by Amanda Inman
500 Years Before This
First there was rain. No. First we stretched, we yanked what would be Florida from Africa, and then waited. We were so patient. Marine life curled, flopped, ate, and eventually died above a submerged Florida which collected the bones with a respectful silence. Meanwhile the glaciers breathed in, holding the sea within, lowering the sea level, and making Florida eager and devoted. We sat there for a long time, silently sunning, before the critters came. They flew in and they walked in. And while there was still a thin film of water on the land, it began to rain.
80 Years Before This
There was a curious feeling that year. 1926. We were building and held back, and we could only seep into ourselves for a little while longer. The pressure changed and the slight wind. It was like a tickle. We watched puffs of rookeries in the trees turn into scattered bodies in the ground. Women put feathers in their hair. The bodies unnaturally melded. The people that wore the hats didn’t see the birds when they lived. They didn’t know that their bodies never bent that way. And so, we swept the bodies up. We did that with the wind. Or with the water that rushed out past the flimsy dam that tried to hold us. We tiptoed over it until we could push it down. We carried the abandoned birds past the estuaries, into salt water, where they moved softly into the sand.
70 Years Before This
We watched the people looking at the sky, past us, towards great nothing. Their mouths agape, and mothers held children. They softly braided the hair of little girls as they put them to bed. The fathers sat with a drink and they pushed the back of their hands against their pants. It probably comforted them. And as we pushed into the coast, twirling and twirling, we played. It was natural and treacherous to push against the buildings, to wrestle with the trees and to scatter the loose items, mailboxes, smaller houses, a children’s toy. We played with the toys in the air before sending them out west, into the muck which would hold
Clarice had never been in a basement before, though children’s books are filled with subterranean lairs, the location of pivotal events. Clarice imagined that she had a basement, how the runoff from Lake Okeechobee, filtered through the sawgrass of the Everglades, would seep through the carpet, turning it into a sponge. How the water would be black without the sun warming it. She would hold onto the handrail of the stairs and reach elbow deep into the water, pull up plant decay and peat, a handful of fibrous brown lace. Small fish flirted with dense waterweeds. Red billed birds laid eggs on the carpeted stairs, and she warmed them with her hands. She mashed paper balls between her tongue and the top of her mouth, saving the thick paste for the chicks once they hatched.
The idea solidified itself until it gave Clarice the feeling of a secret. After days of solitary descents, she invited her sister, and they opened the accordion door to the pantry, closing it behind them. In the dark pretend basement, Clarice made Macabea hold out her hands. Clarice handed her the eggs, and Macabea shifted in her crinkly diaper. With her hands cupped in front of her chest, Macabea became elastic and giggled. She could feel the chicks moving inside.
Fog thickened the air in front of the sedan as their mother drove Clarice to school. A Styrofoam cup of instant coffee sat in the cupholder. Their mother forgot to mix it and coffee grounds eddied at the surface. Clarice and Macabea both sat unbuckled in the backseat. They hummed and the stale scent of breakfast (eaten after brushed teeth) filled the car. Their mother closed her eyes when she saw a furred creature in the margin of the road. Clarice followed, closing her eyes, crossing her fingers and toes. Macabea, unsure of her limbs, closed her eyes and moved her head back and forth, certain that it was equivalent to crossing her fingers.
I hope it wasn’t a deer.
Clarice knew that deer were the most vulnerable creatures. Bulbous alligators, once dissected, always held them crumpled inside of them like a pearl, and if a deer wandered too far east, they were flung into the median by cars.
Don’t worry baby, it was too small to be Bambi.
60 Years Before This
They were not content with ditches and lakes. They wanted to make levees and canals out of us. Draw strength away with arteries of wild water turned stagnant. They dug conservation pools into the soil and blasted limestone to weaken us. Machines threw smoke and dirt into the air. Saltwater crept towards the interior. Drilling, blasting, digging, gouging the bottom to build up the top. Sunburnt men with mounds of inflamed mosquito bites dodged snakes in the palmettos. Water, once slow but wild, became stagnant, grew films of green. And when the water traveled to the ocean it carried strange creatures. They paid no attention to the infected otters deposited on their doorsteps by feral cats.
40 Years Before This
Almost everyone left town when we dropped all the leaves and cankered fruits to the ground overnight. They thought of burning our trees to plant tomatoes, mangos, anything at all. But our soil was temperamental, and every crop flourished for a season and grew wilted and diseased the next. Our muck dried, shrunk, and oxidized in the heat. Some stayed behind to collect the scabbed fruit off the ground so that they would not become bullets in the wind. They thought they would return to their homes after us. But we were already building and causing the ears of the stragglers to pop. We whipped the wooden houses with rain. We folded buildings into the peat and
Each table had a large Tupperware container filled with water and a spoon. Mrs. Morris stood at the front of the classroom. Her kitten heels dug into the rainbow carpet. I will need one student from each group to volunteer to put a few drops of water on their spoon. Alex pursed her lips and raised her hand, and across the room Clarice promptly raised her hand as well. They brought their spoons to the class sink and allowed three drops of water to sit inside. Back at her table, Clarice was paired with Becky, a silent girl that always smelled like the crotch of old jeans. Clarice projected herself to the other table, straightening her torso when Alex placed her hands on the small of her back to stretch.
Alex wore a training bra. Everybody could see the straps with the brown tinged pilling, but her closest friends were allowed to wear the bra. She made a show of taking it off from under her shirt on the playground, and her friends would walk with the bra stuffed into their underwear. Returning from the bathroom, the strap shimmered next to their tank top straps.
When Mrs. Morris turned to briefly check the time, Alex brought the spoon to her lips and sipped, sending ripples of snorts throughout the room.
When the Florida plateau came out of the ocean, it wasn’t that long ago! The land is shaped slightly like a spoon! Volunteers, take your spoon and place it gently in the Tupperware container.
The spoons lowered into the water of the plastic containers.
Now the spoon is Florida, and the water around it is the sea. Any guesses what the water inside is?
Ok, it’s a bunch of water close by. If you keep going West, you will hit… Alex’s hand shot into the air.
Mrs. Morris smiled. Yes, the Everglades! Now the ridges of the spoon are outside of the water. That is where we live.
Clarice, no longer watching Alex, imagined her house on the lip of the spoon.
Now, what can make the sea level rise? Billy, Terrance, and Jessica spoke without raising their hands.
Again, Alex raised her hand, and this time with urgency. She shot a proud look between her friends before saying, Litter.
Yes, pollution can make the Earth warmer, melting the glaciers, and raising the sea levels! That’s why we must, she pointed at a poster provided by the Solid Waste Authorities, Reduce, reuse, recycle. Mrs. Morris pulled a Publix bag filled with empty plastic soda bottles. Each time I take a bottle and throw it in the trash, I want you to slowly dip the spoon deeper into the water. Let’s see what happens.
With the sound of each bottle landing in the garbage bin, Clarice lowered her spoon until the edges were the only part above water. Finally, the water outside of the spoon rushed in to overwhelm the inside, and defeated, Clarice let the spoon fall to the bottom of the container.
Clarice thought of Alex as she walked home from school. Alex was picked up from school by a round grinning woman in a minivan. The carpet of the van had the fresh tracks of a vacuum every day. Clarice thought that if she dropped food on that carpet, she would not blow on it before eating it. Perhaps she would even lick yogurt off that carpet.
When finally, after the sweat made a Rorschach print on the back of her navy shirt, Clarice walked to the edge of a canal. She was alone. Staring at her reflection, she pretended to sip from a spoon. Above her reflection, the live oaks were heavy with banana spiders. The clouds moved west from behind the thick webs. She was not paying attention to the red ants making honeycombed piles of dirt under her feet. It was only after several ants burrowed into her white socks and pricked at her skin, that she thought to jump into the canal with her clothes on. The idea of being spotted by a schoolmate was more terrifying than drowning, so Clarice did not splash. Instead, she allowed her body to rise to the top of the water. She was a skilled swimmer, but she was not immune to the fear of alligators. She braced her body for hardened ridges to surface next to her. But nothing grabbed her limbs. No bubbles tickled her feet. She pulled her body onto the mud and continued her walk home.
There was a neighborhood boy that once held up a ladybug to Clarice. He wanted to show her the spots, when he accidentally crushed the body of the ladybug between his thumb and pointer finger. He cried hard enough that a line of snot ran from his nostrils to his chapped lips. Years later that same boy had his left arm ripped off him by an alligator while he was swimming in the canal. His father, furious, hunted and killed a gator. He drunkenly cut the alligator from lower jaw to neck, and pulled at the hardened skin, eventually getting to the stomach. But there was no arm inside of that alligator. Only crumbled license plates, and the top of a mailbox.
As Clarice walked home the sun dried her clothing, and warmed her skin, but the stench of vegetable rot clung to her corners, her elbow, clavicle, and in the webs between her fingers. She had forgotten about the furred carcass on the side of the road. Clarice walked towards the roadkill of this morning. She didn’t know if approaching death outside of the car would erase the defense of the closed eyes and the crossed fingers, but she looked anyway. The wounds were interior, though the shape of it was twisted. The crooked slim legs were unmistakable. It was a baby deer.
20 Years After This
Everything fades, disappears, and is replaced by something unremarkable. A house was built upon what once was a glacier. A school was built on the skeleton of a house. A gas station was placed atop a demolished school. We swell and grope between construction. We wait for years and then we play. We ground furniture to rot and shards. Foundations cracked and grew furred mildew and moss that borrows color from fire. They thought they could tame us and reroute us. We are not neglectful or resigned. We are constant. We are patient.
Header image credit: Amanda Inman