By Hendrik Harms
As the alarm sent gentle light pulses in the room, David began to stir. It was a much more delicate way to be awoken; especially over those shrills tones used in the past.
He slipped out of bed, leaving his wife to wake on her own and moved towards the bathroom. As he did so he clapped his hands once and then raised them in an upwards motion, which caused the blackout curtains in front of his generous windows to seamlessly ascend.
In the bathroom, he absentmindedly brushed his teeth, whilst using his free hand to fiddle with a large square encased in paper. It looked like a nicotine patch in a plaster’s wrapping, except it had the word JOY written on it in big yellow letters.
Once free of its packaging, David slapped it onto his bare left arm. He briefly stopped to consider that he could no longer remember what it was like not wearing JOY every day. He remembered why it came into existence; the early part of the twenty first century had been riddled with endless wars, economic crashes, vast unemployment, epidemics, terrorism, rising taxes, reduced quality of life and fruitless laws trying to control the general populace to the point that happiness just died. Whole countries descended into an unshakeable blackness and with morale plummeting on a global scale, a new drug was created that could instil an artificial feeling of joy in a person. People used JOY everyday. It became as normal as taking vitamins in the morning.
David just wished he could remember a time when he had felt a natural happy thought.
He was shaken from his daydream by toothpaste dripping from his mouth onto his arm. He cursed, realising he was running late. So, after swilling out his mouth, he darted back into the bedroom to put his suit on.
Frankie had never known her parents. They had both died when she was very young, which had unfortunately left Frankie in the world by herself and with no where to go. That had taken some adjusting to, but now she was in her late teens she had become quite adept at living on the fringes of society.
She often mused about how different life could be had they not taken their own lives; had they not lived in a world without joy.
Frankie whistled, calling her dog to her side.
From out of the shadow of an alleyway the dog trotted into view carrying a tatty tennis ball in his mouth. She thought his breed to be a Berger Picard, because she’d seen a picture of one once in an abandoned veterinary clinic, but she couldn’t be sure as they usually looked quite majestic in appearance, unlike her scraggy, dishevelled and well-loved dog.
Frankie didn’t know where he’d come from originally, all she did know was that he came to her at a time she had really needed someone who was loving and kind.
The two of them joined the bustling throngs of people moving about their daily lives on the busy high street. Every single person seemed to have a fake smile plastered on their face. That was the problem with the JOY patch, it made everyone look unreal. The smiles looked almost cartoony and out of place, like they only existed on the surface and all that pain and hurt still lurked underneath.
Unfortunately however, it was only the people who couldn’t afford JOY that could actually see through this tragic facade.
Frankie clicked her fingers and pointed at the floor. Her four-legged friend looked at her with penetrating eyes, as if almost willing her to not ask him to complete the task, but she clicked her fingers once more and gave him a stern look.
With great sadness the dog dropped the ball onto the ground and Frankie picked it up and smiled. “Good boy.” She cooed, whilst stroking his head. “We’ll take this to the park and play, shall we?” Frankie knew he couldn’t understand her, but at least his emotions were honest and real.
David stepped out onto the street and shielded his eyes from the blinding light. It hadn’t looked this sunny from his apartment.
Without a conscious thought, he joined the throngs of people moving about the street like mindless salmon all heading to their desired destination. He checked his watch and saw that he was running slightly late.
Looking ahead and craning his neck, David tried to see a break in the crowd in front of him. If he continued at this pace, he would definitely not make it to work on time.
Suddenly, he had an idea; he could cross the park. He was so used to avoiding the park, due to his wife’s view of it, that he was annoyed the idea hadn’t come to him immediately.
David understood why his wife avoided it; she said that it reminded her of laughter, games, picnics and gleeful children, but it had been a long time since anything like that had happened at the park. Now there was a hanging silence, as if in a library. Everyone smiling of course, but no really honest fun.
He smiled, remembering a phrase he’d heard his mother use frequently when he was growing up:
It’s the little things in life.
That had always been an easy way to sum up pure, unadulterated joy. Now the phrase was more attributed to the slogan of Radcott Pharmaceuticals, the manufacturers of JOY.
David cut across the busy street and made a beeline for the park. As he got closer he could see that he’d made the right decision to go this way; the park was almost empty. He couldn’t help but wonder if the reason behind this was that other people felt the same as his wife.
His musing was, abruptly, disturbed when a tatty tennis ball came flying out of nowhere, bounced at his feet and lightly tapped him on the chest.
Confused, he looked down as it feebly hit the ground a few more times, before coming to a rest. David cocked his head to once side, marvelling at the grubby little ball in front of him. It was such an unusual sight.
He bent down to pick it up, while also scanning the immediate are to see where it had come from. He didn’t have to wait long. A dog was galloping towards him at full speed.
Smiling, he put his hand out ahead of him in an almost defensive manner, as the dog closed the distance. It was at that moment a thought occurred to him:
Christ, am I actually smiling?
David didn’t have time to substantiate that thought any more, however, due to the dog already bowling him over. David held the dog’s inquisitive head as it sniffed all over him, paying special interest to a particular spot on his left arm where the patch was.
“Stop!” He heard a young girl’s voice yell out, and the dog turned instantly to obey.
David dusted himself off just as the girl reached him.
“I’m so sorry.” She tried to help brushing off the dirt from his suit, so worried about his reaction that
she had missed David was properly smiling. It took her a couple of glances before she realised and thought: Christ, is he actually smiling?
Frankie had felt her whole body tense when the ball had hit that man. In the past people wouldn’t have been very understanding, these days even less so.
Although, as she stood next to him now she almost felt foolish that she had. He was being really nice and it was the first time she had seen someone of his standing with a genuine smile for a while.
“He’s a Berger Picard isn’t he?” The man asked, which took Frankie aback.
“Yeah. I think so.” She answered, warily.
“I used to have one when I was a kid.” He continued, absentmindedly stroking the dog’s head
wondering if the memory of his old dog was what happened had caused him to find a genuine smile. “Mister,” Frankie interrupted, “I gotta ask, why are you walking through the park? You’re wearing
JOY aren’t you?”
“Of course I am.” The man looked utterly bemused. “Are you not?”
Frankie just shook her and rubbed her thumbs and fingers together, indicating that she had no money. “Extraordinary.” He shook his head in disbelief. “I guess I just never really thought about that side of
it. Tell me, why did you seem surprised that I was going through the park?”
“It’s the patch.” Frankie shrugged. “Happiness these days is a fallacy, it’s fake and the only thing that
reminds them of what unmanufactured happiness did feel like are the places they used to go to experience joy. Can you remember any place you’ve been since wearing the patch that ever used to make you happy.”
David stood there thinking for a moment and then answered with a strained look on his face: “I used to walk by the docks on the way to work. I don’t go that way anymore.” “That’s JOY. It won’t work if you can remember what joy actually is.”
“Oh my God.” David exclaimed. “Work! I forgot I was late.”
He spun on his heel and turned to leave, but then stopped.
“What’s you name?” He asked the young girl.
She looked at him with that wary look again, obviously unsure whether or not to trust him. “I’m Frankie.”
David smiled and extended his hand for her to shake, which she did.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you Frankie, I’m David. Will you be here tomorrow? I’d very much like to continue this chat.”
The girl nervously nodded.
“Good.” David nodded back to her. “One more question before I go though. If you don’t use JOY, then how are you…” He trailed off, because he thought his point was self explanatory.
This was the first time that Frankie properly smiled. She beckoned David over and then pointed to her dog’s collar. David bent down and clasped his little name tag, tilting it towards the sun to get a better look at the name.
He laughed in understanding, before standing up straight and smiling once more to Frankie. “Thanks.” He waved to her before starting on his way to work.
Suddenly, being late didn’t matter so much.
As David walked away he looked back to Frankie and her dog playing fetch. He thought to the three-
letter name on the little silver disc around the dog’s neck and smiled at the irony of it. Even though there were people out there who couldn’t afford JOY, it didn’t mean that they couldn’t find their own.