Friday, April 22, 2016

Flash Fiction Friday - The Price of Oranges

"Disgusting, isn't it?"

Just a vignette today, with commentary beneath. There will be more on this later.
"The Price of Oranges"
by Leonard C Suskin

Like a slap across the back of my aching hands, the her voice jarred me to sudden attention, my back painfully snapping straight. I nearly dropped the object of her scorn: a peeled orange packed in clear plastic.

The stranger pointed her cell phone at the thing, snapped a snap of it. "I didn't even think this madness was real. How stupid and wasteful can people be? Right?"

She didn't seem to expect more than the mumblenodnodshrug I gave him as I held the thing awkwardly, my face a mask of the disdain I didn't feel. I casually set it aside, made a show of inspecting apples, turning each over and over, inspecting for bruises until the muscles in my hands and forearms burned. Who am I kidding? They were already burning when I started.

They always burn.

When he was safely around the corner to the dairy aisle I reclaimed my orange, stowing it discreetly beneath an economy-sized back of prewashed spinach that I didn't particularly want. And then slowly follow him to the dairy aisle, taking two half-gallon cartons to her single gallon. 

"The gallon's cheaper. Wasteful to get to halves".

I knew this. I remembered the last full gallon I'd bought, remembered the struggle each morning until it was half-empty. The mornings I skipped coffee because my wrist hurt too much to lift the gallon container.

I knew I was too pathetic to deserve the ten cents a gallon savings.

My shadow followed me the rest of the trip, saw everything. Gave me a withering look when I stopped to examine a bag of frozen peas, letting the cool plastic rest against the back of my hand for a long time as I pretended to read the label.

Some days she'll go away if I focus hard enough on the background music, on the sounds of my footfalls on the hard tile floor, on adding my current expenses in my head like a mantra. Today is not one of those days. Today she's there with me, every step, every breath. Focused on the damn orange.

When we get to the checkout, the cashier gives the little packaged orange a withering, hateful look, starts to say something as she rings it up but stops. My shadow is gone now, off to nowhere in particular. Just me and the cashier and my big bag of camouflage spinach and my orange and my two half-gallons of milk. And the other stuff. I waited while the cashier bagged my stuff, making the bags too heavy and putting the soft squishable things on the bottom. They're never good at this.

Next time I'll skip the damn orange. I'll just buy a bag of chips and nobody will say anything.

Perhaps I'll skip the milk too. Maybe that will be enough to have my shadow leave me alone for once.

As I said, just a slice of life vignette. There was going to be an overt SF element herein about the spread of a smartphone "shaming" app used to track people doing things like purchasing pre-packaged oranges, but it added lots of expositionary weight to the story and very little of actual value.

The concept here, of course, came from the photo the prepackaged oranges which was circulating on social media a few weeks back. I was ready to join everyone else in scoffing at it when Ana Mardoll pointed out (in a series of tweets storified here) that this IS a valuable service for those with disabilities. That lead me to think about how we shame people who take what we see as the easy way out and about how it leads too many to carry their shame with them, a judging shadow who just won't fade away.

I'll have more to say on this topic next week in a technology-centric post as we examine the cost - and benefits - of designing systems in ways which accommodate those needing accommodations.

See you next week on rAVepubs. And thanks, as always, for listening.

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