I spend the first twenty minutes of being awake each day trying to perfect my impression of an American trying to do an impression of an English person. I look at the curved wall by my bunk and I imagine it covered with all of the stars of the universe, and all of the people of the world, stretching out into infinity.
I have a fried breakfast each day. Sausage, bacon, beans, egg, hash browns, another sausage.
We only have enough food on board to last three months, then we have to surface to get more food. The amount of food we can store is the only thing that limits the length of our missions – aside from food we are totally self-sufficient.
I watch a green monitor. It’s my job. I watch it for two hours then I look away for two hours then I watch it for two hours. I cut my hair every day. I have a special setting on my clippers that cuts it really close. Some days I shave almost no hair off. I think, ‘A good day is coming.’
One of the other crew members is American. That’s why I do my American accent – he tries to do an English one sometimes and can’t manage. It’s really funny. He says things like ‘God save the queen. Apples and pears.’
The screen is the same most days. It has white lines radiating from a central point and circular lines crossing those lines. I know what each of the lines mean and I know what would happen if there is any problem with any of them. There is never any problem.
I don’t bother washing.
I know people who have died in subs before. One sailor killed himself once. They had to surface to get rid of the body. He had written a suicide note. It said, ‘another sausage’. I think about killing the entire crew and then I think, ha ha.
I want to put my hand outside of the sub into the ocean, even though I know that I would kill myself and all crew members if I punched a hole through the curved wall. I’d like to mark a trail in the ocean with my hand.
I look at my curved wall and I see a monster, jetting towards us. It has a million eyes and two million tentacles and three hundred million teeth. It is the colour of the sea, but it glows like a neon lamp. I imagine it wrapping itself around the sub and sucking it all to death, slowly. It could even be attached now. I don’t know.
It’s very important for the morale of the crew that we all eat a fried breakfast every day. It reminds us of our homes and our country above the waves. A good old fashioned English fried breakfast. Sausage, bacon, beans, egg, hash browns, another sausage. No Scottish haggis. No Irish white pudding. Just the normal stuff. Fried.
My American colleague talks with nostalgia about eating donuts and drinking hot, American coffee for breakfast. ‘Those were the days,’ he says. He is sensitive. I told him about my wife and showed him a picture and he said, ‘She is pretty.’ I don’t know if my wife is alive or dead. I don’t know whether my son is alive or dead.
Almost no hair comes off. ‘A good day is coming.’
It means that I am not generating much waste. Waste management is very tough down here. We have to pack all of our waste into special metal barrels that have weights attached to them. When the barrels are full we discharge them using compressed air. The weights mean that the barrels sink down all the way to the bottom of the ocean.
I sometimes think of the trail of barrels, resting on the ocean floor behind us in the dark. It’s how the creature will find us. It will follow the trail all the way, listening out for the distant sound of the ship ejecting the next barrel and it will close in, swirling its way through the ocean. I wonder how many barrels behind us it is. I wonder if it is already attached, and its beak will rip through the wall at any moment.
I am eating another sausage. It is the last thing on my plate. I cut it into pieces an inch long and then eat them one after the other. I have a cup of tea. The cup sticks to the table a little. The suckers of the creature stick to the outside of the submarine a bit. A picture of my wife and son are inside my wallet.
I want to find out whether they are alive or dead. There is a special place on the wall next to my bunk. It is a little circle that I have been working on. It is the size of a coin with the queen’s face on it. It is a sensitive area for the submarine. I have been working on it for one month. With a little sharp coin that I have. Working and working on it. Another sausage.
If the ship fills up with water, will we sink or will we just stay at the same height in the ocean, wrapped in monsters?
Sleeping and then waking. I think that the monitor in front of me has developed a little crack in it. I rub it with my finger. I speak into the microphone near my mouth. I say, ‘is there a crack in the screen?’ No one replies. I rub and rub but there is no crack. Now it feels like the crack is in my eye. It grows into a semi circle of multi-coloured light as I blink. It is in front of me and slightly to the left, getting bigger still, like the memory of a bright light that won’t go away.
I rub both of my eyes. The crack doesn’t go away. My vision has been ripped in half. I can’t see anything to the left of the rip. I am scared. I am scared that there is a monster swimming around my brain, ripping parts of me apart. Another sausage.
The doctor says that I had an aura. An aura happens about fifteen minutes before a migraine develops, he says. The symptoms I am describing are totally normal, absolutely textbook symptoms. ‘Are you sure?’ I ask him in my impression of an American doing an English accent. I am doing an impression of someone who isn’t me doing an impression of me. Ha ha, I think.
‘I’m sure that it is nothing to worry about. Do you have a headache now?’
‘No really.’ I say, doing my impressions.
‘Well, that can sometimes happen. You are lucky, in a way. Normally, people who experience the aura suffer that worst from headaches.’
‘That is lucky.’ Says the American me.
For dinner we eat dumplings in stew and gravy. I am talking to the American. I say to him ‘I’ve cracked it, listen.’ And then I do the impression. I think that the mistake I was making was thinking about it in terms of accents, instead of thinking about it in terms of pretending to be someone else. I think about explaining to him, but it’s not worth it. That’s the kind of the thing that the me doing an impression of someone else doing an impression of me would do.
In the morning the sausage is doing an impression of another sausage doing an impression of it. I eat it.
The crew are doing impressions of each other doing impressions of themselves.
Where is my wife and where is my child? I can’t see them on the radar, they don’t show up. I want to calibrate the radar for my wife and child, but they never show up on it. I don’t know how to calibrate it for them. They are too far away and don’t give off any radio waves. No one has discovered the little part of the pipes and wall that I have been working on. It’s getting thinner and thinner. My coin is getting smaller so I stole a knife from dinner.
I’d like to cut the shape of my aura out of the wall and look out at the sea. And then I’d peel back the metal of the ship. The ocean will be as beautiful as my aura, ripping across my eyes. It will rip through the ship, bringing in with it the creature following us. It will suck in all of the star fish and the seahorses and the sponges and sharks and whales and anchors and barnacles and kelp and sand. We will all be turned inside-out eventually by the sea.
‘Really good impression, mate.’ Says the American in a fake English accent. Ha, ha we have a great laugh together.
Will I get another aura today while I look at the lines on the screen? The only limiting factor down here is the amount of space that our food takes up. A celebrity chef did a show about submarines. He invented the idea of vacuum-packing the food so that it takes up less space. That means missions can last longer because we can take more food on board with us.
Thank you, celebrity chef. You did a great job, innovating a way to fit another sausage on board. I sometimes forget how long we can stay down here. It is months and months and months. When I go back up my son will be how old? My wife will be how old? I will be how old? The monster waiting for me will be how old? I don’t talk to the other crew members about how long we are on here for. It is bad for morale, unless it is only a week to go. Then we are allowed to talk about it, because then it is good for morale.
I look at the curved wall and imagine a human face. It is ageing. Poor curved wall, ageing. There is a part of it that I am working on with my knife. Working away at it. The wall is getting thinner and thinner.
I think about death nearly every night. When I was at home I would turn to my wife in bed and say, ‘I am worried about dying, I can’t sleep,’ and my wife would make me feel better. Here I have no-one to talk to about it. It keeps me awake for hours. The only way I can take my mind off it is to sit at the part of the wall and work on it with my knife.
My bed is hard. Human beings became self aware so that we could realise that the patterns our brains are programmed to look for are meaningless. Human beings became self-aware so that we could eventually feel comfortable with the fact that one day we will no longer be able to perceive anything. Not the dark and pressure of being on the submarine. Not the memory of our families. Not the hundreds of another sausages that we eat every day. I work and work
It’s just a tiny section of wall. The pressure is immense though, really huge and majestic. Many billions of tonnes of water to crush us all up and spew us all in and out. The water is doing an impression of death doing an impression of some water. And then we just float at the same level, dead forever.
The lines across the screen indicate that I am going to have another aura attack and then a little fit afterwards. They are predicting my future medical history. I can hear the electronic noise that the monster makes as it moves towards the sub, following the barrels of waste and munching them all up. It is a processor. The barrels are packets of data about life aboard the submarine. The creature just decodes all of the data and forms conclusions about the lives of the sailors on board. What they eat, what their routines are, which, if any of them are working on a small section of the wall with a knife.
Joining the navy is easy. You just go into one of their recruitment centres and they sign you up. You need some qualifications. They say to you, ‘Do you like eating a fried breakfast every day?’ You say, ‘Yes, sounds like heaven.’ They say, ‘You’ll love working on a submarine, you get a fried breakfast every day for morale.’
Then you look through all of the forms. They ask you about all the normal stuff:
Age [ ] Name [ ] Allergies [ ] Blood Pressure [ ] Height [ ] Weight [ ] Scared of Water YES [ ] NO [ ]
You fill all of the boxes in. If you are not sure about the answers then the man helping you says it’s OK, we can fill that bit in later. You tell them about your wife and child and they say that if you spend more time away from them you’ll want to see them more. The helper says that life under the ocean is tough but rewarding. What’s the difference between life under the ocean and life under the sky, you think.
Do you suffer from any kind of fits or seizures? No. Have you ever had a fit or a seizure? No. You are going to operating very sensitive equipment. If you have a fit or a seizure then hundreds of the other sailors on board might suffer from death. You can’t operate very sensitive equipment if you have a fit or a seizure.
I tell the doctor that I haven’t had a seizure. I tell him that my aura was just a rainbow of colour, ripping across my vision, nothing serious. The doctor says that he has put it down as a seizure and that I will have to see another sausage when I get back to determine whether or not I can operate the sensitive equipment on board a magnificent nuclear submarine. I tell him that I don’t think I need to eat another sausage, I definitely wasn’t having a seizure. It’s for morale, he tells me. For the safety and morale of the crew mates, you need to do an impression of yourself not suffering from seizures for a long period of time. My head is crushed. I don’t have a seizure. There seems to be no relation between what I am feeling and what happens in my head, seizure-wise. The monster sitting on my brain only puts the tentacles on the special areas when it feels like it. I have no say in the matter.
The monster in my head is working on one part of the skull with a tiny knife it found in the kitchen. It is doing an impression of a normal brain doing an impression of a monster trying to let the outside world into the skull area.
I rake the clippers over and over my head one hundred times. No hair comes off.
A good day is coming!
I’m by the small area of wall. I am close to breaking through. I am not having a seizure. The American crew-mates are asleep. The English crew-mates are asleep. They are following little trails of special barrels in their dreams. I am working and working. I imagine that I can hear the ocean, getting ready to burst in through the little hole I am making. I weave my way through the pipes running down the sides of the sub, snaking my hand to the outer wall. The ocean is making a gushing, whining noise. I feel like I am three or four scrapes away from breaking through the wall. I can hear something else. Some footsteps. It’s someone coming. It’s not a seizure, I’m just doing an impression of myself doing an impression of another sausage eater doing an impression of me scratching my way through the fucking wall to try and let the water in for fucks sake. I go faster and faster, gouging away pieces of the wall, snapping off pieces of my knife. There are little bits of metal on the floor and little bits of dust from the wall flying all over the place. I accidentally cut my hand in two places. I swear. I think about my wife and the monster and my son. I think about floating at the same level for all time. My bones. Silently floating in the ocean, moving down eventually, landing on the carcass of a whale. Thousands of vacuum-packed, decaying another sausages.
I break through the small section of wall. No water comes in. A crew mate says, what are you doing.
I say, I am floating through the ocean, unaware of anything. I am doing an impression of myself scratching through the wall of a submarine. I am silent for a bit. There are many other layers of the submarine, protecting its insides from the ocean. Almost all of the layers are impenetrable to a tiny kitchen knife.
A rainbow of colour rips through my vision. It is stronger than before. I feel very bad. Doom. Feels like doom. My body begins to convulse. I’m not sure if I can see or hear or feel anything as they lift me up and take me to the doctor. The rest of my life, and all that came before, is an uncontrollable seizure.
The monster tears the sub apart.