<Fiction> By Carleigh Baker for subTerrain issue 90.
It’s Wednesday. The office has AC, and a hanging string of beads plant that cascades to the floor. There are deadlines, but you’re scrolling. Ready for anything.
“Photoshop,” somebody posts in the comments section below a photo of Bob Dylan goosing Jack Kerouac. Undergraduate poets will argue about it for days. In Myanmar, an aerobics instructor named Khing Hnin Wai records a workout in the capital city and accidentally captures the first few moments of a military coup. She never breaks stride while black armoured vehicles roll in behind her. For three days, the video was everywhere. Today, you find it on YouTube.
“Fake,” Trickdiddle93 posts, “Look at the shadows behind her.” This post gets 700 upvotes and a hearty discussion on the cost of motion capture. Han Htet Ko identifies himself as Myanmarese and assures the comment section that this is real and Khing Hnin Wai records a fitness show every day in this location. Until the coup, that is. He gets no upvotes. In minutes, the comment is lost in a landslide of speculation on how, exactly, green screens work.
The actual truth of the story isn’t important to the scrolldaddys — as you call them. It’s the opportunity to argue endlessly in search of the One Truth, whatever sounds the best to the majority. An exercise that requires so many takes they deserve a biological group name. An embarrassment of takes, maybe, though the on-the-nose-ness of it leaves you dissatisfied.
“No,” you say out loud, to break the spell. Reading the comments section only frustrates things. The woman in the adjoining cubicle cocks an ear in your direction but you ignore her.
You need to revolutionize the system, change the game. Which game is still unclear because they all need changing. You type, We need to do something about, and pause. After a while, you find a tweet about workplace equity that seems juicy and read what others are saying about it, until the #FireSeason hashtag takes over your feed. Pictures of that apocalyptic sunrise no digital camera ever gets right — a maraschino cherry in a shot of dishwater.
The photos are coming from all across the province and south into the States. California, where it burns so hard every summer Mom says it’s a wonder there’s any celebrities left. But it’s your province burning hard this year. Lightning strikes. Careless smokers. In the last eight hours, a fire at Tetley Creek has jumped the highway and burned through seventy hectares in the direction of your hometown. The regional district map is dotted with cartoonish markers that look like flame emojis.
It’s lunch time, so you stick a burrito in the staff room microwave and text your parents, Everything okay out there?
Packing up just in case, is the reply. You run a mental inventory of all your stuff that’s still at their condo — in boxes under the stairs. Old papers from university and stuffed animals. Christmas decorations. Things you’d meant to take with you to the city but there was never enough room. Then you remember the sleeping bag, too bulky for anything other than car camping. Fleecelined with a cowboy print right out of the fifties. The musty hug of that sleeping bag fills the staff room and sinks you into a chair until a co-worker huffs about needing the microwave. A text, Can you pack the sleeping bag? is left in your drafts.
At five o’clock you buy a pack of cigarettes and smoke two in the alley before getting in the car to drive home. On the way over the bridge people are taking pictures of the pristine inlet before smoke season sets in.