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Good Days

"I have good days and bad days," the old man muttered.

No one paid any attention, because that's what everyone has. It was as if he said that he had arms and legs, or that he had in-breaths and out-breaths. Everyone has good days and bad days.

What matters is the number.

"How much did you get for your Sweet Sixteen?" Maura was chewing on the end of her bright blue hair again. Gertie wondered if she could taste the dye as it leached.

"My mom said it went straight into my college fund, so I don't really know. She says I'll find out later."

"I hear they're really expensive. I should have sold my quince, but I didn't know that was an option." Maura stepped around the old man without looking at him. The two girls kept up their brisk pace down the street, their boot heels making high clock-clock noises.

"Well, my mom's parents let her sell her nine and ten, but she said it was a big mistake. So I was surprised she let me sell my sixteen at all. But like, if I didn't, there's no way I'd go to college."

"Good days," the man called out again. He kept hitting the same two-note call over and over, like a bird that was born to make one sound to attract a mate. "Good days. Good days."

"Maybe I can sell my eighteen." Maura realized that her wet hair was either going to make a spot on her collar or stick to her neck, cold and slimy. She kept it in her mouth.

"No, don't do that! It'll be such a fun year, and you'll be away from home. If you don't get a job, sell twenty-three. Everybody sells that year, because it sucks so bad. People always buy it, too. It's not sixteen, but still. Good times." Gertie pushed the button for the crosswalk and heard the three low cochlear tones signifying her crossing into another city zone.

"Yeah, but you make way more selling a whole year at once than we do on these little deals," Maura said, trying not to whine.

On the other side of the street, the girls passed a wall of bills, posted over and overlapping each other, lining a temporary enclosure.

 

RATS: 6 GOOD WEEKS*

PIGEONS: 8-12 GOOD MONTHS

RACOONS: 5 GOOD WEEKS

KEEP YOUR CITY CLEAN AND YOUR WATCH FULL

PAID FOR BY THE SF CHRONOTHORITY

*all times listed are averages

 

"Have you ever seen a pigeon in San Francisco?" Maura cocked her pierced eyebrow at the signs.

Gertie asked, "What's a pigeon?"

The two girls laughed at the absurdity together.

"Good days!" The old man's cry was fading, dopplering out as the girls crossed another avenue. "Good days."

Teenage parties do not begin at 5:30 PM. The time that it was scheduled to start was as much a signal as everything else about it. It wasn't shared on Click; it was on Facebook. The encryption required to RSVP was pathetic. The location was a rented hall, not a house. Every kid who confirmed knew the score. They showed up dressed for a party, but ready to make money.

Gertie and Maura were the perfect kind of girls for this. Maura, with her bright blue plumage and her leather jacket over a short lace dress, looked like a girl who knew what she wanted and could probably help someone else figure their own desires out, too. Gertie was the other side of the halfpenny of male desire; a guileless-looking baby-face blonde with a fat pout and slim hips. They arrived at the door, giggling, arm in arm.

They weren't new to this, so they didn't even glance at the fiftyish crowd that lingered by the entrance, haggard in business suits and rumpled skirts, as hungry as wolves watching the herd driven in. The girls knew that looking at them could sour the deal. They looked at each other, they looked over their shoulders at the tousle-haired boys closing in fast, they exclaimed over the door as if behind it might be everything they ever wanted.

The organizer was skilled. The music was loud, but not too loud. Modern, but melodic; the kind of thing an older crowd wouldn't know but could get into. The lights were dim and pink-amber tinted rather than flashing or strobing. The room was mostly empty, but there were couches and benches in the shadows. The girls hit the bar and got sodas, passing their wrists over the reader to pay and surreptitiously entering in their good hours so the organizer could sell them as one block. They lounged and stole furtive glances. They exhibited excited ease.

When the room had filled in, there was some inaudible signal to crush the dance floor and they did, surging as if with one great rippling body. There were no friendships or relationships out on the cheap linoleum; they were a carefree commercial for possibility.

When the wolves were finally allowed to enter, they were welcomed into an idealized portrait of flushed youth. The writhing kids flaunted every freedom they had, whooping and tossing their shiny hair under the lights. The eyes of the graying beheld good times, and they began to salivate, to hunt.

The organizer had dressed in all black, with thick black framed glasses. He looked like the man in charge and so he was. The wolves sent a negotiator. The deal was done before the song had ended.

Black glasses prodded the DJ and got him to slide away from his tablet. The man in charge tapped the glass to mute the music and began to speak.

"Guys... hey guys, come on."

The dancing slowed and congealed as the kids began to whine and boo in the direction of the stage.

"Guys, I'm sorry to tell you this, but I sold the party."

"Oh, come on!" Feigning outrage is easy for teenagers.

"This always happens!" Eyes rolled, shoulders shrugged.

"Every time! Shit." The stomps of children, the swears of adults. The sacrifice is made.

Clicks went out from all over the room to the same effect, bemoaning that good parties never lasted anymore, and did anyone have coordinates on a rager in SF right now? The effect was encouraging, and the buyers enjoyed the little fillip of their unhappiness.

"Sorry, it's just too much money. You all get a refund, though."

'Refund' was their cue. The deal was made. Every right arm in the room went up into the air as one, as if they all had the same question to ask. Two high-pitched cochlear tones told them when funds were received. Their 'refunds' showed up as cover charge reversals, each of them earning a cut of the party. Seven low-pitched cotones answered back, docking the good hours from now until midnight, when the middle-aged partygoers would turn into sagging pumpkins again.

Grumbling and groaning, suddenly tired, the kids shuffled out. The adults took the dance floor, invigorated by snatching victory like candy from a gaggle of babies and irrepressible as their own cotones told them what their watches already knew. The night was theirs. Good time surged into them and they danced without getting sore. They made out and felt each other up without getting feelings, getting jealous. They did drugs knowing no ill would come of it. They went home late without guilt. Good time could feel like forever, even if it was just until midnight.

The DJ still had to earn his pay, so he went back to his glass screen.

Outside, the kids summoned transpo to take them home. In ones and twos they passed out watching shitty neuroline movies or listening to tinny music, curled into each other like congealed canned shrimp while the sun finished setting. They slept cold and crabby; they woke up tired with sore hips and knees. Bad time took longer to pass than good time; everybody knew that.

Gertie and Maura didn't want their folks alerted to what part of town they had been in, so they walked back toward BARTII and planned to loop from there.

They didn't talk. The air between them had soured with petty comparisons and old slights. Maura had her hair back in her mouth and Gertie was watching other people's Clicks behind her half-lidded eyes.

They passed the same old man, making his same weak call. "Good days. Good days. Good days." Tweet-tweet.

Maura spit out her hair and looked at the man, thinking of how cold it would be tonight. Maybe rain. She thought about what she would do if she had to sleep outside.

She ran her wrist over his and gave him a few credits. He looked up at her with surprise at the unexpected kindness.

"Thank you! Miss, if you've got five of those, I can sleep somewhere warm tonight, and you can have every good day I've got left."

Maura looked at the lowering sky overhead and shrugged.

"Come on," Gertie whined. "If we miss this train, we wait eighteen minutes."

Maura swiped her wrist again and heard her cotones hit a long trill.

The old man hustled off with a hitch like his knees hurt him. Gertie made a mean face at his back.

Maura watched him go and Clicked a screenshot of her account over to Gertie. It read: that guy had more good days left than he thought.

Gertie Clicked back a gif of a cartoon bird shrugging its shoulders and smirking, its yellow wise-cracking beak cocked to one side. The bird was a pigeon.

The girls slept in a single egg-shaped train module to save more of the money they had made that night. They didn't dream. The old man curled deep into a rented tube and slept through his last good night.

About the Author
Meg Elison is the author of THE BOOK OF THE UNNAMED MIDWIFE, Tiptree recommendation, Audie Award nominee and winner of the Philip K. Dick Award. Her sequel, THE BOOK OF ETTA, was published in February 2017. She has also been published in McSweeney's, Catapult, Compelling Science Fiction, Terraform, and many other places. Elison is a high school dropout and a graduate of UC Berkeley. You can find her online at megelison.com or on Twitter @megelison
Background image by ESO/IDA/Danish 1.5 m/R.Gendler, J-E. Ovaldsen, C. Thöne, and C. Feron.
http://www.eso.org/public/images/etamosaicnm2/, CC BY 4.0, Link