Despite it having a month until obsolescence, her car had refused to start that morning. Just what kind of crap were they trying to pull? Didn’t they remember the standards? She dug the owner’s manual out from the glove box, batting through it for a number to call. She found it on the rear flap, then went inside and phoned the manufacturer, only to wait fuming in a queue while that week’s ballad played on repeat, and that year’s wall clock ticked off the precious minutes she had before work. She gave up eventually, and started walking to her brother’s house.
The sun was an orange disc, hidden behind layers of grey smog, and without the air-conditioning in her car, she felt herself at its mercy. She started sweating immediately, a free-flowing stream that soaked through her dress within minutes. It was lucky that black was in season, that’s all she could say. She stopped halfway to her brothers and coughed up a lump of phlegm the same colour as her dress.
Twenty minutes later, she arrived at her brother’s house. His car was parked in exactly the same spot it had been for the last eleven months, and looked like it hadn’t been driven since renewal. That was nothing usual; her brother rarely left the house. He still bought the new model every year. It was one his few consistencies.
She knocked on the front door and a heard her brother shout from inside. He opened it a minute later, wearing a T-shirt from several seasons back. She flinched involuntarily, remembering why she avoided meeting him face to face; it was much better to talk once a week via tele-screen, where she couldn’t see what he was wearing.
“My car wouldn’t start,” she said. “Let me borrow yours?”
“I’ll get the keys” her brother said, and went back inside. There was music playing somewhere deep inside the house. Even that was out of date. She thought she recognised the song from several years before, but wasn’t certain. Her memory for obsolete things was shaky.
“Here,” her brother said, coming back to the door and handing over the keys. “Bring it back as soon as you can. And leave the keys in it.”
“Okay,” she said, and started for the car.
“I’ll vid you tomorrow?” he shouted after her.
“Of course,” she called back.
She climbed in the car and started the engine.
Her name was Sally. She was twenty-five years old, and she was definitely going to be late. The hair salon she worked at would be opening their doors any minute. The exit to the motorway she was stuck on was tantalisingly close, but the traffic remained at a standstill. She scanned the billboards lining the freeway in an effort to calm herself. The biggest and brightest of them was the one for the Summer Change. It looked like shoulder pads were back in again. How many times had she worn shoulder pads in the past? Ten? Twenty? They seemed to crop up every other year. They gave a good silhouette, she had to admit that, but where were the new ideas? Didn’t they remember the standards?
The next billboard previewed the coming winter’s oven. Great leaps had been made in heat circulation since last year it said, and promised that a Toy’s Day turkey would take half the time to cook. Like Toy’s Day itself, the new oven meant little to Sally. Her InstaBird for one only took ten minutes anyway. She’d still get one of course. She didn’t want to end up like her brother.
The traffic finally broke, and Sally reached the salon thirty minutes later. She marched across the car park, patting her hair down as she walked. She reached the staff entrance, and stopped to look down at something on the ground that had caught her attention. She put her hand to her mouth to stifle a gasp. It was a Coke can. It provoked the same internal recoil her brother’s T-shirt had. What the hell was a Coke can doing there? She stood staring for a full minute, unable to take her eyes off of it. First the car, and now this. Was the whole world out of whack?
She took a step closer to it, approaching the discarded can and sniffing the air. Something smelt funny. Should she phone Sanitation? They’d want to know about this. She was already late though, and knew that bedlam awaited her on the other side of that door. She poked the can with her toe. It moved reassuringly away from her foot. She poked it a couple more times until it was at corner of the building. Feeling like a criminal, she kicked the can down an alley, then turned on her heels and headed inside.
As expected, the salon was chaos. Her late start with her first client meant she was forever behind, and she spent the next seven and a half hours catching up on her appointments. The current season called for sky-scraping hair styles made with chicken wire and lacquer, enormous piles of hair that took hours to construct. The last couple of months had nearly killed her. The only thing that kept her going through the days was the music they played throughout the salon. It worked like a drug, keeping her awake and focused. She could forget all about the outside world and lose herself in hair.
When she’d finally finished, and her last client had toddled out of the salon, Sally sat down in the leather salon chair and closed her eyes. For the first time that day, she could relax. Roll on the Summer Change, she thought. The models in the advert she saw that morning had had a natural look, and she looked forward to getting back to scissoring ends and tidying styles. A distant crash ruined her moment of peace. She opened her eyes, expecting to see a flustered assistant on her knees picking up dropped tools, but the scene was the same as before. She closed her eyes again, and took another deep breath.
She could tell something was wrong the second she stepped back out into the parking lot. The air was as thick as before, but it carried a new smell. It was a smell she’d never encountered before, pristine and fresh, but with a hint of scorched plastic. She looked to the sky. Normally, around this time of day, the sun would be turning red as it slipped behind the apartment blocks in the distance. That evening it was a white ball, and unless her senses were playing tricks on her, looked even brighter than it had that morning. Once again she got the feeling that the whole world had gone out of whack, that something fundamental had changed while she’d slept the night before.
She glanced to where the can had been and shook her head. She was over worked, that was all. This season had got to her. Roll on the Summer Change. Roll on the Summer Change.
She started walking to her car, but stopped halfway there, seeing a thin line of smoke coming from behind an SUV to her left. What now? With her stomach leaping somersaults, she peered around the SUV and saw a lump of metal embedded in the parking lot concrete. It was charred and misshapen, and yet the outline was clearly that of a fridge. She even remembered the model. It had been a great favourite of hers a few years before, having an ice maker built-in to the door, and enough room for a hundred InstaMeals. The model that had followed it had been smaller, though had looked slightly better. Pink, wasn’t it? She was so caught up in memories, that it took her a few moments to ask the obvious question. What the hell was a fridge doing there?
She stepped closer to it, and sniffed the air. Beneath the smell of smoke was the pure aroma of the ozone, the clean freshness of space. All at once she understood, and looked to the sky as it started to rain.