Three Possible Fictions
The fires burned underground. In Pennsylvania, in Indonesia. Wherever there was coal. Wherever a match dropped, a machine malfunctioned. The firefighters had hoses for the fires but the fires burned inside the trees. There was a mother who lived in Washington State and another in Raniganj, India whose daughters told them their feet were getting hot from the ground. That if the earth were a body it would be sweating and fevered. That it smelled like unbrushed breath, like uterine blood. Their mothers asked How do you know the smell of uterine blood? And the girls said We are growing up too quickly. Then the ground went brittle and crunched, the ground beneath their houses burning to whale-ish slabs of clinker, dirt that’s fused and stony and hard. People choked and spat. The hoses only stretched so far.
The boy in Peru stomached the fish that tasted like oil, the fish he slicked from the bucket of crude, the bucket he hauled from the river he grew up on. The company was paying twenty-five cents per bucket because they couldn’t get their rubber-socked rubber-masked rubber-smelling men out there fast enough. All the fish in the river were belly-white. All of the water in the river was black. The boy found fish wrapped up in tree roots, the wrong color, that fondled the river water, the river water finally thick enough to be a body.
The fish in his hands said Couldn’t you hear us?
Once there was a planet with oceans. Also land, also people. But they wanted to go to the moon and so they went. People fawned over the first pictures of their flags shoved into the dust, the texture of ashes. They talked about going to Mars next, to all the dry places that looped and orbited. There were movies and TV shows with people dressed in Kevlar suits and fiberglass masks and urethane-coated nylon, people who knew advanced theoretical calculus and the way physics worked in vacuums. The people in the movies spoke easy. Their technology shined in their hands.
The people looked up at the moon. They said We should go up there again. They said It’s getting bad down here. Musicians wrote songs about aliens as angels. Priests sold indulgences because they were sure that No One was coming. Then someone said there was water on the moon. And so everyone—the rich ones—left.
Three hundred years later when, on the moon, parents pointed their children to the planet and said That used to be our planet, and this, where we are, used to be what we looked up at during the night, the children didn’t believe them, laughed, said that that was the moon, silly, and this, where we lived, was the Earth.
But at night the children looked out their windows, squinted, trying to look through the film of fallen satellites around their vaguely blue moon. They couldn’t explain the feeling they had that their moon was bright green, bright blue underneath. They started dreaming, wrote little stories, drew pictures of people and animals, naked, no oxygen tanks, no suits.
Kathryn Bucolo Hill holds an MFA from Arizona State University. Her fiction has appeared at AGNI Online, Fiction Southeast, Gigantic Sequins, Monkeybicycle, Passages North, and elsewhere. She was the winner of the 2016 Innovative Short Fiction Prize from the Conium Review as well as the 2017 Aleida Rodriguez Memorial Prize.