Author : Edward D. Thompson
The warm summer breeze wafted gently over the well-manicured grounds as Bill’s limo slowed to a stop at his country mansion. He waited, downing the last of his fine whiskey, his tux stiff and uncomfortable. No chauffeur appeared, so he opened the door to his hatchback himself and stepped onto the driveway outside his simple suburban home. It was cloudy and he drew his thin jacket tight against the chill fall winds. “Bum,” the driver muttered, pulling away before Bill was fully off the bus. He stumbled, falling to his knees in the icy winter slush. Forcing himself up, he made his way with effort through the winter rain down the trash strewn sidewalk to his tenement apartment.
There was a woman waiting. Young, shapely, sexy, vibrant; clad in a thin negligée, excited to see him home. The scent of a hot meal wafted from the den. He moved to kiss her and she turned her cheek away, her scowl fierce. Trash and roaches scattered as she slammed down a tin of cold soup on the rickety kitchen table. Her corpulent, flabby flesh barely hidden by her threadbare woolen robe. She snarled at him for interrupting her ‘program,’ which sputtered on the static-washed black and white. He ate his meal in sullen silence as she harangued him, remembering how happy they had been, how in love. How miserable she had made him from the first, always nagging and lying. She’d never loved him at all. No one had.
In the control booth of TransVirtualRealty (motto: All the Happiness You Can Want!), the new guard munched slowly on a pbj, shaking his head as on the monitor Bill slogged through a pile of filth: lonely, destitute, rejected again by all his friends, by every would-be lover.
“I don’t get it,” he turned to his partner, “aren’t the customers programmed into ideal environments? This guy should be in paradise!”
The older guard shrugged. “Some have that. And some can’t seem to hang on to it. We set it up, but when it comes down to it, it’s all in their head. They have final control.” He ruminated on his own ham-on-rye. “We reset it if it gets too bad. I mean, they paid for nice. Extra nice. We try.”
The new guy watched Bill, now limping from some newly acquired pain, as he settled into a dumpster for the night, scant shelter from the howling blizzard sweeping the city, muttering all the while about the betrayals and injustice he endured.
“I dunno why,” the older guy mused, “but some people just don’t know how to be happy.”