by Jackie Snax
It was the second home she had lost. That was the first thought Tye had.
- Prologue -
It was the second home she had lost.
That was the first thought Tye had, stretched out on the highway, her blood sinking down into the porous, cracked up tarmac. The second was that there were more homes than those two, and here she was again, too late in recognizing it. Another was being lost as she bled.
Heat was a slow river over the road. She could feel the ground cracking underneath, unable to contain the green, the green and the blue, every shade of human grey susceptible to the raw power of green and blue.
And red. Her red. She should be thankful that somewhere, she would still be part of it, even as the part of her that could appreciate that all ended, slipped down into the earth. She was watering the future with her blood, her blood.
She was going to stay here, somehow, and that was alright. Oh, that was more than alright.
Green and gold up above. She could hear birds behind the sound of fighting, the sound of screaming, then silence, then a jumble of sound - words, but they didn’t-
If there was one thing Tye’d learned by living in the flooded remains of old Philly, it was always that the swamp rose first. Pavement broke under the force of vegetation. Human roads and houses were flimsy to face it. And in that moment, Tye didn’t mind. She could feel nature hatching underneath her, cracking that road, ready to take it all back, and that was fine, fine, fine. It was all already lost, anyway. Lost, like Peach Bottom.
Tye never knew how to explain Peach Bottom to people.
“Yeah! That’s my hometown,” and this, right here at the beginning, was where she normally lost them. They’d shoot her an amused, incredulous look that said exactly what they thought of that, a town called ‘Peach Bottom,’ and it only got worse from there.
“So many fireflies,” she’d say, hickish twang getting that much twangier with the subject close at hand, “all summer’d be hazy with them, night almost bright as day, So many they were pests - sometimes Ma’d wake up howling she couldn’t sleep with the things sparking up in the ceiling like that.”
“Half our food came from the back garden, and a quarter from the wood. Only thing we bought in-store was spices and flour and shit like that. My dad baked bread in this brick oven he and Ma’d built with the help of some neighbors, and we had these four little ducks and two goats - we’d trade their eggs and milk for our neighbor’s apples, and sometimes meat whenever someone was slaughtering a pig or something. Mushrooms, acorns, walnuts, venison - that’s deer - all these came from the wood.”
“The stars looked like spilled milk,” this was her favorite, “So bright! So bright, all the freckles were, but beyond those, space was all so thick you could see this creamy haze right down the middle, where the milky way stretched. Suns and planets - bright white mist, from horizon to horizon.”
This last one she wasn’t even sure about. It was something she’d seen on TV for sure - that away from cities, away from the pillars of electric brightness, the sky seemed less like lonely, hazy sparks and more like one big spill of brilliance. But it couldn’t really be true, because logically she knew that by 2031, the year of her birth, at least where Peach Bottom, PA was, light was everywhere. It didn’t matter that cities were this distant, crystaline dream where it never got dark - Philadelphia’s poison had leaked into the heavens on one side and Harrisburg’s on the other, and even so far away from both these places the stars must’ve been muddied, at least. The milky way was only visible in places like Antarctica, where folks didn’t even try to cut the dark.
This was the nature of grief-infected memory, though. When she looked back, she saw a sky like gleaming, glittering milk. Like the way she’d imagined unicorn blood, or faerie blood, or any other huge magical dead thing - the sky was the carnage of something bigger and more magical, and she remembered it that way. Same way she remembered bartering and trading with neighbors for goods, collecting mushrooms and nuts, but didn’t quite remember the desperation of her and her brothers picking through the rotting fall woods for those moldy nuts because winter was coming and starvation was a real possibility. Keeping her gender identity a secret out of a cold, hard fear of ridicule, and the shit she and Zenia had faced when they started dating - a double whammy, her being a Black Christian and Zenia a white Jew, their togetherness not nearly heterosexual enough even on top of its basic un-holyness. She remembered fireflies, but not the other pests, really. The beetles getting into the tomatoes, her mother sobbing in the garden, hands cracked open with the effort of growing a harvest that had been demolished in under a week. The corn blight: withered, rotten little kernels, but they’d eaten them anyway. The winter they’d had to kill the goats, which had both hand names, rather than starve. Her only sister, still a wee, small thing when she’d died of lyme disease, a circle bruise blooming on her skin like a target before she was struck down.
She’d wanted to leave when she lived there, is the weird thing, the strange thing, the selfish thing. The ignorant thing. She hadn’t known she’d take herself with her.
“Everyone knew one another,” Tye’d say, and it was true. It was true in the city too, but Tye wasn’t exactly the most well-liked in Mt. Danu, so she didn’t mention that, along with a few other things. It wasn’t that she forgot that some people hated each other, that family feuds and racist neighbors were forces real and dangerous as scraper police and warring gangs. The memories were just kinder - Tye afforded her childhood the same kind of hazy softness many bereaved people grant dead things. Because it was dead.
“If it was so fine,” some city folks would say with their fast-speaking, different tongues, an open, hostile kind of amusement always hovering behind any questions anyone ever (finally, finally) asked her about her hometown, ‘why are you here? Why not live there?”
“It was destroyed in the war,” she’d always say. This was always accepted without question. So many things had been destroyed in the war. Mt. Danu itself had suffered at the foot of one of the government towers, which had been bombed early. And since no city funding every seemed to go towards the ground level except in the form of policing, the wreckage was all still there in the market - an area that had been a traffic circle in the age of gasoline, and was now crowded with ramshackle stands and even some walled and covered stores made from recycled materials - the shells of old trucks, sheets of metal and wood, and even one large center produce tent partially constructed from some of that iron and concrete rubble - the rest of it now a kind of jungle-gym for the children, who didn’t remember the day it had gotten there.
It did not seem too out there to assume Peach Bottom was part of the body count, because the body count seemed to innumerably large. Her town was weak, too - small. Far away. Not like the grounder neighborhoods of the city, which all seemed savvier, brighter, sharper (especially to the Philadelphians) than the fragile bodunk village they must imagine when she said ‘Peach Bottom.’ Like they were a knife, and Peach Bottom was a gummy toddler spoon.
It was kind of a lie, though, to say her town was ‘destroyed.’ One of the only lies Tye was capable of telling without shaking and dropping her eyes - because it was also true. It was true, even if it wasn’t true in the way the city folk who half-listened to her fiercely nostalgic ramblings believed it was. She knew when she said that, they imagined the kind of all-encompassing wreckage they’d known from the war. They pictured all those thin-walled cottages flattened, the screened-in porches caved in, the river flooded up over the streets and the town center - just a bar, a drugstore, the station market, two churches - blown away, or abandoned and then raided, or something, something with a precise end, something that was decidedly dead instead of the empty undeath that had actually taken Tye’s town.
The children of Peach Bottom, Pennsylvania had been reaped in increments. First, at the start, the volunteers.
As with many poor, rural towns, there was no shortage of beguiling patriotism for a country that hadn’t ever really done shit for them. Kids fresh out of high school and some even younger had signed up at the recruitment station that had been set up just outside the school gym. They’d been given crisp, clean uniforms and had been photographed with younger siblings, babies drooping in their arms, parents with heads dropped on their barely-grown child’s shoulders, nervous but proud expressions sturdy on their faces. Flags went up all over town, fights in the bar became about larger politics that until recently hadn’t mattered out in the sticks, far away from it all. Kids were shipped away. And none of them - none of those few in that first purge ever, ever came back.
Tye had been in middle school herself during that first burst of patriotic sacrifice. And then she’d been in high school, and then, by the time the draft was in effect, she’d been old enough to go, so she’d gone, because there was nothing else, because in the wake of so many dead children the town just had to believe there was cause, because to not fight was to betray those ghosts, her older brother, her brother’s girlfriend, her own ex-girlfriend, neighbors and cousins - all sacrificed, and in those days it was unbearable to know it was for nothing, empty loss omnipresent, all of them left over still reeling, still in shock, still to some degree not believing, because bodies were never shipped home, no fuel was needed for the living forces. Because of them, and also just because she’d been too scared to run, she’d gone with the rest of her class when the draft called them, barely a week after graduation.
And then, there had been the war. A horror orchestrated by those who never suffered for it, suffered only by the martyred masses. Poor folks like her who hadn’t been able to get out of the draft.
Tye had gone home once, after the war, back when Dom was still alive and she was pregnant and she knew her parents were dead but she’d hoped, just hoped, that maybe one of her brothers or her auntie Kaye or someone had kept their little trailer by the river whole and safe. She hadn’t even glorified her childhood yet, thinking it was still alive in some way, but coming from war, anything else had seemed almost painfully soft. Her and Dom had come home damaged, she knew it, felt the break somewhere deep in her soul, and struggling to live somewhere safe, familiar, and away from strangers had seemed infinitely better than struggling to live somewhere unfamiliar and surrounded by strangers. It was the best they could think to do.
Peach Bottom had been silent.
The streets, normally bursting with people on Sunday morning, folks coming home from church or stopping by the market or splurging on a big breakfast at the bar - none of those familiar sights or sounds. Roads like bare bones bleaching themselves dry in the sun, the sound of her breathing too loud. Dim lights on in the bar, but only a few huddled figures inside, no food smells, no church bells, nothing but the squinting stares of the folks on porches, shotguns at their side, faces full of wrinkles and grey hairs and this open, festering wound, a vacancy so complete it seemed to suck at the edge of her soul. She saw absolutely no one her age or younger.
The trailer had been locked, abandoned, and then later, by the looks of the windows - robbed. The river had been shockingly close - much closer than she remembered it, the whole house tilting slightly towards it, bookshelves and cabinets scooted all into the tilt and anything that could be of value to someone who didn’t care taken, which hadn’t been much. The old family laptop was gone. The TV. The few pieces of jewelry her mother hadn’t sold during hard times.
Tye had taken her brother’s sketchbook, her dad’s harmonica, and her favorite cup, a tin mug with painted sunflowers. She left the door gaping behind her, a frantic horror rising hard and terrible in her throat, and then her and Dom had gotten the fuck out of there, taken the first train, and his nervous eyes had kept on flicking back to her, his great, thick arms around her, hands touching her shoulders, her neck, trying to soothe whatever he saw in her face without effect. The silence caught in her soul and stayed, grief bleeding her like nothing she’d ever felt, and no matter how far she got it still seemed stretched thin after that. A thread connecting her eternally to Peach Bottom, to her home, as far, far away from her, it continued to slowly die.
“It was never quiet. Not like here, though - no traffic. Crickets, cicadas - Oh! You’ve never heard cicadas. No lie - they scream. It’s a mating call, but it sounds like screaming. HEY SWEET THIIIIING,’ Tye’d bellowed once at a smaller, babier Xena in winter, blankets hung over all the windows and a space heater between them, soft and orange, a gentle glow on her chubby face. Xena’s eyes wide and shining, wondered rapture like she was hearing about dragons or faeries or something else that couldn’t exist.
She was the only one who listened to Tye go on about this anymore without accusing her of bragging, like being from Peach Bottom meant anything remotely better than being from the Mt. Danu Ghetto. Bright, beautiful, best-thing-in-the-world Xena, her father dead and her sight going and neither of those things would’ve ever happened just twenty feet up and to the left, in the close, beautifully contained community worlds of the scrapers, where the rich lived. Diabetes was a minor inconvenience up there, and here on the ground, in the half-flooded remains of the lower city where her and Dom had eventually settled after those lost post-war months - here in the neighborhood of Mt. Danu it meant her husband died and her daughter was going blind, her daughter was going blind, her daughter was going blind.
She imitated cicadas as best she could, that screeching trill, lunged forward and tickled Xena as she did, and Xena screeched too, hysterical with giggles, imagining a world she’d never known, her vision already too blurry to see the circles under Tye’s eyes, the flat pallor, the exhaustion so complete on her face.
That was right before she got the job at AedosDynamic. She was still doing the preliminary work, then - making money any way, every way, hoarding it, saving for her first initial payment to the woman in the Microsoft tower, who’d agreed to let Tye use her address while applying for jobs for a ‘small’ price, and then later, as a surprise, for an additional monthly fee.
Officially, you needed a job inside a tower in order to be approved to move into any given tower. Unofficially, you needed to live in a tower to get a job in the towers.
Their little row home in Mt. Danu had been home enough, though. She could only ever see that looking back - her, asleep with her head on Xena’s leg as Xena finished her homework wrapped in two layers of sweaters, face an inch away from the paper, her little lantern flickering - no, they would have to buy batteries soon, oh no - humming a focused little song, Xena’s dog Goober snoring softly in her bed, paws twitching.
Through the only little window in their home, she’d been able to see the bright, sterile lights of the AedosDynamic Tower rising into the sky, stretching from one side to the other, pale electricity spilled across an empty night.
Lost. All lost.
AN: Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed it! And that you'll leave a review so I know how I can do better, too. Either way - if you wanna see illustrations and get updates quicker, check out peach-bottom.tumblr.com. Thanks again!