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Roses Grow

by Kay Poiro

It’s the little things I miss. Mostly Saturday mornings, just me and a mug of French roast thinking about the day ahead. No massive concrete cloud suspended above. No sizzling pops as the town grid gives up the ghost and no aircraft sorties trailing colorful smoke. Not just regular smoke, either: massive plumes the color of Skittles. In retrospect, the smoke was neither fruity nor delicious, but so deceptively cheerful. Half of me thought They were hoping we wouldn’t notice. The other half was positive They didn’t care.

Never mind that our town sits exactly halfway between what used to be Cortland and Nebraska City. We could be sitting on Cannery Row by the smell of it. It’s organic and ripe to the point of putrid. In the unlikely event that the sun shines again, it’d surely bake that stench into everything from the remaining buildings to the ruptured sidewalks. And to think, four weeks ago, my biggest worry would’ve been washing the fish smell out of my hair. But like I said, a lot was taken for granted before now. That’s the new way to record time, by the way: B.N.— Before Now. Mandated by leaflet drop. I wish I were making that up.

Most of all, I miss my back porch. Modern yet comfortable patio furniture, a modest rock garden and fountain bought at a home improvement store. Hardly Home and Garden TV-worthy, but it was quiet and it was mine. Me and French roast and my journal, conferring for hours. Or maybe days. Time is frustratingly elastic B.N.

Not long ago, during a back porch coffee break, a hunk of metal the size of my microwave fell from the sky, splashing into my fountain. While I was wondering where it came from, a green mist began to fall. Soon after the mist settled in over my rock garden and atop the water, I heard the voices. Pig is pork is what it said. Pig is pork. Pig is pork.

At first I shrugged it off as a song lyric, like the time “Return of the Mack” lodged itself in my brain for three days. But this wasn’t a lyric, it was a real voice. A woman’s voice. Then, as suddenly as I heard it, both voice and message changed. No longer robotic and cold, the voice sneered. In my mind, her eyes narrowed and her mouth set. Her message was no longer nonsense, but a direct command.

Kill yourself.

I made my way through the house in a stupor and straight back to my bedroom. Still in a walking coma, I rummaged around the top of my closet until exhaustion got the better of me and I passed out.

While sleeping, I dreamt about Them. How insidious They’d been. How we didn’t even know who They were until half of the town was gone, leaving compliance the only option. Forget a changing of the guard, they’d come to obliterate the old guard and establish something far scarier.

By the time I woke, the closet was dark and the fish smell swam in my nostrils. What was I doing in the closet? Until now, I couldn’t answer that question. The answer tickled the back of my neck like a lover’s fingertips. I was looking for my gun.

Upon waking, my first thought was Mr. Morimoto. My neighbor was around eighty years old and had lived in the neighborhood since before Elvis was drafted. True, I was concerned for his safety, but I really needed to prove to myself that my closet episode and events leading up to it were an isolated incident. There was no green mist, no microwave-sized hunk of metal, no voice. If it turned out I was a self-contained island of insanity, that would be just fine with me.

* * *

The pungent smell awaited me inside Morimoto’s back door. My eyes quickly scanned the kitchen. Nothing out of place. Even a breakfast bowl in the sink.

That’s when I saw him. Crouched in the corner, wearing nothing but a pair of jeans. His concave chest was bare. I would have thought he was hiding, had he not been holding his own eyeballs in his outstretched hands. Clear fluid leaking from his hollow sockets had dried on his weathered cheeks. Ropy optic nerves dangled between his fingers like gristle. His face was tilted up slightly, his toothless mouth in a shy grin, as if he hoped the offering of his eyes would be a sacrifice both pleasing and acceptable.

Overhead, the approaching sounds of airplane engines. I closed all three open windows, leaving his heavy curtains open. As the droning crested, six warplanes emerged abreast from that now-permanent concrete-colored cloud in the sky. Each plane trailed a cloud of pink dust.

I watched as the dust settled over the upturned service vehicles, carcasses of family pets and broken glass below. The dust disappeared as soon as it hit, but deep down I knew it wasn’t gone at all. It would stay in the ground festering until it accomplished exactly what They designed it for.

As the pink mist disappeared into the ground below, the female voice whispered between my ears. Roses grow. Now the messages were pissing me off. What did pork and roses have to do with the mess that used to be my town? It was Their plan and I didn’t understand.

I did understand Mr. Morimoto. A sweet octogenarian forced to end his life grinning madly and driven to gouge out his own eyes. Pig is pork and roses grow. Fine. Whatever that meant.

Mr. Morimoto’s linen closet was surprisingly well-organized, so it wasn’t hard for me to find a sheet with which to cover him. Granted, it was Ziggy and easily forty years old, but it would do.

Before now, I would have made myself a cup of coffee, but that would involve using the public water supply. Who knew how many green and pink and blue plumes have blanketed and seeped into those pipes? A quick look in the pantry confirmed that, although our conversations were few, Mr. Morimoto and I had been of one mind for quite a while.

Before now, there’d been a marked shift in the collective unconscious of many of us. None of us spoke about it, but we knew it was happening. Much like the messages embedded in the plumes, the inevitability was too intimidating to be spoken. Stock up on canned goods, comforters, batteries, and Tylenol. Hunker down and look alive because a change is a-comin’. Pigs are becoming pork.

I took a Capri Sun from the pantry, found pen and paper and parked myself in front of the largest window. On paper, I allowed myself to fully connect the dots that had been swimming below the surface all along. This was it. Us against Them. They seemingly had everything, but I knew. They were lazy.

Gone were the days of mowing down the masses with high-power machinery. They simply flew their sterile sorties, opting to spew their destructive messages in colorful concentrate and let us do the dirty work for Them. But what will happen when They grow tired of crop-dusting? Maybe They’ll pick us off house by house.

Those of us who’d managed to avoid the messages still had our wits, for now, anyway. Morimoto’s was sealed off but was far from airtight. The smell of rotted fish still slipped in under the doorjambs and through caulking. In a couple of days, it would mix with the smell of his dead body and I’d be forced to open the window for a gulp of fresh air: concrete cloud, Technicolor plumes and all.

Familiar drones sounded from overhead. I watched as two more planes emerged from the suspended cloud. These planes traveled west, trailing stiff yellow plumes behind. As color dusted the outside world, its corresponding message whispered against the window glass, seductively requesting entry. Rain pours.

That was the cycle. Smoke and messages in yellow, pink and finally the most direct: green, and Kill yourself. Peering down at the ruins of my neighborhood and thinking about my little rock garden reanimated the pit in my stomach that sickened me worse than the decaying fish smell ever could.

When all was said and done, Mr. Morimoto would himself decay and feed lower life forms before any trace of his humanity disappeared in a lump of jelly. Sooner or later, I’d meet the same fate. I guess the voices were right. Pig had indeed become pork, but for the sake of my sanity, I had to believe that I’d live to see roses grow again. Somewhere. Eventually.

Copyright © 2012 by Kay Poiro

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