The Rising Filth – excerpt

Posted on October 13, 2020 by

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one

Bilge light drips into her eyes from between the lanes of the overpass. The sun’s right over her face. She rolls into the shade so she can go back to sleep. Her cardboard bed crackles against the dirty concrete. She hates being awake.

  She dreams of white white rooms with clean sheets that smell like nothing smells anymore because the air is rotten. She dreams of white white tshirts because her tshirt is clogged and greasy with old sweat.

Last night one of her dreams was different. Narrative. Like someone’s trying to reach through whatever frequency broadcasts dreams and dig static fingertips into the meat of her brain. That’s happened every few days since they left the house. 

She can’t find sleep again even when she drapes her arm over her boyfriend. It skitters away every time someone snorts or the breeze toys with a piece of trash.

She sits up. She picks sharp grains of crud out of the corners of her eyes.

Boyfriend says hmmm? Getting up?

Maybe.

She sits there on the cardboard until her tailbone hurts thinking about God. She thinks maybe God was around for a while but He got bored with all the upkeep. Or like you know. There isn’t one. She was taught there was a god at some point but everyone’s shut up about it recently.

Mornings she’s philosophical. No not mornings because they’re all awake at night but when she gets up. Boyfriend is the opposite and if she tries to be philosophical at him before he eats something he’ll just placate her until she stops trying. Boyfriend is like a limb. He’s so familiar that if he left his ghost might stay with her forever. 

Dad’s good for it. He’ll cheerfully quarrel with her about politics or philosophy or religion any time she wants. But he needs his rest.

The girl rocks from one hip to the other trying to displace the pain at the base of her spine. But the movement forces her stench out of the neck of her tshirt so she stops. 

The girl was diagnosed with some anxiety thing a lifetime ago. Since showers have stopped existing for her she has to yank hysteria back by the neck all the time she’s awake. It’s gotten better the past couple of years. She used to overflow and have to go a few paces away from everyone and take her backpack off and howl into it. At least that happens a lot less.

The problem is that water doesn’t come in showers. It comes from aid tanks that run out before they get to you or from plastic bottles in supermarkets that are about a swallow and a half and cost something like seventeen dollars or from behind chainlink fences and guard dogs and scowling people holding guns like complicated hornets.

Sometimes it doesn’t even rain water. Like god can’t afford the utilities anymore either. The drops are glutinous. Everyone has to cover their eyes and mouths.

She walks past her sleeping family who are the only people with faces that aren’t a shrieking blur like the wind in a dark tunnel. She goes out of the overpass into the weeds and turns around and looks up. No cars yet. She saw a car a week ago with people in it. Someone in the front seat had their hand out the window braced against the air like the wing of a bird trying to take off. She wondered where they were going.

It was a red car. A long time ago she and dad used to play a game where you only counted red cars. It had been rough at night when everyone in front of you was red from the taillights or when someone had a car that could be brown or orange and there was an argument. This round was pretty easy. One she thought.

The girl chews on a hangnail. Her finger tastes like salt and something chemical. Being the first awake is okay because she gets to take her own time. She hates being the last one awake though because it feels like every other person on earth is part of an important ritual in the Grand Design. Like the world is switched off and she. Defective. Stays looping. So she tries to sleep and wake earlier than everyone else.

She rummages through her backpack for something that could be breakfast and finds a bag of salted peanuts and some raisins. Some snack cracker boxes.The kind that come in clear bubble packs with a red plastic stick for the spread which is always cheese goop or peanut butter. She likes the cheese more but the only bulk buy left was peanut butter and it has more protein anyway. 

It’s been a while since anybody had a job.Well they’ll see when they get to the town. Maybe there’ll be something. They have to get to town soon or they’ll starve.

She eats two cracker boxes. Two cracker boxes isn’t enough for breakfast because they’re going to walk all day. Maybe aunt will talk dad into stopping for the 99¢ menu somewhere. They spend most of their money on soda because they can’t afford water. She has some coke left in her water bottle.

Aunt likes to repeat that it’ll get better when they get to the town. They have water there she says. It sounds like a dream but anything is better than the overpass with its dried animal shit and ancient trash and greasy weeds and brown stalactites reaching towards the ground from where the road has cracks like arthritic tobacco stained fingers.

The girl sits down in the tall weeds arms wrapped around her knees next to a yellowing pebbledashed concrete leg stamped with the state. She looks down the slope of the hill at a dead town. They waded through it yesterday. 

The freeway sweeps over the town like it never existed. The exit is blocked off. Fading orange cones and tiger stripe boards on rusting steel chicken legs. They would have just climbed over it to get up to the freeway but the ramp itself is gone too. Fallen into the water in clumps. Today they’ll walk up one of the exit ramps that still reaches the ground.

Last night she dreamed of a breeze that smelled like dried flowers blowing eggshell linen curtains into a room through the open window. When she looked out of the window there was a late summer field of wildflowers and grass in seed. Her mom was in the kitchen making coffee cake with her aunt. She knew that the way you know things in dreams like you’ve been given a script and it’s written in the instructions at the top of the page.

In her dream the girl leaned on the windowsill watching the breeze toss the tops of the midsummer grass and someone put a Coltrane record on. It was Coltrane without being Coltrane. Her mind was given a label that said Yes this is a Coltrane record. You’ve heard it before but the music was something else maybe not even music maybe just noises like the sighing of wind in trees or someone whispering in the dark.

The wind changed. In the distance was a horrible thing shaped like a person but covered with river silt that flowed from the crown of its head. It was hunched over like it didn’t want to be too far from the ground.  A hot air came down over the field like a fog and choked the breeze. Killed the grass and crisped the flowers.

And then the shape slid forward on a slick of muck. Rushing. The girl shut the window and as it latched the mud thing slammed into the glass.

I’m not the person you should be talking to she said crisply and pulled the curtains. The rasp of metal rings against the curtain rod woke her up.

The girl finishes her crackers and brushes crumbs on her jeans like it’s going to make her hands any cleaner. The weeds around her are coated with a layer of greasy black dust from the freeway so maybe there were cars here until recently. Dad wouldn’t buy produce from stalls next to busy roads when the girl was really little and all the roads were still full. That shit’ll never come off. You don’t want to eat that.

The girl sniffs and scratches her nose with the back of her hand. She’s always itching somewhere. The sun has just deepened into orange. They walk mostly at night to cut down on sweat because they don’t have enough to drink. So she has maybe another twenty minutes before brother wakes up bitching about how hungry he is. 

Her backpack is a waterproof ultralight because she and boyfriend used to be recreational hikers so there’s a flat zipper pocket that sits right next to her back that’s supposed to be for maps and your wallet. Brother has all the maps and the girl doesn’t have much money left so she keeps her notebook and the fountain pen she got for graduating junior high in the pocket instead. 

She has some ink left because she looks for it in every abandoned house they loot. She takes out the notebook and her pen and writes.

LUCIA: Lucia wrote a story for class about being raped. I mean it was brave and it was interesting but she got shit for it for weeks. Not like, teased. Pitying shit. People would come up to her and give her candy or cards, and she would look at them all, What the fuck is this, and unwrap it in front of them and say thanks like she couldn’t wait to throw it in the trash. Which she also did in front of them, because Lucia didn’t give a shit. She did not give a SHIT. She would sit there at lunch with her tarot deck and tell you how the cards said you weren’t special and neither was she.

I feel like someone called her on it and said that tarot readers weren’t usually this bitchy…maybe Ellie? She was so upper middle class white kid…and Lucia was like, well, you asked for the truth and honestly I don’t have the energy to make you believe something I don’t.

I think her family tried to get to relatives in California although why they’d go there when California is 95% burned by now I have no idea. That was the rumor, anyway.

ELLIE: I guess I should write about Ellie now that I’ve mentioned her. Ellie was like what would happen if you brought an employee manual to life with a magic spell. She told on me in fifth grade because I stuck gum to a desk.

The girl writes until brother gets up. The notebook of names comforts her but not as much as her family. Brother lives easily. On top of the world. He’s the best at making her feel as though everything is temporary and nothing has been decided.