top of page


High Consumption

Liam Greenwell

We had gone to a place in the woods where the trees were still covered with long blades of snow in order to escape what we were told was catastrophe. It had been a long time coming, we thought, as we unpacked the rented Chevy, a detail we laughed about because we would never drive a Chevy in real life. We entered the house and realized the lights didn't work, but that was nothing for us—it just made the atmosphere better, we said, as we curled into sleeping bags from whose seams emerged small puffs like foam out of the mouth of a rabid dog. 

This was the future, we realized, as we woke up the next morning into fog that berated the cabin with the insistence of our mothers. The coffee was black. A long time ago, we had dreamed of so many things—of a parade of things that emerged from boxes and packing tape to make our homes look like an Ikea. Of a parade of people, too, that never seemed to end, all with slightly different hair, who would tour our apartments and judge our pantries and fuck us and go home. 

But this was not a song of regret. In the end, the five of us had left before the alarms had sounded. The car was full of cans of tuna. The snow streaked across the paving stones before curling to water. We wore boots when going outside to check for tracks, to learn how to tap trees for syrup, to listen to the wind and compare it to whispers in our ears. From the top of the nearest hill, where a rusting fire tower was sinking into the alpine moss, we could see the faintest outlines of the coast. But how could we even tell what was sky and what was sea? 

The house belonged to an absent uncle, but by our fifth can of tuna he felt like a son. We stared into framed photos that showed his face as a child, a pithy reply hidden behind smirking jaws. In another, he cradled a rifle like a bag of flour, its bulk made directionless. We found old dresses in the upstairs closet but knew that he had never married. 

We spent evenings blaming everything for our lack of knowledge. We felt like newborns with gummed-up mouths. The world was alien to us, and though we had left our friends and phones behind that did nothing but make us limbless. One morning, a doe stood sentinel in the front yard, its teeth glistening behind open jowls like those of a pit bull. We named her Susan. 

Every evening, we would light a fire. It was the only thing we had learned how to do well, and even it failed us sometimes. We began to recognize each other more by our shadows than by our faces. On the kitchen door, a pig cowered in its shed, bracing for suppertime. On the far wall, a jester's cap flashed on a disembodied head, though we never heard the sound of bells. 

Now it was becoming spring, and as we awoke each morning the birds made their homecoming known. The roving sun sopped up the last freckles of snow. Beads of water hung to leafy branches in polka-dot succession. Every now and then, we would see a plane high above, a white flag waving for peace. 

We all knew what was coming but never said it. Instead of boiling sap or cutting wood we spent long days talking of Lucinda Williams and ferries and tomatoes. When we realized the Chevy didn't have gas, we volunteered at once for the long walk to get some. In truth, we feared a return to the city, but the cans of tuna were dwindling. The empty ones with stains of oil threatened fire in the screened-in porch. We could admit it: we were unprepared. But that in itself was no surprise, as we had rarely encountered something that we felt we knew the secrets to. We thought of the many ways to use the word break.

We dreamed of kissing like John and Yoko. Sweet caresses on sharp summits. Coffee with milk. We rigged the car battery to the breaker panel and danced in the glow of the lightbulbs like electric pagans. In the back room of a casino, we had seen a trickster playing cards as if all of them were diamonds. Now, in the light of the clear blue morning, we could see hearts were in the mix too. 

On our penultimate night, Susan paid us another visit, her snout still fixed in a distorted grimace. She ate out of our hands when we fed her the last of our tuna and pranced into the mossy forest. The rifle, we admitted, had never grown snug in our grasp. We decided to leave the camouflage-colored key on the table. Maybe someone could do it better than us. 

There were fewer texts waiting for us than we expected. The summer was long, like all summers in the city are, then it ended, and it was fall. In our dreams, we saw the cold coming down off the mountain like fingers of smoke. We saw the door freezing shut, the rifle clogging, Susan muzzling the virgin snow for the last bits of green. 

We didn't go back to things how they were before, not exactly. We were surer of our role as extras in the drama to come. We waited and waited and things did, indeed, get worse. But there was always more time. As the protests lit the streets in veils of kaleidoscoping color, we were there too. We embraced the power of the crowd, never admitting that we had already lived the world as we imagined it one day would be. But we no longer burned to get there, even if every other night we still ate canned tuna and slept in our torn-up sleeping bags, making sure that our roommates didn't notice. 

This piece is from the first issue of Topograph. Consider subscribing to our newsletter or donating to support our work.

Liam Greenwell is a writer and educator who until recently lived in Mexico City and is originally from Cambridge, MA. You can read more of his work (primarily nonfiction) at

More from Issue 1

bottom of page