Seventy-eight year-old Karen Rogers sat hunched over on the steps of the Sharing Tomorrow building, the cold of the cracked and broken cement steps seeping up into her bones through the thin plas-cotton shift and coat she wore.
Plas-cotton, she thought with disgust. Everything made of plastic now. An image of herself as a six year-old dressed in a blue dress that matched her eyes, the light cotton material of the skirt floating around her as she twirled in a field of daisies, flashed through her mind. She snorted, drawing a rheumy stare from the old guy in line behind her. He’d sat down, too, on the step below her. Karen ignored him.
That was before the government mandated implants in everyone ten and older. She remembered her implant, on her tenth birthday. They put it behind her right ear. Those implants weren’t too bad. They could detect emotions more than thoughts. She forgot about it in the flurry of childhood school and summer vacations. It wasn’t until she hit high school, that she was made painfully aware of it.
The line moved and she had to change to the next step up.
April McGura, that was her name. Karen was in the cafeteria, looking for a place to sit when she tripped, her lunch and the tray it was on, flying down the aisle between the rows of tables. The table behind her erupted in laughter. Karen got up, knees skinned and red-faced and turned to see what she tripped on.
April, long, straight blonde hair pulled over one shoulder, brown-eyes laughing, still had her foot out in Karen’s path. “What a clutz,” the girl said. Her friends hooted. “What a clod.” “Grace in action.” “Loser.” “Been walking long?”
Karen could feel the rage building as her fists clenched. She was on the soccer team, she wasn’t a clutz. She took a step forward, that’s when the pain shot through her head, driving her to her knees. She could feel her stomach churn and without warning, vomited all over April McGura’s patent leather pumps. That’s when a teacher came and took her to the nurse’s office.
It was explained to her what happened and that she had to control herself better. What wasn’t explained was why April and her horde made the next three years of her life a living hell. They stole her clothing out of her locker while she was at soccer practice. They lay in wait behind hall corners to scare her or trip her or knock the books out of her hands. Over and over her rage at the attacks made the implant zap her. It was her last year in high school that she had some relief. April and her gang graduated the year before. Things went back to normal, or so Karen thought.
It turns out that bullies live in the adult world too. And the implants became more sensitive. Thoughts could be read, and punished. Soon it became so that any emotion other than love or lust, and sometimes those, too, would deliver the thinker a shock to the brain. Then thirty years ago, religion was declared forbidden. There would be no more Sunday services. The government turned all of the churches into government buildings or razed them to the ground.
Karen moved up to the landing. The line was moving along. She was glad, the late winter wind was cutting right through her. Like this building, she thought. It used to be the Methodist Church, not that there were many who would remember that now. She went here as a girl with her parents and grandparents. Now, it seemed, even if you let your mind go blank, you’d get a shock. She sighed. It didn’t matter.
She had been called, like the others in the line. There wasn’t enough food and housing to go around. It seemed that over the last sixty years productivity had been declining. Now, instead of taking care of the productivity, they just eliminated the elderly. It used to be people over ninety, then over eight-five, then eighty. Last year it dropped to seventy-eight. Her birthday had been in February. She was surprised she didn’t get a notice then.
She stepped into what had been the vestibule. A desk was there with a young woman and a scanner.
“Thank you, Miz Rogers.” The young woman held the scanner up behind Karen’s ear. It hummed gently and the woman pulled it down.
“I haven’t been buzzed in a week,” Karen said.
“Oh,” the young woman smiled. “They turned it off. There’s no point, really, is there?”
Karen shook her head. “I guess not.”
A nurse ushered Karen into where the sanctuary used to be. There was still the creamy white walls and the polished dark wood of the half paneling and the banisters and ceiling beams, but the pews had been replaced with gurneys.
The female nurse led her to the far right and up a row near the wall. The stained glass remained in the windows throwing patches of red, gold, blue and green on the people lying there. “Here you are, Miz Rogers. If you’ll put your purse, keys, phone and other valuables in this bag, then you can lie down and rest.”
Karen did as directed. What was she going to do, run?
A middle-aged technician came by with a light plas-cotton blanket and covered her up, then he prepped her arm as another tech wheeled a stand and a bag of fluid to her bedside. The first tech adjusted the bag and attached tubing. “Just a little pinch, Miz Rogers.” Then he inserted the needle in her right arm. “This won’t take long, Miz Rogers.”
She sighed. “That’s all right, son. I just have one little prayer.”
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