A woman, who had been born 31 years and 86 days ago, sat alone in a bar without TVs. People called her Jem Nightingale. This name was short for her full name, Jemma Louise Nightingale. The table she'd chosen was of the circular variety, where half the occupants of the booth have to scoot out when the person in the middle inevitably has to take a leak. Jem had not considered this fact when she chose the table to sit and drink alcohol at. The logistics of bathroom-pathed exodus are somewhat irrelevant when you're trying to drink yourself to death, all alone. Jem would have been drinking faster if she knew she was going to be arrested in 14 minutes and 38 seconds.
The day had started out calmly enough. It was a Tuesday, the third in July. Jem woke up at 6:45 a.m., showered for 16 minutes, then flipped on a daily YouTube show as she chomped down some breakfast: cereal and a glass of Tropicana Orange juice, no pulp.
The two hosts of the show, a pair of wealthy man-children with a penchant for clickbait thumbnails, were doing their usual shtick, which usually involved one of them "accidentally" inflicting pain on the other. Each would profit exactly half a cent from her viewership that day. Jem found shitty shows like this to be intolerable, but less intolerable than eating in silence, react videos, or the 24 hour news cycle.
The camera cut to a slightly closer shot of the two hosts.
"Phil, are you tired? Tired of drinking the same ol' boring soft drinks?"
"I am, Bill. Fed up is what I am!"
Nervous laughter. The sponsor segment is always awkward.
"Well, you're in luck. Because the sponsor of today's episode, Sumacore, has reinvented the way you experience fizzy beverages."
Jem continued to chew her cereal, feeling no lack in her current soft drink experience. She cursed her inability to eat a bowl of Cap'n Crunch, Original Variety, 167 calories with a half cup of 2% milk, and scroll through Instagram on her 2020 Apple iPhone Max Pro at the same time. She was stuck with goddamn YouTube.
"How are they doing that, Bill?"
More nervous laughter.
Dear God, please destroy advertising. Or the world. Pronto.
"Look, you just take this new Sumacore straw—"
CLICK. Jem had picked up her Google TV remote, purchased last month off Facebook Marketplace for a reasonable price, and navigated off the video onto the main menu. Browsing through her suggested videos for something, anything without a clickbait thumbnail, Jem found a video entitled "Oldies playing in the car and it's raining | Dreamscape (road trip w/ cars passing) 3 HOURS ASMR."
Fuck it. Better than these goddamn ads.
She clicked on it. A pre-roll ad began to play. "Tired of boring soft drinks? Sumacore is about to change your life!"
"Fucking fuck fuck FUCK!" Jem shouted, mouth still full of half-chewed Cap'n. She grabbed the stupid little remote back off the table.
"Simply take this handy straw—"
The 45" 4K HDR Toshiba television set shut off. Jem sighed. It had been the same stupid straw ad. Now, sweet, sweet silence. She finished her cereal, cleaned up the dishes, got dressed, then hopped in her car to head to work.
The Bluetooth stereo in her 2018 Subaru Forester (bought used, 30k miles, 50 monthly payments remaining) clicked on as she backed out of her $15 a month parking spot across from her $1,350 a month apartment. Her car had a rear camera to make backing out easier. As she reversed, Spotify booted up on the stereo.
Jem had decided that $10 a month was too much for Spotify Premium, and canceled her membership 47.3 days ago. Since then, she had received 4 emails asking her to reconsider.
A Spotify ad began to play. "Getting sick of the same old soft drinks?"
People two buildings down could hear Jem screaming from their living rooms.
"You take the straw—"
Jem had finished backing up, and punched the stereo's power button so hard it was a miracle the thing didn't break off.
I swear, one more time. Just try me. Just try me.
Jem drove to work, radio silent. The trip cost her approximately $3 in gas and vehicle wear.
The next eight hours passed relatively uneventfully. Jem's company, a Forbes-500 financial conglomerate, was strict on the ad-blockers. No pesky Sumacore ads popping up. She attended 2 meetings, wrote 4.5 emails, sent 2 of them, and compiled data for a slideshow her boss was presenting on Friday, 24 business hours from now.
Lunch was spent in her cube. Jem ate an individually wrapped, 100 calorie chocolate chip Chewy granola bar, and a glass of water she'd filled up in the only break room that didn't have a vending machine plastered with soft drink labels. No chances were being taken on running across another Sumacore ad.
When not in a meeting or talking to one of her cube neighbors, Jem wore her Apple AirPods (which retail at $159.99) powered on but not playing any music. Just the noise cancelation. More sweet, sweet silence. Jem was at war with these goddamn Sumacore ads, and they would not win.
That's what she thought, at that point.
At 5:01 p.m., Jem was in the asphalt parking lot, walking to her car. On the drive home she averaged 35 miles per gallon. The trip home was 10 cents cheaper than the way in, due to it being downhill and having lighter traffic. Very, very faintly lighter. Jem honked her horn at idiots a total of 2 times.
Arriving back at the apartment complex, Jem stopped to get her mail from the wall of mailboxes fixed to the exterior of the main office that the US government paid Zill Hardaway $27,125 per year to fill. She found her electric bill, a mailer about Issue #2 in the upcoming local election, and the PennySaver ads.
Jem didn't even finish reading the word "Sumacore" on the front of the leaflet of coupons before ripping the thing into pieces and jamming it into the fly-infested trash can, strategically placed for junk mail but often filled with half-empty cups of goopy fruit remains from the Tropical Smoothie Café across the street.
"Don't you hate junk mail?" another tenant of the Golden Valley Apartment Complex asked Jem as they observed her destruction of the PennySaver. This tenant leased a unit that had 1 more bedroom than the unit that Jem was leasing.
Jem managed to smile, but quickly hopped back into her Subaru before the stranger could ensnare her into a bout of small talk. Normally, Jem would’ve curtly responded to the remark, and maybe offered a remark of her own. This was not a normal day.
When she got back to her apartment, Building 11 Unit 34, Jem fixed herself a box of Cheetos Bold & Cheesy Mac'N Cheese (240 calories per serving, 2.5 servings per box). Jem planned to eat the whole box, and grabbed a 12 oz. can of Pabst Blue Ribbon, 4.8% ABV, to accompany the meal.
She picked up her Google TV remote from the floor and exited the YouTube app as quickly as she could after the set powered on. She then calmly navigated to the Netflix app.
No ads here. Thank heavens.
#1 Trending in the US today was a new show called Dating Hungry, a reality show where participants went to expensive restaurants on dates but weren't allowed to order any food. Trays of delicious entrees, appetizers, and desserts were paraded past the couples. Two fairly paid, C-list Hollywood SAG-AFTRA actors provided commentary when the couples' conversations lulled.
"Jill, I don't think this couple is vibing. At all."
"I agree, Gill. They both look like they'd rather be anywhere else."
"Well, if they were anywhere else, they could eat food!" Cue pre-recorded audience laugh track.
"By the way, have you heard about Sumacore? They're this new company that's shaking up the soft drink market. My husband got me one!"
The camera jump-cut to the announcers, one holding a soft drink in one hand and a straw in the other.
"See, you just put the Sumacore straw—"
Jem held the power cord to her television set in her left hand, and an orange cheese-covered spoon in her right hand. She was right hand dominant. She wondered which, the power cord or the spoon, would do more damage if jammed into her eye socket with a hefty amount of force.
Three phone calls later, Jem located a nearby bar that the 21-year-old college student bartender, who had started working at the bar 3 weeks ago, repeatedly confirmed had no televisions. The bar was close enough that Jem could've walked to it, but the drive would only cost 78 cents, on average. Her blood alcohol levels were below the legal limit to drive.
And that is how Jem Nightingale ended up drinking alone in a TV-less bar on a weeknight. She was working on her 7th and 8th fingers of Bulleit bourbon when another heavily intoxicated patron of the establishment approached her round table. She was relieved that it was a human woman.
"Hey, I'm here alone too. Can I sit with you?" the woman asked.
Jem tilted her head up and down. The movement felt foreign.
"Super!" The woman set her drink on one of the crumbling cardstock coasters. "What are you drinking?"
"Bourbon," Jem said. "You?"
"Jack and Coke," the woman responded. "I've been wanting to try something."
The realization of what was about to happen didn't hit Jem instantaneously. She had consumed a large quantity of 90 proof alcohol, which impaired her 31-year-old body's cognitive functions.
The woman reached into her knock-off Michael Kors purse, labelled “Michel Corrs,” and pulled out a small zipped bag. The bag was dark gray, except for a white logo that had been screen-printed on the side. It was the word "Sumacore," followed by a plus sign. From it, the woman pulled a metal straw.
The woman looked at Jem, whose face had changed. Their eyes met. The woman (not Jem) looked confused at what she saw.
CLINK. Jem grabbed her glass, half a finger of Bulleit remaining.
Then there were two screams. One of anger, one of terror.
CRASH. The etched lowball shattered against the side of the woman's (not Jem's) skull.
Type A-Negative blood, Bulleit bourbon, and shards of glass exploded from the point of impact. Jem's blood type was A-Positive.
EMTs arrived on the scene in less than 5 minutes. Police arrived on the scene within 7. Jem didn't try to run. The woman (not Jem) was carted by stretcher into the awaiting ambulance, manufactured by the Ford Motor Company. She would survive the incident, and Jem's insurance company would pay for most of the hospital charges. Jem was handcuffed and led to the backseat of the cop car, a Dodge Charger.
After a 10 minute drive that cost the city taxpayers approximately 357 dollars, the cruiser arrived at the police station, and, after an hour and a half of processing, Jem was thrown into the drunk tank.
Two people were already sitting on the white wooden bench in the large cell, a man and a woman, wearing matching dark gray suits and black ties. Jem had never seen these people before. As the reporting officer exited the area, the two looked at each other, and then at Jem.
"Thank God you made it. We needed you, urgently."