In Memoriam by Robert W. Cely, Jr.
Nathan cursed as he worked the long sleeve of his shirt over the proximity detector. It always seemed to give him problems. The small, black band was supposed to be unnoticeable. Only a small interface stuck out. But whether it was snagging on the cuff of his shirts or chafing when sweat got beneath it, it found a way to remind the wearer that it was there.
Working the shirt over the band reminded him how much he hated the things. His wife looked over at him and smiled as she cocked her head to one side, working in an earring. Somehow she was able to make the bands look like an accessory, like it was supposed to be there. Then again, everything about Lily was gorgeous.
Nathan held his hand out behind him, stretching his arm as far back as it would go. Lily smiled again at the unspoken sign between them. She stretched her hand out also and leaned in, careful not to let their bands come within six feet of each other as they kissed.
“You know there is just something irresistible about stealing illegal kisses,” he said to her, reveling in the scent of her proximity.
“You know I’ve always liked the bad boys,” she teased, kissing him once more before pulling away.
Nathan continued to watch his wife dress. She made it look like an art form. The auburn hair, looped into large curls; the makeup, just barely there, the navy blue dress that looked elegant but modest; it never ceased to amaze him how she did it. If there was anything good about the strict rules that forbid even husbands and wives from touching each other, it was that you learned to marvel and appreciate the little things. Even a kiss, taken for granted at some point in the past, was a stolen delight.
“You know, we can try the reproduction clinic again,” his wife suggested, as if reading his thoughts. “Maybe since we know what to expect it won’t be such a …”
“Such a turn off,” Nathan finished. He shuddered at the memory.
The feds had banned all forms of intimacy. But even they weren’t stupid enough to believe that it was a good idea to keep husbands and wives from their marital duties. Of course, that had to be strictly controlled too.
The memory of the intimacy suits always disgusted Nathan. They were essentially hazmat suits that fit a little more snug, complete with face plates and the necessary access panels. That, combined with the stark, fluorescent lights of the fertility center and the hiss of disinfectant spray that went off ever five minutes made the whole affair about as romantic an event as you would expect the federal government to put together.
“Maybe,” Nathan answered, unwilling to give up on the idea completely.
“That would mean a certain…freedom for a while,” Lily intimated, giving him that smile that had snared his heart all those years ago.
Nathan smiled back, nodding. Of course he had thought of that. If Lily became successfully pregnant they would not have to worry about an indiscretion being inadvertently revealed to the authorities. That was a luxury they hadn’t enjoyed since…Nathan couldn’t remember when.
Except he did remember. It was the time when all this ridiculous stuff started. When everyone worried so much about infection being passed they tolerated any measure the government introduced, including proximity bracelets, reproduction clinics and the severe restrictions on all movements. Even intimacy between husband and wife was strictly regulated.
A beep sounded on both his and Lily’s bracelet. The first warning, always gentle, to remind Nathan and Lily that they had violated the six foot minimum distance. He hadn’t even realized they had drifted that close to one another.
“Let’s finish this after the meeting,” he suggested.
“After the meeting,” Lily echoed.
Nathan finished getting dressed and used the time to go over their procedure. It was as much for himself as it was for his wife, a night like this required they cover all their bases.
“I’ll be taking the main route out of the city,” he began, knowing it would cause more than a little consternation with Lily.
“Yes, and I will follow five minutes behind you.”
“And you remember the signal for a check point?” he asked.
“Of course I do, Nathan,” she said indulgently. “You will send me a text saying that the car is making a funny noise.”
“And if you get a checkpoint on an alternate route?”
“Oh no, my GPS must have messed up. I’m lost without it,” she feigned. “Where am I?”
“But you have to activate the app,” Nathan insisted.
“Of course,” Lily said. “I activate the app as I approach the checkpoint. It will disable my GPS, so when the cops check my equipment it will look like I am lost.”
Nathan breathed a sigh of relief. They really had everything covered. If something went wrong tonight, then it wouldn’t be because of poor planning.
Grabbing hold of the door jamb of their bedroom he leaned towards his wife. She shook her head, holding her proximity bracelet away, and leaned in to take his kiss.
“See you there,” he said.
Minutes later he began his driving ritual. After donning gloves, anti-viral respirator and face mask, he was ready to go.
Traffic was light, even lighter than normal. The sun was going down and there was little reason for anyone to be out. That knot of tension that tied itself in Nathan’s stomach this time every month returned. He had to ask himself if it was worth it.
Guilt followed quickly on the heels of that question. Of course it was worth it, he reminded himself. He just wished it didn’t always make him so scared. If it was just him it would be different. But if anything ever happened to Lily he knew he would never forgive himself.
Lost in his thoughts, Nathan almost didn’t see the check point up ahead. He cursed to himself and slowed down. One other car was in front of him, just enough time to send Lily the warning text.
“Present your credentials,” the police asked as Nathan pulled up.
Nathan held out his hand with the proximity bracelet. The masked policeman scanned it and checked the screen.
“Nathan Holderman,” he said. “You are a Class 3 Essential Employee. That does not permit traveling outside of city limits after curfew.”
“I know,” he began his rehearsed story. “But the store in Swansea just called. I have to pick up an order of beef from the warehouse and get it there ASAP. It’s going to get as nasty as a Wuhan wet market if I don’t get them some hamburger.”
The cop hesitated and looked over Nathan’s file. He was a buyer for Shepherd’s grocery, and that offered him a certain liberty. He even had a pass signed by the Department of Agriculture, given to him in case of emergencies. But he didn’t want to use that unless he had to.
After another moment of hesitation, the cop passed him through. Nathan breathed a sigh of relief. Odds are, Lily would be fine if she followed the alternate route out of the city. Check points were usually placed on one street per night. Even law enforcement had their restrictions.
After passing through the check the point Nathan allowed himself to relax, enjoy the drive out of the city. A peace settled over him as he hit the country roads, the dark of night folding down, leaving only what lay in front of his headlights. Tension he didn’t even know he was carrying unknotted itself from his shoulders.
Thirty minutes after the checkpoint he pulled onto the dirt road. The gate ahead was closed. Nathan waited until a familiar figure, even with the mask, approached the car.
“Evenin’ brother,” the comforting voice said. “Lily coming?”
“She had to take an alternate route,” Nathan informed him. “Should be about ten minutes behind.”
The masked figure nodded and waved a wand over Nathan’s bracelet. A red light blinked, warning him that the proximity feature was now disabled. This far out of the city the techs wouldn’t pick it up. For the next hour and a half he would enjoy a freedom no American had enjoyed since the outbreak began.
Past the gate Nathan drove on until he parked his car in a grass lot in front of the long, wooden building with a dozen others. Several would be late tonight, he thought to himself. He took off the respirator and breathed the free air, a smile creeping irresistibly over his face.
For the next fifteen minutes Nathan shook hands and hugged and talked to people standing only three feet away from him. When Lily arrived he took her under his arm, not wanting to ever let her go. Finally, they were called to the table.
All told there were twenty-five people that night, sitting around the same table, side by side, shoulder to shoulder. They all smiled.
Movement at the head of the table caused all conversation to stop. A man they all knew, one they called Aaron, though that was not his real name, held up his hands in greeting.
“I’m glad to see you all here,” he said. “I know it’s not easy to do this, and it isn’t getting any easier. But I think we can agree it’s all worth it.”
All the heads around the table nodded. They knew what was at stake here. And they had all willingly taken the risk.
Satisfied by the response, Aaron reached down – without gloves – and took hold of a loaf of bread. A goblet stood next to the bread, filled with a crimson liquid.
Nathan felt a twinge of anxiety as it began, knowing what could happen if they got caught. Just sitting around a table like this would get them all fined. Sharing a meal together would be certain jail time. But if the authorities ever caught wind of what was really going on here, it would be considered an act of treason.
“On the night our Lord was betrayed,” Aaron continued. “He took some bread, and after giving thanks he broke it and said, ‘This is my body, for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’”