Author: Claire Fitzpatrick
The street was long and empty, silent, save for the gentle sounds of dead branches underfoot, out of sync with the steady rhythm of Ginny’s steps. Here, the pavement was littered with fallen leaves, and she stepped around it, careful not to crush it underfoot. When she reached the end of her parent’s street she heard the familiar blare of the broadcast from the telegraph pole loudspeakers and looked over her shoulder. The televisions turned on one by one, swift and precise, like lighting out a candle. She looked down at her watch. She hadn’t noticed it at first – it had crept up on them, sneaky and unobtrusive. One day the news started at nine AM, then at a quarter to. The following week it was eight-thirty, and then a quarter to seven. Now it started at six. Her mother brushed it off. “It’s always been six, Ginny. You’ve such an imagination!”
She walked on, pausing at the intersection where the road turned off to the motorway. In a few hours the bitumen would be alive with the thunderous roar of horns and spluttering exhausts, a noxious perfume of benzene and diesel filling the air. But now, all Ginny could smell was the beach nestled behind her house. She inhaled the decay and regeneration, and lingered in the faint memory of roses in the gusts of coastal winds.
“Don’t move, or I’ll shoot!”
Ginny froze and raised her hands. The enforcement officer hurried across the street. He pulled a gun from his holster and pointed it at her head.
“What’s your name?”
“Where is your uniform, Miss MacDougal?”
“I don’t have one.”
“So you’re not a sidewalk officer?”
“So where are you going?”
“You have a television in your house?”
“Do you know what time it is?”
Ginny glanced at her watch. “Quarter to six.”
“The news will start in fifteen minutes. Do you live far?”
Ginny pointed to the end of the street. “Down there. Small white house with the red car.”
“What if something happened and you didn’t make it?”
“Like this interaction?”
“Don’t get smart!”
“I was getting some fresh air.”
“Is there air in your house?”
“Well, there’s no reason for you to be outside at this time.” The officer returned the gun to its holster, pulled off a ticket from the machine strapped to his utility belt, and handed it to her. She took it quickly and stuffed it in her pocket. It was her second one this week. One more and she’d face a disciplinary hearing.
“You’re lucky I stopped you, you know. My partner would have set you straight to the Facility.”
Ginny swallowed a lump in her throat. The speculum left red rings around her uncle’s eyes that remained for weeks. Now he never left the lounge-room in case he missed the news. Her aunt had even purchased a bedpan. “Is that so?”
The officer nodded. “Know anyone in there?”
“Well, you don’t want to. Now go home, Miss MacDougal.”
Ginny nodded and hurried off towards her house. Once inside, she slid the chain across the door, made herself comfortable on the lounge, and stared at the empty space where the television had been. She thought of her parents, propped up on their recliners, dinner trays on their laps, the technicolour lights bouncing of their slack faces, entombed within their lounge room. Tomorrow, she’d walk the long way home.