This will be my last entry, and I don’t know if anyone will ever read it; but I feel the need to chronicle what passes for life these days. My last entry was over three years ago, I see here; too long…where did the time go? I think that I’ll hide it in a metal box under the floor boards to keep it safe…just in case…
The wind is hideous. Through the tiny window, all I can see is dust, and the barest outline of buildings not thirty or forty feet away. I’ve stuffed the cracks around the window and the door with bits of paper and cloth, but still there is always a light brown powdering on every surface; some days I don’t even bother wiping it up. The only regular visitor is the visiting nurse’s aid from the Department of Wellness once a week. Wellness; what a hoot! She brings us aspirin and valium, but not the pills for Nathan’s blood pressure problems. We don’t qualify for more regular medical help than this any more; emergencies are reviewed on a case-by-case basis. I forget what the excuse, I mean reason they gave us was…another front opened in the Wars, maybe, and there had to be more cut-backs? I think that was it…cripes. I can still get garlic and onions to help him, though.
Christy’s the nurse’s name; it seems like far too chipper a name for someone with such a face: she should be named Agnes, maybe, though she might have been brighter before all this wore her down. Surely it must be hard to have so little in her arsenal to help the myriad ailments she sees every day. At least she gets better food rations than most people; maybe better meds, too, though she won’t say. . . . Her face is long, with a stubby nose and dull brown eyes, and dew-lapped before its time. It spoke of an early resignation to her eventual fate; perhaps she was even born old; sometimes you’ll see children like that. Her black hair is cut short and looks dyed, and sticks up in the air as if her scalp sported myriad cowlicks.
I wonder where she would get the dye; are things like that still available out in the world? Lipstick; oh, wouldn’t it be lovely to have a tube or two? The scent of it rising as you’d spread wide your lips, and touch the angled stick of moist and creamy color in contours matching your lips was delicious and decadent. Oh; and some lotion…mmmm…the silky feel of it moisturizing your skin, melting into some of the little lines and dry patches…there was one kind that smelled like fresh coconut… Ach! What silliness; a little warm cooking oil works almost as well.
Nathan’s still in bed; asleep I hope. He’s been weak lately; it might be his heart, or maybe it’s just depression. It’s easy to want to find relief in slumber, though some nights my dreams aren’t as nice as they used to be. I used to try leaving the radio on while we slept, but now there are only the two stations: the government one, which carries news about the wars, and the supposedly soporific music station. They turned all the old songs into elevator music, and it numbs your mind until you could scream. They assumed it would make everyone calmer; I guess it doesn’t work that way for everyone…
Ah, we used to have music; lots of discs and a player…something for every mood you might want or be feeling. And a little garden. Everyone who could had one once food got scarce; but then the seeds got scarce, unless you could harvest your own before the plants froze for the winter, though over the years some of them wouldn’t sprout; more and more hybrids, I guess. Better living through Monsanto, or some tripe.
Some of set up an exchange, and would secretly swap the viable ones with each other to increase our crop varieties. The water got iffy after awhile, and the rain even seemed to have some dark qualities to it; the government people on the radio said it was fine, but who would believe them any more? Still, it was nice to putter around in the garden, just for the hope of it all; that the plants would thrive and make some food. Plus, they were so nice to look at, and I’d grow a few flowers, too.
It all seems so long ago now; what’s the date now? I should have written it at the top of the page, dammit. May 30, 2032, jeez Louise; how could I have forgotten?
I could turn the radio on for company, but some days I just don’t want to hear more war news: ‘The war opened today on a new front in Venezuela…’ Oh, I lose track, and there are shifts and new alliances, who can keep it all straight any more; it’s probably all lies, anyway. I guess they still expect we’ll all cheer at the victories they announce. Yeah; tie a goddam yellow ribbon…
This new President arrived in a military coup a few years ago: General J. Sterling Fox, and he proved the old adage: Look out when people start changing things; one of John Irving’s characters used to say that all the time…Owen Meany, that was the little fellow’s name. He was born understanding irony, I swear! Damn, he could make me laugh! I’d love to hear his take on life in the ‘30’s. They wouldn’t allow us to bring books with us; they’d have been such a comfort…I sneaked this tiny diary in by way of a chair cushion; ha!
Where was I? Oh, Fox (Fox in the henhouse, more like) and his folks finally figured out that we couldn’t keep up the wars without some big financial changes, instead of ending the wars, they came up with another plan. He went on the radio, and told us essentially how important these wars are for peace and prosperity (okay…), so we, as a people, needed to sacrifice a bit for them. So to help pay for the wars, anyone in certain categories would have to give up their houses and land, and be moved into government housing in the nearest town. Patriotic Gestures, I think they call the program. Though no one ever satisfactorily explained why we were on the list… anyway, they took our house and twenty acres, and moved us here to The Halliburton Good Shepherd Manor, and gave us the minimal stipend to last…well, until we die. I used to try to imagine what happened to our well-tended place; did they sell it? Are there still people who could afford to buy it?
Or are there oil or gas wells there now, rigs continually pumping their arms up and down, sucking the precious fluids out of the ground? Does anyone live in the house we built with such love? Ah, never mind. I was telling you about our unit in the Manor.
The seven-story complex is made of concrete, and was painted a grey-green with just a bit too much yellow in it to be pleasing. No plantings, shrubs or trees, just an art-deco cross planted in the ground in the courtyard, with four benches arranged around it.
The interior walls are paneled with ecru plastic paneling over the block walls, and it’s hard to hang anything on them to soften their glare. Crosses are screwed into the walls in every room. There’s a combination living room-dining room-kitchen, a bedroom and a bathroom. The bathroom does have a tub, though it’s not very big.
I suppose the crosses are useful icons for some residents; they weren’t meant to be removed, I discovered one day when my table knife failed at the task. We were only allowed to bring one van’s worth of our possessions with us, so we left all our tools behind.
This ‘Manor’ houses about 800 people, all couples with no kids, I think; families with kids must be in other units somewhere. Speaking (well, writing) of which, we haven’t had a letter from our kids in the longest time. We aren’t given phones here, but we can mail letters for free; that’s been a blessing.
Our son lives in Idaho, our daughter in Arizona; we don’t see them anymore, since travel is all but impossible with the gas rationing. Jamie used to be a history teacher, but now has a job with the Department of Education, ironically rewriting history books in a way that reflects better on the State and encourages Church and State unification, and the new changes to the Constitution. He hates it, but at least he has a job. He and his wife Emma live in apartment within walking distance of his work. Their only child died of a mutant bacterial strain several years ago; he and Emma have never really recovered from that loss. I haven’t either. I’m so tired now.
Our daughter, her husband Nicholas, and their young son, Elijah, live in Davenport, Iowa. Nick works at a Con-Ag factory that manufactures hemp clothing, bed sheets and other hemp products. The Great Plains are now devoted to growing hemp, gen-modified rapeseed and maize. It’s too warm now for corn to grow there; they grow it in Russia and nearby countries now. Kelp won’t grow much in the oceans any more, so they grow algae in lakes, and put it in the food supplements instead. Hemp seeds, too; they’re chock full of protein and at least some minerals, although lots of the soil has been depleted by now.
The kids share an apartment with another couple, but they’re fortunate to have a home, unlike so many. Plenty of people live on the streets now, I hear; though I really don’t know much of what’s going on out in the world any longer.
We all try hard not to cry in our letters, and show each other our better, more optimistic selves, but damn; it’s so hard not to see them any more. If we’d just known what was coming, we could have figured out how to stay together. Shoot; that one tear just plopped out; here, I’ll rewrite that smeary part. It’s just that today, of all days, I’d hoped to get last letters from them. I hadn’t told them, but tonight is our night to go; we’ll get transported to the nearest voluntary euthanasia center; ours is at an old auditorium about twenty miles away. They’ve redone it in a Heavenly theme, I’ve heard: angels and clouds, I assume. It goes with the name of the whole program and ceremony: Heavenly Journey (God; Owen Meany would love that one!). I’m not a believer, but most are, or pretend to be, these days. At least since we were moved here, we’re not required to go to church any more; they haven’t even built the goddam church they’d promised yet.
The Wars having been breaking the government treasury, so the Think Tanks started churning out cost-saving plans. Schools are for-pay now; they sold off the National Parks and Monuments to mining interests; but one peach of an idea kept getting more traction: Old People Have a Duty to Die. It was a quote from a Democratic Governor of Colorado ages ago; back then people squawked furiously over it, but now it’s been revived as a pragmatic solution: Every American over the age of sixty-five Receiving Social Safety Net funds can receive $10,000 to be ‘put to sleep’; citizens can choose anyone as an heir. Those dollars can improve our heirs’ lives, and since the SSN payments would end, the government wouldn’t keep bleeding funds. A ‘win-win program’ they call it; I’ve never been quite sure who wins what, though. We’ll win a rest, I guess. I’m so tired; Nathan is, too.
The kids won’t be surprised; I used to joke with them about scenarios like this; who knew they’d really come to pass? And they know how worn out we are; they’ll be sad, but they can handle it. I used to do a bit on the front porch during storms when I was all frazzed out: Hey lightning; over here! They loved it.
Now if you’re reading this diary in the future; if by some small miracle it survives, and is found, I don’t want you getting the wrong impression: this is a good plan, all things considered. There were some rough decades awhile back, and a lot of the things we require to live got scarce: water, food, oil, medical help; well, everything, really. It happened all over the world, not just here. Some of the environmental poisons got too heavy to sustain some organisms in the food chain, and people got sicker, too.
People started fighting over water and food; that’s what the coup was about, I think; to restore order. Some bad things happened for a bit, but life is calmer now. It’s getting harder to go the food warehouses for our rations, and lately you can’t even get tea. Tea was a big comfort for us; we make do with barley-molasses drink they have, but it’s just not the same. I don’t really like sweet things, but I still enjoy the ritual of it; Nathan does, too, the old sweetie.
Oh, dear; the wind is worse; I can feel a draft; I better go make sure he’s covered up.
He’s fine; I’ll let him sleep; he has a few more hours before we need to go. I gave him an extra valium in his lentil soup at lunch. I guess I’ll have one, too; …maybe two.
We’ll have to bundle up; the wind is still raging, and it’ll be chilly out.
At the center, they’ll put us in soft chairs next to each other, and give us a nice warm chocolate drink with plenty of good-tasting, ‘go to sleep’ medicine in it. Don’t go feeling sorry for us; we’re ready to go. Something good’s got to follow this life; we’ll make the next journey, and the kids will get that money. Oh, boy; they’d better get that damned money.
[Photo: Trey_Campbell via Flickr]