It was four o’clock in the evening and the baby wanted a blue raspberry slurpee.
I was sitting on the couch with my feet propped up, flipping through the channels, trying not to think about the lasagna in the oven and the wonderful odors wafting through the apartment, praying Peter would see my text and pick up a slurpee for me on his way home from the office. I checked my phone; there was no reply. I re-checked it two seconds later and there was still no reply. I could’ve called him on his car phone, but I didn’t want to be the cause of an accident.
“This is ridiculous,” I muttered, placing a hand over my balloon belly and rising from the couch with difficulty. I stood there a moment to be sure I wasn’t going to tip back into the couch and then proceeded into the kitchen. According to the oven’s timer, the lasagna still had ten minutes before it would be done. Then I had to let it sit so that I wouldn’t burn my tongue with scalding hot cheese and sauce. My mouth watered just thinking about it. A dehydrated lasagna only took five minutes to make, but it didn’t have the same taste as an organic lasagna. On most days, it was worth the wait. Today, I wasn’t so sure. The baby kicked insistently.
I blew my bangs out of my face. “All right. I’ll get you a slurpee.” There was a fueling station just around the corner. Normally, my swollen ankles would keep me from walking across the apartment much less down the street but they were feeling good today. I waddled over to the shoe rack by the front door and slipped into my sandals. I checked my reflection in the circle mirror hanging with our wedding pictures to be sure my hair was behaving. Then I ventured out.
“Front door,” I said as I shut it behind me. “Please lock and tell my husband that I went to get a slurpee. If the lasagna should finish before I come back, turn off the oven.”
“Understood, ma’am,” the automated voice replied. There was a click as the locks slid into place and then silence.
I loped past my neighbor, Paul, who held bags full of dehydrated meal packs and argued with his front door.
“I don’t care what my wife said. I am not beating her. Now open!” he practically snarled.
“I’m sorry, sir, but my programming compels me to protect the woman of this household,” the door said calmly. “If she says you are beating her, I must believe her. Lower your voice or I will be forced to phone the authorities.”
Paul leaned in to glare at the screen located at eye-level in the middle of the door. “I already said I was sorry, Georgette. I have the food you asked me to buy, now, let me in.”
“Leave it on the doorstep and go! You obviously don’t love me anymore!” his wife screeched from inside the apartment.
Paul groaned and smashed his head against the door.
“Hang in there, Paul,” I said in passing.
“Thanks, Jill,” he muttered, forehead still pressed against the metal door.
“I’m detecting some measure of pain in your voice, sir,” a neighboring door said. “Should I call for an ambulance?”
The elevator doors shut before I could hear Paul’s reply. “Where to, ma’am?”
I smiled at the computer screen in the wall. “Lobby, please.”
“Right away, ma’am.”
Two minutes later, I was waddling out into society. One would think that after the invention of floating cars and speeder bikes, there wouldn’t be anyone walking anymore. Still pedestrians littered the sidewalks.
“Only freaks and homeless people still walk around town, Jill,” my husband would say whenever I suggested we take a stroll.
He might have been right but there was something refreshing about using one’s own legs to go somewhere. The artificial grass in the front yards on either side of my apartment complex was the approved length and color. Someone from the Home Owner’s Society must have been by recently. The trees sprouting up from their fenced areas had sparkling golden leaves hanging from their metallic branches. Was it autumn already? The months were just flying by! Speeder bikes and hovering cars zipped to and fro on the street in their respective lanes. I couldn’t watch them for too long without getting vertigo. I took a deep breath, stared fixedly at the fuel station I could see in the distance, and put one foot in front of the other. A lady with mint green hair and glassy pink eyes abandoned her floating grocery cart and approached me to ask if I had any spare change.
I blinked at her, mouth agape. “No one uses change anymore.”
She dug around the pockets of her filthy dress and held out an old bank chip. “You could transfer some money over to me then. I think this thing still works.” She squeezed it between her fingers, desperately watching for the flash of light that would prove the chip’s functionality. The chip produced no such light.
“I’m very sorry but I have to get going now,” I stammered and then dashed away.
A man with a pig’s nose, blue and white feathers for hair, and a piercing through his lip walked up to me next, shoving a moving picture of a Labradoodle in my face. “Have you seen my dog, Mr. Scruffles?”
I reared back and slapped a hand over my nose before I could be overwhelmed by the smells of alcohol and urine. “No, I haven’t. I’m sorry. I don’t mean to be rude, but I’m pregnant and have a very acute sense of smell.” I continued apologizing as I walked away.
This is more dangerous than I thought it would be. I should’ve stayed in the apartment…I placed a protective hand over my belly and loped along even faster. Don’t worry, baby. Almost there.
A robot stopped traffic so that I could cross the street and then I arrived at the fuel station. Despite everything that had changed in the world, Circle K was still thriving. It, like many gas stations, had simply changed the kind of fuel they sold and was able to salvage their business when regular cars became obsolete. I side-stepped the man with the tentacles on his face who methodically looked through the movie racks by the door, and suppressed a shudder. Kissing must be really weird for his kind…If they even kiss.
“Hello!” the cheerful cashier called from behind her counter. She had blonde hair, bright orange skin, and three eyes but her smile was warm.
I smiled back. “Hi, there.”
I hurried over to the slurpee section and snagged one of the larger cups. I was back at the counter in seconds, swiping my bank chip to pay for my drink. I took a large gulp on my way out and gave myself a brain freeze, but it was worth it. I could feel my baby doing victory cartwheels in my belly. I waved goodbye to the happy cashier and began my journey back home…only to run into a kid on a hover board. Well, technically he ran into me. His board bashed against my calf and sent him falling into my side with an oof. I stumbled with a shout of surprise and the slurpee left my hand. I watched in horror and dismay as the foam cup smashed against the asphalt and burst, sending blue slush everywhere. The boy apologized a million times but I didn’t have the strength to look up. Blinking back defeated tears, I turned away from him and headed back inside.