Green at the End
The world outside had turned into a forest. She had not been out in weeks and had not known, but she was running out of all food, so she tied a camo tank top over her face and stepped out. It was quiet. She walked down the stairs and outside and into it: tall trees stepping into the sky, moss beginning patchily on the street like an early beard, small red beetles, decaying logs, mud and unknown puddles of water. The supermarket was a hothouse, flowers lining the shelves. There was a purple flower that she thought had risen up from the inside of the earth, exposing the inner, shivery part of earth, the fullest and most muscled part. She held out a hand to pick it but pulled back. She went home again to open all the windows, in case the flowers would grow in themselves, perhaps winding around the radiators, up the walls, the curtain rods, nesting in the cool dank space under the sofa and behind the refrigerator. She locked the door behind her so that they would stay inside, maybe, so the secret would not overflow into other apartments, though it was all over the world. She put her keys in her jacket pocket and left.
She walked north and west along the water, crossing a boundary that didn’t exist anymore, walking over subway tracks high enough for birds to nest in. The river is filled with water. Blue, green, spirals. She crossed a bridge, an old one turned green with a mineral that came off in her hand as she swept it along. Some fell through and into the water and sat on the surface like earth’s form of stars, just dull, home. She reached the other side and climbed down, the steps sticky with saltwater and weeds, a briny smell that meant the water had all changed places, that things were flowing into each other.
She reached the road, climbed over the barrier and across it, looking down it; there were no cars, no people, and not many plants, like they had not reached this level of brave yet, but there was a fine dust everywhere, glinting in the low sun, like everything that had used to be there had ground down. She kicked it up as she walked, feeling it on her cheeks, the makeup of the apocalypse.
She was interested in the color of the air: she thought she had remembered a blueish gray, sometimes darker, sometimes lighter, sometimes with things floating back and forth through it, but ultimately those two colors, blue and gray. This sky was different. It was a very dark blue, though there was still light; there were small silver twinkling things in the sky. The air around her was a sort of yellow, that is, clear, but with some sense of yellow. She had never heard of the sun.
She kept climbing north, her hair getting longer as she walked. The stores were all closed, but there was activity in them: grass growing, stretching, feeling each millimeter like a lift in the spine. There were songs coming from inside some of the stores. Something that had used to be a dress shop—its inside was full of nests now, some pink and soft, some leather and softer. It was silent except for the sounds she imagined coming from the broken eggshells, blue and powdery. She picked one tiny feather to put in her lapel and left.
She picked an apple off the ground and continued. No, it wasn’t an apple, it was a bunch of violets, the purple wilting and turning pale in her hand. She crumpled it and put it in her pocket like a tissue. She felt something in her chest as she continued walking: fear? What if he had also turned from a food into a collection of petals? Or had broken into pieces and fallen from the ceiling and begun to disintegrate? Or had turned into a jungle flower, something so beautiful, so clearly superior to the gross messiness of humans and blood and coupon booklets that it would be impossible to mourn? Improbable to mourn? She was on his block now. At his building. The garbage cans had exploded into individual jungles, the excesses of food and waste in them having composted down to the ground and new things already sprung up, begun living their young lives. Scraps of paper served as leaves, Styrofoam painted itself to become moons, fruits, coconuts. Children’s drawings—thrown out?—were wallpaper, tree bark, the imagination and willfulness of forest floor.
The buzzer did not work, because no wires transmit electricity anymore. Green and thin, they instead spark and burst into flame, turning into a warm, crisp treat or simply a pile of ash depending on how long you hold the button down for. She imagined the lines that had used to reach into space; now they would be lost and scattered, bouncing off each other and showing entirely the wrong information. She imagined calling him on a device made out of a banana or a mango, the fruit soaking in the sound of her voice and sending it off; where? to its home tree, to the place its soil had come from, to one of its branch sisters it had never seen again; and whoever picked up, she would talk to them, their voices muffled by juice and syrup and seeds. They would arrange to meet or travel the world, but of course would never find each other; instead he would eventually come down from his apartment and see her, and they would go where they were supposed to go.
She tried the door and it wasn’t locked anymore, the lock having burned off into particles glad to stop holding hands. The entryway was full of dirt, up to her knees; complete with white specks and eggshells, all the ingredients to keep growing things alive, except for her; she picked out one of the white pieces and ate it and felt no fuller. The steps were slippery now, she could not go up as quickly as she had, or did not want to. There was a scent like maple syrup but the uncondensed version, long and thin and clear. The building was different without its smell of laundry and comfort. She made it to the top slowly, running her hand along so many textures she had never known before on the banister; bugs she had never heard of in her hair, making it blue and lifting off her neck.
She did not know what she would look like once she got up there, probably turned wild or feral, able to run, her hairs now called feathers, she a large pale bird. She didn’t know if she was or should be wearing clothes. She swept her arms up toward her head, brushing her ears, sounding like a rustle of leaves—was she a tree, then, or still a bird—and the fabric on her body became torn back to what it had once been, cotton plants white and fluffy and flowering, and beech trees that shivered downward looking for cold, and plastic bottles, which changed back into molecules, which settled and sighed in the dirt to be discovered again in hundreds of years.
She reached the top of the steps and stood in front of his apartment. He opened the door right before she knocked and they looked at each other, he standing in the sun that came right through from his big windows, illuminated and warm, and she on the threshold of her favorite home. They reached out and touched hands and right there stopped moving.
Julie A. Hersh is a writer of speculative/odd fiction living in New York. She also works as an editor and practices martial arts. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in journals including Marrow, Monkeybicycle, Gone Lawn, and Menacing Hedge.
[image: green algae covered tree | Todd Diemer]