Last week on the market I spoke to the girl queueing before me at the fruit stall. She had said to the cashier, Could I have a bag for that too please? which focused my attention from its dreamy perusal of the mountains of plump and glossy fruits. She had put her single lemon, her three apples, her two mandarins and her kiwi fruit each in separate plastic bags lest they contaminate one another. When the guy turned away to change her fifty dollar note I spoke.
Excuse me. I’m just so distressed by the… amount of plastic you’re consuming. Could you, I mean.
Her expression helped me. Goofy, caught out, unblaming, sprung. I gathered pace. Couldn’t you please think about bringing your own bags? I know, she said, looking down. I know I should. I said, pleadingly, They drift into the oceans. They sort of fly about. If you are a turtle or a fish they look like food, jellyfish.
I know, she said again, I should. Please, I said, please do. It’s really really time. And we smiled at each other and she walked away carrying her kilo of petroleum byproducts and once I’d paid for my bouquet of greenery and come out from under the awning into the wintry sunshine, so pleasurable, my partner was standing there opening wordlessly his canvas shoulder bag and as I fed the spinach and fennel in feet-first I was aware of the plastic bags girls passing us, seeing this transaction, maybe taking it home and owning it: we can normalise what seems a chore. However tonight standing at the checkout of a grocery store I felt unable to address the woman standing in front of me in line who had put every morsel of fruit and every mortal vegetable each into its own noxious, off-gassing solitary confinement. Bad, naughty vegetables, you suffer in there until you learn how to behave. I looked her over from her wood-heeled boots up to the leopard scarf that was slung so perfectly casually across her sleeves. I thought how I might say, Couldn’t you consider, and how she might say, It is none of your business, and how I might say, But it is my business! I have to live on the planet you are desecrating.
In between I visited the nut store in West End where everything is in tubs or big sacks, and you point and say, I’d like a half a kilo of those please, a wedge of that. The good-looking and ordinarily bearded man who came out from behind the counter cheerful and broad said to me, Would you like a bag for those? I said, No thanks. See I think I’ve already used up my lifetime’s…. quota of plastic bags. A laugh of surprise spurted from him. I think I probably have too, was all he said. After the grocery store lady with her terrifying scarf I walked home in a kind of fugue. The moon hung like a slim segment of moon high in the blackened and starless sky, a plastic bag drifting in a bottomless trench. How can we have come this far without catching on to ourselves, I thought. Is the water just too dark and warm? Are we asleep?