“Ooh! That’s a bingo!” Mitch Cranston crowed gleefully, pointing his skewer towards the grill. He had (so far) tossed eight jumbo shrimp at the barbeque, most of which had landed more or less on the grill.
“Mitch!” his wife shouted, “If any of those fall into the coals I’m gonna kick your ass!”
“You mean this ass?” he replied, bending forward so as to give her an unimpeded view, “Who would want to kick this ass? It’s so beautiful! And talented!”
Genevieve Cranston sighed inwardly as her significant other broke into one of his famous dance moves. “Oh, Mitch …” she groaned, “The neighbours …”
“What?” he blurted, pausing mid-boogie, “The neighbours are watching? Hold on, I’ll be right back!” Depositing his cooking tools next to the barbeque, Mitch made a beeline for the back door, crying: “I’ve gotta up my game!”
Genevieve turned to face the couple sitting across from her. “I’m so sorry,” she said, shaking her head, “Seems my little Mitchy’s being a little extra-silly today.”
“Oh, don’t worry,” replied Rhonda Levray, poking her husband in the shoulder as he popped the cap off of a fresh beer. “I’m sure Frank here will be acting up shortly.”
“Oh, no,” he replied gravely, “Franky doesn’t act up. Franky knows his place.”
Rhonda rolled her eyes. “Well, Franky better not drink too much, or Rhonda’s going to have to drive Franky’s car home.”
Frank’s eyes went wide. “Oh, no you don’t! Nobody touches Franky’s bug!” Rhonda shrugged, then tilted her head towards his beer. “Alright, alright!” he exclaimed, “Last one, I swear!”
Rhonda and Frank made a ridiculously cute couple; he was short and thin, with coffee-coloured skin and unruly curly black hair, while she, though also on the petite side, had a pale, freckled complexion and long blonde hair that was always coiffed to perfection. Genevieve smiled a little sadly as Frank leaned over to kiss his wife; though they were very obviously in love, they had hit a rough patch lately, and these open displays of affection were becoming less numerous as the months went by.
Genevieve was startled out her reverie by the sound of the side door banging open. “Open the blast doors!” Cried Mitch as he burst into the yard, resplendent in his collector-grade stormtrooper helmet.
“Oh my God!” Genevieve exclaimed, semi-mortified. “Why are you doing this to me?”
Genevieve sighed. Standing there in his shorts and t-shirt, arms and legs nearly as white as the highly collectible chunk of plastic on his head, Mitch Cranston was the poster boy for the adorable man-child.
“Well,” chimed Rhonda, “there’ll be no food for friends of stormtrooper if you don’t get serious about the barbeque.”
“I assure you,” he replied gravely, tilting his huge stormtrooper head in her general direction, “I take my responsibilities very, very seriously …” He paused for dramatic effect, then tossed the rest of the shrimp onto the barbeque, finally stepping back and turning his head from side to side. “So, where are these neighbours you keep talking about?”
“Check this out.” Frank leaned over the engine of his 1966 Volkswagen Beetle and carefully loosened the distributor cap, or spark plug, or carburetor, or whatever … Mitch really didn’t know very much about internal combustion engines. A second later Frank’s organic interface device flashed to life. “Look at this,” he said, pointing to a spot on the glowing screen which appeared to float about half a centimetre above the back of his left wrist, “Right here, shows what I disconnected, and how it’s affecting the engine.” He twisted his hand around, and a second screen came to life on the inside of his wrist. “And here I’ve got a list of parts suppliers nearby, mechanics, maps showing how to get there … and the most amazing part is, I didn’t have to program any of this in. It just saw that the distributor cap was loose and figured out what I’d probably want to know.”
“Yeah, that’s pretty cool. But couldn’t you get that with just a regular watch or infinite paper or something?”
“Well, sure,” Frank replied, tapping at his wrist, “but this is faster and more powerful. And I don’t need to worry about losing it.”
Mitch raised his eyebrows, nodding noncommittally. Frank had always been an early adopter of technology, and as such no one had been terribly surprised when he had agreed to go under the knife and get one of the first ever subcutaneous personal data devices. Consisting of two ultra-thin pseudo-holographic projection screens layered with micro-organic processors, speakers, cameras, etc., the device’s components were rolled up tightly, inserted into small holes in the skin, then unrolled and connected to a few nerves in the wrist which facilitated control via hand gestures. Microscopic wires were also threaded through veins up the arm and to the head, allowing for some control functions related to eye movement, as well as a small amount of brain wave functionality.
Though he had to agree that the whole thing was actually pretty cool, Mitch just couldn’t get over his discomfort with the idea of inserting technology into a living body. Even worse, this particular device used actual human brain tissue as part of its organic processor, a technology which in its most questionable form had led to whole human brains being harvested and inserted into robots which were used for particularly dangerous and/or distasteful work. Of course, consumer tech used brain tissue which was grown in a lab from donor cells, but still …
“And here’s a further exciting development,” Frank said, tapping his thumb and pinky together twice to bring up a list of documents on his screen, “Franky’s got a brand new Environmental Edict waiver!”
“Oh no …”
“Oh yes! Read it and weep.” Frank scrolled through the list and tapped on the document in question, then held his wrist towards Mitch. The screen displayed a very long document, most of which appeared to be legalese of the most unfathomable kind.
Though internal combustion engines had long ago been outlawed, there were a few legal loopholes which allowed collectors to not only own them, but to actually run them with the addition of very specific emission-reduction technology. Furthermore, there existed a grandfather clause which allowed for the use of the engines sans modification, as long as you could prove that the engine in question had been in your family for at least the past four decades, and had been in active use for no less than eight months a year for at least five years during the decade leading up to the ban.
“So what, you can take out the scrubbers now?”
“Already have,” Frank replied with a grin, “What you see is an absolute, faithfully restored nineteen sixty-six Volkswagen Beetle, with all original parts.”
“Except of course the diagnostics package for your cybernetic bracelet there.”
“What? Oh, well, yeah, there’s that. But that doesn’t count.” Frank carefully closed the hood, then leaned over and ran a hand across the bumper. “Oh, yeah, this baby is right and tight. Right … and … tight.”
Frowning, Mitch turned his attention to Genevieve, who was happily chatting with Rhonda as her friend cleared away the dishes. Wrapped in a blanket despite the pleasant June weather, his wife occasionally reached up to adjust the oxygen tube under her nose. He was once again struck by how small she looked, how frail …
Blinking suddenly, he looked away, struggling to control his temper. His wife had never smoked, and the environmental laws passed over the past few decades (including the banning of internal combustion engines) had allowed the atmosphere to clear enough that chronic obstructive pulmonary disease was rarely attributed to pollution alone. As such, the odd hobbyist like Frank who insisted on adding a few more toxins to the air had a virtually negligible effect on air quality as a whole. Still, despite the fact that Genevieve’s condition was more than likely genetic, Mitch couldn’t help but get irritated at the thought of people engaging in an activity which had historically caused horrific diseases like the one which now plagued his wife.
“Alright then,” he said, tapping his foot, “we should probably go help clear up.”
“Yeah, sure, but you gotta hear this thing run first. It’s a thing of beauty.”
“Uh …” Mitch paused, once again glancing at his wife. “Maybe later, when Gen’s inside.”
Frank blinked. “Oh, yeah, of course. What am I saying?” Quickly flicking his wrist one way, then the other, he shut off his PDD and followed Mitch towards the gate. “So, uh … how is Genevieve these days?” he asked quietly.
“Come here, little buddy,” Mitch enthused, bending down to pet the fluffy little ball of energy at his feet. “You just couldn’t wait for us to come back in, eh Bonkers? You just couldn’t wait!” The tiny white Pomeranian bounced on his front paws, shiny black eyes alert and curious. “I think Mommy kept a little piece of hot dog for you. What do you think of that, huh? You must be a pretty special little doggy!”
Bonkers bounced once more, then, as always, trotted over to the side door to wait for Genevieve. Mitch rinsed a few dishes, then stepped into the hall where he could get a good view of the driveway through the bedroom window.
Next to Frank’s Bug stood Rhonda and Genevieve, going through their usual drawn out routine of saying goodbye and discussing every possible aspect of how, when, where and why they might get together again, while Frank fiddled happily with the eight-track tape player under the dash. As Mitch watched, their neighbour Ron strolled up, waving a chubby hand.
Heavily bearded and thickly bespectacled, Ron was without a doubt the nicest, most annoying person you could ever wish to meet. Though generally friendly and helpful, the long-time resident of West Kildonan had apparently taken it upon himself to relentlessly patrol the neighbourhood in search of everything and anything which might pose a risk to the happy, peaceful citizens therein. As a result, running into him invariably led to either a long, breathless report on all the suspicious goings-on he had witnessed as of late, or a very intense, in-depth investigation into your recent activities, or usually both.
Happy to be inside while Ron was outside, Mitch turned and strode back into the kitchen to continue cleaning up. Not two minutes went by before he heard the distinctive growl of a vintage 1966 Bug engine running in all it’s glory. Surprised at how quickly the little driveway confab had ended, Mitch walked back into the hallway for a look. What he saw irritated him beyond belief.
Grinning like a fool, Frank was just stepping out of the car to join Ron and Rhonda, the former gesticulating rather energetically while the latter shrugged apologetically, pointing at her husband. Meanwhile Genevieve stepped back a few feet, fiddling with her oxygen tube. Mitch was sorely tempted to go get his wife, at the same time giving Frank shit for starting the engine while she was nearby. Come to think of it, it would probably also be a good time to tell Ron to mind his own fucking business. Fortunately the point quickly became moot as Rhonda and Frank entered the car, waving to Genevieve. Ron was apparently still talking as the car pulled away and Genevieve made her way to the house.
Shaking his head, Mitch once again entered the kitchen. Bonkers, who had remained sitting next to the door the whole time, now whined quietly as he heard Genevieve approaching.
“Alright, buddy, she’s coming,” Mitch said, smiling. “Just hang in there.”
A moment later his wife entered, much to the delight of the little dog, who bounced up and down repeatedly, his tail a fluffy white blur.
“Well hello my little boy!” Gen cooed, picking Bonkers up and holding him next to her face. “Oh, you should have seen who was out there! Uncle Ron, and he was mad!” Bonkers responded by licking her nose.
“So, looks like I missed a little excitement,” Mitch said, helping his wife with her oxygen tank as she dealt with Bonkers and his hyperactive licker.
“Oh, yeah,” she replied, giving her little boy one last hug before putting him down. “Ron was asking all kinds of questions about the Bug, and I guess Frank thought it would be funny to start it up for some reason.”
“Or maybe he was just trying to drown him out.”
“Yeah, maybe,” Genevieve said, laughing. “Or trying to make a quick getaway. But anyway, when that thing fired up and the exhaust starting pouring out, I guess Ron got a little alarmed, because he started talking really fast and waving his arms around and stuff.”
“Oh, man,” Mitch sighed. “What was he saying?”
“I’m not really sure. Obviously something about combustion engines and emissions, but I was trying to say goodbye to Rhonda, so I didn’t really catch much.”
“Oh, well, I’m sure we’ll hear all about it next time we see him.”
“Yes, I think that’s a pretty safe bet.”
Mitch frowned as Genevieve took a seat at the kitchen table. “Hmm …” he said, placing a hand on his stomach. “Speaking of emissions …”
“Mitch!” Genevieve exclaimed, scowling. “Bathroom!”
“Ok, ok!” he replied, scurrying away, “I’m going.”
“And turn on the fan!”
Mitch stepped into the tiny bathroom, then paused as he caught sight of the muddy tripod and camera bag lying in the tub. Damn. He had spent most of Saturday out at the wildlife reserve in Oak Hammock Marsh, and hadn’t yet gotten around to cleaning his equipment. He really didn’t feel like doing it at the moment, but he needed it for work tomorrow, so …
Well, he thought, first things first. Standing straight with hands on hips, Mitch took a deep breath and farted for all he was worth. Much relieved, he walked into the hall in search of a rag to wipe down his tripod.
“Oh my God, Mitch!” Genevieve moaned from the kitchen. “Light a match!”
He paused, quietly assessing the situation. “Wow, yeah,” he said under his breath, “that’s pretty bad.” Stepping back into the washroom, he grabbed a pack of matches, struck one, then blew it out and waved it around the room. A moment later he pulled out three more, and lit them all at once.
“Look Gen!” he said proudly, stepping into the kitchen with his collection of smoking matchsticks, “I lit up a whole bunch. We should be safe now.”
Before his wife could respond the smoke detector went off, filling the room with a deafening, high-pitched wail that sent Bonkers scurrying off with his tail between his legs.
“Look what you did!” Genevieve shouted, pushing herself up from the chair and grabbing her oxygen tank. “Shut it off!”
Mitch blinked, then quickly mounted a chair and snapped the cover off the offending device. A moment later all was quiet, save for the sound of Genevieve quietly coughing as she made her way upstairs.
Ah, fuck, he thought as he pushed the chair back to its spot at the table, I’m such an idiot. Sighing heavily, Mitch put the kettle on the stove and dug through the pantry in search of herbal tea. Genevieve would need his help loosening the mucus in her lungs, and it soothed her to drink something hot after being pummelled about the chest.
Bonkers trotted to the base of the stairs as Genevieve was gripped with a violent bout of smoke-induced hacking, then turned and watched Mitch. Was there the smallest hint of accusation in those little black eyes?
“Yeah, I know,” Mitch mumbled as Bonkers ran upstairs, “I know.”