The streets are alive with the sound of jackhammers Denise Robbins Macro-Fiction

map The streets are alive with the sound of jackhammers

by Denise Robbins

Published in Issue No. 288 ~ May, 2021

Outside, rumble. Inside, rumble.

The rumble of the jackhammers. All day, every day. It comes from the outside but shakes everything inside, down to the bones of the boyfie and me.

It’s the street. It’s always changing. It’s the color of olives one day, pine needles the next, one time marbled with purple. Always the construction workers are out there jackhammering it up, picking up the cracks underneath the gravel, refilling it with something that’ll maybe hold together better this time.

The street is alive here and I’m not just saying that. The street is alive like a coral reef is alive. They’re giving the gravel a mouth to suck up all those greenhouse gases. Cow farts or human farts: Street sucks them up. Carbon: Breathe out, it’ll go down there. Yum.

I know we should feel lucky. We get paid to live here, the boyfie and me, here where it’s safe. It’s all a grand experiment. Grand as in, it’ll save the world, maybe, from this global warming hell we’re in. Countries turned to fire-torn desert. Cities drowned by the seas.

The answer: carbon-eating rock. It’s a beautiful green dust over and in our streets. But it’s fickle, this olivine rock. It leads to potholes and fissures like that. In the heat of summer, in the icy winter, even in response to a cool breeze, or if you look at it the wrong way, split. It breaks. So they’re testing it with all these different additives. It can’t just happen in a lab. They need people to live upon it, drive upon it, to watch their dogs get loosed in the street, to yell at their kids to stay on the porch and look both ways, or else they’ll get a spanking. Too bad we can’t do any of that while they’re ripping it up and putting it back together.

We’re in love and we’re jobless, the boyfie and me, but that’s fine and good. Living here is our job. Rent is free and the stipend they give us for being a human experiment is enough to cover food and two bottles of wine per month. All we need these days is half a glass of red to get that yummy jackhammered hangover.

I feel bad for those construction workers. Maybe they’re glad for the work, but I imagine they’d get bored looking at the same houses every day. Sometimes I dream of being in an old-timey movie and bringing them lemonade and sandwiches and having a nice little romp in the sack because in this old-timey movie I’d be a bored wife with a cheating husband. But I’m not, I’m a young woman with a loving boyfie. And I don’t begrudge the workers but I’m not attracted to them either. I’m frustrated that I’m not frustrated enough to want to put on a long flowing robe and fall in love with a construction worker, which would make all this jackhammering worth it because I’m already in love and that’s fine.

I feel bad for the construction workers, but, they get to go home and sleep without the streets continuing to rumble. Because we live in a basement, we can really feel it. The rumble shakes our walls, our foundation. All night long, our bodies continue vibrating. I dream of jackhammer rumbles; it wakes me up, I think our house will split apart and fall into the sea even though we’re nowhere near the coast.

We’ve run out of things to do. It was a lovely dream at first, being paid to live in our homely basement with high ceilings and windows in the back. But now we’ve ordered all the jigsaw puzzles online and completed them three times each: beaches, puppies, and coffee beans, things that no longer exist around here, putting together our nostalgia puzzle piece by piece. We’ve stopped doing anything that makes us go outside for more than ten seconds because the olivine dust gets in the air, our eyes, our lungs. We order what we need. We stay inside and spend our days standing in different parts of the house, to see how different the rumbling feels. We set up beach chairs inside our living room and watch through the windows as house sparrows titter on power lines, leaning back and forth to stay upright on the long rubber lines that shake when the earth shakes.

Yes, we are getting tired of this. Maybe we could stand it without the rumbling. But the rumbling makes everything worse. We’ve lost the will to leave the apartment. Look for jobs? Everything is remote and how could we work in this? No one wants to hire an experiment.

So today the boyfie and I decide we will not wait around any more. We need a great adventure to get us out of the house. No more excuses. We will follow the green paved refuse and see where it went. He comes up with the idea. That’s why I love him. That and the dimples. That and the fact that he’s so good at laying around doing nothing, and taught me how to do the same, a key skill these days. But he doesn’t just do nothing. He does things in explosions. Like, let’s vidcall everyone we know at once. Let’s paint everything five times over. Let me cook enough food to last a month. It’s like he saves up all his energy lying dormant so when he has an idea or a feeling he’ll burst open like a volcano.

The green greenness also comes from the volcanoes, they say. Not from inside the volcanoes, from the earth underneath it, the upper mantle, fifty-five percent magnesium iron silicate (that’s a lot of olivine!), carried through the volcanoes when they are ready to burst and rained down through green gems from the sky. The greenness is hungry for carbon, but it needs to be in as many places as possible, to soak it all up. So they bring it here, and soon, everywhere.

The greenness soaks up the carbon and then… then what?

This is what the boyfie comes up with: We will follow the green gravel to see where it goes. Bury it underneath a mountain? Shoot it into space? Put it back into the volcano? We need to know.

So we rent shared e-bikes and cancel our credit cards so we can bike and bike and bike with no problem. We watch with masks and glasses on as the construction workers pile dusty green gravel into a truck. Then follow as it takes off down the road slowly, slowly to make sure the gravel doesn’t fall out, lucky for us, slowly enough to keep up with.

Slowly enough for us to shout at each other from behind our masks as we bike behind the gravel-filled truck.

-Maybe we’ll find dolphins.

-Maybe it’ll stop being so dang hot.

-Maybe we’ll find a nuclear stockpile.

-Maybe we’ll go to the Grand Canyon.

-I have the answer, I say, choking on my words.

I cough out the dust and readjust my mask.

This is what I want to tell him, if only he could hear me better over the shaking road and booming truck: That we will pull onto a smooth grey highway with potholes we recognize and love. The road will lead away from this city and from all cities. It will follow the river that leads to the ocean, the ocean that’s lost its beaches, and it will create a new beach. The truck will dump the green sand onto the grass where the seas now touch, just a small mound but it will come back day after day until a new beach forms. No one will pay us to live there but we’ll walk in the sand and crunch the soft green gravel into dust and blow holes into it and build castles and look at the waves falling into themselves over and over and over, and we’ll look at each other in the eyes and decide without speaking that we’ll never go back.

And our bones are vibrating from biking on this bumpy road and the dust still falls off the top of the slow truck so we cover up our eyes when we can, and we reach the city limits and pull onto a highway, and here’s where the gravel road will end, and we’ll follow the truck until we lose it, then we’ll follow the next one after that, we’ll bike to the ocean, and the vibrations will remain but our bones will start to settle, everything will begin to calm.