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OIL IN WATER
Change was a magical thing. Avery and Kori sat at the kitchen table, folding the notices announcing the public meeting. Avery hoped that between the two of them they could account for the dynamo that was once Ruth Tirabi. He knew it was a long shot, but time would be the judge.
Kori folded a single flyer and stuffed a single envelope. Avery’s system was to fold ten letters and stuff ten envelopes, faster at a rate of two to Kori’s one.
“So, except for some of the stuff that wasn’t blended, I got rid of the rest of it,” Avery said. “Maybe we should invest the money. We could double our profits.”
“Or lose it all. That money provides the cushion we need until my business is more routinely in the black.” She folded neatly with an artist’s eye for perfection which also accounted for her lack of speed. “Let’s not mess with a good thing, huh?”
Avery nodded and stuffed an envelope.
“I’m going to miss the extra money though. It was nice not having to count laundry change,” Kori said.
“We don’t have to miss it. If we could get Gil interested, the TDU would be up and running. We’d never have to worry about money again. And Mr. Cooper said…”
Kori shot him a look of empathy. “I think for you it’s a little more about getting your name on a patent than it is about the money, isn’t it?”
A wry smile crossed Avery’s lips. Kori was right. Avery was desperate for a patent. His father had half a dozen by this age and Gil already had several.
“But the machine itself, Kori. Just imagine what it could do for the environment. It takes millions of years under extreme pressure to create the fossil fuels we now burn as oil. This machine cuts that creation time down to hours. Just think of the greenhouse gasses it eliminates. We could keep what’s left of the ozone layer intact. Not to mention the money we could make if we held the patent on it.”
Kori nodded, but he could tell she was no longer paying attention. Avery decided not to mention Mr. Cooper’s offer just now.
“Thanks for helping with this stuff,” he said, indicating the mounds of papers across the table. “Mom would’ve been happy.”
“You mean happy to see me finally take an interest in something other than my own trivial little dramas.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
Kori reached over and gave Avery’s hand a squeeze. “I know. It’s what I meant.”
Gil, Max and Jack burst into the kitchen. Gil shed his coat and sat next to Avery.
“First day changing the oil?” Kori asked Jack. “Geez, Gil could stay cleaner than that.”
“Shut up,” Jack said and kissed her full on the lips, smearing her mouth with oil.
Kori grimaced and headed to the sink to rinse her mouth. Gil made a paper airplane out of one of the flyers.
“Ooooohhh, you said shut up. We’re not allowed to say that in this house.”
“Yeah and who’s going to stop me?” Jack said.
“I will,” Gil said, his tone serious. He drew himself up tall in his seat, thrust out his chest and threw his airplane at Jack.
“You and what army, Gilliam?” Jack asked, reaching over to tousle Gil’s hair. “That’s a stupid rule anyway.” Jack walked to the fridge, pulled out a beer.
“Aaaahh, you said stupid.” Gil looked at Avery for assistance, but before Avery could say anything, Jack continued. “That makes you….” Gil thrust his chin forward as if tossing the word at him, but would not say it.
Jack sat down, twisted the top off his beer and took a swig. “The only stupid things are those rules,” Jack said.
Gil looked wounded. He grabbed his coat and ran out the door, Max on his heels. Avery shot Jack a dirty look and went after Gil.
“What I do?” Jack asked.
Kori, didn’t stop stuffing envelopes to look at him. “You called my mother stupid,” she said, a sad smile on her face.
“I didn’t say a thing about your mother,” Jack said.
“Those were her rules,” Kori said, looking up. “Now who’s stupid?”
Avery caught up to Gil just as he slammed the barn door and threw the dead bolt, activating the alarm. Avery knocked.
“Gil. Let me in, man.” Avery knocked a bit harder. “Gil!”
“Why are you taking it out on me? I didn’t say anything.”
“Gil, you ran out before I had a chance to.” Gil came around to the window of the barn, peeked out at his brother, then retreated to the inner recesses of the barn. “C’mon, Gil. You love Jack. He just said a silly thing.”
“Robbie would have flattened him.” Avery tried not to laugh. Ever since Robbie left, Avery noticed he’d been growing taller every day in Gil’s eyes. Avery pondered his most beneficial course of action before responding.
“Yeah, well, Robbie was older than I was and knew a lot more than I did.” He paused for emphasis, laying his ear against the door to better hear what was going on inside. “Sorry.” Avery could practically here Gil smiling on the other side of the door, his vindication pouring out through the crack under the door. “You gonna let me in now?”
Avery heard Gil’s soft footsteps approach and then a soft thud. He waited for the sound of Gil messing with the dead bolt, but heard nothing else.
“Gil. I said I was sorry, now open the door.” Avery heard Max’s low wail and ran over to the window. A table blocked Avery’s direct view so he stood on one of the remaining drums: he saw Gil lying on the floor, writhing, the beginnings of an epileptic fit.
“Oh, Jesus,” Avery said. The area around Gil was relatively uncluttered, but his twisting and turning took him in close proximity to table legs and the myriad tools and appliances on top of them, any one of which could end up on his head.
“Damn!” Avery bolted to the door and using his shoulder as a battering ram, ran at it full throttle. He winced. The door was sturdy and dead-bolted from the inside. It didn’t budge. Avery looked around wildly, his hands settling on a log from the nearby woodpile. He smashed the window in, immediately setting off the alarm inside the barn, the house, and, he knew, the police station. A shockwave of sound ran through his body and Avery clapped his hands to his ears. The whole world can probably hear this right now.
Avery pulled his shirt sleeve up and balled the end into his hand. He poked and smashed at the remaining bits of glass still clinging to the panes and cleared an area large enough to crawl through. He dove through feet first, sending a measuring tape, calipers, and a screw driver, clattering to the floor. The last thing he saw as he dropped into the barn was Kori and Jack running out the back door toward him.
He fell to the ground, taking a beaker with him. Shards of broken glass flew everywhere. He swept what was too close to Gil aside with his feet, but that was too slow, so he used his hands, embedding a shard in the flesh at the side. He gritted his teeth and removed a substantial piece of glass before dropping to his knees next to his brother. Blood oozed from his palm.
He mounted Gil and, in moments, had him pinned by both shoulders, his injured hand spraying blood across the collar of Gil’s shirt. Gil moaned and Max licked his face. Gil seemed to sense Max’s presence because he relaxed slightly and lifted his face toward him. Avery loosened his grip, but did not get up. Kori and Jack appeared at the window and when Kori saw the blood, she screamed, a higher-pitched wail than the alarm. Avery’s hair stood up on the back of his neck.
“He’s bleeding!” Kori screamed.
Avery shuddered. “Stop! Stop screaming! It’s my blood!” He yelled over his shoulder. “Somebody’s got to get in here and shut that Goddamn alarm off.”
Jack jumped through the window with the grace of a panther and moments later the alarm went silent. Gil seemed to relax and Avery moved off and sat next to him without letting go of his shoulders. Jack unbolted the door and Kori ran in, dropping to the floor next to Gil.
“Call the police,” Avery said to Kori. “Tell them it was a false alarm.” She rose reluctantly and ran into the kitchen.
“We gotta get a phone out here, man,” Jack said to Avery. Avery nodded, watching his brother. Gil fell into a deep sleep and began to snore.
“This is probably a good time to move him,” Avery said. “Let’s get him inside where it’s warm.”
They carried him in, Jack at his feet and Avery at his head with Max leading the way.
to be continued. . .
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Kori sat at the computer feeding labels to the printer. Gil ran down the stairs, Max fast on his heels. The basement air which filled the room like a cumulous cloud parted, making room for their testosterone-laden, electro-energy. Gil bounded over to Kori and peered over her shoulder.
“Making address labels.”
“It looks like the letters are marrying.”
“What do you know about marriage?”
“Mom and Dad were married.” Kori reached out and grabbed Gil around his waist, pulling him in close for a hug.
“I’m bored.” Gil said.
“Why don’t you guys go outside and play?”
Gil sighed and Max yawned exposing a full and threatening set of teeth.
“Guess not,” Kori said. “I know. Why don’t you invent something.”
Gil looked to Max for approval. Max yawned again and sprawled on the carpet. Gil shook his head at Kori, dismissing the plan. “What else?”
Kori scrunched her nose in contemplation. “Why don’t you go outside and help Jack,” she said, smiling to herself. Gil looked at Max who wagged his tail at the mention of Jack’s name, but made no sign to go.
“Okay,” Gil said, and Kori released him. “C’mon, boy.” Gil snapped his finger at Max and the pair ran up the stairs, disappearing over the horizon of the top stair.
Jack lay on a creeper under Kori’s car, his feet sticking out the side. At least under here, the infernal wind wasn’t so bad. He’d already replaced the rotor cups and pads, and was moving on to an oil change, a simple enough job, but for the below freezing temperatures. He rubbed his hands together to warm them before loosening the nut on the oil pan.
“Hey, Jack. Whatcha’ doin’?
Startled, Jack clunked his head on the oil pan. He rolled out to find Gil, squatting at the front tire. Dressed in a down parka and wearing a hat with little jingly bells hanging from three triangular flaps, Gil looked like an elf. Max sat beside him wearing a pair of reindeer antlers.
“Don’t you know not to sneak up on people like that?” Jack rubbed his head where metal had hit flesh.
“I wasn’t sneaking. Sneaking is when you tiptoe and go shhhhh, shhhhh, shhhhh. ” Gil demonstrated, putting his index finger to his lips.
“Kori told me to come out and help you,” he said, finger still at his lips.
“If Kori wants her car finished this century, you better do something else.”
Jack pursed his lips in irritation and rolled back under the car. Gil squinted after Jack’s dark form, still pleading his case.
“But you said I could try it,” he whined. “You said the next time you worked on the car I could go under with you.”
“In a minute, Gil. Just let me get this — oh, man.” Wheels on macadam followed a sloshing sound and the glug, glug, glug of oil being loosed. Moments later the oil pan clanked to the ground. Jack emerged, sliding past a still squatting Gil.
Gil giggled and covered his mouth.
“Shut up. If you say one word I swear to God…”
Gil handed Jack a rag lying on top of Jack’s tool box. Jack grabbed it out of his hands and began to swab at least a cup of oil out of his viscous, gleaming hair. He laughed despite himself.
“Did you know that a single quart of oil is enough to cause a two-acre sized oil slick on the surface of the water? Do you know how big an acre is? A little more than 43,000 square feet. So that would be 86,000 square feet worth of oil slick.” Jack listened with half an ear while he rubbed, trying to absorb the clingy liquid.
“And as you are currently demonstrating, oil is not easily removed from hair, let alone say cormorant feathers or seal fur. And not only that. It kills the aquatic organisms that the fish live on. You know how? It chokes ‘em. Binds up the oxygen and then they can’t breath.”
“If you’re referring to the oil I just spilled, let me assure you of two things. One – most of the spilled oil is in my hair. The rest is safely in the oil pan. And two – I don’t think there are any cormorants or seals for some miles from here.”
“But it’s not just that. Did you know that a single gallon of oil is enough to poison a million gallons of freshwater? Do you know what a million gallons of freshwater is? It’s a supply big enough for fifty people to drink and bathe and cook with for a whole year.”
Jack grimaced and poked a corner of the rag in his ear, soaking up drips of oil.
“And even though much of the earth is covered with water, only one percent of it’s potable. You know what potable means, right?” Gil said.
Jack nodded and rolled his eyes. The oil in his ear was slick and evasive, covering his skin like it was a second one.
“And even though we only need to drink about two to two and a half quarts of water a day, we each use about a hundred and twenty-five to a hundred and fifty gallons a day for all the other stuff. Very wasteful. About forty percent more than necessary, I think.” Gil stared at him, wide-eyed. “I’d be willing to give up baths to save water, you know.”
Jack rubbed the oil-stained rag roughly over his head and gave up. “What are you, the Encyclopedia Britannica?” He threw the towel to the ground and sighed. “Let’s take a break. Get a drink while we’re waiting for the last of it to drain. So we can be quite certain I’m not further contaminating our precious water supply.”
“Yeah, because fragments of those little spilled oil spots on driveways and roads can also end up in our water supply. When it rains it gets washed into the storm drains, and when it rains really hard, into the combined sewer outfalls which empty into the river. You know what that means, right? Sewer and rainwater together. That’s really gross.”
“Are you done now?”
Gil stood up, extending his hand to Jack. Jack grabbed the proffered appendage and allowed Gil to pull him to his feet. He rubbed his greased stained hands on his pants and together they walked inside.
to be continued. . .
to read before, make a wish and click here
The change was gradual as most changes are. Not a sweeping, life-altering moment, like satori, that mystical state of enlightenment where all is revealed. That only happened to people in the movies whose lives fit snugly into a three-act structure. That was more Gil’s thing; his was a real life movie.
No, this change began with the industrial revolution and it was slow and steady and specious and that’s why no one noticed. Avery knew the statistics. Over two thousand species of plants and animals, making their homes in various rainforests became extinct every day. Tillable land took precedence over foraging the fertile soils for raw materials that would become medicines. Old growth forests were becoming tables and chairs and bookcases. The trees, which acted as the earth’s lungs taking in carbon dioxide and returning oxygen, were being methodically clear cut, leaving a system that ran on partial capacity, like a cancer patient who’s had a lung removed. Fertile soils, the hallmark of America, capable of producing vast quantities of a amber waves of grain, were being systematically stripped of all nutrients, thanks to agribusiness, through the overuse of pesticides and lack of diversification in farming, or worse, paved over for housing developments. The hole in the ozone layer continued to grow yet the U.S. walked away from Kyoto, citing shoddy science and uncertainty, allowing corporations to line their pockets a little deeper against the coming winter, the winter that may soon never go away. What will we do when floods and famine become the norm?
Avery really never understood it all. He knew it was bad, but what time he devoted was more for Ruth the Mother Of Us All . He sighed, folded another group of flyers and stared out the window looking for answers in the grey winter sky.
“Hey.” Avery jumped sending a stack of flyers sailing to the ground.
“Jesus, Kori. You scared the heck out of me.”
“What are you thinking about?”
“Mom,” Avery said. Kori sat down next to her brother.
“Me, too. So – how can I help?” She extended her hand. Avery put a stack of flyers in it.
“Labels. I need some…” A loud rap at the door sent more papers scattering to floor. Avery turned to see two policemen, peering in the kitchen.
“What’s going on?” she asked, and jumped up to answer the door.
Gil miraculously appeared in the kitchen. “They’re cops,” he said and sat down at the kitchen table, his knee bouncing up and down.
“No kidding, Sherlock,” Kori said, walking to the door. “Why are they here?”
“Cause I set off the alarm.”
“You little jerk,” Avery said. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Cause I didn’t know until just now,” Gil said.
Kori opened the door and greeted the visitors. “Hi. Can I help you?”
“Yes, Ma’am. I’m officer Matheson. We’re investigating a call into headquarters at 14:42 hours. Report indicates the alarm in the barn was tripped. Have you been home, Ma’am?” Avery walked over and stood behind his sister.
“All afternoon, officer.”
“Have you noticed any suspicious behavior in the vicinity of your backyard, Ma’am?”
“Not suspicious, but I can tell you…” Avery pinched Kori in the back, hard. “Oowww.” She turned to glare at her brother.
He smiled sweetly, a warning in his eyes. “Nothing suspicious, Officer,” Avery said.
“Okay. Mind if we take a look?”
Avery and Kori both shook their heads.
“We’ll let you know if we find anything.”
The cops walked across the lawn and Kori closed the door behind them. Avery and Gil exchanged glances.
“All right-y, then. Somebody better tell me what’s going on.”
The wind picked up as Officers Matheson and Traecy crossed the backyard. They arrived at the barn to find the door banging in the wind. Matheson checked the perimeter while Traecy investigated the interior. After several minutes they stood at the door.
“Just a false alarm. Probably forgot that it was on,” Matheson said. “This wind’s not helpin’.” He turned his collar up against a fresh onslaught and closed the barn door.
“Kids,” Matheson said. Traecy nodded in agreement.
to be continued. . .
to read what came before make a wish and click here.