The Short, Happy Life of Yachi Johansen

Yachi Johansen woke up, rolled out of bed, kicked the light on, felt the tank to see if it was warm enough, dumped water over her head, toweled dry, looked in the mirror, wondered what she might do with her hair today, and realized that she had a life. She froze in astonishment.

She was of course aware that women, especially young women such as she supposed she in fact was, often cared about what they did with their hair. She was aware of this in the same way that she was aware that dogs enjoyed licking their balls. Amusing, but nothing really to concern herself with. Women cared about their hair when they were concerned with things related to living, rather than to merely staying alive. Yachi had cared about her hair. Therefore, Yachi had a life.

Second thoughts began to intrude. She tiptoed back into her bedroom, glaring around with narrow, suspicious eyes. The light was working, which meant that there was electricity. The tank was filling with water, which meant that there was water. On the shelves, there was food. Quite a lot of food, actually. More than she needed for the day, or even the week. Some of it she was saving with the intention of eating it at some point in the—and this really blew her mind—future.

She leapt across the floor and slid down the ladder into the workshop, landing in a crouch, ready to roll. But nobody shouted, nothing was on fire, and a quick inventory revealed that everything had remained un-stolen overnight. Listening, she heard the clanking of boots from the level above, dirt miners on their way down to the ground. And from below, farmers on their way up to the top of the pile. She dashed to the front and flung open the curtains, but outside the windows nobody was running and screaming. People were, in fact, bustling and greeting each other happily. There was Eliza the butcher, hanging out the guinea pigs. There was Thor the home and kitchen specialist, smashing a pot out of shape. There was Slick Dick the oil squeezer, who slept around. It was a typical early morning scene on the market level. Except that now everyone seemed to be staring at her, for some reason. Then she remembered that while she did in fact own clothing, she wasn’t actually wearing any. So she shut the curtains and climbed back upstairs.

It was the clothing that really settled it. Most of it was practical and hardy synthetic stuff, but there was other stuff as well. Softer and brightly colored and entirely unpractical for anything except, well, wearing. It wasn’t for staining or burning or sleeping in a gutter somewhere. How long had it been since she’d last slept in a gutter? Things were different now. She had a home and a business. Her home was inside her business, but it was nevertheless a definite place in the world. A person could make plans from a place in the world.

Yachi decided to put the clothing away and to sigh heavily about it, so she put the clothing away and sighed, heavily. She chomped her breakfast mushrooms to the accompaniment of much dramatic muttering about effort and time and costs and efficiency, none of which she paid attention to but which sounded very purposeful. She stamped about her shop in a way that was probably very annoying to the people downstairs, turned all the lights on, flung open the curtains, ignored Slick Dick’s hopeful leering, unlocked the door, ignored Slick Dick’s disappointed grumbling, and sat down to get something done.

But there wasn’t much to get done. There were no rush jobs, and she had plenty of things already made up to sell. There was that alien thing that the pickers had brought in a couple days back, but she suspected it was some kind of blender. If she considered it, if she stepped back and really considered it from an absolute perspective, did she really need to be open every day? Other shopkeepers took days off. She didn’t think anyone would be hurt if they couldn’t get their toaster fixed for one day. Her mind, stretched to its absolute limit, gasped and fell over the finish line: Why not take a day off?

But this was actually only the beginning of the difficulties. What did a person do with a day off? Yachi leaned back in her chair, drumming her fingers and trying to recall what she had heard about such things.

Some people shopped for pleasure. It felt wrong to disapprove of such activity, since she herself sold a lot of things that were kind of useless. But why work hard to make money only to stop doing it for a day to go out and spend it on things you didn’t need? Why not just make no money in the first place?

Maybe she could just read a book. People were always reading books and talking about it like it had been relaxing. There were several technical manuals that she had been meaning to make time to study, but that didn’t seem in the day-off spirit. It was just that she didn’t own any other books. You could buy the kinds of books that were meant only for reading, but that seemed like another giant waste of money. You could only read them once and sell them on again at a loss, or perhaps burn them for fuel. Mrs. Piven ran a kind of lending library in the back of her husband’s metal shop, but she only had pre-junk books. What was the point in reading about the crazy things they did back then? Like operating wheeled vehicles at great speed across inexplicably flat surfaces, or fighting giant fire-breathing lizards, or kissing each other while just casually getting rained on like it was no big deal. The past was past, and it was best to get over it.

But thinking about Mrs. Piven reminded Yachi about something that had happened the week before. Old Widow Nancy had been in to get a new battery put in her radio, and then she had just stood around while Yachi worked, talking to herself about unmarried men around town. Yachi had been obliged to occasionally grunt in her direction so as not seem rude. Then Mrs. Piven had come in to pick up her clock, and they’d both started talking about her second son, Jeremy, who was apparently not only unmarried but also about Yachi’s age and gainfully employed in the mine office. How these facts were related, Yachi did not know. But it turned out that some of the older mine tunnels had been made up to look like a street from the olden days, complete with realistic models of people frozen in acts of everyday life, and Jeremy sometimes conducted tours around this ghoulish museum to schoolchildren and persons of importance. Yachi had never been either of those things, but Mrs. Piven said that she was sure Jeremy would be pleased to give her a personal tour all of her own. Which just went to show what a polite boy he was, very patient and accommodating to all kinds of personalities. She also explained that Jeremy wasn’t a picky eater and didn’t mind if things weren’t cooked as well as they could be, and that he had a high pain threshold and didn’t bruise easily, which all seemed like weird things for a mother to admit. The two women had apparently interpreted her grunts as some kind of affirmation, because they left saying that Jeremy would be expecting her call.

She regarded the phone where it sat across the room. There were worse ways to spend a day. Jeremy Piven didn’t seem like the greatest conversationalist, but perhaps if she didn’t shout at him or anything, then he might not be entirely boring. After all, what else did one do with a life? You did things, with people. Jeremy was a thing.

She found that she was staring at her reflection again, because you never realize how many mirrors you have about the place until you look for one. If she was going to go out, she might as well change into some of those clothes she had. And maybe do something with her hair after all. It was perfectly decent hair, mostly black and mostly straight and mostly clean most of the time. Jeremy couldn’t complain about her hair. She was a little bit pale, but that’s what you get from never taking a day off. Besides, Jeremy worked down in the mine, so he would be pale too and would just have to shut up about it. She tried a smile, working it into a shape that seemed like it should be attractive. Her teeth could be straighter, but who had straight teeth anymore? If Jeremy wanted her to have straight teeth then she would take his right out of his mouth and see what he thought about that.

The bell on her door rung as it opened. A male voice called out in a singsong sort of way, “Hello? Is there anybody here?” It was very early for customers. Early customers often meant pressing jobs, the kind of jobs that might consume an entire day. If Jeremy had been expecting a call all week, how much longer would he wait?

She needed to think fast, which was fortunately something that she did quite well. She made her decision. Today, for the first time ever, Yachi Johansen was going on vacation. She stood up, set her jaw, pumped her fist in the air, and headed to the front to send the customer away. “I am sorry,” she declared as she came out. “But I am closed today!”

There were three strange men standing in her door, and it took her far less than one look to see that they would be hard to get rid of.

“Oh, I think you are open, sweetheart,” oozed the guy in front. He was wearing a ridiculous suit with no shirt, had a thick gold chain hung around his neck, and had greased his blond hair back over his skull. Yachi appreciated his fashion sense. It said everything about him that she needed to know. The two behind him could have been wearing chicken suits and still be recognizable as thugs. One carried a metal pipe, and the other had a wooden club. “I need to have a bit of a ‘talk’ with you,” continued the guy. His tone was unmistakable, and his smile was predatory.

Inwardly, Yachi Johansen sighed and waved goodbye to her life. It had been fun while it had lasted. Now there was work to do. At least some of the things she had learned would come in handy.

“Well then,” she said, smiling at him attractively. “Let me see what I can do.”

The End

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