Before the World Changed

Contributor: Jane Hertenstein

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I remember when we used to take things for granted. When we threw away the heels of bread, left lights burning all night long, and traded in for a new car every four years.

Before the terrorists hit.

I remember when recycling was cool, when reusing a bag was simply being green, when it was trendy to bike to the coffee shop and request the china mug instead of the disposable paper cup.

Before the crash.

We thought about having kids.

Before you lost your job and I lost mine.

We started saving things like old toothbrushes to use for cleaning; we made our own laundry detergent from an on-line recipe. I used the Swifter cleaning clothes multiple times, front and back. Those slivers of soap—I microwaved them and pressed them together to make a new bar.

Before when the going got tough, the tough got going.

We kept the car parked and walked. On long road trips you set the cruise-control and avoided quick starts. You made sure the tires were inflated to the proper psi in order not to waste gas.

Before gas prices spiked—and stayed there.

We had already cut back on our meat consumption. We bought in bulk, ate in instead of eating out, and made more soups and hearty stews that stuck to the ribs. Cigarettes were our only splurge.

Before food prices went through the roof.

We planted a garden, after which we pickled, smoked, dried, and canned most of what we grew. One summer I put up fifty-two quart-size jars of tomatoes.

Before the bad storms came.

Nothing got tossed. Sour milk was used for biscuits and hot cakes. If the apple cider turned then it became vinegar. Bread crumbs were saved. With the extra egg yolk, we made mayonnaise.

Before the house got taken.

I began to darn our socks. I salvaged zippers, buttons, and snaps, every scrap, to use later. We patched our jeans over and over. Old clothes got made over.

Before we moved in with your parents.

We shopped at thrift stores. Got stuff for free off Craigslist. We bartered, traded, and clipped coupons.

Before our bank went under.

We got into the habit of unplugging our electronics and waited until we absolutely had to before turning on the air conditioner.

Before the power disruptions.

I remember when we used to flush the toilet after every use or squandered water, letting it run while brushing our teeth. We watered the grass, for Pete’s sake!

Before water was rationed.

I saved vegetable peelings. Sometimes I boiled them to make a kind of broth. I foraged edible weeds to make a salad.

Before the harvests failed.

We had already sold the car for parts. In a pinch we hitched.

Before travel was restricted.

I remember when people didn’t have to strip old houses for metal or sleep outside. Now we salvage large pieces of plastic sheeting, search for junk wood, extracting the nails and straightening them out, like licking bones clean, bones split open in order to suck the marrow. We fight over carrier bags, weaving them into sleeping mats.

Before the wars.

We’d sit around a wood fire, staring into the flames, trying hard not to remember how things used to be.

Before darkness descended.

Trouble used to be measured by inconvenience. Waiting measured in minutes. Now time has no limit. Catastrophe can visit both the living and the dead.

Before the end.

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My short stories have appeared or are forthcoming in: Foliate Oak, Cantaraville, Rosebud, Word Riot, Flashquake, Steam Ticket, Greensilk Journal, Fiction Fix, Six Minute Magazine, The Write Room, Frostwriting, Hunger Mountain, and Tonopah Review.
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