Jack and I used to play this game: every so often, when life got difficult, or it seemed like nothing was going our way, we’d think of all the possible universes out there where things were better, easier. If we got fired from a job, we’d imagine a world where we got a promotion instead. Where we were finally able to afford all the things we wanted, but didn’t need. If we were stuck in traffic, we imagined a multiverse where we were already at our destination; or, we imagined a world where traffic didn’t exist at all, where everyone was a perfect driver, and the roadways clear.
If we got snowed in one weekend, we’d imagine a place of warmth: sunning ourselves on a beach, or drinking mojitos by a pool.
When we had problems conceiving, we’d imagine a place of growth: my belly, swelling more and more each day, life beginning for all of us.
We don’t play anymore.
I kiss Charlie’s forehead good night. Notice the skin dry and flaky there. He tells me he’s thirsty; we all are. I tell him to dream of rivers and lakes, somewhere. Gushing. Dream of the life teeming within them, Charlie boy.
Jack thought there’d be water here. He remembered all the trips to his grandparent’s farmhouse as a kid. Remembered the chickens and their pecking beaks. Remembered the pigs and their squealing snouts. Remembered the spring and its bubbling water. It gushed, cold and clear, even on the hottest day in July, just beyond the house in a thicket of woods. How lush it all was. How deeply he drank.
And so, since the house had belonged to him ever since his dad died, we packed up what little mattered anymore—family photo albums, a few books we thought we couldn’t live without, some toys for Charlie, and all of our life savings in a fireproof box—and headed north.
The spring had already dried up, though. The ground was brittle and barren. It crunched underfoot. Nothing lived here anymore. Nothing could.
Now, Jack makes monthly trips into town to buy food and collect the water we’re allotted. Sometimes I don’t even notice he’s gone until Charlie asks where Daddy went. We didn’t used to be like this, he and I. I’d like to blame it on the world—on the drought, all the dried up rivers and lakes, the water rations and how they’re never enough—but the truth is, we started to change even before the world did.
I could blame it on the miscarriage. Lots of women were having them back then—it was something in the water. But I know that isn’t true. We changed before. Before, back when you could still drink water from the taps. Before the poisoned waterways that started, but didn’t end, with Flint. Before the rain stopped. Before people got scared, so scared. Before the riots and the killings and the stealing.
All for water. All for something we thought we would surely never run out of.
Jack and I used to be insatiable for one another. We couldn’t imagine a universe where we loved each other more than we did right here, right now. It wasn’t possible.
Now, I don’t even remember the last time he touched me. It’s not our fault. The human body is seventy percent water, and even this is gone, too.
At night, I dream of jumping into bodies of water. Of bubbles rising around me, tickling my skin. I never want to wake up.
I crawl in bed next to Jack.
“He asleep?” he asks me.
“Yeah. Thirsty, again.”
“I’m getting more tomorrow,” he says.
“But it’s less, this time.”
He sets down the book he was reading. Rubs his eyes. Pinches his forehead.
“There’s nothing more I can do,” he tells me. “They’re cutting back. There’s not enough.”
“Maybe we should leave here,” I say. “Go back home, or to my parent’s.”
“There’s nothing there, either.”
Rivers and lakes, somewhere. Gushing. Teeming.
“We’re going to die here,” I tell him.
He says nothing.
“I don’t know what to say to relieve you. There’s nothing.”
If it were before, and if we still loved each other the way we used to, we could play our game, imagine a place where our tongues weren’t dry and aching. Where our bodies didn’t scream for water. Where rain fell, hard and heavy. Where bubbles tickled our skin. We could hold each other and wish. Even this is imaginary now.
Hannah Gordon is a writer and editor from Detroit. She’s the managing editor of CHEAP POP. Her stories can be found or are forthcoming in Hypertrophic Literary, Jellyfish Review, Synaesthesia Magazine, WhiskeyPaper, and more. When she’s not writing, she’s hanging out with her cat and watching cooking competitions. You can follow her on Twitter at @_hannahnicole.