It's in the Plastic
Updated: Jun 15, 2019
“Please don’t start up on all those conspiracy stories, you know they freak mum out.”
I slammed the car door shut. My brother Zane pulled a face at me.
“It’s her birthday remember. She’s too old to hear about all of that. It just makes her anxious.”
“Ok.” He muttered.
“Here.” I said thrusting a wrapped present into his arms. “This is from you.”
“What is it?”
“A Cashmere blanket. You can pay me back later.”
“Thanks Tasha.” He even managed to look contrite.
I flicked the fringe of his hair away from his eyes, forever the big sister. “Haircuts don’t cost that much you know?”
He poked his tongue out at me. We were back to being five and six again, it was always like this when we came back home.
The lunch went smoothly, I only had to kick his shins twice under the table. The second kick had been hard; I’d seen the wince. Sometimes his black humour was a little too much. But mum was happy and that’s what counted after all. She loved the cake, a real over the top concoction that I had bought, too rich and gluttonous by far but guilt often makes you do things like that. Overcompensation for the things you haven’t done. Like visiting more.
As always I ventured upstairs to my old room. Not that changed. Dusted and fresh as though it was waiting for me to return once again as some cynical know it all teenager. I lay on the bed; the doona cover faded with swirly retro flowers, and let my stomach try to digest more food in one meal than I usually ate in a whole day.
Zane walked in without knocking as always, I was fiddling with the long blonde hair of one of my dolls. Her name was Tuesday, who knew why. She was dressed like some leather diva on her way to Mardo Gras. Bizarre. I was trying to recall if she had come in that outfit or whether I had bought it separately. I reinstated the black studded cap onto her perfect head. She smiled at me. She never stopped smiling ever.
Zane’s look was nothing short of disgust. He seemed to recoil from her even as she smiled sweetly in his direction.
“You know what they say about them don’t you?”
Here it comes, I thought, one of his wacky paranoid delusions gathered fresh from the Internet. I sighed and shook my head.
“Nano technology. In the plastic. Toxins.”
“And they do what?”
I laughed. Looked into her still happy face. “You mean to tell me that all ba…” he interrupted before I could finish
“Don’t say the word. The B word.” His hand was held up like a policeman stopping traffic. “They could be listening.”
I stared at him incredulously. “I think the batteries would be dead by now.”
“You can never be too careful.” I noticed he hadn’t come any closer.
I thought about what he’d just said. “They are a toy company Zane. They want to keep selling these to children. So it is utterly preposterous that they, even if it were possible, would make a girl who then becomes a woman, infertile. They would be killing off the next generation, their market. It makes no sense.” I was angry with him. Why should I be wasting my breath answering such a stupid statement.
“Well that’s why they get away with it you see. No-one would think they would do it. It’s a very long term plan and it’s about making even more money.”
Suddenly our mother called us down, Zane retreated giving one long disdainful glance at the B doll. I placed her back on the bookcase with the other remnants of my childhood, the mangled teddy, the chewed-ear rag puppy and the very special Zulu designed hippopotamus that Auntie Lottie had posted to me from South Africa, still in almost immaculate condition. I picked him up and contemplated bringing him back to my apartment; he would fit in quite well with my nuevo tribal theme. Apart from the sleeping baby doll missing one eye now, Tuesday was the only other doll; I'd never been really into dolls but had thought there'd been at least one more.
I tucked Hippo under my arm and went downstairs.
As soon as we were in the car he started back up on the topic.
“Its all over the Internet you know?”
“I think you need to go out more. Out into the real world.”
“Tasha. Seriously it makes sense. These people have their fingers in so many pies. A vast network. And it’s all connected.”
I wondered if he had some mild form of schizophrenia.
“Infertility is rife. It’s a growing twenty first century phenomenon. Along with the declining birth rate. You know in some countries they are in negative population growth. It’s happening in the wealthy industrialised countries. The places with high disposable incomes. Japan for instance if the birth rate keeps declining in two generations they’re won’t be anymore Japanese.” He said.
I stared at him. He took that as a consensus to continue.
“According to what I have read it’s all in the plastic. Nano technology, cutting edge stuff. It infiltrates the body, slowly, it’s cumulative. So not everyone gets it to the same degree. It all depends how many dolls you had and how often you played with them. Some females won’t be as affected. Some will. It’s a much higher problem here in the west; we buy so much, endless toys for the children. In the third world its not an issue at all.”
“You know Infertility is a really complex problem. Zane. And its heartbreaking for those involved. Not to mention very costly.”
“Exactly that’s why they have done it. World wide they own all these fertility clinics. The money involved it’s like having your very own money tree.”
“It's not only women,” I countered, not believing that I was actually debating this with him. “Men are the ones that have problems in that area as well, low sperm count etc.”
‘Yeah.” He nodded. “Its the plastic, it’s in the cars and trucks that the boys play with. Totally.”
I was tempted to go on with what about the dogs but I was sure he had some reasonable explanation there as well. Plastic chewable bones no doubt.
“It's impossible Zane. It's just delusional.”
We had stopped outside his apartment block. He actually looked hurt, his long blonde fringe hid his eyes but I could see the pout on his lips.
“Tasha, you’re a journalist. Why don’t you do some investigating?”
“I’m not that sort of journalist. I work on a women’s magazine.”
“Perfect. Why don’t you just ask around the women that you work with, there would be enough? See what you can find out. You could do a survey. Who had dolls, how many, how often did they play with them? That sort of thing. See if there is even a smidgeon of truth there. And amongst your friends. It’s a small sample but you should see some results. If there is absolutely nothing well what have you lost? A little bit of time.”
Zane stared at me. “Maybe you need to stay in more. Maybe you need to read some of the really disturbing stuff that people have gathered. And posted up so everyone can read it.”
“Yeah the Truth is out there Mulder.”
He laughed. “See you later. Hey how much do I owe you?”
“Its ok. Buy me an extra big birthday present.”
He waved as he typed in his security code and disappeared into the building.
I drove away with the X-Files music doing laps of my brain.
I forgot all about it for the rest of the weekend but come Monday morning as I sat at my desk fiddling with my in tray, I remembered the conversation and decided to do it. At the very least it would be something that I could wave in his face when I disproved it. I wasn’t that busy so by the time the end of the day had come I had devised a simple survey. With multiple-choice answers so it would be quick and I knew from experience people loved filling these things out, I had done this sort of thing before for the magazine so it was pretty fast. How many dolls? How often did they play with them? Between what ages? Did they want children? Where they in a relationship? Did they have children? Where there any fertility problems? At the end I hinted at a pseudo scientific reason for the survey, gender studies and biological disposition. It was amazing what you could do with a few choice unpronounceable words. I emailed it to all my women colleagues and most of my friends.
Within two days most of them had come back. I stayed late one night and printed out the results and then put the answers onto a spreadsheet. Halfway through I was starting to see a really weird trend. By the time I had gotten to the last survey it was pretty obvious that something was going on. I had kept the survey anonymous, I mean I could go back and find out who had emailed which form back but in terms of the printed forms I had no idea who had written what. But there was a definite correlation between the girls who had the most dolls (over four) and played with them longest and those that had fertility issues. The women who hadn’t been that into dolls (one or less) and rarely played with them were the only ones that had grown up to have children easily. I went back through to check I had put the answers in the right spot. It was well after midnight but none of my data entry was wrong.
I still wondered if I was seeing results that weren’t there. I quickly sent an email off to a friend of mine who was good at this sort of stuff and asked if he wanted to do lunch.
I gave Jamie my spreadsheet and asked if he could look at it, analysis the results, and give me some statistics to go with it, his eyebrows shot up.
“Where did this come from?”
I muttered something about confidentiality. “Its only a small sample. Thirty Five people really.” I mumbled. “Probably not enough to really give any proper indication.”
“Amount isn’t that important. Are all these women in the same age group?”
“Well they are all between twenty five and forty five.” I guessed.
“Reasonable parameters. I’ll send you some stats then.”
I was starting to feel really uncomfortable. And then it got worse. When I arrived back at my desk there was a message for me to present at the Editor’s office. I was usually way below her radar. When I entered her plush office there was another man sitting there, he looked vaguely familiar. She cut to the chase. She handed over one of my surveys.
“What’s this about?”
“Just a survey that I thought might be suitable at some point for the magazine. I was doing a test run.” I murmured vaguely.
“Where did it come from?”
“Just made it up actually. There was some article I was reading in a scientific magazine about women who were very girly, who played a lot with dolls and then grew up to have fertility issues. And vice versa, Tom boys who seemed to have no issues.” I babbled.
“So this survey didn’t come from a particular organisation then?” The man spoke, his voice was like ice.
I shook my head. “I thought maybe I could do some sort of tie in with declining birth-rates, western world, Japan.” I was really gabbling.
“You’re not paid to think.” The editor snapped. “You’re paid to do articles which we've already decided are suitable for this magazine. That’s what you’re paid to do. That and nothing else.”
I looked at the floor and nodded.
“I don’t want to see you wasting any more of the magazine’s time and resources on these stupid things. Or else.”
The threat hung there like a forgotten piñata at the end of a party.
I left her office feeling about twelve.
The rest of the afternoon I kept to myself, I felt like I had become a pariah. Jamie sent an email with a graph and his statistics. They looked overwhelmingly convincing. I forwarded it on to my brother with a quick note asking him not to email me at work about any of this. I forwarded on all the surveys omitting any personal details and then deleted everything.
Zane rang me at home that night, he was excited. I was exhausted.
“But this proves it.”
“Its too small a sample.”
“Then we get a bigger sample. Seriously. I can set one up. I’ll use your survey; add some extra questions, age and demographics, geographical locations. We’ll go worldwide. It will be easy. We will have to set up some seriously secure sites, run them through various servers and web providers so we aren’t traced. But this could be it. With enough data we could really be able to prove something.”
I mumbled something.
“I don’t know. I’m not convinced. Jamie said there needed to be more information about their socio economic and ethnic backgrounds for it to have any real validity.”
“That’s what we’ll do.”
“I’m not doing any more.”
I could feel the silence. A tangible entity between us.
“That’s fine. I’ll be working with others. We can sort it out. Maybe I can get Jamie involved, to make sure it covers everything.”
I hung up not knowing why I was feeling so weird. Maybe it was because somehow I had slipped into Zane’s world. I had wanted to disprove it not prove it.
If it was true than it was horrible and insidious in the extreme. My whole childhood was tarnished, everyone's was. And our beloved toys and dolls were some awful contaminating weapon that infected us. It was too evil to consider. I didn’t want to. If this Truth was out there I didn’t want to know about it. And the man in the office. There was something about him I found really disturbing. I went to bed and dreamed terrifying dreams.
The next two weeks I lived in denial, I later realised, just head down, did my job that was overwhelming, as I seemed to have been lumbered with the workload of another colleague who was on holidays. I guessed where that directive had come from, there was barely time to think and only enough to go home and sleep and be ready for another day. It was a strange two weeks because underneath where I had buried it I could feel the anxiety.
I was called down to the foyer by the security guards at eight-thirty one night. I was annoyed at the interruption; I just wanted to go home. When I arrived two uniformed police officers were waiting. They were polite and gentle, I realised later, too gentle. It took me a few seconds for the words to sink in, like an echo that followed those nano seconds later; I felt every part of me sink as though I was in quicksand. Sinking fast.
Zane was dead, a hit and run, I would need to identify the body. Could I come with them? Would they like me to ring someone else? Was I up to it? I just nodded, kept nodding. They led me to their car. I was on automatic. I sat and watched the buildings go by, brightly lit levels of empty offices. Kept thinking about all that electricity going to waste. Watts of power churning through the night, dinosaur bones turned into glowing balls of artificial suns. It seemed very wrong.
He didn’t look asleep like they say, he looked very pale and cold, I could feel the iciness emanate into the air around him, he was lying on a steel slab and everything seemed metallic. Metallic and cold. And dead. He was empty, an empty shell of flesh and bone. I remember the thought struck me hard like a slap. He wasn’t there anymore. Zane was gone. Only his body remained. Organic meat being chilled.
No Zane. Not ever. Gone.
I identified him, filled in some forms, signed in the places they pointed and said I’d arrange for a funeral home to come and pick him up in a few days after the coroner’s report had been filed. My voice was calm, quiet, and sensible. They offered to drive me home but I refused. I walked around for a while in a daze and then my bus came by and I jumped aboard. Just another day. I decided not to ring Mum up at this point it was nearly eleven and she would be asleep. A last night of undisturbed sleep was what she deserved. I didn’t really sleep. Sat and watched television but what I watched I couldn’t say.
The next day I drove to mum’s and did the hardest thing I had ever done. After that everything seemed much easier. Together we arranged the details, the funeral home, the death notice, the contacting of friends and relatives. I went to his apartment to choose some clothes, the funeral director had mentioned a suit but I picked out his favourite T-shirt showing the movie poster of the film, A Clockwork orange, I knew he would have wanted that one, and some faded jeans. His place was much tidier than I had imagined it would be. I looked around the space and realised I had never visited him here. It was that moment when everything crashed on me, freeing all those weird niggling doubts and qualms that started surfacing. But even then I still held back from facing the ultimate truth.
It was Jasper who said it and made me face it, after the funeral he had approached me; I had never met him before. He was an Illustrator like Zane, he invited me over to his place where a bunch of them where going to have drinks. Mum was going to spend a few days with her sister so I accepted; it filled in the hours for me, and that was what I was doing. Filling in time.
Jasper made me a drink, whisky on ice, I knew a few of the others, not well but enough to talk to but I couldn’t bring myself to do chitchat. Everything was frozen inside me as though Zane had breathed one last breath on me when I was in that metal ice chest and had frosted me over. I stood on the balcony; the day was chilly and grey. Jasper stayed with me after he handed me the drink, he was silent and serious. I stared at him and realised that was he was rather good looking. It was a weird thought and it made me blush.
I finished the drink, only the ice cubes remained clinking against each other, they reminded me of the buoys out in the harbour, every time they moved with the current they would set off an eerie low chime, a warning to boats, a warning of danger.
“We need to talk.”
I looked at him his eyes were stormy blue.
“Not here. Come.”
He led me to a room that seemed to be his studio, half finished drawings covered the walls and tables. He shut the door, went to the window and turned a funny black box on.
“Jamming device. No one can hear us now.”
The rabbit hole opened up at my feet and in I fell.
“It wasn’t an accident you know?”
The falling wasn’t so bad; I had thought it would be worse. There was something almost peaceful about it.
I felt his arms hold me up and help me to his chair. It was an expensively designed one to fit his body, ergonomic, made to relax and refresh his muscles. It had moulded to his shape and I felt like I was disturbing the contours, reshaping them by sitting there.
I stared into his eyes.
“I’ve been helping him, the website is up. I put the finishing touches to it last night. He dropped over his laptop. He dropped over pretty much everything connected with this before it happened. He had been feeling watched, had felt his phone was tapped. Strange things were happening around him. He was going to go away the next day. A trip down the coast.”
“You need to be careful.”
He nodded this time.
“We all do.”
I stayed with him that night, there was an attraction there between us but we held back. That first night was comfort. I slept the best since before, before this all began. It was the first day of the rest of my life as they say. After that I packed it all up, my life and Zane’s. Packed away in boxes, storage taking up space in our old rooms. Then Jasper and I left. Headed up the coast. Dropped off the radar or at least that was what we hoped. The website hummed away like a hive building up its honey supplies for winter. People were noticing it, talking about it. In a way it was out of all our hands.
We’re having a baby. Jasper and I. We are starting the quest for non-plastic toys. It’s hard but we’ll try. It’s all we can do. And this bit is the hard bit. Because I have to end this and I don’t really want to say what’s next.
If you’re reading this well its not good news or least for us. My story, this essay is sitting in a special out tray. Every four days we have to sign in and the email will just sit there. If we don’t well out it flies. Off to various places, people. Because it’s all we can do. Pass on the story. Keep it out there. Keep the truth out there. And maybe someone else will take up the torch and run with it.
She looked up and noticed his face looked ghostly lit by all the computer screens and the twilight that was dimming the day outside. He seemed distracted as well. Something on his mind.
“What do you think?” He asked.
“Bit overwrought. Melodramatic. It’s obviously fantasy.”
“Is that what you think?”
“It’s a hoax. Positive. We print this and we’ll be laughed off the street. Maybe sued for slander.”
“We could check it out.”
“Waste of time. Just trash it.”
She was surprised.
He was usually more open.
But she didn’t trash it, she passed it on to someone she knew who looked at these things.
What else could she do? She’d been on a fertility program for months and knew exactly how many of those B dolls she had once had. Nine. She had been obsessed as a child. Part of her makeup, this need to consume and collect, she still did only the toys were bigger and more expensive. But it did make her wonder. All of it. And she needed to know more. A lot more before she just let this fall into that virtual wastebasket sitting at the edge of her screen.
originally published Eclecticism E-zine Issue 8, The Conspiracy Issue, April 2009