Brooke was in biology class the day her teacher told her that human beings were sixty percent water. How, essentially, we were all bags of the stuff, just rolling through life.
“Plop, plop, plop,” the teacher said, pointing her finger recklessly at students around the classroom. And then it would be. The sound of a bubble bursting and in a chair was a former student forever changed: now a bloated plastic bag with a knotted end, water sloshing around inside like salad dressing.
I know you’re skeptical, but things like this happen all the time. Americans waking up in hospitals with unexplained French accents. A sudden loss of taste on one side of the tongue. People who get so high they try to peel their skin like an orange. There’s a book somewhere about a man who turned into a cockroach, but my mother, divorced from my father for nearly a decade, would tell me that wasn’t much of a stretch for a man.
There were reports on the news, of course, for Brooke and her classmates weren’t the only ones who had succumbed to such a strange conversion. There were all kinds of bags, filled with all kinds of things, some quite unlucky. Some were airbags—no surprise to their neighbors and coworkers—whose hot air took them up, up, up into the sky with only their complaints to keep them company. There were the old standbys of dirtbags, sleazebags, and fleabags, whose outsides finally reflected their insides. Some bags were filled with kitty litter or the hardened scat of a dog. The latter form was particularly hard. No one wants to be around someone full of shit.
Some had casings as fragile and sticky as clingwrap, prone to punctures and tears. A woman once sliced herself open while getting the mail and leaked all the way back to her doorstep, found flat and nearly lifeless by her neighbor. He patched the hole with duct tape and refilled her with the hose. She hasn’t been the same since.
Innocuous things in Brooke’s world soon became dangerous. For example, the clasp of a necklace was certain death. No lobster claw or springing fastener. Everything turned to toggle, turned the jewelry world upside down. But then, that didn’t matter. The tip of a man’s crucifix pierced his plastic and out poured a cascade of frothy beer across Jesus’ gold-plated toes and a department store floor. (The man had taken to drink after his startling affliction.)
Still, some people weren’t transformed into bags at all. Because of this, marriages ended, families fractured—any bond was soon destroyed by the impermeability of varying density polyethylene. For instance, a man who suddenly found himself sitting across from a floating grocery bag instead of his wife couldn’t take the unexpected adjustment. He placed her opening over his head and began to breathe deeply.
Neither could deal with it. I understand. There were those who tried dropping themselves from tall buildings after somehow lugging themselves up the stairs. But they would just bounce along the ground, contents and plastic fully intact. Some rolled through town after town like tumbleweeds, searching for something, anything, an answer. Once, there was a man who claimed to be a messiah of sorts, his dingy bag filled with sparkling holy water, moaning about the end of the world. A kid found him on the sidewalk and threw him at a passing car, where he sank under a tire and exploded. And then there were those who simply rolled out to sea, lulled by the rhythm of the waves, the luring promise of being cradled by something bigger than yourself. But as the tides carried them out, one by one, each bag drifted towards the bottom, their stale air leaking out of them like a final breath, and they felt the cool dark consume them. Brooke was very brave, though, and tried to avoid this type of tragic thinking.
Speaking of Brooke, there was a day, long before she was a bag, when she and her mother found a shark washed ashore. A group of marine biologists examined its stomach contents and found a wad of plastic grocery sacks balled up one after the other, emerging like a magician’s trick—the bright whites, the pale browns, a translucent lapis lazuli once like the sea. Sharks confused these bags for the delicious slurp of a jellyfish, the handles its dangling tentacles, the sack its shining head.
And yet, plastic doesn’t just float in the open ocean or ferment inside a recycling bin at the edge of a curb. Brooke also learned from her biology teacher, just days before, that plastic can be found inside your body. And unlike an oyster, taking something as brittle and plain as sand, the plastic inside you comes to nothing but concentrated health problems and pain. There is no glimmering pearl awaiting at the end.
When Brooke came home from school one afternoon, a whole month after being a bag, she found that nothing that could cheer her, that nothing could restore her to the lithe and happy corporeal life that was once so satisfying. This was very hard for Brooke. The water of her bag had turned a light blue, for she was blue, and the plastic beads of her various friendship bracelets rattled inside as she began to cry, longing for the warm press of another’s hand, the want of a snug embrace.
But Brooke was not alone for long. Around the corner of the kitchen rolled her mother, the water of her bag also tinged with sadness, as she was unsure how to comfort her daughter, unsure even at times that this bag before her was her daughter. But the two came together anyway, for they were all they had, and their smooth encased softness collapsed one upon the other, each taking the shape of what the other lacked, the space between them filling, closing, completing.
Michelle Champagne (she/her/hers) recently earned her Master’s degree in English at Wake Forest University, where was a Graduate Fellow for Fiction Collective 2. Her other work can be found in Barren Magazine and Porcupine Literary. Twitter: @chellechampagne