Snow. How it snowed, sometimes! Snow measured in feet. Truckloads of snow, scooped off the ground and carted away somewhere. Into lakes, to chill them like ice cubes in punch. Off the sides of highways. Snow piled in parking lots, around light poles, mountains of snow so tall that we could still climb them in May. Packed and crusty and exhaust-gray, until they finally gave in to the sun.
What is snow? You will ask, my post-Anthropocene child. What is truckload? What are light poles? How will I answer these questions, summer child?
Garbage. How could we ever have so much garbage? Garbage cans and garbage bins. Cans came first. I remember them, half-remember from youngest childhood, round and shiny and silver at first, then dull and dented, lids squashed, driven over, never quite fitting on again. Some windstorm would take our trash cans away and we’d find them far down the street, wrapped around a tree trunk, stopped by a stone wall. The lids had handles on top and could be used as shields in mock swordfights, or we’d lob pinecones at each other like hand grenades and use those battered tin lids to deflect them.
Were they tin? Probably not. Nothing was. We had only a memory of tin. Tin cans that goats chewed. Tin cups that blind beggars shook, beseeching change. When people lost all their money they’d hollow out tin trash cans and wear them as clothes. None of these things happened in real life, but we knew them just the same, from cartoons. Tin foil was what our grandparents called the sheets you wrapped food in, but it was aluminum, like cookie tins, like pie tins. Only the Tin Man was really tin.
Later, garbage bins were plastic, because everything was. Brown or dark green. Some of them had wheels, lids that couldn’t blow away because they were attached, latches that snapped shut. The plastic didn’t dent, just popped back into place, but it held the stink longer. Summer’s rotting fish still redolent in fall.
Inside the bins we had bags, first plain black bags, later color-coded by town. Purple, orange, yellow, white. And recycling bins, green and blue. Back when we thought we could still hold back the tide. Paper here, plastic there. All the things we threw away so lightly, so casually. Because there would always be more.
And there always was more. More at the store. How we shopped! Weekly, at least, but mostly more often. We were always running somewhere. I’ll just run out for some chips, we’d say. When we said run, we meant drive. When we did our Target run. Our Home Depot run. Our Whole Foods run.
You won’t know these stores, Summer Child. We never wanted you to know them. We thought you’d live a life more pure. We thought we had a choice.
Seaside resorts. Back when beaches were something you drove to, a swarm of sticky children in the backseat of a station wagon, whining about who was hungry, who had to pee, are we there yet? There was a place where the land ended and the sea began, but it took so many steps to get to that place. The metal gate, with its sign warning: LOCKED AFTER SUNDOWN. If we didn’t leave, could we be locked in? Have to sleep on sandy blankets, hoping crabs wouldn’t bite our toes? The beach was its own fiefdom: the wooden shack ruled by the man who sold parking passes, the boardwalk, the changing rooms, the outdoor showers, the snack bar. Towns of towels, boulevards of beach chairs, topless towers of lifeguard stands. Keeping watch over us all.
And finally, yes, the ocean. When you got close enough it silenced all the other sounds. It roared in and roared out and collected in moats we dug around sandcastles, then flooded those moats, knocked down those castles with the power we all knew it had. But we didn’t fear the ocean then. We lay beside it, anointing ourselves with SPF 45, worshipping in our fashion. The sea roared in and roared out, caring nothing for our worship. Only waiting for us to be gone, knowing it would still be there when we were not.
Will you read the stories I write for you, child of the post-Anthropocene age?
Will you speak our language? Will you speak a language?
Will you speak?
Child of the endless summer. Child of tidepools and tornado spouts. These islands you live in were mountains once. Will you know that? Will you care?
—From All I’ll Carry, the author’s flash novella in progress
is a writer and editor with words in Atticus Review, Flash Frog, Milk Candy Review, Pithead Chapel, and Wigleaf. Her stories have been chosen for Best Microfiction and the Wigleaf Longlist.