What On Earth Have You Done?

The Island of Cloth.

written in 2009

The incineration or “thermal treatment” of waste had been banned. The chemicals that was released into the air had started to combine in for science unexpected and highly dangerous synergies. People everywhere around the globe had started to get ill from the chemicals falling as toxic rain. Being explained otherwise, not to cause panic of rain, the fire factories were forced to close down. The remaining option was to bury the stuff in the ground and a vey creative and well paid think tank was employed to come up with the positive sounding term landfill - as if a landfill was fixing a hole in the ground. This term made the activity easier to sell than toxic dump. Waste was shipped off to defeated countries where the landscapes of Mother Nature got sculpted by overconsumption as architect. Attempts to build waste containers in space had taken the funding from re-visiting the moon and were well on the way. Humorously this operation was called operation “Space-Rug”. But this was not enough; we needed more places to hide our trash.

Ignorant decisions are made.
– Yes, it’s authorized. The confidential agreement was signed last week and you have our full permission to start the operation. We have confirmation that the air room is cleared and the organization is ready.
- Good luck.
The staff of important men, all tucked into their well-worn, expensive suits and neck ties that yelled lost happiness, nodded to each other and left the room.
This was the start of another temporary solution to ignore a problem and another way to keep business as usual keeping full steam ahead.
Containers filled with clothing were transported to the largest compound you can imagine. Cargo boats arrived stacked with containers heavy from their out-dated load. Truck after truck arrives and unloads clothing creating dumps that look like gigantic heaps of dirty laundry. The trucks drive off in order to return with more, and more, and more. Containers is filled and piled in long rows ready for quick dispatch.
This was the harbor where old fashion disappeared in order to make room for new fashion.
Helicopters lift off of the platforms by the shore. Like big bumblebees they murmur into the sky not carrying pollination for their hive but instead rich nectar of waste. Flying in shuttle traffic out over the sea they disappear and return on the horizon.
It doesn't take long before the helicopter pilots can rely on their vision to know where to unload their goods. In the middle of the vast ocean the waves are broken by something that looks like a large bun of socks soaking in a bathroom sink. The latitude and longitude of the sea dump were chosen with great care and all countries involved were decisive to locate it so that no worldly communication but the helicopters would pass the location. What was ordered to disappear now surfaced without acknowledgment, growing into an island of fabric. What was supposed to dissolve in the water resisted.

More would follow.
Her mouth feels as it’s covered in sandpaper and the thick mascara clams her eyelids. She moans and tries to move around but her body is stuck under the heavy carpet of clothing she covered herself with when she crawled together in the container of too much drunkenness. The three-year anniversary party she had organized the night before had been a success. The clothing store she worked for had been properly celebrated with no costs spared. The overflowing wine bottles had pushed her into the stock room to sleep, mistaken the container of discarded garments for the sofa, she had passed out and was during her heavy sleep transported and dropped on the island. She sleeps not noticing the sound of waves breaking not far from her head. And so she was the first person accidentally dropped on the island. She was later crowned, by the others, the Eve of Cloth Island.

A camp is built.
Our Eve of Cloth Island begins her daily search for useful objects, long given up the attempts to make the helicopters to take notice of her existence. She is too well camouflaged in the masses of patterns, colors and materials to be seen. She even undressed in the hope that her flesh would catch the eye but realized it was hopeless. The finding of a cigarette lighter attempted her to make a fire as landmark for the helicopters but the toxic flames that took life in the heaps of synthetics and other rapidly burning and melting cloth was fortunately stopped in time. Having luck in her search she finds the clothing from a help organization or thrift store where the remains of the previous owner could be candy and other collectable things such as pencils, safety-pins or paper left in the pockets. She had started to put all the small coins she finds in a tied together nylon blouse imagining that it would turn into a fortune, a fortune she would live off of when she is rescued from the island. The supreme find of a moderately moldy sandwich with butter, cheese, letters, sprouts and tomato gives her the idea of cultivation. Her grandparents had been bakers and when retired they unleashed their passion for growing, gardening and keeping beehives. When she was a small child she had spent every summer with them in their big garden learning the skills of cultivation. She carefully picks the seeds from the tomato and save them wrapped in a scarf and she starts to make a bed for her future garden. The foundation is nylon and polyester garments and on top in water soaked wool and cotton sweaters, light dresses and airy knitted summer wear that will rapidly deteriorate in the sun. Before she was dropped onto the island she had been working as a fashion shop assistant but was secretly applying to the university in hope of becoming a chemist. When still in fashion school it had been the brief glimpse of the world of material composition and development of high tech textile fiber that had inspired her the most.

Time pass and company arrive.
The next person dropped on the island is another young woman. She had been hiding in a container, locked in, when she was trying to reason with her boyfriend over New Year plans. She is still wearing her high heals and business makeup, oozing with body odor and expensive perfume when they find each other. She was an aspiring economist of one of the big clothing companies, specialized in global trade structure and development of import/export strategies. She had not been feeling very happy lately since her boyfriend who was some years older than her had been trying to push her into having kids. She had almost given in at the point of being dropped. She is given the grand tour of the camp; the garden where some unidentified green sprouts had been awakened to life, the built up barriers of cloth functioning as garment-walls creating a bedroom, the gallery of found objects, the library consisting of notes and papers found in pockets and nonetheless the endless wardrobe. Eve had collected all the designer wear she had managed to carry to the camp. In the beginning she had been childishly exited to own what she never thought she would possess. But after a few weeks of collecting heaps and heaps of luxury garments and high fashion labels she had gone a bit tired of it. The bijouterie and jewelry box had started as well organized but now looked like a pirate chest cut out of a cartoon with its unhealthy excess of glitter. Without any mirror to value her self in, any jealous gazes to ignore or blog posts to write, it all seemed to be a lot of work for pure fantasy. The half pack of cigarettes that was in the found object gallery was shared between them as a pipe of acceptance.

Time passed as it does and as they were walking across a dump of down jackets, balancing, holding on to each other as their feet sank to their knees in moist and soft feather filled polyester shells, they spot a man sitting on top of a small corduroy hill. They shout at him, waving and laughing from their difficulties, trying to hurry up through the down jacket quicksand. He had been a homeless person or as he would like to be referred to, a bagman. Being a feminist he had after falling through the system, suffering from unpayable debt and unemployment, made the equality between the genders his biggest mission. He had in his career as a construction worker too many times been treated as too strong, too tough and too dumb that he one day just had enough of prejudices. Being a professional homeless person for several years he was impressed by the island camp. The library was organized not in alphabetical order but in the size of the paper, the bedrooms had roofs of tied together garments, one roof to be rolled out during the night and one sun-shading roof to be used during the day. The bedroom walls had been rebuilt out of cotton garments as the synthetic in the walls had been gathering too much condensation to dry up properly during the day. The plants were getting along fine and there were now tomatoes, sweet peas and sunflowers. Fish were caught in nets of fishnet-stockings and rainwater was collected in a complicated construction made out of nylon hoodies.

More Time passes.
They were now nine people, six women and three men, gathered in what had become a small cloth land. Most of them were formerly homeless people who had sought protection in containers. They were all in one way or the other outcasts with flamboyant life-experiences, backgrounds and life-stories. Sharing what they had lived through and experienced they came to a consensus that life was an enigma very hard to solve. Their experience colored the politics of the island that is best described as an anarchistic democracy grounded by daily conversations driven by political sociology. Eve was elected gold member of their cloth paradise giving her veto and final say if any question became un-resolved. As there were no public on the island the community members experienced immense personal freedom and liberation of guilt.

Time dissolve.
They had started to collect one button for each day to make a calendar but some buttons then seemed missing or were forgot to be collected and they lost count. Instead they kept track of time according to what clothes were dropped. When the summer wear started to fall they knew that it was autumn in the outer world. This set their clock on expired fashion time. Seasonal celebrations and traditions were established and now when the first winter clothing fell from the sky they celebrated the arrival of spring by wearing only bathing suits for a whole day. Suicide had tragically occurred but the first pregnancy had also resulted in a successful birth of the baby boy Mohammed. With time the members of Cloth Island also shifted in appearance. Without taking too much notice of the change they all seemed to prefer wearing grey tracksuits. Having all possibilities of wearing whatever, however and whenever or at least just for differentiating themselves the thrill of dressing just wasn't there.

After having their camp destroyed for the second time and the plants almost killed by the clothing falling from the sky they decide to move to the most southern part of the island. There they found grass and tiny palm-trees growing in the most decomposed parts of the cloth. It was impossible to calculate over which area the helicopters would rain down their content but by judging from the fashion of the garments in the ground the land must be of quite some years.

An unwanted departure.
The smell of the organic material degenerating and molding under the sunlight had become extreme and caused heavy headaches and sickness. Mosquitoes had found their way to the island and flourished in the moist of all the wrinkles and folds. Their feet were covered with blisters and wounds from the toxins in the cloth penetrating the skin. They all experienced hallucinations and psychedelic mini-psychosis attacks from the toxins travelling through their bodies. The occurrence of cloth quakes that in the beginning of the times were seldom had intensified and were now a big danger. The land had started to drift apart sinking into the ocean. They realized that the clothing would slowly make them mentally ill, dead or swallow them whole. They had to decide on how to leave the island, their cloth Shangri La, how to prove a civilization existed and how to be noticed. After many creative suggestions they decided to delegate each of them a color, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, white, grey and black. The nine of them got a selected area each and so they started to color sort the island. No random phenomena would be able to make the island into a circle of colors.

After the rescue.
After the rescue the Cloth Island was continuously searched with heat scans to detect life. But soon the helicopters stopped their air visits. The space program had evolved to such an advanced point that space was ready to become the rug under which we could sweep the waste of civilization and the rejects of the world. The members of cloth-land were put under supervision and given financial independence in exchange for keeping quiet. Although the story of the island leaked to the press it was turned into fictional fantasy by the press and a
Robinson Crusoe-esque romantic rumor due to the lack of evidence. Journalists and adventurers tried to find the island and searched the oceans but without results. What had been dumped in the sea had been swallowed by the sea and apart from the occasional garment washed up on beaches the Cloth Island was nowhere to be found.

by Ninna Berger.