Poems by Bradley Hoover

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A Glass of Water

by Bradley Hoover

From Canary Fall 2011

Brad lives in the Wolf Creek sub-shed of the Upper Bear River Watershed in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada.

     After Paul Johnstone pushed through the swinging doors and collapsed onto the marble floor, everything went black. When he awoke he was slouched in a chair, staring glassily about the room. There were many others in similar postures lining the walls of the room. They look beaten and hollow, as if they were longing for something unattainable and knew it. Johnstone’s gaze settled onto a sign made of the same marble that his feet rested on—
Blue Hydra Hydration Room.
     He started to ask the person next to him a question but stopped when the words failed to emerge from his throat. Looking down, he noticed a blue tag dangling from his left wrist with the number sixty-one on it.
     “Forty-four,” a recorded female voice said to the room. “Blue Hydra patient forty-four may approach the window. If applicable, please have your water insurance card or policy number ready.” Johnstone watched a man step awkwardly toward a window at the far end of the room and thought of his young daughter Flora who was just learning to walk, her tiny feet stamping a halting, uneven pattern against their apartment floor. He felt panicked and wondered where she was and if she were all right; he hadn’t seen her in several days, since he’d begun a desperate search for a job after the company he worked for had announced it was moving overseas and closing immediately.
     More people were called to the front; Johnstone first heard and then spotted a woman behind the counter answering phones. Every time she picked up the receiver she said, “Policy number, please,” and then she would ask the caller a series of questions—often she had trouble communicating with the person on the other end of the line, as if they couldn’t quite understand each other. Behind the woman, lined up against a wall, were about eight clear, glistening water stations with a Blue Hydra logo stamped across their fronts. Johnstone really wanted—needed—some water, and quickly, but he knew he wasn’t entitled to any, not since he had lost his job and subsequently his water insurance. And his family. How long could they hold out? This is why he had been looking so frantically for a job.
     “Sixty-one,” a recorded female voice said to the room. “Blue Hydra patient sixty-one may approach the window. If applicable, please have your water insurance card or policy number ready.” Johnstone stood up and approached the window, the tag dangling from his wrist. “Are you a Blue Hydra customer?” the lady behind the counter asked.
     His voice all but gone, Johnstone managed to whisper that he was a Blue Hydra customer three days ago but that he had lost his job and . . ..”
     “So no,” the lady said. “How do you intend to pay for hydration services rendered?” Standing and staring blankly at the woman, and then beyond her to the glistening water bottles lined up against the wall, Johnstone thought back to the old days when water was readily available—even in fountains on the street! All one had to do was push a button. But the men in suits had talked to other men in suits and there were even a few women involved and it was decided that it was best for the United States of America to sell drinking water, and drinking water insurance, and to pump poison (they called it a “liberating agent”) into all “non-salable” water, which was water not under control of the men in suits, rendering it undrinkable. And a few questioned whether it was best to poison our drinking water and were asked in return why they hated America so much.
     “How do you intend to pay for hydration services rendered?” the lady repeated.
     The truth was, Johnstone had no money, and thus no way to pay for hydration services rendered.
     Two men in white vests with the Blue Hydra logo on the front approached an exit door behind the counter. One of them asked the other one if he were going to fill his second pool with Blue Hydra water, and then they laughed.
     “And how do you intend to pay for the blue tag we put on your arm?”
     Johnstone could no longer speak. His voice was totally gone, blown away like dust. His Adam’s apple felt like a golf ball lodged in his throat. The lady behind the counter asked him to step to the side and then pushed a button. ““Sixty-two,” a recorded female voice said to the room. “Blue Hydra patient sixty-two may approach the window. If applicable, please have your water insurance card or policy number ready.” As Johnstone moved to his left, a hydration nurse noticed him and started toward him, smiling.
     “You’re Flora’s father, aren’t you? Flora goes to childcare with my Annika.” When she saw Johnstone fail in his attempt to reply, she asked the lady behind the counter why he hadn’t been provided with any water when he was obviously in need of some. Johnstone’s eyes managed a faint sparkle; perhaps he could go behind the counter right then and drink from one of the glistening tanks of pure water.
     “He has no insurance,” the lady behind the counter answered.
     “Can’t we give him grade D, E, or, hasn’t Corporate just up with a new grade F water, with an amount of poison that is only lethal if you drink more that a quart of it?”
     “Blue Hydra, please hold,” the lady who was answering the phone said. “I think you can drink two quarts of it without dying.”
     A male hydration nurse came over. “In hydration academy they told us it was two pints.”
     Another worker came over, smiling. “Why don’t you just check the Evidence of Coverage and Hydration Contract booklet?”
     The male nurse said that if Johnstone had had even base-level water insurance, he would only be responsible for the first eighty percent of hydration services rendered up to the first thousand dollars; then he would only be responsible for seventy percent of the next ten thousand dollars.
     The lady on the phone looked annoyed and said, “He’s responsible for the first eighty percent of the first three thousand dollars that he would have been responsible for, had he had base-level water insurance.”
     Johnstone felt as if he were about to float and in fact thought of dandelion spores floating lazily across a sun-lit meadow as a man in a suit came up and reminded every one that Johnstone would be covered at the amount the lady on the phone stated but that his family would not necessarily be covered. It depended on the circumstances of their thirst event. Furthermore, he stated, Johnstone and his family would only be partially covered for the first hundred thousand dollars in a calendar year, and that after, he would be responsible for the whole amount. The lady at the counter started to disagree with the man but stopped when she, along with every one else, heard Johnstone’s head slam with a resplendent clarity against the counter, followed by his body slinking slowly onto the hard marble floor next to a growing stream of red.

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