The Dream: Bushwa Bill
The god of the godless oversees this place.
There is no lodestar here. All is coal, bituminous and gas fires. Everyone wears a sheen of black. Coal dust and gas floats through the atmosphere. The air is sharp with the tang of petroleum and machine fluids. The ground is never dry, always a thick sludge that swallows the heels of your boots and sucks them off your feet. The food tastes of petrochemicals and your sense of taste is attenuating quickly.
There are tendrils of perfume pin pricking the air and you follow that scent to the end of a street where the bodies are piled chest high. At the foot of the mound a boy with a tank on his back is spraying the bodies with the sweet scented aerosol. A moment of beauty among the nightingales. A twist of sobriety in a world full of drunkenness. This is what you live for in this world.
What the child does is what every child his age does. The aerosol not only kills the bacteria on the decaying bodies and counteracts the stench, but also hastens the decomposition of the bodies. There are many neighborhood dumping areas about the entrepôt — just like the Middle Ages, some say, back in the days of the death carts and plague pits.
There was no place left to put the countless dying and recently dead, the land would tolerate no more bodies; there wasn’t any free space. There was a constant coming and going from these dumping areas. People would come with hands and arms full of family members and leave lighter, empty handed.
The gas vents punctuate the night far into the distance. The belching stacks and fires from these vents are constant. You’re happy that what little you can see of the sky, during what passes for daylight hours these days, is not the continuous fog of your childhood.
Of late some wisps of anemic blue sky have been spotted. The weather has cooled too. There’s been some talk of a returning atmosphere, but mostly uneducated conjecture you figure. What does anybody really know about what’s happening beyond the barrens. No one is certain. Everyone that has ventured out in recent memory has never returned, and even though you’ve given thought to it, you’ve never seriously considered it. Until now.
“Hey, wake up there. Move along.” A soldier prods you in the shoulder blade with her truncheon.
“Oh, fuck off,” you say. “Miserable pig.”
“Oy, you!” A larger soldier approaches from an angle you did not expect. “Ey, fucker, move the fuck on.”
A blow to your temple sends you cantering down the street. You wobble. A couple of kids playing with garbage snicker and run. The others walking by avert their eyes and move in wide arcs around the soldiers. You run back to your room, unsteady at first but then gaining momentum and resolve. You hear the soldiers laugh as you run. You’re not worth their time and energy. You decide you’re leaving tomorrow night, after your shift. You’ll venture into the barrens, anything is better than this dead place.
“William, you’re bleeding, there on the side of your head. You didn’t tangle with the police again, did you?”
You head directly for your side of the room, past the sheet hung up between you and your mother.
“Shut up. Shut up, please. I’ve had it with you, with the cops, with The Factory and with this god damned place. I’m going to leave. I’m heading out tomorrow after my shift. I’m going out beyond the barrens.”
You tear the sheet of its moorings. “You can have this shit hole all to yourself after tomorrow.”
The call of The Factory siren next door rattles the window. The shift is changing. Doors in the hall open and close in unison, and your mother aghast and about to speak automatically turns and leaves the room and heads for The Factory.
You stare at your broken dirty hands, gnarled from the digging, always digging. Somewhere there must be more, something different. It can’t all be like this, you think.
“It failed. The whole world failed at it. It could have been so brilliant. How strange of you not to feel sad.
Who knew life could be so awful.”
— Alice Birch / Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again.