Nesson is a biweekly serial novel about living with technology, sprawl, and consumerism in the near future. Learn more.
The silver coin spun on the table catching beams of light and hurling them around the bamboo walls. It rotated too fast to see the profile of a thin faced man wearing ovular glasses and a turtleneck. A breeze crept in through the open windows; though open may not be the word when there is no glass to close. There was no reason to seal off the elements here. The weather, save for a few rain storms, was always perfect. The breeze rolled around the aisles, and lightly pushed the coin so that it fell flat showing a symbol with three arrows circling each other. Marcus looked down at the clink before letting his eyes drift back to the open doorway. He did not bother to start the coin spinning again.
Looking out over the bay, beyond the gray sand and transparent ocean waves, he could see the progress of the nearest addition. It looked exactly like a pile of trash. It was a pile of trash to his benefit, sure, but there was no doubting the aesthetics of the thing. The memory of a broken holographic image surfaced. Links, proudly balding and inappropriately dressed in all black, stands on a tropical paradise cutting a thick red ribbon. The island is vacant and filled with potential energy. Marcus was no rube; he was not one to fall prey to advertising. Yet he had to admit the gravitational force of that image drew him here. The memory faded and resolved to the scene before him. It was ugly, but at least it was too far to smell.
A tapping on the counter woke Marcus from his daydreaming. A dust covered little man stood at the register holding a liter of beer, looking impatient. The dust almost rose from the man in cartoon stink lines; apparently, he would not escape the smell. They exchanged no words. This was common with Marcus and the island workers, they did not speak English and he did not understand their pidgin. How was it that Links Corp hired only from the meager populations that clung to their native languages? Nearly every country had codified International Standard English decades ago, which had already been the de facto standard; such laws were more of a unifying gesture than a change.
As the small dark eyed man made his exit, another of similar stature and cleanliness entered through the still swinging door. There was, as far as Marcus could tell, no official quitting time. There was no whistle to mark the end of a shift. His daily stream of customers came sometime after lunch, but before dark. It was usually one by one, occasionally two or three entered at the same time, no more. He could only fit so many in the store. These customers passed each other, entering and exiting in a steady steam, and rarely spoke to each other. The early evening hours were a voiceless bustle, not silent but devoid of conversation. Marcus sometimes wondered if they spoke at all. Perhaps everyone spoke different languages? More likely, the fatigue evident in their blank eyes prevented any social pleasantries.
On good days, Marcus imagined his store was a sort of tropical way station: simple, but dignified. On his bad days, he saw a shack made out of the same trash as the island it sat on. It contained no more than a wall of refrigerators and two rows of canned goods, the sum of which being worth less than the chest of bootleg tobacco under the counter. Despite being the only store for several hundred kilometers, demand was low. His only customers were the workers, all of whom received full boarding as part of their compensation. Marcus only supplemented their free meals with junk food and intoxicants.
Oh, the faces of the few friends he told about his destination! “Good-bye” had fled from the American imagination long ago. Geographically speaking, he did not live anywhere near them, nor near anyone really. Holorooms and video walls removed the necessity. This made it all the stranger that he was moving to a place where he would not be able to see them. Besides the oddity of the situation, it sounded unpleasant. Why was he leaving his sinecure and home? If he wanted tropical paradise, could he not just load an island scene into his holoroom? But, how will you stand it? What will you do?
“Evening Mark.” A man stood before him sporting a dark brown handlebar mustache on his red-tan face. He wore a Hawaiian shirt that was in some era comical, another ironic, and today sort of sad. A vintage Stetson rested on his damp crown, defying any notion of modernity or good taste. The man was tall, thin, but solidly built: a poorly dressed stalagmite of a man.
“Earl.” Marcus made brief eye contact before shifting his gaze to a window. In his peripheral vision, he saw Earl stacking cans and frozen pot-stickers into his arms. They teetered with a practiced control. He bumped the freezer door closed with his hip and wobbled over to the register. Earl was without question the store’s most loyal customer. His presence triggered profitable thoughts and a flood of dopamine.
“Damn Mark, when are you going to get some pizza or something?”
“There’s pizza in that freezer. Over there, Earl.”
“You mean the ‘Happy Prawn Pizza?’ Where do you get this stuff anyway?”
Mark sighed, “We’re closer to Japan than we are to the US now. Import costs from there are cheaper.”
“Yeah, well, I’d pay extra to get some normal food.” Earl said. He pulled out a grime stained card to pay for his beer and dinner. He began to hand it to Marcus but paused remembering something. He made a sign pointing to his lips with two fingers. Marcus pulled a tin of loose tobacco out from under the counter and placed it atop the stack of cans.
“Sure you’ll pay extra for ‘domestics,’ what about those employees of yours? Are you paying them enough to buy triple price American cheese and hotdogs?”
“No, I guess not. They probably prefer the prawns anyway. What about this stuff?” Earl held up a can of gelatinized, processed ham.
“That,” Marcus said, “they will pay for.”
Earl laughed as he walked out. He swung his sacks of groceries towards the unmarked black top that would take him to the ‘ad-dock’ as they called it. Marcus began his closing procedures, which consisted of turning off one light and settling some credits onto his own card. Earl was always the last customer. Marcus grabbed a couple of cheap single serving size bottles before he stepped outside. He was no oenophile, but he wished he had something better than the translucent rose-colored drink he carried. It would have to do.
He locked the door; there was no crime out here to speak of, but he was the only one with stuff to steal. It was only a few paces behind the store to the tracks. Growing up, he was told repeatedly never to walk on train tracks, despite the fact that no one walked anywhere. He felt a special joy walking on these tracks. If the rails were live, they would fry him instantly. No, there would be no train here, not yet. First, that trash on the horizon needs to be mashed down into foundation.
The tracks ended at the far edge of the island, almost teetering into the water. Most of the island had manufactured beaches at the perimeter in preparation for those would be homesteaders. Marcus did not use the beaches; he preferred it here at the end of the line. There was no beach because one day there would be no water. This island and the next one would merge and the tracks continue until hitting water again. Marcus would sit at the next site, just as he is doing now, with a bottle of wine and his back to civilization. There was nothing but endless ocean with human habitation hopelessly far from here. The site ahead was an obstruction to his view, but it was at least something chaotic, amorphous.
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