Post-Scarcity Love, by Jake Buckholz
A quick author's note: The word "ze" is a neutral pronoun that can be applied to anyone.
A sunlit, red gravel road, coarse with small stones and pitted with holes, snaked across pastureland and down into the crags of a creek before coming out on the other side amongst a forest of cedar and oak. Not but three or four feet wide, it ran for countless miles, splitting and forking as it went, spawning paths smaller and smaller yet until each petered out at some destination. All along it, berry bushes were planted and a garden of small trees with flowers that smelled of grape soda ran its borders. The young canopy, all of nine feet lifted, formed pockets of shade in which travelers on lazy errands would stop and picnic. Famous in the area was a sweet, berry wine, flavored with the grape soda flowers which were said to give the drink a mild hallucinogenic effect. At the very least, few would claim that their post-picnic wine naps did not come jam-packed with vivid and lucid dreams.
Em carried a basket down the path, wearing a periwinkle sundress in the warm morning and a felt hat which sloped largely to the left. In the basket, amongst other things, ze carried freshly baked cookies, a bottle of wine, a blanket, and a few sandwiches.
Somewhere beyond the berry-lined path, the faint hum of far away machines.
A breeze brushed across the path, but a jelly heat hung in the air and Em began to daydream about a certain spot a little further ahead: a small knoll of soft grass tucked into a grove of pecan trees. A place perfect for a glass of wine and to nap away the heaviest part of the afternoon. Afterwards, a dip in the creek to clear the mind, and then onwards, to the huge grey dog and its owner for whom Em had baked the cookies. If things went well, ze would arrive at the small bungalow shortly before dinner time.
The deep hum of the machines in the valley went ever on, a comforting bedrock in the perpetually unpredictable soundscape; a constant reminder of the life the previous generation had fought so hard for. Over the top of the hum, rising and falling, coming and going according to the whims of some cosmic conductor: birdsong, insect screech, leaves a-rustlin’, and the lovely repetitive crunch of boots against gravel.
Along the path, from the opposite direction, came Yahtz, an old lover of Em’s parents. A tiny thing with long, thin forearms and fingers that reached gracefully across swaths of piano keys.
“Hello, my dear.” Sunburnt nose, teeth a bit pink, and eyes not quite focused. Em guessed ze’d just taken a wine break. Ze looked well though. Healthy. The usual heavy brown beard was becoming peppered with grey.
“Good afternoon! Nice to see you.”
“Always. Going to the creek for a swim?”
“Oh,” ze announced, interest perked, having a bit of a bad habit as a gossip. “Wouldn’t be paying a visit to ol’ you-know-who, would you?” a bad habit as a gossip and an incredible ability for reading situations, a dangerous combo.
Em looked away.
“Just bringing some bread to a friend.”
“Of course,” ze said, dropping the pretense of teasing. “It is a lovely day for a walk anyhow. Watch out up ahead, I took out a whole mess of spiderwebs with my face. Should be clear now.”
“Guess you were the first to pass through,” Em said with a laugh.
“Or the tallest. On second thought, you would have passed right under. Well, I won’t keep you. Good to see you, Em .”
“You too, Yahtz.”
They smiled at each other and returned to their original trajectories.
Walking, Em’s thoughts turned to memories of the past. Yahtz had taken up with Em’s parents sometime in their childhood and all four of them used to go for long walks much like this one, sometimes out to the valley where they liked to watch the machines.
“Incredible, isn’t it?” the adults would say in a breathy voice. “Machines to do everything. Even machines to fix the machines that fix the machines. And here we are. Just living. What a life.”
When Em reached the pecan grove where ze’d been planning on taking lunch, ze found Toon and Nori making love in the grass. Em lingered around the base of one of the larger trees, pretending to search the area for fallen pecans, allowing them to finish up. Shortly, they did, and both lay on their backs in the grass, panting and laughing over something.
“You can come out now,” Nori called. Em did. They were both naked, slowly shrinking penises slung across their upper thighs as they lay, faces directed up towards the sky filtering in through the green thatchwork ceiling.
“Want some wine?” Em asked, sitting down and opening the basket.
“No thanks,” Nori laughed. “I think I’ve had enough for now. I was starting to see double.”
“You just wish there were two of me,” Toon said and placed a hand on Nori’s hairy
chest as ze pushed themselves up into more of a sitting position. Nori seemed to mull over that thought and sort of drifted away wearing a sloppy smile.
“I will take a glass. Just a small one.”
“Sorry, no glasses,” Em said and offered the bottle.
“You animal,” Toon teased, accepting it and taking a sip. A drip escaped and ran down their chin, leaving a red slug trail behind it before dropping off onto the ground.
“I didn’t want them to break.”
“What are you doing out here?” Toon asked. “Thank you, by the way, sweetie.”
“Just going for a walk.
“Oh! How’s your painting coming along?”
“The one you were showing me last time I was over. What was it called? That one with the fish.”
“Oh yeah, that one. I finished it actually. It’s hanging at Lucio Flores’.”
“Is it really? I was just there yesterday.”
“It’s in that back room with the library.”
“Ah, that makes sense. I never go back there, but I will next time,” Toon added.
“Yeah, check it out when you get the chance,” Em waved it off. “What are you two up to today?”
“Oh, you know,” Nori gestured widely from the grass, “drinking and fucking in the woods.” At this, all three laughed.
“Do you want to join?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well we’re already drinking.”
Em laughed again. The wine was taking effect. “Maybe on another day. I’ve got to be somewhere today.” Em removed one of the apple slice and hazelnut spread sandwiches from the basket and took a bite. The pecan grove was full of life that had, until just then, gone unnoticed. There were small flowers amidst the grass and bees darting about them, several species of birds calling from the trees, a few butterflies floating up on the breeze like loose dandelions. A fat squirrel gathered pecans nervously.
The three young humans sat quietly, passing the wine amongst themselves leisurely. And Em ate two sandwiches and had two glasses worth of wine.
Feeling full, warm, and winey, Em laid down with Nori and Toon. The flowers were blooming in Em’s brain and making things very elvish and lovely. It felt as if some small pressure hugged Em’s body to the ground and shortly they were all three snoozing lightly and Em dreamt in purple.
Approaching the creek, Em felt quite groovy. The sun had been parked at its hottest during the nap, but when ze awoke, it had snuck down a bit, going west and taking with it much of the heat. Em left the path to follow the creek bed to one of the best swimming holes ze knew of. The clear water ran cooly over its pebbled bed and Em removed the boots from their feet and walked along it barefoot. At the swimming hole, the periwinkle dress came off and Em jumped from a rock in nothing but watermelonsmooth skin. The pool of water accepted their falling form with a galloooop as ze sunk into an inverted mushroom cloud and beneath the once calm surface. Em let the current do its work for a bit before surfacing, which ze did face first, head cocked at an angle so that long hair would trail behind instead of all around their head. Instinctively, a hand shot up to run through the wet strands as Em slowly kicked their way to the edge of the pool where it wasn’t so deep and ze could stand.
A few sunbathing turtles watched warily before plopping like stones into the water and disappearing. Em crossed the creek to a little pebble island and sat on the shore to soak in the sun. The cold water had shocked the last of the wine drunk out and ze felt clear and sober, and once again sleepy. And there ze slept, naked as any other woodland creature, body sunk into bodyshape indention in the loose, warm pebbles. It was a short, light nap, and Em’s flower-addled mind skimmed the surface of dreams as a seabird does water with its talons.
Awakening, some minutes later, Em sat up and looked around. Small pebbles clung to the soft skin along their back, sleepy lover’s fingers, not wanting to let go/not wanting to get up. Em brushed them off gently and they fell, meeting their likeness with small clinks. Ze crossed the creek at a shallow section that didn’t get deeper than kneedepth, and then the dress came back on and Em placed the hat on their head and returned to the path.
A bicycle pulling a small trailer approached and the rider waved from afar.
“Sun tea?” asked the cyclist.
The cyclist hopped off their ride and went around to the little trailer and opened a lid to reveal a small bounty of jarred iced tea.
“Here you go,” ze said, handing a jar over.
“Hey, thanks a lot!” Em smiled.
“I made it myself. It’s sweetened with honeysuckle and jasmine.”
“It’s delicious. Would you like a sandwich?”
“I would love a sandwich.”
“It’s hazelnut and apple on an english muffin.”
The cyclist took a large bite, consuming half the sandwich in one go. Em stood and sipped the tea. A small herd of deer grazed out in the field beyond the path. They kept cautious eyes on their surroundings. With another huge bite, the cyclist finished the sandwich.
“Wow,” ze exclaimed. “That was good.”
“That’s a pretty bike.”
“I thought so. I picked it up at the bike library over yonder.”
“Are there any more with trailers like that?”
“There were a couple.”
The cyclist had mounted their bike and was riding in lazy, arching circles around Em. Ze thought a bike sounded like fun and decided to stop by the community shed to pick one up for the rest of the journey.
“Well thanks for the tea,” ze waved and the cyclist smiled. On the next loop, Em straightened out and went rattling down the path towards the creek with the cooler trailing behind, jars there within clinking like glass bells.
When Em entered the shed, a few volunteers were leading a demonstration on bike maintenance for a small crowd. They had a bike propped up on a stand and were walking through the basic mechanics of the gears.
“Welcome. Are you here for the seminar?”
“Not today. Just need a bike.”
“Xoe, want to take over?”
Xoe stepped forward as the other came over to help out Em.
“What are you in the market for?”
“Just a bike that can hold my basket and get me where I’m going.”
“What are you, about 158 centimeters?”
“Hey, you’re pretty good.”
“It’s a gift. Well this one right here should do you right. It’s got everything you need to get you wherever you want to go, no more, no less, and a rack on the back to strap on your basket.”
Em waved the small silver bracelet ze wore across the face of one of the screens. When it beeped, Em’s profile appeared on a holographic screen.
“One bicycle for Em ,” the volunteer read off as ze filled in the information. “How long were you wanting to keep it?”
“Probably just the day.”
“Alright, well if you fall in love and want to keep it longer, just give us a call.”
“Alright, well enjoy. The seminar’s going for another hour if you want to learn a little about maintenance. There’s some beer and cool people.”
“Sounds fun, but I’m meeting a friend for dinner.”
Em rode out of the shop on the new bike and returned to the trail. The sun was beginning to dip down beyond the distant hills and a cool breeze carried the smells of grape soda. With their bike, Em entered the old oak forest in twilight. Lightning bugs flickered like dying neon as the day creatures crept into their holes to sleep and hide from the night creatures. It wasn’t far now. Within half an hour, Em would be arriving in that small complex of bungalows to knock on the big red door. Without anxiety, ze pushed forward. The bike crunched through the gravel, a fan of light illuminated the path from the handlebars as the solar lights in the trees came on, their glow slightly greened by the chlorophyll which powered them.
Shortly, Em reached the community ze’d set out for. The people were out in the cool evening air listening to an orator. Em was drawn into the crowd by the powerful voice.
“The rich were like a drowning dog, I tell you. I don’t know if any of you have ever seen a dog in a panic, but all the training goes out of them. And a dog drowning will climb up on anything or anyone to get themselves out of the water. Now, that was the Worker, a swimmer in the water with the drowning dog. The dog could only keep itself from drowning by climbing on top of the swimmer and thereby pushing them down under the surface. This gave the Worker only three choices:
“One: let the dog drown them after which the dog would drown as well.
“Two: try to calm the dog and both survive.
“Three: kill the dog to save themselves.
“Two sounds like the preferable answer, right? but have you ever tried to reason with a panicked dog? It’s impossible, I tell you. No, there were only two choices. The dog had to be killed so that one could live. Those were dark times. Only a few of us remember. I remember. No one wants to kill a dog, but it was the only choice. And look at us now. Look at what we have built!”
Em wandered away from the crowd and the familiar story, and found the house with the red door and gave it a knock. Out there in the valley, the machines continued through the night, and, somewhere beyond that, a drowned dog lay in its unforgotten grave.