top of page


Maggie Koons

Decorative Green Leaf with pink stem

Now what?

     Teddy had hard lumps on his thighs and groin, places where his swimsuit clung to him. I told him not to swim in that cesspool, the reservoir we swam in when we were kids, which was now just poison, like the rest of it. It never seemed to put him in a better mood anyway. Never listened to me. Accepted his own demise. He hated that I still ate canned vegetables, still tried to sleep at night; still marked the days. Called me names for being too snotty to smoke. Just like before, in the lockdowns, I did all the things the government told me to. Was too frightened to even have sex with him, scared of his cancer seeping inside me. Towards the end he was in too much pain to do it anyway. When I snuggled up to him, I left a bedsheet between us.

     We went on walks and every time we passed the reservoir (we shouldn’t have been anywhere close to the water, but even I longed for it sometimes) Teddy would pull off his clothes and jump in. He kicked quickly when he swam, the aquamarine sprinkling the air above him like handfuls of green gems. Sometimes I’d be so mad at him that I’d leave him there, and we wouldn’t look at each other for days. Sometimes I’d watch him swim all the way to the center of it, where he’d tread water for a while, his head lost in a mirage of fumes.

     Teddy’s mom used to needle me about having kids. She said I would never know unconditional love and that I was robbing her of something. Maybe it was a Mormon thing. She said “this generation is so selfish” a lot. I wish she was still alive so I could say See? See? Bet she’d feel differently about how many kids she was cosmically owed. Sometimes I see sick-looking adults with pink little babies in tow and want to smack them. Sometimes I do.

     Teddy is a corpse who would have been a statistic if statistics still existed. A tiny insignificant statistic but a statistic nonetheless. He had tumors that grew and cracked through his skin, and he turned green from testicles to eyeballs. I try to think of him as a young, healthy man, with a ginger beard and a baseball card collection. But he’s green in my dreams. I stole a pack of cards from his brother’s house and played solitaire with them sometimes.

     I think the reason people didn’t riot is that it took a long time. The water didn’t turn green and noxious at once. People were just sick but hiding it, high-functioning in their slot of society. People weren’t ready to make any serious changes after so many disasters that amounted to so little. But I was more paranoid than most. That’s why Teddy lasted as long as he did (At least I like to think so). I liked to panic about things. Every cold I had was HIV, every tremor in my hands, a stroke. I started boiling our water way back in the beginning.

     Everyone worried about the air, and it was kind of in the air, but mostly it was the water. We cower from it like Shyamalanian aliens. The only people that survived were the ones who bought water purifiers, and after a few years they started to break down. You could still steal a good one, for a while, until you couldn’t. Some kind of poison. Or many poisons, I guess, a cocktail from so many corporations and governments and mob bosses that you couldn’t pin it on just one entity, or even an entire field.

     The water situation in Cleveland seemed scary when we moved away, but it was even scarier in Jackson, where it had always been dry, at least that’s what I remember from my nonpoisonous childhood. All our childhood friends were dead. I wasn’t surprised. Bad lungs in a hostile environment. And water everywhere. There are marshes here now, bubbling up where prairies used to be. Beautiful colors, even the shallow ones. Shades of green, varied brilliance.

     When I run into people now, we barely look at each other, let alone fight. Most people are sick, and have very little in the way of possession and resources. I have new neighbors. They die, I move out, they move in. We’re all drinking the water now.

     Sometimes I feel like I’m the only person with any real weight in the world, like the future of the globe depends completely on me.

     Back when they still broadcast the news, I watched it obsessively. After a few years there was nothing else on, not even any advertisements. The entertainment machine gave up. Soon the government stopped giving advice on how to prevent it and started giving advice on how to live with it. Stop showering. Don’t spend too much time in the sunlight. Move inland. Stop contributing to the poison, even in the small ways you’ve been doing all your life.

     I took diligent notes on the news in my diary. I took dictation of the news. I had piles of notebooks filled with information for no one. I left them all behind in a closet when I finally left the apartment we’d moved into together, Teddy and I, when we thought death was close at hand, and it was, for one of us. I left a treasure trove of information for no one. Maybe for another looter like me. Maybe for the aliens that will arrive long after we’re gone. Sometimes I think I’m living my life for the aliens. I picture them, bug-eyed gray-skinned moonmen, finding books and books of handwritten information, textbooks meant to teach a civilization not to fall. I used to write like I was the sole keeper of the culture. When I wasn’t writing down the news, I wrote down the past. I want to preserve it so badly. They need to know about: baseball, pet fish, prom dresses, Ramadan, vibrators, donut holes. Tattoos. Rosaries. Vodka and milk. The hard lumps that have appeared in my breasts.

     Teddy was lucky. His lumps were hidden. Not that it matters. But my vanity stings a little that they’re so visible, that they’ve spread from my tits to my breastbone, to my shoulders, up my neck. I’m not sad about my impending death. Death from what?

     The news gave up. Everyone gave up. Nothing is on air. Not even reruns. The TV doesn’t even turn on. I have no idea what’s happening out there. Once I found a laptop with some juice in it still and a copy of the third Lord of the Rings movie in its disk drive. Of course I watched it. I haven’t watched a movie in years. It got me. I cried and cried. Then the laptop died and I smashed it, then threw the pieces in a poisonous marsh.

     My lumps look like little mountains. I can’t wait for them to crack through my skin so I can see what they really look like. I wonder if there are sea monsters now. Or three-eyed fish. Sometimes I wonder if Teddy became a merman, swimming down there in the sick veins of the Earth.

     I scrawl like an animal, eating rotten food, interrupting myself while I think of something else, something else, something else. One thing does keep popping up in my brain, which is probably green. The last time I drove a purloined car, days or weeks or years ago, and saw another woman driving another car that wasn’t hers. It’s best to leave people alone these days but we both stopped in the center of the highway. We got out of our cars and hugged, our lumps bumping against each other. She seemed surprised that someone my age was still alive. I asked her where she was going and she said “My mother’s house. I want to die where she did. Where are you going?”

     I told her I was going swimming.

© 2024 by Divinations Magazine, All Rights Reserved

bottom of page