Order and Chaos
by Rebecca Hendricks
I was there after the fire.
The stink of the room was intolerable. Damp, where before it had been dry, dusty. Meaty, like the sausage smell on your Yaya’s hands when she smacks you for lying. Sour, like the breath of the mistake you awaken next to, the day after payday. Rotten and spoiled. The walls were dark smears, and the wooden cases, cracked, the front facings peeling outward in curls. And inside, soot, and here and there the soiled line of a little pin. The specimens themselves were blown away into the wind and the water, along with the cards, and the books. They’d been dead for ages. Now they were gone.
And I felt… nothing. Nothing is what I felt.
I looked, I searched for meaning, but I couldn’t find the path to it. One hundred and thirty-seven years of collecting, cataloguing, comparing and annotating. Each miniscule item meticulously identified with kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, species, each of these a step from root to trunk to limb to branch to twig to leaf. There had to be a path. Each thing was unique and uniquely perfect, each defined by its place on the tree. There, life lived, humming with relationships and comparisons.
Here in the soot, there was chaos, and I couldn’t feel it. I just stood in the room and saw the world fragment and scatter and fall outward. Fingers without hands. Sheets unraveled. Strangers with no names and no past, no future.