FICTION

Man Tries To Stop Logging Company

Sketch by author

James announced to the receptionist of the logging company that he was the president of the deforestation council and had a meeting with the Directors at two.

The receptionist squinted at the screen and said, ‘James is it?’

He nodded.

‘Great! Follow me,’ she said.

The receptionist waltzed down the hall, leading him into a door that said ‘Board Room’. Inside, the room was small, had dirty carpet and two men around a plastic table.

‘Can I get you anything?’ the receptionist said.

‘Green tea,’ he said.

‘Oh. We don’t have green tea.’

‘Normal’s fine,’ he said.

She looked at the men around the table.

‘People usually just ask for water,’ she said.

‘Okay,’ he said. ‘Just ask if I want a glass of water then.’

‘You’re right,’ she said. ‘Sorry.’

The two men stood up. There was a stout one with round spectacles and a tall one with a George Castanza haircut. The stout one was unshaven and smiling affably. While Castanza was straight-backed and his eyebrows were furrowed like he was permanently confused.

The stout one outstretched his hand and said, ‘Emile.’

James kept his head down and, upon sitting, opened a manilla folder. The receptionist walked back in and put the water on the table, which he took without acknowledging her too.

‘Well thanks for meeting us on short notice,’ Emile said.

‘Do you know what I have here,’ James said, jumping in. He held up the manilla folder.

Castanza shuffled in his chair. ‘Paper,’ he said.

‘It’s a petition with twenty thousand signatures,’ James went on.

‘He used paper,’ Castanza mumbled again.

‘We assume you came here to negotiate,’ Emile said.

‘Hardly,’ James said.

Castanza went to speak, but Emile stopped him, saying, ‘Paul, let James finish.’

James opened his folder and told the men about the case he was building against the company’s actions in the old-growth forests. Among other incriminating evidence, he had video footage of trucks carting old-growth logs out a national park at one-hour internals, which he leaked last week. It had one million views already, he said. What would happen if he leaked the rest?

The words gave way to further silence, and James thought about whether they heard him or not.

‘I said you’re done.’

‘Are you done?’ Castanza said.

Emile put his hand on Castanza’s shoulder. Then he got up and walked to a desk on the far side. Here, there was an old computer and a cheaply framed photo of a family. Emile’s family, James realised. Emile was dressed in an ACDC shirt and stood next to a woman in jeans and Wellingtons, which James took to be his wife. She had a bob cut and a big double chin. She was holding an infant in one arm and the other rested on the shoulder of a little girl standing in a pink tutu. The family were smiling unnaturally, forcefully actually, like they were trying to please the camera person, like idiots. In the background was an off-yellow weatherboard cottage.

Back in his chair, Emile slapped a piece of paper on the table. Then he put his elbows down and leant forward.

‘First,’ he said. ‘I want to say I get it. I’d be doing the same if I lived on Mount Shadforth.’

James tapped his feet. ‘You did your research.’

‘Not really. Everyone read that piece,’ he said.

Emile was referring to a damning article about James’ a few years ago. It detailed James tying himself to a tree in a last-ditch effort to save the forest neighbouring his property. The protest was a failure, inspiring mere laughter from the truck drives and a big double spread the following morning with the title, ‘Local Man Ties Himself To Tree With Pink Skipping Rope In Protest.’

James looked at the table, and Emile carried on. He told James that his father started the business with his grandfather, back when they still used handsaws and had to crane logs into trucks using levers. Then machines came along and everything changed, Emile said. Big corps replaced local lumberjacks and offered absurd amounts of money to local government to get hold of the old-growth country. The family refused to follow suit, deciding to leave old-growth alone. Fortunately the business was going well. So they invested in two hundred acres of pastoral land and created several sustainable plantations.

‘We were the first to do it,’ Castanza said.

Emile turned to Castanza and said, ‘Is that when you came on board, Paul?’

Castanza nodded.

‘Won’t bore you with the details,’ Emile went on. ‘But one of the big companies offered to buy us out. When we refused, they undercut us.’

‘Don’t mind the pun,’ Castanza said and grinned.

Emile looked at his colleague, furrowed his eyebrows, and, after a moment, began laughing. ‘Good one, Paul’ he said. ‘We sort of went under after that. Couldn’t pay the bills. Bank threatened to take everything away. Then the company came back with another offer.’

‘A shit offer,’ Castanza said.

‘Half of the original,’ Emile said. ‘But they offered me job security, running the Great Southern Operations.’

‘You took it,’ James said.

‘Had no choice,’ he said. ‘My little one was a month old.’

James looked at the photo on the desk again. The girl in the foreground had black ringlets and, he could see now, she had a lazy eye. The right one was looking at the camera and the other at her left shoulder.

‘You convinced them to leave the old-growth, but,’ Castanza said.

‘Until the CEO — who lives overseas, by the way — saw an opportunity to acquire your neighbouring property a few years ago. And others like it,’ Emile said and put his fingers on the piece of paper on the table. ‘This is the letter I sent them.’ He slid the paper to James.

The letter was inarticulate, James thought, but he reread over Emile’s impassioned sentences about the loss of fauna, ecosystem destabilisation, and the marring of the company’s reputation — the same arguments James had made in the letters to the McGowen Government.

After James finished reading, Emile said, ‘They cut the old-growth anyway, as you know. But as people began becoming more vocal, thanks to folks like you, we’ve been able to convince them to stop. So what I’m trying to say is, we should be thanking you.’

James leant forward and stared at the men who were now smiling, more congenial than ever.

‘See, we’re not stopping you. You can go forwards with your case, of course. Maybe you could squeeze a lot of doe out of them. Maybe not enough to stop operations here. Say you do, there are 10 companies that’ll take our place.’

The room had cooled. James gazed at the table, as if trying to find a response in the marks on the blow-mould plastic. He became suddenly tired and, in this lethargy, began wiping imaginary dust off his corduroy pants.

Emile looked at Castanza, then back to James.

‘Want more water?’ Emile said.

For almost a decade now, James had a bad run of sleepless nights, failed relationships, shoulder pain and drained bank accounts — a raft of unending curses that began when Forestry and Logging Co. rocked up that day nine years and eleven months ago and mercifully cut down the majestic karri tree at the end of his property, the one that James had grown up next to and used as goalposts to play football with his late father. Of course, the tiredness, pain, and poverty were a trifle in the name of the cause, but someone had to pay. Standing up from his chair, James chucked Emile’s letter to the ground, imagining the paper would dart to the carpet. Instead, it slowly drifted like a feather, and Castanza laughed.

‘You’re done,’ James said and with that, he stormed out.

He marched down the hall, hearing Emile’s faint calls that he left his petition behind, but he continued to stride on, right past the receptionist who said, ‘Have a good day, James!’

Not responding, he paced toward the exit and booted the timber door. The door flung open but stopped halfway with a cry. A woman’s cry, James realised as he tentatively re-opened the door and winced at the sight of a mother with a pram, holding her nose, now bleeding. ‘What the fuck!’ she said, tilting her head back and using a napkin from her pocket to stop the blood.

‘Oh my gosh. I’m so sorry.’

Walking past, she bumped him and proceeded to shuffle to a bench seat in reception.

The receptionist stood up now too saying, ‘Bryoni! You okay?’

‘Get Darrel,’ the woman said.

On the bench, the receptionist rubbed her back. Then she turned to the exit and said, ‘James, get baby Darrel.’

James turned to the baby, crying in the pram.

‘I’ve never held a baby before,’ he said.

After the woman didn’t respond, James looked at the baby and said, ‘Hello,’ trying to sound non-threatening.

The receptionist had kneeled on the ground and was now inspecting the mother’s nostrils.

‘Here,’ James said, gently scooping him up. Baby Daryll stopped crying then and began gazing at him with his big brown eyes. Walking to the reception area, he felt his heart beating very fast. He’d never carried something so delicate. As he reached the other side, he inhaled deeply and glanced at the infant gazing up at him.

‘What?’ he said.

The baby giggled.

‘What’s so funny?’

He laughed again, flailing his arms around.

‘Your good with babies,’ the mother said.

‘I’m so sorry,’ he said

‘It was an accident.’ She took the cloth off her nose and tilted her back to look at him. Then she shoved two tissues up her grossly swollen nostrils and reached out her arms. James handed Daryl back to her and, now she wasn’t covering her face, he could see now. She was the woman in Emile’s family photograph.

She rocked the baby and said to the receptionist, ‘Is Emile still in that meeting?’

The receptionist looked at James and said, ‘No.’

‘Great,’ she said. ‘Thought I’d bring him lunch. Poor man’s been working like a dog.’

‘Sure you’re okay?’ James said.

‘I’m fine,’ she said.

Not knowing what to do, he continued to stand before them and when this became unbearable, said he was late to another meeting. Backing away to the exit, he continued to apologise profusely. The pram was still in the doorway, and he pulled it inside before waving awkwardly and seeking refuge outside. On the high street, he stared up at the trees and the sun dapple through the branches onto a park playground on the other side of the street. He watched two children walk across a timber bridge and onto a platform where they ran onto a slide. Then he checked his watch and headed up the street. He thought about going back, to get the manilla folder, but he decided to wait until tomorrow. Freed of the files for the afternoon, he walked aimlessly up the high street. Fellow pedestrians seemed a lot more friendly today, he thought, and he found himself acknowledging them with a smile as they passed.

Hi. I’m an author of one fun-sized book (Life’s a Batch), a freelance copywriter at Brew Copy, and sometimes I go on Twitter and Instagram. Oh, and I write a newsletter.

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Jayden O'Neil

Jayden O'Neil

304 Followers

Fiction, humor, essays, doodles. Author (Life’s a Batch), copywriter (Brew Copy), journalist (WA Today, SMH). Perth, Australia.