t need him, though.”
Ashley wants to take care of the baby. Firstly, because, as her sister,
she loves Frankie. Second, because if Jeremiah answers his phone, if
Frankie goes to LA to be with him and her new family, Ashley will be here
alone. Frankie knows this.
“The psychic said the same thing.”
“What psychic?” Ashley asks.
“Madame Jacqueline. The one in Slab City. I drove down there the
other day to see if maybe she could help me get in touch with him.”
“I thought you hated that stuff.”
“I do. And I was right to. She said the baby wasn’t going to need a
daddy because the baby wasn’t going to make it.”
Ashley stands up. “People can’t just say shit like that. That’s a terrible
thing to say to someone. There’s nothing wrong with your baby.”
“I know,” Frankie says.
She thinks she will text him again today. After Ashley leaves for
work, she consults the tally in her notebook and considers sending him a
picture of the sunset over the lake. She has a 33% chance of him
responding, based on her data.

On her days off, Frankie sits at the bar Ashley works at and reads from
the screen.
Frankie learns about the Orphan Bird while scrolling through
digitized pages of medieval bestiaries on her phone. She pinches and
pulls to zoom in on the illustrations, the perfectly imperfect handwriting
of the scribe, the ornate gold gilding, the imaginations of people long
dead from far away.
The Orphan Bird’s neck and chest are those of a peacock. It has the
beak of an eagle, the feet of a swan, and the body of a crane.
“Come on, Frankie. Put your phone down,” Ashley says. “Join
humanity.”
Ashley is always telling Frankie her eyes are going to fall right out of
her head if she doesn’t stop looking at that tiny screen. She tells her she’s
going to go cross-eyed. She tells her she’s going to get cancer. She tells
her that her brains are going to rot.
Frankie can afford a phone because of her job at Game and Fish.
Most people in this town don’t bother with one. They know everyone they
need to know, where they live, where they work. They walk over and
knock if they need something.
Frankie holds her phone as if it is something sacred. She learns that
the Orphan Bird lays its eggs in the sea. The good eggs float on top and
hatch under their mother’s wing. The bad eggs sink to the bottom of the
sea and hatch there, eternally condemned to darkness and grief.

Ashley keeps her hair long so she can flip it. When she takes someone’s
order, man or woman, she flips her hair to the side and leans in.
This is where Frankie met Jeremiah. He ordered a Jack and coke.
Frankie was sitting on the last bar stool, her face lit from beneath by her
phone.
Jeremiah was dressed like someone from a city who is trying to fit
into a small town. He was wearing brown boots, somewhere between
worker and cowboy, but so new they hadn’t developed a crease above the
toe. He had blue jeans and a button-up shirt patterned like a bandana,
pearlescent buttons gleaming in a row down his chest.
Ashley, who had been flipping her hair at him, introduced Frankie.
“What brings you to the Salton Sea?” Frankie asked him.
Ashley brought Frankie another vodka water. Frankie only drinks
things she can see through. One part vodka, two parts water, four ice
cubes. It’s the same every time, but Frankie always watches Ashley make
it. She will force precision with observation.
“I’m making a documentary,” he said. “People want to know about
this place.”
“About the lake?” Ashley asked.
“Yeah, and its communities. People want to know about people.
People like you.”
Ashley leaned over the bar top.
“I got a secret for you,” she said. “If anybody wanted to know about
this place, they already would.”
Pointing at Frankie, she continued, “All they have to do is look it up.
This shit ain’t new. It’s not a secret. There’s a reason people don’t talk
about the Salton Sea, and it’s not for a lack of knowing.”
Ashley performed her tirade, the one Frankie has heard so many
times, about the government covering the place up. A free sewer, she calls
it. Don’t even have to hire someone to scrape out all the shit.
“You want to know why no one has ever heard of the largest lake in
California? Because it ain’t a lake. It’s a dump.”
“But that’s the thing,” Jeremiah said. “It’s like postapocalyptic or
something. Everyone loves an apocalypse story. It’s like Flint, Michigan
but better. Weirder.”
He sucked down the last of his drink and slid the glass toward
Ashley.
“In a good way,” he added. “It’s authentic.”

Later that night, Jeremiah told Frankie about UCLA, where he went to
film school. He told her about the warehouse he lives in with ten other
artists, artisans, and craftsmen. He told her about how he wants to
change the world through film. He told her about the grant he won to
make this documentary, about how he rented an RV and drove here the
day the check cleared.
She told him about the Orphan Bird. About how, even though the
myth came from somewhere else, she’s pretty sure all the bad eggs
hatched at the bottom of the Salton Sea.
“That’s why the lake’s gone bad,” she said. “The good eggs hatch and
the baby birds fly away to somewhere better. The bad ones are stuck in
the water.”
He said it would be a good metaphor for his film.
Frankie had never met someone like him before. They spent most of
the night in the bar together, and after her fourth drink, she kissed him.
She noticed how clean his shave was, the absence of stubble. His hand
moved to her knee and squeezed.
They left Ashley to finish her shift, and she walked him back through
North Shore, down Mecca Avenue toward her house.
He grazed his fingers over the chain-link fence, the BEWARE DOG
sign. He marveled over the tire swing and the containers of plants next to
the porch. She doesn’t remember what they talked about, but can still
hear his laughter echoing down the empty street. That evening, hazy with
his voice, the way his hand was always touching her while they walked,
brushing up against her arm, sliding across the small of her back, tickling
her palm.
Frankie and Ashley have a garden built out of containers they found
in the desert. They have a rosemary shrub, a basil plant, some tomato
stalks, some okra.
Jeremiah put his nose into the rosemary and inhaled deeply. He
seemed elated by the container garden, and by the squeaky screen door of
the house, the mismatched 70s furniture, the ceiling fan, heavy with dust,
wobbling above them, its beaded drawstring clinking against its metal
body.
She was nervous in a way she had always been with men. The fear of
their bodies heaving over her. The way she felt the need to meet their
expectations. She sucked in her tummy as far as she could, watched her
ribs and hip bones strike against his chest. She thought this was how it
was supposed to happen. How she would inevitably meet someone that
would get her out of here.
He spent the night with her in her twin-sized bed. When he left in the
morning, he kissed her fingertips and put his number in her cell phone.
He didn’t latch the door completely, and the wind drew it open. She
got up and closed it only when the stench of the water reached her
bedroom.

She is suspicious of the water ever since her meeting with Madame
Jacqueline. Not only the water in the lake, but in her home. She thinks
certain things can’t be totally filtered out. She drives her truck to the
convenience store and clears the shelves of water jugs, lining them along
the walls of her kitchen, and under the sink in the bathroom.
Twice a week, she sits in her bathtub, balancing two gallons of water
on the rim. She pulls off the tie around one of the caps, tosses it onto the
peeling linoleum to retrieve later, and pours the room temperature water
over her head. Slowly, at first, her wrists shaking. As it empties, she can
lift the jug higher and pour faster. She sets the water down and slides a
bar of soap across her partially dampened skin, it sticking in places the
water did not touch.
She rinses the soap off using another gallon of water. She brushes
her teeth in the tub and spits the excess as close to the drain as possible.
Pouring water around the saliva and toothpaste mixture, she forces it
through the metal grating, which eventually leads, she thinks, to the lake.
So much of herself has polluted its water; so much of the water has
polluted her.

It is mid-July and the high is 111 degrees. On these days, she goes out in
the early morning, around four a.m., carrying a spray bottle she fills with
the water she keeps in her house. She sprays her neck and her face,
occasionally lifting her shirt and spraying her stomach. The baby likes it.
The baby would like to live somewhere by water—real water. Maybe she
could give the baby the seaside life she was always promised.
The early sun is still hiding beneath the edge of the earth. There is
the occasional rustling of a shrub, a lizard or a rabbit. Otherwise, her and
her baby watch the desert alone. They are the caretakers.
The lake is silent: no wading tides, no boats, no fish jumping. It sits.
It waits. It’s heavy with salt and pollutants. Along the shore, the sand is
made from a mixture of desert minerals and broken-down fish bones. It
is a mass grave.
Down the shore, she hears a crying sound, like a baby in distress. She
walks toward the sound. In the distance, something is flailing in the sand.
She steps closer and identifies it: a wood stork. Its cry is a sort of wah-
wah sound, like a person, but more guttural.
As she approaches, it flaps its wings, its body squirming in the sand.
She sees now why it’s crying: both of its legs are broken. It could have
been a predator, but she thinks it’s more likely due to nighttime pranks.
The bird, as big as her torso, stiffens when she steps toward it.
She’s seen wood storks before, swooping over the water, catching
fish. She’s seen them gathered on the shore picking fights with ducks,
their long, intimidating wings spread, looming above their bodies. And
though she has seen them, counted them in her notebook, she thinks this
bird—this single bird—is the most beautiful. Lying on its side, its broken
legs limp beneath it. Its long beak slightly ajar, and tufts of baby feathers
on the top of its head swaying in the wind. So fragile. So helpless. She
imagines wrapping it up in a blanket and taking it home, nestling it into
the empty crib in the living room. She imagines practicing swaddling it.
Chewing up food for it. She thinks it will be her baby until the real one
comes.
Its eyes are glassy with pain. The coos are quiet. It doesn’t move.
She reaches her arm down to touch it and it squirms away, flinging
sand. She wraps her arms around its back, pinning its wings down.
It cries out again when she lifts it from the sand. Holding it in her
arms, she feels like someone who has never held a baby, unsure of what
parts need support.
She considers putting it in her truck and taking it to the vet, but she
knows there’s nothing they can do. Not without a lot of money. She also
thinks about calling Jeremiah, that maybe he would help, but decides
against it.
She knows what she’s known since she first heard the bird crying
down the shore. It’s not going to make it. She can either leave it here to
starve or get picked off by something bigger, or she can speed things up.
Sliding her hand up the bird’s long neck, she feels the small cord the
feathers are attached to. All birds are the same: made up of feathers, but
underneath, they are fragile, pink runts.
She wraps her fingers around its neck, holding the bird’s wings down
with her other arm. It cries out and she restrains it. She can feel it trying
to push itself from her grasp. Things always want to be prolonged. She’s
doing it a favor. She’s doing it a favor. A favor. This is compassion. It
would thank me if it could. It would praise me.
She tightens her grip around its neck and releases her other arm
from around its body. In one smooth motion, she swings the bird like a
croquet mallet, her hand a noose.
A snap. She drops it onto the sand. It squirms for a moment. And
then, it doesn’t.
The sun rises over the lake, the smell of decay reclaims its place.
Morning birds chirp. Cars on nearby streets grumble toward the shore.
The desert chorus.
She lifts the bird from the sand and carries it to the water. She
wonders if a good egg could ever sink on accident. If a bad egg could ever
swim up and get out of the water. If switching places is possible. Wading
in past her knees, she takes one last look at the creature before dropping
it in. She knows it was this place that killed it, not her. The sea claims its
victim.

He had told her he planned to come back. Needed more b-roll. He asked
if he could stay at her place, but he doesn’t know when, yet. That text was
April 22nd. She has it marked in the notebook.
January 28th: he says she should visit him in LA. He’ll take her to
Griffith Observatory and she can see all the buildings at once. He says
they’ll figure out a weekend when the film slows down. When he can
make time to enjoy her company.
April 18th: her belly is already too big to send photos of herself naked
like she used to. She sends the same photos to him that she sent in
January. She hopes he doesn’t notice.
May 3rd: after over a week of silence, he messages her around 2 a.m.
A simple “miss you.” She texts him back the next morning saying she
misses him too, that maybe she can drive there this weekend. He doesn’t
respond.
June 20th: she sends him a text saying, “I’m pregnant.”
June 29th: she knows she is owed something. It may not be love, or
affection, but she is owed.

Frankie flips through her notebook at the bar. Ashley serves her a club
soda with a lime wedge and four cubes of ice. Frankie transfers the
information from her notebook to the calendar in her phone. Different
colors for different kinds of text messages, the notes explaining the
response. She thinks of the things she’s read about: the Rosetta Stone, the
Fibonacci Sequence, the Zimmerman Telegram, the Babington Plot. This
is a code to be cracked. Everything boils down to numbers. Probabilities.
Things that can be written down.
“What if you just hung out and enjoyed the evening?” Ashley
suggests.
The bar is quiet. The jukebox is playing The Beatles, one guy clocking
the queue with “Octopus’s Garden” and other Ringo songs.
“In this dump?” Frankie asks.
She adjusts the color of a set from May 16th to yellow: responded to
the next day.
“Come on, Frankie. Lay off it.” Ashley points at the phone, the torn-
out pages of the notebook. “He’s not going to call even if you send him the
perfect message.”
Frankie finishes her drink and crumples the loose papers into a
single ball.
“I don’t need him to suddenly be in love with me. But he’s
responsible for this, and he has to do something.”
She grabs her things and slides off the stool.
“This is how it’s supposed to work.”

She pulls up to her home and packs a duffel bag with dirty clothes,
stained socks. She thinks the lake is a kind of god. It has its own
mythology. It’s angry because it’s not supposed to be here. Now, it is
drying up one particle at a time—disappearing before its very own eyes.
She will drive to the city to find Jeremiah. He will save their baby. He
won’t allow anything bad to happen to them. He will kiss the baby’s
fingertips like he did hers. He will take them to the real beach—one
named after a saint, like her—and she will sit under an umbrella while he
teaches the baby how to swim under crashing waves.
Before she leaves, she waters the plants with one of the jugs from the
kitchen. She pulls a sprig of rosemary and smells it deep in her lungs.
Good smells happen so infrequently, they must be savored. She tucks the
rosemary into her pocket.
When she turns off Mecca Avenue, she takes one last look at the
murky water. If it weren’t for her sister, she could never see this place
again and not think anything of it. She imagines what Ashley will do with
her room. If there would ever be a baby in that crib.
Despite all the conservation efforts and her job at Game and Fish,
she hopes the sea dies. The whole place should implode. There is no oasis
in the desert; there is only desert. She’d wring its neck if only it would fit
in her hand.

On the way to LA, she passes a jungle of windmills, tall and towering over
the freeway. She wonders why some move and some don’t. What would
happen if one blade fell? She imagines herself under it, her legs broken
like the stork’s, and she wonders who would save her.
It’s in San Bernardino that the pain starts. It’s a grinding pain inside
her belly. A pain like scraping your skin against asphalt, a pain like
tripping and falling into the desert floor, a pain like rocks, like cacti, like
fish bones. She pulls to the side of the road, which is growing increasingly
busy as she gets closer to the city.
A billboard above her is advertising itself as a possible place for
advertisement.
A pain like the baby is trying to get out. A pain like the baby is scared
of Los Angeles. A pain like the baby is eager to meet its father. A pain like
the baby is scared to meet its father.
She leans the seat back and puts her hands around her stomach, her
world. She can feel the pain in North America, she can feel the pain in
Croatia, she can feel the pain in Australia, in little islands she can’t name,
in places that eat spicy foods, in places that eat noodles, in places she’s
only seen on webpages shrunk to the screen of her phone, in places that
have gods like the Salton Sea, vengeful gods, in places where forgiveness
is conditional, in places where heat comes with humidity, with moisture
that fills the air, in places where people are just as afraid for their babies
as she is here, on the shoulder of the freeway, her car swaying with each
truck that passes.
When she closes her eyes, the baby might hear her thoughts. She tells
the baby to hold on. That they’re almost in the city. That it will be okay if
it just holds on.

When they pull her out of the car, she is unconscious. When they pull the
baby out of her stomach, it isn’t breathing.
When she wakes up, she is in a hospital outside of Los Angeles.
Ashley is sitting in a chair next to the bed.
Her stomach is still big, but deflating.
They tell her there was nothing they could do. They tell her
sometimes these things just happen. They tell her that, otherwise, she is
fine. She is healthy.
When she signs her release paperwork, Ashley drives her back to
Mecca Avenue. Frankie imagines Ashley carrying her to the shore,
wrapped up in her arms, swaddling like a child. Birds coo overhead,
swooping down and skimming the water with the tips of their wings. She
will count them. Ashley will wade into the water, just past her knees, and
submerge her. She will push her body out to sea like a ship on fire.

The Office of Climate Facts
By Mitch Sullivan


I’m so nervous.
It’s the first time I’ve ever been on television. I was always going to
get here one day, but I didn’t expect it to blindside me like this. One
minute, I’m at my desk at the Office of Climate Facts, working my way
through a stack of contact papers from this department and that governor
and the other congressman, riffing on a thousand ways to say “remain
calm.” The next I’m being tapped by the Office Director himself.
Jake, Director Francis said in his big boss voice. Maryanne’s been
grounded in Sacramento. Fill in for her?
You don’t say no to an opportunity like that, no matter how
unprepared you are. Maryanne’s grip on the spokesperson gig is as tight
as her pulled-back ponytail. And she’d never let anything as trivial as
“being unprepared” stop her from going on TV. She’s the face of the
Office of Climate Facts, and a voice the people trust. Filling in for her is as
prestigious as it gets.
Of course I said yes.
Who’d have thought the storm I’ve been fielding panicked phone
calls about all day—the storm that’s been nothing but a headache for me,
if I’m honest—would gift me something like this. I even tried to warn
Maryanne before she left. I said, there’s no need to actually go to
California. That’s what the internet and the telephone are for. She’s
stubborn, though, and charged off anyways. Apparently made it as far as
Sacramento before the storm forced her down. So stupid. She knows how
fickle these storms are, licking out in all kinds of directions without much
notice. They swell up and simmer down out of nowhere.
Not that there’s anything to worry about, though.
This is just weather.
Not climate.
I’ll have to hit that note a few times when I’m on television today.


The morning shows are the easiest. Maryanne always says that. They’re
the ones getting the wave of overnight news, and it’s their job to spoon it
out to everyone in a digestible way. The production crew are running
around, all somber and stressed out, and there isn’t much to chat about
before the cameras start to roll. The hosts are too busy with their stacks of
paper. That’s okay. I have papers, too. Papers full of talking points, and
Maryanne’s catch-all list of responses to the most usual ways these
interviews go downhill. I have every bit of data on the West Coast storm
anyone could ever want.
What I don’t have is a tie without a coffee stain on it.
God damn it, how did I not notice the stain.
It’s big and blotchy and offensive, and it’s right in the middle of
everything. It’s like someone measured me specifically for it—a tailored
blemish. A customized bit of embarrassment built specifically for my
first-ever appearance on TV. I think about tucking the tie into my shirt, or
twisting it around, but every solution is worse than the problem.
The lights come up and I get my cue that we’re about to return from
commercial. There’s no time to fix it, now. Damn it, why do I never
notice these things until it’s too late?
“On three!” the Director calls out, and counts up from zero.
The host’s name is Jo, and the guy beside her is Michael. I don’t
know their last names.
Everything goes silent at once as Jo fixes the camera with a serious
stare, like she’s disappointed in it. She doesn’t bother with a “welcome
back” or an “if you’ve just joined us.”
“As we return to the third day of our rolling coverage of the West
Coast hurricane,” she says, and I just barely manage not to click my
tongue, “we’re joined now by Jake Greatly, Communications Officer at
the Office of Climate Facts. Jake, thank you for being here.”
The camera’s gaze is a physical feeling on my skin. I can see my face
in the monitors dotted around the studio—well made up, precise hair,
clear skin, clean teeth. Fucking stained tie. Still, the camera forces you to
smile, so I smile. Jo doesn’t return it because she’s setting a mood.
“Pleasure, Jo,” I say in a perfectly warmed-up voice, and seize on my
chance. “Can I pick you up on something real quick?”
This trips her up, because she has a prompter to read and I’m
inserting myself. It’s not exactly polite, but I feel like this is a good chance
to show her and Michael that I know my stuff. That even though they
wanted Maryanne, and they’re stuck with me, they’re still going to get
their booking’s worth out of me.
Her head ticks ever-so-slightly sideways and she invites me to
continue.
“It might seem like it,” I say, “but the storm we’re dealing with here
isn’t a hurricane. It’s technically not even a tropical storm. It’s all to do
with the wind speeds, see. For this to be a hurricane it’d need to be a lot
windier. Under the definitions that were drawn up three years ago, what
we’ve got here is a Pacific Depression. Another word for ‘lots of rain.’”
She’s looking at me in the same miffed way she was looking at the
camera earlier, so I lighten things up.
“My first climate fact of the day,” I say, and laugh. “Got a whole office
full of them.”
It’s a tough crowd in here though and I get nothing back. Fair
enough—they’re setting a mood. Or maybe they’re distracted by the stain.
Jo hasn’t looked directly at it yet, but I’m sure Michael has. They know
it’s there.
Everyone knows.
We slog through the overnight reports of damages and missing
persons and the death count, which I’m in a rush to add is unconfirmed
and that people shouldn’t assume the worst about loved ones. Phones and
networks are down. People are taking shelter. Electricity is hard to come
by in a lot of places. Don’t panic, this is just a storm. We’ve had them
before.
“Yes,” Michael finally breaks his silence. His voice cracks. He
should’ve warmed up. “We have had them before. This is the second
hurricane to hit—”
“Pacific Depression.”
Jo butts in.
“Well, three years ago, Hurricane Foley hit the West Coast in similar
circumstances. That was called a hurricane at the time, before the
definitions were redrawn.”
Shit, I think. Here we go.
“Now, at the time,” Michael picks back up, “your office said this was
a once-in-a-century weather event. That hurricanes like it don’t usually
hit the West Coast this hard, and that one forming so far north was a big
fluke. And yet here we are three years down the line facing another one.
Can you explain that?”
I take a deep breath and channel Maryanne.
“Well,” I say. “First of all, the conditions are not similar. Foley had
winds of about 150 miles per hour. That makes it a hurricane under the
old and new rating system. This PD is only just pushing seventy, which
falls short of a hurricane by some—”
“Twenty-two inches of rain over the span of three days?” Jo says.
“That’s not a hurricane?”
As my eyes flick back to Jo, I catch sight of myself in a monitor over
her shoulder. There’s the stain. Center-chest. So obvious, right in the
middle of my bright red, otherwise spotless tie. I almost wince. I can’t
believe I let this happen.
“No,” I say, and it’s a bit louder than I wanted it to be. “Rainfall
doesn’t come into it. Look, this is a big storm. It’s a big, long, heavy
storm. But we have definitions in place for a reason. I know what you’re
getting at, okay. But we can’t talk about what’s going on in California if
we’re all talking about different things. We need to stick to the facts.
That’s what our office is there for. Clue’s in the name, Jo.”
It was too forceful. I can tell right away that I overdid it, because Jo
and Michael have their backs up.
“Okay, well,” Jo says, “what about the fact that we’ve had two once-
in-a-century storms in three years? What does your office have to say
about that?”
And then, like a bolt from the blue, the perfect response comes to
me.
“Simple,” I say. “The counter reset after Foley. We’re getting the next
once-in-a-century storm out of the way early.”
They don’t laugh because they’re setting a mood, but they know it’s a
fantastic answer.
I always knew I’d make it to television.


“The tie was a disaster, I know,” I say to Director Francis, and he assures
me he didn’t notice. His stern school principal’s voice almost convinces
me he’s telling the truth, but I know he’s not. “What did Maryanne
think?”
“We haven’t been able to get through,” he says. “But it’s nothing to
worry about. Phones and networks are down. People are taking shelter.
Electricity is hard to come by in a lot of places. She’s probably hunkered
down in the closest bar she can find.”
I laugh because yes, even at ten a.m., that’s probably true.
“You did very well,” he says. “You’re on air again in one hour, so keep
on top of your game.”
“Absolutely,” I say, squeezing the freshly bought bright blue tie in my
left hand. “I’ll do my best to make Maryanne wish she’d never gone to
Cali. More than she probably already does, I mean.”
“Good boy,” he says, and the phone goes quiet.
I go back to trying to call my mother. It’s only four in the morning in
Sydney, but she won’t mind an early-morning call if it’s about my first TV
appearance. She doesn’t pick up after three attempts, though, and I go
searching for live updates from Oz. Just in case something’s going on.
Social media is absolutely gunked up with West Coast storm talk, of
course, but I do manage to find a few posts about blackouts in New South
Wales. It’s been pretty hot down there lately, and seems the electricity
grid’s losing the battle against the rising temperature. I snort and shake
my head. All those private contracts for eco-friendly emergency power
stations and still they can’t keep their air conditioners going.
I hope Mum isn’t too uncomfortable.
I tap her out a text message.

Hey! I hear it’s scorching down under yet again!! Give me a call when
you’re up, got some big career news.

I’ll have to email her links to my segments later.
She’s going to rip me to shreds over the tie thing.


“As the death toll rises to thirty in the West Coast hurricane and damages
skyrocket into the estimated hundreds of millions, America asks: why
and how? I’m joined by Jake Greatly from the Office of Climate Facts to
try and make sense of this mess. Jake, what the hell is going on?”
Fucking great start.
Maryanne always says Dirk Jansen’s a hard-ass, but where the hell
am I supposed to go from there? He sounds like he’s mad at me. At Jake
Greatly, shit-kicker from the Office of Climate Facts, who has got literally
no control over the weather.
PM America is meant to be one of the more conservative hours on
television, but Dirk’s really been pushing hard on the Office for the last
couple of years for some reason. It can’t be pressure from the network. I
can’t remember who owns it nowadays, but in general, if you have
enough money to own a network, you’re on the side of real climate facts.
Not that we have any political leaning ourselves, of course—but come
on. The conservatives traditionally softball it to us.
I give him a half-hearted laugh.
“Well, there’s a storm, Dirk,” I say. “A Pacific Depression, not a
hurricane.”
“Recall three years ago,” Dirk says, eyebrows pinched together and
voice up, like he’s come straight from the set of a legal drama and is still
in character. “When your office declared Foley a once-in-a-century event.
How is it that …”
And off he goes, retreading the same ground I just covered this
morning. The worst thing about television, Maryanne says, is that you
have to repeat yourself over and over and pretend like it isn’t driving you
crazy. So I answer Dirk as politely as possible, and give him my killer line
about the century rollover, and hope his hardline questions will soften up.
“It wasn’t so long ago that a hurricane forming this far north was
considered impossible,” he said, and he doesn’t even give me a chance to
interject and correct his terminology. “What do you have to say to the
claims of a former IPCC Co-Chair that this is a direct result of rising sea
temperatures, and that your office is suppressing that information?”
The scoff is out of my mouth before I can stop it.
“Dirk, please,” I say. “You know as well as I do that the
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was a corrupt organization.
It got caught red-handed peddling false claims and junk science to policy
makers to try and skew decisions their way. You can safely ignore
anything that comes from the not-so-good folks who used to work for the
IPCC. Which Co-Chair? Was it Laghari?”
“Sahil Laghari, yes.”
“Are you kidding me,” I say, suddenly seized by indignity. “Windmill
lover? Laghari was a proponent of the single worst health risk the
developed world has ever seen. He put his crusade for renewable energy
above the health and safety of thousands of children in the United States
and Europe. He’s a disgrace.”
“His action group on climate change has data to back their claims.”
“Data from where,” I say, and I nudge the stack of paper on the desk
in front of me. “The Office is the only organization that has the kind of
worldwide scope to observe and assess the human impact on climate.
We’re primary data gatherers, Dirk. We have the numbers. We have the
tools. Laghari’s in charge of a group of political activists, not scientists.”
“He levels that charge at you,” Dirk says.
“Yeah, well,” I say, and I lean back in my chair. There’s no hesitation
now. Not when I’m being pitted against a crook like Laghari. Not when
I’m wearing a brand new, stain-free tie. “He would say that, Dirk. Only
one of us still has an office.”
There’s barely time before the end of the segment for me to remind
everyone this is weather.
Not climate.


Maryanne’s phone goes straight to voicemail again and I push out a deep
sigh.
I really hope she saw me on Dirk. She’ll absolutely flip when she
finds out he’s drunk the IPCC Kool-Aid and is quoting Sahil-fucking-
Laghari live on air. The whole reason I have a job with the Office in the
first place is because of my role in bringing down Laghari. My first win in
the battle against the fake and alarmist institutions that used to prop up
the whole debate around climate.
My only win, if I’m honest. Maybe I’ll take on Dirk next if he keeps
up with this bizarre vendetta against the Office.
Mum’s still not picking up her phone. It’s past ten o’clock in the
morning back home, and she ought to be awake by now. The blackouts
must mean she can’t charge her phone. I snort, because I know she won’t
like that. How are you supposed to spend all day texting when your
battery’s dead?
Ah, well.
I text a few friends to ask if they’ve seen me on air.
Before they can write back, I’m rushed into makeup for the evening
shows.


My final appearance for the day is a last-minute booking on Marchant.
Even Maryanne doesn’t have a game plan for Marchant. She’s a
narrative talker, smart as a son of a bitch, and her hour-long slot is like a
fortress that she builds up segment by segment every night. It’s rare that
anyone goes on Marchant looking to butt heads and gets away unscathed.
The only way to win a fight with her, I figure, is to not fight in the first
place.
The first twenty minutes of this hour have been dedicated to Foley,
and how it prompted the redrawing of the tropical storm thresholds.
Marchant’s version is really simple and straightforward. Leaves a lot of
things out, of course, but it’s easy to follow, easy to swallow. The IPCC
was disbanded because it was wall-to-wall corrupt—everyone knows that
part—which led to the founding of the Office of Climate Facts. Just weeks
later, Foley hits, and this apparently impossible storm prompts the newly
created OCF to assert its relevance by setting new thresholds for what’s a
Hurricane, what’s a Tropical Storm, what’s a Pacific Depression. It’s
Cliff’s Notes stuff. Packaged so your grandma who’s never heard of the
IPCC or the OCF can understand it.
Basically true. Factually shaky.
I watch from the sidelines, soaking in the atmosphere. I’m so used to
it already. Nobody’s walked me through it, but I know what most of these
people’s jobs are. Lights guy. Sound guy. Director. Assistants. Hair and
makeup. I’m a natural at this.
I always knew I would be.
My phone buzzes in my pocket—Director Francis calling—and I tap
the assistant next to me. Do I have time for a call, I mouth to her. She
whispers back to me, three minutes, and so I step outside and answer it.
“Hey, boss,” I say. “I’ve got three—”
“Jake, got some bad news,” he says in his booming voice.
“Maryanne’s dead.”
At first, I assume he’s joking. He’s got a really dry sense of humor,
and this is how he’s decided to tell me that I’ve got Maryanne’s job
permanently. That I’ve done such a good job on TV today they want me to
take over full time. Any second now, he’ll add the words “to me” or “to
America” or something like that. Turn it into a joke. That’s just how he is.
“We still want you to go ahead with Marchant if that’s okay,” he says.
“But I wanted you to hear it from me before it got to the media.”
No, that isn’t right. That’s not funny.
“Wait a second,” I say. “What do you mean?”
“I mean I don’t want you to cancel on Marchant if at all possible,” he
says. “Bookings are valuable on her show and—”
“Not that,” I say. “About Maryanne. We can’t possibly know for sure.
Phones and networks are down, right? People are taking shelter.
Electricity is—”
“She was in a car,” the Director cuts me off. “It got caught in
floodwaters. When she opened the door to get out, she fell down an open
manhole cover. No way she could have seen it, too much water. The other
passengers in the car say she disappeared in a flash. They found her two
miles away. She’s gone, Jake.”
I open my mouth. Close it again. Open it. Close it.
This isn’t how it works. This isn’t in Maryanne’s talking points.
People don’t just die like that. Not in a Pacific Depression! It’s the
lowest tier of storm you can get. The weakest of the weak.
“Jake, look, I need you to do Marchant. Can you?”
“Ah … yeah,” I say. “Yeah, I mean … I guess it’s my job now, right?”
“That’s right,” Director Francis says. “We’ll sort out the particulars
when you get back. Just keep doing a good job like you have been all day.
You’ll be fine.”
He hangs up.
I’ve only got sixty seconds to get back inside.


Straight after commercial, Marchant does what all the other shows do.
She updates the damages. Updates the forecasts. And updates the death
count. I almost miss my cue when she finally introduces me.
“We’ll come back to the storm in a moment,” Marchant says,
shuffling her papers. “But let’s focus on you for a little bit. You started
working for the OCF shortly after it was formed, yes? Right after the IPCC
was disbanded for …” and she shuffles through her papers like she’s
forgotten. “Corrupt behavior,” she says, stressing it like it’s supposed to
be in air quotes.
I try my best to smile.
“Yes, that’s right,” I say. “About three years back.”
And on she goes. About my resume. About my education. She wants
to know why I started a degree in quantitative life sciences but then
suddenly switched to communications and public relations. She wants to
know when, exactly, I met Salvatore Francis, who is now the director of
the OCF. She wants to know if he funded my degree. She wants to know
details of the comprehensive study we used to bring down Sahil Laghari
and the IPCC three years ago, and whether or not we stand by the claims
about infrasound’s link to severe health effects. She wants to know if I’d
care to comment on the fact that the author of that study has since
withdrawn his name from it.
But it’s rolling off my eardrums. Bouncing away.
This is all just noise.
She’s in the middle of asking me if I know anything about Director
Francis’s financial ties to the energy sector when I drop my palm to the
table. Maybe a little too hard. It echoes around the studio and startles a
few people. Startles me.
“You realize someone has died, right?” I say. “You want to talk about
all this right now?”
Marchant looks confused and points to the in-studio monitor.
“Latest reports say sixty people have died, Mr. Greatly.”
I grit my teeth and want to scream.
Maryanne’s dead, and all anyone wants me to do is talk politics.
I don’t know how I do it, but I make it through to the end of the
interview. Director Francis tells me I did okay in the circumstances.


It’s got to be nearly nine o’clock at night in Australia.
I’ve spilled scotch on my beautiful blue tie.
Mum still won’t pick up the phone.
Losing What We Can’t Live Without
By Jean-Louis Trudel

They raced out of the high country, under lowering skies.
“Will we have time for a meal at my dad’s place?” the woman asked
her companion. “This could be your last chance.”
“I’m not tempted.”
“Think of the Dutch sailors who were the last humans to taste dodo
meat. Don’t you want to know if they savored each mouthful? Or just
gulped it down while joking about their captain?”
“I’m not sure I would’ve been able to even put it in my mouth.”
“Even knowing that it was a historic meal?”
“I’ll watch you eat.”
“But will there be time?”
The man glanced back at the screen embedded in his coat sleeve. The
garment, still soaking wet, was draped over the backseat.
“I think so,” he said at last. “The probe’s readings are still close to
baseline. We’ve outrun the worst of it.”
“For now.”
“Look on the bright side. Hardly anybody still lives in the valley’s
flood zones. A once-in-a-millennium storm can’t do that much damage.”
Not anymore, Nadine thought, not after smaller floods had chased
away almost everyone who had once lived near the banks of the St. John
River.
“The bad news is …” she whispered, infinitely distant, “that the
people who’ve stayed are the hardest to budge.”
“We’ll find a way to convince him. If we don’t drain the battery
before we get there.”
Nadine dialled down the car’s speed and the vehicle uttered a sigh of
relief as the lower setting reduced the draw on its reserves. Amin was
right. It wouldn’t do to run out of amps too soon. She turned her
attention back to the newsfeed while Amin closed his eyes, tired out by
the hike into the Madawaska woods.
The car drove on, not trying to make small talk. Nadine had turned
off its conversation app, but she soon began to yearn for its mindless
chatter to make up for the bleakness of the news app.
The Chinese civil war was still raging, chewing up younger
generations left adrift by the drought-stricken fields in the north and the
drowned cities in the south. The new fish farms in the Arctic Ocean were
a happier story, but they were attracting more immigrants to the
Mackenzie Valley and stoking the Inuit Insurgency. The European
quarrel over citrus quotas between England and Denmark seemed even
more futile, as conditions remained marginal for their cultivation. Why
plan for it when greenhouse gas levels were starting to stabilize?
She knew the answer to that. Lag. But she didn’t have to like it.
Outside, the road cut across the remnants of burnt-out woods and
flood-scored pastures. The ash grey trunks of dead trees rose out of the
soil like the spears of old, planted in the ground over a warrior’s tomb.
Pointing accusingly to the storm clouds above.
“We’re definitely invited to eat at my dad’s place,” Nadine said at
last. “He just texted me that he’s looking forward to seeing us. Emphasis
on us.”
“And that’s supposed to be all right now?”
“We may never get another opportunity.”
“That’s the whole point. I’ve managed to resist that questionable
temptation until now.”
“He’s my father.”
“I understand. But you’re the one who couldn’t stand his cooking.”
“Just promise me you won’t scream at him.”
“Me? Have I ever yelled at you?”
“You don’t get mad for personal things.”
“Not the small stuff.”
“Am I so small?”
“You’re a world unto yourself. You contain multitudes. What you get
wrong is tiny compared to the vastness inside.”
She smiled. For a scientist, Amin was well-read, and she liked that
about him.
“Flatterer. I’m not that big.”
“You are, trust me. Everywhere you’ve been, every place you’ve seen,
everything you’ve done, it all adds up to your own version of the world. A
unique one.”
“So, I’m bigger on the inside.”
“We’re all as great and wonderful as the world we live in.”
He clasped her hand and squeezed so slowly that it felt erotic. Don’t
stop, please. It took her mind off the bad news they were bearing.
“And I never complain to the chef if he’s tried his best.”
Raindrops spattered the windscreen. Nadine stared at the watery
soldiers, the vanguard of a numberless horde now descending upon the
road south after overwhelming the Maine and Québec uplands.
In woods spared by fire, foliage would scatter the drops into a fine
spray, wetting leaves, needles, trunks, and roots. Helping every cubic
centimeter of biomass drink the deluge.
But where trees had gone up in flames or fields spread out as
smooth, unobstructed expanses, the droplets would flow into rivulets, fill
drainage ditches, feed creeks, and pour into streams. Until the water held
in cloud decks a kilometer high, extending over thousands of square
kilometers, ended up in the St. John River. Downhill lay the sea, but the
huge mass of collected rainwater had to move down New Brunswick’s
greatest valley to reach the Atlantic.
Nadine sighed. “As a matter of fact, my mother used to be the chef.
People came from miles away to try the menu, knowing what went into
it.”
“Rhino steaks.”
“But nothing close to sapience. She drew the line at dolphins and
elephants.”
“Are you saying your father didn’t?”
“He’d point out that humans had hunted all of them. Though I think
that was just to get a rise out of her. But he was right. For all we know,
our ancestors hunted Neanderthals and Denisovans as well.”
“To make love and have children.”
“Sometimes.”
Nadine tried texting her father again, but he didn’t answer. He was
probably busy in the kitchen.
“I’m still amazed people come to the middle of nowhere and pay
good money to sample your dad’s scandalous concoctions.”
Amin waved dismissively at the ruins of buildings in the distance and
the cracked pavement streaked with muddy drips. The car was adjusting
so smoothly to the uneven road surface that the passengers inside hardly
noticed.
“The valley isn’t completely abandoned,” Nadine objected. “You don’t
leave a place just because you can’t take care of it.”
“Our warning did go out, right?”
“My father may be the only one still unaware. He’s very stubborn
about ignoring social media.”
“We’ll be there in plenty of time. Forgive me, dear. There are so few
signs of life—I’m getting antsy. I’m not used to it.”
She almost answered that the desolate landscape was itself a human
artifact, ravaged by fire, drought, and flood. Humanity at work.
“Even on field trips?” she said instead.
“There’s enough to do in southern Ontario and Québec without
venturing into more remote areas.”
Nadine fought a pang of guilt. Had she risked the life of her
sweetheart just to show her father that she cared?
“Trust your models. We’re way ahead of the flood.”
The rain stopped. Another car overtook theirs. The land remained
empty, scarred with deep gullies where rainbursts had carved into the soil
down to the bedrock.
Nadine knew this part of the province better than any city boy. Better
even than her climate scientist fiancé. He understood general causes, but
she was familiar with individual cases. She’d run enough medical errands
to surviving farmsteads and villages to know what life endured in this
forsaken quarter of New Brunswick.
The road brought them within sight of the river and both craned
their necks to figure out if it was already rising. The original inhabitants
had known it as the Wolastoq and called themselves the Wolastoqiyuk.
The first Europeans had termed it the Saint-Jean. For the remaining
valley-dwellers, it was a restive menace no longer worthy of a name, even
when it wasn’t running dry.
Right now, it was a monster threatening to burst its banks, and
growing more monstrous by the minute.
“How fast will the peak come down?” she asked.
“It’s now a matter of hours. Look, the sensors are already registering
a surge.”
She glanced at the coat drying behind her.
“Can anything slow it down?”
He shook his head.
“None of the dams were able to hold back a flood even in the old
days. Just the spring freshet, when all the snow melted, was enough to
overtop them if the sluice gates weren’t opened. So, neither Beechwood
nor Grand Falls are going to be able to cope with this.”
“How about Mactaquac?”
“I’d rather not talk about it. It’ll just make me mad.”
Silence fell as the car sped south. Nadine grabbed a nap and awoke
to discover Amin snoring. Outside, the clouds were lifting and the sun
shone slantingly on a series of pristine houses and farms, surrounded by
hedges, saplings, and young trees. One of a few fortunate enclaves that
had escaped the worst of the climate catastrophes.
The sunlight dappled the skin of her fiancé’s cheek pressed to the
window, the patterns shifting as trees waved at the passing car. As if
conscious of her gaze, Amin opened his eyes.
“Where are we?”
“Not far now. Nervous?”
He looked at the telltales on his coat’s sleeve. The app was
calculating the expected river rise based on the downpour’s duration, its
geographical extent, and the specific terrain. The display drew from him a
concerned frown.
“Yes, for all sorts of reasons …”
“Believe me. You’ll eat like you’ve never eaten before.”
“And like I’ll never eat again, right? But I’m not going to eat,
Nadine.”
“In that case, you’ll be hungry like you’ve never been hungry before.
Just the smells …”
“Sure, sure. You gotta love the stink of extinction in the air before a
meal.”
Nadine didn’t respond, dialling down the car’s velocity again as their
destination came into view. The car picked its way through the
abandoned streets of Nackawic, the pavement crumpled and potholed.
Near the river, most of the houses were falling apart and the commercial
buildings were blackened husks, burned down for insurance.
“Stop at the Lost Flavours restaurant,” she ordered.
Their vehicle glided into a parking spot. There were only three other
cars. Two old biofuel guzzlers, probably running on a semilegal mix from
the algae farms. And a luxury hybrid, a rental model from Moncton
driven by the kind of people who could afford a meal at Lost Flavours.
Not like her and Amin.
“He won’t like it if you don’t order something,” she added. “He’ll
think you don’t understand.”
“I don’t, but since it’s your father … I’ll try.”
She nuzzled Amin’s shoulder before leaving the car. “He’ll like you,
I’m sure he will.”
He shrugged, and made sure to bring his coat even though the sun
shone again.
The restaurant had once dominated Nackawic’s old riverside district,
before other floods, forest fires, and plant closings. Nadine remembered a
happier time, when she could run down the street to buy ice cream from
the small shop near the bridge or candy from the convenience store. Both
had closed before she had left what was becoming a ghost town, even as
Lost Flavours was building a dubious international brand, awarded four
black stars of infamy by ecotourism guides.
The shells of more recently forsaken bungalows dotted higher
ground, rising out of wild, overgrown lots. In front of Lost Flavours,
though, a perfectly groomed lawn stretched from the parking lot to the
main entrance.
Nadine’s father greeted them from the doorway. “Take your shoes off
and walk on the grass. That’s why it’s there.”
The old man smiled at Amin’s confusion. “It’s all about savouring the
sinful pleasures of the past.”
“And European invasives?”
“Of course. The beginnings of the great takeover.”
“A hostile one, naturally.”
“You said it. Come on, try the grass. It won’t mind. I won’t mind. I’m
so glad I’m meeting at last the man my daughter wants to marry. It’s been
too long.”
“You must know how I feel about this place. It goes against
everything I believe in.”
“Well, do you like rare species or don’t you? Here, you get to know
them even better.”
“By eating them.”
Nadine ignored both men as she took off her shoes and reveled in the
forgotten pleasure of bare skin on wet, pliant grass. Amin trudged across
the lawn with boots still speckled with Madawaska mud.
“Welcome to the Restaurant at the End of the World! Come on in.”
Nadine kissed her father on both cheeks to get a closer look at him.
Robert Leblanc’s face was lined and sagging, but the eyes still held the
twinkle of a man on a mission. Yet, the sallowness of his skin worried her.
He’d cut his thinning white hair short since his wife’s death. Perhaps
he’d finally figured out that his shock of artificially thickened and dyed
hair no longer fooled anyone. Or perhaps he no longer wished to be
reminded of his younger days.
“The End of the World? Isn’t that a bit melodramatic?” Amin
whispered into Nadine’s ear as she drew back.
She grimaced, and muttered. “I just call it Dad’s World.”
“Because?”
“You’ll figure it out.”
Inside, the décor paid homage to turn-of-the-century America. The
background music was vintage Avril Lavigne. A faded “WiFi” sign
plastered behind the cash register, a hoodie hanging from a hook
(alarmed), and a pile of yellowed newspapers (under glass) made for
instant nostalgia. The left-hand wall was decorated with glass boxes
exhibiting dead butterflies pinned to cork squares.
Only extinct species were featured, such as the monarch and the blue
morpho. As a little girl, Nadine had memorized their names. The Quino
checkerspot butterfly. The Ceylon rose swallowtail. Lange’s metalmark.
And so many more. Amin looked away, staring long and hard instead at
the polar bear skin rug covering the floor in front of the register.
“You’re allowed to walk on it,” Leblanc urged him.
Amin shuddered, unable to tread upon the pelt of a once-living
animal. Nadine pushed him towards the table set for the three of them.
“What’s the point of having this here?” he asked, skirting the bear
skin.
“It could be a test of your empathy for other beings.”
“As far as I’m concerned, I failed the moment I came through your
restaurant’s doors. Am I to conclude your business relied on people
without empathy?”
“Not exclusively. Haters of hypocrisy came to make a point by
livestreaming their meals. It was never one thing.” He waved them to
their seats. “Let’s eat. The flood is coming.”
Nadine looked up. Did her father know about the surge?
She regretted not getting a chance to pick from the menu. Many
visitors came just for the listings of nearly vanished foods that stirred
forbidden yearnings. Grain-fed beef washed down with a bottle of
Californian or Spanish wine, forgotten delicacies using marshelder,
agave, or arrowroot, desserts made with Gros Michel bananas, and pre-
genetic engineering coffee or chocolate.
They began with beluga caviar on toast. Amin carefully scraped off
the caviar and ate the toast. Nadine enjoyed one slice topped with the
salty roe, but she didn’t ask for more. She knew how hard it was to import
real caviar from the Caspian Sea. Even with her father’s exemptions for
the “historical” and “educational” purpose of Lost Flavours, the black-
market cost remained prohibitive.
“Next up,” Leblanc announced, “a choice of soups. Great white shark
fin soup. Or leatherback turtle soup. Or soup made with bullfrog legs. A
century ago, crates of live bullfrogs were shipped all around the world to
restaurants in need of exotic delicacies. Some say that these bullfrog
exports propagated the deadly chytrid fungus that delivered the coup de
grâce to amphibian populations already stressed by climate change and
habitat destruction.”
Amin nodded grimly. “Well, if bullfrogs aren’t truly endangered, just
accomplices in other extinctions, I can order the latter with a clear
conscience.”
“You’ll even be doing the environment a favor. Some bullfrogs have
become invasives outside of North America.”
Once Amin slurped down his ethically correct soup, Leblanc
returned from the kitchen to confirm the available entrées. A turtle egg
omelette. Bluefin tuna carpaccio with Texas wild rice pilau. Or a pangolin
stir fry.
He set down a plate with samples of each to tempt Nadine and her
husband-to-be. This time, however, Amin proved obdurate. “I’m not
having anything unless you justify yourself.”
Leblanc cocked his head to one side.
“We should eat our sins.”
“To make them disappear? That sounds very … Christian.”
“As a reminder of God’s crucifixion, communion is also a penance.
Now that we’re crucifying Gaia, we shouldn’t be allowed to forget who
nailed her to the cross.”
“You’re making it real?”
“Here, when you eat a slice of grilled dugong, you know it could be
the last one. Ever. The odds are increasingly stacked against the survival
of the species I’m procuring.”
Nadine picked up the thread. “The Dutch sailors who dined on the
last dodos … if they knew the bird had become very rare, it didn’t stop
them. Their final hunt was even written up. Here, before you know it,
you’re yielding to an animal appetite even though it means participating
in a change of the natural order.”
Her father nodded, spearing a niblet of pangolin. “Try something,
not for the first time, but for the final one. Because that’s what humans
have been doing ever since the last ice age. Some of our ancestors may
have gorged upon the last mammoth. Now’s your chance to do the same.
I’m offering you an opportunity to share in a fundamental human
experience.”
“Extermination.”
“My wife and I opened the place so that nobody could ever pretend
otherwise.”
Amin surrendered, glancing at his coat’s telltales. “I’ll have the tuna.”
Thanks, Nadine mouthed at Amin when her father turned away.
When her fiancé had to place a strip of raw tuna flesh on his tongue,
though, he stopped, the fork just brushing his lips.
“Somewhere, a species is screaming,” he murmured.
“The whole planet has been screaming and nobody listened.”
Eyes screwed shut, Amin closed his teeth around the glistening meat.
He chewed once or twice, gulped it down.
“I’m not sure I needed this to listen better.”
Leblanc’s features unknotted. He looked so relieved that Nadine put
off telling him about the flood. She puzzled it out. If Amin’s acceptance
meant so much to her father, it was because he needed it …. She relaxed,
filled with warm feelings she was in no hurry to set aside.
After coming back from the kitchen with another round of dishes, the
old man sat down with them, but he hardly touched anything on his own
plate.
“For dessert, a glimpse of the future of fine cuisine.”
He brought out assorted sweets. Candied strips of jellyfish,
chocolate-coated ants, and honey-glazed locusts.
Amin tasted a few, unenthusiastically, and Nadine herself stuck with
the locusts. Her father finally brought out digestifs. A couple of classic
génépi liqueurs made with endangered species of the Artemisia genus.
And a traditional Caribbean mamajuana concocted with dried guaiacum
wood.
“None for me,” Amin said. “Just coffee.”
On Nadine’s tongue, the mouthful of mamajuana was smooth yet
powerfully corrosive. The bitterness of the lignum vitae made her wince.
When coffee was served, Amin looked again at the screen on his coat.
Though he had reduced it to tile size, the main indicators were still
visible.
“It’s begun,” he said quietly.
Nadine nodded to show she’d heard, but a different concern was
overriding her awareness of the ticking clock.
“You don’t look so well, dad.”
“Old age is catching up to me, I guess.”
“Don’t lie to a doctor. I can tell it’s more than that.”
Her first impression had been deceiving. During the meal, she had
noticed his trembling hands. His voice was still strong, but his eyes
sometimes lost focus. Nadine had been hoping for one last happy dinner
together. She didn’t want to mar it with a quarrel over the care he would
need. Not yet.
Amin lent a hand with an easier question.
“Where do you get all this food?”
“I import a lot of it, via a network that starts out legit but eventually
extends into local black markets. When it gets here, it has all the
sustainability certificates I need. But I don’t rely on just the imports.
Come, I’ll show you the rest.”
The greenhouses behind the restaurant were huge, extending over a
flat stretch of land running down to the riverbank. Nadine stared at the
water lapping at the base of the farthest wall.
“The water’s high.”
“It’s stopped raining, but the level will keep rising,” Amin said.
“Really, now?” Leblanc commented, and Nadine wondered again.
Entry was strictly controlled. Her father didn’t let them skip a single
security measure. Amin remarked that it was like going into a Level 4
biohazard facility.
“My Spaceship Earth, I call it.”
Inside, there were still more doors, to preserve the plants from cross-
contamination in the absence of pesticides. Lamps, misters, and shades
combined to recreate a variety of growing conditions. Wind turbines on
the heights above the river supplied the power needed to run the air
purifiers and other machinery. The eggbeater design wasn’t as efficient as
the larger models, but it was low-maintenance, its generator lodged in its
concrete base. Freelancers stopped by occasionally to service it, hitching
rides from the truckers.
There were plants that no longer grew anywhere else. “A friend of
mine, a coconspirator if you will, sends me seeds from Svalbard from
time to time.”
Small plots flourished with the help of artificial lighting, growing
crops adapted to hotter and moister conditions. Herbs and spices and
heirloom varieties of common breeds.
There were also animals. One wing hosted row upon row of cages for
a variety of rodents and rare birds. Leblanc walked them through the
aisles and sections, growing reflective as he pointed out prized
specimens.
“When my generation was born, these animals didn’t have to live in
cages and pits. And the plants, and insects …”
Amin hung back and exchanged a look with Nadine, who nodded.
Dad’s World. A world now vanishing from memory.
“Why did you leave, again?” he murmured.
“It had to do with my mother, in part. And Dad forgot one thing.”
“I did?”
She ignored her father.
“People get used to living in deserts,” she said. “They no longer
notice a silent spring, a meadow without butterflies, or a snowless winter.
Planting a fork in a tender gobbet of hippo flesh means something to
those who remember the original animal. But if there is no real
recollection …. The Dutch sailors who slaughtered the last dodos didn’t
realize what they were doing because decades had already passed since
the bird was commonplace. To them, the dodo was just an oddity.”
“But if people are told how it used to …”
Nadine shook her head. “I gave up when I noticed the customers who
just came for the food. Those for whom a meal at Lost Flavours was just
another expensive experience they’d brag about later.”
“But when they did, they told their friends about the idea of the
place,” Leblanc insisted. “That’s worth something.”
Nadine shrugged, unwilling to resume an old argument. Amin’s now-
obsessive check of his sleeve cut them short as he raised a hand and
expanded the screen.
“Soon now. I expect the main surge in an hour.”
Nadine led the way out, somehow happy that Amin had seen her
father’s restaurant and greenhouses at their best.
The old man looked at them. “You didn’t come here just to introduce
me to your fiancé, right?”
“A massive flood is coming down the valley,” Amin said. “And it’s
likely to rise at least that high.”
They all looked back at the old brick factory behind them. Amin’s
finger aimed for the last row of windows, clearly above the roofs of the
restaurant and greenhouses. Nadine had spent part of the trip trying to
come up with a better solution than retreat.
“You should’ve told me earlier,” her father complained. “We could
have …”
“How much could you have saved, realistically? We’ll take what we
can in our car and in yours.”
“Maybe it won’t rise that high. If I stay …”
“You’ve dodged bullets before, dad, but this is a bullet train coming
down the tracks. That’s what you get for living in a flood zone. The whole
neighborhood is within reach of this flash flood, according to Amin.”
“What does he know?”
“He does this for a living. He planted a flood gauge way upriver, so
we could follow the water’s rise by remote.”
Leblanc kept his gaze trained on Nadine’s face, looking for a sign of
hope. “The dams …”
“They never helped before. What’s left of Fredericton’s riverside
neighborhoods is being evacuated.”
“That bad?”
“Surely you’re not surprised. You saw it coming even before you
opened the restaurant.”
“After your mother’s death, I didn’t think I’d live long enough. For a
time, I thought … I was afraid I’d thrown away her life, wasted her love
and youth, just to make a point about a threat that would never quite
materialize now that emissions are decreasing.”
“Never!”
“Your mother was there. The full effects of the warming were still far
off.”
“It’s going to get very real once the flood hits Mactaquac Dam. It’s
ten years past its best-before date. Amin thinks it will collapse, and the
surge will sweep through downtown Fredericton.”
“Go then, and leave me here!”
“You don’t mean that.”
“Why insist on living?”
Amin moved closer. He usually managed to make people forget his
broad-shouldered frame, but he was no longer concerned with remaining
an unobtrusive presence. He raised his voice. “If you were expecting to be
left to die, you raised your daughter all wrong.”
Leblanc blinked, ignoring Amin to address his daughter.
“But I can’t leave. This is … your mother loved to cook in that
kitchen. I can tell you being the chef suited her, it sure did.”
Nadine hugged him. “I know, dad. I know you loved her.”
“It was my life’s work.”
Amin spoke up suddenly, catching Nadine’s hand as he did so. “Not
only. I’m marrying your daughter and you should be proud of her.”
“I am. I’ve always been, but …”
“Then tell me what you hoped for,” Amin said. “The meal was
delicious, and shameful, and I understand what you intended to do. But
tell me now what future you wished for.”
Nadine expected her father to give his usual speech, but he’d come
up with a new one.
“Once upon a time, slavery reduced people to an economic resource,”
he started, looking at Amin. “We managed to abolish it. When we want to,
we’re able to do things that are hard and that are just. Industrialization
reduced the environment to a resource to be used up or soiled. To change
that, we put a price not just on what we got from the environment, but on
what we destroyed to get it. Above all, this place is … was about
remembering what we sacrificed by not sacrificing.”
“I see. I wondered about that, since some menu items weren’t lost
because of climate change. But you were making a larger point all those
years.”
“Think now of what you can still gain, dad,” Nadine said in her
father’s ear.
Did he, prompted by Amin, think of more hopeful tomorrows? Of
seeing his grandchildren?
“It’s clear you did this because you care for the future,” Amin said,
echoing her own thoughts. “You taught your daughter to care too. And
she isn’t the only one.”
“Listen to him, dad. I thought he might scream at you because he
also cares. But he’s right. You’re not alone.”
“I guess I’ll have to be happy with that.” His eyes crinkled, looking at
her. “Very well, daughter of mine, I’ll come with you. Just help me with
one last thing.”
And so they walked back to the greenhouses, leaving the doors open.
As they returned to the car with freezers filled with precious seeds and
genome samples, they unlatched cages and shattered panes of glass. The
floodwaters would flow freely and rapidly.
“More invasives,” Amin predicted wryly.
Her father laughed. When the water rose, the St. John River would
surge through the greenhouses and carry downstream these survivors of a
vanished world. Some of the nimbler animals might swim to shore and
scamper away. Some of the seeds and tubers might sprout from the silt
and loam deposited by the flood.
The Wolastoq valley would be colonized once again by outsiders.
Nadine wondered if an entire valley, transformed into a wreck of
yesterday’s world, might win more attention than her father’s drowned
restaurant. The world held in his restaurant’s kitchens and greenhouses
had perhaps been too big to think about.
She recalled Amin’s earlier appraisal of the vastness locked inside
her. Weren’t contained worlds easier to love and mourn? Individuals
rather than species? Places rather than an entire biosphere?
His eyes on the river, Amin entered the car. “Shall we go?”
Her father lingered outside, his hand on the car door. At last, he
yielded with a sigh. They’d already swept through the restaurant one last
time, ushering out the last customers, and setting the waiter-cum-cook’s
helper on his way with some of the rarer seeds.
Leblanc joined them inside the car weighed down by his life’s
gleanings, and they drove until they were out of harm’s way. From the
stopped car, they watched the valley. The water rose fast, furious and
foaming.
“It came down as a rainburst, up north, in Madawaska,” she said for
her father’s benefit. It already felt like it had happened a lifetime ago.
Drenched by the sudden downpour, Nadine and Amin had waited
out the storm inside the car, hoping it wouldn’t wash the road away.
Afterwards, Amin, who knew every major watercourse in North America,
had realized the runoff would end up in the St. John River.
“We had to think of what could be saved,” she concluded. “But I
knew what I didn’t want to lose.”

About the Contributors

Authors

Sandra K. Barnidge is a writer based in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and her
work is published in Atlas Obscura, Nimrod, Heron Tree, and elsewhere.
Before moving to the Deep South, she was a science writer in Wisconsin,
and she’s passionate about using storytelling as a tool for educating the
public about environmental and social issues. She’s currently pursuing an
MFA degree in creative writing at the University of Alabama.

Vajra Chandrasekera is a writer from Colombo, Sri Lanka, and a fiction
editor for Strange Horizons. His short fiction has appeared or is
forthcoming in Analog, Black Warrior Review, and Clarkesworld,
among others.

Tony Dietz is an Aussie with a degree in Aeronautical Engineering from
Sydney University and a doctorate from Oxford. He served in the Royal
Australian Air Force and has worked as a research scientist for NASA.
Tony currently lives, works, and writes in Arizona, where he collaborates
with the Central Phoenix Writing Workshop. The first line of “Darkness
Full of Light” came from his daughter’s fifth-grade “What I Did Last
Summer” essay. The rest of the story arose from his fascination with the
deep, the future, and the tale of Joseph and his coat of many colors.

David Samuel Hudson is a Maltese author and journalist. He holds a
Master’s degree in Creative Writing from Bath Spa University, where his
manuscript was shortlisted for the Janklow & Nesbit prize. His short
stories have appeared in Schlock, Scribble magazine, and others, and his
flash fiction in Ad Hoc Fiction books. He has been longlisted for the
international Bath Flash Fiction Award. He mostly writes science fiction,
fantasy, and magical realism, and is currently working on his debut sci-fi
novel.

Rebecca Lawton is a writer, fluvial geologist, and former Colorado River
guide. She’s won the Ellen Meloy Award for Desert Writers, WILLA for
original softcover fiction, Waterston Desert Writing Prize, and
residencies at Hedgebrook, The Island Institute, and PLAYA. She
received a Fulbright Visiting Research Chair to research her second novel,
49 North, about international water crime. Her first collection of essays,
Reading Water: Lessons from the River, was a San Francisco Chronicle
Bay Area Bestseller. Her latest book, The Oasis this Time: Living and
Dying with Water in the West, is due out from Torrey House Press in
2019.

Barbara Litkowski holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Butler
University. Her short fiction has appeared in Subtle Fiction, Blue Lake
Review, and Luna Station Quarterly. She was selected as a finalist in the
2012 William Faulkner-William Wisdom Novel-in-Progress Competition
and is a former recipient of the Indiana Arts Commission Individual
Artist Program grant. She lives with her husband in Zionsville, Indiana.

Jean McNeil has been writer-in-residence in Antarctica, the Falkland
Islands, aboard ship-based expeditions to Greenland, Norway, and
Iceland, and across the Atlantic Ocean. Her travelogue and memoir of
Antarctica, Ice Diaries (ECW editions), won the 2016 Grand Prize at the
Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival. Her most recent novels are set in
east and southern Africa, respectively: The Dhow House (2017) and Fire
on the Mountain (2018). She lives in London, UK. Learn more at
www.jeanmcneil.co.uk.

Leah Newsom is a fiction writer and Arizona native. She is an MFA
candidate in fiction at Arizona State University.

Mitch Sullivan is a science fiction enthusiast and writer from Australia.
He completed a PR major at university that he has since used exactly
once, which was in the creation of “The Office of Climate Facts.”

Born in Toronto, Jean-Louis Trudel holds degrees in physics, astronomy,
and the history and philosophy of science. Since 1994, he has authored
(alone or, in collaboration with Yves Meynard, as Laurent McAllister)
three novels, four collections, a historical guide to science fiction in
Quebec, and twenty-six YA books, as well as numerous short stories in
French and a smaller number in English. His cli-fi story “The Snows of
Yesteryear” appeared in Carbide Tipped Pens, edited by Ben Bova and
Eric Choi (Tor, 2014), was reprinted twice, garnered an honourable
mention in Gardner Dozois’s The Year’s Best Science Fiction, and became
the title story of a cli-fi collection available in English and Italian.

Editors

Angie Dell is the associate director of the Virginia G. Piper Center for
Creative Writing at Arizona State University, and a writer, editor,
letterpress printer, and book artist. She is also on the board of the
NonfictioNOW conference, and owns and runs Shut Eye Press. Her
creative work is interested in challenging objectification and
disassociation, both through an ecological lens and through the human
body, and her books and writing have been published or featured in
various collections, libraries, journals, and galleries.

Joey Eschrich is the editor and program manager at the Center for
Science and the Imagination at Arizona State University. He’s also an
assistant director for Future Tense, a partnership of ASU, Slate, and New
America that explores emerging technologies and their effects on policy,
culture, and society. He is the coeditor of Overview: Stories in the
Stratosphere (2016), Everything Change: An Anthology of Climate
Fiction (2016), The Rightful Place of Science: Frankenstein (2017), and
Visions, Ventures, Escape Velocities: A Collection of Space Futures
(2017), which was supported by a grant from NASA.

Lead Judge

Kim Stanley Robinson is a science fiction writer. He is the author of more
than twenty books, including the international-bestselling Mars trilogy,
and more recently Red Moon, New York 2140, Aurora, Shaman, Green
Earth, and 2312, which was a New York Times bestseller nominated for
all seven of the major science fiction awards—a first for any book. He was
sent to the Antarctic by the U.S. National Science Foundation’s Antarctic
Artists and Writers’ Program in 1995, and returned in their Antarctic
media program in 2016. In 2008 he was named a “Hero of the
Environment” by Time magazine, and he works with the Sierra Nevada
Research Institute, the Clarion Writers’ Workshop, and the Arthur C.
Clarke Center for Human Imagination at the University of California, San
Diego. His work has been translated into twenty-five languages and has
won a dozen awards in five countries, including the Hugo, Nebula, Locus,
and World Fantasy awards. In 2016 he was given the Heinlein Award for
lifetime achievement in science fiction, and asteroid 72432 was named
“Kimrobinson.” In 2017 he was given the Arthur C. Clarke Award for
Imagination in Service to Society.

Honorable Mention: 2018 Semifinalists

We want to congratulate our semifinalists for the 2018 Everything
Change Climate Fiction Contest—we had an incredible pool of
submissions, and the judging process was quite tough!

Mike Barretta, “Crocodile Hunter”
Santiago Belluco, “Dragonfly Memorial”
Eric Bosarge, “The Seventh Strand”
Joseph Carrabis, “Sanctuary”
Kelly Cowley, “Last March for Planet Earth”
Kate Davis, “London: Certainty Suspended”
Sarah Dovi, “The Language of Buildings”
K.C. Finn, “Sixty-Five Days of Night”
Roberta Gibson, “Earth Mother”
Jo Harline, “Comes a Dust Storm!”
Shashi Kadapa, “The Nomad Shepherd”
Samantha Leach, “Roe, Not Rose”
Petula Miller, “Hunger Has a Name”
Sam Nelson, “Last Bloom”
Sonal Sher, “Weekly Maintenance”
Benjamin Thomas, “Silent Songs”
Rere Ukponu, “My Mama Was a Soldier”
JK Ullrich, “Dark Roast”
Shanan Wolfe, “MINERVA”
Sherrida Woodley, “Katglove”
Jeremy Zentner, “Breaking Continuity”