‘Trash Goes in the Ground’, Kelly Rose Pflug-Back

Illustration © 2017 Laura-Anca Adascalitei

 [ Flame illuminating her face © 2017 Laura-Anca Adascalitei ] I saw a woman who looked like you, the other day. Not the way you look now but the way you used to look back when I knew you, her long dust-brown hair blowing across her face. She was sitting on the stoop outside of the Mission, lighting one of those skinny hand-rolled cigarettes. The flame illuminating her face for a second, before the shadows swarmed her again. I took a snap-shot of her in my mind, Michelle, because I hardly ever see you anymore. And when I do it’s just from a distance, and you look so different now that I have to look away.

When I sleep I dream about searchlights drifting over the surface of the mill pond, touching the little ripples on the water and making it sparkle like cut glass. I dream about white teeth in a twisted-up red mouth, birds flying in a V across the darkening sky. If you were here maybe I could ask you what it all means. But you’re not, Michelle, so I just press the heels of my hands into my eyes and wait for the images to leave me, like everything does in the end.

It was morning when they found his body, floating there. His spit-polished boots arranged all neatly on the platform at the top of the grain silo, like that was what he left instead of a note.

At first I thought about doing it too. I would crawl into the culvert pipe in the ravine with the silt and the old leaf skeletons underneath me, and I would just cry and cry. Touching the bottle of pills in my pocket, unscrewing the cap and then putting it back on. Everybody does it like that, because the pills are so easy to get. They just give them to anybody who asks, anybody who says they toss and turn at night or feel like they don’t have a reason anymore.

I remember sitting with him on those broken chunks of concrete by the docks, outside the pools of light from the hydrogen lamps that stay on all night so people won’t sleep there. I would take the 40oz from his hand every time he passed it to me and I would tell myself this was my sacrifice to him, something I would do so he didn’t have to do it alone. Not everybody’s pain can be dealt with gently, and I would remind myself that when I saw new cut marks on his inner arms, fresh gashes of red overlapping with years of older scars. We would just drink and drink and when we ran out of booze one time we went to the store and he stole some Listo, and we drank that too. It made me sick and delirious, the lights from the moon and the stars and the grain refinery all bleeding together, running like tears down to the horizon until my eyelids closed and blacked the world out for another night.

Here’s the way it goes, he told me once: we used to leave behind legacies, but now all we leave behind is trash. Every plastic toothbrush, every zip-lock bag and pop bottle. The lid of every cup of coffee we ever bought. It all just collects inside the earth, and it stays there, never going back into the rot like things are supposed to. Just filling up the distended tumors of landfills, the dust-choked fistulas of old subway tunnels and closed-off mines. Filling up the concrete halls of those underground rabbit warrens where they stick us all eventually, and if we’re lucky one day we get let out again, at least for a while.

I look out at the landscape now, and everything is dumb with pain. It hangs like a fog, muffling the outlines of houses, of treetops and power lines. Muffling the black wings of wind turbines that churn and churn in the endless dark.

The night you told me what happened, Michelle, I said to myself that I would kill any man who ever wanted to make you his trash. I would kill any man who ever tried to put you in the ground like that.

When I can’t sleep sometimes I go walking in the ravine, and I lie down underneath the gnarled old jack pine, in that hollow where some animal must have dug the dirt out. I just close my eyes and imagine its roots wrapping around me, sedating me with their pressure. Maybe he was wrong about everything being done for, because it’s spring again now and I see clover and dandelions and little saplings growing everywhere. In the ditches and down by the wharf and even in the old reclamation sites. Flowers blooming in that contaminated dirt, that place men used until they said it was wrecked and abandoned it.

If you would just talk to me again, I would take you back. Even the way you are now, with all those pieces missing. I would pick wild roses for you from the highway embankments and I would stick the petals to your face with the wetness of your tears until you couldn’t help yourself and laughed, even just a little bit. I would find a car somehow and we would just drive and drive, until we found that place from my dreams where the roads stop sprawling. I would brush your dust-brown hair out of your face with my fingertips and say, look. There’s tiny shoots of green pushing up through the cracks. You don’t have to believe me, Michelle, but I think that we’re at the end of a cycle. And if you look hard enough, you can see it too. You can see the world starting to grow young again.

© 2017 Kelly Rose Pflug-Back

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