There’s an alarming reality clothed in a disarming apathy in Kevin MacCabe’s ‘We Are Where We Are’, from Issue 15. I rarely read material about climate change that is this precise, uncomplicated and doesn’t flinch in the face of so much uncertainty. This piece deftly sets a familiar stage, locates a recognisable crisis and leaves the ending a secret. It exposes the paralysis of comfort. It affirms the power of resignation. It wags a soft but pointed finger at men and the social mechanisms that market inaction as a life choice. It’s as simple an analogy as one can create. A clear problem with challenging yet simple answers. But the character in this scenario is wilfully blind.
While the reader can easily identify the few careful, preemptive actions needed, the man in the burning house can’t calculate the right time to make the right moves. With the inventive clarity of a classic fable, MacCabe captures that strange metaphysical duality that curses the human experience. We are able to conceive of and even understand the big picture, but most of us can’t be moved to act in our own homes. This malaise is the dark burden we all carry. It’s malicious and persistent and its source seems to be coming from what hides in our attics. (ER)
We Are Where We Are
He rolled off the sofa onto the floor knocking over a half-filled can of lager, which was annoying, now he would have to clean the carpet as well. Better stay low, that seemed to be the thing to do, he had seen it in a film or something, and so he crawled over to the door. Fumes were streaming up the from the basement utility room but the hall was otherwise clear so he stood up and went to the kitchen to get a bucket of water. He had a fire extinguisher under the stairs, but it was new and rather expensive. Better to wait for a real emergency.
After a brief search, he remembered his bucket was catching a drip at the back of the toilet in the bathroom, so he went up the one and a half flights of the quirky three-storey building to get it. The bath taps thundered a good twenty litres of water into the bucket and he took it to tackle the orange flame that was now licking along the skirting boards in the hall. The liquid load arrested its progress and he returned upstairs for a refill.
When he tried to descend again, the bottom step was glowing a healthy red, so he tipped the water over the bannister. It hissed and fizzled but did not make much of an impression. The lower storey looked lost.
We are where we are, he thought. As long as the fire stayed where it was, he would be OK, so he went into the bedroom to think about what to do next.
The afternoon sun poured in as he opened the curtains. Across the road he could see another house also on fire. In the window of the second floor his neighbour was sitting in his study watching television, which he found reassuring. In his own house, he realised the kitchen was now out of commission, but he didn’t really need a kitchen to live, he thought, he could order takeaways. His plan to adapt to life one and a half floors up began to take shape.
No fridge was a bit of an issue, but when he was a student he had made one using a bucket of water and a large cloth. It was good enough for six-packs of beer, so it would probably do for milk and cheese.
The master bedroom would serve as his new living room and from now on he could sleep in the spare room, although he would have to move some of those boxes. In fact, he could throw them down the stairs and the fire would burn them.
OK, this was better, these were solutions.
He moved the double bed over to allow room to set up an office. He would have to work from home now that he couldn’t get out. See, it wasn’t all bad.
All the running around had made him feel sleepy. He assumed that was what it was, although the smoke made him a bit drowsy too. So he decided to take a nap. His acceptance that he had to move on from living at street level had taken all the stress out of the situation and he slept very well.
When he awoke it was dark. He found a can of lager under the bed, it was his lucky day, and he cracked it open. Looking across the road, he could see his neighbour still slumped in front of his television. He raised the can in his direction, sound bloke, he wasn’t panicking, took a swig and went to the bathroom.
He stumbled to the toilet across the landing, now dense and black with smoke. When he flushed he realised he had no soap, so he wrote it down. There were bound to be lots of things he would need for his new elevated lifestyle.
Outside the bathroom, tongues of flame lapped at the top of the stairs and the carpet was smouldering. The fire was advancing faster than expected, which was a big disappointment. He had been thinking that the ground-floor fire was really a problem he could leave for the next owner. Well, he had a third floor; that was the advantage of these townhouses, what a shrewd purchase. So he gathered a pillow and his toothbrush and made his way upstairs again.
If the fire spread any further, he always had the attic. And, if he was honest, it could do with a clear-out.
Slash & Burn by Terje Abusdal
From the series Slash & Burn, a photographic project exploring the culture of the Forest Finns, slash-and-burn farmers who settled in the forest belt along the the Norwegian-Swedish border in the 1600s. This ancient method yielded bountiful crops but exhausted soil. Population growth had led to resource scarcity in their native Finland, which contributed to their migration. The people’s understanding of nature was rooted in eastern shamanic tradition, with rituals and symbols used as practical tools. This project draws on these beliefs while investigating what it means to be a Forest Finn today, when the 17th century ways of life and languages are gone.
Terje Abusdal is a visual storyteller from Norway working in the intersection between fact and fiction. In 2017, his story on the Forest Finns, Slash & Burn, won two major awards. In 2015, he published his first photographic book, Radius 500 Metres. His work was recently exhibited at Jaipur Photo Festival, Fotogalleriet (Oslo) and FOTODOK (Utrecht). terjeabusdal.com