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Glory obriens history of.., p.9
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       Glory O'Brien's History of the Future, p.9

           A. S. King
 
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  And then one state will make a bold move and pass the Fathers Count Law by refusing welfare assistance to any single mother or her children.

  I haven’t seen what happens after this yet, but it looks like a lot of people starve and a lot of people leave their homes and look for a life somewhere else.

  One thing I did see was the collapse of most basic services. Women work in a lot of places. I don’t think any of those lawmakers who passed the laws ever thought about what would really happen when they opened the loophole.

  Or maybe they did and they just didn’t care.

  What if we’re stuck like this?

  Fifty thousand dollars couldn’t take me back to an hour before, when I didn’t know anything about Jasmine Blue’s attempts to steal my father from my mother, and ultimately, me.

  Fifty thousand dollars couldn’t buy back my father’s will to paint. Couldn’t buy him a time machine where he could burn those pictures and tell Jasmine Blue to leave him alone before Mom found out.

  It couldn’t buy Ellie a new life, away from Rick, who was now bugging her about breaking up with him. She said he was passing rumors around the commune.

  And it couldn’t take me back to Saturday night and stop Ellie and me from drinking the bat.

  “What if it never goes away?” she’d asked on the way home from graduation. “What if we’re stuck like this forever?”

  “Shit,” I said.

  “Yeah,” she said. A minute passed. “But seriously. What if we’re stuck like this?”

  Her question meant more to me than she’d meant it to. What if we’re stuck like this? That was the question I’d been asking about Ellie and me for a long time.

  I approached the commune’s back field, where Jasmine’s flock had laid out a bunch of tables with snacks and drinks. I looked for Ellie but she wasn’t there yet. At this point, the sky was still pretty bright at the early stages of dusk, and the only planet showing was Jupiter. I stood and listened to the birds in their nests and getting ready to sleep. It was a sound I’d heard a hundred times before, but I’d never really noticed it or something. It was peaceful. It made me feel more comfortable with all my secrets, and now, Dad’s secrets.

  There was no one around. Maybe they were finishing their dinners. Maybe rolling out their drums from wherever they stored them. Maybe taking naked pictures of themselves to send to other people’s husbands—pictures like thin, lightweight atomic bombs that could disintegrate a family in a nanosecond.

  Kapow.

  “Hey!” Ellie came up from behind me.

  “Hey,” I said. I told her to stop and listen. “Isn’t it weird that birds make completely different noises when they’re bedding down to sleep at night than they do in the morning?”

  She said, “Duh.”

  I said, “No, seriously.”

  She answered, “You need something to eat.”

  Then we went to the table and loaded up our plates with commune food. I chose two types of paleo crackers made out of what tasted like nuts and berries and pretended to like the almond butter and celery but I hated it, so Ellie took it from me without a word and finished it. It was the friendliest thing she’d done in weeks.

  We walked toward a blanket that Ellie had already laid out for us. I admit I was concerned about lice. I sat down anyway.

  “Sorry about today,” she said. “I was so freaked out. This is so…”

  “Messed up,” I said.

  “Totally,” Ellie said. “When I got home I saw Rick. And he’s still swearing he didn’t give me those… things.”

  “Huh.”

  “He said I probably caught it off a toilet seat or something. Like that’s even possible.”

  “It’s possible,” I said, annoyed that we were still talking about lice. Annoyed that we weren’t talking about the history of the future of everything.

  “Not probable,” she said.

  “No.”

  “I saw naked people again. I can’t see your war or whatever. None of my naked people are toting guns, anyway.”

  “Heh.” I couldn’t help it. The idea of Ellie seeing naked people after seeing those pictures of Jasmine Blue was funny. And every time I looked at Ellie, I saw Jasmine. I was so mad at her again, even though it wasn’t her in the pictures.

  “I saw my mom has these two great-grandsons. That was cool.”

  “You saw the grandsons?” I asked.

  “Great-grandsons,” she said. “So they must be my grandsons, right? Only child and all that.”

  “Yeah,” I said. “That’s cool. I can’t—uh—I don’t see any grandkids in my future, anyway.”

  This was the closest I’d ever come to telling her my secret. But she wasn’t listening.

  “So… Rick. I don’t know what I’m going to do,” she said.

  “What is there to do?”

  “He lives here.”

  “And?”

  “And I still like him.”

  I looked at her sideways. “Seriously?”

  “I’m… used to him,” she said. “That’s probably more accurate.”

  We sat and watched the commune people milling around. I thought about what it must be like to be so free. No jobs. No responsibilities. No rent.

  “So, did you get any sweet graduation presents?”

  “Just a check from my dad, you know? No party or anything. I mean, why party when there’s a party right next door, right?”

  More silence. More watching the commune people interact with each other. Even Ellie’s dad was out at the food table, loading up a plate.

  “Did you get in trouble for coming to graduation?” I asked.

  “Double chores when I got back,” she said. “I can tell you this: Chickens pretty much have boring futures. Chop chop.” She made the motion with her hand. Chop chop. “But they’re always naked, so at least that’s something.”

  We laughed.

  “Did you see much stuff at graduation? I stayed away from people.”

  “Oh yeah,” I answered. “Crazy stuff. Mostly the war.”

  “Do you think it’s real?”

  I nodded.

  She said, “I see people living in trees. I saw that. And there was this one thing I didn’t really understand, but everywhere was flooded and people used boats. It was the future, though, so the boats were really cool. It was hot, too, and no one could use air-conditioning anymore because there was no more oil.”

  “You’re having hippie visions,” I said.

  “Yeah. I guess.”

  “I’m having war visions,” I said.

  “We’re going crazy,” she said.

  “We’re not going crazy,” I said. “And what’s crazy, anyway?”

  “I guess.”

  “How’d you get the marker off your arms?” I asked.

  “Special soap we use for poison ivy,” she said. She held her arms out for me to see. “It’s still there, though. You just have to look really hard.”

  I looked hard but couldn’t see in the near darkness. But I knew what it said.

  Free yourself. Have the courage.

  “I need a break from this place,” Ellie said. “I want to meet complete strangers and find out what I can see about them.”

  “Tomorrow we should hit the mall,” I said. “It’s full of complete strangers.”

  “I hate the mall,” she said. It was a reflex. Jasmine hated the mall, so Ellie had to too, even though I’d hidden her consumerist contraband under my bed through middle school.

  “It’s not like you’re going to buy anything,” I said. “Trust me. It’s a good spot. A lot of different kinds of people.”

  Dusk fell into night and the stars came out and we lay on our backs and watched the show. Jasmine Blue organized her drum circle and I was right—I couldn’t look at her without picturing those pictures.

  Very

  “How’s Glory?” Jasmine asked as I filled my plate with more crackers and cheese. She always called me by my third-person name instead o
f talking to me like a normal human. Come to think of it, this might have more to do with the same reason Dad wouldn’t call her by her name, either.

  “Glory is just fine,” I answered. I stared at her. Jasmine’s great-great-grandmother was part of the Underground Railroad. She once helped a family of five move through the night and arrive safely at a nearby station only to see them hanged in the morning.

  “I understand you graduated from high school today,” she said.

  “Indeed.”

  “Congratulations.”

  “Thanks,” I answered. I could see it on her lips. I could see it lingering there, but she knew she wasn’t allowed to say it. Your mother would be so proud.

  “I assume you’re heading to college to do something wonderful, right?”

  “Taking a year off. Figuring myself out. Doing a lot of printing in Darla’s darkroom,” I said.

  “Oh,” she said. Trying not to look surprised, but failing. “Wow. How interesting.”

  “Very,” I said.

  Then Jasmine Blue Heffner scratched herself. Right at the top of her pubic bone. You know the place. She scratched and then writhed a little in discomfort as if there were a bunch of obligate parasites having their own little star party right there in her pants.

  That little scratch made me look around the commune and wonder what I’d do with it if I took it back. I could do that. It was rightfully mine. A bunch of hippie freaks would be released into the world to find jobs and real lives that had nothing to do with drum circles and paleo crackers.

  I looked at Jasmine Blue. Transmission from Jasmine Blue Heffner: Her great-grandsons will be part of the New American Army. One will be an officer of the K division, and the other will be trapped inside a burning house during a battle and will melt like vegan cheese.

  The history of Jasmine’s future ended right there.

  It made me sad for Ellie, losing her grandsons like that. It made me mad at Jasmine—for everything.

  She said something to me, but I didn’t hear it over the melting-like-vegan-cheese great-grandson, so I didn’t answer and just kept Jasmine there long enough to make her really uncomfortable. I wanted her to feel like she was in a microwave oven. I wanted her to rotate on the little glass tray. So I looked down at that area—where the Jupiterians might have been living—and I looked back into her eyes before I walked back to the blanket where Ellie was.

  “What did you see when you looked at my mom?” she asked. “Did you see my grandsons?”

  “Just some really weird shit about your great-great-great-grandmother being part of the Underground Railroad.”

  “Sweet,” she said.

  “Sure,” I said.

  “Rick is here.”

  I turned my head to see him. “I wonder if he brought his friends from Jupiter.”

  We laughed. Ellie made her laugh bigger and more animated.

  I looked to see what Jasmine Blue’s reaction would be to Rick’s arrival, but she didn’t even look up. I then looked around from woman to woman and I realized none of them looked at Rick. Not one of them. Hard to believe, considering he was wearing a shirt that showed off his tanned, muscular arms.

  I said, “I’m going to go and find out what I can find out.”

  Transmission from Rick: Rick’s grandfather was sent to the Korean War as an eighteen-year-old fresh out of high school. He joined the navy the minute he could so he could go and kill the Communists and defeat evil. Rick’s father was educated by nuns. They were not nice nuns. They did things to Rick’s father that Rick knew nothing about.

  “I heard you graduated from Blue Marsh today,” he said.

  “Yep. I’m a real smarty-pants now,” I said.

  “Ellie still pissed at me?”

  “Um, probably forever, yeah,” I said.

  “So how come you can come over and talk to me?”

  “Because I’m not Ellie,” I said. “And because I wanted to tell you that you should stay away from her.”

  “And?”

  I stared at him. Transmission from Rick the dick: Rick the dick already has two children. One of them lives on this commune. They have curly hair and psoriasis.

  I didn’t know what to say after that, so I said, “And nothing. Just stay away from her.”

  I walked away. He said something to my back, but I don’t know what he said. I looked around at the little kids. It was hard to spot psoriasis in the dark.

  I lay down on the blanket next to Ellie and watched the stars again. There were two shooting stars in a row, and we gasped and said, “Did you see that?”

  I don’t know what she saw, but I saw everything from the beginning of time to the end of time—all in those meteors.

  We form. We shine. We burn. Kapow.

  Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future

  The Fathers Count Law will be lauded by lawmakers who feel that America has become a welfare state for women who weren’t smart enough to use birth control, even though the same lawmakers are on record as being against birth control.

  Seems the New America will be run by moronic dipshits. Fantastic.

  The Fathers Count Law will also call for the end of child support as we know it—no father who no longer lives with his wife and children will be required to pay for their upkeep. “If those mothers didn’t see that fathers count before they left those men, then why should we give them money?”

  Chalk up more points for the moronic dipshit team who obviously didn’t pay any attention to who-usually-walks-out statistics.

  In the small print, the Fathers Count Law will allow a husband to abandon his wife if he feels the wife isn’t meeting his personal or domestic needs. But if a woman leaves her husband under any circumstances, she will be breaking the Fathers Count Law.

  The key for women will be: If you leave, don’t get caught.

  So smart

  I watched Ellie look from drummer to drummer in the drum circle. Her eyes grew wide sometimes, as if she was seeing the same carnage I was seeing. Or maybe she was seeing other stuff. Rick’s DNA trail. Her mother’s commune trail. Maybe she would eventually find out that her whole world belonged to me.

  Rick stayed by the drum circle. Seeing him reminded me to look around for a little kid with curly hair and bad skin. There were two kids playing over by the campfire. I didn’t care enough to go and look at them. So I went to find Mr. Heffner, Ellie’s dad. I figured he’d have something interesting to tell me if I looked at him long enough.

  Transmission from Ed Heffner: His father was bald and impotent. His grandfather had been bald and impotent. Ed couldn’t help being bald, but he refused to be impotent. And so, he sneaked pills into the commune that helped him not be impotent. His father’s last words to him were “Are you ever going to get a job and grow up?” He didn’t really like his dad that much. He didn’t really like Jasmine all that much. He loved Ellie more than anything.

  “Congratulations,” he said to me.

  “Thanks.”

  “Graduation is a big deal,” he said. “I didn’t think we’d see you here tonight.”

  “Senior week at the shore isn’t really my thing.” I’d been invited. I never RSVP’d. “I hope Ellie graduates soon,” I said. “It was sad not to have her with me today, seeing we started school together and all.”

  “I hope she graduates soon, too.”

  I looked at him. What did I have to lose? “Well, Jasmine rules all, right? What can you do about it?”

  He frowned.

  I said, “I mean, I couldn’t live across the road all this time and not notice that, right?”

  “Don’t believe everything your dad tells you,” he said.

  “Really? Because he tells me a lot.”

  Ed Heffner looked more uncomfortable than he already had. “Well,” he said. “It’s not as simple as you probably think.”

  We had a standoff. He stared. I stared. He smiled. I smiled. He frowned. I frowned. Then I said something without even knowing I was going to say
it.

  “What was my mom like?” This question floated between us. It was an inconvenience. “I mean—was she nice? Funny? Was she depressed?” I didn’t know why I was asking Ed Heffner this, but I was.

  “Your mom was funny as hell. So smart,” he said. “So smart.”

  “Huh,” I said.

  And then silence again—nothing to say.

  He looked at his hands. “None of us saw it coming. If we had, I think we would have helped. She’d started working in that mall. She wasn’t around much after that. We—uh—were closed-minded about the fact that she got a job.”

  “She had a job?”

  Ed looked uncomfortable again. “Maybe you should ask your dad.”

  “Sure,” I said.

  “Things come between friends sometimes,” he said.

  “They sure do,” I said, looking over at Ellie. “I know what things came between Jasmine and my mom.”

  “Yeah. Jasmine really thought the job was against the whole point of why we moved out here.”

  “It wasn’t the job,” I said.

  He looked at me. Transmission from Ed Heffner: His daughter, Ellie, will marry young and he won’t be happy about it.

  “Well, what was it, then?” he asked.

  “Maybe you should ask Jasmine,” I said. “I’m pretty sure she knows.”

  “Well,” he said. “She was a good woman, your mom. You should know that. She left us too soon.”

  “Thanks,” I said. “You’re the only person who’s ever really talked to me about her like this.” I felt tears forming and my throat closing up around them.

  He turned to leave and reached his hand toward my shoulder and squeezed. “Talk to your dad. He can tell you.”

  “I will,” I said, turning from him, too.

  Then Ed Heffner walked to his house, opened the door and went in and didn’t come out again for the rest of the night. Something about what he said made me want to go back to the darkroom, haunted or not haunted. Why was I afraid of my own mother?

  I found Ellie talking to a group of younger kids and got her attention. “I’m going to head home. Long day,” I said.

 
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