OIL IN WATER
Kori, Avery and Gil poured out of Ruth’s minivan and staggered toward the house, drunk with the success of their mission to Cooper’s Service Station. Kori hung back watching while Avery lectured Gil about the finer points of backwards butt-kicking.
“No, it’s like this,” Avery said. “You walk next to the person and then you take your outside leg, the leg that’s farthest from them, and you swing it around and up and you kick ‘em in the butt without even breaking stride. If you can help it, you don’t even look at them, but it’s really hard not to laugh.” Avery demonstrated, giving Gil a good swift one. Gil pitched forward, but caught himself before falling, laughing at his own clumsiness.
“My turn,” Gil said. “Just pretend you don’t know I’m going to do it,” he said. Together he and Avery walked up the few steps to the back door and once on the landing, Gil swung his leg around and kicked Avery so hard he sent him hurtling head first into the back door. Avery caught himself and grimaced at Gil.
“How’d I do,” Gil asked, beaming. Avery narrowed his eyes.
“Remind me not to teach you anything anymore,” he hissed, holding the door for them.
Avery sat down at the kitchen table and began counting the bills. “Two hundred and eighty-six dollars. That should hold us for awhile, Kor.”
“Well, it won’t pay the taxes, but it’ll buy groceries for a couple weeks.” She walked to the counter and retrieved two glasses and then to the fridge for the milk. “Although the way you guys eat, it probably won’t even last that long. She handed glasses to Avery and Gil and snatched the money out of Avery’s hands while he was in mid-gulp. She stuffed the bulk of the money in a jar in the cabinet, a few bills in her wallet and handed Avery $90.
“For the field trip. And some walking-around money.” She smiled and looked at him in earnest. “I’m still a little worried, but. . . .”
“But nothing,” Avery shrugged, and polished off the rest of the milk. “We’re hot wired right into the police station, remember. As long as Einstein over here doesn’t hit the alarm by accident, we’re A-okay.” Gil ignored them, drained his glass and left the room. They heard the T.V. click on and soon the soundtrack to Holes was coming through the surround sound.
Avery leafed through the mail haphazardly separating bills, advertisements and solicitations from anything that looked like real mail. One piece caught his eye because of the address label. He shoved it across the table at Kori who turned it over again and again, considering it with reverence like it were a holy icon. Finally she opened her hands and let it drop to the table, staring after it as if it might open itself.
“Maybe we should write ‘return to sender’ on it, or ‘no longer at this address’” Kori suggested. Avery reached over and picked it up, studying the return address.
“United States Environmental Protection Agency,” he said. “It’s official.” He handed the letter back to Kori, but she didn’t reach for it. “Open it.”
“Kori . I hardly think that matters now,” Avery said, raising his eyebrows at her. She still wouldn’t take it.
Avery tore the letter open. “It’s a notice of a public meeting.” Avery’s eyes scanned the page. “Hey, there’s also a federal register notice soliciting public comment on EPA’s Record of Decision for the Stahl’s landfill.” He flipped back to the notice in the local paper, scanned it quickly and slid both across the table to Kori. “Looks like EPA’s going to have a town meeting about the farm.”
“The Stahl’s property?”
“Yeah.” Avery pulled the papers back and read something again. “It says they just completed the Record of Decision, the ROD, and they want to inform the public about the remedy they’ve chosen and give us a chance to ask questions.”
“What do you mean, us?”
“Well, I’m going. It’s only over at the high school. It’s close.”
“How you gonna get there?”
“Kori! We need to be interested in this stuff. It’s in our backyard.”
Kori shrugged in response. “That was Mom’s thing. Not mine.”
Avery rubbed hard at his temples. “It’s everyone in this house’s thing. It’s the whole planet’s thing.” Avery grabbed the envelope. The return address said U.S. EPA, but there was no name associated with the organization. “I wonder who in EPA sent this,” he said, and tossed the envelope on the table. “You know, Mom was the chairman of the citizen’s group that followed this stuff.”
“Mom was the chairman of every group that followed anything like this,” Kori said. Her face wore a blase expression.
“We gotta call somebody and tell them,” Avery said.
“Oh, no. You just turn that optimistic gaze in another direction, brother.”
“Somebody’s gotta get copies made, buy envelopes and stamps and mail this notice out to the neighbors. That’s what Mom used to do. The EPA obviously doesn’t know she’s dead.”
“How would they?” Kori snapped.
“Look, my point is, if these notices don’t go out, how’s anyone going to know about the meeting?”
“Maybe they read the paper.”
“And probably they didn’t.”
“So send them out.”
“You gotta help me. I can’t do it alone.”
“No way. I don’t have the time or the inclination. And I don’t want to get involved.”
“But you are involved.” Avery waved toward the window and beyond. “We’re all involved. Our aquifer’s contaminated. Do you realize that if Dad hadn’t built a water purification system for our well, odds are one in four of getting cancer? And that’s after drinking the water for only five years. That’s how bad the contamination is. We’ve been using that aquifer for twenty-five!” Avery opened his hands as if Kori were stupid not to see his point. “One in four, Kori. One in four people in the Hickory Hills development has contracted cancer. Which one of us do you think it would have been?” Kori mumbled something under her breath, but Avery continued.
“You know what we’d be drinking right now, if our water came straight through from the well. The components that make up gasoline, for starters. Same stuff that’s in those barrels out back.” Avery jerked a thumb in the direction of the shed. “That aquifer will take decades to fix even if it ever clears up. And until everyone wakes up and realizes that we all live downstream….”
Kori laughed out loud, walked to the fridge and poured herself a glass of water.
“You sound like an ad for the EPA. Wasn’t that one of their television spots?”
“They don’t do T.V. spots. They’re a part of the U.S. federal government. They can’t advertise. Pity, too,” Avery said, as if struck by a thought. He rubbed his hairless chin in contemplation. “Advertising,” he said mostly to himself.
Kori took a drink and stood, staring out the window. She leaned against the sink and sighed. “I’ve got paper and envelopes. Use whatever you want. I even have labels downstairs and I’m pretty sure I know where to find Mom’s mailing list on the computer. But just keep me out of it, okay?”
“No, Avery. I can’t. Don’t you see?” She folded her arms across her chest, more of a hugging motion than an acrimonious gesture. “It’ll bring her so close, but without breaking the surface. It won’t bring her back. Nothing can.”
Kori hadn’t told Avery about the terrible nightmares she’d had following Ruth and Marty’s death. Visions of her blood-spattered parents being chased by a monster with hell in his eyes and arms that shot fire from their fingertips. They wrenched her from sleep, leaving her gasping for air, shaking and sweating, so unnerved she didn’t dare roll. Kori’s chest tightened at the thought.
“Why don’t you call the lawyer? What’s that guy’s name? Bill Gallighan? His law office would probably do all of this for you. He’s an advisor to the citizens’ group. You could at least get him to pay for postage.”
Avery shook his head and ran a hand through his hair. “He does this pro bono. His law office doesn’t give him a dime. Plus he’s gotta maintain two hundred and twenty billable hours a month or they won’t let him work on the case anymore. They’re real bastards. The firm gets all this credit and name recognition and Bill’s the one doing all the work.” Avery folded his hands and crossed his legs as if in consultation with himself.
“Well, he has more money than we do. He can pay for stamps. Maybe even copies.”
“Actually, the law firm will pay for copies. And envelopes. Not stamps though.”
“What’s the difference between paper and stamps. It all costs money.”
“They want the stuff to go out on their letterhead because it’s free advertising and then everyone thinks they’re nice guys. But they don’t want to be out of pocket for the postage.”
“How do you know that?”
“Mom told me,” Avery said. He picked up the letter again and stared at it for several moments as if he could conjure Ruth simply by holding it. “She did so much.” Avery’s voice was wistful. “Stuff we’ll never even find out about.”
“She didn’t tell me much about that.”
“You had to ask her.” Avery sighed and ran his hands over his face. The conversation had brought him down.
“Why don’t you go watch T.V.,” Kori offered.
Avery nodded and left the room.
Kori stared at mounds of mail, but made no move toward it. Outside, the rain clouds gathered.
to be continued. . .
to read what came before count your lucky stars then click here