On mountains and beasts
My dad was already married to the mountain when we arrived. The ceremony had occurred when he was a child, after his beast of a father had hit him a little too long, a few too many times. The world was unkind, unstable, and the pine-peppered rock was consistent. It was consistent in the same way that the discourse of choke points and lines of sight would pervade our family dinners to come. The brutality and desolation of the winters on the mountain were legendary, but practical hardship was not a concern for my father. Even the local human dangers, a power-hungry sheriff or reports of armed bandits in hiding only vindicated his worldview, our worldview. What terrified my father was our coming annihilation. This was a topic of frequent dinner table discussion.
The Bomb was coming any day became the computers would break; became the plague is coming; became something just isn’t right; became MK ULTRA; became COINTELPRO; became what about the oil; became the sea levels rising; became that disease; became drone strikes; became lizard people; became there’s something just so sick about it all; became
Any day now.
Any day I could ask myself why, despite my best efforts, firearms proliferated in my closet like the flowers of the potted plant on the windowsill. The guns sprout out of pots of ammunition until their trunks are obscured behind a now-too-baggy suit that I wore to my father’s second wedding. The guns were cousin to the two modest 55-gallon drums of rice and beans in the basement. In their company were sealed packages of space blankets, water filters, and medical equipment.
The Bomb was coming any day became the computers would break; became the plague is coming; became something just isn’t right; became MK ULTRA; became COINTELPRO; became what about the oil; became the sea levels rising; became that disease; became drone strikes; became lizard people; became there’s something just so sick about it all; became Any day now.
My mountain of supplies helps me sleep at night. When I wake up, get ready for work, there’s only a tingle at the base of my neck. It turns to an itch as I get to the job, talking over the top of my screen to elderly women or technologically incompetent men who are too confident to let their wives know that they couldn’t find the ethernet port. I have mastered the customer service voice and the ability to smile. Smile, no matter what they spit in my face.
Now the khaki-clad manager occasionally slips by, and we discuss “the state of affairs.” We’re on the same page, according to him. Barrels and packages rated for five-to-ten years are of electricity from ass to neck. Something just isn’t right.
“It's a long time coming,” he says. He says they've let too many Muslims over, that the liberals are going to send the country into chaos. He says, when shit hits the fan, the liberals have it coming. He says, can you work through the weekend? Christmas is coming and we need all hands on deck. I take lunch in my car: a peanut butter sandwich, a tupperware of carrot sticks, and a plastic baggy of screaming into the steering wheel.
It wasn’t always this way; it won’t always be this way. On the way home, there’s a minifridge by the side of the road, trailing an orange extension cord and labelled “$5, or your honour.” Next, a collapsing wooden barn guarded by a few tired pigs. I think of the piles of too-ugly produce and expired dry goods in the dumpster behind the grocery store, a few outlets down from where I work. something we share in common. He confides and the itch becomes a sharpening, becomes a jolt
My car window is down and the air streams in, nearly warm. It’s supposed to be winter.
None of this can last. I feel it in my bones. Not an original or even unique thought, but a lawless void pulls at me hard. At some point I realized my father was right about this thing, though not timely. He saw beasts in men. He saw the beast in his father and he saw his own monstrous reflection in the bathroom mirror.
I asked my manager who he will save in the shelter he has built on his great uncle’s property. He’ll have room for his family. “After all, what’s more important?” he reasoned. I don’t talk to my family anymore.
When I go on my smoke breaks on Wednesdays when the grocer purges their old stock, I see some dusty individuals creep up to the padlocked dumpster. One stands watch on the corner, one picks the lock, and the other tosses whole chickens and vegetables into backpacks. I wonder if they like rice and beans.
It's my least favourite part of the day. Pulling into the driveway, the house is cold and dark. Yet something tingles as I climb the steps and test the knob as usual. The door is unlocked. Muddy footprints on the welcome mat. My spine lights up like a Christmas tree. I fumble for the lightswitch, fail, and lunge for the aluminum baseball bat under the coat rack.
Something metal tips over in the kitchen. I shudder and creep along the wall as my eyes adjust to the darkness. I pounce onto the linoleum, turning on the light as I do. A creature looms behind the chair. My overweight, orange cat, Buster, looks up at me expectantly. At his feet is a recently filled food bowl.
My breath returns to me as I realize we are alone, besides a hearty casserole on the table. My neighbour's handwriting on the sticky note beside it reads: I heard you haven't been doing so well, so I wanted you to know we're thinking of you. Anyways, it's not fair that Buster gets fed and you don't. -Maud. I put down the bat and cut a piece.
After my evening rituals, I drag myself into the bathroom. I lean into the sink and notice I’m low on toothpaste. There’s a man before me, and we meet each other’s gaze. He looks startlingly similar to my father, back when I was a terrified boy on a mountain. He’s tired, but his belly is full and he is not alone.
Some people fantasize about the void. When it all goes, these people believe that they will be the one good person hanging on, kicking the beasts off of the lifeboat. The truth is that those who think this way see themselves in the bathroom mirror and cannot help but believe everyone else sees the same thing while brushing their teeth.
This article originally appeared in The Resistance Issue, published April 13, 2021.