Last week I was sitting on the couch next to my mum, watching TV. We were drinking tea, she had a biscuit. Both our mugs were on the coffee table. Her elbow lightly brushed against mine, and she apologised. I sat in amazement, that she had apologised for something so free of malice or consequence. I was wondering why she would do that, and then I realised something: people are afraid of touching each other. Once I began actively thinking about it, it all became so obvious that I couldn't believe it hadn't occurred to me before. After that, everywhere I went I would watch people, and so rarely they touched. A handshake, a pat on the shoulder, a hug that you'd miss if you blinked.

I like to watch people's hands as they do everyday things, it's amazing how fast and precise the hands are, beautiful in their own way. I was watching my sister's hands, and I wondered what they felt like. I can't remember ever touching my sister's hands, or anyone else's for that matter. The hands seem like an accessable part of another person, the easiest part to touch, but we don't. When someone passes something to you and your hands touch briefly, they'll very often recoil as though they've touched something hot.

I can't understand this odd social convention. I can see how it would generate a positive-feedback effect, though; the less we touch the more we become afraid of it. I see that small children aren't averse to touching, so it's obviously not an instinctive or evolutionary phenomenon. Perhaps it's something that's confined to my immediate social surroundings, I don't know. Whatever the reason, I think it's just sad. We drift about, always protecting our own space so fiercely that we isolate ourselves from the people closest to us.

Decontamination was a bit worse than usual this time, mostly because one of the filter vents had clogged and was malfunctioning, resulting in a cycle twice as long as normal - the one remaining vent pumped merrily away in the ceiling of the small room built onto the reception area and I tried not to breathe too deeply. The sterile-packed suit given to me (with tongs) to change into turned out to have a tear in the plastic envelope and had to be replaced. This necessitated another delay as airlocks were opened, resealed, repressurized and (I never understood this part) sprayed down with an aerosolized pine fragrance with no antiseptic qualities whatsoever. "I didn't think it was safe until I smelled nature," I imagined the advertisement going. I would've written it down but my pen was in my briefcase and my briefcase was vacationing in an irradiation chamber, rotating slowly like microwave popcorn. I could see it through the window, and I knew it would be ever so slightly warm when I got it back, its plastic handle oddly pliable like stale taffy.

The bench I was sitting on (stainless steel) was slippery under my rear. The magazines were six months past irrelevant and laminated; this made them disconcertingly heavy. I could've crushed a walnut between its pages or, in a darker moment, done myself some serious damage with its razor-sharp edges. I wondered if that was intentional or not.

The receptionist's voice came through the intercom, warning me that the decontamination rinse was about to begin and I screwed my eyes shut, not that it would help - the gel hit me from all sides and I lifted my feet off the floor so that the backs of my thighs were covered.

I was instructed to stand and I did. I was instructed to turn in a slow circle and I did that, too. A blast of hot, metallic air blasted me from below and the gel evaporated, supposedly (though I had my doubts) taking any lingering bacteria with it. I was asked to confirm that, to the best of my knowledge, my medical forms were up-to-date and accurate, and a notation was made in my record that my cycle was complete.

My clothes had been discarded and replaced with similar ones as they were designed to be - much like you can tell a seemingly upscale restaurant by the cut of the lapels on its loaner jacket, an upscale decon procedure could be spotted by the number of styles of jumpsuits available on the outside, and they happened to have my colors in stock. I slipped on my new outfit, rubbed out the inside of my mouth with a prepackaged lemony napkin and discarded it in the hole in the wall. Stepping out, the receptionist pointed to my briefcase in its bin from behind her window and directed me to the line where, if I was very lucky, I could get my coffee before going through this whole thing again once I got to my office building.

Fucking Mondays, I swear to god.

Cooties.


BQ07

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