Thursday, July 4, 2013

Karst Topography of the Soul by Mark Allen Berryhill

My wife wanted a picnic—she grew up in the urban blight of Seoul, and the way she told it that city wasn’t exactly rife with prime picnic parkland. Admittedly, there wasn’t much good picnic land left in Springfield either, but I knew about this secluded and manicured stretch of land behind the Wal-Mart on Campbell Street. All of the nearby houses had either been condemned or seized in an act of senseless imminent domain, but that was probably for the better—this area had a nasty sinkhole problem. I suppose everywhere did, but they were especially bad in this neighborhood. You couldn’t walk your dog around here without the earth swallowing it up. I wanted to take photos of abandoned Hoboho camps.

Luckily, I had an app for that. I saw an article on io9 warning of the impending sinkhole apocalypse, back before sinkhole apocalypses were cool, and they recommended a few useful apps for iPhone. So, armed with this little digital safety net we ventured out into this perfectly mowed valley, ignoring the No Tresspassing signs to find a sunny and flat spot close to the biggest tree around, a ginormous sweet gum that had blanketed the surrounding area with those annoying barbed little balls. We figured that the roots would keep the soil together, so we set up our straw picnic mat just outside the ring of gumballs.  Jiddy made  kimbap, a sort of inside out sushi filled with pickled radishes and spam. I brought the finest wine that three dollars could buy, a merlot so cheap that the “t” wasn’t silent.

We had the whole place to ourselves, on one side of the valley sat rows of fortified houses, the owners had spent a fortune safeguarding their property against erosion and errant topographical disasters—but to no avail. The property values plummeted, and the stigma attached to living in this neighborhood became so severe that many of the occupants fled their homes and jobs, preferring to live their lives as indigent peoples—Hobohos whose livelihoods involved scavenging the land for losing lottery tickets redeemable in those online second chance promotions. The Hoboho were also notorious dumpster divers, holding vast open air yard sales with prices so cheap you didn’t mind the inevitable bed bug infestations that came along with the purchase of their goods.

The other side sported a suburban greenway, a curvy stretch of safe sidewalk, potted plants, and ornamental grasses that the still well-to-do jogged incessantly, willfully oblivious to the urban blight on the other side of the ravine.

“How do they mowing here?” Jiddy asked.

 I didn’t have an answer for her. Someone had gone to great lengths to not only make the grass look beautiful, but to also fill in all the sinkholes with large chunks of limestone gravel. For those who didn’t know any better, this area would have looked like any other park.

We talked about nothing, smeared low SPF bug repellant on each other, and ate our food. Jiddy drank half a coffee mug full of merlot to make me happy, while I chugged the rest in a hurry. The three dollar bottle of wine tasted about the same as the nine dollar bottle of wine, but you wouldn’t want either to linger on your tongue. I had to get drunk enough to make exploring the abandoned neighborhood seem like a good idea. If I could stumble upon a mason jar of Hobogris to sell online we could pay our rent for a few months, and maybe, just maybe, we could afford the twelve dollar bottle of shitty wine. Also, I had hinted that it would be cool to plan for some spontaneous outdoor sex, which she seemed uncharacteristically enthusiastic about.

The wine stabbed at my guts and punched me in the bladder. I excused myself to pee and found a clump of uncultivated overgrowth, edged in a safe distance, unbuttoned my pants, and pissed for what seemed like forever. You had to get right up on it, but fast food wrappers, receipts, and plastic bags littered the undergrowth. I made a game of soaking all that shit. I peed and peed, and when I leaned against the nearest tree I put my hand right on top of a six inch honey locust thorn. I had to go so bad I didn’t notice what kind of vegetation I had nudged myself into. A dollop of blood formed on my palm. Looking down around my ankles I saw that the other plants were way worse—stinging nettles and poison oak. Shitness

Jiddy cried out, and I rolled my eyes. Of course. We can’t just have a nice picnic. My first instinct was that the Hoboho had taken her, but I had heard that they were a skittish lot; their jingoistic and superstitious fear of foreigners should have kept them at bay. She yelled again, a slew of Korean profanity I had heard before but she refused to translate for me, for fear that I would repeat the words I had learned in front of her family.

 Which I totally would and she knew it. I stumbled out into the valley, my ankles already itchy and uncomfortable. I could hear her mumbling and cursing, but all I could see was an empty little valley. Fucking sinkholes. As soon as I made it to the green I put away my dick and whipped out my phone.

“Help to getting me down you motherfucker!”

Getting down? The app showed no signs of recent karst activity, although it indicated a 76% probability of a very large sinkhole opening soon. My phone should have sent me a push notification when it went over fifty percent.

“Goddamn asshole! The tree got me!”

And it totally did. That sweetgum tree had her by the ankles. It held her up and regarded its catch. I approached the tree with my hands up, to show that I was no threat.

“Okay buddy, just put her down, we don’t mean no harm.”

The tree creaked and groaned and thrashed about, slinging seedy little balls everywhere. My iPhone chimed. The sinkhole predictor hit 92%. Jiddy squealed. I rushed to the trunk, that big bastard was already in its own hole, the balls had camouflaged its predicament. I quickly find myself up to my knees in sweetgum balls.

“You don’t have to take my wife with you, let her go and I’ll write a story about you, I promise.”

The tree dropped her into the gumball pit and she went completely under. I waded out to her, and thought that if it weren’t for the ticks and chiggers a sweetgum ball pit would be so much fun. I fished around for her, grabbed her by the crook of her elbow and hauled her out. She screamed and cursed at me the whole way.
We retreated towards the greenway trail, watching the tree sink into the earth.

“My picnic stuffs!” Jiddy said as we sat and panted.

“Leave them.”

“This is your fault.”

“I guess. Do you, um, still want to have sex?”

She grunted something I couldn’t translate but totally understood and we started the long and itchy walk home.


When he isn't gardening, Mark Berryhill spends his days exploring complex social issues through fart jokes. 
Copyright 2013 Mark Berryhill 

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