Fiction by Andrew Witt
The Prime Minister has stopped taking baths. Ever since the spill, he has neglected his toilet. He no longer combs his hair, picks corn out of his teeth, or wipes bits of sand out of his toes.
Four aides have been hired to take care of these tasks. Government coffers have been drained as seven bidets have been retrofitted into Rideau Hall.
Last week, in the midst of this governmental crisis, the unthinkable happened: an oil tanker, carrying over two million barrels of oil, capsized off the coast of Vancouver.
To survey the wreckage, the Prime Minister’s plane circles the spill in wide sweeping arcs. Every vantage point, however, fails to capture the breadth of the disaster.
On the plane, the Prime Minister thinks hard of what to say at the midday press conference. Although his appearance betrays him, his aides have assured him that there is no need to feel nervous. He believes he has mastered the rhetorical flourishes of a leader. The ‘ums’ and ‘ahs’ carefully planted to mimic the the act of thinking. But he knows too well that his brain is empty, and today, his stomach is too.
Hungry, the Prime Minister recalls his childhood.
He thinks back to that unforgettable moment of his youth when he poured an entire bottle of maple syrup all over his pancakes, but also all over the table and floor as well. The strange frisson of the experience has blocked out any memory of the clean-up, but he does remember giggling as he ate his pancakes, greedily.
Lost in this thought, the Prime Minister feels a warm liquid running down his leg. With a shudder, he prematurely wakes from his reverie with his left-eye twitching, small beads of sweat running down his forehead and coffee stained pants.
The Prime Minister switches on his phone and types into google: "How do you clean up 2,000,000 barrels of oil?" Of course, this question is beyond the capacity of anyone, even the Prime Minister, but he feels the need to appear to ponder the unthinkable.
The Prime Minister furrows his brow and stares out of the plane’s window.
His face relaxes after his photo is taken. Someone else will clean up the mess (and live with it too). For the first time in his life the Prime Minister is pleased, if not relieved, that he lives in Ottawa.
With pen in hand, the Prime Minister takes out his notepad. "I will now prepare my speech," he says aloud. And yet, all that his pen can muster are a few stick figures, a rainbow, a solitary game of tic-tac-toe, a collection of ill-shapen socks, and innumerable floating phalli.
Finishing his drawing, the Prime Minister hums under his breath the popular jingle from the 1990s: "United Furniture Warehouse, dun dun!".
His four aides are working on his speech.
The Prime Minister kicks up his feet, looks out his window, but feels no need to feign concern. His portrait has already been taken and it is perfect. "I am so beautiful," he says within earshot, making his aides uncomfortable.
Ever since the spill, the Prime Minister has dreamt of oil. His feelings toward oil have resembled something like unrequited love. He has longed to write to oil as one does a distant lover, to tell oil about his feelings, his lust, his deepest darkest secrets, and most importantly, how he has forsaken his past loves—his wife, his children, his long-dead dog "dodo"—everything. Alas, the Prime Minister is no poet, so he returns to his drawing and sketches another ill-shapen sock.
At present, the clean-up effort is in disarray. Even though a detailed plan was in place, bodies on the ground have suffered collective shock. To gaze upon the spill is to peer into an unwavering abyss. The spill possesses that uncanny ability to stare back at you, and when it does you begin to question your existence—your will to live.
The Prime Minister’s eyes have glazed over. His mind, predictably, is somewhere else, somewhere dark and perverse.
To allay fears, the Prime Minister’s aides have constructed a foolproof plan, or so they think. The disaster will be blamed on the boat’s motley crew. The Norwegian captain, drunk. The nonunionized South Korean deckhands, overworked and underslept. The boat, owned by a Greek shipping magnate known to vacation in the Maldives, registered in Mali, flying a flag of convenience to avoid international labour laws.
The Prime Minister could really say anything at this point—how a billion dollars have been allocated to the spill, how the spill is in the nation’s best interest, how the spill will make Canadians stronger as a people, how the spill will benefit Alberta—any empty platitude will do.
He remembers a line that his father once told him about the West Coast: "If you lay down with dogs you get fleas."
Another pipeline is in the works. The Prime Minister owns the pipeline. He finds the thought comforting. At dark moments such as these, which are increasingly many, the Prime Minister likes to reminisce about the good ol’ days of the 15th century. Imagining himself perched atop a grassy knoll, sword in hand, muscles bulging, hair flowing in long, elegant wisps.
And yet, behind closed doors, the Prime Minister is burdened by the thought that he is perceived as a "milktoast Oedipus"—fledgling, morose, insufferable.
The pipeline was his chance to get back at his father who tried to nationalize the oil industry (Petro Canada), but failed. The son has now bought an American-owned pipeline, but has also succeeded in covering the West Coast in oil. He plans to assure the people that profits from the next pipeline will be used to clean up any future spill. But not this one, nor the next...and most likely not anything thereafter.
As his plane begins its descent into Vancouver, the Prime Minister expresses one last thought to his closest aide.
"Nobody would care about the spill if oil was blue, like the colour of water."