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That New Century Shine by Mark GrealishSUMMARY: This is an entry for the November 2009 short-story contest. A man hungers for an answer.
Some mornings, as I sit on the porch to eat breakfast and watch the rain clouds roll down off the verdant green hills and into the valley below it strikes me: I live in the future. This morning, it is followed by a much harder thought: Improbably so. I breathe deep to take in the heady scent of fresh-cut grass. This is the promised century of casual miracles. Bright and shiny technological wonders wrought through the push of a button... I don't finish the train of thought, disturbed as I am by its implications. Instead, I grab up the glass of orange juice. Some of the cold liquid slops over my hand as I raise the container up into the grey morning light so I can study its contents. I twist the glass around, watch the juice within swish this way and that. Condensation fog on the glass. Bits of thick pulp that show through the murk. At length, I deign to taste it, and find that even in this new century, orange juice is simply just that: Orange juice, cold and crisp. Nutritious. I smack my lips. Tasty.
This can't be all of it. Can it? Lazy mornings spent on the porch with a glass of orange juice. I need a sign. Some token of reassurance to convince me that the calendar on the wall isn't lying about the year. Suddenly afraid, I set the glass down as I rise to my feet. I step back into the house in search of some artifact of our century. Some thing that did not exist before the year rolled off that 'ninety nine'. And so, surrounded by the dross of a lifetime, I begin catalogue the contents with a critical historian's eye: Television, invented in the nineteen twenties. Digital computer, invented in the nineteen forties. Refrigerator, nineteenth century! I slam my fist down on the table and glare around the room accusingly, as it if conspires to be intentionally archaic. An obnoxious buzz next to my hand interrupts my dark thoughts. The house phone. Telephone, eighteen seventy-six. I stab the green button.
A voice over my shoulder asks, ''Dad?''
I turn around. There's a man looking about the room nervously. My oldest son. ''Yeah?'' ''Well, ah, we didn't hear from you last night and when I tried to call your mobile it went to...''
I wave my hand dismissively. ''My phone died on me, sorry. You caught me on my way out the door to pick up a new one.''
''Uh, okay. Well that's okay. Ah, the wife wants to know if we're on for dinner tonight.''
''Yeah. Be here by six. Son,'' I ask, ''what year is it?'' He tells me.
''Sure. Dad, is um, is everything okay?''
''Perfectly fine.'' My son flinches. He's smarter than the rest of us put together, but he has nerves of broken glass. I bid him goodbye and end the call. His image blinks out. I sweep forcefully through the cloud of dust motes left it behind to take the twenty steps out through the front door, across the porch, down the creaky steps, along the garden path and into the main road.
I stoop down to run my hand along the dirt as I look up to the grey skies. There are eleven billion humans. We have cities on Mars. We have a girdle of Elevators and habitats 'round the equator. Starships that fly from here to our colonies around other stars.