How Black the Sky
There are plenty of reasons to be worried about president-elect Trump, not least of them what his tenure means for the environment, which is likely to be devastating in both short and long term.
Art by Colleen Tighe
There are plenty of reasons to be worried about president-elect Trump, not least of them what his tenure means for the environment, which is likely to be devastating in both short and long term. Some experts are saying that limiting sea level rise to 2˚C is all but out the window now. So, as one possible frame for contemplating this depressing new future, today's story takes a look at a climate changed world from the small room of an old man who did one tiny thing to try to stop it. -the editor
Anxiety clutches my throat. "What is it?"
Maalik smiles patiently at me from my phone. I know I could just have the apartment itself handle my calls and texts, but I grew up using phones, and they're what I prefer. "It's Wednesday," says Maalik.
Why did the final transmission have to fall on a Wednesday?
I force a smile, and glance at the wall. "So it is." Over the years, I've upgraded its live area to twice the original size, and now, my entire 150-square-foot apartment basks in the wall's display: a spectacular 24/7 live feed of a small undisturbed location in Muir Woods, California, where 600-year-old redwoods wait patiently for the end of the world.
And a tiny digital counter—there at the bottom left-hand corner—that marks the number of current viewers.
"Sorry." I turn myself away from the wall. "Coming."
Maalik is still smiling when I open the door. He's a happy, good looking kid. I'm grateful that he comes over and lets me see it. Most young people would rather stick a jack into their sockets and simulate a visit than bother walking.
"I brought some biryani," he says, holding up a plastic container.
I smile for real. Maalik's all right.
I stand aside to let him come in, and he squeezes past me to where the table and seats flip down from the wall. I could have a real table if I lived in the 300-square-foot apartment, but then I'd be rich, and I could have a lot of things. Anyway, I don't need the extra space. Just my redwoods.
I squeeze past Maalik in turn and fetch a pair of forks from my kitchenette's drawer. "Thanks. I thought today was Tuesday, somehow."
Maalik knows I'm lying. He gets us mugs of water so he doesn't have to meet my eyes.
"I know today's the last day, Grampa, but honestly, you have nothing to worry about."
"Worry? Why would I worry?"
Maalik sits and eats. I do too, angling my body to the left, so I can keep an eye on my wall. I eye the digital counter, too, but the number hasn't budged in weeks. Even if it did, it would be too little, too late.
"Did you hear about the housing riots in Lake Placid?" Maalik asks. I sigh.
"When I was a kid, San Francisco had the sky high rents."
Maalik nods. He has his fake-serious face on. He wasn't even born yet in 2034, when the big one finally hit. For him, San Francisco might as well be ancient Persia.
"And it would snow every winter in Lake Placid, too," I say. "So much, they'd have to plow it off the roads."
Maalik nods again. I make myself shut up. I want to go on, and tell him about Miami and polar bears, but I don't.
"Hey," I say instead. "This biryani is great."
"I used fewer peppercorns this time."
I nod. I eye my wall.
"Grampa. How long did you work for HiddenVista? And how many cams did you do?"
Doesn't Maalik know this about me already? I can't remember.
"Almost 40 years. I made Lead Drone Pilot after only three. And the drones I flew placed over 500 cameras."
"500," Maalik repeats. "Wow."
"All over the country, too. Yellowstone, Saguaro National Forest, Mount Rushmore, Death Valley, the Everglades-"
"I'm amazed they all lasted as long as they did."
Fear jabs my chest. "The parks are still there. They're just-"
Maalik smiles. "I meant the cameras."
I look down at my biryani. "Oh."
"Though even if they weren't," says Maalik. "We've still got Canada. And Russia, and Antarctica." I put down my fork.
"You know, I think I'm not really up for any more company tonight."
I stand. "It really was great to see you."
Maalik stands too. "All I'm saying is, there's a bright side to every-"
"Is there?" I demand. "Those places are gone. I'll never see any of the others. And neither will you."
Maalik stares at me. My chest heaves. The windowless wall he watches at his own apartment across town displays CG fantasies of nature. He has no frame of reference.
"And out of all 500? There's just one working camera left. And tonight they're switching it." My hands clench. "Because nobody-"
Maalik backs toward the door.
"I'm sorry, Grampa."
"Forget it." I blink fiercely. "I'm sorry, too. Don't-"
"I'll just text you later. Kay?" Maalik lets himself out.
I take deep breaths, tasting the recycled air, imagining what the air must smell like in Muir Woods. It's unbelievable, my mother once said. They had just passed the federal law about the wilderness fences, then, the showy compromise. As if razor wire ringing each last wild place would be enough to stop the future. I can't even tell you. It's so wet and green.
I turn back to the wall.
The feed's gone dark.