Out by the Tarpits
Chip tells me to be ready and I am ready. “We are gonna flip it. Flip it and tumble,” is how he says it. Chip likes to say, “ride or die.” I like to respond, “fight or flight.” We take donuts and figure eights pretty serious, trying to throw ourselves off the ATV, out by the tarpits where the pterodactyls used to make familiar circles in the sky, screeching and cawing. But that was in the prehistory. And we are passed the regular history, even. We’re post history, is how Mama would say it.
“They will call me thunder foot,” I tell Chip buckling the helmet strap beneath my chin, before we are airborne. “I will be a million feet tall.”
“You’re full of BS,” is what chip says to my heightened dreams. “I will be a fire god,” he shouts. “I will be born of flame! The heat won’t bother me!”
“That’s a little too close to home, bud,” I whisper.
“Sorry,” he yells, and giggles. I forget his giggles until I hear them and I love him the most when they happen, I love him most when I’m reminded.
We used to make snow angels. Before Chip was big enough, when he was just a blob who pointed to things and I brought the things he pointed to to him. This is when there was snow. I remember baby Chip and this snow. When the swimming pools were filled in the summer, and the tubs were warm at night, me and Mama and Papa, and then Chip. Before the droughts, before the ocean water conversions, before the electric war. Before the empty houses and buried bodies. Before it was just us.
By the tarpit at the end of the world we let the tires make the shapes and spin out the mud and dirt in a radical spray against the amber sky. We’ve made frozen waves in the dirt here, formed hills from our treads. Chip’s a natural rider. He takes the appropriate risks and I have to let him have it. It calms him. I can see it wash over him as he drives. I watch his shoulders sink into the motion. He leans against the sharp turns. He moves into the jumps and coasts over the leaps, his body limp and peaceful.
I passed out on the diving board after sucking can berries again. They help fill the gaps between water rations and wheat puffers. I had a pretty powerful trip and awoke in a very wiggly haze. I imagined my bones shattered and my arms broken and all I wanted to do was climb out of an empty pool but the walls were too high and too curved. I was trapped. I remember feeling the teeth of the drain monster just before I woke up. Then I checked to see if I was a full body. Chip was there shaking me awake saying “Dude, you could fall off the board and split your freaking head against the pool bottom and then it would just be me.”
I remember I have to stay alive for Chip. I remember I must stay alive because I remembered the before time and somebody’s got to. Not that any of that matters now. Now that we’re here alone.
Papa drove us here in the old pickup. He strapped the ATV to the bed and squeezed us in. Mama was already fighting back home and Papa was the only one who knew the trails to the house by the tarpits. They used to call it the lake house. This is back when there were things called lakes. He must have stocked it for years with the canned rations. But he couldn’t have known about the berries. He wouldn’t like that I eat them, he’d prolly say, those are for adults. But he also said he’d be back and even Chip has stopped asking about a return.
We came up with this story together. Mama took the last plane ride to a water island to find a drought cure. Papa fought with the sisters of the revolution, after mama was gone to bring them to the hidden places to prevent men from claiming them as wives. Then papa drove west, into the canyons of the burnt sea, out and out and out to the place where mama is. There they’re finding a way back to us, even though we know it isn’t true, we hold onto it. It’s a lot like the way I hold onto Chip, who they called Jacob. When he flips us and we’re tumbling in the air our bodies twist with every turn. I squeeze my baby brother tight in case we’re both ghosts already and we just don’t know it.