Rhonda twirled the dial of the pay telephone, catching it and spinning it around again before the first rotation had finished its return. She held the receiver to the clear, plastic helmet that sat like a goldfish bowl over her head and waited. Smoke slinked out from an opening at the bottom of the helmet as she exhaled from her cigarette holder that stuck out of the outfit through a small hole. Finally, Rhonda heard a fuzzy ringing come from the receiver, muffled by the plastic barrier between them. She flicked the antenna on top of the helmet and sound filled the bubble.
“Hello? Who is this?” it demanded. Rhonda could hear the shuffling of papers and “Not now, Shirley, for God’s sake, can’t you see that I am on the phone?” in the background. Rhonda thought of her issue of The Good Housewife, took in a deep breath and continued.
“Darling, it’s me. I wanted to let you know that I’m on my way home to make Christmas Eve dinner and clean the house to prepare for the guests.”
“Pick up a gallon of water while you’re at it. We can’t trust the tap water now that the Communists have contaminated it with fluoride. Boy, do I hate Communists.” He chuckled and then added, “That one’s for you out there at the Telecommunication Security Offices.” A foreign voice cut into the line.
“You’re a hoot, Bobby. Oh, and fix your tie. It’s askew.”
“You sure can see everything from out there, Larry.” At this point, Rhonda had put the phone back on its hook and left the telephone booth.
Rhonda walked down the street with a gallon of water in each hand, making her way pointedly past the teleportation booth. Hurrying on her way, she bumped into another helmeted citizen, a tall man in a cloak he seemed uncomfortable in.
“Hello, Rhonda. Funny weather we’ve been having,” he said. Rhonda rolled her eyes, and the man smiled a little. “Not one snowflake on Christmas Eve. Here, I have a recipe for you from my wife.” He reached into his coat pocket, looked both ways and slipped her a slim pamphlet. Rhonda tucked it away without looking at it, though she knew what it was just as much as she knew that this man did not have a wife.
“I never read them, Roger,” she admitted.
“Then why do you bump into me every single day?”
“Because you idle in the same place every single day.”
“Touché,” When he saw her confusion, he added, “Dead language. Don’t worry your brilliant little mind over it.” He looked her in the eye and smiled. “Now, I’m afraid we must part.” He pulled another pamphlet from his pocket and dropped it, then knelt over and scanned the crowd. Rhonda watched him make eye contact with a man, pick up the pamphlet, then run after him. “Sir, I think you dropped this.”
Rhonda sat down on the plastic-covered sofa in the living room and took out the pamphlet. She opened it to large red letters plastered over the top: “The Daily Laborer.” Thumbing through it, she flipped on the radio idly.
“That was ‘Silent Night,’ folks. Ah, Christmas carols. Now that’s one thing they don’t have, isn’t it, Roy?”
“One thing that who doesn’t have, Ray?” Roy replied, perhaps a bit too emphatically.
“The Communists, Roy!”
“That’s right! I sure as heck wouldn’t want to be one of them on this Christmas Eve, no siree! And you know what’s another thing they don’t have, Ray?”
“What’s that, Roy?”
“A brand new A Toast to You! Deluxe Toaster 5000! It really works! Use your antennae to radio in your orders now! That’s all for this program, and remember to light those fires in your fireplaces tonight to keep the Man in Red from shimmying down your chimneys and infiltrating your households! Know the color, choose another.”
Rhonda turned down the dial of the radio and barely had time to slip the pamphlet safely under the television set when her husband burst through the door. “Hey, honey, I’m home.” He halted and stared at her in consternation. “Whatever are you doing out of the kitchen?”
“Um, I was just trimming the tree, doesn’t it look spectacular?” she asked, gesturing to the aluminum Christmas tree that stood in the corner, made blinding by endless garlands of tinsel and numerous plastic baubles.
“That’s wonderful, but the Lobster Thermidor isn’t going to cook itself, you know. And clean up around here a bit,” he said, spilling his briefcase onto the coffee table. “The Smiths will be here in just an hour!” Rhonda began gathering the papers and inwardly sighed.
Rita Smith’s platinum blonde hair shone brighter than the lit-up aluminum tree. “I brought this over for you,” she said and pushed the dish she was carrying into Rhonda’s hands. Rhonda looked down on a sizeable, gently browned swirl of meringue. “Baked Alaska,” Rita whispered loudly. Rhonda looked to the table where her small, dejected-looking pineapple upside-down cake rested, thought again to The Good Housewife issue, and smiled widely.
“I’ll just put it right over here, Rita. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to check on the dinner.” She excused herself to the kitchen and began to stuff the lobster tails, meanwhile listening to the lilting conversation over the revived radio.
“Tell us Mr. Joe Smith, what’s the news, since you’re so in orbit,” her husband said.
Mr. Smith lit up animatedly, stumbling over his words as he delivered the gossip. “Well, right now—did you know?—films are actually being made to craftily glorify Communism and—get this—are being piped right into your living room via your TV set! You are letting Reds in through your very own television, Bobby!”
“Well,” Bobby chuckled, “let’s have some entertainment! Let’s just vaporize the vile thing right now, once and for all!” He immediately produced a small gun from his belt and blasted the television set. Rhonda ran into the living room at the sound, but it was too late. Surfacing through the smoke was the bold red lettering of the pamphlet that had been stowed under the television set.
“The Daily..,” read Bobby aloud. He read the last word in silence, the gun fell from his grasp, his hand covering his mouth in horror. “Rhonda..,” he whispered and looked to Joe, whose jaw had dropped, and to Rita, who had her hands over her helmet and was whimpering softly. “Do you have any idea of how you have put my life in danger?” roared Bobby suddenly. “Did it ever run through your pathetic, empty mind…”
“My mind is brilliant,” Rhonda hissed as she spun her heels on the linoleum and dashed out the doorway, slamming the door behind her. Outside in the starless night, she threw her pumps into the manicured grass and made for the white gate. There was the sound of a blast and a plastic flamingo figurine disappeared beside her. She looked over her shoulder to see her husband throwing the door open, one hand clutching the gun and the other waving the pamphlet at her. She could tell he was screaming, but his words were obscured by the static that filled her helmet, funneled in through her antenna from the dark, cloudy skies. He was running at her now, waving the gun, waving the pamphlet. She sought a button on her helmet, a small, red button, pressed it, drew in a breath, and screamed.
“COMMUNIST!” she shrieked, throwing an accusing finger in his direction. Columns of bright, white light shot from the sky and fixed themselves on her husband. He stood frozen, the pamphlet still clutched in his hand.
“Evidence confirmed,” came a voice from the sky.
“You have all gone insane!” her husband bellowed, “This isn’t mine! I’m a Citizen!”
“You’re a hoot, Bobby,” came the voice. “Oh, and fix your tie. It’s askew.”
Rhonda turned and ran when they began to suction her husband up to the hovering machines. She ran in her stocking feet, past so many repeated images of her own house. Soon, the city broke the monotony of the suburbs, and Rhonda ran through the empty urban streets until she found the avenue she was looking for, deserted save for one man. Gasping for breath, she pushed her way into his shoulder.
“Rhonda!” He jumped slightly, nearly spilling the pamphlets he was sorting. Rushing to her, he clasped her hands within his. “You got the note! In the pamphlet! I worked so hard to encrypt it, and…” He stopped when he saw her confused face and released her hands, looking to the ground. “You didn’t get it, did you?”
“I told you I never read them.” She paused. “What did it say?”
“Well it’s a lot harder to explain aloud, if it’s even safe to. You know what, never mind, it’s impossible.” He sighed. “Long story short, I’m an undesirable, you’re a Citizen’s wife…”
“Neither of those is a true statement anymore,” Rhonda said as she put her arms around him, while he in turn put his arms around her. The dark clouds had descended from the sky and enveloped the city, muffling all sound, even suffocating the static in the helmets. They kissed then, their plastic helmets clunking softly together, one with an antenna, the other with spiraled wire, the both glowing brightly together in the still of the night.
About The Author
Luisa Barbano lives in Rhinebeck, New York, where she is a bookseller at the local independent bookstore, Oblong Books. She also does library work at the neighboring Bard College, from which she graduated with a degree in Medieval Studies.
The pandemic has given her time to pursue her writing, and she is working on preparing a medievalism-infused memoir manuscript for publication.
You can get in touch with Luisa through Facebook, at https://www.facebook.com/luisa.barbano.