I look into the mirror wishing I could shower. My raven hair glistens with the days of accumulated oil. It’s razor straight, so a messy bun won’t do much to hide it. Instead, I tie most of it into a pony tail, allowing a few strands to frame my face. With conservation in mind, I shake out a few puffs of baking powder into my left hand and delicately work it into the lose strands and my pony.
Showers are out of the question because the city cannot afford to allow everyone to use water with impunity. That is my job, I run around all day, when the city can afford to pay me, and turn off supplies to those who are going into restriction and turning water on for those who are rotating out of water restriction. It’s not a perfect schedule. As I said, the city cannot always afford to pay me.
They found a buyer for some property the city held for failure to pay taxes. The city owns a lot of property for that reason. As does the county. Business found it hard to pay taxes, or employees when their legal bills outstripped their revenues. Some went out of business because they could not afford the higher taxes coupled with minimum wage laws.
With my hair looking decent, I lick a tattered wash cloth and wipe my smooth forehead, prominent check bones, and cleft chin. Not even working for the water district exempts one from water restrictions. I won’t be turning my water on for two weeks.
“I need to grab my drinking water ration on the way home today,” I say aloud remembering I am down to three compostable cartons of water.
I take one last look at my cinnamon colored eyes wishing I could highlight them a little with makeup, but that hasn’t been available since I was a middle-class kid in middle school. If I cared, I would have noticed things were changing then. I dismiss the whole train of thought with a shrug of my bony shoulders. Then I wonder why I am so concerned about my appearance. I quit letting men’s advances matter over a year ago. And with my good looks, and ample breasts, there were plenty of advances.
Sex was off the table, which is too bad, because it was one of the few things I really enjoyed in this life. But with no birth control available, it wasn’t worth the risk. Most of the pharmaceuticals shuttered their doors in the last five years. Again, their legal costs, and government price controls drove them out of business. Not even the state-run woman’s clinic can provide contraceptives.
Condoms went away long ago, and with the waiting list for abortions being seven to eight months, it’s kind of makes getting pregnant a guaranteed path to parenthood. Sure, you get a bigger nutritional allowance with more mouths, but no more cash. Nothing gets you more cash, because no one has any.
The thought of sex and pregnancy seems to enhance my cramps. That monthly thing doesn’t seem to care that tampons are hard to come by.
“Ugh,” I moan as I step into the hallway and pull out my paper bag of old t-shirts, rags, denim, and whatever else I can scrounge in my rounds. It is amazing what people throw away. Even in these lean times. I am not sure who gets more out of the garbage cans, me or the garbage men.
Nevertheless, I wish I had plastic bags to keep the old rags in until I can wash them in the river. But those were outlawed in most U.S. cities before I finished high school. I swap out the soiled rags with mostly clean ones and wrap up the soiled ones in a thread bare towel.
“God, I hate this time of the month,” I say as I reach for a bottle of Bayer aspirin. One of the oldest, and last pharma’s left. It’s probably because the German government does its best to hold them up. I shake out two, work up a good amount of spit, and throw the white pills into the back of my throat. The little bit of saliva barely manages to wash the pills down without leaving that bitter after taste.
I tried chewing them once and decided that was never going to happen again.
With a modicum of cleanliness established, I take one last look at my thin figure in the vanity mirror and turn into the bedroom. While dressing in the cleanest clothes I can find, I muse over the debates my grandparents used to have at family gatherings when I was growing up.
My grandfather was an outspoken man who believed that his one single belief was the only right belief…freedom. He would go on about how it was one of the hardest things for mankind to obtain, and even more difficult to hang onto. I didn’t really understand then, but I see what he meant now.
He would debate his sons, and daughter, my mom, about what would bring about the end of society. His children were convinced that it would be some global war, or an Extinction Level Event, or most likely, climate change.
As I bound down the complexes front stairs I look up at the clear blue sky. The state weather services say todays spring weather would be average. Not warmer, but average.
My grandfather would argue it would be greed. Not the greed of the wealthy, or prosperous. But the greed of the masses. To many people with their hands out. Not wanting to be held accountable for their poor life decisions. Wanting free health care, paid leave for every single life event. Suing legitimate businesses for all their ills, without any regard for their own choices or poor decisions. That is what my grandfather thought would be the end of modern civilization.
He might have been right. By the end of this week, I will have cut water to half the city, while only restoring it to a quarter. The percentages used to be better, but as the tax base shrinks, and those in need increase, local governments are running out of resources.
As I pull my belt one notch tighter than a month ago, I thank god for my city job. Even though I don’t always get paid, I at least get my nutritional minimum, plus a public employee bonus. I might go to bed hungry, but I am only losing weight when I am actually working.