HEATING UP • by Daniel Wilmoth

The young man leaned closer to Dave and said with quiet menace, “Are you ready, David? I don’t want you making any more… mistakes. Follow the script I approved.”

“I’ll do my job,” Dave answered, leaning away and avoiding eye contact. The cameraman standing nearby carefully ignored the confrontation.

“If you violate the narrative, you won’t have a job. And you won’t have a car, and you won’t have a house, and you won’t have a life. You’ll be in prison with all the other jokers who thought the world wanted their opinions. Follow the script.”

“Improvising is part of my job. They hired me to be funny.”

“Fine. Improvise.” The young man was holding a thick black binder that described the official narrative. The binder contained, among other things, hundreds of phrases Dave was forbidden to use when discussing the weather, including “fry an egg,” “it’s a scorcher,” and “heating up.” He held the binder under Dave’s nose and continued, “But if you violate the narrative, I am going to see to it that it’s the last thing you do on television. Got it?”

A flicker of anger passed over Dave’s face and he leaned forward so that their noses were only inches apart.

“We’re on in about five seconds,” the cameraman said.

The censor moved quickly away from the huge monitor where Dave stood. The monitor was displaying a drawing of the sun and a current temperature of 112 degrees Fahrenheit. Dave cleared the anger from his expression and smiled toward the camera. Across the studio, the news anchor said, “What can we expect for the weather tomorrow, Dave?”

“We’re expecting another beautiful summer day, with clear skies and a light breeze. Let’s have a look at the map.” The image on the monitor changed to show a map with different colors corresponding to the expected high temperature in each area. With the color scheme of ten years ago, the map would have been entirely red or yellow, but the government had mandated a shift in the color scheme each year so that the cooler colors continued to appear.

The censor listened impassively while Dave described temperatures of well over 100 degrees using approved terms like “balmy” and “tropical.” As Dave neared the end of the segment, inspiration for improvisation arrived, and a light kindled in his eyes. The censor saw it and tensed.

“Now let’s talk about heating up,” Dave said. He paused, smiling, and then let the pause linger. In his peripheral vision, he could see the censor reddening. The cameraman glanced away from his monitor to see the censor’s reaction, a worried expression on his face.

“Our ball players have won their last three,” Dave finally continued, “and they’re going to have beautiful weather when they try to extend that hot streak Saturday…”

Daniel Wilmoth is a writer and economist living in urban Maryland.  He enjoys finding wild places hidden amid the asphalt and concrete.

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