erosion

by dm gillis

Metaphor falls like snow in the night, and can’t be seen until we peek through the blinds in the morning. By then we’re surrounded by it. It’s just the way of things, and ever-linked to the universal law of irony: The easier it is to recognise a string of events, the less precisely its outcome can be known.

She’d been observing pieces of herself being worn away for years. Linearly the current of life, like a river, had flowed over her and converted her once stone solidity into a field of silt. The process began before she reached middle age, in her late thirties she reckoned. First her youth was stripped abroad and never seen again. Then her husband was exogenetically undermined by an undetected undercurrent, and she watched him carried downstream to a place named for the younger woman upon whom he’d settled. Later, as they matured and flourished, her children fashioned lives of their own and were scoured from her surface. And now, in her fifties, her employment had disappeared over night like a rock that had unexpectedly succumbed to a tiny trickle from some unknowable glacial source.

Now she stood on the street with her separation papers and severance, looking like an oddly sculpted rock formation in a desert, left behind by the sea that had shaped her. One could see her ages in the countable sedimentary rings. Realising this, she concluded that she’d never been igneous at all, but consisted of mineral and organic materials instead. She was an epoch of layers, dead things having fallen to the bottom. She considered this a trivial revelation, in light of things, like a newly discovered facial crease or line, and moved on.

At first, her state of unemployment lacked sovereignty and was without boundaries. It lacked governance and could not establish its own uniqueness. She sent out resumes, pursued hobbies and spent money. But no one hired women in their fifties anymore. Her friends became concerned. They told her to start a business or be witness to her own ruin. It was a strange recommendation. She’d never considered going into business before. Business was the domain of the bombastic and the self-affected, she said. She was too good to flog her wares, and she had, after all, no wares to flog.

That all changed with the impetuous purchase of a machine, one ubiquitous in the city. It was called a power-washer. She’d been persuaded by her desperate circumstance to buy a monster, a 13 horsepower monster. It delivered 3000 PSI maximum pressure, had 12 volt DC ignition with a diesel fired Beckett burner. It provided a maximum temperature of 190F, had adjustable pressure & temperature control, a pressure gauge, heavy formed steel body, high pressure hose, gun, wand and tips. It had a heavy duty welded wrap around roll cage, 360 degree burnable wheels with brake on-off switch, easy pull handle, OHV engine for high efficiency and reliability. It had a general triplex plunge pump with stainless steel valves and brass manifolds, a direct drive pump system and corrosion proof diesel fuel tank.

Realising that it wouldn’t fit into her Smart Car, she bought a brand new red Ford F-150 pickup truck. And she was in business.

But business is a hard thing in which to be. Customers do not assemble at one’s door anxious to buy. In fact, they tend to stay away in droves. She knew this to be true by the end of her first month as a self-employed power washing engineer. She went door to door sermonizing on the benefits of her services. She could use her monster machine to clean sidewalks, siding, decks and even windows. She could remove filth, grime, gum wads and stubborn stains. And she could do it for both domestic and commercial properties. “Just imagine,” she’d challenge potential customers. “Just imagine the gloriously unsoiled sparkle of your surroundings when I’m done.” Then she’d show them the before and after shots of her own home that she had power washed to gleaming perfection.

But the heinous truth was that no one could imagine a fifty year old woman operating a power washer. In people’s minds, the image of her small feminine form out front of their home or business pugnaciously scouring away the grunge in her yellow rubber suit was too much. She’d never considered this, of course. A friend explained to her that it was all a question of perception management. But this was a perception she couldn’t manage. Power washing, it seemed, was the province of men. Exclusively. And though this unorganised, but apparently universal, pattern of thought had the men’s room smell of male privilege and entitlement, it was, nonetheless, what she was faced with. Even the bookish City Hall clerk who issued her a business license smirked.

As the months passed and the bills accumulated, she looked at her newly obtained but unused machine and truck and became more and more depressed. People whispered and pointed. And when she drove round the city, she saw men with power washers fully employed. Soon, her depression turned to bitterness. And being a woman of action, she began to plot.

She knew the potential of her leviathan machine. She’d gone all out in purchasing it. And when she looked out on the pitiless city she now hated, the city that had expedited her own personal erosion, she knew what she had to do. It was a small city, after all. How long could it take?

She began on a Monday morning at the western edge of town, using water from available faucets when she could and drawing from a tank in the back of her pickup truck when no faucets could be found. She set her machine to its highest pressure setting and went to work, knowing that with concentrated effort, she could use her machine to blast and erode the city out of existence.

She began with the sidewalks first, then the roads. They soon disappeared under the explosive influence of her high pressure nozzle, and were flushed away in streams of silt. Then she concentrated on structures, the houses and high-rises, department stores and business towers. She undermined them and they collapsed at her feet. The occupants screamed in terror and ran, gnashing their teeth and pulling their hair. The chemical and mechanical bonds holding the aggregate of the city together dissolved at her command, and she felt the ecstasy of her vengeance. When the police arrived, she aimed her hose at them and they too were flushed away forever. When the Mayor and Aldermen approached to plead with her, she blasted them into non-existence. It was only when her six year old granddaughter arrived to beg her to stop that she paused and thought. But just long enough to insist that the precocious child and her family get out of the city before it was entirely wiped off of the map.

It took her three days to reduce the city to a sludgy landscape of muddy deposits and puddles. Only she, in her rubber suit, and her machine were left. She loaded it back onto her pickup truck and drove away, unable now to remember where anything had once stood in the new wasteland. And as she did, she thought of the transitory nature of the satisfaction that comes from impetuous behaviour. But she only thought of it briefly.

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