The men in the city
Made a deal with the women in the city
The men would work every Tuesday and Thursday
The women would work every Monday and Wednesday
They’d alternate Fridays
The deal fell apart, though, by week three
That’s when they realized the old way was better
Category Archives: Flash Fiction
The men in the city
In the year 2100 the Social Health Office sent a technician wearing gray scrubs to the one room apartment of twenty year-old Diego, and fitted him with a tiny receiver. By the end of the fifteen minute visit, as the technician gently sewed a single stitch into the back of Diego’s head, the Freedom Stream hit a milestone: Every resident of the city connected.
In his room with no desk or bookshelves, Diego smiled and called out, “Yes!” No more looking at the wall-screen or holding a blue-glowing device. Now, right into his mind streamed the popular songs, videos, movies, and shows.
Outside Diego’s apartment, traffic lights showed black. Since the second economic collapse fifty years prior, no traffic moved on the streets. Diego and most other citizens didn’t work. The city provided each resident with food, and a person rarely went out. The Freedom Stream deadened everyone’s curiosity about the real outside.
But the technology had glitches. And the next morning when Diego woke up he did not experience the relaxing wave sounds of the Stream. Instead he heard nothing. Silence, unfamiliar and unsettling, panicked him. So he immediately acted to restore the connection. Diego moved closer to the source which he knew to be atop the nearby, hundred-story, redbrick smokestack.
He left his unit and walked across the road, picked his way down the neighboring ravine’s brush and trees, and stepped over the abandoned rails to the lakefront. There Diego discovered a moored pontoon which buoyed a rust-colored steel container once used to transport goods. Its opened doors revealed attached shelves holding thousands of well-preserved books.
An unkempt, seventy year-old man appeared on the boat and looked at Diego, at his brown eyes of curiosity. The old man could tell that Diego’s connection to the Stream had been interrupted, that for only a few minutes the young man would be able to listen.
“Hello! My name is Amit. These books contain the unique thoughts of individual men and women. Each book is different. Each is a snapshot of the person’s thoughts at the time they wrote it. Unlike receiving the barrage of the Stream, reading a book is hearing a person’s thoughts in a way you control. Reading allows you to pause, to think about what you take in, to be aware of your reaction. The binding, paper, and ink let you feel the book, truly hold it.”
Diego stepped back from the stranger and thought of an excuse to get away. “Sir, I cannot read. They closed all the schools and libraries before I was born.”
Amit heard this from others. “I will teach you to read. And as important, I will teach you to write.”
“But today there’s nothing to write with. Nothing to write on.”
“I wrap twigs in foil and put them in fire to create pencils. I write onto scraps of paper. Seeing my thoughts in words amazes me. To have my own thoughts, to choose which ones I share, and to choose the words–that is human. The Stream takes that away.”
The Stream now crackled in Diego’s mind, the reconnection was starting. He felt unsure about the man and his offer. But he wanted to know more. Diego reached to the back of his head–for the stitch.
Selected as Winner of Waukegan Public Library’s 30th Annual Ray Bradbury Creative Contest (written-adult category)
Contest theme, from the WPL website
“Waukegan-native Ray Bradbury and author of Fahrenheit 451 understood the importance of reading, writing, and education to a successful society, saying “You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.” Bradbury saw the slow destruction of books and the written word and was fearful. In Waukegan, not only do we see the rising popularity of eBooks, acronyms, and textspeak today, we live and work with those who do not even have the foundation of basic reading and writing skills in English or in Spanish. As the written word continues to disappear, the future of libraries, literacy, and free access to knowledge is uncertain. In your contest submission, please consider a future without the written word. What would society look like? What would happen if your freedom to read and learn disappeared? How do you feel about banning books?”
Freedom Stream <— Click here to read the story
Saturday morning in the village, the visitors appear from wooden cottages and sit at tables on porches or in yards to nibble on cold meats and last night’s bread, sip hot tea, and choose from soft pastries the wives just bought at the nearby stands.
The voices are quieter and deeper as they retell what made them laugh not too many hours before, when each sat on moveable stumps–tree trunks recently cut and arranged around the fire–and ate and drank and sang.
After breakfast the visitors go inside, to put on bathing suits and fill their backpacks. They come out again and walk in groups along the main street that leads them to the pines, and the narrow path that winds through them.
The scent of the green needles above and dry needles below confirms that the sea is very close. Conversation becomes excited as the visitors reach the boardwalk which takes them to the top of the dunes and the open, far-reaching sky. And then down to the sea, and to the wide, flat beach, bright in the sun, but cool and smooth on the sole, the rising waves coming at an angle, from the southwest, from Stockholm.
I don’t go anymore to the sea, like I did when I was a boy. Now a man I spend mid-days in the village, sitting with my back to it. But in late afternoon when many visitors are napping, the sound of the waves makes it here, and cool air touches my neck.
I sometimes sit across from the weathered garage where I used to work, and I peer over at the worn cars. Visitors drove them here, three hundred kilometers from Vilnius and Kaunas, and they need repairs before the return trip can be possible. Years ago, few of the villagers had the skill to replace a belt, or a radiator, or a wheel. Now, men from other countries move here. They work on the cars for less.
The owner kept me. Each morning I would go there and sit. I would watch the others arrive and begin on the cars. They acted kind to me, let me deliver this or that. They didn’t tell me to go. I left without saying. Stood from the bench and walked away. Past their backs, their heads disappeared between open hoods and lifeless engines.
Each day I stop by the churchyard. The nun there washes my clothes along with the rags she uses for cleaning. I like to clip the grass around the wooden carvings of the saints. Sometimes there a visitor will give me a coin. Most days I accept enough to buy bread, or a piece of fresh meat, or a piece of smoked fish from a cart.
Yesterday while walking along the road in the direction of the bus station, a woman asked me if I had enough to eat, if I needed newer clothes. She said I reminded her of her grandfather, my blue eyes and light hair. She gave me these coins saying I might want to go to the city.
Tomorrow I will use them–to sleep one night here, in the smallest cottage by the sea.
I wouldn’t have noticed you.
Not if you’d stayed in the crowd walking east on Madison, hurrying to the Loop. But you crossed south onto Canal, and into the morning shadows. You didn’t notice me, the woman standing in the alley. You were looking up. To the top of Willis Tower. That’s when I stepped from where I watch, to follow.
That other guy, wearing a suit and carrying a leather portfolio, I won’t try him. A lawyer or banker won’t listen. You, though. Casual pants, a bright checkered shirt, lunch in a green cooler bag. You will. And just now, you turned your head to that woman passing by. She’s a little younger than me, but I’ll still catch your eye.
The men and women walking in front, I see the backs of their heads. But the top of yours is what I see as you tilt it again, to look up at the buildings. Your hair is gray and thinning, yet the city’s beauty still fascinates you.
Like the guy I was married to. In the city he saw only the good. In me too. When I would stray he always took me back. He never said it but he liked not knowing where I’d gone. I really wanted to make his world as good as he thought. He left to see if anyone could.
So I’m here. And I’m coming up next to you because this way works better. Because if I was walking towards you, you’d study my eyes, my sweatshirt, my jeans. You might see that I wore them last night, then look past me before I can say…
“Excuse me.” I say it beside you, nicely, like when your wife’s here and asks someone how to get to State Street.
You look over to me with bright eyes, willing to help.
And so I go on, “I need to get to Bolingbrook.”
Still walking, you look forward.
I see you’re not sure about me. I keep up and urge you, “Bolingbrook is far away. I need to take the train. I have to get home.”
You look over at me again, your mouth closed, lips straight.
You don’t like strangers asking for money. But I can convince you I’m not a panhandler. “I came down here yesterday for an interview…at Target.” That makes me different, doesn’t it? That I say I’m looking for a job, at a place you’re familiar with?
You stare forward, still walking.
I’ve got one more line that sometimes works. It’s just for guys. “My ex-boyfriend left me down here.”
You slow your pace and turn your head to me.
My eyes show I’m hurting and desperate. I need a fix.
At Monroe the light turns red. I stop with you.
You look to me and say, “I can’t help you.” Flat and simple as my husband said when he left.
And as you walk east across Canal, I watch the back of your head. You walk, and as far as I can see, you never again look up at the buildings.