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Wednesday, June 02, 2010


by Rebekah Orton

Turn on the story about the oil spill,
my five-year-old suggests as we drive
to the dentist.  I click NPR on in my eight
seat minivan and gun it to seventy on the freeway
while Morning Edition circles around
explosions and leaks, gallons and barrels,
animals and people in its path, the future of oil.
Why did it explode, Mommy? she asks again,
the question she asks every time since we first heard the
story a month ago while driving across two rivers
and two freeways to get to her weekly gymnastics class.
They don’t know why it exploded, I remind her.
But they have to close the beaches?  she frets.
Yes, some of them.
And the baby animals might get hurt?
, I tell her.  But the people who made the spill
have to clean it up.

But how did they make the spill?  Was it the explosion?
I explain again drilling for oil and its volatile nature
and the bottom of the sea floor and why they can’t
just stop the leak because it’s coming
out so deep and so dark and so far
apart that they can’t just press a lid on it
(Machines aren’t strong enough, right, Mom?)
but they’re trying to funnel the spill
And sometimes they burn it off, right, Mom? The
ocean is on fire sometimes.
, I agree. But by this time we’ve made it to
the babysitter, so I drop her off with her sister
and brother and hop back, alone, in my roomy van,
to drive back on the freeway to the dentist’s office.

In his waiting room, I pick up a copy of Time with
crimson oil floating on top of blue choppy waters,
and I flip through, looking for answers
to my five-year-old’s questions:  How will they stop the leak
and why was there an explosion to begin with?
The hygienist calls me back and
I read about the future of drilling
while the anesthesia works on the right side of my face.
What are you reading?  the dentist asks and I show him
the map with the estimated oil slick
and explain my daughter’s fascination and concern.
Ah. He says. I don’t know why they can’t
lop off the pipe and do a thread and cap.
But the pressure
. . . I begin.  And the cold.
There’s got to be instruments, the dentist says before
reclining my seat and whirling his own equipment.
But why did it explode?
my daughter asks again
on the drive home while we listen to the proceedings
of a civil case against BP by the families who
lost their men on the rig. Why didn’t that daddy get to
see his baby born? Why was there an explosion? Will it happen again?

It might, I tell her with my hands on the wheel and my foot on the pedal.
Why are there explosions and why are there oil spills?
, I say, the answer I always hated.  But I leave it at that.
I can explain what happened, but it’s too
difficult to explain the why:  because of our drives to gymnastics,
and listening to NPR, and the white van, and the trip to the dentist.

Rebekah Orton has an M.A. from Brigham Young University.  She's a writer and mother of three in Eastern Washington.