The sweltering autumn I began kindergarten, my classroom quickly became a checkerboard of vacant desks. In December, I left school clutching twelve usb-c chips – they would take me through twelfth grade. Schools were closing. The outdoors were closing, we were mandated to stay indoors. That afternoon, my mom explained something I didn’t understand at the time: the planet was sick, and one day – one day very soon – it would get so sick that everyone living on it would die. Until that day, those who could afford it would flock to warehouses called Safebeds, where they would slip into plastic coffins called pods, and begin a very long nap called a coma. Sensors on the roofs of these warehouses would measure the outside air quality, and automatically wake the idle bodies once the planet had recovered. Comas used to be scary things, my mom said, and she didn’t trust the government’s claims that these ones were safely controlled. “Come out the same age you go in?” she’d scoff, “Right... if God wanted to make a pause button he would’ve.” She’d seen this day coming, knew affording six safebed tickets was comical, and raised us to see death as dignified.
Fifteen years later, the Safebeds closed their doors, and everyone who hadn't entered them would soon rot. We stared at each other across the waxy slab of pocked coffee table, as I imagine the unsaved animals did the day Noah boarded up his dumb boat. Eyes skipped feverishly, waiting to see who was the weakest – who would coil into a ball of toxic flesh first? Whose body would be the first to bow out and hunker down for the long rotting process that impatiently awaited? Let’s get this show on the road, my eyes burned into the pale abyss of a window. The yellow smog drooled and slurped me into its trance. My memories of the outdoors were fragmented: a storm cloud’s whooping cough, the way sunrays turn my mom’s eyes from brown to green. I can’t remember what makes a rabbit different from a squirrel, but I can tell you that Lake Michigan sputters and kicks, and while mom says the waves used to lap like sleeping baby breath, they remind me more of suffocating.
Our anticipation waned over the next few weeks. Nobody was dying. We slowly began to tease ourselves that maybe, as a product of a colossal miscalculation, we had not been left to spoil, but left to grow. While the elite drooled through milky slumber, waiting for the soil and skies to right themselves, the earth was left to us.
One morning, something I’d almost forgotten tickled my toes: it was a breeze. I slunk out of bed to find the front door gaping open. My heart flipped in my chest, fusing excitement and fear. But then, my green-eyed mother was spinning round and round in the front yard that I almost didn’t recognize. The only words I could muster were “mom it hasn’t snowed in years why do you have gloves on?” A laugh bubbled up from her chest, “Baby, these are gardening gloves. We have work to do.”
We were the band that played as the titanic sank, except in this version of the story, the lifeboats swirl deeper into the hungry sea, and the Titanic makes an epic comeback. The violinist peers up from his twitching chords and his jaw unclenches at the rare sight of a kingdom void of royalty. I went to wake my siblings. We had work to do.
When the Safebed sensors detect a lower global temperature and higher oxygen levels in the air, when those sensors hear birds singing and feel the soft pitter patter of clean rain, the safebed doors will spring open. My mom thinks that ash will drift from those doors reeking of decay and failure, and we’ll laugh and laugh. But I hope she’s wrong. I look forward to the day the elite emerge. They’ll expect to find an old mistake overgrown with nature’s sweet forgiveness. Their pale, weakened bodies will quiver as they brace for the crunch of death. But they will not find us in drifts of spoiled bone, they will find us thriving in the fields we healed and the skies we blued all while they slept in plastic coffins.