by John McCarron, Ireland
Everything breaks eventually, except plastic. I was a plastic bag. I was born heroically to great acclaim, darling of humanity. Those early days the love I was given, a utopian vision and me at the centre! I love my creator, I want to be part of my creator. I want to wrap my creator in a gossamer of me, protecting to the very end.
I was rolled up ready for action statically close to colleagues. There was an unravelling, a tear and snap. Action won’t last long: 12 minutes or so of usefulness. 12 minutes and then 500, a thousand years roaming the earth, wandering listlessly upon the winds, the high seas deep within its entrails. Decomposition is not an option. A synthetic Nosferatu.
The fanfare is over, plastic has satanic undertones, man wants to wash his hands of me. The love is gone, people turn their backs lamenting, it wasn’t me, as if I can go away or don’t exist. The greatest disaster to befall the planet and such a good idea. Most good ideas end up as trash brushed under the carpet out of eyesight. We are together so intimate our molecules are entangled, a closeness that could not be achieved even on that supermarket roll.
I’ll tell of the day of the big bang, my big bang. It coincided with the time of the end of my usefulness. I had been torn away from my compatriots on the checkout counter by a young lady. She proceeded to fill me with grocery items procured by another lady, more glamorous. I contained oranges in a loose plastic bag, plastic razor blades in a heavier duty plastic bag, bread rolls in a breathable plastic bag, custard cream biscuits secured by a plastic one-piece and finally a child’s plastic toy in a plastic receptacle. I arrived in a home and my contents were spilled out onto a table by the glamorous lady. I floated gently to the floor. The lady called for her son:” Johnny.” Johnny came running. “Mammy what have you got me?” She presented Johnny with the plastic receptacle containing his new toy. Johnny looked, shook and hit it against the table and was frustrated. The lady put her groceries away. Johnny was about to cry and then he spotted me lying innocently on the floor. He threw his still receptacled gift down and picked me up, placed me on top of his head and pulled me down over his ears and beneath his chin. Colleagues of mine have been implicated in numerous tragedies and even a genocide; however this day the glamorous lady arrived and saved Johnny, who had gone a little blue and was prone on the kitchen floor beside his unopened gift, kicking his legs and flailing his arms hopelessly. The glamorous lady was fearsome. She grabbed me by the neck, closed my opening pouted her red, glossy lips, inhaled several cubic metres of air, attached her lips to mine, obtaining an airtight seal, and exhaled forcibly. She twisted my neck a few times, raised her arm as high as she could, with me at the end of it nearly touching the ceiling, and slammed me down onto the table with such a force that I ripped apart. Johnny began to roar with the sound of the big bang, his near-death experience and the end of my usefulness.
After Johnny was resuscitated my remains were disposed of in a brimming recycle bin out the back of this home, “out of harm’s way.” I was in the middle of other recyclables, mainly of the paper variety – cardboard boxes, bags, newspapers reporting scandals, murder, bad weather. The situation felt uncomfortable. Paper was making a comeback on account of its flimsiness. A torn up paper bag rustled wrathfully, ‘’Arrrrrgh! You’re in trouble.’’ The loathing was palpable. “You’re trouble. You always were. We knew what you were up to but they wouldn’t listen. You pretended to be really good and they loved you. We hate you and we’re not one bit sorry for you. Everyone hates you. Everyone. You kill and maim and suffocate. The world would be a far better place without you. Your presence is toxic and rotten. Get away. Go away.’’ Shocked I retorted, ‘’If you’re quite finished, my creation came about because of your inadequacies. Your performance was inept. I was a perfect idea, and as for being rotten that is one thing that I’m not nor ever will be. As bad as it is to be exploded in one day, to have to listen to your clanking noise is exasperating. If I was to take note of your charmlessness I would end up in the bin.’’
I was in the bin. I had to get out. The glamorous lady returned with more recyclables and I snagged a button on her jacket sleeve and she pulled me off her jacket with a “humph” and dumped me disdainfully on top of the paper refuse. It was to be a windy night. I awaited my opportunity to escape. Suddenly a gust of wind flipped the bin lid open. Goodbye, Johnny, I wish you a long and happy life. Goodbye, glamorous lady, I bear you no malice, your lips have left their mark and I will carry your scent for a long time to come. I jumped aboard the next violent gust and flew up, up and away, looking down on all that rubbish. I was brought on an exhilarating roller-coaster trip which held me powerless. I sat back and enjoyed the topsy-turvy thrill. I wondered where I was being brought. The wind growled and blustered, we were heading out to sea. I’d had a busy, eventful day and didn’t relish a swim. That night I stayed in the upper boughs of a 250 year old sycamore tree, having been deposited there by my blustery breeze. So long, windy one, thank you for your carriage, reports of your ferocity were greatly exaggerated; may you blow to your heart’s desire.
I was roused by the morning chorus of the singing birds. My tree shook himself down a little and proceeded to tell me of his relationships within him and on him. A tumult of species resided there, and he was supporting creation. He said I could stay as long as I wanted. I told him briefly of my recent adventures. He sympathised, but despite being a little ragged and all dressed in earth dirt, with no apparent function, I told him to have no fear for me and I would proceed on my way once the right time arrived, and I thanked him for his hospitality.
I spent the time observing the comings and goings. The tree itself had no further time for idle chit chat and went about his business, that of saving the world – respiring ,transpiring, imbibing, photosynthesising, sprouting and bending to the will of the wind. His plethora of residents were similarily engaged surviving as best they could.
Between 499 years, 11 months, 3 weeks, 6 days, 23 hours, and 48 minutes, and 999 years, 11 months, 3 weeks, 6 days, 23 hours and 48 minutes it is estimated I will exist uselessly (assuming every month is February and it’s not a leap year).
It was time for me to take my leave of the sycamore. I was ready for another jaunt. So long, old friend, it has been a pleasure to make your acquaintance. Your stoic graciousness is a testament to those who came before you. May you bend and twist for years to come.
On the wind again, Going where I’m taken, On the wind again, I’ve not been forsaken. On the day that I was born, You created a dream come true, You can’t live without me, And I can’t live with you. As I was wandering I was wondering, What was to become of me? Settle me down there upon the sea, It’s time that I set sail, To meet my destiny, And so goodbye once more, I sang gratefully.
I am watertight and seaworthy and set sail at the discretion of the ocean’s currents. I bobbed about for a long time until a case of mistaken identity occurred. A large sperm whale spied my passage and decided I was prey: maybe I resembled a squid, her usual fayre. I was gobbled up. In the bowels of this colossus, heavier and longer than a double decker bus was a ton of plastic. Alongside a large number of bags like myself were over 100 plastic cups, beakers, oil containers, water bottles, cereal box liners, and other bits and pieces. We cruised at speeds of 30 k.p.h., she hunted to depths of a kilometre for an hour at a time, emitting the loudest noise on the planet. Within this cavernous dome I met Polly Ethel. Polly was soft and in spite of blemishes she was a fine piece of plastic. We kept to ourselves, happy in each other’s company. We voyaged for a considerable time and all the while the whale became more congested, engorged and polluted with plastic. The hard, edgy bits scraped across the lining of the whale’s alimentary tract, cutting and gouging. One day without warning we came to a sudden halt. Our whale had beached herself and died.
When found by humans, she had decomposed to such an extent that post-mortem findings were inconclusive, yet there I was with Polly Ethel as headline story on the main evening news. Together with a bunch of hard plastic cups, bottles, toothbrushes, syringes and other bits displayed for all to see, as culprits for the end of the most magnificent of creatures. We were stored away. Polly Ethel had stretched out her torn and tattered bits and clung to me.
Within the storage cupboard we very quietly and discreetly discussed our current predicament and how we could not possibly be to blame for the death of the whale. It was far more likely that if any plastic was culpable, and nothing could be proven without reasonable doubt, the finger must point at the thermoset plastic. I said I didn’t like the look or anything about it. It was hard, edgy, rough, unyielding and fixed. We on the other hand are not set in our ways, and that’s what sets us apart. It transpired we weren’t talking quietly enough. We were being listened to.
‘’You think you’re it,’’ said an old dried up water bottle,’’ you thermoplastic piece of, of, of……plastic. You will end your days in a hole. I will be back. There is no limit to what I can achieve. I could be stellar. You are , are …….insufferable. One day in the future an archaeologist will come across you and he will say who on earth put this insufferable article here all cosied up with this other piece of old scraggy tatt. Ha! Ha!’’
I took this as a reference to Polly Ethel. ‘’Hold on one minute,’’ I said.’’ You think you’re coming back as something great but knowing your record so far, I doubt it. You’ll probably be a one-use plastic fork used by a drunken yob on his way home from the pub, slobbering over a bag of curried chips, and he’ll throw you in the gutter and vomit carrot-seeded puke on top of you, with you looking up to the stars.’’ It was news to me that I wouldn’t be recycled and that over 90% of plastic is not recyclable. ‘’It’s not financially viable,’’ I had been told by the crusty old water-bottle. ‘’You’re going to disappear. You’re cheap. Hee hee!’’ He said, ‘’Do you know why they call them sperm whales?’’ Without waiting for a reply he continued his cynical bilge. ‘’Years ago a fisherman broke the skull of a sperm whale, and white semen-like fluid flowed. Those skulls are 5 times the size of a fisherman’s and contain 5 times more sperm-like material for brains than the average fisherman’s sperm- producing brain. Now those sperm whales are so keen on consuming plastic they should be directed to areas of grievous plastic contamination and let them get on and clean up. Ho ho!’’ Polly Ethel nudged me as though I was to say nothing but I couldn’t leave it there. ‘’Do you know you’re talking about an endangered species. Only 200,000 survive. They live in a sewer of billions and billions of tons of plastic that once glistened clearly and they bathed supremely.’’
Thermoset and thermoplastic plastics separated. Us to the landfill, the other lot to the recycling plant. Pol said that we shouldn’t leave on such bad terms, and with a conciliatory note I said that as bad as we are we’re nothing compared to microplastics used in a multitude of applications. They make their way into everything.
Pol and me tied a knot around each other so tight nothing would pull us asunder. It wasn’t the thermoplastic union I had imagined, that would have been unrealistic anyway considering the cost, but we have the next best thing in our new home, a landfill by the sea, together forever to eternity.