Maria Sledmere

500-Year Flood

  1. The first thing was the lights going out. There was a shudder, a strange old cadence to things that came back. I hadn’t seen such flickers since my kiddie days, running circles at the ranch on summer nights. There used to be a dance we’d do to make the rain come and water the crops and papa would buy us sodas from the store on the way home. Folk said funny things went on behind that drugstore. I never knew, not till I was older. Cut me open sometimes I reckon I’d bleed soda. He was always coming home with giant cups of the stuff, Styrofoam you’d throw in the trash and see being cut down into cubes at some plant later. I mean, years later I had a job at a plant but I didn’t get the jags and ended up with infections and had to quit. Is there an occasion for rain? They put up an ad in the paper saying HURRICANE SEASON but frankly the lot of us thought the weather a joke, something we could tame with the perfect degree of whisky and beer. The way we’d sit up on the roof on lightning nights just to watch the forks line the sky and convince ourselves of mutual invincibility. It was like watching God play around with His chemistry set. I asked the old priest about it and he said only the guilty get struck by lightning. I guess I messed around the back of that drugstore like the rest of folks here, maybe stole a few things in my youth, but I like to think I’m not all that guilty. Not all that. I don’t even daydream. They talk about a storm devastating the area. Y’know I wonder that it’s not all bad. A sorta purging is needed. The damn neighbours forced to up their game with the structure. We all drank like it was some saloon in the fifties; I half expected a guy to burst through the door at any moment with a shotgun. As it happened, one of the windows crashed in and the wind lashed through and swept all the goddamn chairs off the floor. There was a lot of crashing, smashed glass. I got a cut to the cheek that’s still there, hoping it will scar. I think of it as a cut in the nick of time, the second that saved me.
  2. We grow less as a result. Hurricane sweeps away hope. They are putting special chemicals in the municipal water as if that might discourage storms. A cleansing thing. Little rash on my daughter’s face from where the plants lashed her. We nearly ended up in the river, clinging to the wardrobe with all those sodden clothes. Frank said he’d be back by nightfall with supplies. Ended up saved by the girl from the school and she was dishing out penny candy to children and singing deliciously about sweet things, the old bubblegum songs about love and slumbers. I wonder if this is the condition of the world now. They say it’ll only get worse, year after year. We grow less as a result. Delirious. The mayor talks about cutting down development. We eat less. It seems a shame to just chomp away wastefully; I get a pang in my chest every time I put something down the garbage chute. It’s like throwing your fridge in the lake—somehow, now, you know where it’s going. It was better when the thing sank, left only gurgling bubbles. You thought it’d all be silent, done, cool. Now the acid makes it float. They say acid but I don’t know, it could all be conspiracy. The green things hovering above that lake, a mysterious light. Folks around here are always looking to bring extraterrestrials into the equation. I don’t blame them. It’s bittersweet; it’s green tea you’ve left in the cup too long. Y’know, the stuff they sell in health shops at the mall. Annabelle said to me, “Mummy, what about the frogs?” My god that child, I swear she’s not mine. I taught her how to hang up the washing while the rain held off and the wind died down enough to not blow us away. Afterwards, we curled up with a blanket to watch the soaps. We waited for Him to come home. She fell asleep and I rubbed aloe into her cut. I thought of the clothes, so vulnerable, billowing on the line.
  3. Listen for the steady craquelure of our skin breaking down. The porcelain biology up close in microbials. Let’s coin word//possibility space is a white snow of plastics which have witnessed many foam bubbles interior listless paper effect how they cut down timber with cinders added ash we would jig and swirl wherever you place us. They held up containers for inspection. They crushed us. No shape remained. Closed cell. Particular quality of light in winter. End of August storms afoot the slogan goes cold on the container. Myriad beads, a corky texture. When they scrunch us apart it is searing. Leftovers in scattered fields, what remnants. The people came to crunch us into shape though we had no shelter. The rain seeped through and we were sodden. We would not break down. The many of us screamed like harpies, advertised creatures on bumper packs. Deliveries. We are 98% air and a hurricane loves us. We scatter for miles in bits and pieces and wholes, the comprehension nebulous. Handmade life-rafts; we supported the weight of human bodies. Found ways to keep china nice. Insulation, the kids wrapped up. What we might do is a packaging and what dissolves takes centuries. We release carcinogens, but nobody cares. Compounds exact. Need the ersatz mealworms for devouring larvae, mmmmmm darkling beetle. Droppings, white beads, white snow. A poisoned ground, an eternal faux pastoral of foam. Listen while airy crystals deep freeze in the time that cuts deep, chasmic, silent.
  4. I knit so no-one has to die. Jim bought it for me as a bumper sticker three years ago after I knitted the biggest blanket you ever saw. I mean, this thing could wrap around the whole room—the whole school at a stretch—and not even give in the stitches. I made it out of patches but mostly proper wool, expensive stuff I haggled at the market for. Not the cheap stuff you get at the mall, but the imported lots the women order from the internet or whatever. Jim won’t miss my road rage, wherever he’s gone, poor soul. He lost his life a week ago, got blown off a bus when all the windows smashed in and the hurricane pushed the whole vehicle off into a ravine. The bus fell 300 metres: bump and grind down this cliff-side. Honestly a brutal way to go, but I like to think Jim was knocked clean cold before the thing even fell. I’m tending his grave for the first time. I knitted him a scarf, stayed up all night to do it despite the arthritis kicking in extra good. I should’ve been with him that night, I was planning to go visit the folks out west too. I got a cold and stayed in, biding my business by the fire and watching the weather reports on the news. Couldn’t get through. We had no idea it would blow up this hard. Nobody helps us because we live out in nowhere and I don’t bother visiting the village. Honestly, the sight of those sweet little kids breaks my heart— eating candy by the side of the school and I can’t even see it. I can’t even. They’re compensating us for the glass and the damaged furniture, but Jim had no life insurance. He never told me. I knit so no-one has to die, but they took him. That’s what you call fucking irony. I curl my hair for no reason, pull back my eyes to erase the crows’ feet. It’s the way deserts look, all wrinkled. What’s the difference between sand and skin? They say it’s all cells, all particles. Heat. I never used to drop stitches like this. I took a bath and emerged as a prune. They say you should pucker your lips for a man; it rained all night while I watched the vintage pornography, laughing at the limbs and angles, enjoying the groaning. I woke up at noon, my house underwater. Everything solid turns to ooze.
  5. I watch all the stupid youths inhaling fumes. Daily they do it. Used to buy poppers under the counter at the drugstore until the police caught wind. Some of them still do it, but there’s a password now. Imagine that, a password for poppers. How low we’ve sunk. Love, I’ll do anything to get you back. Think of this as a honey-drenched love song. The worst thing about being single is the Sunday blues and wrapped up in a duvet with nothing or no-one to do. I’m less sentimental. I think about mutagens, carcinogens. I went up to the top of the hill the day it subsided and watched the kids come out to burn all the Styrofoam. Nobody knows where it came from, all tossed up and hurled together by the hurricane. Some wasteland out west must’ve had it. Now in the yard, the town gardens. Smell of benzene. Gets in your lungs, feels metallic. Should really have brought a mask, the skin-stripping oily odour. Let’s call it reactive. Love how I miss you. You’d have loved this. I can see you right now, beside me barely touching my arm, you’re watching the flames lick the dark. I want to lick your face, the way it feels when higher than necessary and all desire is for the Other Other Other. Stuck on a glitch repetition. The ones and zeros, kids and heroes. They’re setting fire all night and I bring a hip-flask this time and when I drink coffee from Styrofoam I realise the sinuous bleed of grosser chemicals. Could make a laundry list. A really nice material. Someone called ‘Styrofoam Sam’ commented on a forum and reminded us that all this environmentalist shit is merely a question of human handling. There was a PowerPoint too, Lifecycle of Styrofoam. For a moment, I envisioned a dystopian future in which tadpoles have swallowed enough microbeads to evolve into plastics. Watching the buffer wheel, recreate motion of blowing agents. If that’s how it actually works. I mean, a cycle implies circles. We used to handle the pregnant newts down the pond at the school. My cousin in a packing plant, the girl who grew up with styrene in her breast milk and so poisoned her baby. Damn thing evolved like a tadpole. Would it have the same bloat? Scaly and silvery? Feed the same dreams with coffee and donuts, Styrofoam dreams and coffins. These things parcelled in packages. The tautology of a gas station. Let out the wind to let some wind. Open windows. Everything cracked in and vehicles tipped. The popcorn pieces started cropping up in bread, crackers and other foodstuffs. We gave up worrying and kept eating. Soon we’ll all seep clear fatty liquid. When I cry, I cry Styrofoam. It’s the buffering, protective stuff—the insulation that keeps the world from pain. Haven’t you heard, the goddamn planet is dying? What’s the difference between benzene and morphine? It’s merely a question of time and harvest. Everything is cutting, billowing, vulnerable, oozing.

Maria Sledmere is a Glasgow-based writer, critic and MLitt Modernities graduate. She co-edits the post-internet poetry zine SPAM, edits Gilded Dirt and is a regular features/reviews contributor to music blogs GoldFlakePaint and RaveChild. Recently, she collaborated with producer Lanark Artefax on a new materialism-inspired multiplatform exhibition called The Absent Material Gateway, sponsored by the Red Bull Music Academy. Recent work can be found in Adjacent Pineapple, Datableed, L’Éphémère Review, Fluland, From Glasgow to Saturn, Numéro Cinq, Occulum, Sphinx zine and Zarf. She tweets @mariaxrose. 


JD Thornton