Archive for January 31st, 2012

31st January
written by amber

All the Way to Heaven

On a clear day you could almost see all the way into Heaven. But there weren’t that many clear days, and what was the use of someone like her looking at Heaven? Heaven was not for her.

For Annette, there was nothing but the Trashes, from the moment of her birth until she died of old age at 43. Oh, she didn’t know for sure that she’d die at 43. But the Wall had reported just the other day that 43 was the average age of death for women in the Trashes. For men, it was younger, as she well knew.

Bruce was gone at 32. She missed him so much. Without him, her life had changed for the worse. Annette had been forced to move from their couple’s suite to a single cubicle and the loss of his veteran’s supplement was harsh. Basic scrip covered food – just enough food to keep a modicum of meat on her bones, provided she didn’t expend too many calories on frivolous activities such as walking, tidying the cubicle, brushing her hair, or gazing out the grimy window and trying to see Heaven.

Sit on the bed, watch the Wall, talk to the Wall, that’s what most people in the Trashes did all day. Every day.

With his veteran’s supplement, Bruce had taken her out for lunch one day a week. A loaf of stale bread from the mart, maybe a bag of potato chips, a bribe to let them into the boundary park. Sitting on a park bench feeding the ducks. Those happy times were gone forever now.

Heaven had killed Bruce. Its crystal spires loomed over the park, impeding the view of blue sky and the green mountains beyond the city. He’d never been able to forget it, because he had lived there once. He’d been born there, grew up there and then enlisted in the military despite his family’s objections. The military sucked up young men and women from the Trashes, not from Heaven. Yes, his father had served, but that had been a different era, a time when military rank translated into material success. These days, soldiers were throw-away meat weapons, deployed and discarded.

Bruce came back from his wars unfit for Heaven and Heaven cast him out. Because he was scarred in body and mind, no one in Heaven had the charity to live with him, care for him, but Annette did.

If only he’d been content with her, with limited life inside the Trashes, the Wall their window to all of the past and the imagined future, plus the Pal groups, the dramas and Peek-easies, the insider views. Insider views of what it’s like to go to war – Bruce knew too much about that already. What it’s like to live in Heaven – he knew that too and refused to allow her to watch and marvel at the spacious apartments, the bathrooms with their bubble baths, the bottles of wine, the tennis, the gleaming stoves and fresh produce, the water springing clear and untainted from their taps, the look of their shining healthy faces.

Health was the only thing he’d talked about, near the end. After their last walk to the boundary park, he’d barely made it back to the Trashes. Over his objections, she’d blown her savings to buy him a bottle of orange drink, just to give him the strength to get home.

“You don’t know what it feels like,” Bruce said, “to have energy and not pain, to wake up eager for the day, to sleep because you’re tired, not just too weak to stay awake any longer. This isn’t any kind of life.”

No, she didn’t know any of that. And she couldn’t share his dream of a beach-side cottage in a remote part of Mexico where one of his military buddies now lived, fruit growing on the trees, fish waiting to be caught. All he needed was the money for them to get there.

“My mother would give it to me, I know she would. They block my messages to her, but if only I could get past the guards on the other side of the boundary park, I know how to sneak into our tower. I used to sneak out all the time when I was a kid.”

If only…

But he hadn’t made it past the guards on the other side of the boundary park.

The Story 365 project is a year-long marathon of short story writing, with a new story for every day of the year and posted on this website from May 1, 2011 – April 30, 2012. Stories must be a minimum of 200 words. Please help me by adding first line or topic suggestions in the Comment section of any story. If you’d like me to use your name in a story, I’d be happy to do that.

This story was inspired by the first line to Aliette de Bodard’s story in the February 2010 Asimov’s. Thank you, Aliette!