A water molecule veered from the jet’s vapor trail as the cloud of exhaust dispersed into the stratospheric winds. The molecule floated freely for several thousand meters before condensing onto a rain cloud. It then joined with a droplet and fell through the haze blanketing Everytown, gathering speed to eventually smack lightly on the forearm of the man who, had he known the molecule’s origin, would have proclaimed it to be the spawn of a government-funded, mind-controlling chemtrail.
The man–alias Fowler–reclined in a lounge chair on the porch under an aluminum awning, his frame in shadow from the neck up. Long legs stretched out from vermillion shorts, pushing the limits of a plastic stool.
“Riddle me this,” he said as pastel-colored foam noodles drifted in the swimming pool he never cleaned, tracing a languid circuit alongside yellow and brown leaves and a glossy magazine.
With him were Everett and Mark, buddies from work.
“Vegetables,” the voice bellowed into the sticky, midsummer afternoon. “If we need them, why do they taste so bad?” He lifted an eyebrow.
Mark had his head tilted way back over the top of an olive-green metal chair. Could be very relaxed or dead. If his eyes moved under his sunglasses, nobody knew. The longneck he held leaned out a little in his hand.
Leaving Everett to supply a response. “Jessie makes the best collard greens you ever ate.” He gazed out from under his ball cap at the tatty woods beyond the chain link fence, lost in thought. Or else not thinking at all. Like how an animal ratchets down its metabolism to minimum level, as a survival benefit.
“Your wife makes my point,” said Fowler with a tinge of hysterical vehemence. “How do you make collard greens?” A fart came from Mark, but this didn’t necessarily mean anything. “You boil ’em to death, doctor ’em massively. Load ’em up with grease and salt. Add bacon.”
“Salad,” said Everett, engaged in what he imagines is easy conversation. “She makes those good, too.”
“Dressing,” said Fowler. “A vital necessity. Pour it on thick. You need something for the flavorless mat of the lettuce. The dirt-taste of the carrot.”
“I do like some dressing,” said Everett, happy at finding agreement. The bonhomie of shared life-approaches. “Ranch,” he said, thinking of dinner. “Honey mustard.”
“Just what I mean,” said Fowler, the shadow of the awning creeping down his chest. “I’m talking here from an evolutionary perspective. Scientific. What can such bitterness signify but toxicity to humans?” He inspected his fingernails, buffed them on his shorts. “This whole ‘eat your vegetables’ crap”–he snuck a peek to see if anyone was paying attention, decided mostly not, but plowed ahead anyway cuz at twenty years their senior he was world-wise and had nuggets to impart–“another government ploy.” The wide-eyed daze of Everett, the solemn torpor of Mark: outward signs of dawning comprehension.
Mark indeed kept stock still. Everett wondered if he really should be worried. The longneck slipped a little more from Mark’s grip.
Fowler concluded: “It’s the vegetables they douse with the real pesticides. The ones get in your bloodstream, screw with your brain cells. Turn you into government sheep.” Life’s weary traveler drew back his beer can, swigged. “Not gonna speculate whether it’s by design. Either way, it’s how they get you, boys.” He bowed his head and made a slinging motion with the can, like a congressmember yeaing some hard-won legislation.
Everett thought this was an elaborate way of rationalizing a diet free of plant matter. But was otherwise fine with it. He checked his phone. Ten minutes, he’d head out. Good time with the pals. Ready for supper.
Mark twisted around, reached down, flipped the lid of the cooler, fished for another bottle.
“Signs of life,” said Fowler.
“See that hummingbird?” Fowler raised his can to indicate the shrubs near the fence. A small, green and ruby creature zigged one way, zagged another, then face-planted into a honeysuckle blossom, the picture of felicity. “Drone.”
Mark removed his sunglasses, pulled up the hem of his shirt, shined the lenses, replaced them with ceremonial weight. “All this?” He picked up the bottle between a thumb and forefinger, spread the other fingers wide and gestured sweepingly over the scene. “All happened before, a million times.” He pointed at his companions. “A million you’s, a million me’s.” Brought the bottle to rest in his lap. “Multiverses. Infinite repetition. A displaced molecule here, a missing atom there. But, substantively, the same. Math says it. realquantumrealities.net. Look it up.” Downed the suds.
After what he considered was an appropriate amount of silence, Everett slapped his thighs. “Welp, guys, I’m out.” Stood up, adjusted his hat, dropped his can in the bin by the sliding glass door, disappeared round the house.
Fowler eyed Mark. His head had fallen back again over the top of the rusted chair. No lumbar support. Seat killer on the rear. The kind of position Fowler could not even imagine ever having been comfortable in.
One day, he supposed in the brightening, Everytown afternoon, these people will wake up and achieve some insights. Life, the internet, will inflict itself upon them, naivete-annihilating information will make its way into their brains, proper conclusions will be drawn.
Placated, he eased back and regarded the murky, shifting, algal-fringed pool. Which, he intuited at a deep, gut-level, encapsulated the antithesis to something essential in his own being.
Becky Neher lives in the Georgia sticks with her spouse and their cat. She is published in So Fi Zine and Friday Flash Fiction.