I asked. I was really curious otherwise I wouldn’t’ve. Any question or turn of phrase can set someone off, make them think on their loss, make them sad and then furious. But he seemed safe enough. He’d given me water and half a packet of Rich Tea and it hadn’t cost me much. Bile Beans, he told me, were a popular brand of laxative. Is that how they lived, those coiffed and streamlined broads people used to emulate at burlesque nights? Eat stodge by day, take Bile Beans by night, crap yourself feminine first thing in the morning, repeat?
I’d first seen it walking up the road from Malton, though it hadn’t been the first thing to grab my attention. There was an upturned truck on the road like a carcass. Picked clean, I looked. They’d taken everything except the driver. Other things had gone for him. A while ago. I turned away from that and there it was, a yellowy promise from last century.
I had also walked past one from what was our time, an hour or two beforehand. Just a charred paper palimpsest, the edges and strips of all the posters that the billboard had held, peeking out one on top of the other. A depilated limb, a puppy’s eyes, the sleek screen of something new, old now. Impossibly old, more dim and distant than Bile Beans could ever be. I used to have one of the new thing. I kept it for ages, long after understanding the thing became useless, and remembering it became pointless.
Someone’ll tear the last scraps of those posters down for fuel. They’ll be gone, really and forever. And Bile Beans will still be there, at the rim of a silent city, pitching vitality to the dead.