The roots of the American Nuclear Tree have reached China. Root one of five is poking up in a gnarled spike through the left bank of the Yangtze River. By next week the second root will have not only reached crust but also made its way fully through and then past the observation deck of the Shanghai Tower — the tallest building in China and third tallest in the world. It is a measurably impressive and horrific landmark. It is also materially awful, because the tree comes up so fast that the city has not had time to evacuate, and the focused point of its root pierces straight through the perineum of a German tourist; he is torn up between endpoints and becomes two vertical halves. Both teeter for a full minute, insecure, then peel evenly off the spine and collapse in thick jellied puddles. Or, not so much puddles as mounds. His wife, who has never loved him and will now feel guilty for a decade about the relief and excitement that have just started to enter her, crouches down and cups a mass of Wilhelm-jelly in her two hands. She looks and looks at it. Meanwhile I am on the other side of the planet, near the origin site of the A.N.T. (or N.T., as it is now called for short), and here it came up correctly, trunk and then branches, leaves, not like the alien opposite growth reflected in China, coming up from the ground with a sick brand of what seems to the people there like racist antithesis, like, how come the tree is growing wrong here?
For the time being the whole invisible subterranean wooden body of the thing is our new thrusting axis. The world is cut through; we are strung on a living stake. Around the time China closes its borders I begin to feel a clean, bright calm I have never felt before. Adam and I used to talk about Walden-ing, cloistering ourselves, but separately, west, in the open center of the country. Now the city seems changed over with new texture. I have not left it since January. I kind of never want to again. Adam was careful to talk about moving west separately because it is within the unspoken terms of our relationship to not ever imply a shared future.
We are in his apartment in Ridgewood when the big snake breaks up through the East River and permanently ends all L service. I have no way of getting home. I say this to him in kind of a comical way, like, God, the big snake is here, how will I get home? And find myself barely embarrassed, the way I usually am after I say something in kind of a comical way in front of him, because there’s really nothing I can do about anything. Every structure mounted transparently overhead and arching backwards and forwards through history and time is being broken around us. He doesn’t say anything back to me, but I know he’s heard. He has these eyes that are always very full, sort of slow and far apart on his head, cow-like, usually blank, but still sometimes some shape of parsable recognition is able to surface from animal depths. I am sitting on his couch with my coat on and he is standing facing me, using the living-room-to-kitchen doorframe to stretch. I am about to leave when a flood alert comes through on my phone. This is funny, that the big snake is classified as a flood alert. Later in the day they’ll start calling it Abraham, according to hurricane naming convention. It is also funny, the suggestion that this could be the first big snake of 26 or more.
I can tell Adam is ready to be alone now. But I can’t leave him alone because there is nowhere for me to go. I begin experiencing a muffled sort of interest and excitement, similar to what the German tourist’s wife felt holding a liquid post-husband. It is 2 p.m. I usually would have left by now, would be growing uneasy on my way home. I am always hit with unease after seeing him. But I always want to see him. This is the rhythm I have been living to.
I feel like, Adam says, then stops. I feel like this is good. We’re coming to a natural end. It’s all ending, he says. He stops again. Even with my coat on I am cold, suddenly — pinned. It seems like a great shift is happening, he says, pausing to blink slowly at me, with his full bovine look. So now we can move forward.
Abraham is writhing in the water, permanently ending J, M, and Z service. What do you mean move forward?
We never touch each other in the daytime.
Well, maybe in the future. But now it is altogether over. While we were together I had this dream a lot. The train was sitting huddled in the tunnel. I felt the dark private sense that we were the same kind of person; before leaving you knelt to the ground against my bed and held me there. We didn’t have sex, only made while asleep some sweaty curled formation, and we were to be married. I was thrusting empty into an absence that was then coded and reworked as a real column. We were reversed. You were small-breasted, over me. And it was the same recognized rhythm as with you awake, rutted looking up down inside. I put my mouth on hers and then — the sensation of mustache and beard. I was you or taking on aspects of you and it was not necessarily either my mustache, my beard, or hers but just a public sensation. There was never preordained structure, only present-future, only constant reworking memory/history/context/dream knowledge so — we were free from everything, reversed and unpinned, nothing was a trap and I loved you very much — M train moving again, overground. I woke then un-woke then truly woke with a
I feel awake now. By hers I mean yours. We are stopped at some kind of station, and our driver is switching off with the new one who will take us the rest of the way there. We’re going together to the East, to the private empire curve of the old country. There we will be two adults moving around the house, with a future together. Our dog will be in a low begging animal scurry underfoot. The sun will be coming into the kitchen.
I say this to him. He removes his hands from the doorframe and puts them at his sides. He continues looking at me without moving to step either backward into the kitchen or forward into the living room. I take off my coat. Meanwhile a second snake follows the first one out of the base of the river; Bathsheba joins Abraham in coupled writhe. They are coming from the tree. On the direct opposite side of the world, the third, fourth, and fifth roots surface, split delta-like into little filaments, and interlock into the foundations of a wooden, cabinish house. By next month there will be no closed borders in China or America anymore, because there will be no one to enforce them. The house will finish growing and roof itself. Half the bodies of water on Earth will be pretty much crossable on the very gently moving backs of larger and larger snakes. They will be discovered to have been woodworms, N.T.-born.
I will go over there and be happy, with or without him, in my antipodal home.
Vivian Z. Hu is a fiction writer and filmmaker from Virginia who lives in Brooklyn.