They’re outside the slab grey nest of concrete compounds that comprises the Kirkland ghetto. Mark and Dustin are sitting outside the steps connecting their units. Work has finished and Mark has just been paid a measly twenty four hours for his time at work today. It will leave him with just over twelve hours to live after he’s paid for transport home. His units have gone up but his pay hasn’t.
And now he’s remembered that it’s his mother’s birthday soon. He would get her something but he knows she’d rather have the time. He should probably give her at least a few hours.
Mark reaches inside his backpack. He’s pretty sure he still has half a pack of Red Vines on him.
“Whoa,” Dustin says, eyes widening when he sees what Mark has stashed away. “Where did you get that?” he says dramatically.
Mark rolls his eyes and sticks one in his mouth. “I bought it.”
“Like, a deal?” Dustin says, lowering his voice for the last word. “Was it shady?”
“Yes, Dustin,” Mark says. “The old man had a van. He asked me to give him a few minutes and he said he’d give me something to suck on.” Dustin’s eyes are bulging out of their sockets and he’s looking at Mark’s mouth in a really weird way so Mark stops. “No, you idiot! I bought it at a vendor. It was a two for one deal.” Mark stares at Dustin. “I didn’t do anything dirty or illegal.”
“How much?” Dustin says suspiciously.
Mark stares at Dustin. “An hour for two packs.” Mark admits, already gnawing on a new one. “But I’ve already eaten a pack.”
“You paid an hour for two packs? That’s half an hour for each pack of Red Vines!” Dustin says incredulously, jaw dropping unsightly. “Two whole glorious packs of raspberry licorice thingies,” he clarifies unnecessary in a stage whisper, head looking left and right like he’s scared that they’ll get jumped for candy.
“Yep,” Mark says, chewing on one casually like he didn’t just spend all his lunch units on it. Probably two days worth of lunch units but who’s counting?
“Really?” Dustin asks.
“Yes, really,” Mark says, annoyed. He can’t afford Red Bulls anymore because they have gotten too expensive. It would seriously be cheaper to fuck a hooker. In a society where time is limited, sleep isn’t on top of the ‘to do’ list. Caffeinated drinks especially the good stuff – it’s liquid gold.
“That’s like, a pack of thirty maybe? So you paid up to a minute per Red Vine.” Dustin sounds more and more dismayed at Mark’s life choices.
“I’m glad you can do simple division,” Mark says sarcastically. “Do you want a Red Vine or would you prefer a minute? Except oops, you just wasted your minute so no candy for you.” Before Dustin can ask him what he’ll do for ‘real’ food he says, “I can take it out of my sleep if I need to. I wasn’t planning on sleeping anyway.” Sleep is incredibly wasteful in Mark’s opinion even if it is a cheap way to spend time.
“Sharing is caring,” Dustin pouts. “Anyway those Red Vines will get you killed.” Dustin is muttering something about Mark accidentally being the cause of the death of his friends and family when he cuts it too close and needs to borrow off them and how it could be the vital last few minutes that makes a difference.
Mark doesn’t want to listen to the horror stories from Dustin. He’s seen enough. They live in Kirkland, not New Greenwich. He cuts in, “If you’re going to really use your time, you might as well be spending your time on things that you don’t need with the time you have left. We’re all going to time out sooner than we want to anyway because there is never enough time – especially in our Time Zone. Plus, you and I have both done the math. We’ve seen the way the rates just go up, every year, then every month, every fortnight and now, it’s every week. The increases are closer and closer together. We know that there’s no way this is sustainable. Dustin, you know economics, it was you who told me about hyperinflation. This is it. It’s only a matter of time or so to speak.” It’s frustrating because Mark knows Dustin gets this, gets this better than he does even. Dustin knows that they are living on time that cannot last. What he doesn’t understand is why he keeps saving it like he thinks it’ll make a difference. Mark doubts that even a decade in his hand would change things. A coffee would probably cost a decade and a year.
“I like to have a buffer. Just in case,” Dustin says insistently. “I don’t want to time out because I got stuck in traffic. You’d time out without even getting the chance to say goodbye.”
“You know, you’re never going to be able to splurge with the time you’re saving up,” Mark says, noting the disappointment that is etched in Dustin’s ever youthful face as Mark points out the painful truth, waving a Red Vine around. Mark drops his eyes to the glowing green digits on his forearm, constantly ticking towards another zero. Each zero is death closing in. For the rich, each zero, is another decade, another century, another millennium of life. Mark doesn’t bother dreaming about having lots of time to waste, he just wants to have time to live, to really do something with his life. Somehow. He’s always had a feeling, this drive. He can’t explain it. He takes another bite of his Red Vine. “Things just keep costing more. There’s no way you can work that much. Even if you have time saved up, you can still get hit by a car, mugged or shot. Having time on hand is so misleading. It doesn’t actually mean you have more time to live, just more time to spend.”
“So you’re saying that I should go and buy a six pack, drink it all and time out in my sleep?” Dustin shoots back. “Or maybe I should go to a casino and put all of my time on a bet – double or nothing. They must have a room somewhere for all the gambling addicts. It’s probably what keeps the flowerbeds around the parking lots pretty,” he mutters darkly.
Mark shrugs. “If that’s what you want. You should do what you want. It’s your time. ” He would miss Dustin if he lost him but he’s lost a lot of people. He’ll move on. He has to.
“You know ghetto girls dream of meeting a guy with loads of time so they can have a happily forever after,” Dustin says with a sigh. He wags his eyebrows at Mark. “Maybe I’ll meet someone like that.”
Mark smirks, “I doubt it.” He takes a few more and sticks them in his hoodie pocket. “Here, take the rest.”
“Are you sure?” Dustin says, well aware he’s holding ten minutes worth of candy in his hand. Ten minutes that he doesn’t really think Mark has to spare, however brilliant he is.
“Eat it or sell it. Don’t tell Chris,” Mark says, fixing Dustin with a look. “I’m going to go get a drink before I go home.”
“Oooh high roller today, Mark! A special occasion?”
“I don’t need one, Dustin. Life’s a bitch,” Mark says.
“-and then you die,” Dustin finishes with a short laugh, trying to keep his tone light. “Be careful!” He raises his hand for a high-five.
Mark indulges him and then he zips up his hoodie. Red Vine dangling from his lips, he checks his digits, it’ll be tight but he has the time to spare. The night has only just begun.