This is West – A Stillness

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It isn’t sunset; not yet.

The sky colors with the haze of the in-between: clouds smeared across the horizon and ringed with gold by the late-afternoon sun. The blue begins to pale. Birds chatter in the tall elm trees and soar in circles around their nests. Bugs flock to stagnant pools of rainwater and flit around weeds grown taller than the fences which surround them. A fox crosses the crumbling asphalt laced with stubborn greenery and disappears.

One day the Earth remembered how to breathe and the world went still.

What’s left are ruins: homes abandoned in the wake of a cataclysm, levelled or standing, water-logged or charred to husks. When Earth decided it was time for the end, she spared almost no one. Humanity tamed the land, mastered disease, and conquered uncertainty. But in the end its undoing was the one thing it never managed to reign in: the unrelenting ferocity of natural disaster.

These days there’s a quiet that doesn’t disappear.

Merril watches a flock of blackbirds take to the sky, punctuating the silence with an avian ballet. It’s the same every summer: each night, as the sun begins to slip away, the sweeping murmurations twist and twirl among the clouds in perfect synchronicity. She watches until the birds disappear and the crickets sing, then locks herself inside the old one-bedroom house at the end of Glorieta Circle.

She is fifty-two years old. Thirty years have passed since an F5 tornado levelled her hometown. Eight years have passed since she buried her husband under a sprawling oak tree in Oklahoma. It’s been fourteen months since she last saw another human being.

The little hole-in-the-ground Texan town she’s haunted for eight months broadcasts its seclusion in semi-collapsed buildings overrun by Virginia creeper and trumpet vines, fountain grass and thistle. There’s a stream not far from her home with water clean enough to drink and enough game lurking in the shadows to eat well a few times each week. It isn’t pretty, but it’s a living.

When food gets scarce she hunts with her husband’s old rifle, picking rabbits and coyote off with a hand steadied by years of practice. Most days she favors traps. Most days the roar of the rifle sounds displaced and irreverent: a reminder that although she survives, she is not home.

In an abandoned Texan suburb thirty years after the end, she’s certain humanity was never home.

(Fiction and Photography by Kayleen Burdine)

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