Oh, this damned cough. Out, out, damned cough. I’ve had it for a year. A year? Good enough. A year. I’m sure it presages my death. One more indication of my time passing. Time still operates in its normal way when death is involved. Death is time’s master. Time is but his handmaiden, marking off the ticks of the clock, the long winding down of another life, chucked off into the nothingness of history. I could go to a doctor. I still have some privileges from my former life of faithful service. (Oh, yes, “faithful service”. I wonder if they know about these words? Do they? Well, if they do, they consider them harmless enough. But they can’t discover them, can they? I never leave the room. This is my world entire.) But, what’s the point? A prolongation of a few months? For what? I just need enough time to finish this. Enough time, and then time will be immaterial. I will surrender myself to the transcendent. (That’s a word which, dear reader, may have been expunged from your vocabulary. But maybe it will be rediscovered. Perhaps, at last, the clouds will part.)
My mother lived just long enough to see the new dispensation. My father died years before, but not so soon as to not know what was coming down the pipe. It was all quite evident. After a period of spring, winter came down howling, as those who begrudged any openness, any freedom, rebelled. Of course, those who rebelled were those who had the power before the spring: the money men, the men of power, the men of violence, who sought only their own enrichment. The men who had always ruled the world, save for a brief interregnum, when it seemed that yes, things would change, things would go the way of, well, people like me.
Oh, how it must have amused them to turn us all, finally, without even much effort, into their servants. They had always considered us as such. But to have it be a matter of fact, of law? Oh, I can imagine them in their walled off compounds having a little chortle as they sampled goods we could only dream of.
But why in their walled off compounds? They had no need of walls. They were so masterful, so careful in their preparations, that they had us build walls around ourselves. There are the police! Look innocuous. There! An armored carrier full of soldiers! Oh, no, sir, I’m just walking about on my business, no threat from me, no, no. They didn’t need walls. We humans were their walls, conditioned, willing, supine.
I remember the last time I saw my mother alive. I was, I must say, a success. But not in her eyes. She was of that generation of freedom, of free thought, and if she hadn’t ended it all it was because she couldn’t abandon her children, no matter the choices we had made.
I and my sister—well, mostly myself, but that’s for a later part in the story—were able to get her into comfortable accommodations, as she was slipping from the world. She resisted, wanting to die in her own home. I’m surprised she allowed us to do this for her. But, again, she was first a mother, and secondly a child of another era. That era was quickly fading. It’s amazing how human beings fold themselves into whatever dispensation is at hand. Even if it’s quite obvious that their autonomy is being curtailed at every instance; as long as they have the illusion that they have free will, they will submit to almost any regime, no matter how onerous it would seem upon an objective assessment. We are quite predictable in that regard.
“Mother,” I said. “You look well.”
She grimaced. “You lie. But, that’s what you’re paid to do, isn’t it?”
I was used to her remonstrances, and had accustomed myself to them. I was a different man back then, fully engaged in the new order, believing in its power to remake the world in a glorious new fashion.
“I don’t lie. Lies don’t work. I tell the truth.”
She grimaced again. “Do you remember nothing of our old life? Nothing? Your father and I raised you differently. Or at least I thought we had.”
I shifted uncomfortably. I never liked to upset her. I was different in this regard from my sister; she had no problem dismissing Mother’s concerns, flicking away her memories of a better world with a wave of her hand. But she was the true believer. I thought I was as well. This text may prove otherwise.
“That was a different time,” I said. “Nothing stays the same forever. And what’s so bad about now? We have everything we could ever want.”
Her face was in a permanent grimace, not hiding her displeasure with me.
“Oh, yes, everything we could ever want.” She waved her arm airily around herself, taking in all about her. “This room is everything I ever wanted. And this facility. And the television, with its repetitive offerings extolling those you work for. Yes, I wanted that too. I wanted to know that beyond these grounds, beyond this sector, there are people dying miserable deaths. Yes, everything we ever wanted. It’s been given to us. No, sorry, I’m using the wrong terminology. We’ve ‘made it ourselves’, we built it. We, on our own. And if you haven’t, well, just die so that there are more resources for the rest of us.”
I know I made a face. I remember my muscles contorting. I leaned in, to try to get her to stop talking in such a manner.
“Now, you know that’s not true,” I said. “No one dies a miserable death. Everyone is cared for. That wasn’t the case before.”
She laughed. “Oh, you have your sources. Well, my son, it might surprise you to know that”—she sucked in a breath, ragged, horrible—“that I have mine. You live your truth. I’ll live mine.”
I whispered, “There’s only one truth. Please, Mother, be reasonable.”
She then reached her hand to caress my face. She hadn’t done that in years, as the distance between us had grown.
“You poor boy. My poor, poor boy. I don’t have to be reasonable. I won’t be around much longer. It will be a welcome end. But you? Oh, my love, my life. You’ll keep going on, in the way you are.” Then, something I hadn’t seen in any of my visits to her. A smile. “But I have faith in you. Your sister is gone. But you? I know you, my boy, my love. You’re lost now. But you’ll find yourself. It will break your heart. But you’ll find yourself.”
I said, “I’m not lost.” I remember not being sure if I believed it.
She sighed and sank bank into her pillows. “Go now. I’m tired. Give my love to that young lady of yours. Are we still allowed to love? I will, even if we’re not. Come back tomorrow.”
I rose out of my chair and kissed her forehead. I left without giving much thought. Of course I’d return the next day.