Expedition 19-DIVOC, Milky Way Galaxy, Planet Earth, 22020
Data Entry 7
Discovered humanoid remains
within tall structure barricades.
Initial estimate is eight million,
beyond what myth dictates.
Data Entry 13
Despite no fields to grow their food,
quite little they sought to accrue.
Instead, they stacked up plant-based pulp on rolls
by bowls of white on stumps.
Religious offerings, were they?
A humble shrine to which one prayed?
Displays, though varied, seem to be widespread-
a thread I'll trace with glee.
Data Entry 42
The pictograms on each device-
though primitive, revived-
suggest a demon, Rona, caused the blight
that frightened and embalmed.
Their God, Commode, on porc'lain throne,
was inspiration for the clones-
they prayed quite often, begging to be saved,
and paid their pulpy dues.
Data Entry 56
Analysis of tissues shows
a concentrated viral load.
Mutations guaranteed mortality,
foreseen by no locale.
We've still not learned what masquerade
the fibrous rolls of tribute played,
but posit that their ink has been erased
as space and time infringed.
Data Entry 78
No ink discernible on pulp,
so now we dig beneath the sculpt
and follow where the curvy hollow leads.
My plea: no curse befalls.
Data Entry 94
Disintegrated remnants found,
stored mixed with waste far underground.
Perhaps a holy cleansing ritual
that lulled them into bliss?
Data Entry 1939
Our linguist picked the language lock,
translating data from The Docs
and found that when the novel virus jumped,
abruptly humans resupplied:
They traded printed Paper pulp
for rolls of pristine pulp in bulk.
A frantic dash for tribute offerings
that swings the tide of coughs?
Data Entry 2020
Command has ordered our return,
the excavation data firm.
These humans had no great intelligence;
percepts have been dispelled.
When imperiled by a menace
that was grim and overzealous,
they flout new orders and emerge, begin
hoarding toilet paper.
Mutiny in aisle 10.
“They only want us when they need us,” A chubby roll of Andrex huffed. “Look at them, grabbing at us, expecting us to always be there to wipe up their mess. Why don’t they wipe their own bottoms !”
The attractively-wrapped Angel Soft was fed up with his constant moaning, she had heard it all before.
“Andy, that’s what we’re here for. We are a staple product. Always here when needed. Can you imagine what they’d do without us?”
“That’s my point Angie ! ” The padded Andrex continued. “We’re valuable ! Yet we’re stocked right at the back of store. Never any special treatment, always cheap and available. But when there’s a crisis, a disaster, what do they want to stock up on huh? They come running to us.”
A young four-pack Nouvelle tissue wanted to join in and air her unsolicited opinions. Eager and brash ,she had a tendency to speak before thinking.
“I read somewhere there’s a psychology to it. They panic buy to manage their emotional state. Apparently they’re subconsciously taking back control in a world where they feel out of control.” Nouvelle stated.
“Popycock!” Andrex snapped back. “It’s just greed. Selfish greed. It’s the “me, me” world where all they think about is their own backside. We should go on strike. ”
Angel Soft laughed ” Strike? We’re toilet paper Andrex what do you propose we do?”
″ Just don’t show up. There will be a shortage and then what? It’ll make them think at least...make them show some appreciation.”
“That happened in Venezuela,” Nouvelle interjected. ” I’ve got Carrefour friends out there, it was chaos.”
“You see, ” Andrex continued ” They won’t know what they’ve got until we’re gone.”
Angel Soft contemplated the situation for a moment. She had heard things about this virus, she’d seen the look of fear in the shoppers’ eyes as they grabbed several packs at a time, she’d witnessed the panicked tussles in aisles. Then she thought of that little old lady who just managed to get the last roll on the shelf yesterday, shopping by herself, her small cart full of her basic necessities. She remembered the look of relief on the old lady’s face as she reached for last store-brand toilet roll and Angel Soft knew she’d always show up. She’d be there whether people appreciated her or not. She was a staple after all, a reliable, a trustworthy product in a world of uncertainty. She would wipe up their messes and their backsides , because they needed her.
She mentally rejected Andrex’s plan and straightened her pack. She was proud to be toilet paper and she would do exactly what was said on her packaging: deliver softness and strength at a price that won’t break the bank !
The act of art
You would have thought the paper mill was mean to us
until we met the other of the underworld
first debarked from our roots
shredded to chips
then acid abused
churned in bleach
to soften our bits
rolled to sheets
sheets in rolls
all packaged for you
we were not told
We carry the marks
the scars of pulping
like drawings on cave walls
crafted with crude tools
you could feel the illustrations
connect to the story
When you grab us
on that roll
(The heavens singing in high note)
and pull like a tight rope
our story is not what been told
(The heavens switch to low note)
Not looking back
to admire our roughness
connect to the harshness of the bleach
grinders with big teeth
Not looking back to our roots
The forest that once was
but now its gone
You come back again
the other of the underworld
to use us to wipe
those unpleasant spots
In The Elm
JoJo, Angel, and Eugene saw the toilet paper twisting in the elm tree outside the toymaker’s house. White ribbons of quilted cotton, draped through the branches. Fluttering from the crown of the tree like a veil. It was a warning sign. A message from the children of this neighborhood. Stay away from this house. Stay away from the toymaker.
But Eugene saw something that caught his eye; brightly colored toys in the windows, like candy, and a buzzing mechanical robot that was marching in the entryway. It waved at Eugene with itws clamp-like hands.
Eugene ignored the toilet paper drifting in the elm. Ignored the peeling paint, the unruly hedges, and dark shadows within. He ran through the drifting cotton tendrils on short, six-year-old legs, chasing the bright red wind-up robot.
Eugene followed the robot inside—its plastic legs clicking, its wind-up knob buzzing. He ran behind it, right into the dark entryway, and the door slammed shut behind him.
JoJo and Angel pounded on the door, screaming for their brother. They shouted for the neighbors, for the police, for any adult who would listen; help them get Eugene out.
After an hour of running around the toymaker’s house, searching for a way in, their father pulled up in the family van. He got out, and cast them a stern glare.
“What is with the noise out here? Are you trying to call in the National Guard?”
JoJo and Angel ran to their dad and clung to his pants, crying, talking over each other. He shushed them. Neighbors watched from kitchen windows, clutching their phones.
“Okay, hush. It’s okay. One at a time.”
“Eugene is gone!” Angel said.
“Eugene.” JoJo wiped his eye. “He went inside, and we can’t get him out. Nobody is answering.”
“Okay, that’s enough games today.” Their dad pushed them toward the van.
“We’re not lying!” Angel insisted.
“I don’t think you’re lying.” Dad said. “Just confused. Eugene came home a few minutes ago. You must have missed him.”
JoJo and Angel looked up at the van, and they saw Eugene sitting in the front seat. He had a frozen, plastic smile on his face, staring out the front windshield.
They got in the van in silence, staring at the back of Eugene’s head. Their dad got in the front, buckled in. He frowned.
“You kids didn’t TP that tree, did you?”
Eugene barely spoke at dinner. When he did, his answers were simple. Mechanical. Happy one-word nothings that made their dad smile. Dad was distracted, watching the news.
“Weird times.” Their dad said. That was his favorite phrase, when he didn’t want to explain what was happening on TV. “Weird, weird times.”
After they brushed their teeth they were marched off to bed. Angel had her own room, the “girl’s room”. She grabbed JoJo by the sleeve before dad could nudge her off to bed.
“What’s with Eugene?”
“What’s with who?” Dad asked. He had ears like a fox.
“With Eugene. He’s weird.” Angel said.
“Good.” Dad said. “Better to be weird than normal, am I right?” He chuckled, pushing Angel into the pink-and-white room. “One bed time story, then you go to sleep. In the morning I want this bedroom picked up. It looks like Barbie had a kegger in here.”
“Keg-rur?” Angel asked.
“A, uh, a party.” Dad said.
JoJo followed Eugene into the boy’s room. It was all Legos and model planes and army men; staging a beach landing under the bunk beds. Half-spent toilet paper rolls stood in for sandbags. Eugene kicked through them on his way to the bunk ladder, trailing quilted paper. He climbed the ladder and crawled into the top bunk without a fuss. He didn’t even wait for dad to come read them a story.
JoJo sat on the lower bunk. He picked up a plastic superhero in a colorful red cape, and pressed his nose to the emblem on the chest. A child’s meditation.
“What happened in the house?” JoJo asked.
Eugene didn’t answer.
“We tried to follow you, but the door was locked.” JoJo said. “Did you leave through the back door? Was the toy-man home?”
JoJo got frustrated. He decided to wake up his brother, if he wasn’t faking it, and get some answers. He stood on his own bed and looked at Eugene’s back. He used the action figure to prod him. First in the spine, then on Eugene’s neck when he didn’t respond. Eugene was still. Silent. Like the dead.
“Eugene!” JoJo shout-whispered.
His brother didn’t move. Didn’t flinch. In the silence, JoJo heard the gentle, motorized whine of a wind-up toy.
JoJo knelt closer, listening. Then he saw it; a tiny plastic knob in the back of Eugene’s neck. It was twisting slowly, like a little gray screw. Like the wind-up plastic toys that came in happy meals and cereal boxes.
JoJo jerked back, fell from the bunk, and bounced up from the floor like he was made of rubber. He sprinted down the hall and slid on the hardwood floor in his socks. He gripped the doorframe of Angel’s room.
“Something’s wrong with Eugene!”
Their dad was on his feet and down the hall to the boy’s room in record seconds. He kicked through the toys and the toilet paper sandbags, and ripped the blankets back from Eugene. Angel and JoJo listened to them exchange soft words.
Their dad nodded, kissed Eugene on the forehead, and left the boys’ room. He knelt by JoJo and Angel in the hall.
“Your brother is feeling under the weather. Maybe a cold, or something. Let him sleep tonight.”
“I mean it. Both of you. Let him sleep, or I’ll take away the toys.”
Their dad stood and pointed to their rooms. He waited for them to crawl into their beds, and he shut their doors halfway. JoJo heard his dad’s feet thumping down the stairs, and the TV clicked on again. More weird news.
JoJo closed his eyes and tried to sleep, but the sound of the wind-up knob twisting in Eugene’s neck kept him awake, late into the night. He heard the rain patter against the window. He heard the thunder in the distance, like a cymbal crash.
Angel and JoJo stood outside the toymaker’s house. JoJo was armed with a plastic shield and a pump-action water gun. Angel had her toy wand, which lit up and made enchanted noises when she swished it through the air. She knew it was fake, but she liked to hold it anyway.
Eugene, or the thing that had replaced Eugene, was back at home with a thermometer in his mouth and a wad of toilet paper for tissues. Sick with a cold, their dad claimed. Even in broad daylight their dad couldn’t see the knob in Eugene’s neck. Not even when JoJo and Angel both pointed to it.
The red toy robot gyrated in the house’s doorway, marching in slow, mechanical circles. Toilet paper hung limp in the elm, disintegrating in the yard from last night’s storm; A faded warning for them to stay away.
“Ready?” JoJo asked.
“Ready.” Angle said, wielding the wand like a mace.
JoJo gave the robot a blast of water, knocking it on its back. Its legs peddled in the air. The kids stepped over it, entering the dark house.
Angel gasped when she saw the inside. To the eyes of a seven-year-old the toymaker’s house looked like a tea party come to life. The front room was lined with plush victorian chairs, ball-and-claw sofas, and distressed vanities and dressers with looping brass handles. Everything was cracked, weathered, peeling pink and powder-blue paint.
On every surface of every coffee table, side table, and dresser, were tea sets. Steaming pots and delicate little cups of China on glazed saucers. So many beautiful, intricate tea sets cluttered together. Platters on platters, with pots and cups ready to fall off the corners of the tables.
Angel could smell the chamomile and cookies. She saw the warm steam, and she reached for one of the teacups, but JoJo grabbed her arm.
“Don’t touch anything.”
She looked at JoJo, ready to argue. She just wanted to save a little porcelain cup that was balanced on the edge of the table. But JoJo’s expression was grim.
She nodded, thinking of Eugene. She followed him deeper into the house, toward the kitchen.
The kids heard the buzzing of the toys before they saw them. They turned the corner into the kitchen, and saw a field of wind-up figures that covered a vast linoleum floor.
The kitchen was massive. Easily as large as Angel’s elementary classroom. The black-and-white checkered floor was littered with so many jittering, marching, spinning toys, that it looked like a field of animated confetti. Like sprinkles, there were so many toys. All bouncing off each other, colliding, in a chaotic dance that would have been wonderful to behold, if not for the toymaker who sat amongst them.
The toymaker was a black-and-white island in the middle of the colorful swirling plastic. The back of his head was as bald as an egg, and his skin looked like white wax. He was facing away from them, bent over a little white table. His rumpled black suit was stretched over his rounded shoulders and wide stomach. Like a pear wearing a pianist’s swallowtail tuxedo. He had a screwdriver in his thick, soft hand, twisting violently at the back of a tin soldier.
In the corner of the kitchen, beyond the toymaker, they saw Eugene. He sat with three other children, whom Angel and JoJo did not recognize. They were all silent, sitting in the glow of a television with knobs on the front. Their eyes were vacant and wide, with dark sleepless circles. Cartoon animals danced on the TV, and the children’s pupils tracked their movements.
The buzzing in the kitchen was deafening. Like a mechanical beehive. Angel turned to JoJo, made a shushing motion with her finger to her lips. JoJo rolled his eyes.
JoJo looked at the toymaker, who was cursing softly to himself, eyes down, as he worked on the tin soldier. JoJo began shuffling toward the TV, trying to nudge the buzzing wind-up figures out of his path.
Angel watched JoJo’s progress, gently kicking the little parti-color figures out of his path. She pressed her knuckles against her mouth and held her breath.
JoJo’s sneakers pushed a tiny dancing bear back, which collided against a rainbow octopus, which slammed into a purple plastic dinosaur that stood as high as JoJo’s knees. The dinosaur teetered, and clattered to the floor, taking several other toys with it.
The toymaker looked up, and smiled.
“I knew you’d come. I told Eugene here, you’d come. Didn’t I Eugene?”
The toymaker’s face was slick and round and perfectly smooth, yet his voice and eyes were ancient. His eyes practically glowed green. He used a silk handkerchief to pat the sweat from his soft cheeks and narrow, bald head.
“I suggest you sit.” He said. “Take a toy. Watch cartoons. You’ll like it here. Your brother does.”
JoJo rushed to Eugene, scattering more plastic toys across the checkered linoleum. He shook his brother, who seemed comatose, sitting cross-legged on the kitchen floor.
“I said sit!” The toymaker bellowed. He held the screwdriver in one hand, and a tiny wind-up knob in the other.
The toymaker’s suggestion to pick a toy made Angel glance at the children’s hands. She saw that each of them was holding a plastic figure. Eugene had a little red robot. The other kids were holding a panda bear, and a racecar.
JoJo pointed his water gun at the toymaker, and Angel rushed past him. She slapped the robot out of Eugene’s hand, and for the first time, he looked up at her. His bottom lip trembled.
She waved her sparkling, blinking wand in front of Eugene’s eyes, like she was trying to hypnotize him.
“When I snap my fingers you’ll wake up.” She said.
“You’re a dummy.” Eugene said.
The toymaker took a step toward them. He lumbered, like a bear. His legs seemed barely capable of supporting his pear-shaped body. A toy UFO cracked under his shiny wingtip shoe.
“You’re not being very nice.”
JoJo turned the water gun away from the man, and pointed it at the TV instead. He stuck the barrel of the gun against the vent in the top of the TV, threatening to soak the components inside.
The toymaker hesitated. Smiled. “I can wait. You’ll get bored, and you’ll forget.”
His confidence rubbed Angel’s nerves like steel wool, and she used her wand to slap the toys out of the other children’s hands. They looked up at her, and she saw the spark returning to their eyes.
“Alright, enough of this.” The toymaker said. “Sit down, now, you twits.”
He came toward them again, crushing plastic as he did. Angel dragged Eugene to his feet. He followed her numbly, and She took him to stand behind JoJo, who still held the TV hostage.
JoJo smiled. He lowered the water gun, which made the toymaker pause. The toymaker’s eyebrow twitched.
“What’s dad always watching?” JoJo asked Angel.
Angel smiled too. She reached for the knob on the front of the TV and turned it. The channels clicked loudly. She read the numbers on the dial, and put it on the news.
She knew immediately she had found the right channel. On the screen, a blonde woman with perfect hair who looked like Angel’s Barbie sat behind a desk. She was talking about people dying. People getting sick. People disagreeing. People in the streets, protesting. She told the audience—the toymaker—that they’ll never guess which celebrity was giving away their money to their Twitter followers. And all they had to do was keep watching...But first, a look inside the president’s office, and the strange announcements he made today…
Angel, JoJo, and Eugene edged away from the glowing television, and the toymaker who stood frozen like a statue. They shuffled through the ocean of colorful plastic toys, out of the noisy, buzzing kitchen.
The other children followed. And the toymaker never looked up from the news.
The rain had destroyed the toilet paper in the elm tree. Angel, JoJo, and Eugene spent an hour throwing roll after roll up into the tree, replacing what the rain had taken. The elm was so shrouded in toilet paper by the time they were done it looked like a bridal veil. To warn the other children; Stay away from this house.
The kids left their toys lying on the overgrown lawn as they ran home. Their fear evaporated as they distanced themselves from the old, dilapidated toymaker’s house. As they ran down the sidewalk, laughter bubbled up, and they giggled and held up streamers of toilet paper. Like a victory run. All the way home. To dad, and the sick toy that was still lying in Eugene’s bed.
When she was but a lass,
Underappreciated and young,
Often rested on tree limbs,
In the moonlight there she hung.
Til one day, t'was realized,
She scarcely could be found,
All that once had mocked her,
Slippery smiles turned to frown.
"What are we to do?" They cried.
"How dearly we miss her so!
Her body petite and slim,
Surface soft and white as snow!"
Indeed she left things better,
Than they were before she came,
Her touch was a comforting whisper,
And Charmin was her name.
Until one day she came back,
But not enough to go around,
A mighty makeshift tournament,
Only the toughest stood their ground.
Victors took her home and placed her,
A queen next to their porcelain throne,
At last receiving attention well deserved,
No longer a plaything by teenagers thrown.
Making Use of Your Eviction Notice
You never fixed the door. It hung on one hinge for the entire four years I lived in this pit. Every time a storm came it banged and banged and banged, spooky drums of the damned. On summer days it squeeked and groaned, a rusty mockery and a reminder of the impotence of my repeated complaints.
When the pipe broke I called right away. It was raining in my living room. My late grandmother’s painting was ruined. So was my TV. You showed up in an instant to turn the water off. Then I waited six days with no shower or toilet, buying drinking water at the grocery store and hoping to see the promised repair van arrive soon. You did not offer to replace my belongings.
The virus hit. Apparently I am a non-essential worker. I asked if I could pay the rent late, for the first time in four years. I told you my mom was willing to mail me a check to help out. Surprise registered on your face. I wasn’t sure if you were surprised I had a mother, or that my mother was willing to help me. Yes, black men have mothers, too.
You gave me 24 hours to vacate. You sent this eviction notice. The stores are out of toilet paper. This will do.
"Will you marry me?" Roger says matter of factly, catching me off guard, because who expects to be proposed to in the plumbing section of Home Depot with a bald dude three feet away in an orange apron tied at the waist stocking copper couplings? Could it be Roger can't contain his primal instincts to lock me down after I discussed at length the pros and cons of PVC Pipe versus PEX Pipe riding slightly above the speed limit on the ride here; one arm slung over the steering wheel in the left lane on 495, border line tailgating the Ram 3500 in front of me? After all, we have only been dating for three months and my first reaction is to ask him if he is joking because he has this way of making inappropriate jokes at inappropriate times, which I like; sometimes, to a point, but also makes me alternately question if he's "the one" or just a fuck buddy.
Like when he said on our first date; and neither one of us had taken more than three sips of our PBR, "My mother died of cancer last week but that's okay I've got another one."
"Oh. I'm so sorry." I said with grievous eyes looking right at him. "But what do you mean by you've got another one?"
"Just kidding. I just wanted to see if you were paying attention." He replied, and I 'bout spit my beer out laughing, deciding right then and there I was going to go home with him, and between you and I, his personal plumbing did not disappoint, if you know what I mean.
And then two weeks into seeing him, he meets one of my girls, Sheila, for the first time at Jimmy's where we like to hang after work and he says, "Hey," to her, shaking her hand feverishly making her shoulders hit her ears, catching one of her dangly silver earrings on her sweater, and then he blurts, "You might want to wash your hands. I just took a dump and there was no soap in the men's room." That one I didn't like much at all, apparently neither did my friend Sheila. The proof was in her deadpan face.
"WTF do you see in him?" She texted the next day. Somewhat embarrassed, I sent her a poop emoji back next to a laughing face, and I haven't heard from her since.
So what would you do, when a guy like Roger asks you to marry him with shower heads and toilets stacked at eye level and Behr paint cans shaking random colors one aisle over? Should I assume this proposal is just another one of his "got ya" jokes, or is this thing we've got going the real deal, like in a "till death do us part" real deal? And if he is serious, am I? Will I tire of his so called humor and find myself out shopping for a new guy that knows how to stick his funny bone in reverse on a dime to oblige my primal instincts? So I think to myself why don't I do what Roger does when it suits his own prerogative and conjure up a "got ya" joke of my own to throw him off guard. This way if he is only joking about the proposal, no foul, and if he isn't, it should bide me some time.
"I'm sorry Roger but I can't marry you."
"Why?" He asks, and he looks seriously dejected and I think, "Oh shit he's serious."
"Why, you ask? Okay why? I'll tell you why," half smiling like my answer might be a joke, because maybe it is and maybe it isn't, damn if I know, and I can see the hopeful anticipation reflecting off his teeth as he waits for my answer, but I'm totally drawing a blank with a comeback punchline. Maybe it's because I just don't share his talent for quick wit, or maybe I don't totally embrace it, I don't know, when suddenly the shiney new toilet I'm staring at right in front of me, reminds me of something I noticed in his bathroom and I decide to dump it on him.
"Why. Because you hang your toilet paper with the loose end hanging inside next to the wall, and if you ask me, that just ain't right." And the guy in the orange apron looks up at me and nods a definitive "that's what's up girl" at me. It is perfectly clear in this moment, neither I, nor Roger can extract any shred of humor from my words, simultaneously understanding, "This relationship isn't gonna work."
Lets face it. I'm not that funny and besides, no one can find the humor in a till death do us part life burdened by the constant reversal of toilet paper rolls. Am I right?
Dylan: How are we out of toilet paper?
Sera: Owen’s toilet paper company faced a major lawsuit and lost most of its workers after losing the case.
Dylan: (sighs) Ugh!! What am I going to use in place of the toilet tissue?
Sera: Here you go! Use this ancient thing.
Dylan: What in the world is this contraption supposed to be?
Sera: Calm down. It’s called a tersorium. Good luck using it. (chuckles)
Dylan: (grumbles) unbelievable!
Sera: Congratulations! You can share this experience with your future grandchildren. (laughs)
Dylan: (smiles & shakes his head) This is just absurd!