He came home from the Lab, exhausted. He was the State’s top Technician, and well-respected. His home was perfectly appointed, his partner was perfectly appointed, and his children were perfectly appointed. He had lived this way for years.
sat down in his favorite chair, a wingback from another era, which sat
perched advantageously in the corner of the room, where it could take in
both the full view of the living room, as well as the serenely green
view that could be seen outside the enormous bay windows.
drink sat by his side, on the little table his diminutive partner had
fought for vociferously all those years ago and which now, after all
these years, he had to concede had become his favorite. The drink was
sweating, a little, as it sat on its little table in the afternoon
sunlight that was streaming through the large bay windows.
Everything was perfect.
yearned for something more. or else. or other. but he didn’t know
what that was. All he knew was that he felt a gnawing dissatisfaction
-that seemed to eat at him every day. He felt miserably unhappy, and
his poor partner knew it, but made no sign. Instead, from the kitchen,
he could hear the long-familiar, high-pitched, cheerful tweets and
twitters that indicated dinner was being made and would soon be ready.
As dinner wrapped up and they were down to the wine, his partner spoke up, with cautious optimism:
“We ought to book that cruise. We haven’t gone in years -and you enjoyed it so much the last time.”
There was a pause for wine, and then, even more cautiously: “It might cheer you up...”
that moment, he felt terrible for his long-suffering partner, who had
been with him through his long years in Medical School, and then his
even longer years as a Journeyman Apprentice, where he’d started as an
Apprentice to a rather incompetent rural doctor, but from there he had
later somehow become Apprentice to the Surgeon General of the State.
That alone had been quite the achievement, and now there were rumors he
was going to be tapped to be the next Surgeon General, but he didn’t
like to pay heed to such rumors. He’d been in Practice for many years,
and he quite knew better.
sighed, which his partner misconstrued as a “no” to the suggestion of a
cruise. Quickly, but with failed enthusiasm, he tried to recover the
“What an excellent suggestion. I’ll let you know the dates, and then you may go ahead and book it.”
gave his partner a weak smile, and the smile was returned, albeit with a
false brightness that hurt him. They were falling apart, and neither
of them knew why, or what to do about it. They would go on this cruise,
and they would likely barely trade three conversations with one another
-and all of them would be brief. He wished the distraction of their
children would visit more often. or that they could decamp from their
perfect and enormous home, but such a downgrade would be unthinkable.
He might wish to lower his status, but he couldn’t do that to his partner.
swallowed the sigh in his throat with the last gulp of wine in his
glass, set it down, and then removed himself to his study to work -to really
work. His partner would probably rather he had an affair. Then, at
least, there’d be proof that he was still alive. They hadn’t had sex in
not good sex anyway. Every so often, the guilt on his side of the bed
and the intense frustration from the other side of the bed would become
too much, and he’d will
himself to go through the motions. Sometimes, often-times actually, he
wished his partner would have an affair. He would gladly look the
other way, if it made his partner feel happy, but, deep down, he knew no
amount of sex with others could take away that theirs was not a happy
home -and no amount of “sex with others” would fix that. Like children,
affairs could only be distraction, and not any kind of answer.
If only he could be cruel, then perhaps his partner would leave him.
leaned back into the warm leather embrace of his perfect office chair,
and thought about that -but resorting to cruelty was such a juvenile
thing to do. It wouldn’t do to be childish about things; better to be
the adults that they were and stay together.
were the pattern of his days. Every day he escaped to the Lab; every
evening he came home to dinner and plans for the upcoming cruise, for
which he said “yes” to everything. The more unhappy he felt, the more
inclined he was to refuse his partner nothing. There was in him the
small, vain hope that all of that forced, cheerful optimism would
somehow rub off on him. but he knew that it wouldn’t.
stood in front of the large sitting room windows with her arms crossed.
Outside, through the freshly washed glass, stretched the jewel-green
lawn, which vanished into a large copse of trees that was really more of
a mini-forest. She loved this view. It reminded her of the house
where she’d grown up.
course, she’d secretly been quite unhappy growing up there, but no one
on the outside had ever known that. No, she loved this view not because
she loved that old house, but because she loved that old forest in that
backyard where she had often escaped when she needed to. The wood had
been a large one, and, under those trees, she had often felt she might
vanish forever. or, at least, she had wished that she could.
looked at her watch. It was nearly time for her to begin dinner. Her
goal every day was to have everything on the table by 8 p.m., warm and
ready for her partner to eat, with the wine perfectly aerated, and the
puppy sated from a walk and curled up obediently on the hearth, waiting
for them to be finished eating.
Theirs was a perfectly ordered World, this World that they lived in.
They’d all grown up reading The Histories of The Early Years
-and they had not been pretty: continual wars; continual strife;
permanent stress; total unhappiness. It was a wonder the Founding
Generations had managed to forge the groundwork for the New (and
perfect) World, but manage they had, and they were reminded of it every
Sunday via the President’s Public Radio Address. They all had much for
which to be grateful.
After dinner, she vanished into her latest project, (365 Ways to Make Kimchi Interesting!),
which involved what seemed to be a ton of cabbage, and the sort of
aroma that required her to convert the greenhouse into a kitchen, so as
to spare the perfect house the redolent scent of kimchi cooking -and to
spare her partner.
were the pattern of her days. Every day she did all that she could to
make everything at home perfect for her partner, and for herself, but
all she felt was empty inside. She masked her unhappiness with a
deceiving cheerfulness that fooled everyone -sometimes even herself,
although... she knew it was the power of her forgetfulness that was
helping her more than anything else.
One day, quite by happenstance, as she was scrubbing a particularly stubborn spot on the kitchen floor, (a task she despised),
she inadvertently peeled back a corner on one of the tiles. The gap in
the floor gaped up at her, like a personal affront. She glared back at
it; she had tried so hard for so long for everything to be perfect -how
dare the kitchen tile do this? Something snapped in her, and the next thing the house knew, she was ripping up the kitchen floor.
the midst of her angry, forward progress, she was stopped by the
discovery of a trapdoor, long hidden away under the tiles that had
affronted her so greatly. She sat back on her heels, surprised and not
entirely certain how to react. In the heat of the moment, she’d been
irrationally angry; now, she just felt foolish. and she had a trapdoor
in her floor to contend with.
however, her mood smoothed out, and curiosity took over. With some
effort, a large screwdriver, and a hammer, she managed to pry the
trapdoor open. and the surprises simply continued, for the trapdoor did
indeed conceal a tunnel. She wondered if her kitchen had once been the
terminus of some great enterprise. She rather liked the idea,
especially now that it was going to be the start of a great (and secret) enterprise for her.
aware of the time, she spent the rest of the afternoon doing her best
to fix the mess that she had made of the kitchen floor, but it was not
as if her partner took much notice. When she made comment over dinner
that it would be a good time to replace the floor tiles in the kitchen,
she barely received an absentminded nod in response.
amuse herself, she sometimes toyed with the idea of asking for
something completely ridiculous, (for example, a pet T-Rex!), to see
what response she would receive, but she never did. She was rather
afraid the fantasy was better than the reality would be, because she
already knew that her partner would simply nod absentmindedly and then
go about the business of finishing dinner. If only T-Rexes still roamed the earth, she thought one fine evening over a particularly good glass of wine.
finished the glass as slowly as she could, not wanting to seem in a
rush, although, honestly, she could not wait to finish dinner, go to
bed, wake up the next day, and then begin again with the hole in the
floor. Even though it was silly to think so, she liked to imagine that
moving everything along faster in the evening then in turn brought the
morning around faster too.
tunnel below her kitchen turned out to be a vast network of tunnels.
She wondered vaguely if perhaps her house had once been a part of the
Underground Railroad, but that had been so long ago, that surely could
not have been the case. Plus, the markings on the walls were decidedly
quite unorthodox, and certainly not what she imagined those on the
Underground Railroad would have expressed.
The whole thing was incredible, and she reveled in the happy distraction of it.
day, several days in, she realized that having to turn around and go
back to her perfect home every afternoon was a constraint that she
needed to remove if she was going to be able to continue any further.
This constraint was removed easily enough later that evening over
dinner, when she informed her partner that she would be going away,
(albeit briefly, of course), to visit with “friends,” as it had been “a
little while.” Her partner barely looked up from the spare ribs and
rice that she’d managed to whip up for dinner.
had already asked her neighbor to assist with keeping her partner fed
while she was “away”; everything was arranged. The next day, she was
What she found when she emerged on the other side, feeling very much like Alice in her forbidden Wonderland,
utterly shocked her. She had no words for what she saw. Everything
that she had grown up to believe was blown away in that moment. With a
gasp, she ducked back down inside the tunnel that had brought her to
this strange, unfamiliar place. Suddenly, she realized she’d left
Fortinbras (the puppy) behind. She bit her lower lip, determined to
ignore the tears that had sprung up behind her eyelids.
She had forgotten the dog, who had always been just the brightest spot in any of her days in that perfect home.
With a deep, regretful breath, she steeled her nerves. She would emerge from this tunnel.
of the things he did occasionally (and secretly) after work, which his
partner never knew about, (of course), was to stop by the (somewhat
illicit) Yamazaki Market to buy the potted meats (that he secretly loved
and desired) that were generally forbidden -not just to him, but to
everyone. They were rich and salty and almost (sometimes) pure fat;
they melted in the mouth like cubes of meat-salt. The first time he’d
tasted a potted meat, (pork, it had been), it had been a revelation to
was how his first lover had seduced him -with forbidden meat. Years on
now, that first lover had faded deep into the recesses of his youthful
memories, but the memory of that first forbidden taste -that remained
(illicit) Yamazaki Market was able to operate as it did, beyond the
fringes of the Great City, because the Authority looked the other way.
Most of what was sold was left over from the “old days” [not
capitalized], and, while the Authority disapproved strongly of the
Market, the Authority also deeply despised waste, so there was none -and
the Market was allowed to carry on.
there was the occasional raid. The Great Wars had been Generations
ago; there was no way that all of what the Market had on stock could
possibly be held over from those (bad old) days. Somewhere, somehow,
someone was making fresh cans of potted meat(s). The very thought made
his mouth water, and he hurried his pace.
small, 4.24 ounce can cost him 73Cr (Credits), but to him, it was worth
every Credit. Besides, the dealer he frequented always threw in a
bottle of whisky, as well as a legitimate-looking e-receipt, which made
it appear as though what he really fancied was a good bottle of 12-year
whisky. His partner did not drink whisky, so the fact that the bottle
was in fact filled with an almost undrinkable blend of grain alcohol was
of no importance whatsoever.
his contraband in hand, he scrambled to his customary (and secret)
place outside the Market, where he could sit and slowly eat his can of
potted meat, savoring as long as he could the experience before he had
to finish and go home to his partner. He barely even bothered with an
excuse anymore, although he always had one at the ready just in case.
couldn’t begin to explain the satisfaction this little bit of
misbehavior gave him, or why. He just knew that within his constrained
and cosseted life, his occasional acts of rebellion were all that he had
to hold on to. that, and the delicious flavor of the forbidden potted
meat(s) he enjoyed so much.
popped up abruptly in the midst of this (secret) mealtime reverie,
shocking him and causing him to jump his feet, and sending his precious
can of potted meat flying into the air.
the dust settled, (and his can of potted meat was retrieved), they both
took a moment to stand and stare at one another. Nestled in their
secrets, neither of them knew what to say to the other. The moment was
so great -and so confusing.
Finally, she spoke first:
“What are you?”
Her inflection was strange, but he recognized the language.
“Well...” he stammered, “I’m me!”
This was no help at all. She shook her head. Everything here was bizarre and strange -and this too.
After a rather long, awkward pause, and having no idea what to do, he opted to be polite:
“Do you have a place to stay?” he asked.
“Well...” she paused, “...home, I suppose.”
This confused him. This creature standing before him could not possibly be from anywhere near him.
“Where did you come from?”
“I... don’t know.”
they were at an impasse. He felt certain he should know about her; she
felt certain she should know about him -but neither of them had any
real clue. Nowhere in their respective Histories was there any mention
of any possible Other, but they did share a language, so that was a start.
thus began their odd affair: two people, two Worlds apart, but united
in their curiosity and their need for something other than what was
expected of them. The first time they’d had sex, it had been an
awkward, unsatisfying exchange, with neither of them really knowing what
to do with (or to)
the other, but they had finished in a heap of laughter. It had all
managed to still feel good, and so they had done it again, (and again),
until they figured out what to do. Feeling amazing was a long ways off,
but fumbling toward ecstasy had never been so much fun, (or rewarding),
for either of them.
was late afternoon, several months after they had initially met, and
they were both sitting in his “secret” spot, eating the potted meat(s)
he’d turned her on to, (and, by association, Fortinbras, who eagerly ate
the precious bits that she fed him), when she asked him:
do you think they’ve kept us apart for all of these... Generations?
This is literally the happiest I have ever been. Being with a woman
was all I thought I could do -I didn’t even conceive that there was another way to live; there are no men where I’m from, yet I knew I was deeply unsatisfied. I just didn’t know why. Who sat down and made this decision that men and women would be better off living without one another?”
He didn’t answer, because they both knew the answer. There had now been centuries
of unbroken Peace since the Great Wars, which was the last of their
shared yet greatly altered histories. Between the two of them, they had
divined that the Great Peace had come at the cost of the Separation of
the Sexes. Now he understood better why he was venerated as a Lab
Technician. It was through his Great Work(s) that the children in his
world had been made.
There was probably an equivalent project in her World; there had
to be, for she and her partner had argued enough about procuring a
child, before finally settling (unhappily for her partner) upon a dog,
(the now beloved Fortinbras).
he didn’t answer, because it was really frustration that made her speak
out -the frustration that they could not be together. They could only
meet in secret, and not that often, or risk forfeiting everything.
was no such a thing as a “free” land, not that they knew of, where they
could truly be together, though they both greatly wished it. Maybe
everyone was as unsatisfied as they were, but no one was unhappy enough
to rebel, opiated as they were with the trappings of a peaceful and
successful existence. So many Generations had passed since the Great
War, she hadn’t even known what a “man” was -and she had equally been a mystery to him,
a woman with parts that were indescribably soft yet firm. He felt
unspeakable pleasure every time he touched her, especially the insides
of her. He had no words in his vocabulary to describe it.
“People should be allowed to do whatever they want to do,” she finally continued.
“No matter the cost?” he asked her, taking the final bite of potted meat that remained in his can.
“I don’t mean anything,” she sighed, deeply, “but something as basic as this. I mean, people should be allowed to choose what they want. They should be allowed to choose who they want... to be with.”
“Didn’t you choose your partner?” he asked her, “Are you allowed to choose that in your World?”
she shook her head, “...but did you know there was any other option out
there? You can’t call it a choice when 50% of it is denied to you!”
She was almost in tears.
sat together in silence for a moment, savoring the last taste of their
potted meat(s) on their tongues and enjoying the rare breeze that had
snuck down upon them from the Great Mountains that vanished into the
Mists on the Left. The Seasons were changing; they could both feel it
in the air.
After a short while, he broke the silence between them:
“The Great Peace could dissolve if the Walls were torn down...”
then let the Walls be torn down!” she exclaimed, “A life without
conflict is no life at all! This,” she gestured broadly, “is what life
is! It’s messy, and it’s scary, and it’s confusing -and no one (else) should be making these great decisions for you!”
stood up abruptly, and took a deep breath. With a small half turn, she
took in the Great City in the distance, and the World all around her.
“This is the most alive I have ever felt. Conflict is terrifying and
upsetting, yes, but I don’t want to die again.”
She looked down upon him, and reached out her hand to him. He reached up, and took the hand that she offered. Come what may, (and now that ancient song was stuck in his head), he was determined never to let go.
He looked up at her. She looked like an angel.