Today's Reading

Now, she felt a sense of relief entering the apartment. Home. Her belongings gave her a measure of comfort. The artifacts from her travels: The balsa wood toucan from Ecuador. Some pre-Columbian pottery replicas. A contemporary mask from Guinea, West Africa. The photographs: Beatrix at a protest in São Paulo. Hank and Dolores in Chapultepec Park. Beatrix on the Fourth of July in a T-shirt that said independence, my ass!

Beatrix found a note from Dolores on the kitchen counter:

Beatrix, love, if you are reading this, then you're finally home. We've been so worried. We're closing down the office and getting out of here before something even more terrible happens. We've waited for word from you, but nothing. We found a place. Brightbrook Farms. 150 miles northeast of the capital. I don't have directions. You're good at that. Come as soon as you can. Please come, B. We'll be waiting for you. We love you.

—Dolores and Hank

Beatrix had met Hank in a college course on modern Latin American history. Beatrix and Hank had believed that the world, particularly America, needed a new revolution. Something to cauterize consumer greed, expose the true cost of goods, even out global trade imbalances. After class, at a bar, they had planned their first action—a zombie parade. "But there already is a zombie parade," Beatrix had said, remembering the red paint smeared across mouths and hands, the stiff-legged walk, the raggedy clothes she'd seen the previous Halloween.

"This is different. These will be zombie shoppers, zombie consumers, zombie numb-heads," Hank said. "Just in time for the Christmas season. We'll get a bunch of TVs and line them up all along the campus mall. Then we'll sit there and stare at them, just like real people do."

Students from all across campus had joined the parade. They'd made the front page of the student newspaper, the clearest mark of success back then. The year after they graduated, they met Dolores, an activist who led "reality tours" along the US-Mexico border, where she set up interviews with factory workers, then pointed to the shacks on the hillside, the chemical sludge running in the wash. "Free trade hasn't meant frijoles in these parts," she'd said. In Dolores, Beatrix had found a friend, and Hank had found a lover, and the three of them had taken on the world.

Now, Beatrix stood alone in the middle of their apartment, her heart beating too fast. She read the note three more times before dropping it on the counter. What the fuck, people? They'd abandoned her for some hippie farm? She wished she'd never come back.

Trembling, she opened the fridge, and a warm and horrific odor wafted out. Nothing was salvageable. In the pantry, she found two cans of beans, a half-emptied bag of rice, a jar of lentils, and—thank the Lord—a healthy stash of yerba mate, her favorite morning beverage, courtesy of some Argentine friends. She tried the stove, but there was no hiss of gas.

She went to her bedroom, which looked different somehow—out of proportion or as if someone had come in and redecorated in her absence. But nothing had changed. Her bed hadn't moved, nor the framed photo on her dresser of her and Hank in their senior year of college, each raising a beer bottle and a fist. The desk was in the corner, her laptop where she'd left it.

Her heart jumped. There must be email from Carson. They'd been calling and texting and emailing for nearly a year. She ached to hear from him.

When his school had closed after the government shutdown, he'd written: I'm concerned for King High. For all the schools actually. Mostly for the students. I feel like Victor Jara, with his broken hands.

Yes, Beatrix had thought. Like Víctor Jara.

In the last email, Carson had said, If for some reason everything implodes and the shit really hits the fan and we can no longer send words or speak to each other, I'll come find you.

Had he meant it?

She opened the laptop. Its dead gray screen stared back at her.

From the closet, Carson unearthed his old camping gear, pleased with himself for having kept it all these years. He packed sleeping gear in the backpack, a few items of clothing, a tent, a water filter, a small axe, a cook pot, matches. In the top pouch, he put a pocket- knife, three notebooks, a bundle of pencils, and the Field Guide to the Edible Plants of North America. A few more things from Ayo, and he'd be ready.

Carson thought about the word "ready" and how far from it he felt, even with a small axe in his pack. Nothing was predictable. Who could ever be ready? And ready for what?

He thought about how it might be explained one day. He thought of the corncobs in Chaco Canyon. The purple robes of the Phoenicians. The Egyptian tombs. The Mayan pyramids. The moai of Easter Island. Athens and Rome and Pompeii. The Reichstag. Britain and Spain. Potsherds and buried churches, catacombs and notched bones. Here, too, there would be a history to interpret, an arc of demise to be charted.

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