Lately, Dodi has taken to calling herself Dodo to certain people in certain situations. It wasn’t a stretch—an easy switch of a single vowel—and it makes her feel like she is in on the joke. Her extinction is nigh, is it not?
This is the first thing she does when she wakes up: she brings her hands to her eyes to see if they are open. It can be hard to know if she is awake or still dreaming. Lately, her dreams have been like old timey screensavers, static and grand scenes from nature caught in the perfect light. Today is the same. She believes she is awake. Her hands move past her cheeks and brush the underside of her eyelashes in confirmation. She rolls onto her left side to face the window. The sunrise is magnificent. The sunrise is always magnificent these days, cracking open over the ocean orange and pink and improbable. With the way things are, the daily facts of sunrise and sunset should be comforting.
Dodi hears movement in the barracks. Beyond her quarters are many others identical to her own. She hears fluttering, the movement of people who never get enough sleep bumping their bodies against a new day. They are like a hundred birds in a hundred cages, she thinks. She understands that she is one of these birds.
Behind her, she hears the rhythm of Sarah’s breathing shift. Soon, she’ll be awake. Soon, she will murmur a slight moan and stretch her legs toward the foot of the bed. Soon, she will reach a hand out to locate Dodi and, without opening her eyes, Sarah will move toward her, slip her arm under her’s and wrap it around Dodi’s body, thread her own leg between her love’s, and start to kiss the prominences of her spine. You need to eat more, she will say, and they will both laugh without laughing. It is a tired joke. They will lie there, together, faces lit from the sun, until Dodi says something like—
The dodo bird was flightless. It lived on an island near Madagascar. You know the story.
How is it a bird if it can’t fly? Ira asks.
Dodi likes Ira, but she forgets that he used to be a software engineer. He knows next to nothing, including the story of the dodo bird. It’s extinct, she says, it was eaten up by Dutch sailors in the 1600s. Ira furrows his brow and shrugs, shovel in hand, going back to the matter of the trench. He throws his weight behind the blade and plows into the hardpan. Penguins, Ira. The kiwi bird. An ostrich. None of these can fly.
I don’t get it. Ira leans on the smooth wood handle of the shovel and sighs. Perspiration forms large beads on his forehead. Dodi sees them and wonders how they are holding steady, not yet running down his face. It’s still early in the day, but the sun is brutal. The sun is brutal most all the time.
Here, Dodi takes the plastic cup that is leashed and locked to her belt and fills it with water from the hydration pack she carries. She hands it to Ira. He raises an eyebrow and tentatively reaches out his hand. Go on, she says. You can have extra today. As if to justify her indulgence, kindness, or infraction (depending upon how you look at it), she says it’s really hot today. Truth is, it’s really hot every day.
What Dodi is trying to say when she calls herself Dodo is that the end must be near. The end is near and the waters are high and the sun is brutal and she—like all of them—will most certainly be consumed. The time for cautionary tales has come and gone. The time for action has passed. Something notable in the story of the dodo bird is this: they weren’t afraid of humans. Though humans are to be her downfall, too, Dodi is beyond fear.
She nods to Ira and keeps walking down the line. There are people along the trench for hundreds of yards. Aqueduct C, as her section is called, will run for 57 miles. In her old life, Dodi had been a snow scientist. Here, she is called an engineer. Perhaps it’s good to have a job to do, she often thinks to herself. Idle hands, an idle mind… she was never one to consider the devil, but she understands Aqueduct C for what it is: an exercise in futility as an exercise against futility.
Sarah doesn’t dream. At least, she wouldn’t call it dreaming. She sees color, large swaths of color—gray, red, mostly blue—that fill the frame of her internal screen. Most often it is sky blue or, as she is wont to say, blood blue. It’s the kind of milky blue that fills glacial lakes, a seemingly solid blue sublime with the fine residue of minerals. Not that she’d seen one of these lakes in person. Dodi had, though, and she assures Sarah they are the same color as her beloved crab blood.
What exactly did you study, Doctor? It hasn’t snowed on this planet for hundreds of years. Sometimes, when Sarah has a kitchen towel over her left shoulder and is standing over a pot of simmering sauce in the kitchenette, when she is absentmindedly swaying from right to left, and much more consciously remembering to take her wineglass to her mouth with great regularity, sometimes, yes, Sarah will start this banter, the same old questions that people ask Dodi when they first meet her and find out that in the former she’d been a snow scientist. If Dodi felt like playing along, then she might reply—
Just because things got warmer overall didn’t negate the fact that places still got cold. Ah, but people have always been confused. Obstinate. Unwilling to understand the puzzle for its pieces. These are the thoughts that Sarah returns to and the question of: who is to blame?
This is the first thing she does when she wakes up: she remembers who she is. Sarah. Sarah Whale. This necessary remembering means, of course, that she had forgotten. The nature of sleep, she supposes. Then, she sets about remembering where she is – she doesn’t open her eyes. She won’t. She can’t. Too many years held too many mornings of opening her eyes to horrific things. Instead, Sarah reaches out her hand. It lands on a body, like an explorer, like a lost sailor trying to chart a course by the stars in a storm. Her hand remembers this body and Sarah climbs onto the shore of Dodi until her heartbeat starts to calm.
Sarah thinks that there is nothing more beautiful than the horseshoe crab. She has been known to press her cheek against the hard shell and look directly into the eye of the crab. One of its seven eyes, that is, and one of two primary eyes. She lets the outer edges of her vision soften. She looks into the eye like she might look at a singular star, struck and held and disappearing anything that is not this one star. Teach me how to survive, she says. This is how Sarah admits that she is scared.
Sarah’s day starts at the shore. She gathers no more than five crabs at a time. Partly, this is because the tub that sits in the wheelbarrow can comfortably hold five (four, if they are larger) crabs. It is also because there is no reason to do her work with haste. In fact, there is a danger in trying to do too much, too quickly. At this pace, she can handle each horseshoe crab gently, easing it into the tub, moving the wheelbarrow over the rutted terrain slowly. Her lab is two miles from the shore. It usually takes her 1½ hours to travel the distance with a tub full of crabs, sometimes longer on the way back to the water. They are in a more fragile state, after all, having just been drained of a third of their blood.
The blood of a human includes an iron-containing complex protein called hemoglobin. This is what makes blood red. The blood of the horseshoe crab contains hemocyanin. This protein has copper in it, This is what makes their blood blue. Blue like the sky on an autumn day so brilliant it makes you forget summer is gone. Blue like the opaque glacial water of an alpine lake that reminds you that, even though temperatures have risen beyond 4 degrees Celsius, beautiful, cold things still exist.
Today, when Sarah reaches the lab the first thing she does is to replace her sweat-drenched shirt for a dry one. She takes a drink of water from her daily ration, then another. She looks out the window to where she just came from. It’s lonely this close to shore. Most of the work is done on higher ground. She doesn’t mind, though, the solitude. Sometimes, she even pretends that she’s the only one left. A survivor, she says as she walks over to the wheelbarrow and gently lifts a female horseshoe crab, like you.
Ira doesn’t mind the manual labor. He likes what it has made of him – he is a body and this body can walk, can run, can feel the solidity of the earth beneath its feet, can, with scapulae tense and taut, lift a shovel, can twist hinge at torso first spiraling then un-spiraling, can throw its weight behind something sharp, can sweat and gulp and breathe and fuck and rip open to each day. He is reduced to something essential.
Still, he can’t stop thinking about making things better.
On Mondays, his mind hums. Like the thrice-rebuilt engine of a cherry red ’59 Mustang. He sings a lot at the start of the week, mostly in his head, but much of the time, softly, to himself. He sings the blues, or country-western tunes. He can relate to the forlorn and the love lost. Saskia’s been dead for almost two years now and that’s really all he’ll say about that if anyone asks him. How you doing man? someone might say, dropping their voice an octave below their normal register so he knows that it’s a pointed question not just a howdy-do. Almost been two years, he’ll reply. Hard to believe.
On Tuesdays, Ira starts thinking about optimization. Here’s the thing, he thinks to himself, there are always trade-offs. Always. At the highest level of optimization: design. What are the goals? What are the available resources? Constraints? Expected use? That’s the problem, Ira decides. It was a free-for-all. Killing the buffalo nearly to extinction, re-routing and damming up water, fracking. Fuck, he’d forgotten about fracking.
On Wednesdays, his mood dips to below 80% He’s usually a look-on-the-bright-side kind of guy. A we-can-fix-it-if-we-approach-it-the-right-way man who, in the former, was known for his systems thinking. He could see how things fit together, how an efficient algorithm and avoiding unnecessary work would lend themselves to an elegant outcome. But now, and especially on Wednesdays, he realizes that it’s too late for humankind. They’re at the point where big actions yield small results, if any.
Saskia died on a Thursday.
On Fridays, Ira has no words left. Not that he has anyone to talk to these days, except for Meegan and Aoife, Samson and Lulu, those nearest to him on the Aqueduct C project. And Dodi, of course.
Ira wakes each morning just before sunrise. His eyes open like clockwork and he comes to heaving and gasping, chilled from night sweats and nightmares. He wraps a striped blue and white beach towel around his body, exits his quarters, the barracks, and walks down to the beach. It’s not just a “shore” here, not just a random place where the new high water line meets a region of not water. It is a proper, golden-red sandy beach. And once he’s at the water’s edge, Ira is warm again. He throws the towel off and onto the ground and walks—the solidity of the earth warm and calm beneath his feet—into the water.
She stands on the tarmac of a small airport in the West. She has traveled alone, and not for the first time. Already she has been going back and forth, back and forth, from one parent to the next, for years. She is eleven or twelve. She doesn’t have to dip down when exiting the small plane. She is compact, nimble, coiled. She lands lightly on the pads of her feet as she descends the stairs.
On the tarmac, she waits with the other passengers for their bags to be brought around. The smell of wet asphalt rises to her nostrils and she is sorry to have missed the rainstorm. She pulls her jacket tighter around her body, but doesn’t bother to zip it up. She scans the sky for the moon – it’s still clouded over. No rain, but no stars either. Instead, she sees electricity pulsing across a nearby power line. A small flash of light travels from one end to another and, she assumes though a building blocks her view, continues on from pole to pole. The air crackles and she imagines the hairs on the back of her neck standing up, somehow singed.
She worries she notices too much. She worries she’s growing up too fast, that she’s not interested in the things that should interest her. In the distance, she hears thunder and the smallest of smiles lights upon her face. There will be weather after all.
Her grandmother was also a scientist, a chemist and a professor. She’d died before Dodi was born, but this only enhanced the mythology surrounding the matriarch. Among other things, Dodi’s grandmother was known for discovering a new—magnificent—pigment of blue. Bright and pungent and unflinching, this particular shade of blue was a happy accident, a byproduct of tests performed in the lab for some other end goal. Much of science is a happy accident, Dodi has found. It is about putting oneself in opportune conditions for discovery.
The story of the blue pigment was a favorite of Dodi’s as a child and she would make her mother—again, again—tell her the story of Grandma Jayne discovering something so unlikely. She would make her mother tell her the part about Crayola making a crayon in the exact shade. It was a penetrating blue, Dodi’s mother would say. It didn’t fade. It was so powerful it nearly stained your field of vision. At least, this is what young Dodi imagined. When she looked at images of the blue during the day, it would show up later in her dreams.
It is safe to say that her grandmother’s blue is nothing like the blue of the blood of the horseshoe crab. They are distinctly different, each beautiful in their own way. It is also safe to say that Dodi fell in love with Sarah—easily and quickly—because of the latter’s own obsession with her beloved shade of blue.
To fall in love. To fall in love with a person. To fall in love with a person in love with a color.
Sometimes Sarah’s clothing is flecked with crab blood. She walks in the door at the end of the day and the sight of blood—sky slung onto the belly of her shirt—makes something catch in Dodi’s throat. And on these afternoons, Sarah can barely say hello before Dodi has crossed the rooms to stand in front of her. Wordlessly, Dodi unbuttons Sarah’s pants. Shoes are kicked off. Clothing is tossed aside. Sarah unfolds onto their bed—the ocean beyond a constant—and opens. Dodi kneels as if to pray.
Sometimes they talk about where each of them was the day the rains began. The 40 days rains, the torrential rains, the rainstorm of the century. People thought of these rains as the beginning of the end.
Dodi is never ashamed that she was happy for the arrival of the rains. The girl that she was had made the trip to her mother’s ranch. The girl that she was had watched electricity pulse in the darkness from the tarmac of a small airport in the West. In that place, people were more scared of an underground supervolcano than a little rain. They were a land of little rain. They knew to welcome of when it came. They knew to run outside and open their mouths when it came. They knew to kneel to the ground and throw their arms back as if embracing the rain, giving thanks for the rain, praising the rain.
A little rain turned into a lot of rain.
Sarah was seven years old when the rains came.
Why have you changed your name? Dodi asked her love on occasion. What is your real name? Sarah would reply: this is my real name now.
When she was seven and Sarah-not-Sarah, she was surrounded by the dead. The dead were stacked in mass graves until the dead became so numerous (and contagious) they had to be burned. At one time, her parents had been doctors. Eventually, they became mostly undertakers, out of a terrible necessity, performing funeral rites—at first according to the traditional timeline—then hurriedly, if at all. Horror has a way of compressing time, stripping away the nonessential.
When the rains came, bodies waiting burial and bodies that had been buried in too-shallow of graves, rose, bloated and tortured. As Sarah and her family boarded a boat, they did so in a sea of bodies.
After the rains: the moon. All the while it had been raining, it had continued its cycle, constant even while unseen. After the rains, the clouds peeled back: the moon, waxing, three quarters toward full.
The word potluck comes from potlatch, a gift giving feast. This same idea was behind the Potluck Society. It’s mission was to create a better world through the innovative partnering of people, talent, and place in the spirit of science and collaboration toward a future of sustained human-earth symbiosis. It’s tagline was everyone brings something of value. This was fine as a tagline, but Dodi had been to some terrible potlucks—the bring-a-side-dish to the party kind—in which ten percent of guests provided food for all of the guests.
Plus, it turned out that the Potluck Society didn’t really have a need for a snow scientist, and so Dodi was placed into a more useful role: Chief Engineer, Aqueduct C. It was true that she was here voluntarily. This wasn’t a prison camp, or anything. She could leave at anytime. But why not band together in times like these? Why not pool resources and figure out the jigsaw puzzle of survival?
At a certain point, Sarah was fond of saying, we can’t outsmart climate change. She thought they were well past the point of outsmarting and that, perhaps, they’d never been smart enough, just hubristic. Or she would say: Humans can adapt to anything… except four degrees of temperature change.
Tonight, the sky is dark. More rain is ahead.
Dodi is stiff from helping with the trench. Sarah rubs her shoulders with arnica and peppermint infused oil. The rain starts, like always, suddenly and wildly.
Ira wakes when the rain stops. It’s almost dawn and he is stiff from not moving overnight. He wakes in the same position he fell asleep in, on his side, away from the ocean. Now, he turns over and looks out the window. It’s as though some god had taken a chisel and a hammer to a piece of marble, or quartz, had cracked open the sky into veins of color funneling toward something central and profound – the sun.
On the shore, Ira drops his towel to the sand. He realizes that he will never see a sunrise more beautiful than this one. This is how he knows that the timing is perfect. Today he will swim too far. Today he will not turn around and come back to shore. Today he will let his lungs breathe like they are as gilled as his hope.
He wades into the water, confidently, slowly. Once the water is chest high, Ira begins to swim.
The moon is pocked with basins. A lunar mare is a moon plain, evidence of an ancient volcanic eruption thinly spread like lunar butter across the lunar surface. Maria is the plural term for more than one mare. Isn’t that lovely, Sarah asks? Mmmm, Dodi responds. She is absent tonight. Her body and mind are two things, split and severed like the seed of a peach. It’s not uncommon to see to the kernel of a peach, but the exposure of a loved one like this makes Sarah anxious. It would be as though one of her beloved horseshoe crabs lost a shell. In truth, this happens. As a horseshoe crab grows older and larger, it loses its exoskeleton for another. It molts. It buries itself in the sand for a month or two. It comes out new. Older, but still new. Are you okay, sweetie? Sarah asks. She is careful not to sound worried. Sounding worried is a surefire way to get Dodi further inside her own shell.
She has to ask, but she is careful not to sound concerned, careful not to remove her eye from the telescope eyepiece.
Fine, Dodi replies. She is sitting next to Sarah on their balcony. She is a Venn diagram of split feelings – she feels guilty about Ira, and somehow envious. She knows that there is no point to surviving any longer, the state of the world is beyond repair, meaning it is beyond repairing to a state fit for humanity. And that’s okay, she says, unknowingly aloud.
What’s that? Sarah says. She unfolds her body and turns to look at her love. The inner lines of her eyebrows come together.
I’m okay, Dodi repeats.
Now it is dark enough for the red, pulsing lights on the windmills to staccato the night. Many of them blink in unison. Much of the hillside flashes red simultaneously, save two. Except for two. These two flash a millisecond after the others, but they flash together.
Julie Wills is an interdisciplinary artist working in the expanded field of sculpture, including installation, drawing & collage, performance, video and site-specific practices. She holds an MFA from the University of Colorado and an MA in art criticism from the University of Montana. In addition to her individual studio practice, Wills is a frequent collaborator with artists, writers and others, and is the founder and curator of China Hutch Projects, a domestic project space for contemporary art located inside her home.
Brigitte Lewis is a writer born in California Gold Country, destined for speculation. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in DIAGRAM, Entropy, The Southampton Review and Foglifter, and she is a co-founding editor at Utterance Journal. She lives in Central Oregon and can always smell a mixture of juniper and sage in the air.