The fifteen Waders were arranged and it felt right. They could see each other and direct their gaze to the past together. The eight Grounders were strategically placed along the sides of the waterway, so that they could instantly tend to whomever might need it.
They intensified their chain of gaze and, spontaneously, one of them uttered the invocation: “together we are here to call upon the past. May we learn well.”
After a few minutes of silence, they began to perceive themselves in a different place and time, as different people.
They were inhabiting these people from the past. A small sliver of their consciousness knew that their real selves were really just observing, but they couldn’t diminish the feeling that they were living this experience.
They were all in a building. It didn’t feel quite right to call it a ‘house’. There was no kitchen. Every room was an office or studio or a meeting room. People slept in their desk chairs or at meeting tables so that they would not lose even a single minute of productivity. A small light-skinned man whose hair was turning white was asking a taller, light-skinned woman to give him a ride to 311 Tolliver. He needed to drop something off by 8 o’clock. It was of the utmost importance. He might lose everything if he didn’t make it on time.
The woman seemed ready to oblige. She was looking the address up on a map on her digital device. He came over to her to check that she was looking up the correct address. With a tone of frustration, he snarls, “311 Tolliver! Not the intersection of Third and Oliver!” He’s visibly worried, pacing and jittery with his eyes darting as though his mind is racing.
Many people in the building are now standing in the hallway or poking their heads out of doorways to see what is going on. There are whispers.
“She’s become unreliable.”
“Yeah. But, she has a car.”
“Does Joe remember to keep her in his sight?”
The man suddenly rushes into a bathroom. The woman then makes eye contact with someone else and immediately heads into her office and starts gathering up small items into a bag before she leaves for her car. Everyone relaxes. It seems she remembers that she’s driving him. They go back into their rooms.
Outside, another woman gets into the car. She also has a bag filled with little things. They drive off together. The driver has completely forgotten that she was supposed to take Joe somewhere.
The two women drive down the street with the windows rolled up. The town has a bustling feeling. Every building is a restaurant or a store or an office. Residences had long ago disappeared. People weren’t productive in residences. There was no time for being unproductive. The economy depended on perpetual productivity and purchasing.
They went to what looked like a small gift shop, just a few blocks away from the building they had left. They parked the car in back of the store. The back side of the building housed an almost identical store. It was hard to tell what made them different. Yet, the women clearly wanted to go to the shop on the street side.
Looking around, all of the buildings were like that. If there was a restaurant at the front entrance of a building, there was an almost identical restaurant at the back of the building. The women knew that this was because no business could be unique. That would hinder competition.
The shop was filled with trinkets and jewelry. Everything seemed to gleam and tinkle. Even the sounds of the shop were tinkling. It was all designed to evoke a feeling of small delight. Precious moments of mini-glee.
The two women were starting to feel the bubbles of glee when it occurred to the driver that she had forgotten about Joe.
“Oh! Joe must be so upset!”
“Did you forget something again!”
“Joe wanted a ride, I think”, she said with a pained look of questioning on her face. She had a feeling this was right, but it was vague in her mind.
“Again, Patty? What are we going to do with you? Soon, you won’t be able to purchase, either.”
Patty starts to feel anxious. Driving people may be the last way she can remain productive. If the passengers stay with her after making their request and she uses GPS to remind her where she’s going, then she can complete the task at hand and be a useful member of society. It doesn’t pay much, but she can still make some purchases. She’s still valuable.
The shop owner emerges from the side room, where she sits with customers and goes over their purchases before they determine which items will be returned at the deposit window, next to the side door.
The bright-eyed, almost giddy shop owner says, “look in her bag. There should be a gift for Joe in there. It’s wrapped in a dusty purple paper.” As if this gift would solve Joe’s problem.
Patty grabs the purse and starts rummaging through it. It is full of things, but what catches Patty’s attention is the seemingly bottomless pile of those stretchy, fitted gloves that are usually worn as liners. She has to dig through all these gloves to find anything.
Her mind wanders. Maybe Christine has all these glove because of her kids. Perhaps they forget their gloves or lose them a lot and she worried, so she keeps a stash in her bag. She asks Christine about the gloves.
“Oh. Those are for the burials,” Christine blithely replies.
The shop owner says, “I don’t think you’ll need many of those, now, though, since the current batch all seem to be gay.”
Patty remembers now. They are for the fish. Her kids love having fish tanks, but the fish only live a few days if they reproduce. So, they are constantly burying fish. The dead fish is placed in a glove and at the cat sanctuary, where the remaining population of cats try to survive.
House cats nearly went extinct when the perfect pesticides were developed and eradicated every rat, mouse and bird that had any proximity to a human dwelling. With no more need for cats to control these pests, cats were ejected from all buildings, as they were not conducive to productivity. The cat sanctuary, was an area near the dump where the few remaining cats would scrounge for food.
Patty thought about offering to knit little fish shrouds, since the gloves were inordinately large for the fish and taking up so much room in Christine’s bag. But, she knew that she would forget. Also, the gloves were a purchase, adding to Christine’s economic input register. She probably needed that, since she given up some normal productivity to raise children.
It had been determined that children were necessary. They had to replace the production and purchasing of the elders and those who died prematurely. But, raising children didn’t register as much productivity as other work. So, those who were assigned the job had to find creative ways to increase the economic activity in their registers.
Patty didn’t say anything about more about the gloves. She kept digging until she found the small package with crumpled paper wrapped around it.
She didn’t feel confident that this would help. She was certain that they couldn’t get back on time for Joe to meet his deadline, though. So, she took the gift and hoped.
Patty and Christine watched as the shop owner finished up with a customer. In the check out room, the customer was taking pictures of all the items he had purchased. The shop owner watched as he filled out the form on his device, stating who the item was being sent to and which network he wanted it announced through.
The digital image was the gift itself. How many social networks the gift would be posted to would depend upon how much he wanted to pay for the item. The shop owner got extra credits on the economic registry if he posted to more than three social networks. Her sales training was all about upsetting the number of social networks a customer would post a purchase to.
No purchase was real to the economic register until it was posted. The shop would not get its income unless the sale was posted through the system. So, the check out process always included a shop employee supervising the posting.
After the customer walked out the side door, they would put most of the items into the return window. Here, a shop employee would scan the items. How the item was classified in the economic system would determine how many times the item could be put back on the shelf before it had to be disposed of. Manufacturing industries would lobby to keep their re-purchase numbers low. It was all a matter of balancing production and purchases through the minds of the yacht-dwellers.
For the shop owner, it was a complex calculation for inventory. Finding the right mix of items that people would purchase because they felt the mini-glee was becoming more and more challenging, as the cost of goods increased exponentially every time re-purchase numbers dropped.
Christine and Patty knew that that check out and re-processing were a significant source of stress for the shop owner. They waited until she had completed the sale before leaving. They could, at least, express some mini-glee and lift the shop owner’s mood.
As they headed back to their building with the car windows down, they caught bits and pieces of the angry bickering which always filled the streets. Everyone was stressed about paying the bills. Life depended upon paying the bills. Yet, they had no control over any of it. The cast their votes for which yachts the yacht-dwellers would live on and that was it. They would hope that the one they picked to live in the largest yacht, called “The White Yacht” would inspire the others to find the miracle solution that would loosen the noose of the system. Every year, they watch the reality campaigns and texted in their votes. But, things never really got better. They didn’t have mice and rats, now, so there was that.
With the noose of the economic engine ever-tightening, the people became more and more distressed. They couldn’t pinpoint why life was so hard. It just was. It had always been. There wasn’t any other way it could be. They were all doing the best they could. This was the best economic system that humans had ever had. All the books and all the movies and all the speeches had told them so. They told each other, as reminders. This was the harsh truth of life.
They knew it was just the way it was. That it wasn’t anybody’s fault. Still, they felt angry. They had to survive and survival was so precarious that any little thing that upset the flow of their day would trigger rage. Almost every interaction that wasn’t business-related ended with violence.
Usually, Patty kept the light-blocking windows up. Now, though, she was worried about how Joe would be when she got back. To gird herself, she thought she should watch the flashes of scenes as she went down the street. She saw a man punching is wife because she suggested he use a digital ordering system in their restaurant, just like the restaurant behind them. He didn’t want to change the way he did things. That was too scary, so he hit her and she stopped talking.
Patty rolled up the windows. She might have a seizure if she saw any more. She had always been too sensitive to reality. She knew that. She had been told just about every day of her life. Ever since being exposed to the neurotoxin, it had been worse. She had no defenses against feeling it all as earthquake-like vibrations in her body. Her brain couldn’t process the increased layers of data that weren’t being filtered out any longer. So, her mind was constantly filled with inputs which cross-hatched and resulted in crazy ideas. She had stopped sharing those ideas so that she wouldn’t be deemed unproductive. They wouldn’t stop running through her mind, though, distracting her. She couldn’t focus on anything and this had made her unreliable. She wasn’t sure how much longer she could keep up the facade of being functional enough to earn a living.
This anxiety was rushing through her as she headed back to the live/work building. Christine was quiet. She knew what Patty was in for. The ramifications of disrupting a man’s productivity were the worst for women. In a world where anger was expressed by violence, women suffered the most.
They got back to the building and Joe was pacing in the hallways, seething. He had a bottle of whiskey in his hand. He was gulping directly from the bottle. Upon seeing Patty, he turned red in the face and rushed toward her, screaming, “you said you would drive me!!! Where the fuck did you go?! I told you I had run late and needed a ride in order to make my deadline! But, no, you fucking cunt, you just took off with someone else and left me high and dry! I always knew you would ruin my life! I can’t believe we let you stay in this building! What the fuck?! You’re useless! Its not bad enough that you’re barely productive, you’re going to sabotage my productivity?! Why the hell do you even exist?!”
Patty was used to this, but that didn’t make receiving the energy of it any less impactful. She couldn’t break down and cry, though. On top of everything else, she couldn’t be seen as weak. It was her feistiness that had shielded her from being discarded long ago. She had to say something.
Surely, if she pointed out that his being late was his own responsibility others would recognize this logic and help get Joe to back down. Surely not, that is. No one would assist a woman when a man was angry with her. Men got two votes in the reality campaigns and could make life a lot harder for women by demanding more laws restricting women’s options in life.
“Its not my fault that you didn’t get your proposal together on time to get yourself there.”
The bottle came crashing down on her head. She felt a wetness trickling down as her vision blurred. She heard Joe screaming, “how will I ever get a new chair, now,” as the world went black.
The Wading was abruptly ended. They couldn’t go on with a member having been rendered unconscious.