Nothing Stern Can Stay
By E.S. Wynn
Rainy day. Sun shines silver through the haze of clouds over Roseville Bay. Crumbling chunks of cement cling to iron spires rusted and worn to blood-red pikes by time. Grimy sand, dark and flat with the leavings of steel and soot and the oil of the polluted cities now sunk beneath the waves lies heavy with the death of the world.
Nothing lasts, old men used to say in the days when there were still men old enough to remember the hazy stories of the time before the end.
Nothing, not even steel, can stay.
But the truth is that some things do stay. Things maybe more meaningful than steel, soft things that somehow survive the harshness that weathers all things sterner. Soft things, like the messages in a caress. The heat of sun on skin. The glory of the sun boiling over clouds at the break of a newborn day.
Seagulls scatter as a beige van rumbles and rolls to a squeaking stop on the sand. Old German box with bald tires, armored and rigid in the sides. Almost Nazi aesthetic, but for the weathering, the peace signs spraypainted on the sides. The door clangs open, black jackboots hit the beach, dig in, but instead of a gun, her coal-colored hands hold an infant swaddled in a quilt stitched together from shreds of jean denim. The mother is a soldier only in the wars she fights for her children. Her uniform is all rags and shredded camo, her dreadlocks wound up inside a grease-darkened bandana. Her backpack hits the sand like a bomb, canvas sides quaking, so close to breaking at their stitched and re-stitched seams. Rolling out from under her full and bountiful breasts, her belly is swollen with hope, painted with pigments and symbols stolen from the ruins of the old world. Her smile spreads wide and inviting, and she laughs as the others pour out of the van behind her.
They come in all colors. Wild, primal, shouting joy to the heavens. Faded shades of red and blue, of milk-tea and dishwater blonde fly as they run. Pants, shirts, vests, rags tied up in lengths of dirty hair – everything they wear is reassembled from shreds of the world that once was. Another woman, only just showing the signs of future fullness in her henna'd belly, stops halfway down the gritty beach, drops pants cut from the flags of fallen nations, squats and pisses triumphantly as she laughs at the sky.
No one remembers the words of the old world, yet the air is full of sound. Shouts and cries, screaming laughter and a thousand other shades of celebration echo through the day, play with the soft slushing of surf and sand. Splashing, hooting, pointing – footsteps cut deep into the beach, then the rhythm of hands drumming on the bottom of a time-worn bucket rises into the day. Near the van, the woman with the child in her arms squats down, picks something from the sand. Some shard of something once worthless, now a treasure sweet enough to make her squeal.
Nothing lasts, nothing stern, nothing like steel. Nothing lasts that stands resolute and resistant to change. Flow, chaos. Softer things than steel. Those are the things that stay. The joy that comes with living, with eating, playing, mating. Nothing more, nothing more than what it is to be human, what it is to be alive.
Nothing sterner, not even words, can stay.
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This story appears as part of E.S. Wynn's 62nd book, Gold Hills, Rust Valley: 20 Tales From Apocalyptic California.
Thursday, June 16, 2016
Nothing Stern Can Stay
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