“Surface Tension” by Gary Hartley

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Image: Tracie Cheng

The oil has spilled and we know it is coming. It will not be contained. There will be no expertise right there where it happened and none when it arrives, because it is us here, just us, with no expertise. Beaches await dark blankets and dead feather beds.

Over there, the robots are heading our way, from inland and on planes and from the places that the majority can only describe in terms like ‘nowhere’. We have made eye contact but not acknowledged each other meaningfully. We reap some benefits at this point of course; they have not pulled their guns and we might well venture to imagine that they never will.

We comment more and more on things, often with tenuous-at-best grasp of said things. Mute, we type everything out. We ensure there is no nervous tension this way, no silences for our eyes to take in.

Soon, the water shadow is upon us, part of our lives. We cannot sit on beaches and sip fizzy drinks and hope for, if not the best, not the absolute worst things all at once.

Smaller and smaller issues we find worthy of commentary. We let nothing go unexpressed; grasping opinions and acceptable formats from what was once dead air. As we tap tap we flick glances at colleagues and rivals and that’s, naturally, the same thing.

The once-living creatures and the floating plastic bottles are now the same sort of ephemera, croutons in abandoned soup that no service industry staff member will be seen dead collecting on a tray for improved aesthetics.

We see the briar pit and we want so badly to stick in it, for the experience firstly, then to tell friends and strangers and strangers as proxy friends, maybe go on to pitch it as a long-form work. The effect of the sun’s rays on the semi-liquid blackness is beautiful in a way. We do not vocalise, mouths stuck in rigid ohs as we ponder the lexicon of disaster.

There will be no humans coming to take our jobs, nothing that convenient. We will not be able to shout at their strange languages and funny clothes. Hard loss pollutes memories, but there will be some recall of this as the epoch when we could have done the solidarity thing, but dodged it for reasons that seemed practical at the time.

Near-dead bird can’t fan off the gloomy gloop, wings now in the hands of those flight non-experts that can be bothered with ideas as old as intervention. Solvents in the water, nothing ever solved but we pass comment, of course. Takes so hot the soles of our shoes melt, molecules creeping towards a water-bound family reunion of sorts.

Slip slapping in as ever, the sea, stoic in just another of its doomsdays. They say the ship’s been plugged. The robots don’t mind either way as they stare into mirrors, aspiring for more convincing emotional reactions. Their makers say the loving machines will clean up messes in future, there will be nothing like this, this all-too human thing. Their creations nod and smile; practice could possibly make perfect. The only sticking point might be price, but we’ll cross that smart bridge when we’ve coded it.

It never mattered that we had no expertise. That ship had sunk and the library had long shut. Not in my day, those thoughts and words that came before, those laughable irrelevances. Speak now or forever something bad. We comment and comment again, wondering if there’s an economic angle to this paragraph or the next. Everyone else is thinking the same thing. We might write about that too – shrink-wrap the new news, string it out to whatever word count is vogue.

It is what it is and a dozen or so other stock phrases for courage. Keep eyes closed, leave all communication devices on the sleeker-than-ever-before sand and do what’s necessary. The time for stepping in was yesterday and you blew it in a long, bad conversation – the only way is out. We walk into the oily water, watery oil, first ankle then waist-deep. The gloopy weight feels a bit like armbands, meaning it’s that time again. It’s time to wonder if it’s OK to feel reassured.

ENDS

 

 

 

 

Gary W. Hartley is from Leeds, but has lived elsewhere for some time. He used to co-edit The Alarmist magazine, and has a book of poems out on Listen Softly London Press. He communicates into the digital void via Twitter: @garyfromleeds

 

 

 

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