This Is What Freedom Looks Like
by Lael Ewy
On television, the black-hooded throng takes again to the dais.
“This is the fourth time this week.” The voice behind me.
White hair, large-bodied woman. How could she remember? How could any of us remember?
The black hood with the red sash makes a gesture: hand up, slightly moving; behind the veil I can just make out the orange face.
How many years has this ceremony been going on?
Would the dead this time be turbaned? Bare-headed and dark skinned? A head of tight curls?
There is rarely any blood. These days.
“Stage blood!” The voice.
“False flag!” An ancient man to my side, the Confederate designation on his gray frock.
My own designation: a simple blue square. Facilitating worship in the schools.
How many schools? Five?
There are five of them, now, in our town.
This is what freedom looks like: Pod to work. Pod to the store. Coin card in. Coin card out. Pod home.
The rain is constant, and by now I have forgotten about the smell.
It’s odd to remember that. Or even, to recall I had forgotten.
It is odd.
Now, to remember anything.
My face red with remembering.
My face wet with remembering.
A text buzzes my phone. A number. My package is ready, provisions.
At the service window, in the gap in between the flame-proof, bullet-proof, extremist-proof safety hatches opening and closing, I think I smell hot oil.
I take my package: milk, Coke, bread, a yellow slice of cheese, the obligatory chunk of chocolate cake.
Watching, now, on the billboard screen, waiting for my pod to come around. The ceremony is nearly over. The black-hooded dignitaries recede, the one with the red sash remaining on the dais.
A major chord.
Back at work, the lesson is the same.
The children must enunciate. “Pathetic.”
They must hiss from their throatbacks. If not, I take note. Speak with them after class. I demonstrate. I correct.
If they still don’t do it right, I blackflag their files.
I do not know what happens to them afterward.
I do not know where the losers go.
Not my job.
I do not ask.
No one asks.
Asking is the enemy of freedom.
Asking is the enemy of the people.
A message buzzes in.
Who, today, is “bad”?
Who, today, “pathetic”?
I write the name down, check to see how the new lesson reflects the new truth.
The new facts are always.
The new facts are ever.
The new truth the most.
The new truth is the most in the history of the world.
The world is against us again.
I am sorry. I apologize: the world is against us.
It always was. It was never different.
The new truth is never different. It never was.
It always is.
I pod home, but the buzzing never stops.
The new truth comes overnight.
The next day, the television talks about it. The Tens chat about it breezily in their red dresses. Their blue dresses. Their yellow.
My coin card is approved for only gray.
It is not as bad as you think.
I feel grateful.
To be given jobs.
Not all of us have jobs.
Losers have no jobs.
Wherever they are.
Freedom is having.
Jobs. Bread. Coin card. TV. Pods.
The Tens chatter.
The Tens chatter like birds used to twitter.
My face, red again, even with nobody watching.
My face wet again.
I should listen.
I should mind.
I should mind how hard He has to work for us.
Up at 2:00. Up at 3:00.
Up at always, buzzing out the new truth, the always.
Buzzing out the real facts. Bombing out the fake news.
I should apologize.
Once my shoulders stop heaving.
Once my breath returns.