Friday, December 19, 2008

The Selling of Honey

Blogger's Note: Again, I keep finding all this stuff I started writing, and wonder where I was going with it. Like the following item, which I called "The Selling of Honey." Don't remember what that title was all about. But the story seems salvageable. It's a fragment, however. Nothing complete.

A croque-monsieur, an apple juice, a bunch of grapes. Quickly he keyed in his order and drummed his fingers as the automat digested his card and spat it out on the tray along with his food. He found his usual table – facing the plate-glass front where he could glance over his newspaper at the fountains and trees in the park.

At first, last August, he thought he’d never get used to Fifteen Minute Public Lunch this early in the day, but then, he reasoned, maybe someone else was finding it hard to adjust to his own old time, when the view out the window was less sun-lit trees and more starlight and moonbeams glancing off the bits of quartz embedded in the pavement.

He never got tired of watching the leaves fall. Often he’d lower his paper, eyes latched on a tumbling maple leaf as it sailed along on currents of air until its fluttering motion caught the attention of one of the VacuBots that scurry through the park to clean up such rubbish. Some of the bots had quite an aggressive flair about them, plucking the tumbling leaves from the air while a few, like bottom feeders, simply idled at the center of their areas until a ground sensor told them something was waiting for their attention. Then Marko would look at his watch, drain his cup and stuff the grapes and half-eaten croque-monsieur into his coat pocket because he was down to his last thirty seconds.

It never paid to be late. Or early.

On time. Always on time. But then, the Regimen made that easy.

It helped one avoid confusion. You never felt a second of your time was wasted because at the end of the day there was always the strictest of accoutings for each second, and often, for smaller units of time some humans didn’t even know they had at their disposal. The Regimen also made Encounters – the Counters bragged – 99.9999999998 percent impossible.

Murphy’s Law, Marko’s mother feared, would make that tiny chance of an Encounter very likely to strike her more than anyone else. He tried to assure her, as they exchanged messages on the phone and by computer and video, that Regimen Control advertised their number as not being totally foolproof only as a gimmick. “No rational person believes it when another tells him that something is 100 percent assured,” he told her in a voice message sent to her home near Shreveport late one Tuesday morning when he knew she’d be playing video solitaire with her cronies. “It’s an assertion as empty as Eve. Believe it or not, it’s more believable if they even hint that an attempt has been made to mathematically compute their ‘true’ rate of success. Besides, the risk still sells.”

Risk. You and your father and always this risk. Well,” she fussed, “we all know what risk got him, don’t we?”

Yes, mother, it got him you.”

She laughed. “Don’t be smart. You know what I’m talking about. He had an Encounter he’ll never forget. Nor shall we, for that matter. Silly old man, walking through the park all impromptu like that. I’ll still never understand how the Sentries let him pass, but then they were trying out that new sensor technology. I’ve never much trusted all these sensors and robots, but you know that. Liked it better when the Sentries were those nice blind gentlemen who sat in their booths and whistled when it was clear to pass. That is the way they did it back in Pottstown, and that’s the way it should be done today.”

You told me you hated those blind Sentries,” Marko mocked, as his mother fussed with her hat and tried to shush him. “Didn’t one kinda, well, whistle at you special whenever you walked past? Dad kinda thought he wasn’t blind. You said he always whistled funny when you had a skirt on.”

Stop that, impertinent grub,” she laughed. “Your grandfather told that story about your grandmother as well. Curse your father for repeating it to you all those years. Swore I was going to destroy those memory tapes, but then they do belong to you now. I see a smirk forming. An impertinent question looms. May as well have it now, sonny.”

Marko tried to turn the smirk into an innocent smile. “How much longer until Dad gets out?”

Her face clouded. “Well, he’s, probably. . .I think. . .you know we’re really not supposed to talk about such things, Marko! It’s not exactly forbidden, but
. . .

But your uppity upbringing forbids you from talking of family disgraces, except for telling stories about the innumerable times I lost my glasses as a child to your cronies. Really, mother, if I ask it’s not because I’m going to scream the answer your give from the rooftops. I ask because I want to know.”

Still can’t believe you flushed your third pair of glasses down the toilet, son. Now,” she posed innocently, “what was the question? Ah, yes. Your philandering father. He should be getting out of Group in about, what, three and a half weeks. But then he’s on probation – a personal SentryBot for six months; may as well tie a dozen red helium balloons to him with an even larger balloon further up above him with an arrow pointing down at him saying “Watch This Man” – and he’ll be back to his old ways at the soda factory, sweeping floors and humming and whistling and composing those idiot love sonnets in his head to send to me.”

Now mother, I know you keep every one of them."

So, what if I do?”

Right. So what if you do?”

I just hope I can keep him from wandering off again. He is such an idiot dreamer sometimes.”

The SentryBot will take care of that. Besides, I hear Group does a lot for characters like Dad.”

His mother sighed. “Promise me, Marko. Promise me. Cynthia says she’ll never talk to him again, for the embarrassment. She’s always so easily embarrassed, not like you. Promise me you’ll talk to your father. No matter what. He always listens to you, Marko. He’ll listen to you.”

Marko’s mother had always been a worrier. She sent fussy notes to the Tutoring Center, wondering why Marko’s penmanship lagged behind that of his peers. She quailed incessantly with recreation coordinators, scoutmasters and operators of the robot basketball squads about Marko’s inability to overcome his coordination difficulties, which she believed resulted from the day long ago when the robot supervising Marko’s first feeble forays on two feet failed to prevent him from walking to – and cracking his skull on – the stone hearth at his grandfather’s old house. She worried that the cubicle at his office was too small, the walls too thin and too poorly insulated against echoes and whispers, which had always given him nightmares as a child.

One of these days, Mom, you’re going to turn around and find out that there’s nothing to worry about,” Marko teased. “Don’t worry. I’ll always listen to Dad.”

Yes. That’s what worries me.”

They both chuckled. “See what I mean, mother? Ten seconds out of the pen and a new worry already to start the day. ”

Shut up.”

Don’t worry.”

When that happens, I’ll either be dead or worry about my lack of worries, dearie. Now blow a kiss to your mother and let her get back to her solitaire.” Marko blew a kiss at the computer screen. His mother cooed, then waved.

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