Short Story Of the Day (flash fiction), Plastics by Bill Chance

Mr. Maguire: I want to say one word to you, Benjamin. Just one word.

Benjamin Braddock: Yes, sir.

Mr. Maguire: Are you listening?

Benjamin Braddock: Yes, I am.

Mr. Maguire: Plastics.

—-The Graduate

Grapevine, Texas

 

 

I have been feeling in a deep hopeless rut lately, and I’m sure a lot of you have too. After writing another Sunday Snippet I decided to set an ambitious goal for myself. I’ll write a short piece of fiction every day and put it up here. Obviously, quality will vary – you get what you get. Length too – I’ll have to write something short on busy days. They will be raw first drafts and full of errors.

I’m not sure how long I can keep it up… I do write quickly, but coming up with an idea every day will be a difficult challenge. So far so good. Maybe a hundred in a row might be a good, achievable, and tough goal.

Here’s another one for today (#29). What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.

Thanks for reading.

 


Plastics

 

Baker worked for Yoyodyne Injection Moulding (marketing insisted they always use the British spelling). One thing he had to do was to walk out every morning to the tank farm where the monomers were stored and inspect the containment around the tanks to make sure there were no leaks or spills – no foreign material inside the dikes.

It rained all the time, especially at night. There was usually water in the containment and the maintenance crew would come out  most afternoons to drain the accumulation. They were the only ones with keys to the valves.

He had a form on a clipboard that he had to fill out. Date the top, make checkmarks by each line that corresponded to a tank. At the bottom was a space for corrective actions in case of a leak. He had never written in that spot.

It was very tempting to pencil-whip the inspections – not do the walking around and looking – simply check the forms and file them away. He knew that’s what Duane did, the guy that used to do the job. He would sneak out for a smoke when he was said he was going for the inspections. But Duane was caught with a joint in his mouth while he was operating the big press and they fired him. The union was going to get him reinstated but the inspections looked like they were Baker’s for good.

The factory was located in a swamp in the south and it was always incredibly hot. Humid too. And giant mosquitoes. Baker would try and get out to do his inspection right as the sun came up but it was still so soggy and sweltering he felt he couldn’t even breathe properly – the air so full of hot water that it displaced the oxygen. The very air of the place could not support life.

At dawn, the sun would be peeking orange over the swampy jungle that surrounded the factory, the tanks looming huge – white cylinders shrouded in mist burning away by the growing daylight. All sorts of birds would be chattering, chirping, or singing – their sound competing with more guttural cries from swamp critters – Baker had no idea what was making those noises and didn’t want to learn. The smell of decomposing miasma wafted across the property and competed with whiffs of acrid stench of volatile monomers coming from the vents as the tanks were heated by the sunrise.

That day, however, it was not like that. It was February and a historic cold front had blown through the night before. These blue northers were not common, but they happened. There had been a good bit of cold rain and he knew there would be water in the containment. Baker dug an old musty coat out from his locker and had brought from home a knit cap and gloves that he had kept from when he had moved from that more northern, civilized place.

“Cold one out there today,” said Dale, the shift boss.

“Yup,” was all that Baker could think to reply as he pulled on his gloves.

“Better you than me,” said Dale.

Bundled up, he trudged out to do his inspections.

Right at the first containment he saw there was something wrong. The water that stood inside the dike was almost covered with solid plastic. Baker’s heart jumped as he looked at the contaminated containment. The material looked to be about at least a quarter inch thick on the side nearest him… maybe more in places. It tapered off across the water until it disappeared on the other side – he could see ripples there where there was still open water. The solid material was smooth and clear.

The material must have leaked out of the tank – bad valve, overfill, broken connection – floated on the water and then polymerized. He wasn’t sure what was in that tank – maybe styrene, maybe vinyl chloride. Any of them could do what he was looking at. He was surprised that it didn’t smell worse than it did, but the polymerization must have been complete and the cold would keep the vapors down.

He wasn’t sure what to do. There was a little guard shack and he grabbed an empty metal paint can and a pair of tongs. The technician that unloaded the tank cars used these to take samples. Carefully leaning over the concrete dike he grabbed the edge of the solid polymer with the tongs. A chunk broke off easily and he transferred it to the can.

Leaving his clipboard behind he hurried back into the factory. Nothing about this was his fault and it was a good thing that he had done his inspection and found the leak – but he was afraid he would be blamed anyway. He was always the fall guy – the outsider – who could be blamed for anything. That wasn’t altogether bad – Baker had learned in his short career that if you could take unlimited blame and abuse – well, there was surprisingly good money in that.

Inside the warm factory he found the nearest phone and spent a minute getting his gloves off so he could dial. He called the emergency number. A tired and bored voice answered.

“Hello,” the voice said.

“We have a spill,” Baker said.

“Where is it? What material?” the voice said. It still sounded bored and bothered, like this happened every day.

“The containment farm.”

Baker looked down at the paint can he was holding and was shocked to see it contained a clear liquid instead of the chunk of plastic he had put it in there. It was weird – he didn’t smell anything.

At that moment there was a click inside Baker’s head, a shift in understanding so sudden he almost could hear it.

The stuff in the can was water. The spill in the containment was ice.

It was usually so hot and tropical he never imagined that the water could freeze. It never entered his mind. The blue norther had dropped the temperature to freezing. Ice. Ice.

“Umm, never mind,” he said into the phone.

“What do you mean? Where is the spill?”

Baker hung up.

Later that day, he wrote a letter to his Uncle in Chicago. He never really liked that branch of the family tree, but he asked if knew of any job openings in the city. Baker was thinking he wanted to return to civilization. Even some place that had ice half of the year.

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