Amos took a long swallow of Sprite, then another and another until his eyes burned a little. He set the liter bottle back in the refrigerator and closed the door quietly so as not to wake Millie who still slept deeply. The sensation of the cold carbonation, slightly burning as it washed down his throat was soothingly satisfying.
He went into the study, unplugged the fully charged laptop and walked into the den, sat on the couch in the dark for a full minute, quietly, then opened the computer, hit the start button and waited for the light of the screen to illuminate the keyboard so he could type in the password. The clock on the DVD player was flashing 12:00am. Power must have gone off after he went to bed, but the clock on the cable box, always the most accurate, the one he set all other clocks in the house by, read 3:38am.
When the laptop was up and running, he went to his email first. Over the last three weeks he had subscribed to half a dozen breaking news services: New York Times, BBC, Miami Herald, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post and the Times Picayune. He had news summaries from all and all said the same thing:” Latest Attempt Fails.”
He opened the web browser and the now familiar yellow and green page opened, the sun flower sun, its white hot center, with pedals cooling to a safe green as it expanded away from the center. BP Global felt like his new home, not just his new home page.
He clicked on the link to the ROV’s live cam, a never blinking eye that watched the flow from the broken pipe. He waited while it loaded and for a moment he thought “What if it stopped. What if I just happen to be one of the ones who looks and sees it stop, sees the last wisps of the black cloud dissipate.” He felt a shiver of anticipation watching the corner of the video screen “buffering 28%...43%...69%...92%..." and it opened and he saw what he had seen for weeks. A familiar sight and the shiver turned to sinking.
Amos pulled his hands back from the keyboard and folded his arms and just watched. The billowing clouds rolled out of the craggy end of the grey pipe. and floated up. Amos would watch one part of the cloud until is rose out of sight at the top of the screen, or until it folded into another cloud and disappeared. Then he’d drop his eyes a little and catch another fold following it out of sight. Then another.
Even though he’s been watching the live feed for a couple of weeks now, everyday, in a near trance, Amos would forget that it was not a real cloud he watched, floating in blue skies, dissipating high above. It was oil, thick and black and was billowing through water and not dissipating. But the rolls and puffs did look like clouds, not clouds of a fine summer day, but ones on the front of a fierce thunder storm. Dark.
His stare blurred and his thoughts floated to an afternoon when he and his father lay on a creek bank near his grandfather’s farm. Tired of fishing, tired of not catching anything, they lay back and looked at clouds. The deep blue Wisconsin sky was filled that summer day with bleached white clouds and a breeze, high above, that pushed and twisted the clouds, pulled them apart and pushed the pieces together again in new shapes. He and his father each tried to identify shapes, and pointed t them out to the other one, but the breeze kept them fluid and ever-changing. He could see a lion’s face or a chair but could not communicate fast enough so that his father would see what he saw. It was fun trying though and the afternoon was perfect.
Amos set the laptop on the couch beside him and went into the kitchen and took another long swallow of Sprite, longer than before, until the cold liquid hurt his throat and he could feel it flowing down his esophagus.
When he returned to the couch he had to refresh the view. The screen was blank. “Oh, maybe,” he whispered out loud. "Oh maybe it stopped.” He waited and waited through the buffering, but the image was just as before. Same black clouds, billowing, unending.
He moved away from the streaming video and skimmed the newspaper summaries he’d received and the news was all the same. Nothing was working, oil was now in the marshes, third generation fishermen were convinced there would be no fourth generation, tourism officials were worried the summer season would be lost, naturalists were trying to catch and clean pelicans, the President was not engaged, the parish presidents were enraged, and there was no end in sight.
Amos knew that even when the black oil smoke stopped, the oil in the water would remain and, like a cancer would eat away at the life around it. No, like an infection, untreated. The broken pipe was like a serious cut that even after the bleeding stopped would be infected and would only get worse as time passed. The Gulf would suffer from gangrene, and have to be amputated from the living seas. The Gulf of Mexico would become a Dead Sea.
Herman, the warehouse foreman, had told him to “Turn that damn thing off,” when Amos was watching the streaming video of streaming oil the week before. It was a slow day at the warehouse where he worked. Shipments of cardboard, which the facility handled, were always slow late in the week, heaviest on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. A shipping clerk has nothing to do between shipping orders, so he was watching the spew-cam as his co-workers called it. He usually was able to quickly minimize it when someone came into the office, but he didn’t hear Herman walk up behind him.
“Why you watching that? Ain’t a damn thing you can do. You think that mess is gonna affect cardboard shipments in Central Wisconsin? Maybe you ain’t gonna get shrimp or red fish, but who cares. Get out and sweep off the loading dock or stack pallets. Do something where you can see results and stop watching that stupid oil. Gonna drive you crazy.”
Herman might be right, but Amos had to watch. When he turned on CNN or Fox or MSNBC, and watched someone explain something, the plume was there, in the corner of the screen. Wolf Blitzer kept it running in the "Situation Room" and Fox and Friends would check in with it from time to time. Everyone was watching. Everyone was waiting for someone to do something. When there was a blizzard, it ended and it melted. When a hurricane blew across Florida, it ended and the sun came out. Earthquakes were over in minutes. And after each disaster, people cleaned up and started over. But not this time. This was going to be forever.
It was nearly 6:00am and Amos had to wake Millie for she needed to be at work early.
He closed the laptop and walked through the kitchen towards the bedroom, stopping to drain the last of the Sprite, gulping it, feeling its carbonation burn his throat as he swallowed.
“At least I can feel that,” he said to himself as he threw the bottle into the trash.
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The ROC Feed
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Labels: Short Fiction