Thursday, March 6, 2008

Wash

Sky is darkening as I leave work on Tuesday. Maybe there's a storm coming in. The picture window at 2067, which I pass by every evening, stands out brightly. They're always home. I wonder what they do for a living.

My backyard borders a riverbank. Nothing special. Rivers crisscross the city; everyone's on the river. It's the high ground that costs money. But still, it's nice to have that water there. Something very archetypal about the nearness of water. Comforting.

The French and Spanish fought over this land bitterly, only to watch the river change course and take access to food and supplies with it. Afterwards they fought just for the hell of it.

I fix noodles. The storm does come in, hard. The river rushes and roars. I sleep well for once.

The next morning, I find a box washed up at the edge of the water. Wooden, with a lock on it. I had one just like it once, a cheap cedar thing they give you when you graduate high school. The lock is simple, but I'll have to work it later. Too many obligations. This is the tide of the day.

I pass the picture window again in the evening. It frames a brunette at a kitchen table. I have a vague impression that she is a medical student.

I've never picked a lock successfully. I prepare myself with a small pile of paper clips and bobby pins. I remember what the key to these boxes looked like. And I have nothing better to do, really.

Where could it have come from?

The state of Louisiana once lost track of the oldest European settlement west of the Mississippi. How you lose such a thing I don't know. It was called Fort St. Jean Baptiste des Natchitoches, and instead of locating it, they simply built a new one in a tourist-friendly plot. For a few decades they claimed the original site was underneath a local cemetery. Then, after a storm, something washed up on a river bank. An iron cross or some such clichéd artifact. And by following the current backwards, they determined the fort is actually underneath the Cane River. No excavation has been done. What a startling lack of curiosity.

I've decided to buy a saw and just cut into the box. I'll pick one up on my way home tomorrow.

Thursday she's closed the blinds. Everything is locked up taupe and tight. I make a ten minute stop for a hand saw, but decide to pick up a hammer and chisel instead. Maybe I can split it down the grain. I've done this even less than I've picked locks.

Tornadoes on Easter Sunday. Wind and water ripped right through the apartments and hardware stores. They swept up the splinters and built a mall.

Smashing things to pieces is surprisingly easy. I'm sorting through split pieces of wood and the metal locking mechanism and I'm not finding anything else. A little bit of moisture. The damn thing is empty.

What a let down this is.

Saltville, Virginia was built on top of a series of salt mines. After they quit mining, they pumped the hollow ground full of water. This helped keep it stable. But as people left and revenues disappeared, the pumps stopped running. Giant sinkholes covered the place like polka dots. The ground opened up and swallowed entire homes. It was considered an acceptable loss.

Friday the house is gone. There is no 2067.

I stop and pull into the lot. There's no evidence. There's no mailbox or debris or note or litter. There's just a plot of grass sloping down in the back towards the river.

I live south of here. Downstream. I start digging through my car for something that will work. Papers and receipts will dissolve. I might not be able to see the black ashtray. Finally I settle on a clear plastic water bottle. I peel off the label and stuff an orange distress flag inside, and drop it into the water. Watch it go.

I rush home, then wait at the back of the yard. The water is slow and hypnotic. And the orange-filled bottle floats right up to my feet.

Roanoke, Virginia. They may have simply given up. It took years for their emergency supplies to arrive as they fended for themselves. But all we know is they disappeared.

Do we start at the mouth, the head, or the bed? I'm not even sure what I'm looking for, but I'll know when I find it. I'll start at the high ground and follow it down.

There's no single source to the river; mostly melted snow. I think the Augustine Hills are a good place. A manageable climb, and a good view to survey the first stretch. Naively, perhaps, I expect to cross the city along its banks.

But the fog starts to roll in. Great banks, like volcanic smoke, seeping in through the firs. Like the city isn't even there below me. And I have a feeling it isn't.

Mount St. Helens lost more than 1000 feet of its height in 1980. Smashed it to pieces. All that rock is just gone now - or perhaps it's burying something you love. What could make the world so angry?

I've been walking for days, and there's nothing. 2067 is gone, my own home is gone, the hurricane fencing is gone. All that's left is water and the faint smell of cedar. And something about it is so comforting. So archetypal.

click

Metal against metal, and everything goes dark.

 

1 comment:

Kaya said...

I can't pinpoint it... but that brought me to tears.