Be Fit or Be Fined
by Ásgrímur Hartmannsson
The terrible flesh-eating bacteria had swept the land yet another year. Magga worried about that as she sat on the bus and listened to the news, and for good reason; the bacteria had eaten her husband two years earlier. It was quick. It was so bad they wouldn’t let her see his body afterwards. And now she was alone with the kids.
“Scientists have yet been unable to find a cure for the illness, which is always lethal,” said the news anchor, and finished as usual with the daily bodycount:
“A hundred and fifty-four have died from the illness so far this year.”
Magga smiled to the other passengers on the bus.
“This is simply terrible,” said the man sitting in front of her, “this bacteria, I mean. And it has been raging for so long. You would think in these advanced times, that they’d have developed a cure for it long ago.”
“It mutates so rapidly,” said Magga.
“Nonsense,” said the man.
“It’s true, I have read up about it,” said Magga, and she continued: “I did a lot of reading about the bacteria after my husband caught it and died; I found all the information I could about it. But they will find a cure, I’m sure of it.”
“They should have done so a long time ago,” mumbled the man, irritated, looking somewhere else.
The bus stopped near the gym. Magga stepped out, and walked in. It was time to build up some muscles and strengthen the circulatory system. Magga smiled to the guy at the reception. He was neat, tidy and muscular.
He smiled back at her as he took her card. “It’s about time to renew this one,” he said, having looked at the card.
“It is still valid for another week,” said Magga, retrieving the card. She looked at the little sticker on the reception stall glass. It said: “Attention: the fine for not showing up for physical excercise is 15.000 kr, and rises 1000 kr. after that daily. All fines under 20.000 kr. can be paid at your local gym.”
“I can cheat you in until next Wednesday,” the man said, smiling, “but you’ll need to have a new card after that. You understand, the documents need to be correct; we don’t want to fine you for not having the correct documents, you who come here so often. They are so tough on us over the details these days, you know.”
“I know, but if we allow the small sins, they just pave way for the bigger sins later on,” said Magga and smiled back, before she went to the locker rooms.
The world was good, everybody was healthy and feeling fantastic, except those few who had caught the terrible bacteria, and a few fat people. But they were barred from leaving their houses for fear of infection. For some reason, obese people more commonly caught the bug. Hardly a week passed that Magga didn’t see men in white overalls carrying a noticeably rotund bag with the earthly remains of some unlucky overeater. They sprayed poison all around, and it could take up to a week to disinfect their apartments.
Magga did in fact see them carry one such off on her way home. The other passengers pretended not to see, but their eyes all jumped from one to another. The bus went on, and the cleaning gang was soon out of sight.
At the next stop, Magga rose up to prepare for receiving the children. She could not see them immediately when the bus arrived at the stop, and looked around for a better view. She was beginning to worry a bit when she remembered that her friend Thöll had promised to get them for her.
The company she worked for had allotted her a car, and she could run errands with it within reasonable limits. “Fuel is both expensive and edible and shall thus be used carefully,” it was said. “You never know if you’ll need to drink it to stay alive.”
Magga had seen and heard many horror stories of such from people she knew and from the Internet. People had somehow gotten their car stuck in the far wild, on top of a mountain or some such, and had to save themselves by opening the fuel tank and drinking the fat. It didn’t taste good. It was stale and smelled horrid.
Most had tasted it, but most also didn’t try subsisting on it, though it was said to be nutritious and wholesome apart from the few chemicals that were in it to keep it free-flowing.
Magga jumped out of the bus not far from the shop where she bought materials for dinner: some fish, salad, potatoes, two pots of milk and some fruit for the kids. She bought a bit more fish than usual to be able to offer Thöll as compensation for her troubles, and was very happy with herself for remembering.
There were a few people out and about, most walking for their health, but a few seemed to be running errands. Magga smiled at them, and they smiled back. The birds sang and the flies buzzed around the flowers in the setting sun.
Magga hurried to her apartment and met Thöll and the children, as she expected. The kids were watching “The Fruit People,” but Thöll was speaking to someone over the phone. She hurried to say goodbye when she saw that Magga had entered. It only took her five minutes. By that time Magga had already begun steaming the fish, and couldn’t be bothered with some ranting by Thöll about how she had her own food back home.
“What, you live alone and can eat with us once,” Magga told her as she handed her the vegetables. “Can you mix some salad for me?”
Thöll agreed to that. Magga went away for a while. When she returned, she turned off the TV.
“Why’d you turn it off?” asked Thöll. “The news is about to start.”
“I don’t want to watch the news; it’s depressing. It’s always the same anyway: how many died from the bacteria this week. I don’t need to hear that.”
“I understand,” said Thöll. “Terrible, this bacteria.” Thöll couldn’t stop thinking about the bacteria now. It had her whole mind, and she couldn’t not talk about it. “Engilblídh, on the floor above, died from the bacteria last week,” she said while she ripped the salad.
“Oh no,” said Magga, “she was so young.”
“The bacteria only infects young people,” said Thöll. “She was healthy one day, then all of a sudden: dead. The bacteria was so quick to make her all unrecognizeable that it was amazing. If not for the dental records...”
Magga bowed her head and sighed.
“Then her body was carted off and burned the same day.”
“Terrible,” said Magga.
“Yes, simply horrid. We all had to go through a thorough check,” said Thöll, “everybody in the building.”
“Yes, you told me about that,” said Magga.
“I did?” asked Thöll.
“I can recall, yes,” said Magga.
“Her apartment was in quarantine for three days.”
“It was? Who lives there now?”
“Some couple, I’ve not been acquainted with them yet,” said Thöll. “They don’t know about this.”
“Don’t you go tell them about it then,” said Magga. “You’ll just scare them and give them unecessary worries.”
“I think the fish is ready,” said Thöll, changing the subject.
Magga called the children, and they all came and had dinner. After dinner, they had some fruit for dessert and relaxed in front of the TV.
Of course TV only showed heartwarming and productive material. There was an old black & white movie from between the world wars.
“Look how people in those old films always motion their fingers to their mouth every now and again?” said Magga. “What strange tic it is they all share.”
“I know what this is,” said Thöll. “A friend of mine once told me, but you cannot tell anyone; people might try to repeat it if you do, and then it would be traced back to him through us,” she added, in a serious tone.
Magga nodded with excitement.
“He works at reviewing old material like that. He tells me they spend a lot of time removing all references to and evidence of narcotics.”
“Yes, people used to use a lot of narcotics back in the old days. That’s not all orange juice they are drinking, you know,” said Thöll.
“My friend tells me it was paint thinner,” said Thöll.
“That’s what I said, too.”
“But why do they always move their hands to their mouth like that? Because they are drinking thinner?” asked Magga.
“No, they are holding some tubes filled with a sort of weed that was set alight and would smoulder, and they inhaled the smoke. Of course, the tube and the smoke have been digitally removed,” said Thöll.
“Of course,” said Magga, nodding.
“They also ate red meat,” said Thöll.
“Ha? What do you say?”
“From sheep and cows and that sort of thing.”
“Like at the petting zoo?”
“Just the same,” said Thöll.
Magga swallowed at the horror. “I have never heard of such a thing before. I thought only lions and wolves ate red meat.”
“My friend tells me this is true,” said Thöll. “He says people become very fat from eating red meat. He says that his friends say that the government thinks that the bacteria is transmitted to people from red meat they have somehow gotten hold of illegally.”
“Don’t say that,” said Magga and stared at her friend with eyes so wide open that Thöll was scared they might pop out.
Magga was so perturbed that she couldn’t sleep until late into the morning. Terrible dreams followed, where she saw her husband sneak into the petting zoo in the night in cahoots with the night watchman, and sneak into the sties... Magga woke up in cold sweat before it went any further.
It was still dark outside, but she dared not go to sleep again. To ease her mind, she made a list of things she needed to do the following day. She read it over and edited it, wrote it up clean three times and was getting pretty satisfied with it when her daughter showed up to get her breakfast.
Copyright © 2018 by Ásgrímur Hartmannsson