by E. E. King
We learned the secret to eternal life. Hand washing.
This was the catch. We had to wash our hands continually. We had to eat through straws. Pay others to attend to our bodily needs. Because if we were separated from soap and water we would perish, overcome by a sea of bacteria. Sunk in a tide of virus.
Those we paid to feed us were doomed to die, but that is nothing new. The poor have always bathed the rich.
And so, society evolved into two classes, the washed and the unwashed. The clean and the unclean. The saved and the damned.
Still, it wasn’t much of a life. Stuck at our sinks, we designed computers we operated with our toes. We converted our mirrors into screens. We wore virtual reality googles. But no matter how clever the sensoround, or how compelling the avatar, eventually, over centuries, we had to confront the reality. We were the doomed. The dammed. The isolated. Alone.
Some of us tried to reach out, metaphorically. We tried to become friends with our caretakers, but that always ended in death. Besides, by then our minds had changed. We were unused to conversation anywhere but inside ourselves.
And so we began again. We Invented mechanical feeders but that only increased our loneliness.
We had our keepers make biodegradable soap, so that we could venture out into nature. Carrying portable washbasins strapped to out chests, we were wheeled, or driven, to lakes, rivers, and tide pools. By then, over the decades, we had lost use of our legs. Only our hands, clean and ever moving, remained strong.
It was better, this connection with field and stream. But even the most biodegradable soaps are slow poisons. And so, we turned to plants. My favorite was the ceanothus flower, which only needed to be rubbed to produce a foaming wash.
We sat with our toes in water, scrubbing, creating a foam of flowers. Our feet grew red and long, weaving into riverbanks, drawing nutrients from the soil, and holding firm the shore. Others wept, and our tears filled ponds, creating new seas. Our roots spread and touched and linked and connected, to each other and to the plants we had considered so very different from us.
And so, the world was born again. And we were not alone.
E.E. King is an award-winning painter, performer, writer, and naturalist. She’ll do anything that won’t pay the bills, especially if it involves animals. She’s been published widely, including Clarkesworld and Sci Phi Journal. Her stories are on Tangent’s 2019 and 2020 year’s best stories. She has been nominated for five Pushcart awards. Check out paintings, writing, musings, and books at: www.elizabetheveking.com and amazon.com/author/eeking
I am more and more convinced that all beings, plants included, communicate in ways we don’t even conceive of. They have evolved longer- then can turn sunlight into food. This tale deals with that idea – the concept of evolving into plants, as well as the inevitable inequity of human society.