I watched the star twinkling red, blue, and green in the night sky and knew the end was close, if not the world’s end, certainly my own. The new light, which the media proclaimed had always been, rivaled the glow of the full moon and seemed to pulse and dance. I remembered the days and years before the shifting orb appeared in the sky, and felt nothing but fear when I pointed out that fact to my friends and co-workers and they insisted it had always been there.
“Wouldn’t someone notice if the star was new, wouldn’t someone speak up? What about all the astronomers and scientists? If it was new wouldn’t the leaders and the media tell us?” they said. “I remember it from when I was a child.”
Of course, that was back in the days when I had friends and co-workers, before the world had changed. The changes were gradual at first, little shifts to make society better, then they were fast tracked and no one seemed to notice. I wondered how everyone had become so numb and blind to the changes, but I suspect it was because at first the only changes for them were that they worked more hours and through sheer exhaustion couldn’t keep up with the news.
At first was the rationing of kilowatt-hours on our electric meter, and no one could meet or surpass their monthly allotment, so no one seemed to care, most were united in saving the planet and bragging about how few hours they used. Then burning wood or coal was made illegal, not many complained and if they did or if they staged protests at the capitols across the nation, no news covered it. And it truly didn’t seem like that much of a sacrifice, after all, we had such a generous allotment of electricity it seemed outrageous that anyone would need the extra energy and according to the media we were united as one under this new plan to save the earth.
As I said, the changes were gradual and done as a feel good rain of parades and concerts shown on all channels of the television and broadcast on all radio stations. I have always been a bit rebellious and married a man of my own nature and we worried over the small losses of freedom. My husband, Earl, owned a welding shop and said it was just a matter of time before gas would be rationed, but before that happened, Earl was killed. Luckily, for him I believe. Thankfully, he didn’t live so long to see how bad it became.
One President became another and then the allotment for electric became less, cash was abandoned for plastic and the price of being caught with cash was prison. I lost my job around that time, for pointing out to my co-workers that the star in the sky had not always been, and went on assistance. I lost my friends, because no one who worked in system should be seen with those who weren’t, it was an unspoken rule, a rule whispered and rumored about, but a rule nonetheless. Those who broke the rule soon found themselves without a job or dead. So call it coincidence or happenstance, but the knowledge grew and once you were out of the corporate world, you were shunned and invisible.
Earl died in a protest, shot down in the street. He never even received a funeral; he was just swept like trash from the street and disposed in some manner that could not be shared because it went against national security. I just knew that he never came home from his trip to the capitol to protest the closing and end of private, independent businesses, because their existence required too much energy. Several weeks later I received a letter of his death and a check for a hundred dollars.
The star was smaller back then, shining brighter in the sky than any other, and dancing with color. I remember sitting out under the night sky with a bottle of wine, crying with the letter in my hand, and knowing that there was nothing I could do. Earl was gone and I was alone with a rebellious teenage boy and no job to support him.
Randall, my son, met and exceeded my and Earl’s level of rebellion, we should have known better to bring a child into this world, with our genes, but we wanted to see what we could create. Where I cried at the loss of Earl, Randall raged. Randall wanted revenge on a world that declared freedom, but only gave multi-levels of control. He paced in the yard that night as I sobbed over the letter and drank too much wine.
“We can’t even flush the toilet as needed, Mom,” he said, running his hand through too long hair. “Our water is rationed. It was nine flushes a day with three people, now it’s going to be down to six. What if you or I have diarrhea? The other is going to have to look at that mess?”
Randall had other concerns than the loss of his father; he had a letter in his hands as well. At fifteen he’d been called into national service, it was a nine-week program, much like military boot camp, and he was supposed to leave in a week.
“I’m not going, fuck this noise! This is the land of the free? Did you see Rufus when he came home? He wasn’t the same person.”
I nodded. I had seen Rufus, I had to smile at the Rufus I knew before boot camp, Rufus, the painter, the poet; Rufus came home with an arm illustrated in warmongering tattoos and no longer smiled and joked, the gentle kid had turned into something neither Randall nor I recognized.
“And what about Amber?” Randall punched the trunk of a tree and I didn’t even try to stop him. Amber had been Randall’s girlfriend before she was shipped off, a self-described anarchist who wished that all electricity and communication would stop. “That’s the only way we’ll know who we are,” she’d lament. She came home with a buzz cut, and a change of personality that was beyond frightening and into bizarre.
“I’m not going.”
“The law says you have to go, it’s required,” I whispered.
“I know, Mom, but I’m breaking the law.”
“What are you going to do?”
“I don’t know.”
“You can’t get out, the borders are patrolled, not just the borders into Mexico and Canada, but the borders between the states, there is nowhere to go.”
“Then I’ll die fighting,” he said, sitting on the damp grass and wrapping his arms around my leg. He rested his head on my thigh and sighed. “I can’t live like this, Mom. You and dad were the greatest parents, always teaching me to question and teaching me how to work hard for what I believed in.” He sniffed and wiped his eyes. “I can’t do this.”
I brushed his hair from his face and understood, he was just a boy, but a young, strong man who reminded me of his father. I looked at the star, the star I knew hadn’t always been, and I knew I couldn’t hold on to my son. “What can I do?”
“I’ll need a bit of food, not much, because I know you have to eat. You could come with me.” He lifted his head and looked into my eyes. “Come with me, Mom.”
I smiled and wiped the tears off my cheeks. “I can’t. I couldn’t keep up with you and I don’t want to slow you down.”
“You’ll die here,” he said, pushing my hair behind my ear.
“You’ll probably die out there too, son.” More tears came; I couldn’t control them.
He smiled, looking so like his father. “Then we’ll meet on the other side and dad will be there.”
I nodded and he hugged my leg tighter. We sat outside until the new star set, watching the colors and saying goodbye in silence. A couple nights later I let him go, his backpack stuffed with clothes and the few cans of food I had.
I sat in the yard crying, I had no wine or alcohol, as my allotment only covered three bottles a month or twenty-four beers. I missed my dog, but the new rules said we were only doing harm to domesticated animals by keeping them and they had been gathered and taken away. Occasionally the neighborhood would adopt a stray that had escaped the round up, but I hadn’t seen a dog in a long time. A few cats survived the new law and as I sat in the yard, crying over the loss of Earl and Randall, one jumped the fence and settled in my lap, kneading my thighs. I thanked a God I wasn’t sure still existed.
The star grew brighter, bigger, and I wondered if my old friends and co-workers still believed it had always been there. My rations had been reduced to a couple pounds of some sort of meat, a dozen cans of fruits and vegetables and some paper goods a month. I tried to get a job, but I’d been black balled. Occasionally I traded some cans of food, or homemade quilts, or some very needed sewing, for some homemade wine and I’d sit in the yard, watching the star grow bigger in the sky and missing my husband and son.
It was a long time since we had an Internet of free exchange, the new President passed a bill and made blogs and forums illegal, so when you logged on the Internet the selection of available sites were much the same as the television. And it all declared that the star, brighter than the moon and nearly bigger, had always been there and only tinfoil hat wearing nutcases believed differently.
I had to go to a concert the other night to keep my benefits. I stood in line, hating to be there, but it was an obligation, a way to get paid for the food I received. There were some beggars, one being the old lady who used to live across the street from me and who rescued so many dogs and cats, back before they were confiscated. I wished I had something to give her, but money and coins have been made illegal, and I didn’t think to bring any food. She was emaciated, thin beyond thought, and I remembered the chubby old woman willing to take in any animal. I sat in the concert, full of patriot messages, and cried, staring at the star that had now grown bigger than the moon.
I accepted the ride on the bus to bring us back to our now fenced in neighborhood and thinking about Randall. I thought I was too old to go, I hate that I didn’t go. I miss him and wonder if he is still alive or if he made it to a place we were told that didn’t exist. I pulled out the jar in the cabinet, half full of some homemade wine, and I’m drinking it as I write this.
The ground is trembling under my feet. It’s been happening since Earl died and Randall went on his journey, the media says it is nothing new that the earth has always trembled. It’s also repeated on commercials every half hour that anyone who doesn’t remember the trembling of the earth is mentally ill and we should report them, they also conveniently add a number to call in and say extra rations will be given to those who report. Did I mention that we must also watch the television? The usage of the television is monitored as much as the electric, water, and cash.
I feel like Randall did before he left. I wish I had been strong enough when he was. He didn’t even grow up when the world was actually free, but he was smart enough to understand what he was taught of how it was, the freedom, didn’t actually exist, and I was too scared to follow the child. I pray he’s still alive.
My bag is packed, my boots are on my feet, and as this new star is lighting the yard brighter than any full moon that ever existed, I’m ready to go.