Sunday, 24 April 2011

Margaret Atwood: "I can't tell you that"

Margaret Atwood: Election 2011, a dark fiction
I am a fiction writer. So here’s a fiction.

A vacuum cleaner salesman comes to your door. “You must buy this vacuum cleaner,” he says. “Why?” you say. “Because I know what’s good for you,” he says. “I know things you don’t know.” “What are they?” you say. “I can’t tell you,” he says, “because they’re secret. You are required to trust me. The vacuum cleaner will create jobs.”

“Where is the vacuum cleaner made?” you say. “In another country,” he says. “So the jobs will be created in another country? Not here?” you say. You believe it’s your right to query: It’s your money and, come to think of it, you pay this guy’s salary.

“Stop bickering,” he says. “I am competent. That’s my story and I’m sticking it to you.” “I’m not bickering,” you say. “I’m asking relevant questions. How much will the vacuum cleaner cost me?” “I can’t tell you that,” he says. “Why not? Because it’s more than you claimed at first?” you say. “Or because you don’t really know the cost?” “I can’t tell you that, either,” he says. “But you have to pay.”

“Just a minute!” you say. “You want me to commit to an unknown, very large sum? That’s not fair! And it’s not competent, either.” “More bickering!” he says. “We need stability!” “But I might have to go on paying huge sums for decades!” you say. “We’re already up to our necks in debt! I’ll have to give up other things – I won’t be able to pay for the doctor, or support for special needs, or drinking water, or care for the elderly, or the kids’ education, or … and what happens if there’s a pandemic, or a natural catastrophe such as an earthquake, and you’ve already spent the money that could have helped in a disaster?”

“You are a very negative person,” he says. “You are not welcome here.” ...

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