Friday, April 30, 2021

A Tale of 2058

 

            For today’s post, I've decided to try something new here at Twilight Patriot: writing a fictional story. Now, when someone starts writing fiction, that means he has taken on a different role for himself than a declarer-of-facts or a defender-of-opinions (i.e., what I have been in my previous posts). The fiction-writer is a suggester – nothing he says is literally true, but by saying it, he makes us think about whether it might point to something important that is presently happening, or that could happen, in the real world.

So, without further ado, here is the Twilight Patriot’s suggestion, based on current trends, of what life for a typical American family might be like in 2058.

Sara’s Story – A Tale of 2058

            When someone asks me how many people are in my family, I usually say seven. There would be eight if you count my husband, but he’s hardly ever home. The seven that you can usually find together are myself, my mother, my 22-year-old daughter Charlotte, her 28-year-old boyfriend Ollie, my sister Zoe, and her nine-year-old twins, one boy and one girl.

We live in a little rundown condo in Cedar Falls, Iowa, in what used to be student housing for a university. To the north of us is the university’s auditorium, which nobody uses anymore since the roof fell in eleven years ago. To the east is the landlord’s house, with its garden and rabbit hutch, all behind a high concrete wall topped with razor wire. To the south is an old soccer field that’s usually empty, except when there are migrants coming through. To the west is an abandoned gas station.

Most gas stations are like that, nowadays. Sometimes I talk to the young ones about how when I was a girl, you didn’t have to be rich or work for the government to drive a car, and that’s why there were so many gas stations.

Charlotte says she can’t imagine there ever was such a time. Ollie once said that when he was a child, his parents drove him around nearly every day, because they were “middle class.” Charlotte said that must be because “middle class” means the same thing as “rich.” I tried to explain that back in the day, most people who weren’t rich weren’t poor either, and that’s how we got the word “middle class.” Charlotte just rolled her eyes.

My husband works for a big utility company; he does repair work on high-voltage electrical power lines. It seems they are always needing repaired, because in most neighbourhoods, ours included, the power only comes on for a few hours each day (nobody knows which hours those will be) and we all have to hurry and charge our phones and do our cooking before it goes out again.

My husband is what they call an “essential worker.” Almost ten years ago, there was a big lawsuit, and the judges on the federal district court said that essential workers can’t quit their jobs, even if they want to, and they can’t bargain for higher wages, and they can’t refuse to work extra hours. If an essential worker disobeys, or gets caught trying to leave the district, he’ll be held in contempt of court, and sent off to prison for however long the judge feels like.

Essential workers like my husband still get paid a wage, so it’s not quite the same thing as being a slave, though it’s pretty close.

During the first year or two after the court ruling, my husband still worked five days a week, and came home at night like before. But as time went on, his boss called him up to work more and more evenings and weekends, and started sending him on long trips into the other counties that share our coal-fired power plant. Nowadays, I usually only see him three or four nights a month.

Zoe and I had two brothers, but they both went with our father after our parents divorced, when I was nine and Zoe was three. The elder brother died of cancer fourteen years ago, and I don’t know if the younger one is still alive or not. Our father was killed six years ago when the Ares Gang was first becoming strong in North Carolina, where he lived, and most people hadn’t yet learned to show the gangsters the proper respect. One too many insolent words and gestures, in the misplaced faith that the cops would never tolerate a murder in broad daylight, and he was a corpse just like his firstborn son.

The gang here in Cedar Falls goes by a different name, but it runs things in basically the same way. Like the Ares, these gangsters do their best to be predictable so that the rest of us will see them less as a threat to our lives and safety, and more as just another thing we all have to put up with.

Businesses like the Five Guys where Zoe works have to pay protection money each week, and young men like Ollie have to avoid the gang’s favorite streets after dark, but for the rest of us, it’s enough to refrain from speaking ill of the gang in publicAnd this isn’t much to ask us to put up with, seeing as we already put up with the tax collectors who scoop up our backyard chickens while muttering about “payment in kind,” or the federal marshals who hunt down missing essential workers, or the diversity commissioner who earns a lavish living telling us that, because we are white, we have no reason to complain about any of these things unless we are racists.

My husband and I would have liked to have had more children than just Charlotte, but after she was born, I got my IUD reinserted, and when I wanted it back out three years later, the price of the procedure was way up, even though my husband’s wages had stayed the same. We never did manage to get enough money scrounged together to cover the cost.

The same thing happened to my sister Zoe: she’s never had a chance to get her birth control turned off again since the twins were born. But with her, nobody regrets what happened. Zoe always starts sleeping with a different guy every month or two, and if one of them managed to get her pregnant, he’d either abandon her like the twins’ father had, or stick around and make us all wish he’d abandoned her.

Ollie and Charlotte can’t have children, because when Ollie was thirteen, he had started identifying as a girl – lots of boys his age were doing that back then – and his school’s guidance counsellor had convinced his parents to take him to a surgeon and get his penis and scrotum removed. A year later, Ollie was back to calling himself a boy, and his parents got him a two-year course of testosterone injections so he  could develop a man's voice and build. But there was no undoing the surgery.

My mother sometimes gripes about Charlotte’s choice of a mate, but I’ve never been bothered by it. There’s no need for Charlotte to have babies of her own when Zoe’s nine-year-olds will be doing the job five or six years from now – after all, taking care of children isn’t as easy as it used to be, and there’s only so much space in our condo, and so much food in our cupboards.

I still don’t know how they do it, but Ollie and Charlotte manage to get intimate enough for their own satisfaction. And since Ollie himself is a friendly and hardworking young man, who’s filled many a bare dinner table and livened up many a dour evening, I think that, all things considered, he’s well worth keeping around.

For us, money is always tight. Ever since the Fed decided to go cashless, the only people in my family who have been able to use it are Zoe and my husband. My husband pays the monthly rent, but he isn’t home often enough to do much else. Zoe makes a good wage at Five Guys, but spends three quarters of it on booze and cigarettes and heroin, so we have to really stretch what’s left in order to get by.

My mother, myself, and Charlotte can’t use money because of some sort of bug with the software – whenever we open up the Fed’s new app, we get a screen that says “Account parameters are missing.” Nobody we’ve ever asked about it knows how to fix it, and we can’t start new accounts from scratch, because the law only allows one account per citizen.

Ollie’s problem is that he got banned from all public service apps as a teenager, when a moderator on DuckSpeak accused him of “hate speech” for talking too frankly about his ill feelings toward the people who promoted the sort of surgery that he had when he was thirteen.

Those of us without a working version of the money app have to use barter when we work outside the home. Whenever Charlotte and I cook or clean or do laundry for a wealthy family, they pay us with leftover food, or clothes too tattered for their own use. When Ollie repairs or salvages electrical devices or does carpentry, he’ll usually take payment in scrap metal, junked hardware, a live chicken for the night’s dinner, or a wad of marijuana.

Usually he finds a way to swap the marijuana for something more useful, but sometimes, late at night, he rolls it up into a joint and sits on the front porch taking long draughts of the smoke and looking dead to the world, and you can tell that this is a day when he’s feeling more despondent than usual about what’s missing below his belly button.

You might wonder why I’m writing all this down. After all, nothing that has happened to the seven of us (or the eight of us, if you count my husband) was ever newsworthy; no reporters ever came to talk to us about it; in fact, we might even be too ordinary to provide much material for gossip when Zoe and her coworkers are sitting behind the Five Guys at the end of the shift, smoking and throwing pebbles at the cinderblock wall to ward off the ever-gnawing boredom.

But there’s one more side to my life that I haven’t mentioned yet: I read books. I have a whole collection in my bedroom, 56 in all, stored snugly in what used to be the family refrigerator until the freon ran out. And most of them are old books, too, about things like the American Revolution, the pioneers heading west, the invention of the railroad and the light bulb and the radio and the airplane, the Civil War and World War I and World War II, and a time that a man stood up in Washington DC and said “I have a dream” and asked us all to live as if it didn’t matter which people were black and which people were white.

And because of those books, I can see that a lot of what my family is dealing with isn’t normal. The books, for the most part, tell of a time when little boys were never told by grown-ups that they might really be girls, or vice versa, when lawmen hunted down robbers instead of hiding from them, when the government respected freedom of speech, and when judges didn’t rule the country all by themselves, and had to share power with people like mayors and congressmen who could be voted out of office if their constituents felt like they weren’t being listened to.

 I know that the people in those earlier times weren’t free of problems of their own – after all, they did manage to have a Civil War and two World Wars! But I also know that earlier generations got a lot of things right that we’re getting wrong.

And I know that the crazy times we’re living in won’t last forever – after all, none of the other crazy times ever did.

Eventually, our way of life will end. But I don’t want it to be forgotten. I want people to remember the things that are happening to us. I want them to remember us: me and my mother and my husband and Charlotte and Ollie and Zoe and the twins.

I don’t know what the people who live in the future, and who read this, will think about us. Maybe they’ll just feel bad for us, because of all the crazy stuff that has happened to us. Maybe they’ll think we’re cowards, because we didn’t fight back harder, like the Patriots at Lexington and Bunker Hill. Maybe they’ll admire us, because so many of us lived through things that would have made a weaker man or woman give up on living.

Just think of poor Ollie: how nobody would blame him if he cut his own throat, and yet he never does. He just keeps on going, and we can all see the light in his eyes when he’s been staring at a broken motor for a long time and suddenly sees how to fix it, or when he walks in the door after a long day of work and introduces us to whatever furry or feathery critter we’re about to eat for supper.

I don’t know how the coming generations will remember us – they might think the best of us, and they might think the worst. But I am writing this down anyway because I really do want them to think something about us. We deserve to be remembered.

2 comments:

  1. Expand this into a novel! Add: China's role in the world; what happened in Europe and Russia; what happened to America's formidible military capacity; scientific advances, if any; hints of preparation to change things.

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    Replies
    1. Doug, if I had a hundred fans as devoted as you are, I probably would. But I don't, so...

      Speaking more broadly, the reason I haven't tried to write a sci-fi/dystopian novel yet is the same as the reason I've resisted your calls to turn the non-fictional components of Twilight Patriot into a book. Basically, I won't see myself as good enough to write a book until I can get my shorter work published.

      I actually have submitted short sci-fi stories to the magazines before; they were rejected. If I ever get one of them accepted, I will consider a novel. It would not be an expansion of this post (too pessimistic!) but it would be set in the same world (though further in the future) and deal with similar ideas. And yes, it would involve China and Russia.

      Meanwhile, if you do want a novel about the military aspect of the collapse of the American empire, you should read Twilight's Last Gleaming by John Michael Greer, if you haven't already.

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