For they covered the face of the whole earth, so that the land was darkened; and they did eat every herb
of the land, and all the fruit of the trees which the hail had left: and there remained not any
green thing in the trees, or in the herbs of the field, through all the land of Egypt.
THEY COULD NOT remember when she first arrived in town, shrieking about the end of the world. Some of them said she had grown up there, the orphaned daughter of two factory workers. Others claimed she was one of the woodland gypsies who made their transient camps in the abandoned suburbs. Still others spat words like organizer and radical, words like free-loader and communist and parasite. A little street urchin, they said, a guttersnipe, a throwaway, an agent, they insisted, miming the language of their favorite radioman, an agent of some insidious society aimed at extinguishing the supremacy of the individual.
She was out on the street corner before dawn every day, heralding the sun with strings of profanity. Out on the street corner at noon, proclaiming the renaissance of biblical plagues brought about by politicians in the pockets of moneyed interests. She was there on the street corner in the night, murdering the moonlight with her electric song. And as the years passed, she faded into the background of the town’s monochrome, marching back and forth beneath the clock tower, brandishing her neon picket signs, hollering about the climate crisis as if she might make disciples of tourists.
A real pain in the mayor’s ass, all the old men agreed as they sipped their coffee and smoked their cigarettes in the concrete plaza across the street. She’s too young, said one, adjusting his veteran’s cap, too young to know anything at all about the world. And lucky, said another, real lucky—if you ask me—that the mayor believes in free speech. I think she’s selfish, said a third, tossing pennies into the trickling fountain, too selfish to know about things bigger than herself.
On the morning when she disappeared, the townsfolk hung their heads from their windows and wondered why the world sounded different. The old women called each other on the telephone and described feeling hollow inside. I don’t know what it is, the ladies said back and forth, running their fingers through their blue hair. Something odd about this morning, they all agreed, nodding into their receivers and remembering for some reason how it felt to be girls. Heartbroken, said one, crying into her comforter. Heartbroken, but that’s not quite right. No, answered her friend, but I know what you mean. It’s more like when daddy had to leave for work on Sunday and momma made us kneel in the kitchen to pray.
One strung out old lady who liked to dangle her feet from her fire escape said it sounded like the coal mine when the canary cage went quiet.
Blood ran from their faucets that morning, but they shrugged it off as rust and drank liquor instead. There were always problems with the jerry-rigged piping in the old strip malls that had been converted to public housing. When frogs began croaking up out of their toilets, they agreed it would be a warm spring. The dusty flats down by the strawberry fields clouded over with swarms of gnats about noon, and the grandchildren—slack-jawed and staring at their phone screens—had to be sent home from school itching with lice. Locked away in their bedrooms, these children watched videos of popstars and celebrity sightings while outside the gnats turned to flies and attacked the cats and dogs in the street. In the evening, the old men slumped home drunk from the VFW swatting at the flies and cursing to themselves. When they pulled up their cardigans to show off their fresh boils, their wives accused them of fraternizing with gypsies. These old ladies concealed their own festering ulcers as they bustled toward bathrooms to fetch warm compresses. They kept mum as well about the furuncles and carbuncles chaffing the necks and thighs of their grandchildren, grandchildren who had picked themselves raw as they wolfed down their TV dinners.
The weatherman on the nightly news was hollering about another hailstorm, and the drug-addled fire escape woman shrieked in the dark about flames licking the western rim of the sky.
When one of the old men mentioned to his wife that the town hall protester had disappeared, she said there were bigger fish to fry—especially if the roof was still leaking. Good riddance, he agreed, helping her string a plastic tarp above their bed. That woman was tempting the devil with those legs of hers.
It was that very night, some said, the night when the town hall protestor disappeared, that they first heard the wings of insects scuffling against the firmament. An electric shuffling, they said, weird incantations whispered to the stars.
Others argued it was all a dream. A dream we all dreamed together, they said. We were mixed up back then. There was something in the water. There weren’t any plagues. We were dreaming.
The news anchors and the radiomen echoed this sentiment, and it was only the town drunk and the crazy woman on her fire escape who remembered the skin of night roads crawling through the dark. There was green lightening, the old woman shouted, and vermin oozing all over everything. Green things, the drunk man whispered to anyone who would listen, an electric pestilence burning up the earth.
He didn’t tell anyone how he had seen the gypsies pumping down the railroad tracks in a string of Kalamazoos. Nor about the murals he had found covering the abandoned McMansions, murals that showed the town hall protester weaving cocoons of her picket signs. In the paintings, she emerged—bright wings aflutter—from the crumbling walls, and fantastic flowers sprouted from the image of the cracked carapace. The flowers bobbed their heads at the town drunk and licked their neon lips at him. In the buzzing silence of the empty suburbs, they whispered pollen songs about the fecund beauty of apocalypse.
NATHAN DIXON is pursuing a PhD in English Literature and Creative writing at the University of Georgia. His creative work has appeared or is forthcoming in Tin House, The Georgia Review, Crab Orchard Review, Queen Mob’s Teahouse, North Carolina Literary Review, Northern Virginia Review, and Penn Review among others. His one act play “Thoughts & Prayers Inc.” was recently chosen by National Book Award Winner Nikky Finney as the 48th Annual Winner of the Agnes Scott College Prize. His academic work has twice appeared in Renaissance Papers, where he previously served as assistant editor. He co-curates the YumFactory reading series in Athens, Georgia.
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