Red, yellow, green. All brilliant, all alive.
I’m alive, standing here. My boss is alive too, picking his way around. The look on his face is hard to describe, but I’ll try. It’s disgusted, terrified, but still somehow not surprised. Like, God dammit, now we gotta clean all this up.
There is a handful of alive people here. We’re having a hard time looking at each other. Just picking around. Watch your step, folks. I chuckle to myself. The sound is ridiculous, so I chuckle again. I’m not really here. I’m back on the plane, at the airport, at home. Sure my feet are on the ground, but I’m not here. I’m not here. I’m not–
My boss stares at me. Oh wow. I just laughed. I just laughed in this place. I look down, look around. That’s when the tears come, hard and fast. I’m catching up with myself. My feet and soul are one.
This is ridiculous, comical, cosmic. No one should have to see this. No one should have to smell this. But here I am, seeing and smelling. I hear a bird chirp. No human noises. So little human noise that it feels like I’m floating in space. I’m standing on the moon, looking down at the tiny earth. I’m not here. I’m not here. I’m not–
Then, a gurgle. A sputter. A sickly, squelching sound, and a fresh wave of stench. My boss coughs, a human noise. A human has just burst in the heat.
I’m not smelling guts or decay. No, I’m smelling death. Death himself. I’m in the pit of death’s stomach. God, it’s hot. My brain is static, humming dully. I take off my shirt and drop it. Two seconds later, I realize what I’ve done.
So quiet. It’s so quiet, it’s so hot. Oh my God I have to…
I train my eyes up to the sky and feel for my shirt. It really is a beautiful day, not a cloud in sight. My hand brushes something stiff. I grab for fabric and yank my shirt up, throwing it on. It smells awful.
I’m reminded of when I was a teen. I used to throw off my shirt so carelessly then, when my buds and I would swim in the warm, tepid lake. The air here is like that, too. I guess my brain is breaking, and I thought I was swimming. That hairline fracture in my thinking widened. Maybe I was there, in the water. My boss calls something out, but all I hear is my friends calling to each other across the lake. I float for a bit, staring up at the sky still. It’s just as blue as it was back then. The air undulates around me like waves. I’m not here. I’m not here. I’m not–
My foot stubs against a swelling body. I’ve been wandering with my eyes to heaven. I have to look down now, and see it all over again.
Things begin to feel less reverent when we start to clean them up. I wouldn’t call it blacking out, but I would call it leaving. I left until I wasn’t there anymore. The person that was in my body worked away as I watched from above. Joking around, disinfecting the little babies
Babies oh my God they were just babies-
before he scraped them up off the ground. We walk among these people, in the world of living things, while they rot just beneath us. Gone forever, layers and layers of them. So many brains that would never fire another synapse. So many hearts that would never pump blood again.
One phrase plays over and over as we leave, our truck cutting through the steaming jungle. Each of us stinking and hiding tears. Someone had to do this. Someone had to do this.