August 22, 2012 – End of the World
The world didn’t end in 2012. Nor did it end in 3012 is how I begin the second short story chapter in the book I’m writing. I type up a few pages and then get stuck. I need a manmade disaster. Two, in fact, that occur sixteen years apart. Something not cliché, not previously used, and one that is shameful. How the heck can I make stuff up without the help of Google? I lean back in my chair and stare out the side window at the ship that’s parked across the water there.
The answer to this is easy. Ask an expert.
Josko, the chief engineer, will know. But his door is closed. He’s in the engine room working. Damn. Everyone is working. Double damn. I take my notebook up to the pilot deck and sit in the sun and let my own slow thoughts clink into place, thick clog by clog. I’m working too.
End of the world? Why? What is Lila’s importance? Instant world-wide water vaporization? The tragedy of 3080 has to be something shameful in order for it not to be talked about. These are some of the musings I write down and thoughtfully chew upon.
Nuclear disaster. Natural disaster. Pollution. No more water.
Josko will know how to vaporize water. I’ll wait and ask him.
I take my chair around to a new spot, in the sun or out of it at varying intervals, it’s a warm day. I’m watching the cranes work. Their stringy arms move slowly, the stevedores or crew who hook them up to the giant objects we’re taking on board wait over half their working time. Wait for the crane to grab, to release. It’s slow, slow work. It’s dangerous work. It’s no wonder these ships are filled up with ghosts. A Belgian is running the shore crane. I can’t see through the ship crane’s reflecting glass to see the operator’s face, but I know he can see me. I shade my eyes and glare. It’s no good. I wish I’d brought out my binoculars. I wave at the ship’s crane operator anyway and hope it’s Ian. He’s the most fun of the ABs (Able Body Seamen).
What is Lila’s importance? It’s a hard, but extremely vital question. I leave it to tumble in my head and go to lunch.
Marius is at his place. First as always. No one else is there.
“Good appetite,” I say, and take my seat.
“Good appetite,” he says.
Before he can tease me about Texas BBQ, I twist around and ask, “I need your help for a story I’m working on. If I wanted to vaporize all of Earth’s water how would I do it? Does it have to be a nuclear disaster?”
He’s an electrician and should know a lot of the same things an engineer knows, I figure. He should at least know about the power of sabotage, about people’s propensity to create mishaps. Marius isn’t taken aback by my question. This endears him to me. He pushes back into his chair and thinks. “An asteroid,” he says.
“That’s a good option,” I say. Poor dinosaurs. I pause for half a beat. “I need it to be human error though.”
“Oh,” he says. He eats a couple bites and ponders. Joe brings me a plate of vegetables and I dig in.
Over our lunch, Marius and I talk about catastrophes. The heated core of the Earth. Of ways to make the water sit in a never-raining cloud just above the ozone layer. Of nuclear mishaps that tear the Earth’s atmosphere in order to make that never-raining cloud possible.
He’s a perfect brainstorm companion; willing to play my What If game.
Lunch doesn’t last forever and we bid each other good afternoon and I take my ideas and go work a little more. It’s no good. I need more solid information. I need time to let these suggestions take root.
I leave my computer and go sit at the gangway.
One of my nameless friends (the “I like you very much” guy) is on duty. He greets me shyly and I take a seat next to him. He reads a seamen’s magazine and I sit next to him, comfortably silent in his company. There’s a swarm of activity. Filipinos pass by, pausing to get a smile from me or exchange some words, on their way to and from tasks, stevedores come on ship to complete or start jobs, inspectors and supervisors come and go, a group of Filipinos including Charlton and the bosun come up the gangway from outside.
“How was outside?” I ask them.
“We went to Sunny Europe,” Charlton says. Sunny Europe is a Duty Free shop where seamen can buy all sorts of things for themselves or to send to their families. Charlton had told me about it earlier.
“What did you buy me?” I tease. Then they’re gone.
The chief officer marches by, walkie-talkie in hand, he pauses when he sees me. Not sure if he should banish me from the deck or make me wear a hardhat. He decides I’m safe where I am, but tells me not to venture out on the working part of the deck.
“I’ll stay here,” I say.
I-Like-You and I exchange a look and he goes back to his reading.
Ian walks by. Full of energy, smiles, laughs. He sees me and I-Like-You and asks me, “Are you a library?”
“A library? A librarian?” I’m not sure where he’s going with this.
“Are you a library?” he asks again. I’ve got a deer in the headlights look in my eyes. “You say
‘Why?’” he instructs me. He tries again. “Are you a library?”
“Because this guy is reading a book and being quiet around you.”
I laugh at his joke and he leaves happy.
I-Like-You notices my tattoo. “You have tattoo?” he asks.
I turn my foot to show it off better and say, “Yeah. Do you have any?”
“I’m a good boy,” he says.
“No earring?” I ask, looking at his ears.
“No,” he says again, “I’m a good boy.”
I wonder what that makes me with a tattoo and two earring holes in both ears. I revel in my sudden wickedness. I should spike my hair.
A Sunny Europe van pulls up and I stand up when I-Like-You does to watch the guy walk up the gangway. I squeeze up against the check-in podium so I’ll be out of the way. The delivery guy is young and open-faced friendly, we strike up a conversation while he waits for the papers to be signed by the bosun and for the guys to come get their boxes.
I feel this is my house and I’m in position to be host to all who enter, to bid good luck, good living to all who leave. I love this place. I love this ship. I love these guys.
Jake walks by. He has his full facemask on. The Filipinos cover up when they work, long sleeves, head wraps, facemasks. To keep cool. To keep the sun from burning them. That’s just the way they do things.
“Are you cold?” Sunny Europe asks Jake. It’s a warm day and there’s a hint of incredulity in his voice.
“It’s because I have an ugly face,” Jake says, and walks on by.
The bosun and Charlton and the other guys show back up and the paper gets signed and the boxes brought on ship. Sunny Europe and I wish each other Best of Luck and then he’s gone.
I leave my duty just before dinner. “See you later,” I tell I-Like-You. He nods in response.
I’ve decided I’ll take my computer, catch the 6:30 bus, and go to the Seaman’s Club to get online. I need to know exactly how nuclear energy, fusion, and fission work. I need to search for ways to completely vaporize water. I want specifics, scientific facts, nerdy language. “Need more input!” as Johnny Five said in the movie Short Circuit.
Val, the Ukraine crewman is waiting at the stop already with a cloth bag in hand.
“Good evening!” I tell him.
“Good evening, Amanda,” he says.
The bus arrives soon and we sit next to each other and talk about cargo ships and container ships, his garden in Ukraine, his wife who’s tending the garden, his daughter, of dark beers. He tells me that I should try Köstritzer, a good German beer, when I get to Hamburg. I write it phonetically in my notebook. He also recommends Leffe, another dark beer, and I store the name in my head. He shows me the book in his bag that he’s going to exchange for a new one from the free library at the Club.
When we arrive he steps down off the bus first and when he reaches his hand up for mine, to help me
down, I take it. It’s an old courtesy, an ancient kindness, a chivalry, an unknowing (not contempt) of modern feminism. It’s not a disregard of me—not a commentary against my ability, it’s just old world kindness. And I’m okay with it. He treats me with a respect that is antique and doesn’t strip away anything that I am. I have nothing to prove.
Val pauses to let me go inside first. I feel like his daughter, his sister, his friend. He’s being decent and I’m thinking up ways to destroy the world.