Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Corexit: a short story

Yesterday, I watched two films that complemented each other in really interesting ways.  The first was called "The Big Fix" and it's a documentary about the BP oil spill and its aftermath, which really bummed me out.  Then, in the evening, I watched a 1964 Italian film called "Red Desert" which is more of an artful, philosophical meditation on industry and pollution.  Instead of writing a straightforward movie review, like I normally do, I was inspired instead to write a short story.    Lately, I've been feeling more and more like fiction can sometimes tell the truth in ways non-fiction can't.  This story, called "Corexit" (named after the oil dispersant chemical used by BP to 'clean up' the spill), imagines a BP worker in a therapy session.  It's sort of a work in progress. (No pun intended)

"I keep seeing it in dreams.  This big black mass of, like, death, just floating under the surface.  I feel an overwhelming sense of doom, like that Cassandra character from Greek tragedy, who could see the future, but was powerless to change it.  Everyone thought she was crazy, until it was too late.  Am I crazy, Lisa?"

"You are not crazy.  'Crazy' is not a useful term."

"Many terms are no longer useful.  Like 'safe.'  "All that water out there," Mr. Antonioni said, indicating the view of the Gulf Coast outside Dr. Cox's office window, "Is not safe.  We say it's safe because it looks safe, because of all that shit we pump into it, that Corexit, but I've seen the truth.  Beneath the surface is poison and death."

"What does this black mass beneath the surface mean to you?"

"Oh, Jesus.  Do you know what Corexit can do to human skin?  Wait, you can't repeat any of this, right?  Patient/doctor privilege and all that?"


"I mean, they made us sign these corporate nondisclosure things, so we couldn't say anything when…" and here Mr. Antonioni's voice broke, and he cleared his throat to mask it, a habit he'd long used in personal and professional situations," when we saw what it was doing to people, and, uh…these are not things we are supposed to talk about.  I mean, like, if I tell you I'm thinking of killing myself, there are steps you must take, right, things you must do to stop me, right?"

"Right.  Are you thinking of killing yourself?"

"Yes.  Well, I don't know.  But my point is that what if I tell you that I'm not only thinking of, but actually carrying out actions that are hurting lots of people right now.  I'm overseeing a crew that pumps millions of gallons of poisonous chemicals into the Gulf.  What can you do then?  Can you, like, stop me?  I mean, oh Jesus, that's what the black mass is, Lisa.  It's real, right now, right out there.  I mean, we work mostly at night, and the Coast Guard keeps people out, so they won't see what we're doing but…um…."

"You're talking about the oil spill clean-up?"

"Clean up?  Clean up."

"How does this make you feel?"

"The past few nights, when I've  been out there, overseeing my crew, I keep thinking of this memory I have, when I was a little kid.  I was like 12, and our dog got killed by coyotes.  We were living in California at the time, and I was the one to find the dog's body and, uh, I knew what it would do to my sister, seeing the dog like that.  Tuffy, that was the dog's name, a rescue dog, a mutt really.  My sister loved that dog.  I didn't want my sister to see the dog like that, so I hid his body, and at night, after everyone had gone to bed, I snuck out and carried the dog inside and washed his wounds and curled him up on his little sleeping mat, so maybe she would think Tuffy was just sleeping.  I knew she would eventually find out, but I wanted to postpone the truth a little longer.  So I dressed up death and pretended it was life."

"And what happened when your sister found out the truth?"

Mr. Antonioni did not answer the question, but instead stared out the window at the Gulf Coast, as dark clouds began appearing on the horizon.

"I had this dream last night.  It was a huge field outdoors.  People were gathered around campfires.  It was nighttime and you could  see all these little firelights and the outlines of trees.  it must have been high up in the mountains because you could really see the stars.  It was beautiful.  I was there in a HAZMAT suit, with a big backpack thing, sort of like the Ghostbusters wear, and I had a hose/gun type deal connected to the backpack, also like the Ghostbusters.  You know, the ectoblasters?  Anyway, it was my job to walk around to all these campfires where people were cooking smores and singing songs and telling ghost stories, and spray my ectoplasm shit on all the fires.  Only it wasn't ectoplasm.  It was like a gray industrial waste.  At first, the fires would flare up in an almost beautiful glowing green, and then what once was a campfire was a pile of gray-green sludge, and it smelled horrible.  It smelled like death.  Very methodically, I went around to all the campfires and sprayed this chemical shit on all of them, until the field was just a dark stinking wasteland.  And in my mind, I didn't want to do what I was doing.  It was one of those dreams where you are sort of watching yourself do things, but you have no control.  As I put out the fires, the sky filled with weird toxic smoke and it clouded the stars and everyone was coughing and running around confused and terrified.  The campfire songs became screams of pain and people started to actually fall over and die.  A child fell at my feet and I could see blood coming from her mouth.  She was coughing violently.  And then she died.  I was protected in my HAZMAT suit, watching all this death and agony.  I kept wondering why no one was stopping me.  Why, as I put out fire after fire, didn't the people rise up immediately and stop me?  I wanted them to.  It wasn't until people were literally choking on their own blood that a few of them approached me, with anger and desperation in their eyes, but it was too late.  I stood like a fucked up king over an empire of filth.  And then I woke up."

"Are you still taking the Seroquel?"

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