None of us can stay. This epoch gets you coming or going.
‘So what’s your alternative?’ people say, as if that’s logic. We don’t have to have an alternative, that’s not how critique works. We may do, and if we do, you’re welcome, but if we don’t that no more invalidates our hate for this, for what is, than does that of a serf for her lord, her flail-backed insistence that this must end, whether or not she accompanies it with a blueprint for free wage labour. Than does the millennially-paced rage of the steepening shelf of the benthic plain for a system imposed by the cruellest and most crass hydrothermal vent, if that anemone-crusted angle of descent does not propose a submerged lake of black salt.
In all these and in countless cases, our hate will stand.
I’ve been with the dust and I’m sorry you’ve been afraid for me. I’ve been living with this skin. Cadre-school, the dust my organizer. Watching it recruit. Learning to be in this new collective.
You remember how strange it was, during the faction fight, how people all over the world weighed in, and we found ourselves lauded and denounced by forces of which we knew next to nothing. Names we’d heard, activists in foreign groups contesting or dutifully parroting bullshit from our control room. Everything took a side.
The dust, this dust, this most radical wing of matter, supported our stand. We won it over.
What the dust wants is to push their, our, shoulders against the sky and brace, and shove down so the earth turns a tiny bit faster towards the horizon. We live in a flatland, whatever pictures we might circulate of spheres, globes cosseted in clouds. Come on, now, this is a flat earth, and the problem is there’s too much contempt in the world and not enough hate.
Hate is not alright, someone said to me once. I can’t bear hate. And that’s not about piety, it’s about living well.
How can I not understand that? That made me think. Because I’m full of hate, brimming with it. But think, and you have to hate, because if you couldn’t hate you couldn’t love, and you couldn’t hope, and you couldn’t despair correctly. Not because of some fetish for symmetry, but because what matters above all is the utter.
What’s hate but utterness, the unwordable with a bad inflection?
That night it was London without Londoners. We ran through the dark leaving ruin behind. We ran by canals and quiet garages, over the rise of roads where train tracks fanned out. We didn’t slow until the dust was sure, I don’t know how, that the loyalists of the tendency – most air and ash and some parts of water, and a lot of flesh, and too much wood, and a few sheets of iron, and old coins, and slates – had lost us.
Where are we going? I said.
To a meeting.
What radicals have you ever known that didn’t have their weekly meetings?
A runnel of high-rises, a canyon of them, and water. We were below a towerblock overhang, where a copse of cold dead trees hung stubby and sculptural across the corner of a canal, where sunken bikes and a rust-scaled supermarket trolley were visible through shallow waters below a half-melted bin and a rise of earth and a squat clot of dark cloud.
This is where we’re supposed to be? I said. The dust nodded. I knew we looked like rough sleepers. Who are we waiting for? I said.
The dust said, We’re the last to arrive.
And I looked again and saw our comrades; a towerblock overhang, a copse of trees, sunk metal, water, a misshapen bin, the ground, vapour in the sky. Venue and participants were one.
We began the discussion.
I’ve never looked down from the top of the alps, but I was looking up, along a ravine like the city was carved by air. If you want that, and I do, because without it no utter, no love, no other, no break in time, how can you not have hate?
In the internecine battles of the elemental Left, we, the dust and its comrades, agitate where we can. You’ve not yet seen a polemic conducted in the shattering of walls. Or you have, but you’ve not known it.
Do you want to? You may have no choice. For which I must say sorry.
When it rushed into me that was the dust’s door-stopping visit. The exposition of its politics. Usually a posthumous persuasion through rot and desiccation, dust recruiting dust, that time was rushed and exigent, and that was my recruitment.
We’d already recruited it to our part of our party.
Not all hates are of the same scale. I watch with love, and I’ve been learning to hate like dust hates. The history of hitherto-existing quiddity is of the struggle in matter. The wealth of a society is measured in a great piling up of rocks. Breathe one in, it says to me. I give it my airways and breathe shallower every day.
This is no death-drive. Or it is but that’s so misleading a term it breaks my heart, what this is is thing-envy. Of course I envy things. Most people do that envy wrong, thinking they hanker for the quiet of thingness. Things have no quiet.
There’s no offhandedness, nothing but care and solidarity for you and A and S and what you do, your patience and your work, which I’ve been watching when I can in ways that will astonish you. Your interventions, we would say once. There’s no contradiction, we used to say. It’s the same, it’s all struggle, at endless different levels.
I don’t know if I can still bear the pace of beasts.
The ground is a restligeist that doesn’t recur because it never leaves, that acts through the crinkling of the stone tape.
I have nearly spoken so many times. You remember when the heat broke and the road outside your house went sticky, how the trash that stuck there looked like writing? But I didn’t want to get you noticed. I can’t bear it, though, to see your fast misery, that of people who think me gone. It’s a selfish comfort to reassure you, because of what happens when abysses see you staring into them. This may be me asking you to forgive me.
I miss breath. I’d like comrades with heartbeats to stand with me in this slow struggle.
It may be I’ll come back and – literally – kick the dirt off my shoes. Truly though I don’t think I can, do you?
Now I’ve written this to you, with pigments made of chemicals brought up from underground, written it in the blood of combatants on both sides, I don’t know that you can either.
I don’t know whether I want you to persuade me back, if that direction can or would be taken, or if I’m trying to have you join me.
Or if I’ve given you any choice at all, to not join me on pickets of sastrugi, triumphant saltation, agitation in soil creep.
I might be recruiting you to the dust.
This short story is taken, exclusively for Salvage, from the forthcoming collection, Three Moments of an Explosion: Stories
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