By Rosie Gonce

“Are you serious? I thought that it was on sale!” The old woman yelled, her wrinkled tattoos covered in dry skin. She wore a gray shirt that was as faded as the tattoos that covered her arms. The shirt said “Misfits” on it, with a sloppily painted skull.

“Well, it ain’t! So either buy it or get outta here!” The young man said, his dark stubble sprouting sporadically all over his face, along with his acne.

The old woman shook her head, rummaged through her backpack for a crumpled up thousand dollar bill. She smoothed it out, hiding her smile as she noticed the devil horns she had drawn on President Trump, with a Sharpie marker. She picked up the bill and then slammed it down on the counter with unexpected vigor and glared at the young man. He rolled his eyes.

“How many bags do you want?” He asked as he put the money in the register, and then put the bottle in a plastic bag. “Double? Triple? What?”

“None!” the old woman yelled. “There shouldn’t even be any bags! In my day there was a law banning bags! Do you know what they’ve done to our environment—”

“Ok, lady, take it outside or I’m going to call the Control Squad!” He yelled and pointed outside. “I’m warning you!” He glanced up at the cameras set up at various parts of the convenience store. It used to be known as “7-11” back in the 2000’s but was changed in order to be more descriptive, in the “Say What You Mean” Bill that was passed by President Snookie, during the Greater Bipolar Depression. So now it was called “Things You Need To Survive.”

The phone rang and the young man quickly picked it up as the old woman stood glaring at the young man, fists clenched.

“ You have called ‘Things You Need to Survive’. What do you want?” His tone was pleasant and fake.

He listened for a couple seconds then responded seriously, “No, everything is under control. She will leave. She is no longer speaking. Yes, that’s correct; she did mention the plastic bag ban.”

He hung up. He looked at the old woman and said smiling coyly, “You’ve violated the section one of the ‘Past is in the Past’ law, lady! They’re coming for you!”

The old woman didn’t react. She kept her glare fixed on the young man, then grabbed the plastic bag with her bottle of water in it. She took out the bottle of water, crumpled up the plastic bag and threw it at the young man. The bag dropped anti-climactically onto the counter, but the young man still flinched when she did it. She stuck a middle finger at him, then slowly turned and left, with her one bottle of water, that if rationed as the instructions said, should last two weeks. However, it was hard to not drink more than what was recommended.

She knew they weren’t coming for her. But it was a warning to shut up. So she did because she knew that if she didn’t, then they really would come for her. It had happened before.

She shuffled over to the bench across the street at her favorite parking lot park. She sat down, her bones cracking as she got settled. This was her favorite parking lot park because there was one square foot of that fake, green grass,  in the middle of the hundreds of parking spots and cars, tiny benches (so you don’t get too comfortable) and rows and rows of sun umbrellas. She liked to stare at that small square of green and remember what it was like when she was younger. Before all the natural trees and plants were encapsulated and sold to the wealthiest people in the world, for oxygen. Oxygen and water were now the most expensive things to buy. The old woman liked to sit and remember when they were free, and for everyone.

She had been struggling to keep her mouth shut ever since the “Past is in the Past” law was first enforced. She hadn’t realized there were so many cameras everywhere and that they were really watching her and listening to her. The Control Squad usually came in pairs, always men, always with four voice-activated guns, one attached to each limb. They were activated not only by the Control Squad’s voices but also the voice of the person they were coming for. They had glowing white teeth and smiled too much.

Usually, people got away with a warning, getting scared into shutting up after seeing them and hearing their intimidating whispers through their bleached white grins. But If you had too many offenses of this nature, they would arrest you and you would have to go through a series of tests to see if you deserve to have a voice. Then a Control Squad Judge would make the final decision about if you were to be committed to a hospital and get your vocal chords removed. Computers would be confiscated, as would phones, pencils, pens, chalk, any form of communication.

There was a disagreement about how far it should go and radicals wanted to make people with such offenses be forced to wear gloves to restrict their fingers, in case they were to learn American Sign Language. It was decided that if there were a case that extreme that they would probably do that, yes.

The old woman looked at her bottle of water and wanted to drink the whole thing. But she knew that she couldn’t. She looked down at her watch.

Shit, she thought, only 35 minutes left until curfew.

She looked down at the giant vent that was a couple feet in front of her, whirring quietly. The timer glowed red 34 minutes 30 seconds, 29 seconds, 28 seconds…

Underneath the timer in tiny letters, barely decipherable, it read: “Just a friendly reminder to all, National Air Vents with shut off at exactly 8:00PM, at that time it is recommended by the Health and Safety Control Squad that you get home as soon as possible, ideally within 10 minutes, as the National Household Air will then be administered to all people who are inside their homes, with their doors locked. Failure to do so may result in light-headedness, fatigue, and death. Medical attention will be withheld from anyone violating this curfew.”

She stood up and walked over to the vent. She put her wrinkly hand over it feeling the cool air and wiggled her fingers slowly, almost like a dance. It reminded her of the old air vents at bowling alleys, that were faded out over the years, and how she used to put her hand over the air before picking up her ball, each time, with no real reason for it, except that she liked how it felt.

She took a deep breath, realizing that it was becoming routine to, at this time, decide if she wanted to walk home or just stay there, in her happy memories.

Not today, she thought blinking back tears. Not today.

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