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In the Mist of Everything
A Selected Text from Conjunctions:73, Earth Elegies
Shira thought she would buy furniture for the bedroom first. Kevin made attempts at saving his garden. Doreen pushed the dough down with the heel of her hand. Gabriel tried a new yoga pose. Cynthia and Steve went for a drive. Toby said, The weather is just great. Marybeth wore the same dress two days in a row. Adelaide thought, I’ve ruined my weave. Polly had no one to take her home. Boris wanted the job terribly much. Cynthia and Steve went for a drive, even though the weather was no longer in their favor.

     Shira bought a vanity for the alcove by her window. Kevin tried something called Weed Nevermore. Doreen could smell the contents of the oven from the couch. Something slipped in Gabriel’s neck. Cynthia and Steve made a wrong turn. Toby said, What do I look like, a meteorologist? Marybeth said, Oh, what the hell, and wore the dress for a third day. Adelaide pulled her hair over one shoulder in an exasperated swoop, leaving the other shoulder bare. Adelaide’s girlfriend thought Adelaide looked like a perfect mermaid just then. Polly’s phone was dead, and in this great new age, she did not remember how to ask strangers for directions. Boris’s interview lasted seven minutes. Cynthia and Steve ended up somewhere unexpected. They peered out the windows of their car and did not recognize the street.

     Shira assembled the vanity herself, filling the drawers with pretty little accoutrements, loose buttons and broken beads. Kevin accidentally sprayed his dog with the pesticide, then washed the dog with a hose, drowning the edges of the garden. Why won’t anything grow, he cried, and his dog pawed at the barren flower bed. Doreen wrote a note to go with the loaf of bread, and she used her favorite pen. She wrote a rough draft on the back of some junk mail, and then wrote the final letter in cursive. Gabriel called for help, but the Zumba class could not hear him. Cynthia and Steve asked Polly if she knew how to get back to the main road. Toby checked the weather again, consulting several sources. No one could agree on the timing of certain events: rain, sun, wind. There had once been hourly predictions for every earthly spray or shine. Marybeth tore the dress on a sharp fang of railing. Adelaide’s girlfriend squeezed behind her on the couch, wrapping a leg around her on either side. Polly thought Cynthia and Steve looked harmless enough, but they also seemed bewildered and sad. Their sadness made her feel scared. I can’t help you, she shrugged. The secretary told Boris that he would hear back by the end of the day. Cynthia said, Get in, we can give you a ride. Polly looked like a version of Cynthia that wasn’t Cynthia anymore.

     Shira sat at the vanity and looked in the mirror, the lines on her face so apparent in the ruinous sun. She limped the vanity over to the far corner, by the closet. Kevin was flat on his back asleep in the grass, his dog perched on his chest. Doreen let the bread cool on the counter before wrapping it in cloth and tying the twine. Gabriel was flat on his back in the gym. He slid his way to the treadmills, wondering if he would be feeling better by evening. Cynthia and Steve received a message from Gabriel, canceling their evening plans. Toby’s friends told him they would go to the beach, rain or no rain. Toby expressed concern, but the topic had already changed to swimsuits and coolers of cold drinks. Marybeth did not own another appropriate dress. This was the only one that fit her right now, in this moment. She fingered the huge rip in the front of the fabric. Adelaide said to Marybeth, Maybe we can lend you one? But Adelaide and her girlfriend were smooth and thin, as light as scarves tossed over a bannister. Marybeth collected the emergency cash from under her bed and went shopping alone. Adelaide and her girlfriend watched two movies in a row and read magazines while wearing fuzzy socks. The day had grown cold and wet, and their feet searched for other feet, heels comforting toes. Polly sat in the back seat while Cynthia and Steve drove around and looked for her house. Their phones had died too. In fact, everyone’s phones were dead. Boris plugged his phone into the wall of the coffee shop, hoping to receive good news about the job. But his phone’s battery was a glass that would not fill. Steve knew they shouldn’t have gone for a drive, what with the news they had just received. Good that Gabriel had canceled their plans. But now this girl in their back seat, and with the weather getting worse.

     Shira dismantled the vanity and put it back in the box, with a return label. What was she doing, pretending to be happy? She wondered if Boris was happy, if he had settled into his new life across the country. Did you get the job, she wanted to text him, but Shira restrained herself. And, anyway, her phone was dead, and her daughter Polly was running late. Kevin’s dog ate the rotten garden, so that his Kevin could start over with a new garden in the morning. In his furry snout he smelled something worse than mulch, something worse than his Kevin’s shoes. Something bad. He put his nose deep in the soil for evidence of what dogs already know. Kevins were always spoiling the unspoilable: earth, sky, treats, trails. Doreen brought the bread to Gabriel. Gabriel could not move from his chair, not yet, but she knew where he hid the keys. Next door, she petted Kevin’s dog, and the dog ran from Kevin to Doreen, yelped at her ankles, a crazed look of warning in his eyes. Gabriel said, Doreen, and she had always loved the way her name sounded wearing his voice, the way he had no nickname for her. She put the bread on the table and cut him a slice. Toby stood on the beach, separate from his friends. There was something happening to the waves, their edges dissolving into the horizon, the same color as the sky. Marybeth found a dress that was more of a sack. She turned around twice and changed back into her weekend jeans. When she went to pay for the dress, the cloth felt damp in her hands. Adelaide and her girlfriend fucked on the couch, hoping Marybeth would not walk in. Everything on the couch was wet, but at that moment, it didn’t seem strange. When Adelaide spooned her girlfriend afterward, she saw it: specks of water in the air, all around them. Look, she said! How beautiful! The specks of liquid collided in the light from the standing lamp, until they merged into something larger than specks. Polly banged her head when the street filled with water. The car started to float, then sink. Boris put his palm up to the sky and the fog hit him like a brick. When Cynthia received the diagnosis, she thought, Things can’t get any worse. But things can always get worse, she now remembered, the car turning sideways and Steve beside her, struggling with the door.

     Shira stood at the window and could not believe the outside finally matched her insides. Had she turned the world into a mirror? Kevin’s dog choked on the new atmosphere, and Kevin tried to calm him. He was still flat on his back in the grass, terrified, looking up at a sky that had somehow descended. Doreen tried to carry Gabriel to the second floor, not even realizing that she was finally holding him. Gabriel kept saying it’s OK, it’s OK, it’s OK. Cynthia and Steve lifted Polly to the roof of the car. Toby saw his friends for a final moment before the waves swallowed them whole. They were frozen that way in his mind, like a magazine advertisement, until he was swallowed a moment later. Marybeth tried to call Adelaide but her phone was dead. She felt her body start to, what, evaporate? She felt slight and slim, and ill. Adelaide and her girlfriend found a dry place in the kitchen. Polly gasped for air on the roof of the car, but there was very little air to be found. She would never see her mother’s house again. Just a thick, sulfurous fog, getting thicker by the minute. Boris ran down the street wondering about Shira, if she would know what to do, if she was scared. Steve held his wife one last time before they became part of it. Cynthia’s shoulders went foamy and wet. Her body became a part of it, and his did too. Now they were part of it. It didn’t matter if they were healthy or if they were dying. They dissolved bit by bit into the street, into the trees. Into each other, into everything.

Hilary Leichter’s writing has appeared in n+1, The New Yorker, American Short Fiction, and elsewhere. She has been awarded fellowships from the Folger Shakespeare Library and the New York Foundation for the Arts. Her debut novel, Temporary, is forthcoming from Coffee House Press/Emily Books.