I wrote this some time ago before the future became the present, and soon-to-be past. In the next few days, my own mother will pass. I always wanted to write about her and the life that she had lived. In the end, the only things I have written are in note form. When she dies in that future that is very soon-to-be, many of her memories will go with her. She’s in a hospice now, her care is of the highest quality and that is what she should have been allowed when her condition was eventually diagnosed. In truth, I think that she was as much a victim of Covid-19 as all those who have died from the virus.
I will miss her very much, but know that the world was a better place for her having passed through it.
All my love, Michael.
Then, the door was closed.
I stood there for a moment, trapped in that part of the night where dreams meet reality. On the bed in front of me was the old woman they called Mother, a woman who until very recently seemed strong and determined.
The flight from the library had changed all of that. It wasn’t the exertion of the escape, I was certain of that, it was another less tangible reason. Perhaps it was the taking of the library, the invasion of her sanctuary or just the inevitability of The Family’s superior numbers. Whatever had happened back there was tantamount to a long burning candle being extinguished by a foul wind.
“Adam,” her tiny voice fluttered towards me, “Adam.”
Her eyes flickered open, her clear blue irises framing the intensity of her piercing pupils. She was barely audible but it was as if I was standing in a huge cavern; no, a hall in which even the tiniest of utterances could be magnified, to a shout.
“Adam, I have not got long left.”
Her breathing was ragged as she placed a cold hand upon my forearm. Regardless of that, I was aware of a certain strength that still resided there.
“You must promise me that you will not let them take you or Evie.”
“I promise,” I responded. “That goes without saying.”
“Now at least, they will not have me.”
A painful cough rattled up from her lungs. Then she started to speak.
I wasn’t ready for her monologue, one that was no longer broken by that strained and staggered breathing. It was as if the curtain that had been falling on her life was being suddenly being lifted once again; a final reprise.
“Before we go any further, I think it is best that you know a little more about me.”
I waited, an unexpected sense of expectation beginning to arise.
“I was born in another land. One that The Family has wiped off the map. It is a place that does not exist. Yet it is another world, a world in which the female gene predominates. Just as your world is dominated by the male gene.
Many years ago, there were a number of terrible wars and conflicts that spread right across the planet; nation against nation, neighbour against neighbour. The whole fabric of civilisation was beginning to unravel. The wars and the terrorist attacks became more and more. Food and power supplies less and less. The lights started to go out, the household appliances would no longer function, the cars remained parked up. But it was food that created the trouble.
Queues formed outside of supermarkets. They remained. They became a fact of life. More than that, they became angry. When no food appeared on the shelves, the anger grew. It was not their war that was being fought, it was not their fault that the world’s finances collapsed. Queues turned to demonstrations and demonstrations became riots. In no time, the streets were alive with the fires of resentment and injustice. To make matters worse, the predicted climate change became a reality.
The first of the tidal waves arrived on the day after Christmas, over seventy years ago. It swept up and out of the Pacific ocean, grew rapidly and then descended on the first of the land masses in its path. Those nearest to its epicentre suffered the least, but those further away were devastated. Islands and coastal areas were washed away. As the western world watched in fascination, rising waters, floods, snowstorms, droughts and heat-waves were waiting to strike. Then the Incomings.
Nobody could explain the Incomings. They were the last of the torments thrown against a bemused world. All seemed lost; until The Family.”
She stopped at that point, considering what she had said.
“They started in the neighbourhoods, those who had been moderately well off, those who had lost it all. Still safe from the worst of the waters, and the more terrible aspects of the civil unrest. They armed themselves, built barriers and kept out the violent ones. Even with a sitting government, law and order were suspended.
Over time, these neighbourhoods formed alliances, built greater barriers and chased the thieves and murderers from their streets. Before long, they were the government. People looked to them for help. People trusted them. People thought of them as their government. That was when they decided to form themselves into a true political party. Their message, their simple message, was a note of reason in an unreasonable world: ‘Family are trusted’. The governing coalition dissipated in the face of The Family’s tsunami of popular support. And you know who was their leader?”
We had been taught this a thousand times, a million times in Family History.
“Yes, David Gomes,” I replied as if answering correctly in a test.
Mother smiled and shook her head.
“Marian Gooder. She was the founder. She was also your great-grandmother “
I had been hit by a punch, an absurdly powerful one and I was reeling. Mother must have seen it as she gave me time to find my feet once again before resuming.
“Yes, Adam, you are related to one of the greatest people of our time.”
Now I got it. It was her on her last legs and not me. In fact, she was probably entering into the stages of morbid retardation, something The Family had all but solved. She was talking nonsense, that was all, and as I was at her side it was up to me to indulge her. I nodded sagely as if I had known this all along. She smiled again.
“You think I’ve lost it, don’t you? You think that I am suffering from that thing that they call morbid retardation.”
How she had managed to read my thoughts, I do not know. I began to protest but she shook her head, and told me, rather abruptly to, “listen!” I listened. And what I heard was either the most elaborate tale ever constructed by someone in their death throes or it was nothing less than the truth.
She started with Gomes, as she called him. Her telling was that Gomes was nothing more than an opportunist. He had been one of the rioters and then one of the roaming bands of looters that preyed upon the vulnerable. He had, she insinuated, probably committed crimes far worse than that but she didn’t labour her point.
“He was captured by some of Marian’s guards. He was trying to steal supplies. There had been lots of looting around the cities and some of the looters had formed themselves into self-styled militias. It is believed that he may have been the leader of one of these groups. Something happened and the rest of your great-grandmother’s group wanted to execute him. It was Marian who stopped them. Her credo was that people did wrong because they were forced into it.”
“But, The Family don’t believe that,” I interrupted. “They don’t believe in forgiveness nor second chances.”
“That’s Gomes’s Family not your great-grandmother’s. He changed everything.”
Over the next half hour or so, she told me how Gomes seized the chance to take control. How he convinced the others of her weakness, her forgiveness which he had so benefited from. She drew a picture of a man who was a powerful politician, manipulator and pragmatist. Beyond all else, he was a liar and a cheat.
“Your great-grandmother was no longer safe amongst her own people, especially the men. Gomes had convinced them of the essential weakness of women. According to him, they were useful only for childbirth and rearing. Boys were the future. They were strength and brutality. Only the male gene could pull the nation out of its troubles.
That’s when he offered her the chance to save herself.
Women and girls were to be banished to the outer margins, among the wetlands. Only those who were involved in rearing, the chosen ones, were allowed to stay. She was given a choice: leave and lead a new colony, away from the men, or stay and disappear. Disappearance was becoming a very useful practice for the new regime.
She decided to take the first, and only, option.”
Mother went on to tell me how The Family, as they became known, went on to devise an elaborate programme in which only the brightest and most competitive were allowed to mate. Of how girls were separated from their mothers and sent to the new colony. And of how a mutually sustainable future was set into contract.
Mother accepted her new role as the leader of the female colony; it was the only way to save the majority of the unwanted girls. Without her intervention, they would have just been disposed of. In exchange for this, she was allowed to escape with her life and the lives of those that went with her. Almost overnight, The Family created a male-centric society that allowed only ‘mothers’ to be party to child rearing.
“There was one stipulation to this agreement and that was that she would have to provide suitable females for the incubation of fertilized eggs. The best girls became popular breeders, mothers who never saw the child they helped produce, overused and valued only for their regular reproductive qualities. It was a price that seemed to be worth paying to begin with, but Mother, as she was now known, felt the guilt. She refused The Family, a family that would not be refused.”
“She was gone before they arrived. They would never venture too far into the margins. It didn’t stop their plans. They went ahead with their little factory farm, enough to service the requirements of The Family.”
“What about the girls? What happened to those girls who were born?”
She didn’t answer.