Creative Nonfiction: The Air Looks Green Today… by Jim Almo

Image by Kristina Hines

Not emerald green, like dappled sunlight beneath the leaves of a giant walnut tree. This air is tainted with chlorine from the factories down the road. It swims into town along the deep valleys of the Jackson River and makes the golden yellow honeysuckle in my yard look like a bruise.

About nine miles as the crow flies. That’s how far the factories are. We drive over that way sometimes to go to the Kmart. It’s the only department store around besides Family Dollar. And Family Dollar is where the poor people go. It’s where we usually go. 

The air smells smoky today. Not comforting, like a wood fire or the neighbor grilling steaks from the A&P. It’s the scent of rotten eggs and decay. I can feel the burn of ammonia and sulfur dioxide in my nose and throat.

It doesn’t always smell this way. Sometimes the factory coal smoke rises high into the sky where it settles in clouds, mixes with water vapor, and falls back to earth, peeling paint from the rust-scarred Chevy pickup. The droplets push the odor down and I can smell the clean. It smells like fresh grass. Like the pine and red cedar trees on the hills across the river. I take deep breaths and imagine I’m somewhere else. Anywhere else. 

The air tastes sour today. Not a refreshing sour like cold lemonade after a sweaty bike ride on a July afternoon. The methanol and hydrochloric acid feel acrid and harsh in my mouth. It’s sour and sharp at the edges, like the cheese and fruit I’ll pull from dumpsters years later. Because you don’t leave here without paying a price.

It doesn’t always taste like this. Some days it’s sweet like the pre-made cookie dough we get on double-coupon day at the grocery store. Or even bland like the casseroles at the church pot-lucks where we gather together in fellowship.

The air feels sludgy today. Not sludgy like mud pies or the thick grease of bacon fat cooling in the coffee can. It’s sludgy the way the creek was when I slipped and neon green strands of gunk clung to my shoes and slick mucus hung on my leg. Most days are like this.

The air sounds metallic today, but it always does. The screech of steel train wheels echoes off the dark glass windows of the dusty storefronts. And on Sundays, through tinny speakers in the eaves of the sanctuary, a man of god reminds us that the lord gave us these five senses so that we might be in awe of his creation and serve him. I exit into the haze, take a deep breath of pungent air, and search for the train that I keep hearing and keep missing.

Jim Almo (he/him) is a southern writer and musician living in the northeast. He is a coffee nerd, drummer, and loves to cook vegetarian dinners with his wife and two teen boys. You can follow him on Twitter @jimalmo.

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