Fiction

The Last Unpleasantness

By: Michael Fryd

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The Social Order Police arrived in the nick of time before she had a chance to set the house on fire, and took her to the Holding Facility. This was her third violation and she wondered what would happen to her now. They weren’t likely to let her wreak havoc again; family life was supposed to be calm and unruffled, like the surface of a lake on a windless day, undisturbed by criminal outbursts.

The first episode occurred the day she gave birth. The child was removed to a nursing home till it was old enough for placement with a family. She knew she was unreasonable, it was her duty to get pregnant by artificial insemination, give birth, make her contribution to society; she was born and assigned to her parents the same way, but she couldn’t bear to let it go. She wanted to hold it, continue to feel it move intimately in rhythm with her own body. She screamed in anguish when the nurse walked out of the room holding the baby_ her baby_ in her arms. She tried to get off the bed, run after her but was held down and put under with a mixture of tranquilizers and anesthetic.

Doctors experimented with her medications until they found a formula that seemed to keep her on an emotionally even keel. After several weeks she was deemed cured and assigned to be part of a family with a husband and eight-year-old daughter; his previous wife fell off the roof of their high-rise building, and he needed a replacement.
Their apartment on the eighteenth floor was spacious, comfortably furnished with all the necessary amenities. The daughter was well behaved, quiet, spent most of her time in her room; for all intents and purposes, she was invisible. The same could not be said of the husband who never shut up, and demanded not just her presence but awed attention and agreement with the oracular truths he dispensed. If her attention wavered or she fell asleep before he did, he’d shake or pinch her until she woke up and resumed listening with the appropriate raptness. She suffered constant headaches, was exhausted from lack of sleep and wondered why no one adjusted his medications. She knew the answer; unlike women, men were rational, knew how to control their emotions, were unlikely to disturb social order and didn’t need drugs to control their darker side.

After months of incessant noise she reached her limit, knew she had to do something; she could follow his first wife’s example and jump, or fight. She chose the latter and bought a trumpet.

When he finished dinner and started bloviating, she blew the trumpet as loudly as she could. He was stunned but recovered quickly, demanded the reason for this outrageous behavior. Her answer was a blast from the trumpet every time she saw his lips move. The standstill continued late into the night until the social order police arrived, called in by irate neighbors. The guilty party was easy to spot; she was holding the offending noisemaker. The husband and neighbors demanded the police remove her for gross unpleasantness and disturbing the peace.

The police took her to the familiar cell in the Holding Facility where doctors examined her. Puzzled the medication they’d so carefully balanced stopped working, they were determined to find the cause of her unfortunate relapse, they took nothing for granted, put her through a comprehensive battery of tests: studied her blood chemistry, took numerous brain scans, measured her neurotransmitter levels. They found nothing amiss and decided to keep the same medication but increase the dose to tamp down future outbreaks. The higher dose made her sluggish, even minor tasks wore her down, but there were no further incidents when they moved her for observation into the temporary quarters reserved for women waiting for assignment. After three months of model behavior, she was placed in a newly formed family unit with a husband and two three-year, old girls.

For twenty years life in the new family unit proceeded calmly without further incidents. Because of her record, she had to register as a chronic social offender; check in once a month with her adjustment officer and get her serotonin levels tested to ensure she continued taking her medications.

Her new husband, unlike the previous one, preferred to ignore her and watch reruns of fifties television comedy shows. These were the only television programs available, they were deemed safe unlike dramas and sports, which might arouse uncontrollable emotions.

The children were well behaved and caused no trouble. Their dosage was increased when they became teenagers to balance out the hormonal explosion typical of that stage of life. They moved out of the house at eighteen and she never saw them again.

With the children gone, her interactions with the husband were reduced to the thrice-weekly prescribed sex sessions. She didn’t particularly care for them, her medications dulled all sensations, but even if they didn’t he wasn’t skillful or interested enough to provide her any pleasure. However, she was surprised when he stopped visiting her bed on the mandated days. When she asked him why he was nonplussed; they never asked each other personal questions. He hemmed and hawed for a while then explained she’d become physically unappealing. He didn’t want to sound unpleasant, but let’s face it she was past her prime: her hair was turning gray, she had wrinkles around her mouth and eyes, fat was accumulating around her hips and belly, her breasts were sagging. Sex with her had become tedious, gave him no pleasure, and he preferred to visit a House of Stress Relief.

She was confused by his explanation; no one told her the sex sessions were optional; had she known she might have stopped them years ago. She didn’t sleep well that night, and in the morning decided to skip her medications, the drugs slowed her down, muddled her brain. She wanted to clear her head and figure out what it all meant.

He said she was old. What did that mean besides him not wanting to have sex with her anymore? He was her age, so he must be old too. His looks hadn’t improved with time: he was balding, his jowls sagged, he’d recently grown a wattle under his chin, and his expanding middle made him look like Humpty Dumpty before the fall; why didn’t he think of himself as unappealing? She’d put up with the pleasureless tedium of their sex sessions for twenty years, what gave him the right to stop them when HE didn’t enjoy them anymore?

Other questions fought each other for her attention. Why did he ignore her for twenty years and avoid contact, verbal or physical, except for the mandated few minutes of sex? Why was it her job to take care of everything in the house: children, meals, laundry, cleaning? He showed up, sat in his chair in front of the television wall, took for granted everything would be as it should be and never thought to comment on how well she managed things.

She’d spent twenty years working to make their house, family and his life as pleasant as possible, what did he do during those years to make her life happier? He never noticed her or all she did for him, including putting up with his clumsy use of her body. The first and only time he showed any awareness of her existence, it was negative; nature had run its course, she’d aged, and he found her repulsive. OK, that wasn’t exactly what he’d said, but certainly was the gist of it.

The medication’s induced constraints weakened as the day progressed, long repressed emotions: sadness, regret, anger, broke through and gained access to her consciousness. By the time he came home anger had won out. Not just run of the mill bitterness, but full-blown fury. She smashed the television wall with a frying pan and didn’t stop till the screen lay shattered in pieces. She wanted his undivided attention when she unloaded twenty years of grievance.

He refused to engage her, ran into the bedroom and locked the door. She heard him dial, assumed he was calling the police, but she didn’t care. Let him. It didn’t matter. He could hide but wouldn’t escape her rage; she would smoke him out. She ran to the garage, opened the emergency gasoline jerry can he kept there and splashed its contents over the rugs, furniture, and walls throughout the house. She was about to light a match when the police arrived, wrestled her into a straight jacket and carted her off again once again to the Holding Facility.

She stayed in her cell for several weeks, visited only by guards who brought her food, and several important looking individuals who asked endless questions about her incomprehensible outbreak against the social order. She didn’t know what to tell them, since her arrival at the facility she’d been dosed into semi-stupor, couldn’t remember what she’d done, their questions exhausted her and made her head ache.

Early one morning she was taken to a bright, immaculately clean room strapped to a gurney and put under. When she came to she was in bed, her head bandaged like a mummy’s. It hurt but the pain stopped after a few days, and she never felt calmer or happier. She couldn’t remember anything, but that was OK, they served vanilla ice cream for lunch and dinner every day, and she loved vanilla ice cream, it was so nice and sweet.

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Categories: Fiction

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