It began with the mail. That’s not true. It started generations ago when we came on railcars pulled north by the steady tug of buried ore.
But then it was the arrival of the mail—two envelopes, bulging with declarative sentences and government seals—that pushed us into seats around the kitchen table where we sat for hours, digesting.
Beneath the dingy bulbs, we took turns pointing our fingers at each other, trying to pin-point what it’d mean for us. We haphazard clairvoyants looked into the future of our pharmacy, took stabs at the government’s property valuation. We tried to plot on paper the monetary sum that could propel us to begin again.
Those nights, we wandered through consecutive dreams about the earth splintering beneath us, as if it were a timber bridge we’d made bear too much. In the morning, we shook the sleep from the precipices beneath our eyes and could see it was no dream.
Our valley was always blanched with bitter cold, the stale snowdrifts draining down the mountain rim like foam lacing on a beer mug. We came to be here not for our nature or for petty exploration but for work alone. Our grandfathers drilled and blasted and mined into the buried wealth. Our fathers earned their inheritances and were God-fearing men. Our generation, we opened a store to sell Aleve to the walking backaches that still shuffled in from the mine after dark.
We had heard rumors and on occasion felt the rumbling for ourselves but didn’t dare corroborate our fear with each other. But the official print-face of the mailed proclamation gave the situation a new and objective gravity. A gravity we felt on our stomachs and could not prescribe away.
It was all true: the constant drilling had fractured a pivotal piece of crust and we were to pick up our whole town, move it two miles down the road, or risk falling into the ground. Because it was a state-owned company that’d been pillaging when the geologists threw up their arms and flags, the state would pay for our migration in full. After reading through and signing the contracts, there was really nothing to worry about on our balance sheet. Still we found ourselves unsteady.
For months, a year, then two years, the parallel town sprouted up to the east, building-by-building, street-by-street. First the post office and the trucking yard, then the cookie-cutter architecture of medical practices. The new town had nearly the same blueprint but was more trim and better thought-out. Our true town was built of urgency—to plan felt too foreign for home.
Once a replica was finished in the new town, its original was demolished without ceremony. The streets were slowly tilled into dust and brisk wind.
City hall was cut into four parts and loaded carefully onto flatbed trucks. We stood on our porch to watch the odd procession creep by. Every morning that second year, the sun touched the new town first. We looked toward it, eyes sore.
Our church, voted the most beautiful public building in the country by the Swedish people, was taken apart piece-by-piece in an effort to preserve it. The altarpiece was strapped down on two smaller trucks. Sides of the gothic exterior made their way onto flatbeds with blinking lights and a dense police escort.
We watched from outside the pharmacy as excavators clawed the walls and bulldozers moved the rubble like businessmen. The new pharmacy would be nicer and neater. We had hung the digital designs up on the refrigerator as if we had made them from our own desires.
The last night in our house, everything held together by duct-tape and cardboard boxes, we had a big, loud dinner. We shouted our stories to the beams and laughed our past up into the rafters. Wood, no matter how many times it’s been treated, is said to never stop absorbing. After the first bottle of whiskey had been drained, we set a small feast of crackers and cheese on the floor in the corner of the room. Hours later, we noticed two mice poking their heads out and approaching their food. Conversation stopped and we watched, the moon silent beyond the mountain-rim.
In the new town, on the first official day of our occupancy, we went to church. The interior felt familiar but was too full of born-again people. The pastor spoke and paced and reminded us to be thankful. Outside, a celebration had been planned, balloons and streamers canned in cold metal containers. Mass ended and music began to pelt down from loudspeakers in the town common. The pastor urged us out the heavy doors, his arms stretched forward.
We trudged out from the pews and felt an unexpected surge of festiveness. People ahead of us began to clap as they emerged from the church. Before long, the air had erupted into applause—a release of the collective surprise for our having made the two-mile trek. Of having not having been too inconvenienced by this uprooting.
The Ice Hotel had been erected opposite the church’s main doors. Thousands of pounds of ice were molded and placed to form the two-story spectacle. It glistened beneath the vast floodlights. Children ran from their mother’s scattered warnings and toward the Hotel. They skittered down its freshly sanded and salted paths, their apprehension drowned out by the plenary pull of excitement.
It was incredible and grand, all of it. We had been taken care of as much as was possible. The light flooded the packed snow in the square. Women snapped pictures. The mountains were invisible behind the sharp glare. Beneath our coats, something made us cold but we could not know.