by Frank Dullaghan

I’m hoping for a high floor. I’ve become a half-roomer, but still have some pride. I know this is just the beginning of the end of a long social slide. But I must have something to hold on to. I’m hoping for a break.

When half-rooming was first introduced, it was the city’s way to rid itself of the spectacle of homelessness—huddled bodies under bridges and in any ground-level nook that could offer protection. Once introduced, the authorities stated that only criminals would now be on the streets at night and, as such, could be shot on sight, no questions asked, no exceptions. This, of course, proved to be successful in moving the street people up to the tops of buildings, where they spent the night in half-rooms—units with one side open to the elements. The City taxed all rooms. Half-rooms were a way around this. As additional encouragement, a small sum was paid by the City for each half-room used. Now, all tall buildings have half-rooms, accessed by external stairs, on what used to be flat roofs. The cost of this cleanup was financed by issuing special licenses to hunting parties who prowled the streets at night, looking for those who didn’t make it up the stairs—often the old, the drunk, the insane, sometimes criminals, although they were prone to protect themselves.

Marjorie, my ex, was one of those who supported the law. She argued that it was a rational way to purge society of its waste elements. I didn’t argue against her. She tended to have strong views and more energy than me. She was also on the up and I hoped to rise with her. She’s on the Committee now, the youngest to have made it there. She ditched me along the way, like everything else that slowed her down.

Back in the day, we were an up-and-coming glamour couple. I had made a name for myself as an artist. I was one of the first Thought Projectionists, was fated by the in-crowd. Marjorie billed herself as an art critic. In reality, she was a fixer, someone who could miraculously make whatever someone wanted to happen, happen. She was well paid for it.

It is hard to continue to have fresh inspirational thoughts in that kind of world. Many of my projections became derivative, pastiches of my earlier successes. When my audience stopped getting the buzz of a bright, complex, fully formed thought in their brains, they turned away. It didn’t help that an IA App had begun to encroach on my territory.

Marjorie had seen it coming long before I did and led the charge against me. Her crit piece in Art Okay argued for the recategorization of Thought Projection as tech, called for a more rigorous examination of all-new art modes. This was hailed as a much-needed call-to-arms against charlatans who were duping the public and giving art a bad name. My stock fell like an unharnessed half-roomer from the night sky.

I know the gatekeeper at the Golden Palace half-room stairs. The rooms are deeper there, comfortable enough if you have a sleeping bag. I’m hoping I can skip the queue. I did him some favours back when. I consider he owes me.

I suppose I should be grateful he warned me. But he would not let me up. Technically, I cannot be left on the street and so am directed to the new purpose-built half-room hotels on East Side. The half-rooms there are smaller, hard to fit into. And they start on the fourth floor—sets of open boxes one on top of the other with cheap office and retail space behind and beneath.

He advised me not to give my real name. The word is out. I’m a target.

It has become acceptable to ‘cleanse’ the occupants of lower rooms. Contracts can be taken out. Money can be made. With a little arrangement, embarrassing history can be wiped away.

I am grateful for my haggard, old-before-my-time look, my worn-out clothes. My new name is John Dillon. I have a smudged ID in that name. I’m hoping for a high floor. I need a break.

Frank Dullaghan is an Irish writer locked down in Malaysia (which is better than being locked up in Malaysia). With four published collections of poetry, he is now trying his hand at the dark art of Flash.
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