In this surreal piece on environmental decay, imageries of monsters, economic collapse, gross ecological excesses, guilty pleasures, and hints of internalised queerphobia all coalesce into a blend of poetic cosmic horror. While not explicitly portraying identifiable elements of queerness and ecology, Yi Feng’s piece manages to capture the ambient strangeness of queer ecology in its atmosphere.
Dee often thinks of this place in absences, folded over into halves and thirds. When the sand dredgers start hauling up piles upon piles of dead silverside fish from the seabed they are supposed to be excavating, nobody says anything, and slowly the stale air sours over with a miasma of rot and the frantic screes of sandfly clouds thick enough to deafen one’s ears with. Her colleagues produce treasure troves of excuses to stay away. Weekend hours are spent at home with the wife and kids while she gets stuck with the loser’s pickings. How did the piano recital go?
The sheltered alcove on the sand barge she is sitting in is all spreadsheets and tinted glasses at two in the morning. Dee blinks uncomfortably. Outside, three women with hair reaching down to their knees have been picking casually at the spoil heaps as if shopping for groceries. They browse used condoms, sea cucumbers with overspilling innards, check for bruises on the pearlescent skins of squid chewed in half.
She is supposed to tell them that they aren’t supposed to be here, but something cuts like cold fishbones in her throat, sinking her in her seat. Sound barriers have been erected along the coast to avert public gazes, though complaints about the godawful smell of rot drift through. Works were momentarily paused when chunks of dense, soft metal intermingled with human remains started appearing. Scuba teams were not deployed because, by then, the waters had been contaminated and clouded up into a vicious temper, and were not expected to settle for a long time. Nothing on sonar. Three days later, somebody calls and says to just carry on.
Two of the women leave, twisting themselves without hesitation into brown waters. The one that stays behind turns, fish-eyes whited over. Her hands grip a clump of seaweed mixed with hairs. She wears a blasé expression in between the seahorse bones of her face like, I could see you peeking at me from the corner of the barge this whole time, you know.
Weird sounds drift over from the other sand barges, a haze of noise like vomit down a toilet, the ghost blades of helicopters passing overhead. Someone tries to pick up the phone, doesn’t get through. Suddenly, Dee is standing out on the deck.
In waters as crowded with cargo ships and cruises and oil tankers as ours, dredging is deathly necessary business. An oil tanker that gets grounded in shallow water chokes and clogs, precious cargo marinating in rumours of insolvency and delayed payments. When Dee clocks out tomorrow, she thinks about how she could treat herself to the end of the shift, maybe a highball and a ritual soak with bath salts. And yet, the stagnant comfort that they offer has been feeling ever more pinched, clenched tight, as if there has to be something more to all of this.
The figure slithers closer, stomach unfurling, oral tentacles warm and flush. The drumskin of her throat thrums as if she is singing in ultrasound. She extends a clawed hand. The morning that comes, Dee realises, will be a bleak, nauseating thing, perforated with questions left unanswered. Days after the attack, someone will email human resources to check if Dee had any dependents to pay damages to. The dredge continues wearily, but the debris feels more like the vivisection of a glorious carcass. Nobody speaks about the thoughts creeping like saltwater intrusion.
But tonight, the scream never arrives. Their faces nearly touch, moist breath against filmy corneas. Here is the gap, and here is her chance to slip through. The tide gushes, swallowing Dee’s visions whole, moist caresses like tongues flicking at the crooked pools of her neck. She arches the soles of her feet, toes curling, waves breaking.