Gareth shouldn’t have looked at the waiting room magazines. It was as if every cover was designed to provoke him.
Just ignore them. But this was easier said than done. A young woman sitting across the waiting room picked one up, and the images flashed back into Gareth’s mind. Pictures of students yelling into microphones, of tear gas sailing in mid-air, and of young people dragging long, drooping banners across hot summer asphalt. Each year it seemed that more and more were organizing to fight the uppercities. And yet each year nothing changed.
Gareth closed his eyes and focused on the comfort of his padded chair. He, of course, agreed that money should be redistributed. He’d spent his whole life operating crane lifts and was no stranger to hard work and equal pay. No one had the right to hoard wealth away from the rest. Anyone who did was a soft, over-privileged hog.
So does that mean I’ve become one? Gareth couldn’t stop the thought from forming. Time had passed, and after many years of saving and dumping earnings into AI-run mutual funds, it was he who was sitting in the penthouse floor of a skyscraper, waiting for his girlfriend to emerge from the plastic surgeon’s office. It was he who catered to her every expensive whim, just like he had the woman before her, as a means of showing his affection. It was he who had purchased Honda’s latest X-Series Aerius, just so he could avoid using elevators.
Isn’t this the life you would have spit on? Isn’t this the point where you go toss money off the nearest scaffolding? The magazine covers glared at him.
Gareth’s hands massaged his face. He took a couple breaths and then turned to his watch. Although it was pricey enough to trade in for a car, the accessory offered clean, stress-relieving distraction.
It was a Fauna-Watch. Which meant that beneath its clock-face, a tiny colony of arachnids propelled the minute and hour hands. The undulation of the little critters as they crawled offered the same soothing experience as watching the waves lap across the ocean.
Gareth exhaled. I’m not at fault here. I’m no policy-maker. He may have been made foreman at his construction company, which gave him enough money to live a life with comfort and companionship, but there were still CO’s, vice-chairpersons, and all the bureaucracy above Gareth that scooped up the profits. If the youth wanted to reset society, they would have to start with the apex hogs, not middlemen like him. No one would care if I renounced my earnings. It wouldn’t make a difference.
Gareth tilted his hand and watched as the sea of clockmites clambered over each other like grains of sand. He enjoyed the accessory; it solidified his sense of control. He had real ownership of these tiny lives, and they returned the favour by granting him time.
It was four thirty. The wait had been too long. Celine should have emerged by now with cheekbones pointier than the Chrysler building. What was the holdup?
As he watched a patient leave with bandages completely obscuring their face, he wondered if his current girlfriend had perhaps snuck by, using gauze as a disguise. Theoretically she could reach his car, turn on the autopilot, and cruise home without so much as a wave.
No, she wouldn’t do that. He was projecting too much from his ex before Celine, and the ex before that. He should stop thinking so pessimistically. Celine is sensible.
The clockmites were leaping from three to half past six, trying to avoid the hour hand that Gareth was absent-mindedly tweaking. By adjusting the dial, he could send bugs scampering to and fro across their little plain. Run along now. Look out. Time is changing.
After a few more playful adjustments, Gareth realized he had killed around half of the little creatures, so he forced himself to stop. How much longer am I supposed to wait?
He willed himself not to look below his shoulders, avoiding the table of magazines. The attendant at the reception seemed to share his boredom, staring lifelessly at her screen. The clock beside her was evidently running slightly ahead. Or was his now slightly behind?
Gareth returned to his surviving clockmites, who were eating their dead comrades. The minute and second hands had stopped moving. Oh great, now what have I done?
He tapped the glass to rouse the bugs, causing miniscule earthquakes. The clockmites folded their legs and rolled, behaving no differently from their fallen cohorts. Oh come on. What is this? Malingering?
Frustrated, and not looking forward to buying replacement Fauna, Gareth rose from his chair. He approached the front desk.
“Excuse me, I’ve been waiting for my partner for over an hour now. She was supposed to be finished around three.”
The receptionist wordlessly swiped a screen and made a few taps. “Stilton, Celine?”
“It says here she left forty minutes ago.”
“I have her receipt and signa-”
Gareth stormed back to the atrium, searching for the balcony where he’d parked his floating Honda. On the way he came across a patient walking and reading, actually reading one of those protest magazines. Gareth almost knocked him down.
He reached the balustrade that led down to the vehicles and stared across the heights of the city. Where his X-Series should have been hovering was now an open space, lights and traffic swimming below.
Goddamnit Celine. He could think of a dozen reasons why she might be upset, but none of them justified him having to take a cab like a beggar. A growl escaped his teeth.
There weren’t any taxis parked next to him, and the sky shone, devoid of their colour. What time is it? Isn’t this supposed to be rush hour?
He checked his watch again, only to find the clockmites frozen, unwilling to move. He tore the strap off and tossed the piece of trash down to the bottom-dwellers where it belonged.