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art by Melissa Mead

Trading the Days

M.E. Castle lives in the Pacific Northwest with a couple of birds and their new pet cats. She's tried to extol the virtues of geodatabases to them, but to no avail. The birds are too busy training the cats not to eat them, and the cats are just looking for the absent sunshine.

I will not give up today.
I will not give up today because I have learned that every day is necessary. Every day is precious.
Like all of you, I have given up plenty of days. It's a good deal: trade the bad days, the quiet days, the nothing days for a percentage return to your time allotment.
It's a good deal--on its surface. And like you I took advantage of it, especially early on when I didn't know the worth of each day.
But it's just a day, you say. It's not like giving up a week, or a month, or--God forbid--a year. It's just a day. We have plenty of days, plenty to spare.
That's what I thought, too. A day is nothing, especially when you can choose to give up a tedious day--a work day or a day spent standing in line. Or a bad day, like the one in which your wife... in which your wife....
Yes. Well.
Our natural instinct is to keep the good days, the exciting days. We give up the bad days first. We give up the quiet days.
Today was not a good day. It was not an exciting day.
Live it with me, then decide if you would give it up.
It begins well enough, with a minor victory in that you drag yourself out of your bunk to make your shift on time--a first this week. But your day was more than quiet: sit at a terminal, stare at the screen, try to wade through the technical specs of Designing Quasi-Sentient Geodata Entities for Interstellar Transport Systems, stumble over unfamiliar polysyllabic jargon. Stare more at the screen. At lunch, you discover your account is dry, so you won't be going to the canteen. Instead of hitting up your coworkers for a few credits, you rummage in a far drawer for emergency rations and hope they aren't infested with moth larvae. And after lunch, your only desire is to take a nap, but there's still that Geodata document waiting to fill your afternoon.
Still with me?
When your shift is done, you go back to your quarters, sit on the chair and watch whatever entertainment is on the vid, hoping for something--anything--worthwhile, but eventually it's bedtime, and you still haven't cleaned up the dishes from your solo dinner. So you go to bed and wait for sleep, and it's a long time coming.
Today was a nothing day in a string of nothing days. This is a day that you give up. It's an easy decision. This is a day that you trade for the going rate of return--fifty percent if you're lucky, far less for most of you.
And you do this in the hope that the few hours you acquire are better than the day you've lived.
But this is the day that you can't give up. Today--this nothing of a day--is the day that acts as the glue that holds the other days together.
It's interesting. If you trade enough days, your past condenses. It begins to compress upon itself.
Without today, the sharp bright days that remain rub and crack against each other, pushing and shoving as they attempt to claim their places in the remaining span. And you realize that they are seeking those given up. And the noise of their loss gets louder and louder, until you can't stand it anymore.
Finally, the only recourse you have is to give them up too.
And when you do, you discover that you have no days left behind you. That when you look back over where the days of your life should be there's... nothing.
Just the emptiness. And you stand at the edge of it and look down into the chasm, and the wind blows up from the black depths--from your depths--and that wind is cold and empty.
So no. I will not give up today. I will keep my days, all of them, and the ones that I want to give up the most, I will fight the hardest to keep.
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, November 10th, 2011

Author Comments

The bones of this story resulted from a fifteen-minute hot write, with a prompt of "I will not give up today because..." I'd just had the day described in the story (minus the interstellar part, but including the moth larvae), so my first thought was, "Today stunk. I'd love to give up today."

- M.E. Castle
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