Belly Up

Belly Up

When wildfires surge in the mountains across the state you feel guilty because you lather your dying yard with water, hoping the green hue will return. Your neighbors don’t wave to you because of this. The neighbors search through the recycling bins of every house in the neighborhood. They wear sandals made out of recycled rubber and pineapple leaf fibers. They paint their own child in sunscreen and don’t let him leave the yard. They blame you for the way the Earth’s dying this week. 

There’s a flood sluicing through some town near the Mississippi. 

In California, a rock slide buries a highway.

You try to avoid thinking about any of this but it’s always endings and never beginnings.  

Your girlfriend is pregnant. She requests all organic potato chips and cookies made from unbleached wheat flour because she’s read online that anything else may be harmful to the baby’s growth. She sits belly up in front of the rotating fan. You wonder what disasters the baby will see when they enter the world. 

On the news, there’s another threat of nuclear war. More missiles ready to launch. 

At night, when you peel back the blinds your neighbors refract in the penny-colored streetlight. They’ve covered themselves in tinfoil. They say, this will protect us. 

An earthquake in Mexico makes the mantle crumble; buildings topple. 

A drought in India displaces thousands. You watch a crowd surge through a television screen. This makes your lips chapped. You drink water and douse your lawn again. It hasn’t grown. Across the street, your neighbors haul jugs of water inside. 

Your girlfriend’s brother wants to light off fireworks at the baby shower. You bring out bottle rockets but he wants the big ones, magnificent spectacles, little comets hurling metals into the atmosphere. The party watches the barrage fracture against the cloud-tattered sky. Across the street, windows slam shut and the blinds follow. You wait for the explosions to settle—the boom—but they continue, and seem to light the entire night, slowly weakening the levee between the rest of the world and you.  

The wildfires grow worse. Smoke congeals and shrouds the sunlight. Your girlfriend says the smoke will be bad for the baby, which could be true, but there’s bad news everyday, and surely everything couldn’t be harmful, like the famines that you hear are occurring in China or the tsunami that wiped the coast of Samoa clean. 

Soon, your neighbors pack their things and leave quickly. They do not say goodbye, but that sun-screened child watches you from the window of the car as it speeds away.  

Your girlfriend lays in the grass. She’s belly up again, navel pointed towards the sun. She runs her hands along her globe-sized stomach. She thinks the world is ending, which, again, could be true. You don’t know what to say. No words could quell the end of the world and you steer your focus elsewhere. 

The grass is still dying slowly in the heat. 

Together, you and your girlfriend create some shade out of cardboard boxes and old umbrellas jammed in the closet. You both bask in the shadow; feel the brittle blades dig into your backs. You’re adapting, and you reach out to feel her stomach which she greets with her own hands. She can nap almost anywhere these days. On the cold linoleum, the dinner table, next to the air vents. She says it’s so hot, she wonders if the baby needs any sunscreen. Jokingly, she says she’ll eat some just to make sure, but you offer to water her and the baby instead. High above, the sun refuses to slunk away. You stay in the yard, the lone stretch of land where it seems nothing from the outside world can touch your budding family. You think about what could happen next, but could it ever happen here? Is the yard the worst of your worries? If the neighbors came back they’d see you as headstrong, defiant, selfish. But if they looked closer they’d see a scared father clutching a hose, his eyes trembling as he watches water rinse over something that may never grow again.

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