Earth Is Gray

The Administrators want to take me and leave Fu in the Disposal. Supposedly this is because I scored better on the mental and physical aptitude tests which are supposed to be indicative of our potential on the Water Planets. No one wants to waste resources on Disposal Dwellers with no prospects. I still haven’t gotten my planet assignment yet, but I hear all the Water Planets are similar minus Good Earth, which has a waitlist so long you could die twice and still not get called.

The Administrators try to convince me that I’ve got a better future on the Water Planets: one where I can go outside whenever I want and not worry about choking on the air. Here in the Disposal, we avoid going out during the winter when the smog sinks close to the ground, pressing down on our bodies like blankets. The suspended particles feel more like vaporized lead than aerosols. In the summer, we only go out during the day when we can see and avoid the concentrations of smog.

Fu and I live in an abandoned, underground bomb shelter, equipped with canned fish and milk powder and sacks of couscous. Fu calls this home and spends a lot of time decorating our shelter with collages of cut-up wrappers and stickers stripped off cardboard. Sometimes I help out with ripping papers or positioning the cut pieces next to each other, trying to work out the geometric patterns we’ll later tape onto the walls or together as placemats.

“This is you and this is me,” Fu says, pointing to a vertical line of red and blue squares. “And here’s the sun.” Fu places a finger on a gray blob made from old newspapers we tore up. “The ocean putting out the sun.” Fu picks up a smooth rock and drops it on the sun.

“How is the ocean a rock?” I ask.

Fu shrugs. “It’s just imagery.”

We’ve gotten pretty lax in what can represent what due to our limited art supplies. Fu wants to tell the Disposal’s entire history through collages but we’ve only made it to the Eating of the Sun—when the tides grew tall enough and the smog heavy enough to envelop the sun entirely.

“It’ll come back one day,” Fu always says when I complain about the lack of light down here. I don’t bother correcting Fu. The sun won’t come back. It was redirected to fuel the Water Planets.

I’ve yet to tell Fu about my assessment results. We received Fu’s results several days ago: failure, which Fu naturally laughed off and said “what can you do with a brain and body like mine.”

We’ve been eating through the remains of our canned peaches as we waited for my scores. For every can we open, we hold our breaths as the lid pops and the scent of sweet syrup fills our little home. If there are an odd number of peach slices, the person who eats fewer gets to drink the remainder of the syrup. The peach gorging is a reward for my hard work studying and training for the assessments, Fu justifies whenever I ask if we should be opening yet another can.

I peel the orange wrappers off the peach cans and shred them into long, thin strips as Fu bundles them together and places them under the devoured sun. The strips are supposed to be the few rays allocated to keep the rest of us in the Disposal alive. Just enough light and warmth to generate energy and process electronic waste deposited by those living on the Water Planets.

“So, how’d you do?” Fu asks. I concentrate on my hands and peel another peach wrapper from a can. If the glue hasn’t dried enough, the wrapper tears when I peel so I’ve got to be extra diligent.

“Not great,” I say.

“Oh, is that so?” Fu pauses. “But that’s ok. You’ll get another chance next year. I’m sure you can’t be that far off.”

“I’m sure they have fresh peaches on the Water Planets, you know. The ones that grow from trees and turn soft and juicy. Amazing what you can do, with water and sun,” Fu continues. “And other things.”

“Nitrogen, phosphorus,” I add.

“See? I don’t see how someone with your brain could’ve failed. I bet there’s something wrong with the test.”

I shake my head. “We’re never going to complete the Founding of Good Earth if you take this long assembling the sun.” Good Earth is a complex piece to depict through collage. It’s said to have all the terrains of Earth plus several new ones with temperature-controlled climates and majority-vote-induced storms. I’m not sure how we’re supposed to manifest that in wrapper-trash mosaics, but it’s Fu’s job to translate it into art. If it were me, I’d just glue together wads of newspaper: a ball of gray to represent the Disposal and a ball of gray to represent Good Earth. I figure Good Earth will resemble the Disposal after a few years, anyway. And all things equal, at least the Disposal is home.  

Copyright © 1999 – 2024 Juked