The New Deal, But Wrong

Submitted into Contest #60 in response to: Write a funny post-apocalyptic story.... view prompt

13 comments

Funny

           Adults weren’t lying when they scoffed at the youth for not knowing how to use rotary phones. Mish thought rotary phones were like VHS tapes and individual slide projectors: nostalgic items for her parents and teachers. Yet here she was, in an actual government office, trying to figure out how to dial a rotary phone as two very tall suited men stood intimidatingly over her desk and requested to speak to the person in charge of tax returns.

           “Sorry, the phone lines are down,” Mish joked, turning the hard, plastic dial some way or other and hoping a beep or something would alert her of any progress. “Literally.”

           She chuckled to herself but the men did not seem impressed. If anything, they seemed offended. Mish made a mental note to not joke about the Apocalypse’s destruction. It was probably a sensitive topic.

           “The Apocalypse is upon us!” Mish had crowed to a surprisingly clear sky in her surprisingly empty neighborhood. She had always wanted to scream something dramatic for an appropriately dramatic situation. Normally she was reduced to “The end is near!” during the last week of a semester in school when ten final exams were scheduled a day, but the Apocalypse was a test of life. All sorts of town governments instructed their citizens to stay inside to avoid the worst of the effects. Lots of dumb people decided that was an “infringement of their rights” or whatever, though Mish’s heart did bleed for the portion of workers whose employers decided their presence was necessary and threatened to fire them if they didn’t come to work. Those employees never came home. Anybody who left just disappeared. There were no asteroids. There was no fire. There was no violent storm that finished with a flourish. Instead, everybody collectively decided after about a half a week that they were hungry and cramped and might as well risk it, and they emerged lazily and blinded like cicadas and somehow didn’t die. Or maybe they did die and were currently in some form of an afterlife. If that was the case then Mish was slightly relieved to see that the cursed plastic phone was also dead and forgotten.

           “Are you qualified?” the shorter of the men asked rudely.

           “Nope!” Mish replied brightly. She wasn’t at all qualified. She was 16 and working in a government office—she wasn’t even legal! But Mish’s town was particularly dumb and so many people had died that the government had tons of money to go ‘round and was divvying it up on a first-come-first-serve basis. The men were late. They would maybe get five dollars for their time.

           So many deaths had also meant that there were tons of employment opportunities. It was like the New Deal but…wrong. Still, Mish had received her placard reading “Mishra Venkatesh; Government Employee” even though she was a girl, a child, and not Caucasian in a very racist, ageist, misogynist town.

           “Listen, girlie,” Tall Man sneered, “we’ve got an emergency situation.”

           “Call 9-1-1,” Mish suggested. “I’m just a tax secretary.”

           Instead the men looked at each other and sighed. Short tapped his foot impatiently.

           That just made Mish take even longer. Somewhere deep in the phone she heard a tone. That was good! It was picking up to signal somewhere, if rotary phones could pick up to signals! Mish grappled at the dial frantically hoping the tone would grow louder.

           “Do you really need the phone?” Short asked as Mish resisted to urge to comment on his amazing multi-tasking abilities. Both his mouth and his foot were going to town. “I mean, there’s an office right behind you.”

           “So?” Mish shrugged.

           “We’ve got personal connections to that very office.” Sure, Tall was the first person to ever try to pull that on her. Mish was well aware of how jaded this whole job was becoming. It was also quite a lesson in Psychology. It was amazing how much calmer people could be if they just left their houses five minutes earlier instead of pretending to have “emergencies” and “connections.”

           The tone got louder. It sounded like a car-alarm, if car-alarms were one consistent beeeeeeep instead of smaller beep-beep-beeps. Mish continued spinning the dialer around and lifted the phone-part off the receiver-part and banged it back down.

           “You’re going to break that phone,” Tall remarked, before catching himself and whispering to Short, “It would probably go faster.”

           “Excuse me, mister,” Mish pointed at him menacingly, “but this is protocol.”

           “The Apocalypse was yesterday!” Short burst. “Do you think we care about protocol!”

           “Clearly, because you’re over here collecting your tax deductible instead of raiding the banks like actually rebellious people do!” Mish could shout louder. She prided herself on that. “Oh, but I’m sure you think you’re the biggest criminals north of the Mason-Dixon line.” She slammed the phone—that was the only benefit of rotary phones, they were more fun to slam then cells—leaned back in her government-funded spinny chair and crossed her arms. “Go on.” Both men looked at her quizzically. “Go on and bust on into that office. See if you’ve got the stomach to do so.”

           Tall looked as if he was about to bust into many offices more but Short reassuring patted his arm—which was quite some effort on Short’s part—and calmed him down. “Don’t let her trigger you.”

           Mish was about to call them a bunch of cowards when she heard the door behind her creak open. Good. Hopefully it was Security, here to arrest the World’s Worst Criminals. Oh wait no, most of Security had been obliterated in the Apocalypse when they had all come out to tell other people to go home to avoid being obliterated in the Apocalypse.

           “What do you want, Sam?” Mish’s normally strict boss and head tax-collector-and-returner Bert Jarrison asked extremely casually.

           “I want to know, cousin,” Mish made a mental note of how pointed the ‘cousin’ was, as if Bert wasn’t an actual cousin and that fact was going to be thrown in his face any minute now, “why you brought raw-tomato-stew to our dear grandmother’s cookery.”

           “Excuse me,” Mish interrupted, “but what is ‘raw-tomato-stew?’”

           “Exactly what it sounds like!” Bert looked quite hurt. “Stew made of raw tomatoes!”

           Mish just couldn’t help it. Her parents had always encouraged her to speak up in these types of situations. “What kind of a Psychopath would eat raw tomatoes in a stew?” Then she caught herself. “That’s an insult to the Psychopath.”

           “It was a few days before the Apocalypse!” Bert wailed. Wait, he got prior notice? “I wanted to save all the non-perishables! Tomatoes were the only raw things I had left!”

           Short grimaced while Sam, apparently, clucked his tongue. “Selfish, I say. You are the most selfish man I have ever met.”

           And this was the most fun Mish was going to get. “Yeah, Mr. Jarrison. How could you? Your dear grandmother just wanted a nice dinner with her family and you brought half-done ketchup.” Mish shook her own head. “She probably recognized her own broken heart in that mess!”

           Bert gasped and stared at her with wide, offended eyes, and Mish shrugged again. If she couldn’t beat his cousins, who clearly thought tomatoes were an occasion that required suits and visits to the tax office, she might as well join them.

           “You need to apologize,” Mish decided. “Right now. Go on. You don’t know how much longer that Granny of yours has left.”

           Bert tried to protest but Short and Sam suddenly realized their own strength and basically pulled him out, or maybe the weight of failing familial obligations had made Bert weak. That worked for Mish. If they wanted to argue over stew they could go and do that. It seemed pretty anti-climactic for all the fighting Mish had had to do with the phone but hey! The Apocalypse makes you do strange things! For example, Mish, a 16-year-old non-Caucasian girl in a racist, ageist, misogynist town was now being left alone with the entirety of the distributable money.

           This Apocalypse sure was the New Deal.

September 20, 2020 21:38

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13 comments

Keerththan 😀
17:45 Oct 06, 2020

Wow! Hilarious. Wonderful story. The last line was fantastic. Keep writing. Would you mind reading my new story? Thanks!

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Meggy House
18:41 Oct 06, 2020

Thank you so much! I would be happy to read your story!

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Jill Davies
16:36 Oct 01, 2020

This is fun. There was some familiarity about the apocalypse, but also it was obviously something wild. This story felt like it had multiple beginnings and some confusion, though it did come together quite nicely

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Meggy House
17:45 Oct 01, 2020

Thank you so much! I greatly appreciate your reading :)

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Dede K.
15:27 Sep 30, 2020

I enjoyed this! I can definitely sense your writing voice in this piece, making it a fun read. I'm not the best with grammar, however, be careful with your sentence structure. For example: Instead, everybody collectively decided after about a half a week that they were hungry and cramped and might as well risk it, and they emerged lazily and blinded like cicadas and somehow didn’t die. Or maybe they did die and were currently in some form of an afterlife. I For me- starting a sentence with "Or" isn't the best, maybe take that out...

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Meggy House
16:37 Sep 30, 2020

Thank you so much for your feedback! I will check out and fix the grammatical errors. Thank you so much! :)

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Andrew Krey
13:54 Sep 30, 2020

Hi Meggy, I liked your story, there were some nice touches. I liked it that post-apocalypse the world keeps turning, and the mundane task still need to be done. I also liked that without knowing their names, the two men were just referred to as short and tall. As far as suggestions, be careful with capitalising words, as there were a few examples like 'security' and 'apocalypse', which started with a capital letter when it wasnt needed. It should be reserved for specific names. Happy writing

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Meggy House
16:36 Sep 30, 2020

Oh, thank you so much! Security I'll definitely check out, though I did mean for Apocalypse to be capitalized because that's what its formal title is in this universe. Otherwise, thank you so much for reading! :)

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Andrew Krey
20:33 Sep 30, 2020

Ah ok, I thought that might be the case, but wasn't sure as you'd done it for security too. I did that in my story "An Oasis in the Wasteland" by calling WWIII "The Last War", it may make more sense to capitalise 'the' too so it's "The Apocalypse". I've seen italics used for names/references like this too, but I'm not a fan of overusing italics.

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Meggy House
20:36 Sep 30, 2020

Thank you! This is actually really valuable feedback: I will get right on capitalizing the "thes" (if Reedsy is still allowing me to edit this piece) and I will definitely check your story out too. Thank you :)

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Andrew Krey
22:27 Sep 30, 2020

Great, glad it was helpful :) and thanks for checking out my story

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Regina Perry
12:36 Sep 22, 2020

This is great! You've framed the Apocalypse so it looks rather familiar... It's amusing that it's the end of the world and the two things that are the most important are an old phone and a bunch of undercooked tomatoes. It illustrates how people tend to take big things in stride but the little things get to them. There are two things I feel I must point out. I actually have a rotary phone on the wall in my basement, a relic from a bygone age, and there are no buttons to speak of. Perhaps there are other kinds of rotary phones; perhaps ther...

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Meggy House
17:31 Sep 22, 2020

Oh thank you so much for your feedback! You've probably given me the best explanation of a rotary phone in my life, so thank you for that. Mish is stubbornly convinced that rotary phones are obstinate so she probably would understand how to use one and still not use it properly. Thank you for catching the grammar mistake to, and thank you for reading! I always love getting notifications from you :)

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