When Margaret Atwood isn't quibbling over the definition of science fiction, she's creating some of the most fascinating visions of the near future out there. And she's just published a new short novella, published as a Kindle Single, called "I'm Starved for You."
In this near-future dystopia, unemployment and crime in America have reached crisis levels, and a radical solution has been reached, called "Consilience." (It's a combination of "cons" and "resilience.") Basically, you agree to spend every other month in prison. For the off-months, you get free housing and a job, and you get to live in society as a productive member.
In Atwood's novella, a man named Stan finds a note behind the refrigerator, which was left there by one of the other people who lives in the house when he's in prison. The note, a passionate love letter from someone named Jasmine to someone named Max, is sealed with a kiss — and it sparks Stan's repressed sexual desire in a way that could make him rebel against the system. Here's how it begins:
Stan opens the large green locker and stows away the clothes he's been wearing: the shorts, the T-shirts, the jeans, the summer stuff. He won't be wearing these clothes for a while: by the time he gets back here the hot weather will most likely be over and he'll be into the ﬂeece pullovers. He won't have to do so much lawn maintenance then, which is a plus. Though the lawn will be a wreck. Some guys have no feeling for lawns, they take them for granted, they let them mat up and dry out and then the yellow ants get into them and it takes a lot of work to bring them back. If he were here all the time he could keep the lawn in peak condition. As it is, he's constantly in repair mode.
His clothes are all washed and neatly folded: wife, Charmaine, did the laundry last thing, before she set off on her scooter for the women's wing at Positron. In recent months he's been leaving the house after she does, so he's been the one doing the ﬁnal check: no bathtub ring, no orphaned sock, no ends of soap or wispy gatherings of shed hair on the ﬂoor. When they retum on the ﬁrst day of every second month, Stan and Charmaine ﬁnd the house pristine, spotless, hinting of lemon-scented cleaning products and without a trace of recent occupancy-and they like to leave it that way.
Though it hasn't been spotless every time. Three months ago Stan found a folded note: the corner was sticking out from under the refrigerator. It must originally have been attached with the silver fridge magnet in the shape of a duck, the same one Charmaine uses to post shopping reminders. Despite the strict Consilience taboo against contact of any kind with Alternates, he read the note immediately. It was typed and printed, but it was still shockingly intimate:
Darling Max, I can hardly wait till next time. I 'm starved for you! I need you so much. XXO0 and you know what
There was a lipstick kiss: hot pink. No, darker: some lcind of purple. Not violet, not mauve, not maroon. He rifﬂed through his head, trying to recall the names of the colors on the paint chips and fabric swatches Charmaine spends so much time brooding over. He'd lifted it to his nose, breathed in: still a faint scent, like cherry bubble gum.