Each week Terrain.org will publish new writing coupled with a map. This is the first publication in the Spill Stories series.
The doctor stands at the sink, filling a syringe with oil, viscous and strangely red-black. Finally, the liquid reaches the appropriate milligram mark—a number Lane isn’t privy to—and the doctor approaches. Lane tightens his fist, coaxing his veins. Early petrochemical therapy is a favor for him and the oil company employees he manages, not yet available to the public. He massages the skin at his inner elbow.
Are you sure about this? Lane’s wife, Katherine, asks from her chair. She twists a loose thread from her coat around her pointer finger.
It’s perfectly safe, the doctor says, even though Katherine might have been asking Lane. He sterilizes Lane’s skin. It’ll stimulate everything, keep it all running. Especially the organs.
Which organs? Lane asks.
Deep breath, the doctor instructs, and the needle jabs through the flesh. Heart, lungs, eyes.
Not in your eyes, Katherine says. Lane, not eyes.
It’s part of the procedure, Lane says.
He claims he trusts oil. It’s where the money comes from, how they buy their son, Ev, a new backpack when the old one is frayed, how they keep cut flowers on the dining room table instead of leaving the centerpiece empty. Even if there are lawsuits, pelicans shaking their slick black feathers with despair, whispers of colleagues in different states suffering from nausea, memory loss, Lane chooses not to play the cynic.
A few months later, Lane and Ev play basketball in the cracked driveway, weak spring sun traversing their spines. Ev dribbles through his legs and swishes past his father to score a basket, but Lane thinks of a recent pipeline fracture around Lubbock. A gelding escaped and when they found him in the long corridor of a corn field, his tongue was all inky shine, an ominous rainbow in black from drinking water at the stream. No choice: they put the poisoned horse down and Lane wonders how much the creature could’ve ingested, if it was any more than the milligrams the doctor slips into his bloodstream every week.
Just then, Ev barrels at him, elbow flailing, but Lane sidesteps and dodges the blow. His body locks, tensing for disaster, and doesn’t relax.
Idiot, Lane cries out, grabbing Ev’s collar and shaking him with fury.
Dad, Ev says, slowly wedging his fingers in the tight spaces between his father’s digits. He looks away from Lane’s gaze—he has been nervous ever since the veins in Lane’s eyes turned black from the oil treatments. What are you doing?
Lane isn’t usually prone to anger, but he understands his body is weaker now, even if it thrums with energy. What runs through him is volatile, not meant to spill out of the web into the rest of the cells. The safety he believed in before is tenuous. Slowly, he steps back, straightens his son’s shirt at the shoulder blade, and retreats to the house.
It takes less than purposeful violence to empty a vein, just him dressing for church, while Ev complains about hating the preacher. It’s then, as Lane agitatedly pulls clothes from his closet, that a belt buckle smacks into his eye. Searing pain blacking out his vision, and then he realizes that it’s not just that, but oil leaking out, dripping down his cheek. He touches it again and again, smearing it around in his soft under-eye region. Someone pulls him along urgently.
Don’t look, Ev, Katherine says, closing the bathroom door. She positions Lane under the light and tries to open his lids wider, but he winces. The half of his face covered in oil is burning, skin freckling into a thousand sores.
Katherine wets the cloth under some water and presses it to his face, but it doesn’t help. His eye is hot, not as solid. Pudding on a stove, jelly mixed hard with a spoon. His vision teeters, unbalanced.
You should look at yourself, Katherine says. You should see what you let them do.
In the mirror, he only has one eye. The other is a dark, empty space, the inside burned away. He is raw, he is forever changed. When he looks back at Katherine, he sees that Ev has come inside, though he hides his face in his mother’s blouse. She is crying.
No one told him about these close-up consequences of a leak. Maybe the Lubbock ground aches too, the gelding just the visible harm. Lane wonders if they’ll have to put him down now. When he looks at his family’s faces, fighting the dizziness latched on like a mask over his mouth and nose, he understands what Katherine meant that first day when she begged him to spare his eyes. Once the three of them owned the looks between them.
Header photo by bstad, courtesy Pixabay.