It was a phrase you hadn’t used often, but one that quickly dominated your life. It became your children’s favorite word. Morning and night they chanted it. In your local grocery store when something was found not agreeable, it was deemed fake. In a court of law, testimony not to someone’s liking was labeled fake. Institutions, friends, contracts and history all twisted overnight.
The clothes you held, the clothes you shopped for, all of weak and inferior material, for cotton and wool have been replaced by polyester and micro-plastic that now lives in your ovaries, testicles and brain cells. The advertisements you scanned were fake too. Nothing was what it seemed. You are used to this. Your children don’t complain anymore. When disaster hits, you wait for the victims and witnesses, you wait for the aerial photographs and yet, despite the evidence, despite all the testimonies, you have your doubts.
Inside your house you open up your cupboards and pull out the tin cans and gray plastic pouches. The food you hold is not real. Frozen, blanched, squeezed, pulped, and resurrected by dyes and additives. You wished for real food like that at the farmer’s markets. Chickens that are free-range, free-roaming, free-everything. Squawking chickens gushing with flesh and blood, not pumped up with chemicals and antibiotics. You like products that are labeled non-GMO, but you know anyway that it’s all GMO-FDA approved. Heck, the FDA are probably fake anyway. An organization is to keep us safe. Any organization is better than nothing. Who cares if they are fake. What was it they said? Organizations have their own conspiracy theories. All of them.
You are now at your local farmer’s market where food is real, but then you look at the smiling faces of these people behind the tables. So polite, they’re probably hiding something, and a lump builds in your throat as you realize that these items are probably not real. These items were stacked in a warehouse by people wearing white lab coats at night. Farms don’t exist anymore. Only frozen warehouses. That chicken slime and fake cane sugar is what the public happily feeds you. The flowers you bought last week, you touch them. They feel real, but then you remember the time your parents lied to you about Santa Claus.
Your heart beats as you rush through the closet for your papers. Your court documents, tax receipts, marriage certificate, and your children’s birth certificates. You examine the dates and photos. You look for smudges, signs of enlargements, things Photoshopped. Each item contains something to feed your doubts.
There is a rash building up on your legs. Bumps appear on your hands. They burn and itch. Blisters pop. You run out of the house. Your spouse is behind you yelling, “Honey?” Your children ask, “Where is mommy going?”
You get in the car and think to drive to the doctor’s office, but know it’ll be a long wait; time spent heavy with bureaucratic paper work. The rash reaches your thighs. You’re thinking this is cancer. Some form of cancer. You know the doctor won’t believe you. The doctor will say, “No, this is fake” even when you have all the burning evidence on your fingertips, toes and now your chest. He’ll charge a lot of money to say this. This disgusts you, so you drive instead to the dollar store to buy some bargain ointment, because by now you couldn’t care less if it is cancer or not. So be it, you say, angrily. Bring it! you say, beating the steering wheel. But as you look for a suitable parking spot you worry about the ingredients, the fake ingredients that are common in low-priced products. You swing the car around and drive to Target and then to yet another grocery store, but they are all the same. Fake fake fake. Fake ingredients or not, who will tell you the truth anyway? You step on the gas and advance onto the freeway. Your phone’s ringing. You toss it out the window. Could be the FBI calling.
You’re driving across flat pavements into the unknown when the thought hits you that maybe the earth is not flat, but a circle and an “aha” moment flashes through you, but then you do a double take and think no, it is that the earth is flat; not round. Those pictures of the blue jewel hanging in black space could be Photoshopped. Then you see the moon. It is bright and shiny tonight. Round as a ball, yellow like cheese and that moon crap fills your head. Nobody ever walked on the moon and no one will. Your hands shake. You readjust your fake prescription glasses. Your heart’s beating. Your skin’s flushing like a police light.
You drive. You are somewhere you don’t recognize. Signs hold unrecognizable names. There is one that is vaguely familiar, but you don’t trust it. Could be a lie. Your trusty sidekick isn’t here to tell you: “Turn here, right here! For God’s sake the words say it right there in front of you!” You doubt and keep driving. You keep driving even when you hit three animals—a cat, a dog, a deer and for once you’re glad, ’cause none of it ever happened. There’s nothing but static beating from the radio. You just want to take a nap. A little sleep will do you good. Up ahead you see a house. The car wobbles as the tires crunch over the driveway’s gravel. You open the front door and step in. The living room is different. There is a cat you’ve never seen before and a yapping Chihuahua. The family at the dining table stand up, their chairs squeak against the linoleum. “What do you want?” they ask. Their faces are puzzled like a jigsaw and it is like almost everything finally fits. You smile. You spread out your hands and say, “Honey, I’m home.”
Xenia Taiga lives in southern China with a cockatiel, a turtle, and an Englishman. Her work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Best Small Fictions, and is part of Best Microfiction 2019 Anthology. Her website is http://xeniataiga.com/. Her abstract artwork is available on Etsy.