little secrets

foolOIL IN WATER

Pam Lazos

Chapter Fifty-Four

Three nights later, the doorbell rang and Gil and Max ran to answer it. Chris Kane stood at the door with a bouquet of flowers in one hand and a small bag of gourmet dog treats in the other. Gil turned toward the stairs and yelled: “Kori! Time to go.” He turned back to Chris, hand on the knob, body blocking the doorway. He did not invite him in, just stared at him while Max sniffed the bag.

“Oh, yeah,” Chris said. “These are for Max.”

Gil opened the bag and without taking his eyes off Chris, tossed a biscuit in a high arc. Max made a mad dash across the room, snatching it from the air. One corner of Gil’s mouth quirked up when Max took the first crunching bite, but his gaze didn’t waver.

Kori appeared and Chris sighed from relief and appreciation. Kori smiled, waved and disappeared into the kitchen. After a few more moments, Gil took the flowers and went to join his sister, but when Chris took a step to follow, Max ceased his crunching and growled.

“Oh, they’re beautiful,” Chris heard her say from the kitchen. “Do me a favor and put these in water?” He heard the smacking of lips as cheeks were kissed.

“Avery should be home by ten. Gil needs to go to sleep by then.”

“Awww, Kori,” Gil whined.

“Alright. Ten-thirty.” Apparently that pleased Gil because Chris heard no argument.

“You be careful now.”

An older female voice. One Chris couldn’t identify.

“I will.” Another kiss. “Thanks, Aunt Stella.” Ah, yes. The neighbor.

“Well, whether you’re early or late, you know where you’ll find me.”

“Asleep on the couch and pretending not to be.” More laughter and then she was standing before him, smiling.

“What are you doing in the doorway?” Kori asked, the smile brightening.

“Waiting for you. What else?”

Kori laughed and he grabbed her arm and led her away.

➣➣➣

“The more you delve into this stuff, the more that comes up,” Aunt Stella said. She and Gil sat at the kitchen table each with the remnants of a glass of milk and the cookie crumbs to go with it. Aunt Stella shuffled a deck of Tarot cards, tapped them tight and placed them in front of Gil. “That’s why people keep all their little secrets and don’t want to bother with them. It’s just too much for some to think about.” She smiled at Gil. “You’re still young, though. How many secrets could you possibly have?”

“Now what do I do?” Gil asked, impatient.

“Cut the cards three times to the left and then stack them up again on the pile to the right.” Gil did as instructed and waited on Aunt Stella’s next move. “We’re just going to do a short past, present, future reading right now rather than go through the whole song and dance of a lifetime reading. Although…” She placed a hand under her chin and played with an errant whisker, something her eyebrow tweezers had missed. She furrowed her brows, further accentuating the small, almost scar-like indentation that had formed over the years in the center of her eyebrows as a result of this exact facial expression. “Nah, let’s just do this.” Waving a pudgy hand to erase all contrary thoughts, she placed it on top of the cards, fanning them across the table before Gil. Although Aunt Stella had several Tarot decks at home, she preferred Aleister Crowley’s Thoth Tarot Deck as it conveyed more of a feeling of beneficence on the reader than say, the Egyptian Tarot which was to her mind overly preoccupied with the twin themes of death and destruction.

“Pick three cards and place them right to left facing down.”

Gil acquiesced and looked up, doe-eyed at Aunt Stella, waiting for the next instruction. She pushed the remainder of the deck together in a pile and set it aside. Had any of the clergy members, all males, of the Greek Orthodox Church to which Aunt Stella belonged been here to witness such adroit familiarity with the work of Satan they would have blushed crimson and then blue for lack of oxygen. But despite the ecclesiastical indoctrinations of the church, it could not, for all its gumption, usurp such traditions, steeped in mysticism and superstition, that had survived among Greek women since the seers and high priestesses of the temple brought to light the oracles at Delphi.

“You know, my mother had the Sight. She could tell you who was on the phone the minute it rang.”

“Wow. Really?” Gil asked. “I wish I could do that.”

“You can. You just need focus. And some training.” Aunt Stella tapped the first of the three cards Gil had turned over. “My sister inherited my mother’s gift. She can read the cards just by looking at them. Not me, though. I need the book.” She flipped through The Tarot Book, by Angeles Arrien, its pages worn and rounded from overuse. She placed her hand reverently on the cover and closed her eyes. “My second bible,” she said, opening her eyes. “Shall we start?”

Aunt Stella picked up Gil’s first card. “This is your recent past.”

“Why didn’t you get your Mom’s gift?”

“It only goes to one woman in the family, usually the first born, but that varies. The others get some things, sympathetic leanings and what not, but usually only one gets the whole enchilada.”

The enchilada reference triggered a visceral reaction and Gil’s stomach grumbled loudly. Aunt Stella pushed her basket of treats his way and looked up the first card in the Angeles book. Gil pulled out a white-chocolate chip and macadamia nut cookie, so loaded with nuts that there was barely enough dough to hold the cookie together.

“What happens if there’s no girls?”

“Sometimes it skips a generation. Although boys can get it, too, if that’s what you’re asking. And sometimes it does run through the male line. Your father’s told me more than once about your grandmother. Apparently she had it. I think he was always a little disappointed that he didn’t have a full-fledged dose of it, although he was very intuitive, especially for a man. Still, he didn’t rise to your level.” Aunt Stella reached across the table and squeezed Gil’s hand. “He was so proud of you.”

Gil pulled out another cookie.

“That’s enough now. You’re not going to be able to sleep.”

“Yes I will.” He bit into it while Aunt Stella read Gil’s first card.

“The Six of Swords. Excellent. And not surprising, actually. The Six of Swords represents science.” She showed Gil the page in the book depicting the card as if that were sufficient to prove its meaning. “Objective communication is represented by the planet Mercury. See it there at the top. Then there’s Aquarius at the bottom, and it’s associated with ‘originality, innovation and pioneering work.’” She squeezed Gil’s arm and smiled. “This is good, Gilly. It symbolizes the creative mind that pulls ideas from unexplainable sources of inspiration and communicates them in a way people can understand without feeling threatened.”

“It’s the TDU! You see the TDU in the cards!”

“Right there in a full-color spectrum of light,” Aunt Stella said. Gil allowed himself a moment’s smile, but replaced it with a stern countenance.

“Does it say how it’ll do?” He bounced the heel of his foot up and down, the ball of his foot stationary on the floor, a habit born of nervousness.

“Hhmmmm. I’m surprised.” Aunt Stella raised her eyebrows at him. “You usually don’t care about those things.”

Aunt Stella locked eyes with him, a penetrating gaze; he looked down and studied the lines on his hands. She moved over to his side of the table, turned his face to hers.

“You’re not your father. You can only do what you can. I know you feel the burden of trying to save the world for him. And your mother. You can’t help but get that from your parents. But Gilly, you’re only ten, honey, and practically still a baby.” She squeezed Gil then released him so she could look in his eyes. “He’ll be proud of you no matter what you do.” Aunt Stella placed Gil’s head on her massive chest and he shed a few silent tears.

“I thought you said you weren’t psychic?” Gil said, sitting up to wipe his eyes.

“Well, maybe just a little.” Aunt Stella blushed and smiled. Gil reached for another cookie then stopped in mid-swipe and looked up at Aunt Stella first, the question in his smile.

She sighed. “Alright, but that’s it.”

Gil stared at the Six of Swords as he chewed. “What else does it say?”

“I don’t know. Why don’t you turn over another one?”

He flipped a card to see a man hanging upside down, bound at the ankle by a snake hanging from an Egyptian Ankh. He dropped the card. “Am I going to die?”

“Ah, the Hanged Man,” Aunt Stella said. “No, you’re not going to die, but you have to forget about everything you are if you want to move past the ego to a place where things really start happening. Break old habits. Release your fear. You’ll do great things.”

“But I don’t feel afraid of anything. I mean, sometimes I’m afraid of ghosts, but only the ones I don’t know, and sometimes the dark, but only if Max isn’t around.” At the mention of his name, Max raised his head, opened his mouth, revealing a full set of molars, and yawned. Gil scratched him behind the ears. Max put his head down and went back to sleep.

“How about this? The only limitations on you right now – since this card deals with the present – are those you put on yourself. Capice?”

Gil nodded. “What’s the last one say? The future card?”

“Turn it over.”

Gil popped the last bite of cookie in his mouth and flipped the card.

“The Seven of Wands. Excellent.”

“What’s that mean?”

“It means stand by what you believe. Don’t compromise and trust your intuition.”

Gil sighed, folded his hands on his lap and looked at the cards. “Do they say anything else? Because I’m not sure I understand.”

Aunt Stella smiled and reached for the deck. She handed them to Gil who wrapped his hands around them. “Concentrate,” she said. He closed his eyes for several moments and then put the cards on the table. “Now fan them out and pick one.”

Gil flipped over a card from the middle of the deck, “The Star,” a card from the major arcana. Aunt Stella smiled.

“More of the same, Gilly. Get out there.  Do something wonderful. Be the gateway for the light to come through you and out into the world. And don’t be afraid to shine.”

“Is that it?” Gil put his hands under his chin and slumped in his chair. “Aunt Stella, how can I do this by myself if I’m only ten?”

“What about Avery? Can’t he help you?”

“Yes, but…” Gil looked around behind him to make sure Avery hadn’t suddenly appeared out of thin air, and whispered to Aunt Stella, “I think I need more help than that.”

“I don’t know, Gilly. Let’s see.” Aunt Stella pointed to the cards. “One more.”

Gil scanned the row of cards, his eyes running up and down, his fingers barely touching them until of their own volition they seemed to stop and hover about one card. Aunt Stella nodded and Gil turned over the card.

“Ah, that’s what you were looking for.” Gil stared at the card: “The Prince of Disks” depicted a man with a strange helmet sitting in a chariot being pulled by a bull. “The architect has arrived.” Aunt Stella consulted the Arien book. “See that double helix right there? It indicates an ability to build new worlds.” She stopped and smiled. “Gilly, meet your new partner.”

Gil stared back and forth between Aunt Stella and The Prince of Disks for a full minute before speaking: “Thanks, Aunt Stella.” He threw his arms around her, kissed her on the cheek, and went upstairs to bed.

to be continued. . .

start by reading this

copyright 2012

clean drinking water

dragon-flyOIL IN WATER

Pam Lazos

Chapter Fifty-Three

Kori and Jack lay huddled together, partially-clothed, a single throw covering them. A soft click preceded the quiet, familiar musings of NPR’s Terry Gross. They had failed to draw the curtains before retiring for an hour or so of love and sleep and Jack cracked one eye open and peered out the window into the expectant night air. Snow flurries added to the soft blanket already on the ground and he groaned at the menacing, orange-grey sky. He rolled over and checked the alarm.

“Kor. Wake up.” He nudged her gently, but she didn’t respond. “Kori. It’s time to go.” He bit her shoulder gently and her eyes flew open.

“Huh. What?” Kori sat up on one elbow and blinked, trying to orient herself.

“What day is it?” Kori stared wide-eyed out the window, her unseeing eyes darting to and fro across the night sky. Jack grinned.

“It’s Thursday. You have to bake an apple pie.”

“Apple pie?” Kori turned to look at him, but the darkness hid his features.

“Two of them.” This time he laughed and Kori woke up. She checked the alarm and fell back down on the pillow.

“Oh, the public meeting.” She rubbed a hand over her eyes and coughed. “I really didn’t know where I was for a minute.”

“I could tell.” Jack lay back down and pulled her in close. “And you said you’d bake me two apple pies.” He kissed her then rose to pull on his jeans. In their earlier haste, they had removed only the bottom half of their garments.

“Where you goin’?”

“To work.” He buckled his belt then sat down to put on his boots.

“I thought you were done for the day?”

“Installing home brains, yeah.” Jack nodded toward the window. “But now it’s snowing. People’ll need me to plow them out.”

“It’s barely a flurry.”

“They’re calling for another four to six inches.”

“By tomorrow. Not in the next two hours.”

“Hey. I gotta make money, right?”

“Jack!?!” It’s a side business, for Godsakes. You said you were only going to do it until your other business got off the ground. Well, it’s levitating. You can stop now.”

“Not tonight, I can’t.”

“You’re just doing this to get out of coming to the public meeting!”

Jack laced up his boots, leaned over and kissed her on the head.

“I’ll be back after I’m through.”

“Don’t bother.” She kicked at him, pushing the blanket off herself in the process, and stomped past him, retrieving her clothes as she headed for the door.

“Kori, come on.”

“Bastard,” she said, and slammed the door behind her.

➣➣➣

The public meeting wasn’t scheduled to start until seven, but the controversy surrounding the landfill and the effectiveness of the citizens group, helped along by the flurry of Kori’s afternoon calls, brought the crowd out early and in droves, snowy weather notwithstanding.

The high school auditorium had seating capacity for two hundred people. Kori, Avery and Gil stood at the back, scanning the room for seats together, a commodity in short supply.

“Can’t I just go home?” Gil asked.

“Gil, what’s the big deal? It’s a couple hours of your life,” Kori said. She turned to face Avery in an appeal for assistance. He shrugged.

“He wants to watch Star Trek ,” Avery said, at present feeling more inclined toward his brother’s sensibilities himself.

“Star Trek is on fifty times a week on seventeen different channels,” Kori said. She bent down, coming face-to-face with her brother. “But this – this chance to make a difference – this only happens once or twice, and it’s really, really important. So come on.” She dug in her pocket and pulled out a handful of Tootsie Roll Midgets. Gil smiled and reached for the proffered sweet, but Kori snapped her fingers shut.

“I was saving these for later, but I guess we need them now. If you take them, you have to stay and not whine and complain about wanting to leave. Okay?”

Gil nodded and she opened her hand. He grabbed every last one, accepting her gift as a compromise. Avery held out his hand and Gil reluctantly handed over a single Tootsie Roll. So buoyed by chocolate, they followed Kori down the aisle in search of seats.

They found them near the front. Aunt Stella’s coat, scarf and brilliant red hat lay draped in varying states of repose across four seats where Aunt Stella sat as border guard. She waved madly when she saw them, her knitted brow relaxing. Kori glanced around, scanning the auditorium again, looking for something a little farther back – in the event Gil started acting up, she wanted to be able to make an unobtrusive getaway – but the place was packed to overflowing with groups of people lining the walls. She turned to say something to Avery, but the boys had already made their way into the aisle and she had no choice but to follow.       Gil took the seat next to Aunt Stella who always traveled with treats in her pockets.

Kori leaned over and gave her a kiss. “Thanks for saving seats.”

Aunt Stella waved it off as if it were no big deal, but given the general mood in the house, Kori knew it was a feat almost Herculean in nature.

“Where’s Jack?” Aunt Stella asked.

Kori shrugged, defeated.

“Excuse me? Is this seat taken?” Kori jerked around to see a handsome young man standing there.

“Um, no.”

“You don’t remember me, do you?”

“Should I?” Kori asked.

“Chris Kane. We went to high school together.”

“Oh my God.” Kori gave him the once over as surreptitiously as possible. Whatever resemblance this guy had to the Christopher “D, for Dork” Kane that she knew in high school had long since passed. “You look…”

“Different?” He nodded. “That’s what everyone says. Late bloomer, I guess. Plus I started working out.”

“I’ll say. What are you doing now?”

“I’m a correspondent for The Philadelphia Inquirer, ” he smiled, holding up the notebook in his hand.

Kori gave him a “hmmmmm” and nodded in acknowledgment. She turned to find Aunt Stella’s old crone smile and felt the blush rise in her cheeks. Gil and Avery were too engrossed in Aunt Stella’s candy to notice so she turned back to Chris Kane, a bright, full smile on her face.

➣➣➣

Kori spent the next thirty minutes engrossed. Chris proved engaging and a good listener, something Jack was not. Jack always nodded politely, interjecting when he thought appropriate based on Kori’s non-verbal cues, but this guy consumed her words. He even took notes. Kori felt a thrill run through her abdomen. She stole a glance at her brothers: Gil was working a Gameboy while Avery and Aunt Stella, their heads bowed together, spoke in conspiratorial tones.

“So. What’s your take on all this?” Chris asked.

“Do you really want to know?” Kori responded.

“Of course.”

There was so much she wanted to tell him, stuff Ruth had weaned them on, always talking to them like they were smaller versions of the adults they would become. Since Kori could talk her mother had held nothing back. Discussions ranging from the world’s political machinations to the nature of life and death were commonplace. Ruth was no artist, but it was her love of it that set Kori on her chosen path. In that instant, Kori was no longer sure where Ruth left off and she began and suddenly realized that was the way of it. We either become our parents, their prides and prejudices, or we run far and fast in the opposite direction. And right now, Kori, like Ruth, was finding it hard to keep her mouth shut.

Apparently everything Kori told Chris Kane was fascinating because he’d recorded all of it in his notebook. She talked about everything from the birth of the landfill and the spread of the deadly plume of noxious chemicals to her own personal tragedies, including the mysterious death of her parents and her current position as head of the house. She concluded with the tragic, but as yet unverified, death of her brother.

Chris wrote at a furious clip. “Whew. Alright, give me a chance to catch up.”

Kori waited for him to pause and when he did, he looked at her with new eyes, ones that said they wanted to stuff her in his pocket and keep her safe.

“Okay,” he said. “Go ahead.”

“It’s these corporations that are the problem. And the government’s in bed with them. They make it cheaper to buy virgin products by giving no incentive to buy used, like we’re never going to run out of the new stuff. It’s a pain to separate the wheat from the chaff of recyclables, I know that, but it could be a lucrative pain with the right incentives. And what about the trees? They recycle all our carbon dioxide? The fewer trees we have, the harder it is to breathe. Is it any wonder asthma in children is at an all-time high?” She bounced her knee up and down involuntarily. “People act like the environment is negotiable. Just wait. Freak weather is only the tippy top of the iceberg. Floods, droughts, water shortages. The collapse of the honey bee. Talk about end of days.” She snorted as her mother’s blood rushed through her body, and folded her hands in her lap, concluding her tirade.

“But the science is contradictory. Maybe they just don’t know,” Chris opined, smiling.

“Bull. If the government really wanted to change the way the world did business, rather than continue to let the few loot the common resources of the many, it could give tax breaks to the high-minded companies, the ones that did business with sustainable development in mind. Don’t even get me started on public lands. The government is selling our public resources at pennies on the dollar to the corporations that curry the most favor, i.e., that donate the most election dollars. Those are our lands, our children’s lands. They shouldn’t be for sale, dammit.”

She felt the truth of her own words and believed them with a force she’d never experienced before this moment. And whether it was this force or the fact that Kori felt woefully inadequate to carrying on Ruth’s legacy, she closed her mouth, because if she said one more word, she would break down and cry.

Lucky for her, the public meeting began as a speaker from EPA stepped to the podium.

“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. If we could have your attention.” The EPA representative, Stefanie Pierson, stood at the podium as the remaining individuals took their seats. The murmuring of the crowd died out like ripples spreading across a pond. A half dozen agency officials sat on stage with Stefanie, each with a microphone.

“As you know, we’re here tonight to lay out our findings with regard to the Stahl landfill and to draw you a road map as to what you can expect in the future. You, as the public, have a right to be part of these decisions and we would also like to encourage you to exercise that right by expressing your comments either here or in writing.”

“What about our right to clean drinking water?” Andrew Dodd shouted. He was a first cousin to Jim Stahl. He sat way in the back, but his voice carried far and away over the din of the crowd. A general murmur of agreement swept the room like a wave.

Stefanie Pierson didn’t flinch. “You absolutely have every right to clean drinking water, clean air, clean soil, a clean environment. That’s the law. But you’ve got to help us help you.”

“How the hell you gonna help us? That damn aquifer’s so polluted even the fish can’t live in it.” The crowd rumbled in agreement, the din in the auditorium growing louder.

“Sir. First of all, an aquifer is below ground and fish don’t live in it. Microbes, yes. But not fish. I do take your meaning, however. And if you could just give us a minute to run through the chosen alternatives that came out of the ROD. That stands for Record of Decision.”

“A minute?! A minute!” Jim Stahl burst into the room pushing a wheelchair, amidst a cacophony of bottles and tubing. Gasps shot through the room when the audience got a look at what had become of the once healthy and vital Vera Stahl.

“I’ll give you a Goddamn minute. But who’s going to give that minute back to my wife, huh? Is it you? Or you?” Jim pointed an accusatory finger at each of the government representatives. “How about you?” He was only halfway down the aisle, his progress hampered by the many bottles hanging from the wheelchair: salines, antibiotics, and, from the looks of Vera Stahl, morphine. Vera looked one step away from needing a hospice nurse and clearly didn’t know where she was which is probably why Jim got away with displaying her in such a vulgar and obtrusive fashion.

It was at this point in the proceedings that – to use that time tested cliché – all hell broke loose.

➣➣➣

The public meeting ended sometime after 11:00 p.m. with both hosts and participants showing signs of exhaustion. Jim Stahl’s tactic of putting his wife on display worked well initially, getting the crowd riled to a fever pitch, but the blame worked its way around again and when neighbors suggested that if Jim’s father would have complied with any one of the missives sent from Pennsylvania DEP the Hickory Hills development might not be sitting atop a despoiled aquifer. Kori was grateful the evening hadn’t been reduced to fisticuffs. In fact, real progress had been made as the EPA and DEP outlined their plan. The water in the aquifer would be pumped out of the ground, run through a carbon filter and returned, clean, to the aquifer, the same theory Marty had used on the family’s in-house filtration system. The downside was that the treatment would likely bring the cost of the remedy up to the forty million dollar range and may take as long as twenty-five years to complete.

EPA told the residents of Hickory Hills that they were to continue drinking and cooking with bottled water while their well water was to be used for the rest. Kori wondered about the wisdom of this – daily bathing would mean daily absorption of contaminants through the skin – and was about to raise the issue when Vera Stahl began a violent coughing fit. When she regained her composure, Jim gave over to the evil glares and took her home.

Gil had fallen asleep during the meeting, a deep REM sleep which followed his inhalation of a handful of Tootsie Rolls, taffy, and half a dozen mini Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, courtesy of Aunt Stella. Aunt Stella had not plied Gil with that much chocolate. He’d found the mother lode while she was chatting and worked it until her coat pockets sagged, depleted. Aunt Stella turned after a long discussion with a neighbor to see a pile of wrappers in Gil’s lap and him out cold. She flashed Kori a guilty look, collected the trash and covered Gil with her coat.

Gil was in the car with Avery now, wide awake and fidgety. He’d have trouble falling asleep tonight, but Kori would worry about that when she got home. Chris Kane had followed her out to the parking lot and waited while she started the car. They stood in front of Ruth’s minivan, awkward and antsy, trying to say goodbye. Gil honked the horn and Kori jumped. He was showing signs of driving away himself so she turned to Chris Kane.

“It was great seeing you again, Chris. I hope you do our meeting justice.”

“Which meeting would that be?” Chris asked.

Kori blushed, and turned away, embarrassed.

“Would you mind . . . I mean, I was thinking that a story on your brother and his, what did you call it? A TDU? That a story on his machine would make good copy for the business section. What do you think?”

“I’m not sure.” Kori looked back at Gil, jumping around in the back seat more like a monkey than the young man who held keys to the world’s better future. “I told you someone set our porch on fire. We’re don’t know if those two things are related. I don’t want anything else to happen.” For the third or fourth time tonight, Kori intuited that Chris Kane might want to lean over and kiss her, but maybe that was just wishful thinking.

“If you’re worried about it, the best thing you can do is get it out in the open. The more people who know about it, the better chance you have of staying safe.”

“Can I think about it?” Kori asked.

Chris nodded. “I’ll call you in a couple days then.”

“Okay,” Kori said, looking over her shoulder “I gotta go now.”

“Sure,” Chris replied. Kori extended her hand, but instead of shaking it, he kissed it.

to be continued. . .

This is how we got here

copyright 2012

contaminated water

VOIL IN WATER

Pam Lazos

Chapter Fifty-Two

Twenty-five years ago, when Ruth and Marty Tirabi purchased a ten-acre plot in the middle of bucolic farmland, they thought they’d landed in heaven. Unfortunately, the realtor who sold them the property neglected to tell them that beyond the tranquil, bucolic edge of their horizon, a toxic stew was brewing. At that time, no one thought much about the environmental hazards associated with home buying. But then the intermittent smell wafted in, the one hundred and fifty-seven single family dwellings rose up like a tsunami, and carloads of benzene, toluene, and perchloroethane joined truckloads of mercury, lead, nickel, perchloroethate, and a whole host of other hazardous substances with equally unpronounceable names, forming car pools and organizing marches to the aquifer below. The caravan traveled slowly, inch by careful inch, undiscovered until a quarter century later.

And water being what it was – ubiquitous by any standard – the contamination did not confine itself to any legal borders, but spread throughout the entire aquifer, a massive thing that provided water to the Stahl’s, the Tirabi’s and their neighbors in the new Hickory Hills development. Hickory Hills attracted wealthy city dwellers who pined for pristine country air and didn’t know most farmers’ propensity not only to sell what they grew, but to rent what they owned to cover the spread. Jim Stahl, Sr. had covered his spread by renting a portion of his property to the County to be used as a landfill. And since there were few, if any, instances where one person’s actions failed to affect the lives of others, Jim’s contaminated water spread to his neighbors’ homes and discreetly took up residence there, finding permanent quarter in the kitchens and bathrooms of all one hundred and fifty-seven single family dwellings.

Lawyers advised clients in hushed, confidential tones to get a blood test and a wave of pandemonium spread through the development as test after test came back positive for cancer. Children with their developing immune systems were hit especially hard. The local newspapers did their part to raise the level of hysteria. Gossip spread rumors like a middle-aged waist-line, forcing the EPA to mount a public awareness campaign. EPA went door-to-door, offering all the neighbors of Hickory Hills bottled water until the in-house filtration systems could be installed. But in many instances, it was too late.

Jim Stahl Sr. had started landfilling in 1975, thirteen years after Rachel Carson wrote Silent Spring, one year before Congress passed the Clean Water Act, and eleven years before they would enact CERCLA, the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act, also known as the Superfund. Rivers were catching on fire, leaded gas was leaving a smoke screen out on U.S. highways, and Love Canal had exploded into public awareness. At that time, there was more to worry about than a few hundred thousand pounds of unprotected trash. But if the Senior Stahl had complied with even the most primitive dumping laws in effect at the time he started landfilling, the Hickory Hills development might not be on the National Priorities List today, and Jim Stahl, Jr. would not be mired in the muck that his father’s landfill had become. The National Priorities List or NPL was a list of the nation’s most contaminated Superfund Sites. Making that list was not something to write home about.

Over the years, corrective measures were put into place – a bit of cover here, some plastic to act as leachate collection there – but no one anticipated the rapid growth of the surrounding communities or looked at the scheme of the landfill in its entirety. Jim’s father retired, passing the whole problem on to his son – the sins of the father, as it were – and Jim took to greeting government inspectors at the door with a shotgun.

Several months and meetings later, EPA dispatched an OSC, On-Scene Coordinator, who directed two dozen people dressed in hazmat suits, moon suits as Vera, Jim’s wife, called them, to construct a temporary cap over the landfill. The cap was like a big Rubbermaid mat comprised of heavy-duty geosynthetic material. For three weeks, backhoes, trackhoes, bobcats, bulldozers and cranes dotted the landscape. When the temporary cap was complete, the contractors fenced the front half in, packed up and drove away, leaving the seething menace to percolate below and promising to send the culpable parties along to finish the job soon. Two years later, the temporary cap, held in place by used tires strung together with rope, had begun to show its age.

to be continued. . .

this is how we got here

copyright 2012

Seven Miles per Hour

snowberriesOIL IN WATER

Pam Lazos

Chapter Fifty-One

Gil lay fast asleep on the hammock in the barn, his face pillowed against Max’s smooth, thick coat. The lights were off, and in the late-afternoon dusky, winter light, the figures entwined on the hammock looked like some monstrous, hibernating snow beast. Someone had turned the heat off, most likely by accident; the heat thermostat and the alarm system were side-by-side on the same wall. Gil’s breath, that is, the breath that escaped the confines of Max’s coat, rose in wispy tendrils mingling with the cold ambient air before dispersing its atoms at random. Gil breathed strong and steady and with purpose; the area of Max’s coat surrounding his nose and mouth was heavy with droplets of condensation. It was the breath of one knee-deep in REM sleep, working through the day’s problems with the help of divine guidance. Gil’s face bore an intense look which supplanted his usual innocent countenance and his eyebrows furrowed in concentration. He twitched as if throwing off some distasteful thought and buried his hands and face deeper in the folds of Max’s warmth. Max had grown considerably in the months since they’d rescued each other — Max from life as a vagabond, and Gil from loneliness and despair — giving Gil all the more surface area to burrow beneath.

Gil tossed his head vigorously from side-to-side.  His dream angels must have been working overtime and what they revealed must have sat squarely on his chest, for he groped and clawed at it as if to eradicate some pain. The behemoth beside him did not jump, simply looked back at his master to see if all was in order, yawned, then laid his head down again. He returned to doggy dreamland just as Gil opened his eyes to see his brother staring at him.

“I didn’t hear you come in,” Gil said.

“That’s cause you don’t pay attention,” Robbie said. Max lifted his head and barked. He and Robbie cast appraising glances at each other. Gil patted Max’s hindquarters and, satisfied there was no threat, Max went back to sleep.

“Where were you?”

“Inside. Doin’ stuff.” Robbie inclined his head toward the house.

Gil stared at Robbie as if he were a mirage. He blinked his eyes hard and watched as Robbie strolled over to Marty’s drawings on the table. He thumbed through, studying them with intense curiosity before turning his attention back to Gil. “It’s a few days worth of work, you know.”

“I know.”

“Then why don’t you finish it?”

Gil shrugged. “It’s not that.”

“What, then?”

Gil sat up and studied his brother’s face. He looked thinner than Gil remembered and his uniform hung limply on his frame.

“Was it hard?”

Robbie nodded, a grave look momentarily alighted on his handsome face.

“Are you home for good now?”

Robbie shook his head, barely perceptible. “I still have some things to do.”

Robbie sat down on Marty’s swivel chair and pushed off hard. The chair spun. Robbie pulled his legs in close and coasted to a halt. Since they were children, the Tirabi kids played this game, seeing who could spin the most times around with one push. Being the smallest, and the lightest, Gil got the most out of his spin and held the all time record at just under four complete revolutions. Robbie pushed off again – two revolutions.

Gil watched him as happy and sad duked it out in his belly. “Do you still love us?”

Robbie abruptly placed both feet on the ground and focused on his brother: “I’ve never loved anything more in my life.”

They eyed each other a moment and then Gil smiled, his lips set in a tight thin line. He thought he might cry.

“Get to work, little brother,” Robbie said, and pushed off as hard as he could. He tucked his knees in and was spinning around once, twice, three times, when the door opened and a cold blast of arctic air preceded Avery into the barn.

Avery stood, dressed for skiing, his nose dripping. He reached for the box of tissues on the table by the door and blew profusely. Gil bolted upright and, flush with excitement, barked at his brother.

“I can’t believe you’re blowing your nose at a time like this.” Gil pointed to the chair and stared at Avery incredulously.

“You have a better time?” Avery responded, following Gil’s finger pointing to the empty chair. “Maybe I should wait until it drips down the front of my coat and then do it.”

Gil looked at the empty chair before lying back down on the hammock. He blinked and stared at the ceiling drawing quick, raw breaths.

“Hey, what’s the matter?” Avery was at his side in a flash.

Water ran from Gil’s eyes, cascaded down to form small pools in his ears. Gil plunged a finger in each side to stop the deluge. Avery sat down on the edge of the hammock upsetting the equilibrium. Max groaned, but shifted his weight.

“Did you see something when you walked in?” Gil asked.

Avery looked around the room then shook his head.

“You didn’t notice anything strange?”

“No.” He felt the edge in Gil’s voice and a chill ran up his spine. He looked around uncomfortably, the breath from his mouth coming forth like giant billows of white smoke.

“I do notice the heat’s off,” Avery said. Gil shivered involuntarily and huddled closer to Max for warmth. “Are you going to tell me what happened?”

Gil looked at his brother for a moment and buried his head in Max’s fur.

“I’m not sure.” The voice emanating from the fur was timid and full of uncertainty.

Minutes passed and Avery was beginning to wonder whether Gil had fallen asleep, huddled beneath a blanket of fur, when without warning, Gil bounded from the hammock, dropping Avery to the floor and leaving Max to swing in the breeze.

“Stay, Max.” Max whined, but Gil stifled him with a look. The dog put his head down on his paws and watched as his master zipped up his coat and donned his gloves and hat, the one with the jingle bells on it.

“Let’s go skiing,” Gil said. And before Avery could answer, he was out the door.

 ➣➣➣

The tractor ran at a cruising rate of seven miles per hour through the woods. Gil and Avery arrived at the back side of the landfill in ten minutes. The Stahl’s had never put a fence around this side of the fill, a trash picker’s mecca, if there was anyone interested in picking trash.

Avery cut the engine, set the brake and hopped off. He grabbed a shovel and handed Gil one. Avery groaned. The thought of digging through trash made his stomach queasy. For some strange reason, it had relaxed his father.

Avery pulled a pair of leather work gloves from his back pocket and dug a few test holes, looking for buried treasure. Some worthy items lay scattered on top: a computer monitor, a box of clothes, a pair of sneakers. This was the newer part of the landfill that Jim Stahl, Jr. had worked toward the end of his reign – before EPA shut him down last year – and much of the trash still retained its original shape. In some of the older parts the refuse had already turned to sludge. Gil said the TDU could handle the sloppy mess, but Avery wasn’t sure if his nose were up to the task so he stuck to things that looked like earlier versions of themselves. He loaded trash with speed and dexterity, musing over the potential the TDU had to eliminate landfilling in his lifetime and thinking about Jim Stahl, Jr., their neighbor, and the son of the man unwittingly responsible for providing them with this bonanza of refuse.  Like a miniature volcano, the landfill burped, releasing a pocket of foul-smelling methane gas into the ambient air.  Avery jumped, coughed and covered his nose. Gil giggled.

Gil could feel rather than see the aquifer, bubbling as it flowed beneath the landfill, a toxic soup thick with carcinogens as unpronounceable as they were hazardous to the health.  He stood up, stretching the last hour’s hard labor from his chicken wings. He planted the shovel in the ground and gave the area another cursory view. The trailer was already heaping, but Gil spied a box of recyclables, plastic bottles and aluminum cans, and couldn’t leave without them. Made from petroleum themselves, recyclable plastics were the TDU’s gold bullion. They yielded the highest quantity and best grade of oil. And Marty’s oil, already of superior quality, bumped up a notch each time the TDU ate a batch of recyclables. He tossed the shovel in the trailer, grabbed the box, and took a seat, hesitating a moment before setting it on his lap, the only free space left.

“What a waste of time,” Gil said.

“What’s a waste of time?” Avery asked tossing his shovel in the trailer.

“People spend hours every week recycling. And it ends up in a landfill.”

“That’s cause there’s no market. You can’t make food grade plastic out of lesser grades. We need a federal law and mandatory labeling. Then a milk container could be a milk container again. And a cat litter container could be a cat litter container again,” Avery said, getting behind the wheel of the tractor. “Right now they don’t know what’s what. Besides,” he said, starting the engine, “it would be political suicide to declare recycling a failure. It makes people feel like they’re doing their part.”

“So even if your SUV only gets eleven miles to the gallon, you can still feel good?”

“Right.” Avery grimaced at the slime now on Gil’s pants. “Hey, now when I call you a slime ball, I won’t be lying.”

Avery turned the tractor around and headed for home.

 ➣➣➣

Kori sat at the kitchen table, cordless phone in hand, rifling through Ruth’s telephone book. Up to the F’s, she thumbed down the list, then dialed. Avery and Gil walked in, the twenty degree air on their heels. They stamped their feet, flinging snow off their boots and leaving it to puddle on the kitchen rug. Kori scowled at both the intrusion and the mess, throwing a dishtowel at Avery’s head. Avery wiped up the floor.

“Mrs. Friedler? Hi. This is Kori Tirabi. I’m calling to remind you about the public meeting tonight at the high school. Are you going?”

“Hey, Gil,” Avery said. “You want some hot chocolate?”

Kori waved Avery away, shooting him a take your conversation elsewhere look.  Avery asked Gil the question again, but silently as he pantomimed liquid being poured into a cup and someone stirring. Gil responded in kind, rubbing his belly with huge circular motions and Kori giggled.

“Oh no, I wasn’t laughing at you, Mrs. Friedler. I know hemorrhoids can be dreadfully indisposing, well actually, I don’t have first hand knowledge, but my brother Avery suffers from them periodically.”

Avery’s eyes shot up and he threw the soggy dishtowel back at her. She ducked and it missed. Avery bowed low, making a sweeping motion with his arm indicative of a good loser.

“C’mon, Gil. Let’s see what’s on T.V. We’ll deal with her later.” He grabbed Gil by the shoulder and steered him in the direction of the living room.

“Well that’s great. We’ll see you tonight,” Kori said. She hung up and flipped Ruth’s directory to the G’s.

there’s more to the story if you start here

copyright 2012