Inspired by real logvents.
Henry woke up and instantly worried that waking up would be the day’s signification of agreement to the defense forces’ arbitrary goal. The SADFAG. That was one of the classics, Henry knew, and he discussed it often with a smattering of oddballs at his office. To enlist yourself through the act of waking up –it seemed inevitable, for its universality and its inducement of dread alike.
The forces had once or twice hinted at the unlikelihood of such a signification indicator, but they hadn’t come and outright stated that it’d never happen. Henry knew the day would be a bad one if he woke up with this particular conundrum chiefly in his mind, and the more the nightly news showed reels of mysterious out-of-staters riding around on tanks and smiling as they wielded enormous guns instead of the usual eleven o’ clock cat bloopers, the more Henry woke up worried.
“Nothing you can do about it,” he muttered to himself, thrusting his feet into his slippers which left faint impressions of those selfsame words in the cheap carpet as he walked.
Henry tried to keep his worry at bay as best he could as he went on with his morning routine. Maybe it’ll be toothbrushing –or maybe if I look at myself in the mirror just so –shit! Gotta stop actually doing it. He made a few ritual alterations to each task, hoping they’d be modified enough to not qualify for any obvious categories, and pressed on. By the time he was out the door he’d almost forgotten to be concerned. Henry walked briskly in the overcast weather to the bus stop and took his place in the line. He knew most of the other people there, inasmuch as having seen them day in and day out for years without a word ever passing between them counted as knowing. He preferred the ones he knew, because they didn’t bother making eye contact with him. People he hadn’t seen as many times always seemed to be seeking out a reciprocal gaze, which Henry resented intensely. He didn’t want to have to look at anyone. Maybe that’d be the worst official duty, he thought. Having to spend some great period of time looking at people. And then being graded on it.
Henry’s palms grew sweaty in the pockets of his khaki pants. He stared pointedly at his shoes until he heard the bus approaching.
As was the case on the sidewalk and pretty much everywhere else by now, people on the bus took pains to abstain from activities. The occasional nutcase, Henry noted, could be found engaging in outrageous behaviors from working crossword puzzles to humming a tune, both of which had previously been indicated as SADFAGs. There was no stipulation that once indicated, a given activity could no longer be used, and in Henry’s mind, this made anything already on the list especially suspect.
Like wearing certain colors. Henry recoiled inwardly at the thought. That was a common one, even –three times in the past year they’d gotten “recruits” on the basis of green, blue, or red clothes worn that day. He stole a glance around the bus, a sea of khakis and beiges, just like his. Hard to pin down, relief seemingly innate in the notion of a difference between eggshell and ecru. A squat man with a funny look on his face at the back of the bus was wearing a colorblock long-sleeve t-shirt. Green, blue, and red were all present, as was yellow –the audacity! The man suddenly returned Henry’s stare, which made the latter suddenly very interested in his shoelaces. And then he sensed it. The man was coming over to talk to him. Despite the considerable hazard it would conceivably present Henry longed desperately for a newspaper, a set of headphones, anything to put between himself and the rapidly approaching colorblocks.
“Hi, I’m Ralph.”
Henry pretended not to hear him, and stared at the advertisement for slack de-wrinkler on the wall opposite.
“I just started takin’ the bus today, you know, last week I volunteered my car for official use, apparently. Ha!”
“PICK UP THE SLACK — with TIME-SAVING DEWRINKLER from WAINWRIGHT”
“I’d never even been on one of these before, wouldja believe it?”
Henry re-read the slogan and counted the double-us.
“I tell ya, I’m a little worried about the atmosphere in here. I’ve never seen so many quiet, orderly folks before in one place. And the beige! I must stand out like a sore thumb.”
What an interesting play on words, Henry forced himself to think over his silent panic, they say pick up the slack, but it’s also about an advertisement for–
“Hey, I don’t mean to bother you or nothin’. I just thought…well, honestly, no-one else has even thrown a glance my way since I got on this thing, but I guess….”
Henry watched the man’s cheery expression drain from his face from the corner of his eye.
“Well I’ll leave you alone then, pal.”
Henry relished the sudden freedom of looking wherever he wanted once Ralph was safely back in his seat. He drank in the passing trees outside, dallied over the varyingly tight curls that made up the unruly coiffure of the aged woman a few seats down, even gazed shamelessly at his own fingernails, studying the jagged tips bitten into a thin chaotic border.
This is where I end, he thought.
He could feel Ralph staring at him as he got off the bus with a few others. At the last moment he whipped around and looked inside, immediately locking eyes with the man, who smiled warmly.
What a jerk.