A photo of the apartment for When the World Becomes Water

When the World Becomes Water

Gogo stands at the oven. She is sweating. The air is warm and humid, even at night. She is cooking when I come through the door, licking red sauce from a wooden spoon. There’s a loaf of bread and garlic next to her with a piece missing. And she says, “Forgive me – I was so very hungry.”

“It’s alright.”

“You’re late. I started eating.” She wipes her hands with a white towel from the rack. “I couldn’t wait.”

The kitchen is dark except for the light over the stove. A kitchen in shadows and smells. I take a bowl from the cupboard and she fills it with pasta, tomato, garlic, wine. We sit down at the small wooden table pushed against the wall and eat mostly in silence. We fall asleep on the couch after we’re finished, watching something on TV that we’ve both seen before. The apartment has only one room, and nothing is out of reach.

Yesterday it was the opposite: We fell asleep together in the bed. Slept someplace other than the couch. “You’re early,” she had said, her hair pulled across her forehead, panting, licking her lips, unsatisfied.

We watched a movie the night before that. I don’t remember the title. It was something that Gogo wanted to watch and I fell asleep before it was over. I woke up near the end. A man with a strong jaw was taking the leading lady in his arms and telling her, “You’re silly.”

He said, “To think that the money that you’ll inherit from your mother is what makes you special. It makes you no different than the homeless man your mother gave money to just now on the street.”

He looked at her. “You’re so much more interesting than money.”

He looked at her and he said “I love you.”

They were somewhere in Paris or London or Rome.

“Istanbul,” Gogo told me. “Real close. Maybe you shouldn’t fall asleep in the middle and miss everything.”

The heroine stood facing the stove, her back to the man sitting with his legs dangling over the edge of the kitchen counter, surrounded by loaves of bread and dried basil and thyme. Something on the stove top starting to smoke. They didn’t notice or care.

She turned to face him. They didn’t speak. They stood there for a while, facing each other, and that was that.

A sunset, purple and red, blinking, The End, and the credits roll slowly to the music of the countryside. I let the air out from my chest in a long sigh. It’s a world that exists only in movies; in stories and in the imaginations of the people who write them.

“But,” Gogo asked me with a nighttime twinkle in her eye, “where do the stories come from?”

“Someone writes them.”

“A person writes them. Someone. In real life.”

She went to the kitchen to make breakfast for dinner for leftovers tomorrow. The screen was dark. I yawned. Headlights from a car passing outside blinked across the wall and then disappeared again.

Gogo takes care of her eggs, gently folding them over and over a smoking pan. I imagine her as a movie star, standing there. As the one and only at whom you stare at onscreen. A magnanimous beauty. “You’re so much more interesting than money,” I say to her and she turns, steam coming from the stovetop and framing her face. She sticks her tongue out at me and crosses her eyes before turning back to the pan.

“I don’t have any money,” she says.

She adds salt and pepper. Her chest is bare and a drop of sweat rolls down her back to the floor. She’s wearing nothing but an apron. We are young and time is money. It’s the same – if we could give the homeless man on the street his youth back he would be a rich man as well.

“You can’t eat it,” she says.

If he could start over from the beginning.

“Money.” Gogo blows at a strand of hair hanging down her face. She looks at it with her eyes crossed and blows again. Her hands are covered in flour. “You can’t cook with it either. You can’t really do much of anything with paper money. But when you think about it, you can grow everything you need to survive. And the only thing you have to spend is just a little bit of time. We don’t need money.”

The homeless man outside might disagree.

“Did you meet my grandmother?” Gogo goes back to pounding dough on the counter in front of her with her fists. “Before she died?”

I shake my head, “I didn’t.”

“She grew her own food. She was poor, but she was never hungry. She grew everything, more than what we get from the store. From the co-op even. Tomatoes and okra and lettuce and potatoes and fiddlehead ferns that she would pickle and leave in the cellar for winter. She canned tomatoes and made the very-best chili. She got water from a well. She used matches to start the oven she built herself. With wood she cut down and chopped.”

“Where was your grandfather?”

Gogo shrugs. “Wherever. He drank a lot and then he died. She did it all on her own.”

“From what. Sorosis?”

“I wish.” She rolls her palms into dust. “That would have taken longer. The bastard. He stumbled down a river bank and drowned in the water. They say he didn’t wake up until he woke up in heaven he was so drunk. But I don’t think he went to heaven anyway.”

I think about what my own grandfather used to tell me, “Heaven is an imaginary place. But people are real.”

Gogo is pounding harder and harder on the dough with her hands. “And the river he drowned in dried up before grandma died too. Like a bone. But they say all the while that the polar ice caps are melting.” She looks at me. “Here in America, the water is drying up. And soon whole world is going to be covered up to its neck or further in water. Pretty soon we’re all going to drown.”

Water is not something you can hold onto. It’s not something you can grasp, or something you can stand or build a house on. But you can float, swim, boat, ride waves like California and Florida and Hawaii and even frigid Lake Superior just outside of Duluth, Minnesota.

“We don’t surf.”

“We can learn.”

Gogo smiles. “Is that how we’ll survive?”

Gogo is a restless sleeper. She tosses and turns and moans with her eyes still closed, pulling the blankets up to her chin. Maybe that’s why we fall asleep to movies on the couch. Because we don’t sleep well at night.

She has one dream, the same dream, every night. In this dream, she tells me, she is looking to the sky as the stars slowly disappear. One by one they fade. She lays her head back and she lets out a sigh and then another one. “Am I dead?” She asks the sky.

“Yes,” the dying stars tell her.

“Thank god,” she says. “Better to be dead than dying.”

“But that doesn’t mean you’re gone,” they say, their voices growing faint.


“Only we will disappear. While you will remain here forever.”

She wakes up from this dream sweating, with her bedsheets wrapped tight around her chest and me, snoring just a moment ago, reaching for her waist. She stands to get a glass of water from the kitchen, wiping her forehead with her hand. It’s cold where she leaves me in bed. I roll over and fall asleep again before she comes back. She stays in the kitchen alone, watching through the window as the stars begin to disappear, lights turning out one by one.

“And soon,” she tells me when she finally comes and lays with me again, “the whole world will be covered in water.”

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When the World Becomes Water