Moly, the Rarest Herb

“How’m I doin’, fellas?”

(A long wooden table underneath a long wooden silence. Outside the afternoon sky was dark with falling ash. The air was unfit to breathe; you wore a gasmask when you left your home.)

“Doin’ pretty good, eh, fellas? People are happy with the way things are? Plenty of food, lots of shows for the kiddies, right? That’s all that people really want. Heck, I like a show myself, you know! Who’s with me?”

(Harold-in-the-back coughs, a sound like tearing tissue paper. He’s got black lung from the weeks of smoking. When he came in this morning, he spent fifteen minutes in the bathroom. Five minutes hocking a black blob of mucus into the sink, and ten minutes scrubbing furiously with paper towels until the sink was, if not white, at least a fairly innocuous gray.)

“Everyone is very pleased, sir. Your numbers are very good.”

“Oh, go ahead and call me Samuel, Mark, we’re good enough pals. Those numbers are pretty important. You’re sure they’re still good? Wouldn’t want them to drop, now! A-heh-heh-ha!”

(More people cough, dry, embarrassed coughs. They stopped polling anybody but themselves when the rains came.)