My summer in the wrong Alaska
IT WAS MY DREAM to walk among glaciers. I would tread lightly, blinded by the Arctic sun, following only the scent of prehistory. North would beckon, and more northern still.
The ground would not be ground, but a floating mat of ice. My
Inuit friends would say, Her soul is ancient, how can she read
the ice like that? The ice would crunch, its polar tongue taunting. Have you ever had a death wish? A craving to surrender? I
imagined a last bath, bathing in the frigid claws of winter. But it
would be summer, and that would be sublime, an endless cold,
an endless white, an endless blue, a total endlessness.
I dreamt those blues; I dreamt this vast and moody sky. And
the land—the land is indeed wild; I am, yes, of total inconsequence. But not in the way I’d imagined. That Alaska, it was just
a dream—a dream like ice, cracked and floating, hollow. This
Alaska, things are a bit di=erent here. For starters, I am covered
in blood. I live in a building called the “Waldorf Hysteria.” And
Clay has just propositioned me for sex, again. This time, I think
I will say yes.
I HAVE BEEN CHOPPING o= fish heads for thirteen hours. For
the first time in this sixteen-hour shift, I have lost my rhythm
and control. For thirteen hours I’ve matched the pace of the line,
chopping with e;ciency and precision. In less than a second I’d
grab the sockeye salmon as it slid onto the table, press it down
and grip it below its top fin with my left hand, and with a single,
confident hack, chop the head o=. For thirteen hours I staved o=
the physical pain of repeating this motion hundreds if not thousands of times, the incessant aural assault of the machines, the
scolding of a supervisor, the nauseating stench, the blunt despair
of being here. But now I am buckling.
Why can’t I just stop? Why can’t I yell out to the foreman,
“Hey, Scottie! I can’t do it anymore! I need to get o= the line!” I
can’t imagine opening my mouth, it would take too much energy,
it would require moving di=erent muscles, my arm might fall o=
if I try to wave it. Or that’s an excuse, I don’t know, I’m a coward,
I can’t imagine rebelling. I don’t have time to formulate thoughts,
to debate my cowardice. I have no impulse but to chop; I am a
pathetic girlbot splattered with blood, aching with remorse,
blinded by hexagons, about to pass out, but I force myself to keep
on, straining into the pain itself, working to a relentless beat of
fish rapidly dropping down on the table before me.