Glory O'Brien's History of the Future, p.7A. S. King
I would fly
Graduation was an endurance test. Kids got diplomas, shook hands with the superintendent and handed him a lollipop secretly as a joke. His pockets bulged after forty of them. We had a class of 343. He had to start emptying into the podium every few rows. I did not grab a lollipop when I was leaving the cafeteria. I was not going to play a joke on the superintendent.
Gerald Faust, our resident reality TV star, accepted his diploma with Native American war paint on his face. He pushed a girl I never saw before in a wheelchair up a makeshift plywood ramp on the left side. She gave the superintendent a lollipop.
At one point during the endless wait to get past the M names, I met eyes with a kid standing in the aisle waiting to go to the stage. I’d never seen him before. He had the most beautiful brown eyes.
Transmission from Beautiful Brown Eyes: His grandfather escaped Cuba in the 1960s and lived long enough to see this day. His grandfather’s grandfather was killed in the Partido Independiente de Color in 1912, fighting for the rights of Afro-Cubans. His grandson will also die fighting for rights in the Second Civil War.
I smiled shyly at the beautiful brown-eyed kid and then looked down at my program. I paged through the list of 343 graduates. Some had asterisks behind their names. Some didn’t. If I let my eyes go lazy, all the type blurred into one big block of blue ink.
I am no one special. You are no one special. Can you handle that? Most people can’t handle it.
I am tortured by the mundane. You are mundane. I am tortured by you.
I looked down at my Doc Martens shoes. I’d shined them and bought new white bobby socks. No one could see my dress under the gown, but I felt it there, a size too big, making me smaller, shrinking me into the size of a bat.
When it was finally time for our row to go up, I stood and smoothed out my gown and took a deep breath. I thought of Darla. I pictured Bill, the man with no head. I pictured the headless naked body from the previous page in Darla’s book. Why would anyone do this?
I thought of Letter N Day. I thought about how my formal education started there, on that day, and how it was going to end today. From now on, I wasn’t going to keep my life a secret. I was going to be a natural human being, if there was such a thing. I was going to be free. Life, liberty and don’t tread on me. I would fly.
Maybe this is what Free yourself. Have the courage meant. After this stupid ceremony, I would talk about it. Darla. Suicide. Whatever would help me move forward. Whatever made me stop thinking I was doomed. I was not doomed. Was I? I was not another apple who would fall too close to the tree. Was I?
I said this in my head, but underneath it all were chemistry and genes and questions that had never been answered. Questions I had never asked.
We were fed onto the stage like machine parts. We were a conveyor belt of future. We were an assembly line of tomorrow. We were handed our diplomas and stood to face the audience and they were asked not to clap until the end, but some did anyway.
I heard Dad yell. “Cupcake!”
I heard Ellie, from somewhere. “Hell yeah!”
I smiled and looked at the superintendent. His distant descendant will die in the twenty-fourth century’s World War IV, because his brothers will close the shelter door and leave him out. True story: Radiation poisoning decreases the faster you get into a shelter. Even if you lock out your own brother.
I stood and faced the crowd and heard a static of epic proportions. Chatter of a thousand infinities all at once. I saw cavemen and space stations. I saw wars fought on horseback and wars fought with photon torpedoes. I looked back down, exited via the steps to the right and took my place on the assembly line. We filed back to our row and shimmied into our places and sat down on cue.
Like well-trained dogs.
We were halfway through the W names when I saw Ellie walking behind the away bleachers. The away bleachers were empty because they were behind the stage. She found a place in the shade under the middle of the bleachers and sat down. Then she stood up and drew something on the bottom side of the bleacher seats, one after the other.
I watched her all the way through to Deanna Zwicky and then the Class of 2014 was instructed to stand and move our tassels from one side to the other and we were reminded for the tenth time not to throw our caps because our mortarboards could take an eye out.
Max Black the bat showed me how we were obedient monkeys. He told me to guess what Ellie was writing under the bleachers.
Free yourself. Have the courage.
Which was a fine thing to do if you were no one special.
I looked at the backs of three-hundred-plus heads and thought: What a perfect day to figure this out.
If Max Black the bat had had full control, I’d have stood on my folding chair right then and screamed it. I’d have rushed the stage and chanted it into the microphone. I’d have outdone all those bullshit speeches I heard that day.
My speech would have been about the nature of us.
How we’re a pack of self-centered animals.
I’d have named my speech: You are mundane.
Pay to the order of
“Did you hear me yell?” Dad asked.
“All those years to plan what you’re going to yell at my graduation and you chose Cupcake,” I said, hugging him.
He gave me a card.
“For now or later?” I asked. We met eyes. Transmission from Dad: An ancestor of his once killed a man over a hard-boiled egg. His wife was pregnant and hungry. She had a girl.
“Either. But if you open it now, it might make you smile.”
Only when he said that did I realize I hadn’t been smiling. Not sure for how long. Maybe thirteen years. I made sure to draw up the sides of my mouth and I slipped my finger into the sky-blue envelope and ripped it across the top seam.
For My Graduate…
There was a black-and-white photograph of a graduate on the front and inside there was a check for fifty thousand dollars.
I snapped the card shut the minute I saw the amount scrawled out on the line below PAY TO THE ORDER OF. Then I opened it again and peeked. It still said fifty thousand dollars.
“Oh my God,” I said.
Dad pulled me into his side and hugged me and kissed me on the head.
I didn’t know what to do.
I took the card and put it in the large square pocket of my Dust Bowl dress and I hugged Dad and then I hugged him more and then I worried about what I would blow fifty thousand dollars on and then I stopped worrying and then I looked over Dad’s shoulder and I met eyes with someone’s grandmother.
Transmission from a random grandmother: Her great-grandson will leave and never talk to the family again… and will eventually find the loophole in the Fair Pay Act. And that loophole will open a whole can of insanity.
“It’s too much,” I said to Dad. “I can’t keep it.”
“You can and you will so keep it. Your mother wanted you to have it. You didn’t know her, but I can tell you: You never go against your mother.”
I wanted to say: Or she’ll stick her head in the oven and make you live on radiated food for the rest of your life.
Instead, I just touched the card through the stiff seersucker. Instead, I felt like throwing up because being cynical wasn’t working. My mother was dead. She had been dead for thirteen years and it was sad. Not just for me, but for Dad. I hugged him again and it was a real hug—no pats on the back or jokes. He hugged me the same way. It was our first real hug as adults or something.
“We need to talk more about stuff,” I said into his ear.
“Okay,” he answered.
“I’m a little lost, but I think I’ll be okay,” I said. Then I pulled back and looked into his eyes.
Transmission from Dad: His sisters didn’t call him much. His friends didn’t call him much.
I tried to see his future. My future. Anything that would back up that stupid shit I just said about bein
“I think that check might help you see your options,” he said.
I looked around to other graduates and their parents and I doubted any of them were walking around with fifty thousand dollars and knowledge of a second civil war in their pockets. I doubted any of them had an intense feeling like they could just die any minute.
The crowd of graduates and relatives let out random screams of joy or relief or football team camaraderie. People tried to move through and Dad and I were constantly being separated by people who said, “Can I cut through here?”
It was as if all the other families were too strong to cut through, but ours had an expressway.
“Do you mind if I get out of here?” Dad asked after about four minutes.
“Not my scene, you know?” He meant people. People were not his scene.
“I’m going soon, too,” I said. “Just after I return my stuff. I’ll be home later.”
I stood there still denying I had fifty grand in my pocket and looked around. I tried to see Ellie, but she wasn’t there. Too many people stood between me and the away bleachers, in case she was still there.
I still had the bat-vision. I didn’t like the transmissions, but I wanted to find out more. The next civil war. The future of our galaxy. The horror of our past.
I popped in and out of people’s infinities. I asked Max Black the bat if he could show me something funny or nice for once.
Her father knew John F. Kennedy.
His great-granduncle was a politician and helped end local prohibition.
His distant descendant will be the interior designer for Earth’s first orbiter, the station called Lincoln. He will misspell Lincoln on the blueprints by leaving out the second L.
Her grandson will discover the gene that causes stupidity and will be jailed for suggesting that it be eliminated.
His grandniece will give birth to a man called Nedrick the Sanctimonious who will start the Second Civil War, which will split our country in two: the New America, where Nedrick will rule through his cronies in political office and his stockpile of weapons sent from dubious worldwide militias to help destroy the most powerful country on Earth, and the Old America, which will gain support from most of the world because it is horrifying to watch a potentially great country move backward. And because sanctimony is annoying.
A second civil war? What could bring us there again?
As I looked from person to person and learned more about the wider details, I felt all-powerful and yet helpless. I had knowledge. Maybe.
Or maybe I was nuts. 50% Darla. A bat. God.
Whatever was going on, I decided there in the packed, humid parking lot that I would use my transmissions to write the history of the future.
Can you believe it, Glory?
The history of the future had an ending just like our beginning. I saw that when I looked at Jupiter two nights before.
The history of the future started with a huge explosion that made Little Boy, the 9,700-pound atomic bomb that was not a microwave oven or a cell phone, look like a microwave oven or a cell phone. Call it the big bang; call it what you want. We are all made from star dust and we will all return to star dust, like a cosmic palindrome.
We are birthed and we are ended.
We are all potentially bat dust in pickle jars. Mixed with beer, we could cause hallucinations and the urge to write on ourselves with Sharpie markers.
The history of the future would have to be written in a way unlike my other sketchbooks. It would sort through the static I was seeing and would pull out the important facts. It would be something people in the future could read so they might understand what will happen.
Before I could get out of the cafeteria, Stacy Cullen came up to me and hugged me as if we were best friends. Stacy and I were in first grade together. Now we graduated together. She had tears in her eyes.
“Can you believe it, Glory?”
I stared at her. Her transmission was horrifying.
“I know, right? I don’t know what to say, either,” she said. “It’s all so amazing.”
“Yeah,” I said. “Amazing.”
“Next thing you know we’ll be graduating from college and all married and shit.”
“Sure,” I said, not taking my eyes off her infinity.
She stopped and looked embarrassed. “Sorry,” she said.
I had no idea what she could be sorry about. I was far sorrier for her.
Transmission from Stacy: Her oldest son will die instantly in a head-on collision with a drunk driver who will pass out at the wheel on Route 422. It will be summertime. Her two younger sons will never get over it. The youngest will move to Idaho and never come home. The middle boy will give her two granddaughters, who will be stolen during the Second Civil War, which will be common practice during the reign of Nedrick the Sanctimonious.
“I’m really sorry, Glory,” she said again.
“No problem, really,” I said, so sad for her granddaughters.
“I didn’t mean to rub it in your face,” she said.
That’s when I realized she was talking about college. I guess that’s what normal, not-God-drinking people think about at graduation. Future. College. Marriage. Adulthood.
“You totally didn’t rub it in my face,” I said. Then I felt the fifty thousand dollars in my pocket. “I just want to take a year off to get my shit together. That’s all.”
She nodded nervously, looking past me to the door. “Okay. Well, good luck!” Another hug. Then she left.
I was left standing there looking at the throng of other graduates returning their gowns, thinking about college, futures, marriage, adulthood. They all looked happy about being on the conveyor belt of life. They didn’t know anything about the Second Civil War.
Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future
I am Glory O’Brien and I am writing this book because something is going to happen. Something bad.
I know things. I can’t tell you how I know things, but I know things and I am writing them down here in case anyone ever wants to know what I know. The year is 2014. The bad things will happen in about fifty years or so.
From what I can see, and I can’t see everything, it will all start with the Fair Pay Act… or more accurately, the loophole someone will find in order to avoid it.
The Fair Pay Act will be a federal law that will finally require employers to pay women the same as men for performing the same jobs. It, or something like it, has been on the minds of some lawmakers since the late twentieth century but never quite evened out the pay situation.
The loophole in the federal Fair Pay Act will be simple.
How can states make sure they won’t have to pay women fairly?
Make it illegal for women to work.
It will take one short month for the first state legislature to exploit the loophole in the Fair Pay Act and to pass the Family Protection Act.
A week later, when the governor gives it his stamp of approval, women representatives and senators will be escorted out of their offices and will be given no opportunity to appeal.
It will, from that day forward, be illegal for them to work in their own state. Even as a waitress. Even as a lap dancer. Even as an Avon makeup representative.
The governor will call this a victory for families.
Most people can’t handle it
Ellie was in my car. I had no idea how she got there, because I’d locked it. She still looked like she was losing her mind, evident by the fact that she was sitting in my car in the hot parking lot with the windows up. It had to be a hundred degrees in there, easily.
I opened the door and sat in the driver’s seat. “Hi.”
“I want it to go away,” she said.
“I’m seeing a civil war. And other stuff. Today I saw an intergalactic war with photon torpedoes. I think it’s kinda cool.”
I looked at Ellie then and noticed that she’d worn her favorite sundress but she’d left the buttons in the front open. And she wasn’t wearing a bra. Come to think of it, I don’t know if anyone on the commune wore a bra. Maybe bras were like atomic bombs, too.
I looked down at my seersucker Dust Bowl dress and bobby socks. I knew I couldn’t compete, but I never wanted to compete. I liked how white my legs were. I planned on keeping them sun free by spending my entire summer in the darkroom becoming Darla. I didn’t remember Darla’s legs, but I’d seen pictures, and in them her legs were white too. She had knobby knees.
Only there, on graduation day in the car with Ellie, did I realize I had knobby knees too.
When I thought about it, no one I ever saw on TV or in a magazine or on a billboard had knobby white knees or a Dust Bowl dress.
“What are we going to do?” Ellie asked. “I can’t just avoid people for the rest of my life.”
Of course, I could. I totally could avoid people for the rest of my life. “Just chill out. We’ll be fine. Everything is happening for a reason.”
“We’re going crazy for a reason? What the fuck? I got fucking crabs off some asshole for a reason? I’m nearly eighteen and I don’t have a high school diploma for a reason?”
I put the car in reverse. “Okay, if you can’t chill out then just shut up. Or maybe say congratulations or something appropriate. Or just something not insane,” I said. “Because you’re not insane, you know. I see it too, okay? You’re not anything special.”
She looked hurt. “I’m not anything special?”
“I am no one special. You are no one special. Can you handle that?” I said. “Most people can’t handle it.”
“Shit,” she said.
Then I backed out of the parking space, drove to the parking lot’s exit and got stuck in the dumb postceremony traffic jam that had built up while I was making small talk with Stacy Cullen. I wished I’d left with Dad, who was surely home by now in a tie-dyed shirt and a pair of baggy pajama shorts on the couch with his laptop.
Glory O'Brien's History of the Future by A. S. King / Young Adult / History & Fiction / Fantasy / Science Fiction have rating 3.6 out of 5 / Based on25 votes