It was impossible to get it right, Kate thought. She was trying to draw a hand. She had been advised by her art teacher to draw hands separately from the rest of the body. ‘Practise drawing lots and lots of hands, precisely because they are so difficult to draw,’ he said.
Kate was eleven, but her teacher thought she was talented enough to be pushed well beyond the usual limits of her age. Her parents were happy to hear that. Kate wasn’t so sure, especially that evening, seeing the difficulty she was having with her fifth hand.
‘Katie!’ her father called from the kitchen. ‘Beddy-byes!
Kate, not Katie, how many times! The girl wanted to shout, but she couldn’t be bothered; nothing could penetrate her parents’ thick skulls and, anyway, she was tired: it was time for beddy… Jeez, beddy-byes? Really? How old did her father think she was? Three? And the next day he would complain: ‘Kate, stop behaving like a three-year-old.’ If only her parents would make up their minds about what age they wanted her to be. To hell with the hand. And to hell with brushing her teeth: she was too tired.
‘Don’t forget to brush your teeth!’ Papa shouted from the kitchen. ‘You had sweets today, remember? You can’t forgo it today! And don’t forget to turn the wifi off on your phone!’
It would take too much energy to get up from her bed where she was sitting propped against the wall, walk all the way to the bathroom across the corridor and brush her teeth, all of them, then rinse them. No way she could do that. She didn’t even have the energy to watch a short video on her phone. Thank God she had changed into her pyjamas the moment she got home from sodding school. She put her phone on airplane mode and slid onto a lying position. She fell asleep saying to herself: Oh no, where are you blankety-blank blanket? I need you… And I left Brownie Bear sprawled on the floor… I’m not doing very well today…
* * *
She was watching a program on the TV with her mother while her father stayed in his bedroom/study/office working and her brother Edmond stayed in his bedroom doing teenage things. Five minutes into the program, mama had to go and make dinner and Kate was left to watch the rest of it on her own. It often happened. Sometimes it happened the other way around because Kate would rather go into her room and watch videos of her favourite youtubers or check on her Instagram account.
This program had managed the monumental feat of catching Kate’s attention, although initially it wouldn’t have been her first choice. It was part of a series about how things are made. All kinds of things: aluminium foil, violins, toothpicks, helicopters, bubblegum… This one was about trucks. About one particular truck, in fact. However, it wasn’t about how it was made but how it was fixed, as it happens, in Italy. It was only a five-minute program and yet half way through it there was a four-minute break for commercials.
She didn’t need to go to the toilet, she had her glass bottle of cold water with her, and she knew mama wouldn’t let her eat anything before dinner, so she stayed put, gazing longingly at the moving pictures of, first, ‘American-style cookies’, then, chocolate spread —part of a healthy, balanced breakfast, the voice in the advert swore. Sure, Kate thought. It wasn’t fair: two of her most favourite things on the TV, while she was starving. Knowing her mother, they were going to have vegetable soup for dinner or something else made with vegetables, like vegetable curry or vegetable couscous or vegetable pie… Kate shivered and turned the sound of the TV off; she hated the false voices in the adverts and the stupid music accompanying them. How could anybody believe anything these people said? She didn’t need her parents banging on about it: anybody with a bit of brain could see that they were lying through their teeth. Part of a healthy, balanced breakfast? Are you kidding me? Delicious, yes, but everybody knows tons of sugar are bad for you, duh, and this choc spread had like A TON of the stuff. Guys, don’t worry, I’ll enjoy it grossly on my Sunday pancakes, but don’t lie to me, I’m not stupid.
She yawned, reminding herself that she had to eat less sweeties. The yawn settled into a self-deprecating grin. The moving advertisements on the screen caught her eye again: a man was leaving the fridge door open while he pottered around in the kitchen, then the image changed to huge pieces of ice coming apart from an icy land, plunging into ocean water. Kate knew what that image meant: the ice melting in the polar ice caps. Her Biology & Geology teacher had told her and her classmates, partners in misfortune, about this aspect of his favourite disaster topic among many: the greenhouse effect/global warming topic.
The image shifted again to the previous one of the guy shuffling around the kitchen, his fridge door still wide open. Then, one more time the picture of the ice melting into the warmed-up water. Kate got it: the two concepts were linked. You leave your fridge open, you melt the ice in the North Pole and probably the South Pole, too. Jeeezz, what a huge responsibility. If the guy knew he was fucking up the planet like that he would feel like a total twat. Then Kate remembered that it was just an advert, a TV commercial. What was it selling though? It didn’t seem to be trying to get you to buy anything. Did this mean for once they were telling the truth? Who made the advert? She missed the name at the end.
A couple of car adverts later, the truck being fixed in Italy came back into the screen. They would have to hurry up, Kate thought. They only had 2.5 minutes left to finish the job. She hoped no more commercials would get in the way. It turned out these Italians needed to replace one more piece in the truck. This one piece, however, wasn’t made in Italy or anywhere else in the European Union, or the rest of Europe, but in California, USA. So, the Italian mechanics had to wait until the Californian manufacturers sent the tiny piece to be set inside the gigantic truck like a precious gem.
The image of the ice plummeting into the vast water came back into Kate’s mind. She didn’t know why. It just did. She wondered, while she waited along with the Italian mechanics for the piece to arrive, if from now on she would associate big trucks with melting ice. One summer afternoon, a long time ago, she had watched a movie on TV about astronauts in outer space right after she had burnt her right hand doing an experiment in her room, and since then every time she saw the image of an astronaut she remembered the pain in her hand, the bandage, the smell.
She then asked herself if this Italian super-repair shop had Amazon Prime. It would be good if they got free shipping for this piece, especially since it actually came on a ship. The narrator in the program explained that this piece was being transported by a massive freighter full of containers packed with stuff ordered from the EU. Duh, Kate said out loud, they didn’t expect the transatlantic cargo ship to come all the way from California, USA, carrying only this one piece. She laughed at the idea. She saw the chunks of ice melting again in her mind’s eye.
‘Are you all right, Kate?’ Her father asked from the bowels of the next room.
‘Yes, papa, I’m just laughing! Why wouldn’t I be all right?’ Kate shouted back at him. He could be so annoying.
‘Mama!’ she shouted towards the kitchen at the end of the corridor. ‘Is dinner going to be long?’ She actually meant to say: ‘Is the fridge door shut?’ But she was hungry.
‘No!’ was her mother’s curt answer. She didn’t like being pressurized. Understandably, she had a lot to do and everybody kept asking her to do things. Kate felt a pang of guilt; and there she was, sprawled on the settee, watching telly. She reminded herself she had to help her mama more often. She felt sad and defeated.
When the piece finally arrived at the Italian port, the truck was made like new in a matter of seconds and the program was suddenly over. As Kate stared at the credits rushing passed the screen so that nobody could read them, an idea began to take shape in her mind: Wasn’t this coming and going of a million things, big and small, from one end of the planet to the other, on planes and ships and trucks, a huge waste of energy? Wasn’t all that long distance transportation melting the ice caps more rapidly than idiot adults leaving their fridge doors open?
* * *
Her friend next door, Lisa, came to visit after lunch the next day; a Thursday. Kate heard her mother saying ‘hello’ to her in her happy voice, followed by a ‘she’s in her room.’ Kate knew what her mother was thinking right then: With a bit of luck Lisa will convince Kate to go out of her room and out in the world, and she’ll stop watching videos on her phone and making videos on her computer for a while. Kate huffed. She loved Lisa, and she did need some air and sunlight, but she was in the middle of an important search. Tired of hearing about pollution and the end of life on Earth, she was trying to gather information on global warming to see if there was something she could do about it. Perhaps not now, but in the future, if there was still one when she got there. When Lisa knocked on her door, startling Mr Red, the cat, lying on her bed, Kate was staring at a mathematical equation she had come across inside a lengthy and mostly incomprehensible article titled Impact of Globalization on Energy Consumption:
ECt =α+ φEC + ωG + λGDP + θK +εt
She hated Maths because she couldn’t understand it and as a consequence feared it greatly. Maths can be fun, she was told. Yeah right, do them yourself then, they’re no good to me and I’m sure they’re not going to be useful in my life; a calculator with long-life batteries would suffice. She was sure, too, that Mathematics weren’t going to provide the answer or the solution, no matter how mathematically correct the results of that strange equation were, to global warming or any other problem on the planet.
‘Come in!’ she said to Lisa.
Her friend cracked the door open, slid in and quickly shut it again.
‘Are you coming out?’ She asked with a tentative smile. She had been turned down quite a few times by this increasingly strange girl.
Kate’s eyes went back to the computer screen. She read in silence:
The expansion of globalization is usually associated with an expanded use of energy due to the established empirical connection between economic growth and energy demand.
‘Ok,’ Kate conceded. ‘Let’s go out.’
‘To our secret place,’ Lisa demanded.
‘Ok, to our secret place.’
Before she left her room Kate wrote down the word globalization on one of the myriad of paper scraps lining her desk. She had to look that one up later. Interesting word. She had the feeling she had heard it before. What could it mean? Turning into a globe… No. It had to do with global, as in global warming; that’s why it was mentioned in that article. Perhaps it was another way of saying global warming. Or it could be a particular form of civili-zation. Global civilization? Her head was starting to hurt; some oxygen, while there was still some left, and a little exercise would do her good.
First they had to go to the bins to throw away two bags of rubbish. Kate didn’t know why her mama was doing this to her; she had never asked her to throw the rubbish out before. Well, she had but not in a serious way. More like, ‘on Sundays you have to throw the rubbish out,’ and she would have said it on a Monday and it be forgotten by Sunday. Today, of all days, when she was going out with a friend, mama meant it. I need you guys to help me a bit, I’m running out of energy, she had stated with her no-bullshit look. Ok, yes, yes, she had to help her mother more. Never mind.
The two girls went to the bins along the back street. When they got there Kate couldn’t remember which bag went where. Her mama had told her but she hadn’t been listening. Not because she didn’t want to know but because she thought she already knew. After all, she had gone to the bins with mama on their way into town plenty of times. In fact, every time someone went out of the house there were rubbish bags ready to be taken to the bins, especially one filled with plastic bottles and cartons. Nearly a bag of the stuff a day. When I was a kid, we had one sole container where we threw everything together, Kate recalled her mother saying. But it was only one bag a week or so.
‘This one seems to have plastic in it,’ Lisa offered, pointing to the fuller yet lighter bag.
‘Oh yes, this one goes in the yellow bin: cartons, plastic bottles and plastic containers.’
‘Yeah,’ Lisa encouraged. ‘The other bag is not paper or glass so it must be organic.’
Kate lifted the heavier bag by the handles and tried to peer through it.
‘Hmmm,’ she pondered. ‘It looks like there’s other stuff in there.’
‘Yeah, yeah, but it’s mainly organic,’ Lisa assured her squinting to see inside the bag.
‘But,’ Kate objected, dropping the bag on the ground again. ‘It can’t be mainly organic, it has to be like totally organic: this stuff is dumped onto the countryside, you know….. er…, the environment.’
‘Yes it does.’
‘So that’s why my mother is always saying that recycling is fake, you know, like fake news.’
‘Really?!’ Kate shouted. ‘You gotta be kidding me! Recycling, too?!’
They watched the remaining bag for a moment as if the bag itself could tell them what to do. It makes sense, Kate thought. If paper went in the blue bin, glass in the green, and plastic bottles and cartons in the yellow, EVERYTHING ELSE had to go in the green, the one that was supposed to be strictly reserved for the organic — the food remains, the dead leaves from the garden… What else could she do? There wasn’t another bin with yet another colour. It didn’t make any sense, though, to put plastic wrapping, sanitary pads and all the thousand and one little plastic and metal things one tossed away in life in the same bin with the compost. No sense at all.
In a fit of rage and frustration, Kate grabbed the second bag and hurdled it into the green bin, the organic bin, without further consideration. She was tired of fake news. She was tired of feeling confused. She was sick and tired of bad news.
‘Maybe there should be a black bin for fake and bad news,’ she said to her friend. Then she reconsidered:
‘No, that’s racist. Purple… A purple bin for rubbish news to be recycled into good real news.’
‘Come on,’ Lisa urged. ‘Let’s have a good time before we’re nuked!’
They started walking away from the bins. Kate gave a long and noisy sigh, then proclaimed:
‘We were happier when we were little and didn’t know shit.’
She broke into a run and Lisa followed her. They screamed all the way to the end of the street.
* * *
The positive environmental effects of globalization could be greater than the negative effects, the article said. That is good news, Kate thought. Just for that, she would read one more paragraph and then she would get into bed and watch a video or two, or three, on her phone.
As globalization worked its way over the globe, so will the world’s demand for energy. That will bring about serious environmental problems. OMG, Kate thought, did these scientists just contradict themselves? Why did adults do that all the time? No wonder the world was in such a mess. People didn’t know what to think, or how to think. And they say they want to educate children… Puhh.
She had looked up globalization earlier and it had turned out to be more or less what she had thought: the global integration of international trade, investment, information technology and cultures. She only vaguely understood what integration and investment were, but she believed she caught the drift of the whole concept. Now she knew where she had heard about globalization and global trade: when her mother had helped her order things from AliExpress, she had mentioned those words and the fact that ‘none of this was possible when I was little’; she was lucky if she could get something from the store down the road. It made Kate feel guilty and proud at the same time. Her generation definitely knew a lot more about the world than her parents. They would find a way to fix it. They had to or they were all screwed.
Now we know, the article went on, that capital increases economic growth and economic growth leads to higher energy consumption. The bio-geo teacher had told them what economic growth was: the amount of stuff a country makes to sell to people in their country and other countries – that is, export. Something like that. But ‘that capital’?… Which capital were they talking about? They were quite a few, only in Europe.
‘Kitty-Katie-Kate!’ her father called from the other side of the door. ‘Time for bed.’
Yes, she should stop now. She was too tired to think.
‘When are they coming to install the natural gas?’ she heard her brother asking from his room.
‘Next week!’ papa shouted.
Kate dreamed that night about the article she was reading. In her dream the bio-geo teacher was pointing to Oslo, capital of Norway on a digital map of Europe on the classroom wall. Kate was desperate to go to Norway, the country where one of her favourite youtubers came from. The map kept shuffling about as if it wanted to detach itself from the wall and fly out of the window. Only, the windows were closed and Kate worried for the map’s future. Would it crash against the windows and die?
The teacher faced the students and proclaimed:
‘Natural gas consumption leads to exports and economic growth.’ Then he pointed to Kate with the digital pointer and said:
‘Therefore,’ mumbled Kate in her sleep. ‘Therefore, the capital of Oslo is Norway.’
‘No,’ said Lulu, a clever/asshole classmate. ‘Norway is the capital of Oslo.’
‘No, no, no,’ the teacher shook his head. ‘Therefore, exports and economic growth lead to a natural gas explosion.’ He made a circular gesture with his arms and shouted:
‘BOOM.’ He blew up in a myriad of colourful pixels. And the whole class went: ‘WOW.’
Kate wriggled in her sleep. Wow, yeah, she thought dreaming, we’re all gonna die. It’s all fake news. Fake news, she mumbled.
* * *
Next day was Friday, thank God, and after two in the afternoon it was the blessed weekend. Kate made plans to go out at about 4 pm with Lisa and Thomas, another neighbour/friend. She hoped she didn’t change her mind. She felt exhausted after the horrid school week and it was tempting to cocoon in her room, stretch out on her bed, do her own thing, talk to nobody, see nobody, be held to account for nothing.
But she didn’t change her mind and they walked all the way to the Chinese shop by the railway station to get some sweets. It was cloudy, but it didn’t rain.
The three of them went into the shop in a bundle and the Chinese woman kept her beady eye on them. After years of minding the shop she knew well about little children, little money, and sweets. Not a very good equation; it often turned out wrong. But Thomas, Lisa and Kate were not like that. They always had been good little children. Not so little anymore, but still good. They respected private property and paid what they owed with their parents’ hard-earned money.
‘Hey,’ Lisa warned Kate, pointing to another set of shelves full of boxes of sweets. ‘These over here.’
‘Why,’ Kate wanted to know.
‘Are you blind or stupid?’
‘They are CHEAPER.’
Kate considered this. Then she said:
‘If they’re cheaper it means I’ll consume more.’
‘Consume?’ Lisa looked at her friend as if she had been suddenly possessed by an alien. ‘Jeez, you consume me, girl.’
They bought three big plastic bags of plastic looking sweets in all shapes and colours; the cheaper version. The plastic bag reminded Kate of rubbish again. Nowadays, everything had to go in a plastic bag, or on a plastic tray and even then wrapped up in plastic. But it didn’t used to be like that, her mama had explained, that’s why they produced a lot less rubbish in her childhood days: they just took a little old bag to the rubbish bin, the only one in the long street, every now and then; tossed all together in there. Kate reflected on this while she savoured a gummy egg, her most favourite gummy sweet.
Wouldn’t it be better to go back to that? To taking your own bottles and containers to the shops and buying things by weight from big tins and barrels? Didn’t that make more sense than having to recycle afterwards? But no; instead of that her mother had to be told off by ignorant costumers in the supermarket for not using a plastic glove every time she wanted to pick up a piece of fruit or veg. You’re been unhygienic and it’s affecting us all, one woman barked at Kate’s mother last time they went food shopping together. The one point six million square kilometre island of plastic garbage in the Pacific Ocean is affecting us all a lot more, her mama answered in a levelled tone, if a tad trembling. It would be better if we went home and washed the fruit, don’t you think? But the woman didn’t think; she just turned around and walked quickly away without further comment. The size of Mongolia! Kate’s mother shouted after her. The woman turned her head without stopping. ‘YOU are the Mongolian!’ was her answer. You see? Kate’s mother explained to her daughter. People resort to insult when they don’t have reasons. Kate was quite embarrassed by the whole scene and a bit pissed-off with her mama. Why did she bother explaining things to stupid people? And why did she consider ‘Mongolian’ an insult? That was racist! And her mother, God forbid, wasn’t a racist.
Too hell with it, Kate thought, popping a second gummy egg into her mouth. She decided she was going to stop reading the article on globalization. It was doing her head in, mostly because she wasn’t really understanding it. The problem was, what could she do then to learn about global-ization-warming? It was either kiddy/fake news type stuff or university level stuff. Anyway, she believed the solution resided in finding a way, in the very near future, to use energy more efficiently, so there was still economic growth, but without damaging life on Earth. Something she had already heard from parents, teachers, the Internet, the TV… But for real, like we meant it. No more little pieces being brought from California USA, for starters.
They were walking back home now. Good old Thomas suddenly veered to the left to help an old lady put glass jars and bottles inside the glass-recycling container; not an easy task for either children or elderly people since the holes where placed at the top of the rather tall container. Kate and Lisa went over to help too, only there weren’t enough holes to go round. Thomas had the front to explain to the old lady:
‘You’re supposed to take the tops of the jars off before putting them in the bin.’
‘Oh yes?’ the little old lady said with a grin. ‘And what do I do with the tops if I may ask? Eh? Throw them away with the plastic? Because you don’t want me to throw them in with the organic stuff, do you?’
‘Oh no, no!’ shouted Kate and Lisa in unison.
‘So? What are we supposed to do with the tops then?’
‘Good question,’ Thomas admitted looking at a jar the woman was holding, half full of mouldy beans.
‘And I’m not going to clean them either!’ the woman added, guessing the boy’s thoughts. ‘They tell us we have to wash the glass thoroughly first. They’ve got a nerve asking us to do that! They’re going to clean them themselves anyway, with very powerful machines they’ve got. And they’re going to make money with this glass!’
‘What?!’ shouted Kate. She didn’t know that.
‘You thought recycling was an altruistic endeavour on both sides,’ the woman shook her head. ‘No dear: it’s a business on the other side. Just like everything else. Some people are making money out of this, pretending they are doing something ecological, and they’re not even doing it right. Never mind, you’ll find out when you grow up. Thank you for helping me!’ She smiled kindly.
‘I would give you money for sweets but I see that you’ve already got some. Too many, in fact. Did you know sweets are very bad for you? Not just for your teeth, but your health in general. My husband is a diabetic and…’
They children said goodbye and walked away quickly. They didn’t want to be rude, but they didn’t want to hear any more bad news, fake or real. It was Friday and they were done with classes for a couple of days. And they wanted to enjoy they’re cheap, disgusting sweets to the fullest.
Nevertheless, the notion that the recycling of rubbish was yet another economic growth thing, just to make money, made Kate very unhappy. It was everywhere. Well, it was a global thing, wasn’t it? Money buck, money quid, money yen, money won. She wished money didn’t exist at all, anywhere, that there was some other way of getting things.
That night she didn’t read. She just did video-editing with pictures of her favourite Korean pop artists. She would find a way to change things when she grew up. Her generation would stop all the nonsense. That was if they survived global warming, pesticides, medicines, recreational drugs, GMO, palm oil, white sugar, wifi, chemtrails, water pollution, water shortages, terrorist attacks, drone attacks, forest fires, nuclear war, copyright laws and stress over the next seven years of school tests…
‘Who left the light on in the bathroom!’ papa shouted.
‘Sooorry!’ Kate shouted back. ‘That was me.’
‘Jesus, Kate! I thought you had been learning about global warming in school. WE HAVE TO SAVE ENERGY!’
Yeah, Kate, thought, like that is the problem, I little bulb in a bathroom, a fridge door open. Not industry and technological… what’s it… growth. Growth and more growth; some people are never done growing; THAT is the problem.
She didn’t want to get into a lengthy discussion with her father about the subject, though. She knew him well: he would find it interesting, and he would refuse to let go of her for at least an hour! She did realize, of course, what her father meant by ‘we have to save energy’: we have to do everything that it’s in our power despite how little of it we have. We being the rest of humanity outside the greedy bunch. Like Kate herself: She was she but she was part of we, too. For starters, she was going to stop buying so many gummy-plastic sweets, and when she did she would take her own plastic bag to the shop, even though that was as little a gesture as turning the bulb off or closing the fridge door. At the end of the day, everything counted and if more and more people did it, it could lead to something bigger, a bigger power. Perhaps enough power to counteract the dark forces of the greedy bunch. Certainly, doing nothing wasn’t the solution to anything.
It occurred to her it would be a good idea to talk about rubbish and recycling in the bio-geo class. The real reality of it, not the fake one. Perhaps she could start by writing a composition about it. Then she would read it in class. Teachers liked that: compositions and children reading them out loud. Easier said than done, though; if only she could shake off some of her crippling shyness… But what happens if all the people in the world who have something important to say, didn’t say anything because they are shy? Wouldn’t that be worse than not turning the light off? Wouldn’t it be more like turning it off, in fact, and wasting energy at the same time?
‘Are you listening to me, Kate?!’ She heard papa shouting. ‘WHAT ABOUT THE LIGHT!’
She definitely wasn’t going to talk to her father about her ideas and plans right now. Instead she said:
‘Well, papa, if you want to save energy, STOP SHOUTING!’
Vivi, May 1st 2022
©Viviana Guinarte, 2022-
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