Going out again felt like rediscovering a new planet. Everywhere you went, there was something about the place that seemed slightly different. Amended. In order for humans to survive in the New World Order. Lucien and Edie had decided to explore a few days before the official “reopening,” though it seemed many others had the same idea as the majority of the population had grown fed up with taking government orders, convinced it was a conspiracy against them, perpetuated by the mantra that the country was at war. Some wore masks and some didn’t, a telling divide that would signal a new breed of factional war between the COVID-19 “scaredy cats” and the deniers. The older generation, despite being the most vulnerable, was, of course, the most averse to wearing personal protective equipment. Perhaps feeling that since they were going to die soon enough anyway, they wanted to live how they wanted–without being “dictated” to.
Lucien and Edie wore nothing to protect themselves not because they were naive about the contagion but because obtaining adequate masks had been all but impossible. Whether they were sold out or took months to arrive thanks to delivery lag times, all their efforts seemed to prove was that “perseverance” in this climate was useless. So out they went without armor. It was a day for the paintings. The sort of spring ambience that many used to think could cure TB. Of course, we now know that weather, in the end, doesn’t cure shit. The most it can do is make things worse so the best we can ask of it is to at least not do that. Overnight, the season had changed. Though, naturally, it was over a period of months, when everyone was trapped inside, assuming time would freeze along with their own lives. Alas, not so. The world soldiers on regardless of human presence. And humans ought to do well to remember that now and again. Lucien and Edie certainly hadn’t, not until catching a glimpse of the subtle differences that had taken shape. Not just in nature, but in the way business was soon to be conducted on a mass scale.
Happening upon one of the most corporate enterprises in town, Amorino, Lucien was the first to notice a sign out indicating it was open. A sign that insisted upon not only six feet of distance between customers, but for those not ordering to wait outside in line, so as not to contaminate the current patron expressing his needs. His utmost desires for something sweet. To take away some of the pain by bringing pleasure to the basest receptors in the brain.
Of course, with all this distance, Edie couldn’t overhear what the man was ordering, though she used to relish such things so as to be able to judge people for their poor and lackluster choices. Just another small joy ripped suddenly from formerly average existence. Along with bare-faced customer service. For, upon entering the shop at last, Lucien and Edie were both slightly jarred to find that the two men–women were possibly deemed too dainty for the service industry now (one wouldn’t put this manner of thinking past the patriarchy)–were equipped not only with standard-issue surgical masks, but also face shields. And, obviously, latex gloves. Dressed in garb to administer tear gas when, in fact, they were simply scooping ice cream. This was what they kept talking about when they meant the “new normal.” That most annoying of terms designed to lend ominous flair to what the future would hold. And the future was now. Much to the horrified chagrin of Edie in particular, whose French was already shoddy at best without having to understand a French person talking in an even more garbled fashion from behind their mask. Surely, this was going to make people want to talk as minimally as possible to one another, getting across only the basics, ergo proving George Orwell’s theory that it was only a matter of time before “Newspeak” took hold of the world. Though even Orwell couldn’t possibly have imagined just how fucked up the catalyst would be.
Edie and Lucien, incidentally, did not order ice cream. Instead, coffee. She an americano, he an espresso. They were both tired of the familiar taste of coffee pods and wanted the luxury of something “different.” The question now would forever be: at what cost? Was breaking up the monotony worth leaving your house anymore? And for what? To see the dystopian shift toward a contactless society? In many ways, it was, after all, what all those 80s movies set in the future had predicted. Except there is a deeper sadness to it than could ever have been imagined. A sense of defeat and succumbing to a fate that mankind didn’t really want–though there’s no denying his oppressors are content with the situation.
As Edie and Lucien walked toward the park sipping their coffees with caution (Edie had taken the lid off hers so as to avoid placing her lips on any part of it the gloved worker might have touched), the aura of casualness with which everyone approached their remade existence was alarming to Edie. It was as though they were all trying to ignore the collective trauma that had befallen them. That to pretend it didn’t happen would perhaps prevent it from happening again–even though such a plan of (non-)attack would render the result quite the opposite. She said as much to Lucien as they deigned to sit down on a protruding cement block buttressing the gate around the park, that was, to be sure, still closed until further notice. For the government officials could, at most, at this moment, give the people retail before giving them natural air. That was what counted most: getting people to spend money. To salvage the precious economy, itself a false facade supported by no evidence that it was the “best” system. In fact, going back to bartering would unequivocally be better (except for the fact that such transactions involved an often tactile exchange).
She laughed to herself, thinking of the dinosaurs, a group of them suddenly being afraid for their lives at the thought of an “economy” tanking instead of an imminently descending asteroid wiping most of them out. That when it came down to it, she wished she was part of the nobler sect of the animal kingdom instead. Not the obsessed-with-money mammals called humans. She said as much to Lucien, who rolled his eyes. “It’s easy for you to say that. You’re in a privileged situation, one that allows you to think of alternative solutions. All most people can think of is how to survive right now. And that means money.”
“It’s all fucked, Lucien. Why don’t they just come up with a more comfortable long-term solution for existing on this earth?”
“That would be too easy, wouldn’t it? The more complicated, the less logical it is, the better for Them to all maintain control over us, right?”
Edie took another swig of her coffee, the street with Amorino on it still visible from her vantage point. As she and Lucien were about to get up and keep walking, they watched from afar as the cashier they had paid for their drinks, still dressed in garb to administer tear gas (but instead only invoking tears of nostalgia for the way it used to be), proceeded to chase out a disobedient customer by poking him with a broomstick, after, apparently, he had tried to violate the rules of the sign by entering the shop while another customer was still inside. Edie sighed. Maybe being dressed in such garb would indeed eventually facilitate the use of tear gas by service workers to effectively get customers to obey, to…disperse.