Fiction by Claire Polders
You cannot eat at the Duke’s Diner anymore, because your sister once complained about her hamburger being overcooked and now the staff will spit in your food before it’s brought to the table.
You cannot buy anything at Barnes & Noble, because they were once accused of selling pornography. Also: forget about buying anything at secondhand bookstores. Bringing their stock home is highly unsanitary and therefore insane.
You cannot access the Internet at your house. Not because it’s the devil’s instrument — you don’t believe this anymore. Ever since you saw that thing on TV, about African kids taking free online courses at elite American universities, you’ve come to accept that the Internet can be a blessing, too. Something else you don’t believe anymore is that Wi-Fi signals will cook your brain. You still don’t fully comprehend how nuclear radiation differs from Wi-Fi radiation, but when a physicist explained it on that science channel, you briefly grasped it, and that was enough for you to get over your anxiety and say: the Internet will not kill me. So the real reason you cannot access the Internet at your house is that all your personal stuff is on your computer. You’ve deleted the most sensitive items, such as letters to your friends and family, yet the young man in the store told you that clever specialists can retrieve even the most erased files. That was a shock, because you already knew about hackers, how they lurked everywhere and would get to you, firewall or not.
For the longest time, you had no health insurance. The idea that your premium might fund clinics where they helped mothers murder their babies was too much for you. When they made it illegal not to be insured, your parents forced you to sign up. By letting them pay for your insurance, you have absolved yourself of Planned Parenthood.
You cannot trust PCs because they have viruses and, to your knowledge, it’s impossible to renew Norton without a credit card. (And credit cards are, obviously, open invitations to assault). You stay away from Macs, because they have scary, interconnected clouds.
When you dine at a new restaurant with your parents, you order the side dishes, such as creamy mashed potatoes and macaroni & cheese, unless your mother recommends something sufficiently similar to one of your favorite dishes served in another restaurant.
Speaking of food, you cannot eat at Cracker Barrel anymore. Once, while you sat outside in one of the rocking chairs, waiting for a free table, a man with a tattoo sat beside you and asked something about the Lunch Specials.
You have no passport. To acquire a passport, you’d have to hand over all sorts of personal information, including your social security number, and everyone knows not to give this number out to anyone. Not even the government.
After you visit your parents, you drive home before eight p.m. Later, the streets become nasty. Unlike your parents, you don’t have a wall around your house.
You have not moved in over twenty-five years, and for half of this time no one has visited your apartment. You encourage the kind of privacy that promotes loneliness.
Your teeth often hurt, so you never eat anything crunchy. Dentists, like all medical personnel, cannot be trusted.
Even though you have almost no contact with other people and complain about their intrusive behavior when you do, you consider yourself a thoughtful person. And here, I have to agree with you: you try very hard to be a good girl and never offend anyone. Every Sunday, you confess your sins, small as they are.
You are smart and educated, but you do not have a job. You live off the money your parents gift you tax-free. You do not work for a charity either and see nothing wrong with throwing away a perfectly fine pair of shoes after their interiors have gotten wet.
You know I would like to talk with you and lessen your fears. Regardless of our differences, we are related. It’s my love for you that makes me want to challenge everything you believe. But it’s also my love for you that makes me shut my mouth. So I accept: you are not sick and don’t need any help. You are merely a highly informed citizen of a dangerous planet, determined not to fall in harm’s way.
But things are looking up, you say. On television, you saw a man who said he wanted to make everything great again. You’ve never voted before, for the same reason you don’t have a passport, but you consider getting yourself registered now. The man promised to build a big and beautiful wall to keep all the bad stuff out. And, as ideas go, it’s one of the best you’ve heard in a long time.
Is it my moral duty to disagree with you now? The wall gives you hope.