FICTION

April/May 2022

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Do Me Out

by Justine Kertson-Norton

“Come on Danele, wake up. It’s like noon. Are you really going to nap away the day like this?”

“Maybe.” My muffled response snuck out from the crinkled folds in the pillow I had pulled over my head. 

 “Nah, get the fuck up D!” Ziv laughed as they pounced on the bed, giving me little choice but to resurrect from what would certainly be my last nap. The final slumber. It was a doozy too. Oh well.

“Alright, I’m awake.” I grabbed Ziv and pulled them on top of me, getting us both tangled in the nest of blankets. I placed my hand behind their head, right on that spot where the spine joins the skull, and I gently pulled their face into mine. We locked in a long kiss that got my heart racing like a frantic honeybee on a quest for the fluffiest pollen in the forest. “I wouldn’t miss this for the world,” I said, looking into their rust brown eyes. They were framed by lime green eyeshadow that flared out and narrowed to a point near their temples. Midnight black hair dangled and tickled my face. It smelled like the lavender shampoo we found during last week’s less than bountiful supply run.

That particular trip was important, despite the small haul. It was the last supply hunt we’d make together. Our “Do Me Out” run, as my grandmother used to say in her sunset years.

“Then get up.”

“I’m up.”

“Oh yeah, believe me I can tell. But what’s going on right here, this definitely isn’t what I meant.”

“Still, it’s a day of DMOs. You aren’t going to deny me this one, are you?” I asked with my trademark droopy-eyed innocence.

They laughed. “Of course not,” they said and leaned into me. It was another hour before we emerged from our disheveled blanket cave.

***

Ziv and I finished a light snack of rolled oats mushed over the makeshift grill in the fireplace. They were sweetened with the last drops of sticky maple syrup we’d found a couple months back at a ransacked Plaid Pantry on SE 82nd St. After we ate, we scuttled around, packing things for the trip.

It was mostly food that we stuffed into our bags, but there were other items as well. We sifted through photographs, old letters, various trinkets imbued with the powerful sentimentality of deeply cherished memories. As we rummaged through the piles, we selected items that felt right for the occasion.

“Remember this?” Ziv asked, holding up a photograph for me to see.

“You, me, Mal, and Terry back when we helped build the community garden out on the rez.

“I haven’t thought about that in years. I miss Warm Springs.” My heart warmed at the old photo. “We had such good times with them, despite the circumstances.” I ran my finger along the edge of the picture, lost in thought. “I wonder if they’re okay.”

“I hope they made it to Detroit. It’s a long way from Portland.” Ziv put the photo into the front pocket of their bag.

“You know what? They did,” I said with confidence. “I hereby declare it to be true. If anyone has the wits and guts, not to mention the sheer and unbelievable amount of luck needed to successfully make a trip like that, it’s them. They smiled at my attempt to reassure them, but I wasn’t sure it worked. “What about this, Z?”

“Oh… yes.” It was more of an exhale than words. Their eyes shivered with the effort required to hold back the tears that threatened to burst forth from their leaky ducts. Taking the tricolored braid of silky rope in hand, they held it to their blush, olive cheek and closed their eyes in silent reminiscence.

“I still remember the way the sun pulsed in the background.” I paused and twisted the cap off my canteen, followed by a quick but measured sip of water. We were, of course, habitually careful not to spill anything that could be used as a source of hydration. “It was the first time I realized things were heating up exponentially. Everything around us was so grim… ”

“... but we were in love and it all seemed so strangely beautiful,” Ziv said, finishing the sentence for me, though not exactly in the way I intended. “It was the only handfasting I’ve ever been to with no guests, not even an officiant.” They chuckled as they handed the cordage back to me. “That definitely needs to come.”

I dropped it into my bag and walked over to the window. The sky was bright despite the grimy haze that hovered over what was once hailed as a “model green city.” What a joke, I thought.

“Food, check; water, check; hat, check.” Z listed off supplies, making sure we weren’t forgetting anything. They didn’t bother mentioning that it was the last of our food. Probably because it didn’t matter.

“Don’t forget the sunscreen,” I reminded them.

“Sunscreen…” they looked around. “Got it. Climbing ropes, carabiners, harnesses—check.”

“And what about… you know, the stuff we found?” I took a deep breath, wide-eyed as I folded my hands on top of my head.

Z turned away and cast their gaze toward the ground. “Yeah. Check.”

“And cherished memories, check,” I added to change the subject. “I think we have everything. And if not,” I said, shrugging in

resignation, “then at least we know it wasn’t vital to our adventure anyway.”

“You’re right,” they replied, kissing me and zipping their backpack closed. They sat to put on their shoes. “You got the raft, right?

“It’s already in the car with the pump,” I smiled and brushed a strand of hair from their eyes.

“This is the last time we’re gonna see this apartment,” Z said with a sigh. “It was a good home.”

“It was. Who would have thought it would be our DMO apartment.”

“You and your DMOs,” they laughed.

“What’s so funny?” I asked. “You know I got it from my grandma.”

We both laughed. Then we sighed.

“I only wish…”

“Nope! Stop right there.” They cut me off, putting their index finger over my lips. “Not today.”

“You’re right,” I said. “I’m sorry. Not today. Are you ready?”

“I am,” Z said with certainty.

“Well, let’s go then.”

***

No one knew why the sun had suddenly started heating up and increasing in size, eating up its hydrogen fuel and growing ever brighter. But between its excess heat and global warming, the pace of climate change only accelerated. And as weather patterns became more unpredictable throughout the 2020s, huge multinational corporations went all-in on their short-term profit gamble, completely trashing the planet’s environment as they literally burned through the last of global fossil fuel supplies. They destroyed the planet—it’s been years since a person could go outside without a respirator mask.  

“Hey, are you zoning out?” Ziv asked, keeping their eyes on the road. “You don’t want to miss our DMO car ride.”

“Yeah, sorry, I was just taking in the scenery one last time. Gran used to tell stories about how beautiful The Gorge was back when she was a kid. I wish…”

“No.”

“Sorry, I know. I’m doing it again,” I apologized with sincerity.

“Remember the first time we came out here?”

“Yeah, we went hiking out by Dog Mountain and got lost.”

“I was so scared, and you were so sweet. That was the day I knew I was in love with you.”

I smiled. “I never knew that.” I looked out the window and watched the browning evergreens wiz by as we headed east toward The Dalles. To a random passerby, it might have looked like we were trying to escape the sun.

I zoned out again as the shapes and colors of the end of the world sped past in a flurry of blurring and blending.

“Hello?”

“Oh, sorry Z,” I said as they snapped their fingers in my face.

 “You’re not getting all pessimistic and pouty on me again, are you?” Z asked, giving me a strange look.

“No, nothing like that. I just thought I heard something pop in the trunk.”

“Relax. It’s not sensitive stuff. The car isn’t going to explode or anything.” Their playful mockery was only a tad annoying.

“It’d be a shame if it did,” I said with a skittish, hesitant smirk. “Then we wouldn’t be able to share this.”

Ziv looked over as I pulled a dark chocolate bar from my bag’s front pocket. Their eyes lit up like the blazing sun. “Where the fuck did you get that?”

It had been months since we had anything sweet, let alone chocolate. “I found it a while back and thought I’d save it as a surprise for a special occasion. I doubt we’ll ever find a more special occasion than today. Am I right?”

“Yeah,” they laughed. “You’re definitely right. Are you sure you don’t want to wait till after dinner though?”

“Nah, this is my last chance to spoil my dinner by eating too much junk food.”

Ziv laughed again. “Another DMO, eh?”

“Exactly,” I said, smiling ear-to-ear as I broke the bar in two and handed a piece to Z.

The way we each approached eating our half probably would have made a fascinating psychological study of some kind. Ziv broke off small bits and gently placed them in their mouth one at a time, letting the chunk of chocolate sit on their tongue until it dissolved and melted down their throat. Each bite was followed by a sigh of immense satisfaction that whispered, “If this is it, then at least I’ll go happy.”

I shoveled my entire half of the candy bar into my mouth and chewed exuberantly as my eyes rolled into the back of head in an expression of unadulterated carnal pleasure. This was my DMO chocolate bar, and I was going to eat it my way. I wanted to bathe in it and wear it all over my face. I wanted to feel globs of melting chocolate invading every inch of my mouth, flanking and clogging every taste bud. My saliva glands exploded in sweet, juicy ecstasy. I could only imagine this was as close as any human ever came to devouring ambrosia in the company of the ancient gods of Olympus.

But while Z was engrossed in the pure pleasure of melted silky sweetness, the hint of bitterness was enough to make me squirm, and it wasn’t only because I had a mouthful of ninety percent cocoa. It was the symbolism of it all that made my stomach turn. Cocoa cultivation was horribly exploitative, full of violence and child slavery. The problem was that decisions benefiting only a small number of people were dangerous, whether in chocolate production or corporate attempts to address climate change. Market-based solutions like carbon capturing and trading were as ridiculous as those attempts by rich tycoons to divert sunlight or build cities under the ocean. As long as ending fossil fuel use was off the table, preventing climate change was a project doomed to failure.

So maybe it didn’t matter that the sun was hemorrhaging. Maybe it didn’t matter that the world was ending.

“For my people, the apocalypse began in 1492.” Ziv had made the point a number of times recently, and justifiably so. “We’ve been living through it for centuries. It doesn’t feel like much has changed just because the end of civilization is finally affecting the colonists too. All we can do now is our best to enjoy the time we have left.”

It is what it is, I thought. Maybe Z was right. Maybe the only thing that mattered now—especially today, of all days—was pleasure, passion, love, good memories, and a sense of liberation.

In other words, joy.

***

I parked the car with no regard for the faded, dusty lines that marked the pavement in humanity’s attempt to assert power and establish order over an untamable world. For centuries, those of us in the more privileged parts of the world believed the archetypal battle against nature had not only been won, but decisively so.

Maybe it was true. In the end, humanity not only defeated itself by beating the world into inhabitability, but nature also defeated humanity in the form of an engorged and pissed off sun spewing plasma all over the solar system.

We put on our respirator masks, and I popped the trunk. Z and I threw our backpacks over our shoulders. Mine was heavy and uncomfortable, but we weren’t going very far. Z handed me the rolled-up raft, which I stuffed through the straps of my bag, while they put the pump in their own pack and tugged the drawstring closed.

I looked at them awkwardly. “You got the…”

“Don’t worry about it. Trust me, it will be worth it.”

I was taken back by the quick interjection. “Of course I trust you Ziv.”

As we emerged from a grove of dead trees between the parking lot and the Columbia River, we found ourselves at the edge of a precipice looking out over the winding water whose flow had been stifled for more than half a century by that mammoth concrete monument to modernity called The Dalles Dam. I looked over at Ziv, then back out over the river, and I couldn’t help but think of Celilo Falls, the ancient cultural hub that was submerged when they built the dam.

The chain holding the fence that was meant to keep people from walking out onto the top of the dam had long since been cut, so getting onto the massive structure was easy. I pulled the pieces of our solar oven, which was basically just cardboard and tinfoil, out of my bag. We had been using the no-emissions cooking method for a while now, partly because we couldn’t find propane anymore and partly because it was the right thing to do regardless of what the ultimate outcome was going to be.

I set up the oven while Ziv started preparing our last supper. This particular DMO had personal meaning for me. Back before the sun started expanding and society collapsed in on itself, I had been a cook. I didn’t have any formal training, but I’d always loved food and the art of taste, ever since I’d started cooking with my parents at a young age. I used to love coming home from school, tying on an apron, and getting my hands into whatever they were making for dinner that evening. The textures, the smells, the flavors—there was nothing I enjoyed more.

“What did you bring?” I asked Ziv, curious. I had been trying to get it out of them for days, but they insisted on keeping it a surprise.

“After all your snooping, don't you know already?” they asked with a sideways glare that quickly turned into a playful snicker.

“No, I don’t. Apparently, you’re good at hiding things,” I jabbed back flirtatiously.

“Girl, I was in the closet for 16 years, so you know I am.” We both laughed. “Salmon,” they said in a subtle accent that clearly wasn’t English.

“What?”

“You asked what I’ve been saving and hiding for our ‘Do Me Out’ meal. Salmon.”

I  stopped in my tracks, mouth agape. “Where on Earth did you find salmon? They’re supposed to be extinct.”

“I’m Chinuk, Danele,” they said as if that explained it all, and it did.

Before the dam was built to provide electricity to an increasing population, the river was much wilder in this part of the Columbia Gorge. It tore through the area in a series of cascading waterfalls that English speakers called Celilo Falls. The Indigenous peoples who had made this place their home for fifteen thousand years called it Wyam, which means “echo of falling water.”

When the dam was built, it submerged the falls and obstructed the salmon runs that were so important to the Indigenous communities that made homes there. But it was more than that. The dam destroyed the village itself.

An essential center of trade and culture was obliterated, the oldest continually inhabited community in North America drowned by progress. The loss was immeasurable. Ziv’s people always considered the building of the dam to be an act of genocide. I’ve never found any reason to disagree.

“Hey D, can you give me a hand?” Ziv asked as they struggled to get into their climbing harness and tripped. I held my arms out to steady them and giggled at their clumsiness.

“Ha ha,” they mocked dryly. “Double check my knots and carabiners?”

“Of course.” I tugged here, yanked there, and checked the carabiner locks, making sure everything was secure. I found my own harness in my bag and we repeated the process.

“I remember going climbing with my chope when I was kid,” Ziv said, referring to their grandparent in Chinuk Wawa. It wasn’t their tribe’s ancestral language. Rather, wawa was the pidgin tongue that developed over time among the tribes in the region for trade and other intertribal communication needs. At settlements like Wyam, where members of numerous tribes came together to live and fish in the sacred waters of their ancestral homeland, wawa was vital to the healthy functioning of the community. 

We were both fairly experienced climbers, but it was no secret Ziv was the better between us. “Talk about joy,” they continued. “Those climbing trips were some of the best and most formative days of my early life. Once I got good enough, they would drive the two of us to Trout Creek, down by Madras. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more stunning landscape. It was a stark and simple beauty, the kind you’d expect to find in a desert like that. Columns of basalt rock reached for the stars like arms of the Earth. It’s a geologic wonder. I’m so blessed to have been able to spend time there.”

“What a lovely memory,” I said, shaking myself out of the picture they had just painted.

“It wasn’t just the scenery. I mean, yeah, that was amazing, but it was the time we spent with our inner natures that was really important.”

“What do you mean?” I asked with genuine curiosity. This was a story I hadn’t heard.

“Chope was also mokst lum,” they explained. “We talked, we shared. It was on those climbing excursions that they taught me what it meant to be two-spirit, though they never used that term themself.” They were standing at the edge of the dam looking west toward Portland, the Pacific Ocean, and beyond. The once lush valley was brown now, and the air cooked and danced with refractory mirages. “It will be nice to see them again.”

Ziv grabbed hold of their rope in front of them with their left hand and behind with their right. “Hey D, don’t worry. I’ve got them in my bag.”

I rolled my eyes with purposeful exaggeration and laughed. “Thanks Z.”

“Are you ready?”

“Nope.”

“Let’s go then,” they said and leapt over the edge, landing against the wall with a graceful bounce five feet below the ledge. I walked slowly forward and stopped, carefully peering downward.

“You coming?”

“Yeah, yeah—I’m coming,” I said as I sat down and dangled my legs over the edge. Rolling over onto my stomach and holding onto the flat concrete as best as I could, I eased myself off the top of the concrete barrier.

We rappelled to the bottom and stopped ten meters from the waterline. Dangling in midair, Ziv reached into their bag and pulled out the C-4 we’d found a few weeks back, and which we’d delicately packed in the trunk of the car. Carefully, they transferred fistfuls of it to my bag, anxiety twisting my gut into clumps.

“Wait.” I was sweating profusely. “Are you sure about this?”

The blank look on their face was rough and their silence was thick and heavy. I felt awkward.

“We don’t have to do this,” they finally said with introverted softness.

The subtle bitterness stung. I was letting fear get the best of me. I was being selfish.

“Yes, we do,” I said and set the first charge, attaching it to the concrete wall before me. Ziv smiled, tears flirting with the corners of their bloodshot eyes.

They set their first charge and we hopped outward toward opposite shorelines, setting round after round in place, until the C-4 dotted the dam like an explosive pearl necklace stretched across the throat of colonial power. I took a bottle from my pack and drank till it was empty. I almost tossed it into the river below, but even with the world ending, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.

Making our way back up to the top was the real test. It would have been difficult under normal circumstances, but with the evening’s intense heat, we panted heavily while we squirmed and struggled our way slowly upward. Even with climbing gloves, the friction between my hands and rope was compromised, and I slipped a foot for every two gained as searing pain shot through my shoulder blades and down my back.

By the time we both reached the giant wall’s apex, the sun was beginning to set, colors twirling across the sky as its rays blended with the polluted air. We collapsed atop the dam—eyes closed, breathing heavy and labored—and allowed our heart rates to inch their way back to normal before we sat down for our last supper.

***

The salmon finished baking just about the time we completed our makeshift altar of memories. Traces of sweet honey and ever-so-slightly spicy elephant garlic filled the air and blended with wafts of roasted rosemary and dill sprigs, and a sense of olfactory bliss washed over me and drowned out the plastic beach ball stench emanating from the fresh layers of sunblock we slathered onto each other. My stomach growled with impatient expectation.

It was a bit after nine o‘clock in the evening, but it got dark later than usual ever since the sun went into apocalypse mode, so the distant trees still glowed in the magic of the slowly fading light. Ziv wiped the stinging sweat from their eyes as they dished our last supper into chipped ceramic bowls.

“Thank you, Z.”

“You’re welcome. I hope you like it.”

“Not just for the salmon. I really mean it. Thank you.”

“For what?”

“For all of this. For today. For finding this food and cooking a killer meal. For bringing us here to this place that I know has so much meaning and power for you. For sharing it with me. For the ride we’re about to take together, and for the ride we’ve been on together for the past ten years. Thank you for sharing your life with me and for making my life so much more meaningful.”

They looked up at me with a soft tenderness that broke my heart, and I couldn’t hold back the tear that tumbled down my face.

“I love you D.”

“I love you too, Z. Now let’s eat that salmon before I starve to death.”

            Ziv watched as I placed my thumb and index finger around my chunk of fish. I didn’t even have to pull—a perfectly sized piece melted off with buttery ease like ice shelves sliding off the edges of Antarctica. I held the soft, pink meat up to my mouth and gently blew on it, then popped it into my mouth. My tongue exploded with saliva in that oh so deliciously intense way that makes the back of your jaw twinge with sensory overload. I closed my eyes and held my breath. When I exhaled, a sigh of pure delight trickled from my lips. That trickle was met by the soft caress of Z’s kiss. I leaned in, pressing my lips firmly into theirs.

We enjoyed the rest of our salmon in silent satisfaction.

“I don’t think I could have dreamed up a better DMO dinner if I had a month alone in a master chef’s kitchen,” I said when we were done.

“I’m glad you liked it,” Ziv replied. “And I’m grateful we were able to share one last meal together.”

“Me too. Me too.”

We packed our supplies back into our bags. It might have seemed frivolous, but it was important to us. No matter what was coming, we refused to behave as irresponsibly as the corporations that had destroyed the planet. We carried our things back to the car and grabbed the raft and air pump.

We hiked upriver ten minutes before Z unrolled the raft and laid it out on the wet, rocky shore. I found the plug, attached the pump, and after a few minutes the raft was inflated.

We looked into each other's eyes through the smudged windowpanes of our respirators. The fading sun’s light was still potent enough that if I looked for it, I could make out the reflection of my forest green eyes.

“Ready D?”

“Nope. You?”

“I know it sounds cliché,” Ziv admitted with a grin as we shoved off from the shore, “but I’ve been ready for this my whole life.”

***

The water is actually hot, which surprises me. It would have felt wonderful against the frigid, wet air of an old pacific northwest winter, like soaking in the Umpqua hot springs down by Crater Lake when the snow is too thick to safely make the drive. But in the fever of an abnormally hot summer, uncomfortable is a euphemism.

We float in the mild current controlled by the gates of the Dalles Dam, a mighty altar upon which rests centuries of colonialism and carnage. When we’re about a five-minute drift from the dam, I pull the detonator out of the bag and flip the respirator off my head. It lands in the boat with a barely audible clunk. I don’t care if it hurts to breathe—I want to feel the dry air on my face. I want to see Z’s face one last time.

As if they can hear my thoughts, they remove their mask too. I hand them the small control box, and we stare at each other for what seems like forever. Then we embrace, holding each other for a moment that collapses all of time into a quantum singularity, like the one that existed in infinitesimal possibility before the Big Bang. It’s Z who finally breaks the silence, asking with a calm quietness what they’ve asked me a number of times tonight: “Ready?”

“I’m not sure. You?”

“Oh, yeah.”

“Well, then I am too.”

At that, Z smiles. They kiss me as they hit the detonator switch. A deafening crack fills the air as the sun slings plasma in a cosmic display of righteous anger above us, like starblood painted across an apocalyptic canvas.

The crack morphs into a rumbling groan and then a deep, guttural roar as the river suddenly begins to pick up speed. The nose of the raft lurches up and down in a waltz against the strain of waves created by shifting and colliding currents that splash into the boat, soaking us in sacred water. It burns, but it's a refreshing, smoldering burn like the fires of rebirth.

I reach out and Z and I hold each other, he raft spinning and bouncing through the torrential rapids. And as we approach the place where the dam used to be, we can see the misty backsplash from the cascades and waterfalls reemerging from the depths after almost a century of unceremonious burial.

We’re flying faster now than the growth of our star, and we tighten our embrace, but not out of fear. It’s out of love and joy and gratitude for what we’re witnessing.

We ride the river rapids to the end of the world and splash into the welcoming arms of eternity. Wyam is resurrected at last in a moment of retribution and justice colliding with all the force and intention of a universe being born again.

What an adventure. What a privilege. What a way to go.

 

THE END

 

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Justine Norton-Kertson (they/he/she) is a writer, publisher, musician, and community organizer. They're the editor-in-chief of Android Press, and co-editor-in-chief of Solarpunk Magazine. She and their partner live in rural Oregon with a herd of puppies, cats, goats, and beehives. When he's not writing, they can probably be spotted gardening, kayaking, or playing music. She can be found on Twitter @jankwrites.