I put my mask back on the hook and unlocked the door, letting myself in. My first breath was strained against an acrid stench and I checked to see if my cube had air to breath. It said it did, said so on the display, but it sure didn’t feel like it. My lungs shrinking as if I was drowning in vomit. The light flickered and I could hear a grinding sound overhead with sparks falling through the haze.
I shortened my breath to steady myself. Feeling dizzy I half walked, half stumbled over to the lavatory. I looked in the mirror, one eye was so red it looked blue, the other looked damaged too – a dark circle underneath but it didn’t hurt. I thought I had my goggles on tight enough. Guess not. Thought I better wash the film off of what skin that was exposed outside and wished I could take a shower. Due to rationing, I could only splash some gray putrid liquid trickling from the wash basin faucet on an old rancid wash cloth. It added to the stains but it felt good to wipe away the poison, for the most part, even though it stung.
I had another fifteen minutes of power before Brown-Out – so thought about what I could do with my time. I stared again out the window but the air was so thick I could barely see the outline of the building across from mine. Sparks, and a few flashes. I turned on TV and tried to find something. The International broadcasts were no longer available, due to their costs being too high, they said, but I knew better. The government didn’t want us to know what was really going on.
“America’s Got Promise” was on one channel, “Dancing with Your Fellow Citizenry” on another and a cooking show on deep frying some protein substitute in machine oil – made in a factory that tasted like goat. Still meat – just from an agar dish. A rerun of “Better Times,” “I Love You, and a religious program with somebody yelling, tears in their eyes, scolding everyone for being human. The others said “Offline.”
I looked around as if someone had a camera on me that actually worked. I thought I had better take no chances.
Under some underwear in a cardboard drawer, I uncovered an old short wave radio that was supposed to have been recycled for its metals, they said. Like all the radios that could receive across the oceans, computers and phones. Valuable metals inside, they said. Yeah, they said the “Ongoing Effort” needed sacrifices from the people. But I held on to the radio, knowing full well that the government didn’t want us to hear any outside reports they didn’t sanction, didn’t filter, didn’t write, didn’t provide to us. Cable and internet was a closed system.
Radio had no boundaries. Radio was dangerous.
I tuned in something from across the oceans, a country called Eng-Land. They spoke a language a lot like America but kind of funny. Almost like the way the Midwest Agricultural sectors sounded different than the people down south in the flooded territories or out west in Dry Country. They sounded different in Eng-Land. Said they felt sorry for us.
They said the sanctions didn’t work. Military occupation didn’t either. Now they had no choice but to quarantine us entirely for their own survival.
They used the wall the one president started to build for the base, they said, for some kind of dome.
A barrier that world keep America’s poisons, foul air, noxious waters contained. Through advancements that had ushered in a new renaissance in prosperity, they said, in conquering global warming – over there. Advancements that we didn’t share. They said America wanted to go it alone – saying doing something about the changes, the so-called changes, were a hoax, bad for business – bad for jobs.
What business? What jobs?
Now, the rest of the world was light years ahead of us in technological development, quality of life. I had another few minutes of electricity before I lit my little coal lantern then spit out another tooth that had loosened up.
Top photo of shortwave radio and friend by Jeff Worman
Jeff Worman lives in Walworth County, Wisconsin where there is water and a crisp, cool night sky conducive to the creative process. He has been drawing and writing since he was able to hold a pencil in his hand. Worman started out as a high school intern at the Bugle-American, an alternative newspaper in Milwaukee, and was a founder and long standing contributor to the Crazy Shepherd which emerged from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and is published currently as the Shepherd Express. Worman’s column The Hourly Why was conceived in 1982, published broadly in underground newspapers over the decades and can be found online today at www.thehourlywhy.com. He has a great love of the outdoors and champions charities by riding those long distance centuries on his road bike to raise funds. Contact the author.