After a very short break from my #Fridayflash, here’s a story I wrote right after the oil rig disaster that struck America last year.
An island of metal and steel, cold and lifeless – felt like his, anyway. Nothing but the ocean, deep and frightening, sharp around the edges, burned up by the rising sun. Roger took a picture; Jenny would love this, his last sunrise. Heck, maybe she’d even find it romantic.
After thirty-five years with the same company, they called it anticipated retirement. He still had a couple good years left in him, but Roger wouldn’t fight a lost battle. When he compared himself to others, he had it good; they let him off easy.
‘‘What do you want me to do, Rog?’’ his boss had said, in that high-pitched voice that always sounded like nagging. ‘‘My hands are tied. They gave me no choice, them up there. They said: it’s either the rednecks’ supervisor or some kid who can do the job just as well. What do you want me to do?’’ The final blow, the one that made Roger regret the whiskey he’d given him for Christmas. ‘‘You’ve had it good, it’s time to give up your spot to someone younger. It’s only fair.’’
Could be his age, could be the fact that his bags were packed – whether he wanted to or not – but he felt a shift in the air. Palpable, something gone wrong. He would leave it at that, not really knowing what caused the feeling. After what happened on Monday, then again on Friday… Mentioning it to his boss didn’t get him anywhere but ‘‘forget it, not your problem, not your fault.’’
It wouldn’t go away, he couldn’t forget. People talked, questioned his work ethic. When he walked into a room, they stared at him. And that silence… so heavy with unspoken words. They thought he let it happen, he supervised the horror, revenge for getting laid off. The rumors quieted down, but not everyone believed in his innocence.
His last week had been bloody: two deaths in five days. One man had drowned – shark shit by now – and the other had been ripped to shreds by a pipe drop, right in front of him. Roger had never seen something like that, not in his lifetime. He struggled not to play it over and over again in his mind; bones ground to dust, flesh to a pulp. Joe Johnson or something of the like, he couldn’t remember the new kid’s last name, but his cries wouldn’t leave his head.
Roger had thought about pleading with his boss for two years at eighty percent, just so he could stay on the job. Two men were gone; he could stay for the company now. Too late, though. The papers ending his contract were signed, the chopper scheduled in the morning to pick him up. ‘‘A waste of breath,’’ Jenny would say.
Five more minutes, he’d be late in two, but he didn’t care: this he considered his farewell party, alone with the sea, the grinding rig almost silenced by the strong Nordic wind and the hypnotic waves. Anyway, he didn’t feel like cake and coffee, he wanted to breathe in the salty air, take it with him, back on land, back home. But who was he kidding? This always been his home.
He avoided looking at the huge platform beneath his boots, the long neck moving up and down, the pumping sound, grabbing something underneath, something that wasn’t theirs to take. He had never liked how the drill violated everything, how it raped life. The smell clung to his clothes, and his heart pounded at the thought of being stranded with nowhere to go. He never thought he’d last so long on the rig, but he had.
‘‘Roger.’’ A static cry broke the moment, his CB hanging low by his thigh. ‘‘We got a problem.’’ They always had a problem until he showed up and made it all better. What would they do without him?
He stole one last look at the ocean, the one thing he’d remember most, as the sky turned from blue to bright, from dawn to yellow, pink and mauve. On the horizon, dark clouds ate the colors, turning them grey. He snapped another picture, for Jenny, who had never left Nebraska. With a deep breath disguised as a sigh, he vanished inside the rig, the door clanging shut behind him.
A group of men rushed out, their bright yellow overalls covered in thick red goo. It smelled like iron, reminding Roger of Joe. Another accident? Who died, now?
‘‘What the…’’ Roger didn’t finish his train of thought. He didn’t have to since most of the men and a few women stood before him, blocking the way. Heads bowed, eyes on the pump as it slowed, solemn as they stared.
At first, Roger recognized a joke, a gesture for his departure, but no one laughed. Not in the least. The pump should never stop, time meant money and each wink of this bad boy brought thousands for the company. Something major, something big must have happened.
He pushed the rednecks away to get to the heart of the problem, his boss squatting on the greasy floor, not one inch of his overalls spared from the crimson fluid. Roger opened his mouth to say something, but words failed him – but his eyes, he couldn’t take them off what he saw, couldn’t look away. They all continued to stare, everyone, refusing to believe, to say it out loud.
No petrol being pumped up, no black gold. Impossible, surreal, worse than anything they’d ever seen. Right there, before them: blood.
From its core, the planet bled.