by Zary Fekete
Officer Timothy walked down the hall in between the holding cells. He noticed that the new weekly prompt signs had been tacked to the bulletin board. The signs showed the bright face of Mrs. Reminder smiling. Her word balloon said, “Remember! Speak now and sleep sound!” In another one she spoke in Mandarin, “Were you kind or sassy? The future is tricky…better be safe!” There was also a list of the new “no say” words.
Officer Timothy removed the cell key from his pocket, nodded to the guard on duty, and quietly let himself into the second cell.
He smiled at the prisoner and greeted her, “I apologize in advance.”
“I apologize in advance,” she said.
She was dressed in the grey detention dilute-suit which prevented Officer Timothy from being able to detect her weight, curves, or hair color. Standard common-era issue. No triggers.
The officer placed the prisoner’s folder on the metal table and took out a recording pill. He held it up for the prisoner to witness, and then he swallowed it carefully and showed her his empty tongue. He clicked a button on the table and a digital clock appeared on the wall and began to count down from 30 minutes.
He sat behind the table and briefly glanced through the prisoner’s file. He had been given this case because there was a line-item missing in the report. This was rare but still occasionally happened.
He looked up from the file and said, “I apologize in advance. This says your name is Pamela. We are yet unfamiliar. Will it harm you to hear me say your name?”
“I apologize in advance,” she said as she straightened. “Yes, that’s fine.”
“I apologize in advance,” he said. “Pamela, will you stipulate my continued regrets?”
“I apologize in advance,” she said. “If you will.”
Both took a breath and relaxed for a moment. Officer Timothy made a few notes and then clicked the video display button on the table.
The wall opposite from the digital timer lit up with multiple camera angles showing a downtown traffic crossing. The accident had taken place at 12:14pm last Tuesday. Officer Timothy quickly flicked forward until the scene was prepped at 12:13.
“Are you ready, Pamela?” he asked.
“Yes,” she said.
He pressed the button and the scene slowly played forward. The various angles showed Pamela from last Tuesday, reading a book, standing at the crosswalk. Slowly another woman approached from the opposite direction, pushing a baby carriage. On the screen Pamela and the mother said something to each other and then looked out at the traffic. Officer Timothy paused the video.
“What did you say to her?” he asked.
“Just standard regret,” she said. “We were waiting for the light to change.”
“And that’s when it happened?”
“Do you remember what caused it?” he asked.
She looked at the wall video and pointed, “It was the next car. The one that will arrive in a moment. The horn was calibrated too high.”
“Yes,” he said. “That has been a problem. The older models can still cause true surprise.”
He pushed the button halfway and the scene slowly inched forward. The car in question approached, and even though the scene had no sound, it was clear when the mother was startled by the horn. Her body lurched, and the baby carriage rolled toward the street.
Officer Timothy paused the scene again. “Now, what exactly happened here?”
The prisoner smiled, clearly embarrassed, “It’s…I’m such an idiot. The book…the novel I was reading…it was published before the common-era. All the characters talk differently. I was kind of lost in that world…not thinking. So when I saw the carriage move I just grabbed it to stop it.”
“Without pre-apologizing…” he said.
“Yes, I… like I said, I’m an idiot.”
Officer Timothy nodded. He clicked the button and they both watched the scene conclude. In the video as the baby carriage moved, Pamela grabbed the handle and stopped it from rolling, whereupon the mother slapped her and took out her gun. The police cars arrived a moment later.
He looked down at the file again. “Well, it’s fairly straightforward then, Pamela. I’ll get this cleared up in the file. You agreed to be liable for any future discomfort for the mother and the child due to your unapologized personal intrusion and the mother agreed you would serve just one year and then she would drop the case.”
The prisoner smiled with relief, “Yes. That would be great.”
Officer Timothy closed the file folder and stood.
“I’ll leave you now. I regret any future impact of my words and actions,” he said.
“I release you from any future impact of your words and actions,” she said. He left the cell and carefully closed the door, so as not to startle anyone.
Zary Fekete has worked as a teacher in Hungary, Moldova, Romania, China, and Cambodia. They currently live and work as a writer in Minnesota. Some places they have been published are Goats Milk Mag, JMWW Journal, Bethlehem Writers Roundtable, and Zoetic Press. They enjoy reading, podcasts, and long, slow films. Twitter: @ZaryFekete
As I wrote this piece I attempted to take the concept of personal offense to an extreme conclusion. What would it look like if society required constant apologizing as a kind of social currency?