Can’t You Remember? -- fiction by Ali Fishman
I sometimes wonder what was disappeared first - among all the things that have vanished from the earth.
My grandfather slammed the door behind him as he came back from collecting this week’s water supply from the town square. He looked dull and tired - nothing like the man everyone else knew him to be. They told me stories of the days where he would kiss people on the forehead before leaving for work. He was a park ranger, one of the best in his opinion, at the National Forest that used to be just down the street.
When I was younger, he always asked, “Lily do you remember the colors that appeared in the sky before it turned black? Do you remember the big tree that was at the entrance to the park? Do you remember that secret pathway behind the flower bushes? Do you remember when water would fall from the sky? Do you remember… do you remember… do you remember?”
I never did and when he realized that I never would, he never brought it up again. There was something that I was missing, something that would forever separate his world from mine.
He dropped the government issued buckets of water on the tile floor and prepared to empty them into the storage container. Each move was defined and mechanical. Something about this was not natural to him. When he picked up the bucket again, his arm was shaking under the weight.
“Grandpa, let me help you pour”
We poured the buckets into the machine, watching the numbers on the scale increase. When the last bucket was poured, the scale read one hundred liters, exactly fifty for each of us. That was the rule. Every person got fifty liters of water for bathing, hydration, and house chores. There was never any extra water remaining in the buckets. They were always measured to the drop.
Just as we finished storing our water supply, the monitor in the living room illuminates, showing us the daily updates. These consist of new rations, closures, or even safety precautions. That day, corn and onions had been added to the low supply list. A lake in Iceland was officially closed to swimmers due to low water levels and high acidic concentrations. The last plot of land from an island on the frontier was evacuated and the final portion of something called the Great Barrier Reef died. I look over at my grandfather. His body stands in a rigid line and the muscles in his face are tight.
“Grandpa, what is the Great Barrier Reef?”
He looked at me with a slight smile. I never asked questions like this.
My grandfather stood up and walked across the room to the bookshelf. The shelf had always been my grandfather’s property, everything on it belonged to him. It was filled with books and weird mementos that I was never able to understand, but I never dared to touch his things. On the top shelf there was a jar, filled with these little black dots. He once told me that they were called seeds and they used to be able to grow into food with a little help from the earth in the form of water and sunlight. But the earth had stopped helping and food had not been grown in many years. Seeds served no purpose anymore. They couldn’t produce food, nor could they grow into plants. Our food was given to us by people we would never know in the same way that we received our water.
I watched as my grandfather kneeled and pulled out a large book. The cover read The Ocean World by a man named Jacques Cousteau. He opened the first cover and two pictures of him and a woman who I can only assume is my grandmother, fell to the ground from between the pages. The first showed the woman sitting at a table, taking a bite of an unfamiliar, orange sphere, while my grandfather cooked in the kitchen. In the second photograph, they were both swimming under the water and had huge tanks strapped to their backs which were connected to some sort of mouthpiece. They were surrounded by what looked like underwater rocks bendt in every direction and seen in every color.
My grandfather held the second photo tight in his hands. “This was the first and only time I traveled to the Great Barrier reef. Your grandmother wanted to go for our honeymoon. She was the only person who loved this earth more than I did. She was most herself when diving sixty feet beneath the ocean surface or dancing in open fields.” He then grabbed the second photo and a slight smile appeared on his face. “Her favorite food was something called mango. It was orange and filled with sweet juice.”
I had heard of them before, mangoes, but my mind could not place them. “Do mangoes taste like oranges?”
He smiled and looked down at his hands. “Yes Lily, like oranges, but sweeter.”
We both paused. This was the first time my grandfather had spoken of my grandmother to me. She died many years before I was born. I didn’t know if I should speak or stay quiet or offer to make him a cup of tea. After more than a few minutes I let myself ask one question.
“Grandpa, what do you remember about her?” Once again, he paused.
“Lily, remember how I was once a park ranger? Well, I met your grandmother at that park. When I asked her to marry me, we were on a cliff that sat above the ocean. The jagged rocks sprung from the earth as pillars of strength. The waves crashed against the rocks below, spraying us with droplets of salty water that dotted her face like sparkles. I wasn’t planning on proposing that day. It was just supposed to be a normal walk.”
“Then, without warning, the sky opened up and dumped water all over the land. This used to happen all the time. It was called rain. I watched as your grandmother opened her arms to the sky, begging the drops to hit her. I remember watching her as she flipped her soaking wet hair and danced along the cliff, her steps following the rhythm of the raindrops.”
“Rainwater fell from clouds in droplets, which landed one by one in unpredictable places. Sometimes the raindrops were big and round, falling at full speed. Other times, the droplets were so small that they were part of the air, almost floating in the sky. It was then that I screamed across the cliff, begging her to marry me.”
“I will never forget the way she looked after she heard my question. I watched her through the distorted lens of the thick droplets give a slight nod, agreeing to a life together. Whenever I picture her, still to this day, I picture her with her arms open to the sky, smiling at the clouds, and droplets falling from her hair. The rain has since disappeared and so has she.”
He finished talking and cleared his throat before walking back into the kitchen. His moment of energy was gone. The grandfather I knew was back.
As he began to ration our water supply, I realized that I wished I could have experienced what rain was. I had never felt any sort of longing for the disappeared things, until then, when I heard of rain. I wanted to know whether it would make me free like my grandmother or brave like my grandfather. I wanted to know what it would feel like to look up at the sky, waiting for droplets to fall. I wondered what it would be like for water to just appear, instead of being carried in buckets.
I watched as my grandfather turned away from the kitchen and walked back to his room. When I was sure he was gone, I dipped my hand into the last bucket of water, closed my eyes and pretended that I was not standing in my kitchen, but instead outside, with my arms open to the clouds. I raised my hand above my head and allowed the cool droplets of water to run down my fingertips and splash against my face.
Ali Fishman is a junior at San Francisco University High School. When she is not writing, she spends her days playing softball, volleyball, basketball, surfing, and taking photos. Her publications include Chewing Dirt Literary Magazine, Always Naive Zine, Canvas Literary Journal, Body Without Organs Journal, and Cathartic Literary Magazine. Despite loving nature and the outdoors, she is a city girl at heart.