The Future Is BlueCatherynne M. Valente
The Future Is Blue
Copyright © 2018 by Catherynne M. Valente.
All rights reserved.
Dust jacket illustration
Copyright © 2018 by Galen Dara.
All rights reserved.
Print version interior design
Copyright © 2018 by Desert Isle Design, LLC.
All rights reserved.
PO Box 190106
Burton, MI 48519
Manufactured in the United States of America
The Future Is Blue
No One Dies in Nowhere
Two and Two Is Seven
Down and Out in R’lyeh
The Limitless Perspective of Master Peek, or, the Luminescence of Debauchery
Flame, Pearl, Mother, Autumn, Virgin,Sword, Kiss, Blood, Heart, and Grave
The Lily and the Horn
The Flame After the Candle
Badgirl, the Deadman, and the Wheel of Fortune
A Fall Counts Anywhere
The Long Goodnight of Violet Wild
The Beasts Who Fought for Fairyland Until the Very End and Further Still
My name is Tetley Abednego and I am the most hated girl in Garbagetown. I am nineteen years old. I live alone in Candle Hole, where I was born, and have no friends except for a deformed gannet bird I’ve named Grape Crush and a motherless elephant seal cub I’ve named Big Bargains, and also the hibiscus flower that has recently decided to grow out of my roof, but I haven’t named it anything yet. I love encyclopedias, a cassette I found when I was eight that says Madeleine Brix’s Superboss Mixtape ’97 on it in very nice handwriting, plays by Mr. Shakespeare or Mr. Webster or Mr. Beckett, lipstick, Garbagetown, and my twin brother Maruchan. Maruchan is the only thing that loves me back, but he’s my twin, so it doesn’t really count. We couldn’t stop loving each other any more than the sea could stop being so greedy and give us back China or drive time radio or polar bears.
But he doesn’t visit anymore.
When we were little, Maruchan and I always asked each other the same question before bed. Every night, we crawled into the Us-Fort together—an impregnable stronghold of a bed which we had nailed up ourselves out of the carcasses of several hacked apart bassinets, prams, and cradles. It took up the whole of our bedroom. No one could see us in there, once we closed the porthole (a manhole cover I swiped from Scrapmetal Abbey stamped with stars, a crescent moon, and the magic words New Orleans Water Meter), and we felt certain no one could hear us either. We lay together under our canopy of moldy green lace and shredded buggy-hoods and mobiles with only one shattered fairy fish remaining. Sometimes I asked first and sometimes he did, but we never gave the same answer twice.
“Maruchan, what do you want to be when you grow up?”
He would give it a serious think. Once, I remember, he whispered:
“When I grow up I want to be the Thames!”
“Whatever for?” I giggled.
“Because the Thames got so big and so bossy and so strong that it ate London all up in one go! Nobody tells a Thames what to do or who to eat. A Thames tells you. Imagine having a whole city to eat, and not having to share any! Also there were millions of eels in the Thames and I only get to eat eels at Easter which isn’t fair when I want to eat them all the time.”
And he pretended to bite me and eat me all up. “Very well, you shall be the Thames and I shall be the Mississippi and together we shall eat up the whole world.”
Then we’d go to sleep and dream the same dream. We always dreamed the same dreams, which was like living twice.
After that, whenever we were hungry, which was always all the time and forever, we’d say we’re bound for London-town! until we drove our parents so mad that they forbade the word London in the house, but you can’t forbid a word, so there.
Every morning I wake up to find words painted on my door like toadstools popping up in the night.
Today it says NIHILIST in big black letters. That’s not so bad! It’s almost sweet! Big Bargains flumps toward me on her fat seal-belly while I light the wicks on my beeswax door and we watch them burn together until the word melts away.
“I don’t think I’m a nihilist, Big Bargains. Do you?”
She rolled over onto my matchbox stash so that I would rub her stomach. Rubbing a seal’s stomach is the opposite of nihilism.
Yesterday, an old man hobbled up over a ridge of rusted bicycles and punched me so hard he broke my nose. By law, I had to let him. I had to say: Thank you, Grandfather, for my instruction. I had to stand there and wait in case he wanted to do something else to me. But he didn’t, he just wanted to cry and ask me why I did it and the law doesn’t say I have to answer that, so I just stared at him until he went away. Once a gang of schoolgirls shaved off all my hair and wrote CUNT in blue marker on the back of my skull. Thank you, sisters, for my instruction. The schoolboys do worse. After graduation they come round and eat my food and hold me down and try to make me cry, which I never do. It’s their rite of passage. Thank you, brothers, for my instruction.
But other than that, I’m really a very happy person! I’m awfully lucky when you think about it. Garbagetown is the most wonderful place anybody has ever lived in the history of the world, even if you count the Pyramids and New York City and Camelot. I have Grape Crush and Big Bargains and my hibiscus flower and I can fish like I’ve got bait for a heart so I hardly ever go hungry and once I found a ruby ring and a New Mexico license plate inside a bluefin tuna. Everyone says they only hate me because I annihilated hope and butchered our future, but I know better, and anyway, it’s a lie. Some people are just born to be despised. The Loathing of Tetley began small and grew bigger and bigger, like the Thames, until it swallowed me whole.
Maruchan and I were born fifty years after the Great Sorting, which is another lucky thing that’s happened to me. After all, I could have been born a Fuckwit and gotten drowned with all the rest of them, or I could have grown up on a Misery Boat, sailing around hopelessly looking for land, or one of the first to realize people could live on a patch of garbage in the Pacific Ocean the size of the place that used to be called Texas, or I could have been a Sorter and spent my whole life moving rubbish from one end of the patch to the other so that a pile of crap could turn into a country and babies could be born in places like Candle Hole or Scrapmetal Abbey or Pill Hill or Toyside or Teagate.
Candle Hole is the most beautiful place in Garbagetown, which is the most beautiful place in the world. All the stubs of candles the Fuckwits threw out piled up into hills and mountains and caverns and dells, votive candles and taper candles and tea lights and birthday candles and big fat colorful pillar candles, stacked and somewhat melted into a great crumbling gorgeous warren of wicks and wax. All the houses are little cozy honeycombs melted into the hillside, with smooth round windows and low golden ceilings. At night, from far away, Candle Hole looks like a firefly palace. When the wind blows, it smells like cinnamon, and freesia, and cranberries, and lavender, and Fresh Linen Scent and New Car Smell.
2. The Terrible Power of Fuckwit Cake
Our parents’ names are Life and Time. Time lay down on her Fresh Linen Scent wax bed and I came out of her first, then Maruchan. But even though I got here first, I came out blue as the ocean, not breathing, with the umbilical cord w
rapped round my neck and Maruchan wailing, still squeezing onto my noose with his tiny fist, like he was trying to get me free. Doctor Pimms unstrangled and unblued me and put me in a Hawaiian Fantasies-scented wax hollow in our living room. I lay there alone, too startled by living to cry, until the sun came up and Life and Time remembered I had survived. Maruchan was so healthy and sweet-natured and strong and even though Garbagetown is the most beautiful place in the world, many children don’t live past a year or two. We don’t even get names until we turn ten. (Before that, we answer happily to Girl or Boy or Child or Darling.) Better to focus on the one that will grow up rather than get attached to the sickly poor beast who hasn’t got a chance.
I was born already a ghost. But I was a very noisy ghost. I screamed and wept at all hours while Life and Time waited for me to die. I only nursed when my brother was full, I only played with toys he forgot, I only spoke after he had spoken. Maruchan said his first word at the supper table: please. What a lovely, polite word for a lovely, polite child! After they finished cooing over him, I very calmly turned to my mother and said: Mama, may I have a scoop of mackerel roe? It is my favorite. I thought they would be so proud! After all, I made twelve more words than my brother. This was my moment, the wonderful moment when they would realize that they did love me and I wasn’t going to die and I was special and good. But everyone got very quiet. They were not happy that the ghost could talk. I had been able to for ages, but everything in my world said to wait for my brother before I could do anything at all. No, you may not have mackerel roe, because you are a deceitful wicked little show-off child.
When we turned ten, we went to fetch our names. This is just the most terribly exciting thing for a Garbagetown kid. At ten, you are a real person. At ten, people want to know you. At ten, you will probably live for a good while yet. This is how you catch a name: wake up to the fabulous new world of being ten and greet your birthday Frankencake (a hodgepodge of well-preserved Fuckwit snack cakes filled with various cremes and jellies). Choose a slice, with much fanfare. Inside, your adoring and/or neglectful mother will have hidden various small objects—an aluminum pull tab, a medicine bottle cap, a broken earring, a coffee bean, a wee striped capacitor, a tiny plastic rocking horse, maybe a postage stamp. Remove item from your mouth without cutting yourself or eating it. Now, walk in the direction of your prize. Toward Aluminumopolis or Pill Hill or Spanglestoke or Teagate or Electric City or Toyside or Lost Post Gulch. Walk and walk and walk. Never once brush yourself off or wash in the ocean, even after camping on a pile of magazines or wishbones or pregnancy tests or wrapping paper with glitter reindeer on it. Walk until nobody knows you. When, finally, a stranger hollers at you to get out of the way or go back where you came from or stop stealing the good rubbish, they will, without even realizing, call you by your true name, and you can begin to pick and stumble your way home.
My brother grabbed a chocolate snack cake with a curlicue of white icing on it. I chose a pink and red tigery striped hunk of cake filled with gooshy creme de something. The sugar hit our brains like twin tsunamis. He spat out a little gold earring with the post broken off. I felt a smooth, hard gelcap lozenge in my mouth. Pill Hill it was then, and the great mountain of Fuckwit anxiety medication. But when I carefully pulled the thing out, it was a little beige capacitor with red stripes instead. Electric City! I’d never been half so far. Richies lived in Electric City. Richies and brightboys and dazzlegirls and kerosene kings. My brother was off in the opposite direction, toward Spanglestoke and the desert of engagement rings.
Maybe none of it would have happened if I’d gone to Spanglestoke for my name instead. If I’d never seen the gasoline gardens of Engine Row. If I’d gone home straightaway after finding my name. If I’d never met Goodnight Moon in the brambles of Hazmat Heath with all the garbage stars rotting gorgeously overhead. Such is the terrible power of Fuckwit Cake.
I walked cheerfully out of Candle Hole with my St. Oscar backpack strapped on tight and didn’t look back once. Why should I? St. Oscar had my back. I’m not really that religious nowadays. But everyone’s religious when they’re ten. St. Oscar was a fuzzy green Fuckwit man who lived in a garbage can just like me, and frowned a lot just like me. He understood me and loved me and knew how to bring civilization out of trash and I loved him back even though he was a Fuckwit. Nobody chooses how they get born. Not even Oscar.
So I scrambled up over the wax ridges of my home and into the world with Oscar on my back. The Matchbox Forest rose up around me: towers of EZ Strike matchbooks and boxes from impossible, magical places like the Coronado Hotel, Becky’s Diner, the Fox and Hound Pub. Garbagetowners picked through heaps and cairns of blackened, used matchsticks looking for the precious ones that still had their red and blue heads intact. But I knew all those pickers. They couldn’t give me a name. I waved at the hotheads. I climbed up Flintwheel Hill, my feet slipping and sliding on the mountain of spent butane lighters, until I could see out over all of Garbagetown just as the broiling cough-drop red sun was setting over Far Boozeaway, hitting the crystal bluffs of stockpiled whiskey and gin bottles and exploding into a billion billion rubies tumbling down into the hungry sea.
I sang a song from school to the sun and the matchsticks. It’s an ask-and-answer song, so I had to sing both parts myself, which feels very odd when you have always had a twin to do the asking or the answering, but I didn’t mind.
Who liked it hot and hated snow?
The Fuckwits did! The Fuckwits did!
Who ate up every thing that grows?
The Fuckwits did! The Fuckwits did!
Who drowned the world in oceans blue?
The Fuckwits did! The Fuckwits did!
Who took the land from me and you?
The Fuckwits did, we know it’s true!
Are you Fuckwits, children dear?
We’re GARBAGETOWNERS, free and clear!
But who made the garbage, rich and rank?
The Fuckwits did, and we give thanks.
The Lawn stretched out below me, full of the grass clippings and autumn leaves and fallen branches and banana peels and weeds and gnawed bones and eggshells of the fertile Fuckwit world, slowly turning into the gold of Garbagetown: soil. Real earth. Terra bloody firma. We can already grow rice in the dells. And here and there, big, blowsy flowers bang up out of the rot: hibiscus, African tulips, bitter gourds, a couple of purple lotuses floating in the damp mucky bits. I slept next to a blue-and-white orchid that looked like my brother’s face.
“Orchid, what do you want to be when you grow up?” I whispered to it. In real life, it didn’t say anything back. It just fluttered a little in the moonlight and the seawind. But when I got around to dreaming, I dreamed about the orchid, and it said: a farm.
In Garbagetown, you think real hard about what you’re gonna eat next, where the fresh water’s at, and where you’re gonna sleep. Once all that’s settled you can whack your mind on nicer stuff, like gannets and elephant seals and what to write next on the Bitch of Candle Hole’s door. (This morning I melted MURDERCUNT off the back wall of my house. Big Bargains flopped down next to me and watched the blocky red painted letters swirl and fade into the Buttercream Birthday Cake wax. Maybe I’ll name my hibiscus flower Murdercunt. It has a nice big sound.)
When I remember hunting my name, I mostly remember the places I slept. It’s a real dog to find good spots. Someplace sheltered from the wind, without too much seawater seep, where no one’ll yell at you for wastreling on their patch or try to stick it in you in the middle of the night just because you’re all alone and it looks like you probably don’t have a knife.
I always have a knife.
So I slept with St. Oscar the Grouch for my pillow, in the shadow of a mountain of black chess pieces in Gamegrange, under a thicket of tabloids and Wall Street Journals and remaindered novels with their covers torn off in Bookbury, snuggled into a spaghetti-pile of unspooled cassette ribbon on the outskirts of the Sound Downs, on the l
ee side of a little soggy Earl Grey hillock in Teagate. In the morning I sucked on a few of the teabags and the dew on them tasted like the loveliest cuppa any Fuckwit ever poured his stupid self. I said my prayers on beds of old microwaves and moldy photographs of girls with perfect hair kissing at the camera. St. Oscar, keep your mighty lid closed over me. Look grouchily but kindly upon me and protect me as I travel through the infinite trashcan of your world. Show me the beautiful usefulness of your Blessed Rubbish. Let me not be Taken Out before I find my destiny.
But my destiny didn’t seem to want to find me. As far as I walked, I still saw people I knew. Mr. Zhu raking his mushroom garden, nestled in a windbreak of broken milk bottles. Miss Amancharia gave me one of the coconut crabs out of her nets, which was very nice of her, but hardly a name. Even as far away as Teagate, I saw Tropicana Sita welding a refrigerator door to a hull-metal shack. She flipped up her mask and waved at me. Dammit! She was Allsorts Sita’s cousin, and Allsorts drank with my mother every Thursday at the Black Wick.
By the time I walked out of Teagate I’d been gone eight days. I was getting pretty ripe. Bits and pieces of Garbagetown were stuck all over my clothes, but no tidying up. Them’s the rules. I could see the blue crackle of Electric City sparkling up out of the richie-rich Coffee Bean ’Burbs. Teetering towers of batteries rose up like desert hoodoo spires—AA, AAA, 12 volt, DD, car, solar, lithium, anything you like. Parrots and pelicans screamed down the battery canyons, their talons kicking off sprays of AAAs that tumbled down the heights like rockslides. Sleepy banks of generators rumbled pleasantly along a river of wires and extension cords and HDMI cables. Fields of delicate lightbulbs windchimed in the breeze. Anything that had a working engine lived here. Anything that still had juice. If Garbagetown had a heart, it was Electric City. Electric City pumped power. Power and privilege.