I was walking along the streets and felt the breath of the city. I was grasping the hasty unconscious movements with which people maximized the transparent revolving doors, opened umbrellas anxiously and pressed the telephone handsets to their ears. The noise of rushing cars, snatches of laughter and telephone conversations, polyphony of tunes escaping from music stalls – all this was knit together into a single continuous background – the live voice of the street.
The wind was ruffling the umbrellas of street cafes. Visitors, intending to buy a few happy moments, clung to plastic chairs and clutched their plastic glasses tightly.
I was walking along a busy avenue. Here and there the cylinders of buildings dotted with advertising signs rose into the sky.
I had not to worry about money – I had plenty of it.
Lunchtime was near. In the first bistro I saw I ordered coffee and laid the newspaper out on the table. I had little interest in the news, but the cup of coffee next to the newspaper looked particularly good. I was imagining myself as an artist from Montmantre.
… Sometimes we have a kind of hunch that something is about to happen. I experienced something similar at that moment. I felt a sudden need to see who, ironically, ended up in a bistro next to me now… For example, I’ve always thought that destiny brings passengers together into the subway at an odd hour not coincidentally, and that if you dig a little then it will be possible to discover some kind of connection between all these people… In other words, I instinctively started examining the bistro visitors.
The girl and the guy in love, with lowered eyes, were sitting unhappily at a table against each other, not moving, as if they were about to be separated forever. Two guys, anticipating the pleasure of the meal, were putting all sorts of things from a salad bar to their plates, demonstrating their remarkable appetite …
Suddenly, some female face appeared to be vaguely familiar to me. I seemed to have already seen these facial features, and moreover, I even seemed to have been carefully examining them once, trying to capture them in my memory. I remembered this face expression – an imaginary disappointment and a dreamy grin.
Our eyes met. . She looked away immediately, as the girl was supposed to react in such cases … But we both knew: by the immutable law of fate, we would be together. I would have not be surprised if she admitted to me she had already seen my face somewhere.
We got acquainted. Soon I realized she was looking for intimacy with me.
She worked as a laboratory assistant in one of the companies nearby. Her firm was engaged in the development of plastic manufacturing technologies.
Later, I found out that employees of firms whose offices were located in the nearby high-rises used to come to dinner at the bistro. And therefore, if I were planning to meet with one of the local clerks, it would be simple to do it just here, at the bistro, during the lunch break.
And then … I entirely blended in with the city: for hours I was sitting on the windowsill, smoking and looking at the people flickering along the avenue. When evening came, I used to go to meet her.
All this time it never occurred to me to call or write to someone from my previous life.
Sometimes the name ‘Juan’ popped up in my brain, as if flashing rhythmically on the screen. Juan is my old friend and colleague. I remembered our regular sit-downs together with him in some bar, perhaps in a completely different part of the globe. It was there that I had a place, that looked like two drops of water similar to this hotel room, but called “home”.
I recalled our friendly outpourings over a beer, telling each other stories from our lives mixed with the stories read, watched or heard somewhere … Or rather, stories that were so incredible that they could only happen in life.
I enjoyed spending hours in front of the TV in a hotel room, wondering at the intricacies of the plots and going to retell it all to Juan one day. Before, I never had enough time for this.
When she asked my name, I couldn’t think of anything better than to mumble in reply: “Juan.” Later, I had a inexplicable pleasure hearing the melody of this name from her. A secret, unknown even to myself, was encrypted in it in some misterios way.
At first, she was asking anxiously what I was doing all the day, before the hour we saw each other in the evenings. I could not admit to her I was doing nothing. The explanation I had enough money to live for some time in the city might have seemed improbable to her. Therefore, I used to tell her I was looking for a job constantly and unsuccessfully.
She was devoted to her lab fanatically. As a result, she developed an almost painful tendency to look for plastic products all around herself.
She admired sincerely the obedient curves of plastic. And if suddenly upon closer inspection some product turned out to be not plastic, she became irritable immeditely. She was disappointed both with her own mistake and with the shortsightedness of manufacturers who chose not the most advantageous technological solution.
She was proud the plastics her lab produced were not “dangerous polymers” and were not carcinogenic.
From head to foot, she was eager to get into plastic clothes: plastic hairpins flaunted in her hair while sunglasses occupied firmly a spot on the back of her head. A strict office skirt was held by a plastic strap instead of the usual leather one. The buckles on her blunt-ended shoes were plastic, too.
The history of the invention of plastics was studied by her thoroughly. We always laughed at a clearly fictional episode: supposedly manufacturers of billiard balls called on chemists to develop a new material in order to replace ivory. No doubt, this impressive detail was invented much later just to interest apathetic students of chemical colleges.
We even came up with a special “plastic game” with her: we had to name various items made of plastic in turn. Later we changed the game rules a bit and decided also to use in the game the names of objects that would be worth making from polymers, but for some reason humanity has not thought of this before.
She agreed not to use condoms with pleasure. She was prejudiced by latex rubber, considering this material unreasonably more popular than, for example, the transparent polyethylene she loved so much.
She was in the habit of running her hand over the smooth surface of some plastic accessory as if by chance. While doing this she used to squint her eyes dreamily. She was doing all this involuntarily and became very shy, noticing her instinctive movement had not escaped some prying eyes.
Thinking later about this feature of her, I decided she subconsciously considered plastic to be a very erotic material. Really, no wonder, singing the woman of his dreams, the man often mentions lustfully the smooth skin of his chosen lady. Smooth-skin reached its apogee in inflatable dolls, as I thought at first with a grin, and then with irritation.
Once in a minute of frankness she told me about her amorous affairs. At that moment she was sitting on a double bed, covered with a blanket, in my hotel room, and playing with the stem of a wine glass. Her hair seemed red in the setting sun rays.
I can”t retell reliably the essence of her story… Probably she seemed to have some kind of guy and she had a hard time after breaking up with him… Or perhaps, on the contrary, she avoided carefully any attachments and always tried to break them off at the highest point in the relationship development… In general, in any case she told me some kind of a very frank story, touching for both of us and indicating how much she trusted me.
Even earlier, before this conversation about her fear of attachments, I often observed an expression of extreme boredom on her face, that caused her incredible embarrassment and that she tried to hide. In my presence, boredom devoured her, making it impossible for her to enjoy life. The only exceptions were the minutes of our intimacy, which she greatly appreciated. In general, it was much more comfortable for her to be alone than to spend time with me. Each time I was saying goodbye to her, I used to have noticed a kind of secret delight in her caused by my leaving.
However she was determined to defeat circumstances and declared war on boredom. Our dates were scheduled in the most unusual places: on rails waiting for a train, in museum rooms under cover of night and in other textbook places of risky sex from a handbook for lovers. Sometimes the experimentation of her imagination regarding the geography of our meetings even made me doubt that the next time I would be at my best as a lover; but fortunately then it turned out that I really love the variety of surroundings during making love, too.
Once I mentioned jokingly in her presence an article on a plastic topic that caught my eye in a newspaper column. “Soon, it will be possible to use not oil as a raw material for plastic production … but, for example, oranges”, I said, following her expression carefully. This extravagant idea made her laugh without causing much emotion.
And yet our relationship did not stand still.
I was seized by the feeling of some kind of anxiety more and more often. I never dared to admit to myself my everlasting serenity was passing into some new quality. As if I had to do something and then to leave the city.
And then at last the day came when I felt some kind of power was forcing me to get out of the city. Like an ocean wave, this power imperiously was pushing me beyond the megapolis boundaries.
I suppose I wanted to take her with me to my … Orange Republic . But that seemed impracticable.
The words ‘Orange Republic’ appeared in my memory by chance, even though there was something vaguely familiar in them. I repeated theese words to myself, as if tasting them. Therefore, when at the airport I saw this name in the list of possible destinations, I experienced real delight. As if I’ve got an answer to some important question and then realized I was going the right way.
The Apocalyptic tones sounded nearby from a video screen. The audience was once again convinced that the world was being falling apart and would never be the same, while my heart was sinking in anticipation of changes and the development of a new space. Here and there I caught the contour of the plane out of the corner of my eye – the logo of the famous airline, and my being was filled with contentment.
The city flashed by toy houses goodbye on a topographic map in the porthole.
I thought of my abandoned sweetheart.
Of course, she did not oppose our dates. And she would certainly be upset if I suddenly disappeared from her life. But at the same time, I could never take her thoughts. Sometimes it seemed to me that in the rhythmic moments of our intimacy, plastic production schemes were flashing in the form of slides before her eyes.
On the other hand, sometimes I still dared hope she intentionally downplayed the strength of her attraction to me, because this is an ordinary female trick in order to win a man’s affections.
She used to tell me she felt lonely. But I did not hear her words, or maybe I did not believe them or did not want to believe. She loved only plastic, I kept telling myself.
“Why am I here on an airplane?” I asked myself. “Am I really jealous of plastic? And that is why I thought it was better to retreat?”
Leaning back in my chair, I closed my eyelids. Having made incoherent and absurd movements in time and space, quite illogical from the point of view of an awake person, I found myself at a bar table opposite Juan. Of course, everything was happening in the Orange Republic.
“Would you like me to tell you how it all happened that very night?” Juan said with a crafty twinkle in his insolent eyes… Juan was always trying to look like the cinema heroes. All the time he was not busy on in secret missions, he devoted himself to watching films. He was especially interested in films about agents behind enemy lines.
I was confused. Juan turned out to know about me much more than I did. Although I should got used to it already. Sometimes it seemed to me that Juan was some part of myself. And perhaps this my hypostasis was too cynical and completely devoid of romantic illusions.
Juan intended to bring me back to some point from the past.
“Take a look at this”, he took out a container in the shape of a test tube from a baggy shirt pocket and put it on a table.
“What is it?” I was going to touch the subject, but my hand went through it.
It came back to me that the test tube contained a catalyst for plastic decay. For plastic, such a contraption is equivalent to a deadly virus.
I was sure that after using I had recycled the similar test tube according to the instructions. Therefore, now I was looking at just a hologram.
I was still sitting in the cabin. The image on the monitor mounted in the seat in front of me wavered, then smoothed out again.
“Look at the monitor! ” Juan commanded from somewhere in my brain.
The man at the speaker desk excitedly treated the audience with a portion of gloomy omens … God knows, I was always far from politics – I preferred the fictional reality of films.
The announcer’s story was replaced by a video sequence with the inscription ‘no comment’. Plastic items exploded on the streets, in offices, in shops, and this was accompanied by a female screech and panic.
…It came back to me as if she was sitting in front of me on the table. As always, they switch to the power saving mode at night. A faint light grabs the outline of her body from the darkness, and I am drawing the missing lines with the help of my touches. My heart is racing fast …
“Do you know where we are right now?” she whispers.
Like a forgotten dream, I recall how we were making our way here through the underground sewers a few minutes ago. As it always happened in our evening routes, she took on the role of a guide … All this remained somewhere far away since at this very moment only she exists for me …
“We are in the very place where I work”, I feel her smiling coquettishly in the dark. “In the daytime I wear a white coat and a white hat here, and look like a kitchen boy”.
At this words of her the previously unused portion of my brain is being activated … We have already visited many points on the city map together with her, but only now we have penetrated the laboratory of the ‘Empire of Plastics’ – this is the name of her company. It is the cradle of the plastics industry and the inner sanctum of the plastic world.
I know the floor plan of this building thoroughly. If you wake me in the middle of the night, I will draw it with my eyes closed, without violating the proportions between the objects.
Plastics injection machines are located nearby. I was given the task of injecting a decay catalyst from a container into one of them. According to the calculations of our scientists, in a plastic medium, the molecules of this substance will start replicating themselves, decomposing plastic simultaneously. Thus, the destructive effect for the world of petroleum plastic will be maximum.
In the Orange Republic, oil was never mined, but there were enough orange trees there.
The death of the “Empire of Plastics” meant a symbolic victory of oranges over oil, since “orange plastic” is invulnerable to a decay catalyst. Thus plastic made from oranges will replace petroleum plastic.
Now, in the cabin, these thoughts did not bring me a single drop of joy or satisfaction. After all, I have never been an ideological opponent of synthetic non-recyclable plastics … I felt rather upset and tried in vain to sort out the feelings that had rushed over me.
The old-fashioned screen was melting before my eyes, flowing in black mass onto the carpeting. I realized the deadly virus was already there. It must have gotten on board the plane somehow.
The passengers gasped in unison: plastic cups with hot drinks burst on folding tables at once. Brown drops sprinkled both on ironed clothes and on joyful expectations.
I went lurching towards the smoking room. The plane was shaking more than usual. I tried to grab ahold of the handrails, but they seemed to melt under my gaze because I was too fascinated with the idea of plastic disappearing. Instead of a lighter, I felt a viscous sticky clot in my pocket.
Most likely, my thoughts were controlling reality.
The power of my emotions made the space vibrate. The plane started losing altitude drastically.
This couldn’t have happened in reality. Otherwise, the words of the crew commander, typical for such occasions, would have long been heard: the plane is experiencing minor technical problems, but in general the situation is under control.
And then… I suddenly imagined all the plastic details in the flight deck.
How many more plastic was still in the body of the plane, I wondered.
… We are dancing in the plastic world. I am leading my dance partner surprisingly cleverly – we are scattering in different directions, our arms extended; then our hands are twisted, and she presses her back to me for a moment.
I always invited her to go dancing somewhere, although I never knew how to do it. She always refused, apparently wondering what was it for.
And now I saw quite clearly: we were dancing with her against the background of a living advertisement of plastic products, which suddenly became voluminous.