Summer was the worst for wearing galoshes. Sweat pooled in the bottoms making every step feel like Gonzo was sloshing through a swamp. They had become an unfortunate necessity with the muck on the rise. Gonzo’s sneaker collection had lost its place in the world.
The muck was hard to notice at first, but everyone knew what was happening. Oil spots showed up where cars couldn’t drive, powdery ash gathered on windowsills, and grease marks appeared on clothes that had never been worn. The signs were there, but everyone kept milling about assuming the problem would solve itself.
During times like these Gonzo’s mom would bake a pie with fresh apples from the market.
“Nothing brings people together like pie,” she would say as they walked.
Gonzo used to finish the journey to the market before Jerry Springer was over. Now, with the muck, Divorce Court would be rolling credits by the time he returned. At first the city shoveled it off the sidewalks, but now they couldn’t even manage to keep the streets clear. Carwashes and two-wheel drive had become entirely impractical.
A crowd gathered kitty-corner from the market holding up signs begrudging the travesties of the day. Muck dripped off them, seeping from their pores forming stalagmite mounds like running candle wax. They held hands as they demanded peace with hate in their hearts. The leader wore fishing waders as he strode through his fellows blaming the rise of the muck on a group across town no one had ever met.
“If blame were a solution we’d live in a perfect world,” Gonzo whispered as the market’s doors slid open.
The floor was a collage of gray boot prints. Gonzo quickly moved in to pick out the best apples for his pie only to find each one covered in mucky fingerprints. When he asked if there were any clean ones in back the man behind the counter bellowed a frustrated exasperation that sent a fine gray dust across the store. Gonzo watched it settle on the shelves like the ashen snow of a doomed Pompeii. He made a note to wash the apples twice.
On the return trip Gonzo watched the police attempt to disperse the crowd on the corner. The officers ordered everyone to get down on the ground but no ground existed beneath them. The muck had formed a bog trapping the participants in their roles. The tide ebbed from one side of the dispute to the other. Waves of sludge crashed against riot shields as guns shot blobs that only added to the undertow threatening to drown them all.
Gonzo was happy to return home to his plastic covered furniture and muck free floors. A breaking news alert interrupted his show as an important looking man stood behind a podium proclaiming crisis while insisting that everyone stay the course, pretending that the two were somehow different. Like condensation on a cold glass little beads of gray gathered on the sides on the television. They smeared into dirty vicious oil as Gonzo scrubbed them with a dust rag.
“Well out you go,” he said as he dragged the sweating box to the curb, “I can’t have you mucking this place up.”
Outside he noticed a man struggling to pull a cart full of shovels through the street. From the side hung a banner that read “If we all took a shovel the streets could be clear by tomorrow.” Judging by the amount of shovels in the cart, no one had taken him up on his offer.
His mother’s memory came to him as Gonzo began cutting apples for the pie. Baking was alchemical for her, the art of taking base materials and turning them into smiles and laughter. She valued different things being combined to form something greater than the ingredients could ever be on their own.
“You can’t fit a lie in a pie,” was, for her, equal parts personal mantra and critique on cheaply made desserts.
As the oven preheated Gonzo consulted his bookshelf. With pen in hand he crossed out every hateful word he came across. All the muck needed was a tiny window, a pinhole it could stretch into a poisonous maw.
The cadence of wet stomping and zealous chanting from protesters outside his window broke his pane of concentration into fractured thought. A small crack snaked through his resolve. He hated the hatred of others, couldn’t tolerate their intolerance. It was their fault the muck had gotten so bad, their fault he had to live like a hermit to avoid it. A fire began to burn within him. He checked to make sure he hadn’t left the oven door open as he began to feel sweat dribble down his forehead. Gonzo wiped his hand across his brow only to have it return streaked with gray.
“Someone has to stop this madness,” he told himself.
Sinking into his galoshes he went into the street to join the protest against the protesters even though no one could tell which was which and who was who.
As Gonzo locked the door behind him the oven beeped in the darkness. The unbaked pie sat silently on the counter, its homogeneity unrealized.
William Gilmer is a writer and poet with a penchant (attention span) for micro and flash fictions. He lives in Michigan with his lovingly acquired family, obligatory cat, and odd curios. His stout fueled stories are forthcoming or available in “After the Happily Ever After”, Speculative 66, The Fiction Pool, 200ccs, Postcard Shorts, Lovecraftiana, Twisted Sister Lit Mag, and Empyreome Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @willwritethings.