A Joyless Euphoria

"Mom, what's a Nando's Fix gum?"

Ethel Prine didn't know what to say. Since when did television broadcast in--color? And that woman... did she? She was... They couldn't even show a married couple sharing the same bed and she was...

She was... in the nude.

It took Ethel a good twenty minutes to recover from the brazen horror she had just witnessed. When she came to, they had literally stopped the broadcast for the night and she found herself staring wordlessly at the test screen. Meanwhile her little William, sensing something had deeply troubled his mother and that he was not the cause, had slipped off to bed unnoticed. Probably without saying his prayers. It wasn't his fault, heaven knew, that his mother had lost her senses, but all the same part of her felt the boy should get a good tanning. Just so he'd know at once that what he saw was wrong even if he didn't mean to see it. And that God was always watching. Especially when he didn't say his prayers.

Ethel stood up and nervously made herself some tea. If only Harold had been home. He would have had the presence of mind to do... something about the filth on the television. The days he worked the night shift always made her so nervous. It was bad enough that they were letting those people move in two towns over--who knew if they were prowling about at night just waiting for a woman like her to be alone. But to see that this corruption had already made it into their house! Through radio waves! She'd always been against it. Always been against that contraption.

The kettle had been whistling for some minutes when the phone rang.

It was Betty Giles and she was in a tizzy. She'd been watching with her Alfred when that smut came on the TV and at first they were so stunned to see the color they didn't see what they were seeing. Then they saw that man with the dollar--Betty couldn't continue. She was near hysterics. Her Alfred wasn't a good man like Harold. He was a lout and a drunk. Once he'd grasped what had been on the television he'd turned to her sneering:

"I tell you what, Betty old girl, I'd take her chicklets over your chicken any day."

Betty broke down before she could finish, but Ethel understood the gist of it. That Alfred. He was a terrible man. And this television was just the rot that would make him worse.

~

The Sunday Service was an uproar, of course. Pastor Simmons didn't have a television--didn't want anything that would distract him from the love of his Lord--but he knew well enough of sin to know what the Concerned Ladies of Zion Valley Church were upset about. He knew well enough to support them.

They wrote a letter to the broadcast station. The producers, of course, were very apologetic. They claimed to have no idea how such deviant material could make it on the television. They even had the audacity to claim that the technology for a color broadcast simply wasn't feasible yet.

Obviously, the sheer mendacity of their claims wasn't enough to stand, so the Concerned Ladies sent off another letter, along with a copy to the Evening Post and the town fathers, just to let everyone know they were serious. After the threat of another exchange, a Vice President from the station personally came down to Zion Valley and addressed the congregation himself, apologizing deeply for any disruption and grief their mistaken broadcast might have caused. Just to show how sincere his contrition was, he made a generous donation to the Grounds Fund and sponsored a little coffee and bruncheon for after the service.

Ethel was just about ready to put the whole mess behind he when, four twenty pm, right on the button on a rainy Saturday afternoon, that commercial played again. This time Harold was home and had the presence of mind to send little Billy off to his room before he could be tempted to ask any impertinent questions.

"Well," Ethel said to her husband, after fuming for some minutes like a tea pot herself, "What do you think of that?"

"Huh. When did they start broadcasting in color?"

Ethel had only just started giving her husband what for when the phone rang again. Rather than Mrs. Giles with another episode in her successive tale of woe, it was Marcie Laurence, the choir leader and unofficial co-leader of the Concerned Ladies. Her voice was calm and steely.

"My God, Eth, we've got to put a stop to this."

They must have conferenced for an hour. It was decided. The ladies would come over the next day and draw up picket signs. They'd recruit from the church and if Harold knew what was good for him he'd talk to the fellows down at the plant to get some support from them as well. Then starting Monday and going on until the network capitulated in its crusade of corruption, they'd march outside the door. And if that Mr. Vice President of whatever didn't have anything more than pound cake and a hundred dollars to offer in terms of restitution, why they'd take their case to Washington.

~

Protesting wasn't easy. In all candor, Ethel thought it would have taken a week to get the whole situation put right. While she and the girls made a scene out front, Marcie was back at the church with Pastor Simmons, writing letters to all the advertisers, telling them not to do business with the libertines at the network. However, the men folk couldn't stay for more than a few hours on Sunday. Their letters got no reply. The papers stopped talking about the issue. Pastor Simmons went back to talking about the perils of godless Communism. The Concerned Ladies were still concerned, but they had families to feed and houses to clean. It looked very much like the network would get off scot free.

That was, until, Ethel Prine went to get her son's laundry. She thought nothing of opening the door to get his clothes. Billy had been upstairs all afternoon doing homework. He was such a good boy. When his hoodlum friends came by wanted to play stick ball, he said no, he had math to do. Her boy, doing math! Harold wanted him to apprentice at the plant but Ethel secretly hoped he might try his hand at engineering. After all, if he loved math surely there'd be no better home for him.

What little Billy was doing in his room, however, had nothing to do with math.

"What are you doing?" Ethel gasped.

"Nothing!"

"What's under that pillow?"

Her boy was crimsoned face. He didn't even bother to lie or make excuse when she snatched the pillow from him.

"Don't you know that will make you blind?" she cried as she slapped him on the ear. The boy cowered in fear.

"What made you do such a thing?"

He didn't look at her.

"I-i-it was the n-n-nando's fix."

"Get yourself to the bathroom right now and put some cold water on it. And you apologize to God right now, you hear me?"

Little Billy ran out of the room, tears streaming down his face.

~

Telling Pastor Simmons about her son's... deviance wasn't easy. Ethel put it off for one Sunday. And then the next. She waited until the guilt of what she'd seen had made her physically ill before she barged into the Pastor's office after the Sunday service. Normally she'd have been surprised to see Marcie Laurence was there too but the burden of her knowledge was too great to notice that her unofficial co-leader and the pastor quickly straightened their coats.

"That devil Nando's," she cried hysterically, "Has led my little Billy to Onanism."

"Now, now, calm down Mrs. Prine," the pastor said, "And why don't you tell me what happened from the beginning."

Ethel barely sobbed her way through the story. Not just Billy and the pillow, but the whole story. Harold's refusal to take the nude woman seriously. Alf Giles' mean comments to his wife. The way this all seemed to coincide with those people moving in two towns over. The Reds. The Chinese. Negro civil rights. All of it. Where had good old America gone?

Pastor Simmons was a wise man. He didn't waste his time on big explanations. He merely told his distressed congregant a simple truth.

"The truth will set you free, Mrs. Prine."

And so it would. Ethel got up at the next town meeting, with her son next to her, and told the gathered councilmen just what happened when she went to get the laundry on a Saturday afternoon. She demanded right then and there that they consider a motion to ban filth from the airwaves. Flanked by her righteous sisters of the Concerned Women of Zion Valley Church, the town fathers passed an immediate resolution banning filth from the air. She didn't stop there. She went to the next town over. And then even to the community two towns over, then further still. Soon she was in the state house, railing against the perversion, Communism, atheism, and homosexuality caused by this so called "Nando's Peri Peri" and it's technicolor harlots. Ethel Prine's campaign went nation wide. Soon every state house was considering its own Little Billy law. Congress itself passed the American Moral Defense Act, banning the show of lewd and licentious advertising in all media. Her boy nearly risked blindness, but by God the fruit of his temptation had saved the nation's soul.

In the future there was no Hefner. There was no Flynt. Hair ended modestly attired. Paris had it's last tango everywhere but midnight theaters. No one ever knew about Swedish girls. Some would say something was lost in Billy Prine's ill timed pocket pool. Others would say a nation found its soul.

--MEANWHILE, IN ALTERNATE UNIVERSE ΣΑΜ--

Deek entered the lab. Xolani was sitting at the monitor, looking at readouts from the Transdimensional Alternate Reality Detection & Investigation System. The Wits lab had been lucky to get a grant to study emerging Cold War capitalist culture, and both of them were cooperating on a dissertation mentored by Doctor Hofmeyr assessing the impact of mass media on social and political conditions.

"Howzit?" Deek said laconically as he entered. Given the split between the US and Western European broadcasts, they'd split their observations in shifts to ensure that they could maximize their observations.

"I'm good chana, how are you?"

"Good, good. What's on the boob tube today?"

"Ah, same old. Negotiations over Korea are falling apart."

Deek knew the timeline and wasn't worried.

"They'll sort it out, eh? Kinda boring to watch when you already know the outcome," he slumped into the chair next to Xol and stole one of his wedges.

"Yeah, though it's strange, Deek. I ran a crosscheck of trivial events versus recorded and I picked up a sixty percent deviation versus expected outcome in a point six percent timeline. I ran the projections twice and we're headed towards a twelve percent divergence in seminal events."

Deek took another wedge and dipped it in garlic sauce.

"Well, that can't be right."

Xol nodded and pulled up the events log. Sure enough, seventy thousand indexed events based on a projected time line did not occur as expected. He looked at Deek.

"Did you rerun the time line projection? Maybe we got something wrong in the baseline."

"I did," Xol confirmed, "Twice. It came out the same."

Deek took another wedge.

"Reporting?"

"They're are photos in the papers that don't match the microfiche in the library. I've cross referenced a hundred papers in six countries. All the same. Or different, I should say."

"Weird," Deek replied. He'd really be troubled by this if he wasn't totally buzzing right now.

"Deek, I went through the system logs. Top to bottom. I have to ask you."

"What's that?"

"I found two transmissions, both at four twenty pee emm. One on Wednesday and one on Saturday. Is there anything you wanted to tell me?"

Deek looked at Xol. They'd known each other for years. Working on time observation theory had been their dream. They were so close to being part of the team that laid down the theory for particle travel across the multiverse. He'd do nothing to jeopardize that... intentionally.

"Nah, Xol. Nothing."

Xol was holding up the butt end of a roach.

"Are you sure there's nothing you want to tell me?"

Deek put his head in his hands.

"You've got to be fucking with me. You mean if I use the monitor to browse youtube it actually transmits!?"

"Fucking a," Xol said, "Two years of research. Wasted. The revised time line projection is showing an all out nuclear confrontation during the Nixon presidency of sixty two. Eish."

"We're fucked," Deek realized, dropping the last wedge, "We're royally fucked. Proper fu--wait a tick! What if you found another time line that was real fuckin' close. Seven tenths variation. I'm not saying is kosher but we could change our priors a bit and nudge the research in line with the observations of that chronology. It'd take them years of cross referencing to notice any of the inconsistencies."

Xol looked up with a sheepish smile.

"I thought of that. I have a candidate lined up. I wanted to hear you suggest it first."

Deek clapped Xol on the shoulder and grinned from ear to ear.

"That's hundreds, mate. Well, let's switch the tele, shall we?"

"Yebo. But, I tell you Deek, you jukka, you do anything that doff again and I will kill you."

"Haha, don't worry bruh, I won't muck it up again."

Xol made the adjustments to the cross dimensional telemetry. Coming in on the monitor now was the home of Henry and Eunice Prine. Mrs. Prine and her son Philip were watching the Late Show. Because her husband was drinking out late again that night, Eunice had let her son stay up to watch a popular music act.

"Xol."

"Yeah, Deek?"

"Don't you think it's kinda crazy though? A little skommel by some kid and the whole world blows up."

It wasn't until he said the words that Deek realized something approximating personal responsibility. Xol did not look up from the monitor.

"It's all rocks to me, chana."

No comments... yet!

Please , or signup to post a comment.

MauricioWan
Created by MauricioWan

Originally Created: 08/10/14