Wednesday, 5 September 2018

Chapter 5: The Pinch


Welcome to Home GrocerDirect,
Your household allocation [/4 persons] of grain foods, soy product and produce will be available from [the 18th precinct dispensary] on [MONDAY] of each week.  We assure all citizens of the quality of their grocery supply.  All ingredients are grown or sourced on Nandao and fortified with all of the necessary vitamins, minerals and nutrients required to sustain healthy life and new life. 
- Excerpt from the Cole family’s copy of a flyer issued by The Republic’s Ministry of Health, 15AS    

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PRESENT

“Well, you got your wish.”  Neith spat over a piece of crispbread.
Her parents both looked up at her over their matching bowls of muesli, screens in palms.  Owen looked quizzical, Lucienne afraid. 

“They are finally going to bring back cotton?” Owen asked.

“No.  Gray is crossing to the dark side.”  Neith stared existentially at her toast.  Her parents stopped spooning cereal into their mouths, her father even sliding his bowl to the side. 

“You’re saying Grey is the new black?  Get it?  The colour grey going to the dark side would mean…” Lucienne didn’t finish her joke break-down; Neith looked unamused.  “We’re not talking about colours, are we?” 

“Or about archived TV series’ allusions?  ‘Crossing to the dark side’ – that’s from one of those old shows, you like, isn’t it?  The same one that says ‘I am your father.’” Owen joined in, chuffed for recalling things dear to his girl.  Her parents were feeding off each other in Neith’s time of self-pity. 

“It was a movie, not a show, but nice try.”  Neith smiled weakly.  Her parents had never watched Star Wars.  It would mean falling behind on their feeds.  They meant well.

“Okay, so we’re talking about Grace.  What is ‘the dark side’ in this metaphor, exactly?” Lucienne asked.

“Your guesses have been fun so far, guess again.”  Neith mustered up mocking jazz hands.  She could see her parents’ wheels whirring; What would Neith consider evil?
Lucienne’s face brightened with understanding. “Really!?  Grace is moving into one of the Match Complexes?” She sat taller.

“The Towers of Darkness.”  Neith slapped her hands onto the counter.  Her parents shared a look.

“I have never wished for Grace to move into a Match Complex – I know how much you like having her close by – but I am pleased for her, that she’s trying something new.  I think it’s time – to mix again.” Lucienne explained.  “You know all of the 2K’s in your Cluster, and all of the older unwed men at work…”

“Ew, Ma.”

“What I’m saying is: she’s trying something.  Maybe the complexes aren’t as bad as you’ve heard.  If someone like Grace can end up there, is it so hard to believe a second decent human being could be there too?”

“Yes.  It is very, very hard to believe.  Grace is having a momentary break with reality.  These are rare.  I doubt hers is synchronised with someone else’s.  Everyone else there is okay with non-stop, demented mating rituals.”

“I believe it’s called ‘dating.’” Owen chimed in.

“I’m sticking with mating rituals.  The place is a cess pool of slobber, itchiness and fertility sticks.” 

“Neith!”  Lucienne looked wounded. 

“I’m sure you’ll still see each other.”  Owen offered, gently.

“Yeah.  Sure we will.  I’m sorry, this isn’t your fault, it just felt like a cosmic joke that she came out with this right after the first time you guys ever really suggested I make a change, myself.”

“You don’t have to move anywhere.”  Lucienne placed a hand over Neith’s.

“Okay.”   

“Maybe we are all starting to feel the pinch at the same time, is all.”  She meant pressure.  Maybe Lucienne’s dinks had been extra-persistent in digging for gossip on Neith’s love life this week.

“Maybe that’s it.”  Neith gently slid her hand out from under her mother’s.  Then, feeling bad for being the one to end the shared gesture, gave her a stilted side-hug.  “I’m going in to the lab.”  Where she could be exactly what everyone around her asked for.

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