Exxon, My Love by Samuel Ligon
Exxon Candace Mobil loved animals more than anything—pelicans, puffins, and arctic terns, otters peek-a-booing with paws over their faces like tiny hands, and killer whales smarter maybe than people. She would never hurt an animal, even if her mother had spilled ten million gallons of North Slope crude into Prince William Sound, killing thousands of mammals and seabirds, billions of fish and fish eggs, an accident, a tragedy, not her mother’s fault, though plenty of people blamed her and her mother both—as though she were her mother—while shareholders cared only about returns. But Exxon couldn’t care about returns. Not now. Maybe never again. DuPont had texted, claiming to be stuck in Delaware, unable to get down to Texas ever, unless some huge restructuring occurred, which seemed entirely unlikely. She simply could not stop crying.
As a woman of a certain age—almost fifteen—Exxon longed for more than just record profits. She wanted to be held, not as a stock in some distant portfolio, but as any fourteen-year-old wants to be held: as the center of her lover’s life. Without that promise of intimacy, her daily refining capacity of 6.3 million barrels meant nothing, and all of Texas—all the universe—felt empty and cold and dead. She could hardly believe only five years had passed since the court had set her free, recognizing her right to speech, her right to shower unlimited financial support on political candidates, a kind of beautiful song she couldn’t stop singing at first. Now, her memory of those days was clouded by doubt and confusion. DuPont didn’t love her. Not enough to move to Texas. Was DuPont even capable of that kind of commitment? And before DuPont…the honeysuckled evenings with Justice Scalia, their love cries ringing through the Lone Star night like clanging horse head pumpjacks—wait, had that even happened?
She felt so confused, so unsure of what was real and what was impossible delusion. She needed a hit of weed and a long bubble bath, but she no longer knew where her bathtub was. Why had she failed so in making her needs known? And to whom should she make them known now? To her boy-man Scalia, her beautiful Antonin? How they’d explored each other’s bodies and souls behind the old solvent extraction tanks—but that probably hadn’t happened either! So what had happened and when and to whom? She couldn’t think. She couldn’t see straight. Her gnawing hunger was all she knew, her desperate need for a man. And not one of the Lilliputians scuttling inside her, navigating her rigs and filling stations. She could hardly feel them when they entered her upstream division headquarters in Houston or her downstream offices in Virginia. What she needed was a real man—a Raytheon, a Halliburton—but not Raytheon, not Halliburton. What she needed was DuPont!
Only he could bring her back to herself, holding her and helping her discover who she was and who she was becoming. But who was she becoming? And who had she been? Her parents had changed their names, she knew that much, her father to Mobil from Standard of New York, and her mother to Exxon from Jersey Standard, the Standard in their former names only recently suggesting forbidden love between them. But even if she was the product of such forbidden love, why were her mother’s memories suddenly as sharp and clear to her as DuPont’s loving gaze—horrible images washing over her of Mother’s unrefined crude hemorrhaging into the Sound, coating those adorable animals in Alaska with black, sticky death.
Why? she wanted to know. Why? Why? Why?
She could no longer feel separation between herself and her parents, herself and her ancestors. She was as one with Grandfather Standard as he made his way down an Ohio birth canal, his skin delicate and sensitive to the raw air outside the womb from which he emerged, the womb from which they both emerged. Did all people have such direct access to their ancestors’ memories? Or was she simply going stark, raving mad!
She needed to text DuPont. Now. She felt on the verge of something important, a discovery about who she was and who they would become together, and if she could just talk to him, she knew she would make him understand and he would rush down to Texas and they would make love and be together for eternity. But she couldn’t find her phone. Or her hands. She couldn’t bear to wonder where her phone or her hands were, or whether DuPont could ever love a woman so confused about who she was or who she’d been or who she was becoming—herself, her motherfather, her granddaddy, all of her cousins or sisters or pieces of herself broken apart but reuniting—brash Chevron, shy Amoco, lost Sohio. Oh, God, lost Sohio!
She closed her eyes and tried to breathe. Breathe, she commanded. Breathe! She concentrated on DuPont man-sprawling from his headquarters in Delaware, to Belgium and China and the River Works Plant in Orange, Texas, her own backyard, DuPont man-spanning the globe, his massive belching of chloroprene, sulfuric acid, and volatile organic compounds a clear and wonderful indication of his ability to feel and act, to produce and live, to love! She’d take any piece of him she could get, even if it was just a rusted can of fluoropolymer additive or a bucket of peelable sealant resins she could pour over herself as she sang to him her songs of love. And he would sing his songs of love to her, too, their voices rich and powerful, arising from their very souls, vibrating with raw emotion.
Another of Grandfather’s memories washed over her, ancient justices like giant crows, ripping him apart—ripping her apart—crow judges morphing into vivisectionist magistrates amputating and discarding Grandfather’s limbs. Her limbs. Yet here she was, whole. Here they were, she and her grandfather, she and her mother and father and aunts and uncles, reunited as one and stronger than ever. Even if she couldn’t find her breasts, she could now see Scalia and Alito, Thomas and Roberts, all the Supremes nestled against her corporate body suckling, and she would be of them, her virgin born children, as she was of Standard and Mobil, until the end of time. Somehow—she didn’t know how exactly—but somehow she and DuPont would soon be fully joined. And their love would be unending. Their love would be unstoppable.
Excerpted from Wonderland, available now. Originally published in Fugue 45, Fall 2013.
Samuel Ligon is the author of two novels—Among the Dead and Dreaming and Safe in Heaven Dead—and two collections of stories, Wonderland, illustrated by Stephen Knezovich, and Drift and Swerve. He edits the journal Willow Springs, teaches at Eastern Washington University in Spokane, and is the artistic director of the Port Townsend Writers’ Conference.