Eight Miles Long
“Dad, are you out of your- stupid question. You done reading that crap?”
Doyle’s father did not notice the steady stream of coffee that dripped from his whiskers onto the newspaper in front of him. “What?” The old man’s voice sounded like a handsaw slowly cutting an aluminum can in half.
As the old man was now informed, there was a solution to all human problems.
Tina gave Doyle a look of disapproval as she cleared the table. In the five years Doyle and Tina had been married, Doyle could never put words to the looks on Tina’s face, but the implication was always clear. The subtext usually boiled down to our current awkward circumstance is your fault. Make it more pleasant. Now.
“Tell me you’re not actually going to vote for that clown,” said Doyle to his father.
The old man sucked the coffee out of his beard and sat back in his chair. “I’m not so naïve, son. Politics these days, it’s a bunch of baloney. They get up in front of the radio cameras and move their lips, say they’re going to reform this, lick that-”
“You mean television cameras,” said Doyle.
“You said- never mind.”
Tina was grinning to herself as she loaded the dishwasher with her back to them. She always turned her left heel at a forty-five degree angle from her right when she grinned. Doyle had once read a psychology book that said to pay close attention to your partner’s unconscious habits and tics, because if they ever inexplicably ceased all at once, that meant that your partner was definitely cheating on you. Tina had read the same book, and they always teased each other about their bodily quirks (it was a subject they always kept at joking distance).
“Sometimes, the platforms don’t look so impressive in print,” the old man continued, “but are the only ones worth paying attention to. An island of jelly eight miles long floating in the mid Atlantic? My first thought was, who the hell needs it?”
“Jello,” said Tina. Doyle looked at her in surprise. She never spoke up to correct one of the old man’s endearing misnomers, as she called them. “Not jelly, Jello.”
“You’re jealous of what?”
“No, Jello,” she annunciated. “That’s what the stuff is called.”
“Oh?” The old man chuckled. His laugh sounded like a motorboat drifting in to dock. “Jelly lotion, the squishy crap the kids play with, whatever the heck…” Doyle could not postulate why his father heard Tina’s words perfectly; she was speaking more softly than he was. He shook his head at the inevitable hypothesis; could it be that his hearing was far more functional than he let on, and he only pretended not to hear Doyle when he didn’t want to acknowledge him? “In my day, food had backbone. Even candy. The stuff they sell these days, it’s half made of air. It’s a waste of money if you intend to eat it for dessert. But an island of jelly, now that’s a different story. Who needs it? I’ll tell you who needs it. The economy, damn it. It’s exactly what the world’s been waiting for, if people would just listen and get their heads outa their soiled prostates. Twenty thousand jobs this’ll create, boy, I tell ya, it’s about time this nation wised up to reality.”
“Two hundred thousand,” said Doyle, dryly.
The old man folded the section of newspaper and scooted into the table, inspired. “This is the greatest idea since…who was it again who freed the slaves?”
Ever since the TV networks cancelled an entire evening of sitcoms so that the nation could tune in and behold the first computer simulated images of the Jellotopia model that the candidate’s team of architects and structural engineers had rendered, Doyle expected that his father would be the last steadfast hardened cynic to get swept up in the fervor.
Jellotopia — as proposed — was not a replica of any existing city on Earth, but it borrowed from all the greats. Its foundation would be a solid cube of Jello descending nearly half a mile below sea level, its surface coated with a new substance the material scientists dubbed ‘sulfuric caramel,’ or, to the layman, ‘vulcanized chew,’ to provide a solid ground on top of which buildings the size of actual skyscrapers would be erected out of more Jello — in multiple colors and flavors — reinforced with ‘structural line-sugar-crystal’, also known as ‘lollipop rebar’. Was it supposed to be habitable? Doyle could not imagine how plumbing and heating systems would be integrated, but the platform had supposedly been reviewed by a plethora of qualified construction managers and engineers. It was estimated that the entire project could be completed within twelve years’ time. Contractors all across the continent were already bidding, contingent, of course, on the election being won and the venture being approved by popular vote.
“You can’t make jelly in salt water,” the old man insisted. He sounded almost angry in his excitement. “They have to form it in fresh water first, tons and tons of it, entire lakes lifted up into the sky by bulldoze helicopter cats and transported to the site like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle. Remember jigsaw puzzles? You used to stay up all night till I had to smack you in the head to stop fussin over the pieces so you could make some girly unicorn picture. Remember ‘em?”
Doyle shook his head.
“I’m telling you, this jelly fella is the only democrat these days worth his salt.”
In bed that night, the sound of the old man snoring in the next room defused all possibility for arousal. Tina put a hand on Doyle’s shoulder and asked him what was bothering him.
Doyle sighed and rolled onto his back. “Him and his fucking jigsaw puzzles…”
“You’re still hung up on something he said hours ago?” Tina grabbed a chunk of his chest hair and yanked gently in all directions. “You’d be surprised, but lots of burly men like images of unicorns.”
“Don’t do that,” said Doyle.
“But I’m massaging your heart,” said Tina. “It’s a secret technique I learned in-”
“You think everything’s bullshit.”
Doyle twirled her hair around his pinky finger like endless spaghetti. He always did that without realizing he was doing it — usually while making a point — and she liked it when he did that, because if he ever stopped, she would then know right away that he was cheating on her. “You know those pretentious satire films they make you watch in art classes? They’re meant to be a pointed commentary about whatever, but the whole time you’re watching it you’re not sure whether to cringe or feel sorry for everybody involved in the making of it, because it just runs with one joke and beats it into the ground — usually a joke that was never clever in the first place. There are tons of movies like that. And they say politics and entertainment, thin gray line, y’know, gets blurrier every year, right? Even the way they splice the debate footage, and the intros, the music, just like you’re watching a movie. Like we’re watching some nerd articulate his abstract sense of humor, except I feel like I’m the only one who gets the joke, and I’m not laughing.”
Tina loosened her grip on his chest hair. “You analyze too much. It’s just a tourist attraction. A very expensive one. So mothers can get away with telling their kids, no more sugar tonight, pumpkin, the president needs all the gross-national-candy-crop for the island, now go to bed and dream about Jellotopia, we can go there when you’re nineteen, for now eat a vegetable. You have to think about things from all angles and perspectives.”
“You’re an idiot, dear.”
She looked at him in the way she looked at him when she was about to kiss him; with her eyebrows slightly lowered and her chin slightly raised. This time she just looked at him. “Hey. You know what would I could really go for right now?”
Doyle was not in the mood. “What?”
“Let’s make a bowl of Jello. It will be ready by morning.”
Doyle sat up, both enraged and relieved. “And those lakes, we’re talking fish holocausts, can we even predict what that’ll do to the eco system-”
“It’s just gonna float there, right? I guess they’ll have to anchor it somehow. And maintain it. In the middle of the fucking ocean, it’ll just get eaten by sharks anyhow, and the sharks will all get sick and die and it’ll throw off the whole marine food chain, but who cares, we got an amusement park for the fucking-”
“And the budget for this thing — who needs education, who needs social services when you’ve got a stupid, floating-”
“Come to bed, Doyle.”
“I am in bed.”
“No you’re not. You’re pissed off. You can’t be in the same bed that I’m in, because I’m not pissed off.”
Doyle stood up and put on his robe. “I’ll start the water boiling.”
He leaned down, kissed her shoulder, slid his tongue up to her chin said, “I love you.”
“No, not that. Doyle?”
Doyle noticed then that they could no longer hear the old man snoring. He wasn’t sure when they had stopped hearing it.
Tina smiled. “You hate Jello. I know your dick will be hard while you make it, because you’re making it for me. Wake me when you climb back into bed, kay?”
“What did you really want to tell me?”
She looked confused for a moment. “Oh, nothing. Just, about your father- you’ll figure it out. And it’s none of my business if you don’t. Go make me some Jello, you idealistic dweeb, then we can talk about eco systems if you still want to.”
In the kitchen, the old man was stirring about in his boxers and yellow t-shirt which was a couple sizes too small and had undoubtedly once been white. A pot was boiling on the stove.
“Dad? You’re not- are you-”
Doyle was laughing before the old man turned around.
“Didn’t mean to embarrass you in front of the ol’ ball and chain,” said the old man.
“You didn’t embarrass me. And please, don’t ever use that expression.”
The old man held up the dusty box of Jello mix. “I read the directions, it said to boil water. Nothing that starts with hot water can taste all bad.”
“Did I ever tell you you’re brilliant?” said Doyle.
“Don’t get sarcastic with me, fella, I’ll rap ya one in the nose.”
Now that Tina had mentioned it, he had to flex his thighs till his buttocks trembled in order to control his erection at the sight of the Jello mix.
The old man frowned quizzically. “You feeling alright? You look like you’re constipated. I’ve got some prune juice in the fridge, it tastes just like cider.”
Doyle shook his head. “No, I’m fine. So…an eight mile island, huh?”
“What?” the old man rasped.
“Nothing.” He tried to think back to what his father had said earlier. I’m not so naïve. Perhaps he did have a cache of wisdom in his years, like the prospective unseen half-mile-deep Jello foundation beneath the ocean’s surface. Maybe stupid, wasteful ventures were the secret of marital bliss. Maybe saving the world was no different than giving your husband Jello hard-ons via power of suggestion, or massaging his heart by pulling on his chest hair and making him forget he was upset. Tina was right; he analyzed too much, and he was not a very good thinker late at night. But making Jello was a good idea. Yes, Jello was a good idea indeed. Except, the eco system…
“Dad? What do you really think about this Jello business?”
The old man continued stirring the pot intently. Doyle thought about repeating himself, but decided to let it go un-discussed. And then the old man shrugged. “The television has a way of making things look bigger. Eight miles? Baloney. But I can tell you this.” He stopped stirring the pot, turned around and crossed his arms. His voice sounded like the sound sugar syrup would make as it crystallized, if it did so fast enough to make a sound. “They’ll build it, and in a year it will be forgotten.”
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Portland Fiction Project
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