Friday, June 13, 2008

- to save the world, one light globe at a time.

The state government decided to continue on down the path that Earth Hour had started, a move which surprised everyone. The restrictions on night time energy use were introduced in stages, in regards as what lights had to be turned off where and when, for how long, and with gradually increasing penalties which were actually enforced, again to everyone’s surprise.

But a dark city is a dangerous city, and so other means to bring light to Melbourne were sought.

On this night I walk to work as on any other night, sloppily dressed among all those decked out club goers. Maybe I’ve walked Collins Street too often now, as there hasn’t been anything interesting to gawk at for a while. The appearance of some sort of work crew outside the Rialto slows my steps. They’re not construction, and they’re not window cleaners, and they’re not messing with the pavement. They appear to be sloshing about barrels full of sweet-smelling water.

It’s for the lichen, they answer, engineered to thrive in sugar water. We wash the buildings with this, and then spray the spores on while it’s still wet, so they stick. It doesn’t take long then, only a couple of days, for the lichen to grow and gain enough mass to produce light.

Bioluminescence? Someone on a committee somewhere is a nerd. Word up.

They let me peek in the back of a truck, at the trays of lichen already grown and glowing in a rainbow of clashing colours. These are for the streetlights, they point out the fittings, we’ll be able to custom grow shop signs and the like, but they’ll have to wait till we have all the buildings painted.

Wow, I say. Wow. Can I help?

They’re short of people willing to work night shift, and within a week I’m learning how to abseil, and I’m knocking on the windows of my old office at three in the morning before washing the windows with sugar water.

My old co-workers think I’m mad, climbing over skyscrapers in the middle of the night. What, they ask, are you doing? Really?

Saving the world.

It’s a never-ending job. Some lichen grows better on one type of surface than others, the body corporate of any office tower always has issues (usually regarding the colour) and the lichen itself is small and alive and not always co-operative. It does what it does, and grows and spores and grows and spores, and outbreaks of invading colour appear everywhere. It needs to be coaxed, fed and herded to the rims of windows to keep it from blocking the sun. It’s like horse whispering, we tell each other, feet to the glass and a fifteen storey drop below, only lichen muttering.

We are the lichen mutterers, saving the world, one light globe at a time.

You can tell us where ever we go. We drop glittering clouds of dust with our every move. The path I tread from the elevator to my door glows intensely even under the corridor lights. My bed is almost too bright to sleep in, and a new mattress every four months becomes a perk of the job. We all have to have our sheets washed at an industrial drycleaners. It’s hard to bring people home for nookie when your bed looks nuclear.

At sunset, I sit on the edge of a building roof, and watch the lights go out, block by city block, and listen to the unfolding of an empty space in the city soundscape as Melbourne’s power drops away, and as the sky darkens I watch the lichen wake up and my city glows a thousand different colours, and I’m in love.

It will be a problem, we tell each other, hosing down the State Library with sugar water, should anyone want to bomb Melbourne. Not that turning the lights off would work as it did in the second world war, what with GPS and all. Melbourne stands out like Emerald City, brighter than before. Amateur astronomers hate us.

The long term side effects of prolonged lichen exposure manifest in us, the lichen mutterers, first. Too many inhaled spores in our lungs, despite all the protective gear we wear. It gets hard to speak, so I don’t. It gets hard to breathe, and when my lungs are biopsied, they can’t see anything because the glow blinds the camera.

What were you trying to do? Mum sits by my hospital bed. She’s upset at me.

Save the world.

She shakes her head.

I got the black lung, pops, I joke, and cough, and when I cough the air sparkles like magic.


  1. Awesome. Really like this.

  2. Cool as, Tessa. Especially like the Z ref at the end...

  3. I have to admit, I've never watched Zoolander. It's a quote the family has adopted though, for any and every cough.

  4. Anonymous20/6/08 13:54

    I would totally apply for that job/come home with you.