Bit of an environmental theme going on with the last couple of stories!
The plastic bottle lies innocently on the beach, the last dregs of the ‘pure, natural spring water’ it was sold with puddled inside. As the sun sets and the tide turns, the beach clears of land-based creatures. Humans and dogs of various shapes and sizes return to insulated, isolated houses, leaving sand, seaweed and litter in almost equal quantities.
And the sea creeps up the beach.
The edges of the waves nuzzle their way over the sand, then retreat again coyly. But each time they return they are a little higher up the beach, have claimed a little more ground.
Waiting, the bottle lies on the seaweed that marks yesterday’s high tide.
The sea is teasing, scuttling a long way over the sand, almost touching the seaweed, then hurrying away. Then it comes again, caressing the tips of the fronds this time, and away. And then, finally, washing up, over, around, claiming the seaweed, and everything tangled in it, for its own, its embrace caressing, smothering.
Caught in the water, freed from the land, the bottle bobs on the surface of the sea. At first, it is carried a little further inland, but the tide has reached its highest point and is ready to turn again. Now, each wave pulls back harder, retreats a little further from the land; and the bottle goes with it, along with the myriad other bits of flotsam carried on the sea’s great back.
At sunrise, the bottle is out of sight of land. It spins and leaps on the surface, is swamped by waves but always finds its way back to the top. The new light catches it and the little puddle of fresh water inside, creating tiny rainbows.
The sky darkens as clouds gather. Rain falls, battering the bottle with a dull percussion that leaves no impression on its surface. The wind howls, gathering strength and whipping the waves into mountains with the bottle spinning, spinning, spinning on their peaks then falling, falling, crashing into the valleys at their feet. In one such trough, the bottle bumps against something solid, another bottle caught by the sea. They dance through the waves together, now leaping high on the peak of the same wave, now bobbing in separate troughs.
Gradually, they are carried away from the storm by the motion of the sea. The waves grow smaller, the clouds shred, separate, scatter and light returns to the surface of the ocean. It bounces off the surface of both bottles, dazzling the eyes of the gulls, who hesitate in their flight, in their dive for fish; distracted, they miss their catch. Then the bottles pass, and the hungry birds dive again, reach their reward.
As evening comes, the sky turns dark, darker. The moon and stars shine out against the blackness, catching the edges of the waves, the curves of bottles; bottles, bottles everywhere, green and brown and colourless. In ones and twos and threes they float, rising, falling, bobbing, spinning, all carried in the same direction. The groups join together until they form rafts, growing larger and larger, fitting themselves to the contours of the water’s surface, flowing up, then down each wave.
Then, as the sun rises on another new day, they reach the plastic island, a vast swathe of bottles, wrappers, and packages, that is drifting, drifting, drifting along the current, spreading out to the horizon in every direction. The newcomers bump and jostle at the edges, some of them finding a way inside the crowd, pushing others out again. And always there are more, the island growing by the day, the hour, the minute, a single layer of indestruction stretched thin and wide.
Waves surge beneath the layer, causing it to rise and fall, as restless as the ocean itself. Each item has travelled who knows what distance but the currents bring them all here, gathering them together, the ocean’s own private collection of detritus. They represent human creativity, and human carelessness, the harvesting and disposing of resources, a reminder that, on a finite planet, there is no ‘away’ where we can throw things we no longer want.
And the plastic island drifts on and on, growing larger and larger with each surge of the waves.