There Is No Fixing This: Chapter 1
The End I
Time bleeds from you any way to quantize the things you miss, given a long enough stretch. Photographic remembrance shifts imperceptibly to hints and whispers, a story you remember hearing but, fail to recall where from. As a black hole eats itself into a singularity, so too do the cyclical passing of days collapse in on the foundations from which they sprung, leaving skeletal remains in a poor semblance of what preceded, leaving nowhere to go, but from. Through all of history and regardless of philosophical musings, this fact has remained. Today, as it ever was.
My sneakers lead me along the rain slicked asphalt, letting out almost imperceptible squeaks as they meet cracks in the long-forgotten infrastructure, echoing and fading on the facades of what used to be the business district of a town, in what used to be a suburban area of what used to be a major city. No longer. Now, simply an echo chamber between what was and what will never be. A chill, dusk breeze and a few birds overhead keep my feet moving towards the residential area a few blocks further. Hoping that it is now deserted, so I may finish my work and go home.
I round the final corner and the detritus apartment building rises before me, a patchwork of mildew and decayed masonry. In the waning light, black mold gives the illusion of shadows dancing in the rivulets of rain running down its face. My destination is an apartment on the second floor, third door in. The building resembles a motel more than a place where one would choose to live for any extended amount of time, the staircase uncovered, the doors to the apartments all inhabiting one building-length hallway. Perhaps it had been, in “better days,” as those who cling to what was preferred to remember it, a time when all was lost, and every building became a home of some sort for those waiting out the end. Denial and resistance are painfully unforgiving, though.
The staircase still clung reluctantly to a few errant strands of rotted carpeting; I will never understand why anyone would carpet outdoor steps; an affront to the weather for some added traction? Some illusion of aesthetic and comfort as an act of aggression? Who knows, the mind wanders in routine.
The door was slightly ajar, as was agreed upon. The waning light urging the task at hand to quickening efficiency. On the floor of the main room lay the body of a woman, mid-forties, atop a blue tarpaulin, hands crossed over her chest. This, too, was agreed upon. After all this time, it remained a quiet solace to see the peace that covered their faces. The reticence and release to the inevitable, after so long a fight, made readily apparent, brought about its own acceptance within me, every time.
After wrapping the tarp around the body and tying it off with the length of cord, one of those thread bare and cheap yellow, plastic atrocities that passed as “rope,” that was laid in loose loops beside the body, I took a break before the arduous trip ahead. The fields for the dead, there was no use in calling them burial grounds anymore, existed just outside the wall built around the city. It was roughly half a mile from where I now stood, and as this was my last reclamation, I decided to take my time.
The blue sausage that was once a person slid easily enough to the stairs and tumbled jarringly down each step just as easily. Enough time in reclamations numbs you to any historical notion of “respect for the dead.” We all have long known that our bodies were to serve a bigger purpose, a means to a, hopefully, more fruitful end, whatever form that may take. Any sense of corporeal pride and vanity had long since washed away from thought. Humanity had always existed on borrowed time and when the last few grains are falling through that existential hourglass, with you and anyone you loved gone and incapable of mourning, the niceties seemed increasingly and extraordinarily pointless.
The light fading in the sky and the wall in sight, I stood in wait. Nightfall at the wall had become the closest to a religious experience we could still encounter. A scientific wonderment of horror and disbelief that avoided explanation because, really, who would be left to explain it to? The sun dipped behind the horizon, and the glow begins. Softly at first, like a light from a distant room bleeding under the door, blue-white and soothing. Growing, ever so slightly in intensity. Slow enough that your brain barely registers that it has grown to point that the bottoms of clouds appear to contain their own internal illumination. Then the singing begins.
High-pitched, but not grating, the bioluminescent fields of fungi that have spread to the horizon beyond the wall in the reclamation fields, greet the night with undulating, bell like tones. They know I’m approaching the wall. They know they will soon be fed, and once they are, the song will take on a note of excitation. This has been my nightly ritual for years, since the reclamations began, and I volunteered to help carry out the morose task. The path is winding, and the burden heavy, but the fungal voices draw me ever onward to a spot of ground they have cleared for my delivery.
The body placed, covering and all, on the bare earth, I back away. All we have ever done as a species has carried with it a sense of ritual. Our morning coffee, our aimless religions, the way we choose to wipe our ass. All ritual to instill some naïve sense of purpose to the mundane and utterly meaningless. The ages fought through to bring us to this point, the ultimate end, fruitless and painful due to the vanity of “being on top.” The thing they refused to accept, in the past, about being at the top of the tower, or chain, or ledge, was that when the structure falls as they all do in time, it is the top that is obliterated by the ground first.
I reach into my worn backpack and pull out my tools before I return to the body to finish my job. A small brown satchel full of many shiny, biting, tools. The next step in the process was always far more tiring than dragging a dead body for any distance. A reckoning with death, your relation to it as reclaimer, the unknown, and the gory. I breathe a sigh unheard into the cacophony, knowing this is my last.
Tomorrow will be my last sunrise. Tomorrow, I begin my own agreed upon preparations. Tomorrow is my reclamation.