Exercising the craft—January 16, 2017

By Ekta R. Garg

Prompt: It is a utopian future where everyone’s needs are perfectly met and people are always happy. There is a new street drug people want to take that promises to make users depressed, in pain, and lonely for 2 hours a hit.



The only name the woman gave Clarissa was Pearl. Clarissa fingered the small plastic bag, the oval shape of the pill inside pushing back against her fingers. It challenged her to swallow it, right there in the middle of the street. But she promised Pearl she would wait until she found a spot where she could be alone before she took the drug.

“You don’t need to be with anyone else,” Pearl said, not looking Clarissa in the eye. Instead Pearl had spent their entire transaction scanning the people walking across the end of the alley. The first time Clarissa turned around to try to figure out what Pearl was watching, Pearl hissed in warning.

Now Clarissa walked the streets of downtown searching for a place where she could sit and take the pill and not have to answer any questions. Other pedestrians smiled at her and she smiled back. The gesture came without thinking, involuntary almost.

No one harbored any despair; they didn’t see darkness in their lives. The government had achieved what people used to say couldn’t happen: providing for every resident of the country. Everything from food to healthcare to a person’s matrimonial status now came under the national plan. People no longer wanted for anything.

When word hit the street that the new drug took people where they’d never gone before, Clarissa and her friends began joking about it. Imagine, they said through their giggles, ingesting a pill that would allow them to feel awful. Desolate. Alone. Anguished.

For some reason, though, the jokes lingered in Clarissa’s mind. They toyed with her, made her question her life in disturbing ways. What if, she thought. What if dipping into that other portion of her mind and heart could lead her to a greater awareness of herself? Why would the government leave people the capacity to feel misery if they didn’t want the citizens of their fair nation to be able to tap into that side of life eventually?

The thought propelled her; she wanted to know.

Clarissa watched the traffic cross the road, raising a hand in greeting to the drivers who waved first, and trotted to the other side of the street to the park. She kept trotting, aiming for the bench on the far side of the park that sat under shade of the huge trees. With a look around the park, she opened the plastic bag and put the pill in her mouth before she could talk herself out of it.

It dissolved right away, that white oval gateway to another world, and tasted a little like peppermints. For several minutes, Clarissa just sat on the bench. Nothing changed. No vampires appeared, although, truthfully, she didn’t think she could identify them on site if they did. Didn’t vampires look just like regular people?

The first pain shot across her chest, and it caused her to hunch over. She clutched at her breastbone, her shallow breaths sounding loud in her ears. The second pain followed the first, but this one came deeper. She couldn’t press on her chest hard enough to reach it.

When the thoughts began filling her head, though, the pain became a distant memory.

You’re never going to amount to much. Shannon’s got everything you don’t—looks; connections; a body that won’t quit. Why do you think that you can compete with any of that?

Mom and Dad always liked Shannon better anyway. Why wouldn’t they? The firstborn, the good girl, pre-med, a fiancé more wholesome than the set of a 1950s sitcom. So what if you were MVP the last two years in high school? Being a five-foot-ten basketball player doesn’t count for squat in college unless you’re on the college team, and when tryouts are a bust that MVP doesn’t count for anything.

And whose bright idea was it to major in organic chemistry? When are you going to be honest with yourself that you’re not cut out for the sciences in general? Just because Shannon’s going into something to do with science doesn’t mean you can. What are you going to do, spend the rest of your life with your eye glued to a microscope? Can you really live that way?

And the government wants us to be happy all the time? Why? What’s wrong with questioning stuff? Maybe there’s some sort of plot they don’t want us to find out. Maybe they’ve been giving us drugs to keep us happy all the time. Maybe we’re not supposed to know about any of the stuff they’re up to.

I wish I could quit college. I don’t want to sit through the classes anymore. Geez, my cheeks hurt from smiling all the time. Let’s try a frown. Man, does that feel good.

I don’t want to go home. I don’t want to go anywhere. I don’t want to accomplish anything. I just…want to stay here. Not doing anything.

I wonder if I could find Pearl again…