Today is the last day of March. Pink lines hum through the low sunrise. When I stand up, I imagine I can feel the earth tilting as I make my way to the bathroom. My hair is short—I’ve already forgotten about the haircut yesterday evening, my discussions with the hairdresser about Bryce Canyon, about the new dam on the Columbia, how she’d ripped off ten solar panels from her townhouse two weeks prior. She was nice, but my bangs are crooked. I pull out scissors and begin snipping. The alarm clock wails from the living room and I hear the smack of Roy’s hand on the snooze button.
Today will be dark.
Walking home the night before, bits of inch long wet hair clinging to my neck, the evening sky was a sickly yellow color, like crusted baby food. I read the headline of USA Today as I passed the newspaper box. It said “The Glorious History of The Narrows” in large font and below it drawings of Algonquian American Indians, Giovanni de Verrazano, Revolutionary War battles and so on. There was also a bright color picture of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge thirty years ago adjacent to a more recent shot. In the latter the lanes of the bridge were awash in ocean water. There was no longer a Narrows—just the Atlantic Ocean, growing larger each day. There was barely any Staten Island either, not even what had been Fresh Kills Landfill. The developments and traffic signals were mostly underwater now, the residents having evacuated months before, driving their SUV’s across the country to Ohio, Indiana and beyond.
Yesterday was nice. The sun had risen at four forty-five and me with it. After my five minutes was up in the shower the water automatically turned off, but I stood in the steam a while longer watching the sunlight along roofs of houses out the window. It had been the first ordinary day in some time—at least two weeks.
Today it was dark again. The sun was scheduled to rise at eleven-fifteen and go down five minutes before three. At least the neighborhood kids would get to play outside for a while, I thought, combing out my hair.
“Goddamnit,” Roy mumbles from the couch. I hear the blinds clamor against the walls.
“They said it was going to be light by now, damnit. How the hell am I supposed to check the levels if the goddamn beavers think it’s nighttime?” This all comes out in a coarse whisper. Roy hasn’t had his coffee yet, and to save myself his foul mood, I fill up the coffeemaker for him. He grumbles as he makes his way to the bathroom, his black hair standing on end, the edges of his mouth crusted closed.
Roy’s lived here since his job at the university ended due to lack of funding. He studied Endangered Animal Habitats for twelve years; lately he is watching the beavers at Hall’s Creek. They can no longer function because of the irregularity of daylight. It’s been two and a half years since the explosion on the moon, and the beavers are dying off. Roy is depressed.
I mostly miss the routine, and I hate wearing a watch. Roy, now showered and slightly caffeinated, sits across from me at the kitchen table.
“The shuttle is landing today,” he says, half cheerfully. I nod. The shuttle is an attempt to refill the section of the moon that got blasted off. It is several hundred tons of re-created moon-scape. It is supposed to collide with the moon this evening. This is the big solution, the one that everyone’s been waiting for.
The problem had been garbage, lots of it. There had been many public discussions, including ideas to send the garbage towards the sun, to nuke it, or to try to convert it into fuel. One of the experiments was to send a small amount (about one hundred truck loads) to the moon in a bundle. It landed in a crater and stayed there, and the problem was solved. It was solved until a meteorite hit the bundle causing the escaping methane to explode. The satellite images of the chunks of the moon spewing into the universe would’ve been beautiful if not so frightening.
This was a problem right away, beginning with the tides. It was low tide on some beaches for days, while giant waves and Tsunami’s plagued much of the Eastern United States. There were pictures in all the papers of dead fish and whales lining the beaches; people in bathing suits holding multi-colored umbrellas poised over them, holding their noses. Most people in this country blamed Congress for not listening to the scientist’s warnings. Headlines read: “Mother Nature Lashes Out”, “Axial Tilt Altered Permanently” and “Zoo Animals Sedated after Riots!”
That’s when Roy lost his job. I got to keep mine as a bank teller. Everyone still needed money.
The earth’s tilt was now a part of bus, office, and dinner discussions, and everyone had his or her own idea about how to fix it. I, for one, was pessimistic about the whole thing. The Artic was already severely melted after being pointed directly at the sun for the better of two months last year, and I never heard birds anymore.
“It should work,” Roy continues, opening up the paper and pointing a thin finger at the shuttle. It had a big earth symbol painted on it and the flags of all the participating countries. I pick a hard raisin from my cereal and nod again.
“You don’t think so?” he asked, and I looked into his narrowed brown eyes that went nowhere, trying my best to look hopeful.
Roy was named after our grandfather, Franklin Roy, once an investment banker. I was named after our mother’s grandmother, Catherine Quinn. I never thought we’d be living together in a cramped one-bedroom apartment in Portland Oregon. He looked like shit when he showed up, like he’d been crying and swearing and hitting walls with his fists. I couldn’t tell him no, I couldn’t send him to our parents’ manufactured home in Kansas with that despair. I made coffee and ordered sushi. When the deliveryman came at eight-fifteen the sun was still up. Back then it was more predictable.
“The beavers have stopped mating,” Roy says, and his eyes flicker, “If they don’t figure something out soon, I don’t know what’s going to happen, I mean, not just with the beavers, but with all the animals.”
“Is there more acid in the water though? Isn’t that what you’re supposed to be testing?” I ask, not out of interest but because it is the less catastrophic topic.
“The acid levels seem normal, but why wouldn’t they be? This is fresh water. The beavers aren’t working because they think it’s the end of the fucking world. There are packs of artic wolves not leaving their dens either. And these are animals fairly high up on the food chain, you know? I can’t imagine what’s happening with the inchworms, bees and plants everywhere. Have you noticed that the daffodils aren’t blooming? That the daphnes were dormant until March?”
I shook my head. I tried to look straight ahead usually. I read the paper, and that’s enough.
“I never thought you could be so oblivious.”
Somewhere inside, I agree.
I imagine how I must look to my customers, robotic even. People still make the same small talk, though sometimes it is stilted or deflated.
“Good morning, Quinn,” a middle aged man says, after glancing at my nametag. We have to remain positive, my boss tells me, or people will stop saving. They’ll take all the money they have and fly to Vegas, or buy huge screen TV’s and vintage Pinot Noirs and lock themselves up inside million dollar homes. To me, they look unwilling to splurge.
“Good morning,” I say, though it’s still dark as a cave outside. I feel a cool panicky sensation as a homeless man walks by the front window, holding a sign that says The End is Near! I wear more makeup now, as it seems to relax people. I can feel the blush on my cheeks.
“Can’t wait to get home tonight and watch the story on the shuttle. The UN Secretary-General will be covering it. That’s pretty exciting, you know?”
“It’s very exciting,” I say, counting out his withdrawal. He runs a hand through what’s left of his hair.
At break everyone talks about the shuttle.
“I just can’t wait for everything to be back to normal,” Jean, the newest teller says, taking a bite of her salad.
“I know,” Maria agrees, and then looks at me.
“Your brother is a scientist, right?” she asks.
“Kind of,” I say. I think of Roy in his Wal-Mart waders, peeking into the beaver dens.
“He thinks it’s going to work, right? Not that I think it won’t, but what do I know?” Maria smiles and begins filing her nails. She looks up at me again.
“He thinks it’ll work.” Everyone smiles.
“Tomorrow A New Day!” the headline of the USA today reads on my way home. Most people look cheerful, or anxious. Some look defeated, and when our eyes meet I sense their apathy. I look up to the sky. The sun is hidden behind clouds. In my head, I tell it to come back, that I miss it. I want to get a sunburn this summer, I say to the yellow-gray bulk above me, and my eyes begin to burn.
“Three of the beavers are dead,” Roy says as I walk in the door. I know he is making Miso soup by the smell.
“Everyone is sure that shuttle is going to land,” I say to his back. I wonder if I should call my parents, but I don’t think they would come from the basement to answer the phone. They think it’s the apocalypse. I told them it had a human cause, so it can’t be the apocalypse. They said that’s what they want you to think.
Roy pours his soup into a bowl and throws the pot into the sink. His face is red and I can see under his short beard that his jaw is very tense. When he is tense that means he is afraid.
“Why don’t you think it’s going to work Quinn?” I looked past him to the fridge, to the photo of him at Mt Hood five years ago, snowshoes on and a big red coat loud against the snow in the background. I could’ve told that Roy how I felt, that I didn’t think there was a way out, that I was just waiting for the end to come. But this Roy, the one standing in front of me, mourning each beaver death heavily in his soul, this Roy was too fragile.
“I just…I just don’t want to get my hopes up. And if there’s nothing we can do…”
“Tonight will be the turn around, Quinn, you’ll see. We can take stricter measures, this time around.”
“Eat your soup,” I said, and went in for my second allotted shower of the day.
“We’re getting another chance,” Roy shouted at the bathroom door. After the five minutes was up I sat on the edge of the tub, not knowing which one of us to feel sorry for. I rubbed lotion on slowly, enjoying the warmth caught in the small room. Outside the window were the razor thin red lines of sunset. The newscast would be starting soon.
The satellite images being broadcast are live. I look to the apartment complex across the street and can see the lit up TVs and computers. There in no one on the street, not even homeless people. The stores are closed. I wonder if there will be riots.
I sit and watch because there’s nothing else to do. Roy is reading a book on building beaver habitats. He isn’t really talking to me, but I think this is because he is nervous. I’m drinking a peanut butter soy shake because it’s all that was left.
“Almost one hundred nations involved,” Roy says absentmindedly, repeating what the ambassador from Nicaragua had proclaimed earlier.
“All of the great scientific minds,” the Secretary General began, her dark eyes shimmering in the lights, “came together to create this section of moon-scape that is the correct density, size and constitution. We are lucky that the great nations of this world can come together despite their governmental differences and work to save civilization as we know it…” Roy watched the speech intently, smiling and nodding. I looked into the eyes of the speaker and I wondered how much she believed.
Now the scientists were speaking and behind them a screen displayed the image of the shuttle approaching the moon. The jaggedness from the blast was evident. The bundle seemed to be moving in slow motion, as if someone were pushing it ever so slowly with a finger. I swallowed the last of my shake and leaned back against the couch, my arms crossed tightly over my chest.
The speeches end and everyone is silent, including Roy and I. We look once at each other and Roy smiles. I can’t seem to focus on the screen, but I can see my brother moving closer, his eyes widening.
“It’s going to land,” he says, his voice very quiet, and I move closer as well, so that I am sitting on the carpet in front of the screen. The moon is very gray, and around it the sky is very black. I can see that the shuttle is going in the right direction, I can see it neatly fitting into the blasted off section like a puzzle piece. In my mind, this is already happening, I begin to feel lightheaded, elated. I suck in my breath and get ready to scream, I can already imagine that we will jump up and hug, give thumbs up signs to the neighbors across the street, open the year old bottle of champagne in the wine rack.
But then I see it. Or, I should say, the lack of it. If it’s an explosion I can’t see where it occurs. The shuttle disappears—vaporizes. The missing chunk is still there, wide open like a canyon. Where the shuttle was is now what looks like white fog.
“What?” Roy says to me, but I am still waiting for the shuttle to hit.
“What happened?” he asks, and hits the back of the TV. Nothing happens, but he does it again. The ambassadors are silent, and the scientists are looking at one another. No one stands up to go to the microphone.
“It didn’t work!” someone shouts and the room erupts. They are shaking their heads, pulling out diagrams and paperwork, avoiding the cameras with their eyes.
Roy is no longer thinking of the beavers. It seems that he is thinking of nothing.
“So you were right,” he says, his anger condensed into quiet words.
The newscast ends abruptly and we sit in silence again.
“Well, what do we do now?” I ask, standing up. Really, what I want to do is pack everything I own, get on a plane and fly to Kansas. I look at my older brother.
“They’ll think of something else,” Roy says, with more confidence than I expected.
“I’ll keep trying to save the damn beavers and you’ll keep giving out money, and we’ll wait. We’ll wait until they think of something else.”
| COPYRIGHT 2006-2011
Portland Fiction Project
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