If right now everything stops, and there is no longer re- but only de- (decay),
Autolysis: self-devouring. Your cells deplete themselves from the inside out. Within seventy-two hours, your swollen heart desists. Orange peels decompose six months later. Cotton socks decamp within a year. Wool sweaters and milk cartons depart in five. (Every carton of milk you drank in elementary school is already gone without a trace, and isn’t that surprising?) Twenty-five years later, your leather shoes defect. Tin cans and tissue (the kind which makes you soft to hold) take fifty to degenerate. Bones and batteries, a hundred years defiant.
Plastic, that twentieth-century debutant, carries on through the 2500s. Only the sun will touch it, photodegrade those polymers into microscopic morsels. Half a millennium to demolish the great graveyards of Dasani, Fiji, Pellegrino, Aquafina, Poland Spring, oh, La Vie. Half a millennium despoiled by every diaper you ever shat. And the ocean breaks down its microplastic detritus last.
Your teeth do not decay for tens of thousands of years. That is not as long as it takes to depose the skyscrapers, debris fields crumbling down to quartz for the wind or the water to disperse. Anthropic fossils press patterns into stone: earth’s interior design. There are mosquitoes deposited in resin, resins deposited in rock, rocks deposited in water. Pirates’ gold fillings do not depreciate, and neither do the diamonds of the brides. Glass bottles, those stubborn webs of silicon, take a million years to deteriorate to sand.
Then finally it is the deathless age of Styrofoam. A quiet planet blanketed with desiccated snow.
And a plaque on the moon still bears dear Richard Nixon’s name.
Hannah Story Brown is a writer and dramaturge based in New York, dreaming about green cities. She graduated magna cum laude from Columbia University in 2019, and her work has been published in The Seattle Times, the Columbia Journal of Literary Criticism, and the Columbia Daily Spectator.