Eventually they began to overwhelm us. Granted, it was never a dull moment with them around: they were often colourful and shiny, and would reflect sunlight in pleasing, shimmering ways. But they were so floaty and easily disturbed that they’d get everywhere as soon as you walked anywhere near them. It was getting so that you couldn’t walk down your own garden path without being ankle-deep in the stuff, even if you’d raked it all up into piles the previous weekend. They drifted into our houses and cars, and they were already in the food and water supply. We’d gotten used to spending a good portion of our mealtimes picking the soggy pieces out of our teeth.
We thought about boycotts, because, to be perfectly honest, many of the little triangular pieces of plastic were recognisable and traceable to a quantifiable number of specific manufacturers: drinks companies, supermarkets, crisp makers, fast-food distributors. But what were we supposed to do, boycott everything? They knew we couldn’t resist their delicious goods and invaluable services, and it did reassure us when they used cartoon animals in their adverts to announce that they were 100% committed to working on reducing plastic consumption.
‘Perhaps this is the weekend we should all resort to industrial sabotage, violence being the only moral choice remaining after decades of apathy and inaction across all legitimate political channels,’ someone would suggest at our lunchtime gatherings by the water-cooler at work. But invariably we’d all respond by staring into our disposable plastic cups and shuffling our feet until someone changed the subject.
Soon there was no point even sweeping the pieces up, and we began wading through it, first at ankle height, then mid-calf, then knee. It felt quite nice; the pieces were more tickly than stabby, it was like having fingers gently teasing us as we walked. The cats and the smaller dogs disappeared, but we were reassured by the common sight of the tops of their ears gliding past us in the street like tiny, adorable shark fins. The plastic didn’t seem to affect their breathing or life expectancy.
Then it was up to our waists, and we lost sight of the bigger dogs and the under-fives.
‘Surely now is the time,’ we whispered to each other during the lunchtime teambuilding exercises, ‘to download the bomb-making recipes and hit the factories at night?’ Losing the cats and dogs was sort of bearable, but we couldn’t stand seeing those toddlers fighting their way through it all, with only the tops of their red bobble hats bouncing up and down. ‘Surely now is the time?’
We’d nod in agreement, and sometimes one of us wouldn’t come into work for a couple of days, but they always came back eventually and there was never any news of any attacks on TV, so I guessed we could stand it after all.
For some reason it stopped and levelled out at about six feet. On the plus side, it really took care of all the men who had spent their lives claiming to be six feet tall, whose resentment you could now only hear in their laboured breathing. Our group was fine: all of us had been genetically blessed with height and were, at the very most, nose deep. By this time, the rich had already invested in hoverboards, so we were among the few left earthbound, watching them zooming through the air, living their lives pretty much the same as before.
‘Work hard enough,’ they shouted down at us, ‘budget properly, and you too will be able to afford a hoverboard one day! Wowee, isn’t the sky so beautiful?’
We believed them. They were exactly like us, after all.
We found out why it had plateaued at six feet: the level wasn’t rising because the density was getting stronger. Everything was beginning to coalesce, settle and harden. We stopped feeling the furry brush of secret animals burrowing around our ankles, the insistent tug on our coat hems from invisible, pudgy little hands. Appropriately enough, our group was around the water cooler when we all quietly realised, we were going to be stuck there forever.
As of yet, none of us have admitted it. We can see it in each other’s eyes, but we avoid looking. We’ve been here for three days. After five o’clock, the office lights go out automatically and we stand in silence until we hear each other begin to snore. In the morning we act as though we’ve just arrived from a pleasant night at home with our families.
‘Must get back to work,’ one of us will occasionally pipe up.
‘Yes,’ we’ll agree. ‘Must dash in a minute or two.’
About The Author
Michael Conley is a poet and prose writer from Manchester, UK. His work has appeared in magazines such as Rialto, Magma, Storgy and Lunate, and his last prose collection, Flare and Falter, was published by Splice and longlisted for the Edge Hill Short Story Prize. His latest collection is a pamphlet published by Nine Pens.
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