By Orrin Farries
March 15th, the year of Our Party 2120.
Embarrassment and misplaced guilt raged through Cairo Naa. He tried to forget the reality of the world the only way he knew how.
The air raised up through his lungs, and out his pursed lips passing virulent jazz from his flute off the walls of his study. He was immersed in his woodwind until his wife, Lana, had slipped into the room, and his peace was broken.
“How did the press conference go today, hun?”
“Terrible. Mr. Shilo took to the podium and only pretended to use the hand sanitizer, it’s blown up on social media.”
Cairo Naa was the head assistant to the minister of health in the Cowgary region of the province of Aborta. Skyler Shilo, who was under public heat for how The Party was handling the Bologna virus, a zoonotic virus that originated from some guy eating shady meat from a market in a communist country across the world.
“The Party is my life’s work, and I know that they’ll sort this crazy virus out, but it doesn’t help that five MLAs were found hosting Charcuterie board tastings at Christmas time despite the meat restriction made effective by The Party the week before Christmas.”
“Oh honey, you’re doing all you can, you’re clever, and I’m sure you’ll write the next great speech to inspire the public to have the same faith as you do in The Party.”
“I sure hope you’re right. I just don’t think The Party knows what to do about this virus, every week they say one thing, and the next week they do the opposite. The public wants to rebel, and The Party are only too happy to give ‘em all the reason to.”
The timing of this faux pas by the MLAs was a real dagger to the heart of even the most rule-abiding Abortans.
The Party had just declared that citizens could only eat meat with persons of the same household and that no more meat would be imported until the Bologna Virus was under control.
Not to mention that a lot of citizens would be having Tofurky for Christmas dinner due to the panic buying of all the meat in the grocery stores. All the while, members of The Party were wagging their wagyu in the faces of the people they served.
Cairo’s adult sons, Boeuf Naa and Sad Naa, came into the study, spitting insults at one another and jostling each other around.
Lana and Cairo loved their son very much but expressed that love in a very different way. Lana was always gentle with Boeuf, having never really launched him into adulthood, while Cairo was flippantly judgmental and reverent of his son.
Neither Lana nor Cairo paid much mind to their other son, Sad, so Sad became a real ladies’ man to compensate for the love lost. Sad was not an unhappy man. He always found a way to think of himself as well-to-do and was in truth, well-endowed, just not in the financial sense.
“You two! What’s this I hear about you using your money from the government relief fund to host barbecues of over 10 people? That ends immediately, and you boys are going to come with me to the legislature to speak out against the people speaking out against the meat ban. And that’s that.”
Sad tried to work in a line about how the ladies loved his meat, and never got sick from it. Well, except that one time. But before he could finish his bit, Boeuf punched him on the shoulder and shut him up.
“Ah Boeuf, you’ll be a great assistant to The Party someday real soon! Sad, you could really learn a thing or two from Boeuf.”
Cairo, Boeuf, and Sad packed into their 2105 Totoya Corollary and headed to the protest at the heart of the city, where a large disgruntled crowd had gathered.
Protesters swarmed the grounds of the legislature, waving signs like, “We all meat our maker sooner than later”, “No Meat, No Freedom”, and “I’ll meat you in hell”. Rather threatening stuff.
They’re harmless though, thought Cairo. Rebelling is the only way that most of these folks know how to participate in politics.
As the three Naa men made their way across the crowded greens to the amphitheatre where the speeches were being held, the mania of meat consumed them.
Thousands of protestors, abuzz with anticipation, had become an audacious mosh pit on the greens of the legislature. There were old people swinging links of sausage over their heads and wailing like banshees, hip-looking thirty-somethings were smoking meat on the flower gardens, and children running around with handfuls of hotdogs covered in enough ketchup to turn your stomach.
The air smelled of processed pork, heartburn burps, and meat sweats. The pungent menagerie got bad enough that Cairo and his sons wore face masks to get across the lawn.
“See boys, this is democracy at its finest. The people are mad and they’re out here really doing something about it. The System is a well-oiled machine. Say, Boeuf, you’d make a helluva mechanical technologist, have you thought about trade school?”
Boeuf caught the tone of derision from his father but didn’t respond as he was actually considering moving to Breadmonton and enrolling in the Northern Aborta Institute of Technology.
Boeuf and Sad nodded with eyes squinted for the effect of feigned interest, when they were really more preoccupied with a section of the protest happening just behind the shell-structure that made up the legislature’s amphitheatre.
As it turns out, even the vegans of Cowgary were upset by the meat ban, claiming that now that no one could eat meat, their communal identity would be lost in the chasm of a meatless society.
Sad was a vegan, the kind that gave them a bad name with his smarmy brand of self-importance. Sad didn’t really like being vegan, but he really liked vegan girls. Sad made a bee-line toward the vegan crowd, looking for a sympathetic-looking girl to win over with his polished brand of flirtation.
When Cairo and Boeuf finally got to the stage of the amphitheatre, a tall man in a large overcoat came from out of the shadows and stood before them, his face obscured by a large panama hat and wrap-around sunglasses.
The certainty of the statement put Cairo on edge.
“You’re Shilo’s man. Come with me.”
The voice of the stranger was gravelly and serious. Cairo was surprised. No one knew who he was. On several occasions, Cairo Naa was mistaken for a waiter at The Party conferences.
Cairo and the stranger left Boeuf to his own devices. Boeuf shrugged, rented an air-scooter using an app on his phone, and went home. Boeuf didn’t have the marrow for politics.
The stranger swiftly led Cairo to a television production trailer in an alleyway around the corner and down the block. The gravelly stranger walked fast and talked even faster.
“Listen here bubbaloo, Shilo needs to cool down this crowd and offer them someone to blame for this charcuterie fiasco and there isn’t any good way to say this. He’s pinning the whole thing on you, kid.”
“The whole thing? How?”
The stranger smirked, and took out a small log of pancetta, and chuckled as he cut a shaving of salty pork off the log. They’d arrived at the front door of the production trailer.
“Oh it’s a real gas, you’re gonna love this, stooges love seeing the important role they play for The Party. Care for a slice? Might as well go out in form.”
The stranger gestured Cairo into a makeup chair and was given the story and a lickety-split facial makeover.
The explanation was simple: the only photographic evidence of the ‘Charcuterie Faux Pas’, as it has since been known, was of one of the MLA’s posting a picture of him and a meat and cheese plate in a boardroom. As it happened, it was the boardroom across the hall from Cairo’s office, where Cairo was working overtime that night to amend a speech that Shilo ended up mostly going off-script for anyway. No alibi, no negotiation, and no compromise for Cairo.
The Party was going to make a statement that Cairo Naa, organized the meat party and that he would be removed from his position in one of the auxiliary boards of jurisdiction. Cairo wasn’t even aware that such a board even existed, much less that he now was an ex-member of whatever it was. He felt dejected. Even if the board was imaginary.
“Say, since you’re his man, where was Shilo during this charcuterie shenanigans?”
Cairo looked in the mirror. The makeup artist had painted up his face so it looked as though he always had a remorseful, but understanding expression on his face. Cairo couldn’t smile even if he had wanted to. He didn’t really want to.
“Just before today’s conference was the first I’d seen him in two weeks.”
Cairo cleared his throat and sipped water through a straw to keep his ‘face’ from falling off.
“But do the people care about that? No. They just want someone to blame. The Party used to stand for something. At least, I thought it did.”
Cairo went to put his face in his hands, but the old blond-white makeup artist grabbed a hold of his wrists in one bony hand, and with the other wagged a disapproving finger in his face.
“What is The Party now? A washed-up establishment parading around proudly, talking about the good ol’ days, and refusing to accept that they’ve fallen out with the ideals that made them what they are in the first place.”
The gravelly stranger lifted Cairo up from the chair in the makeup trailer. The stranger brushed off the shoulders on Cairo’s muddy brown suit jacket. A thin smile began curling on the stranger’s face.
“There, there, kid. You’re not really losing your job, and you’ve only got to suck it up until the next PR miscarriage. You look like a smart man, you know The Party needs team players. Keep your head down for a little while here, maybe go on vacation, shoot, The Party will probably even pay for it.”
Cairo stood up tall, but not too tall, so as to be the epitome of remorse and understanding. The gravelly stranger now smiled, patted Cairo on the shoulder and leaned in, his breath moist on Cairo’s neck:
“Now go be a team player, and say you’re sorry.”