Author: the third eye PM
Okay, I cranked this out this morning in about 90 mins. It's quite rough around the edges. Anyway, the main theme is the cyclical nature of events. It's set in 1950 or rather, it's set in 2050.Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Sci-Fi - Words: 2,529 - Reviews: 1 - Published: 07-05-07 - id: 2386164
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Margaret was thirsty. It had been a particularly hot day, brain-melting, bone-crushing. She would get herself an icy glass of water in just a moment, just as soon as she put the leftovers away. The previous day in the supermarket, she had bought a new kind of water, in funny green glass bottles. It was all they had in stock, imported from Italy or Arabia, or Thailand or somewhere. The supermarket assistant promised her the water tasted clean and clear.
"Scandal on TV again," Bob called from the living room.
"What?" Margaret shouted.
"I said, scandal on TV again. The opposition linked that debacle from last year, with what's his face, Henniker, to the current administration. The White House is denouncing it as a goddam witch hunt of course, but it sounds like the same old crap all over again, if you ask me."
"Hmph, I don't know how much more of this I can take," Margaret said. "I really wish you wouldn't watch the news all the time Bob. It's not good for your state of mind."
Bob gave a hacking cough, or a laugh. "President's been in office for sixteen years now, Maggie." He sighed. "He's like an old friend."
Margaret hated it when Bob talked that way – that cynicism was inappropriate, especially today. The year was 1950 – no, excuse me, I misspoke. The year was 2050. And it was Independence Day. Margaret was proud of her nation, almost three hundred years old. She was proud to live the wholesome lifestyle of the greatest country on Earth. She and her husband had had respectable careers, Bob in business and Margaret in law. They owned an American car, and a dog named Buster. Due to advancements in science Buster had lived to a very old age. But a few months before they had to put him down at last. It was lung cancer.
And Bob and Margaret had made two children, Evelyn and Adam. Foolish children at school used to tease them, call them Adam and Eve. That was over now though, and the kids grew up right as rain. They lived on opposite ends of the country now, with families of their own, far away from their mother and father. Margaret wondered if it was natural for relatives to be so estranged and flung so far across the world. She too had moved far away from her parents, and they in turn had moved far away from Margaret's grandparents. It was Margaret's grandparents, of course, who had made the treacherous journey across deep water, more water than they could ever need, more water than they could ever drink. They came from the old country. Italy or Arabia, or Thailand or somewhere. Margaret was no longer quite sure.
Yes, there had been quite a diaspora. Each of them was individual and quite alone now.
"What is it, Bob?"
"Get in here quick!"
Margaret pushed the Tupperware with mashed potatoes helter-skelter into the refrigerator, and jogged into the sitting room as fast as her seventy-year-old feet would carry her. Her throat was dry, but the glass of water would have to wait.
"Bob, what's the matter? Are you feeling all right?"
Bob cackled. "Hot damn, you gotta watch this." He pointed at the television screen, where a tall man with long blond hair had just been tackled by several men in black suits. "They just got a terrorist. A home-grown terrorist, for the Fourth of July. How about that?"
"Bob, you had me scared out of my wits. Why, you called me in here just to watch a particularly morbid segment of television? Shame on you."
"Well I'm sorry, but it's not every day you see a terrorist apprehended on national television. Watch."
The television droned. "Evidence is quickly coming to light, and it now seems that John R. Hinckley, resident of North Carolina, was intending to make an attempt on the President's life this evening. The President has now been moved to a secure location and was unavailable for comment, but the Secretary of State had this to say:"
The screen cut to the face of an elderly man, perhaps Bob's age, who had held his office for the past ten years. He was no better at speaking at the camera now than he was the first day on the job. "Well, um," he began, "this comes as quite a... a shock, both to me and the American people. It's uh... so unlikely that a home-grown terrorist would try to attack our nation today. Today, which is of course the birthday of these U-nited States of Uh-merica. I am... like I said, shocked by these occurrences. What are the odds, folks?"
"Yeah, what are the odds?" Bob snorted. "Crisis averted on the Fourth of July. Sure smells fishy to me."
"Really, what a disgraceful thing to say." Margaret pursed her lips. "I really wish you wouldn't, you know – "
The flow of her words was interrupted by the Secretary of State on television. "So," he said, "due to the course of today's events, Hinckley has been sentenced to immediate execution by firing squad, in accordance with the PATRIOT act, version seven." The man was perspiring heavily now, and he took a moment to wipe sweat from his lip with a white handkerchief. "I... I expect his death will be broadcasted on all major news channels shortly."
Margaret felt a little light-headed. It was something that came along with her old age. She did not want to witness what was going to happen next. "Oh no," someone said, but she could not be sure if it was she or Bob who uttered those words. "That poor, poor man," one of them said. "This is an outrage. I can't believe this sort of thing happens today. In America."
The news was now showing a close up of John R. Hinckley. His eyes were bright and insane. He was shouting wildly but there was no sound, the news studio only relayed the image. The idea of what was going on.
The camera pulled back from John R. Hinckley's face, so the viewer could see his entire body and the firing squad. Margaret shut her eyes. She hated it when this sort of thing happened. Bob held his breath. There was the sound of fifteen shots.
Margaret opened one eye. Blood – it was everywhere, red and terrible. She closed her eyes tighter, until she could see little green stars on the insides of her eyelids. Peaceful and safe.
When she opened her eyes again, he was gone.
The news was over, and the weekly airing of Science Fiction Theatre had begun. "I love this show," Margaret said. She settled down in her chair and forgot her thirst for a while. Today's show was a golden oldie, in celebration of Independence Day. It was a story she felt like she had heard before. It was about parents who abandoned their only son, who subsequently grew up on a faraway planet. As a young man, he left his foster parents in an attempt to escape a dreadful fate. In doing so, he ended up going to war and slaying his real father, and marrying his real mother, made young by cosmetic surgery of the future. It was a grotesque tale, but satisfying. It was just make-believe.
"You know, I used to watch this stuff all the time when I was a young kid," Bob said.
"Yeah. Science fiction, outer space, I ate that stuff up. Stories of the future. I thought that's what the future must look like, the images I saw on TV. You know, women with hair piled up high and tacky white make up. All the furniture was angular and made of plastic, all the surfaces were smooth and white and twisted into abstract shapes."
"Sounds like the 1960's," Margaret thought out loud.
"It does sound like the 1960's. And that is in fact what it was. All those shows were taped in that decade, and that's what that decade looked like." He chuckled. "I thought I was looking at the future, when in reality all I was seeing was the past."
Margaret sighed. Past or present or future, she loved the tales of fantasy, of the improbable and most certainly unreal. Happy endings, however unlikely, soothed her, and when the endings were sad, well, at least they did not occur in real life.
She could not stand dramatic words or actions in the real world. She denounced them as so much nonsense. Even her own son had felt the harsh chill of this belief. When he was ten or eleven years old, Adam had watched a horror movie from Japan or Korea at a friend's house. He came home insisting that there were ghosts in the attic, haunting them, and that Margaret and Bob did not even know it. Adam said they were the old owners of the house, and they looked just like Margaret and Bob. That had done it – Margaret had lectured him shrilly and grounded him for a month. It was such a preposterous and unoriginal idea, that the attic had ghosts. She ignored the rattling and the mysterious sounds that came from the attic, and for the past thirty years she pursed her lips whenever she thought of what Adam had said. Maybe the film he had seen was based on some Far Eastern folk tale, but there was no folklore in America, and no ghosts. Margaret was sure of that. It was ridiculous to think they were being haunted by the past.
The show concluded, and the summer sun began to set. Margaret helped Bob out of his chair and onto their back porch. The temperature was cooling, but it did nothing to alleviate Margaret's thirst. From the back porch, the couple faced farmland. Normally it was as beautiful as it was at the beginning of the world, but this summer every which way one turned there were locusts.
"Aw, look at this," Bob complained. "All these locusts."
"I don't really mind them," Margaret said. "When I was little I chased them around one summer. Oh, it was so surprising to me." She laughed softly at her memory. "One day my brother and I saw one or two, but soon enough there were thousands of them. They come in cycles, you know. They always, always come again."
"They are God's plague," Bob said.
"This from a man who hasn't been to church in fifty years. Look at them Bob, they're kind of pretty actually. When they're first born they're sort of a milky white. Then as adults they're black and shiny."
Bob merely grunted.
"They come in cycles, you know," she repeated. "They always, always come again."
Just before the fireworks began Margaret went into the kitchen to get the two of them some dessert. She had prepared two little bowls of vanilla ice cream with frozen strawberries and blueberries and stuck them in the freezer, red white and blue. For Independence Day. To celebrate the wonderful day hundreds of years ago when her forefathers had broken off from the Old World, to start something amazing, a country bright and new.
It was the beginning of a dream. The dream of freedom they were living now.
Margaret longed to bring a glass of water with her, but it was all she could do to bring the two bowls of ice cream out in her thin little hands. She was back on the porch in time to see the first firework shoot up into the sky, from a local celebration not too far away. It was small and pitiful. She handed Bob his ice cream bowl.
"I read in the paper that the fireworks are gonna be real minimal this year," Bob said.
"Well, most of the gunpowder is being used up in the oil wars in Africa."
"That's too bad," Margaret said. "I guess we'll just have to make the best of it."
"Yeah," Bob said. "I guess we all will."
The year was 1950 – no, excuse me, I misspoke. The year was 2050. This is a portrait of Margaret and Bob in the twilight of their lives. They had been young at the turn of the millennium, which had brought to the world new hope, not the apocalypse some expected. Had the hope of the new millennium been realized? Had the wishes of the first Americans, created on July 4th 1777, been fulfilled? On Independence Day in 1950, no-one seemed to be quite sure.
When Bob spoke again it was quite dark and quite cold. "You know what I wish, Maggie?"
"I wish we could be like those people in Science Fiction Theatre."
"Bob, what a thing to say – "
"No no, not that we be patricidal or incestuous or anything like that. Heavens, no. Rather – I wish we could travel to the heavens. And voyage through outer space. Wouldn't that be great? To be cosmonauts?"
Margaret's thirst was acute now. Her mouth was parched and she felt she could not speak. She nodded her head instead.
"Boy oh boy," Bob whispered. "That would be something. To visit our nearby moon and the distant Andromeda galaxy. To be tiny little pieces of warmth, and vitality, and life, in all that space. Space is such a cold, dead thing. We could leave this place of harlequins and Herods. We'd be pioneers, Maggie, you and me." He smiled at his wife. "That would be real freedom."
Margaret smiled back at her husband fondly, from the bottom of her heart. She would normally shun such ludicrous talk, but the night was so beautiful, and she felt such a profound love for Bob. She gazed at the few stars visible in the sky, the ones not drenched out by the light of the fireworks, or obscured by the subsequent smoke. Besides, she thought, it was not that crazy of an idea, that one day the common man would be able to travel in space. It was not that crazy that one day the locusts would be gone forever, and the oil wars in Africa would end, and there would be a new President. Maybe it would happen one day soon. And it would be wonderful.
Maybe this stasis they were all in would finally end. History would cease to repeat itself, and they would no longer be haunted by the past. Maybe.
Margaret was feeling light-headed again. She felt a desperate feeling of thirst, but she did not know if it was she or Bob who was thirsty. She so badly wanted to get a glass of water for them both. Clean and clear. But instead she sat there on the porch with her Independence Day dessert. The berries were so juicy and tangy; the ice cream so sickly sweet.