Short Story – The Last Morning
I’ve been having trouble staying focused and getting my stories written so let’s say this is me trying to re-commit to my daily/weekly writing sessions.
This actually isn’t a short story. This is the first chapter of a longer story that is probably not novel length but we shall see. It is very much science fiction although there aren’t too many indications of what is going on in the first chapter. It is setting up a lot of things that will become a lot more clear as the story progresses
I had the idea as a sort of dystopian near future where the rich have gotten a lot richer and the options for the poor are a lot more dangerous and dire. I looked at the way we view immigrants in this country and imagined that things were going to get worse even as taboos around things like same sex relationships become less important to society as a whole.
I also decided to make my main character a person of color because I think diversity in storytelling is important. I admit I’m still wrestling with how much or how little the color of her skin will have to do with the arc moving forward.
Anyway, for those of you who have been asking for me to write some more, I’m sorry it took so long. For those of you would didn’t really miss it, you were probably fine anyway!
“Six months sounded like a long time.”
Sara was in the kitchen making breakfast. The bacon fat popped and sizzled as she lethargically pushed it around the pan. She spoke quietly to herself but with no other voices in the house, her words floated into the living room where Meghan was playing with their daughter.
She was right. Six months did sound like a long time. Now, with less than four hours left, she could scarcely remember what they’d done with it.
Ginger, barely three, would recall none of it soon enough. She would see pictures of herself with her moms in Rome, at Disney World, and swimming in the ocean but would have no memory of the days they spent there.
She wouldn’t remember scampering up to the rim of the Grand Canyon, stopping, and running back to Sara, her eyes wide with amazement. “I saw all of it, Mommy!” she screamed in delight.
Sara laughed and told her that there was more. Lots more.
“Can we see all of it?”
“I don’t know sweetie. Maybe we can fly over it. Would you like that?”
And she was gone. Back to the rim, shouting to see if there was an echo.
Meghan remembered that moment and dozens more just like it. It would be almost all she had for the next five years. She reminded herself that she still had a few hours. She was going to eat breakfast with her family. She would savor that pound of bacon even though the smell coming from the kitchen suggested Sara’s inattention meant it would be a little overcooked.
She would play with Ginger, an energetic, creative child who still didn’t understand how long her momma was going to be gone. Or the odds they would never see each other again.
She would hold her wife’s hand and kiss her wife’s lips and enjoy the touch of human skin on her own.
She would squeeze as much out of the next few hours as she had out of the last six months. Even though the smoke alarm had just gone off in the kitchen.
Ginger yelped when the sharp whine of the alarm pierced the house. A pan clattered across the floor. Sara swore again.
Meghan corralled Ginger before she could run into the kitchen. A chair scraped across the floor so Sara could reach the alarm to turn it off. Meghan picked up Ginger and walked into the next room. The pan with blackened bacon lay smoking on the floor and Sara sat in a chair halfway to the alarm, her head buried in her hands quietly crying.
“Loud” Ginger complained.
Meghan reached up and pressed the button that turned off the alarm. The shrill noise stopped abruptly and, but for Sara’s gentle sobbing, the room was quiet again. Ginger wriggled her way down and scamped back to her toys, the smell of burnt food eliminating any sense of curiosity when it came to the hot pan charring the linoleum.
Her daughter could wait for a moment. Meghan crouched down, picked up the pan and tossed it into the sink. A few slices of very well done bacon had still been inside. Several others were strewn across the floor. She picked up a piece off the floor and took a bite.
It tasted terrible. But it also tasted delicious.
“I burned the bacon,” Sara sobbed. “I’m so sorry.”
“It’s not all bad,” Meghan lied. “This piece is fine.”
“There’s more in the freezer. I can…”
“It’s fine. We’re fine.”
She swung her body around next to the chair and put her hand in Sara’s, trying to avoid noticing how small her wife’s hands looked next to her own. Sara let her head fall onto Meghan’s shoulder. They rested like that for a few moments. Meghan just closed her eyes and focused on the feeling of her lover’s head. The weight. The smoothness of the skin. The eyelashes tickling her skin with each blink. She tried to lock that feeling in so she could remember it later.
With sudden conviction, Sara lifted her head, rubbed the tears out of her eyes and sharply took a deep breath. She stood up and walked over to the sink to get a towel.
“Let me make you some more,” she sighed, “you know how long it’s going to be until you can have it again.”
Meghan sat on the floor and ate another piece of what had once been delicious bacon.
“This is fine.”
A quickly as it had overtaken her, Sara was free of the despair that overwhelmed her just a few minutes earlier. She got down on her hands and knees and began scrubbing the grease before it cooled and congealed, picking up pieces of bacon before Meghan could eat any more of them.
‘You’re sweet. But no it isn’t. Now go and watch our daughter before she finds a screwdriver and sticks it into an electrical outlet.”
A crash and delighted giggle from the living room punctuated Sara’s comment and Meghan nodded slowly. She turned and put her hand on Sara’s once more, pulling her into a long, gentle kiss.
“I love you,” she smiled.
“I love you too.”
Another crash and giggle. Meghan held her finger up to Sara’s lips.
“I’ll go,” she said. “I’ll go.”
If Sara wanted to make another pound of bacon, she was going to make another pound of bacon. Meghan knew it. She didn’t want a fight this morning. And she did want some bacon. Soon the price for bacon would be far too high.
Breakfast, when it came, was much quieter than usual. Ginger still babbled and enjoyed the experience of eating scrambled eggs with her hands. Sara and Meghan said very little. Meghan ate her bacon and licked her fingers. Sara, who usually chattered through breakfast about current events and television and what their daughter had hidden in the garbage, said nothing.
“Six months sounded like a long time,” she finally mumbled.
“I know,” Meghan said.
As Sara cleaned up the kitchen and Ginger cheerfully “helped,” there was a knock at the door.
“That’ll be Todd.”
“No,” Sara shook her head, “It’s my mom.”
“Your mom is giving me a ride?”
“No. I’m giving you a ride.”
“You said you didn’t think you could handle it.”
Another knock. Slightly more urgent this time.
“I still don’t. But I’m giving you a ride. Please go open the door.”
Meghan went to the front door and opened it for her Mother-in-Law. Much like her daughter, Soo Mi was, from Meghan’s perspective, a tiny woman and yet Meghan had always found her terrifying. She was a forceful and direct with a gaze that could, without a word, convince you to give up your deepest secrets.
Born in Korea, Soo Mi emigrated to Cannerica as a teenager and endured a lifetime of judgmental glances from people convinced she was taking their jobs. When she married someone who wasn’t an immigrant and somehow navigated increasingly draconian government regulations designed to prevent “non natives” from opening a business, she made herself a target.
And yet, when someone walked into her shop and made a comment about the “doler” behind the counter, they always ended up apologizing for their language. And they always bought something.
You didn’t mess with Soo Mi.
“Good morning, Meghan.”
“Hi, Soo Mi. You didn’t have to..”
“Yes I did. You are doing this for my daughter and for my granddaughter and I would be most ungrateful if I didn’t do this one little thing for you. Now where’s my granddaughter?”
“She’s helping Sara in the kitchen.”
“Good. Listen, before I go in there, I have something for you.”
She pressed a credit card shaped piece of plastic into Meghan’s hand and held it there, looking up at her daughter in law with more affection than she’d ever shown before.
“What is this?”
“It’s a week.”
“A week? That’s…”
“Expensive, yes. It is also hard to find and non refundable so don’t insult me by trying to refuse it. I know a week isn’t much but it was all I could afford without selling the shop and believe me, I thought about doing that. Don’t waste this.”
“I…I won’t. Thank you.”
“Meghan, I think you know I didn’t like you much when my little girl brought you home. Do you blame me? You are twice her size and I thought you were going to break her. I should have had more faith in her. What you are about to do for her…”
A tear streaked down her face. Meghan had never seen Soo Mi cry. Not even when a neighborhood watch group had gunned down her husband for the crime of marrying an Asian.
She stood up straight and wiped the tear from her face. Almost a foot and half shorter, Megan still felt for a moment as if her Mother in Law was the tallest person she had ever met.
“In the kitchen, you said?” she asked, her voice wavering for just one more moment.
“Yes. The kitchen.”
She pushed past Meghan as she had frequently done in the past but her hand rested on Meghan’s arm just a blink longer than usual.
“Where’s my granddaughter?” she shouted.
“In here!” Ginger shouted back.
Meghan stood at the open door and looked at the regulation duffle bag filled almost to bursting with the words MEGHAN HOFFMAN and BORANG CORP stitched on the side. She picked it up and unzipped one of the side pouches. She slid the time card into the pouch and then ran her fingers over the canvas to make sure it was inside before zipping it shut.
She could hear Sara and Soo Mi speaking quietly in the kitchen. At the same time, Ginger kept saying “Grandma? Grandma? Grandma? Grandma?”
Sara walked into the living room just as Soo Mi said “Yes, my angel? What do you need?” She was wiping tears from her eyes again.
“Are you ready to go?”
“OK. OK. Let’s go.”
The drive to the Borang lifts was almost two hours. The ElectroKart provided by the company held enough of a charge for three hours. That meant Sara was going to need to spend at least five hours waiting to charge it up before she could bring it back home, where she would need to charge it again. You didn’t want to return an ElectroKart anything but fully charged.
When it was her brother, Meghan hadn’t been so worried about the time. Todd would probably appreciate the time away from their parents. But Sara was spending time away from Ginger and Soo Mi probably had been forced to close her shop for the day.
“I wish you would have let Todd do this,” Meghan said, instantly aware that she should have said something else.
“Why not? Don’t you want to spend time with me?”
“No. I mean yes. But Ginger is home alone and…”
“She is with my mom.”
“I know. But I’m leaving.”
“Yes. I’ve got five years – or more – to explain to her where you went and trust me when I say I’m going to make sure she knows. I think she can handle it without me for the first few hours.”
“I thought you didn’t want to go through this.”
“Look,” Sara snapped, annoyed, “we have a couple of hours and then you’re going to be gone. Can we just enjoy each other instead of arguing about why I shouldn’t be here?”
“Yes. I’m sorry.”
“You could at least hold my hand. It’s not as if either one of us is driving this thing.”
“I hate that.”
“Me too. But the company is paying for it so we might as well make the best of it and HOLD HANDS!”
Meghan smiled and reached over to take Sara’s hand. Their fingers entwined and she pulled her wife closer for a kiss, reminding herself that neither of them needed to watch the road.
Sara had always been the aggressive one. That first night in the club, Meghan had watched Sara for an hour without doing anything. She sat at a table in the corner, a giant, black woman whose size and strength sometimes scared even her, nursing a beer and stealing glances at the chatty girl by the bar.
When she returned from a trip to the bathroom, there was a new beer on the table, and the chatty girl from the bar in a seat.
“I asked the bartender what you were drinking and bought you a fresh one. You’d been working on this one for a long time. I’m Sara and I think you’re beautiful.”
She’d held out her hand as a greeting and Meghan took it, noticing for the first time how tiny it looked inside hers but almost instantly enraptured with the way it felt.
“Do you dance, Meghan?”
She asked the question while pulling Meghan to the dance floor, completely uninterested in the answer. Until that moment and for anyone else, the answer would have been no.
They had held hands all night and most every night since.
As the ElectroKart moved through the city towards the lift building, she held Sara’s hand as the two of them talked about everything but the end of the journey. Actually, Sara did most of the talking and Meghan did most of the listening.
“Fifteen minutes to your destination,” the ElectroKart helpfully “should I darken the windows for a final conjugal visit?”
Meghan looked at Sara and burst out laughing.
“What’s so funny?”
“I’m so glad my brother wasn’t in the car when that message came through.”
Sara laughed and nestled her head into Meghan’s chest.
“Besides,” she sighed, “fifteen minutes isn’t nearly enough time.”
The car hummed along and Meghan ran her fingers through Sara’s hair. Sex, she felt, would almost ruin the moment.
“Five minutes to your destination. Please begin to gather up your belongings.”
Sara sat up.
“I have something for you,” she said with surprising abruptness. “You have to make sure you bring it with you.”
“You know the rules about weight. I was barely an ounce short.”
“This is light. And I took out a pair of socks.”
“You took out…”
“Never mind. Socks are cheap. Even down there. Here it is.”
She pulled out a manilla envelope that looked to be stuffed full with something and handed it over.
“Don’t open it,” she cautioned, “you can’t look inside until lunchtime tomorrow.”
“It’s a note for your lunch. Every one of them.”
Meghan ran her hands over the envelope could feel it was filled with many small slips of paper.
“I’m going to be gone for five years. Maybe more.”
“I made some extras.”
“But you don’t know how much extra time I could spend there.”
“We made a plan! You stick to the plan. Promise me you’ll stick to the plan.”
“I’ll stick to the plan. I promise.”
“Good. Now there is one slip a day. Only one slip a day. Don’t cheat.”
“When did you do this? There must be…”
“Over two thousand. You always fall asleep before me. I’ve been working on this for a while.”
“I love you, baby. I love you so much. I know we needed to do this. I know we had to do it for our daughter. And I know if you stick to the plan, we are barely going to talk to one another for a long time. So at least I can talk to you a little bit every day, OK? I know as hard as this is going to be for me and Ginger, it is going to be harder for you.”
“Arrived. You have two minutes to vacate the vehicle.”
Sara pulled Meghan in closer and kissed her hard.
“Stick to the plan. One a day.”
“I’ll stick to the plan.”
“How long does it take to get down there?”
“If I take the standard lift, twelve hours and you go straight to work when you hit the bottom. The express lift is only one hour and you don’t go to work until the standard lift arrives.”
“How much is the express lift?”
“Don’t do it.”
“You have one minute to vacate the vehicle. Additional minutes will be charged at the rate of one hour.”
Meghan grabbed her duffle bag and tossed it out onto the sidewalk. She kissed Sara one more time.
“I love you so much,” she choked out, working to keep her emotions in check.
Sara was crying again. Huge wet tears fell down her cheeks and Meghan could feel them welling up in her own eyes as well.
“Stick to the plan,” Sara reminded her, “and only one slip a day. Promise?”
“I promise. I’ll call you at Christmas. I love you.”
Meghan stepped out of the kart and the door began to close behind her.
“I love you too,” Sara called as the door sealed shut. The kart began to drive away. They looked at each other until the kart turned a corner and disappeared from view.
Meghan picked up the duffle bag and began walking towards the entrance to the lift building with about two dozen other men and women, all carrying identical bags with their names stitched on them.
She looked at the man walking next to her and he looked back. They smiled weakly at each other in a moment of mutual understanding.
“Six months sounded like a long time,” she whispered.