Book One in the CUSA series
(C) 2017 Adam Cole
Published by Nuncici Press, an imprint of Adam Cole Works LLC
She didn’t have to go on the trip. She could have stayed behind with Basil. But then she would have had to marry him.
He had asked her yesterday. She didn’t always hang out with him anymore, because they were both getting older and they lived in very different worlds. She probably wouldn’t even have gone with him to see his drug church if she hadn’t just gotten into a fight with some of her flesh friends in the cul de sac. They had thought it was funny to pretend her family were rain collectors and she had to pretend she didn’t care by walking away. That meant she had to come home before her Mamma had gone to bed.
“Where you been?” Mamma screamed when she saw her coming down the street. Rosa didn’t say anything. “I have the whole neighborhood looking for you!”
Rosa rolled her eyes. That was the wrong thing to do. Mamma grabbed her. “Ow, bitch!” Rosa said, and that got Rosa slapped. She struggled. “What wrong with you?”
“What’s wrong with me?” Mamma gripped her daughter’s arm and shook it back and forth. She was doing like she always did when she was mad. She was about to tell Rosa she couldn’t hang out with her friends in the cul-de-sac anymore. Rosa didn’t want to have to tell her she wouldn’t be hanging out with them anyway, so she pushed off. She ran past her mother and fled into the house. They were in the middle of another blackout, so the lights were all out. In the dark, she found a box of Noke-O’s with some little bits still in it and stole them off to her room. She didn’t want to see her mother. But it’s hard to lock a curtain, and when her Daddy came home, both her parents just walked in.
The power was still out, so Rosa couldn’t pretend she was studying on her AVE. “You could knock,” she said to them.
“Rosa,” Daddy said.
She waited for a minute, but he didn’t say anything else. She looked over, ready to shout out “What?” and saw her Mamma with tears in her eyes.
“Mamma! Naz!” she cursed. “Okay. I snuck out. I’m really sorry. I’ll never do it again.” But neither of them said anything, and Rosa wondered just how much trouble she was in.
“Rosa,” Daddy finally said again. “Something happened. Something bad.”
She blinked. She didn’t really understand what “bad” meant.
Mamma crossed herself. “Our President will take care of us,” she said quietly.
“Rosa,” Daddy whispered.
“I got laid off,” Mamma blurted out, covering up her Daddy’s words. She peered at Rosa for a moment. “You know what that means?”
Rosa sat quietly and wouldn’t answer.
Her father went on. “I want you to gather up everything that is important to you in the biggest bag you can still carry. We’re going to try to get passage on a bus heading to DC tomorrow morning.”
“Tomorrow! DC?” she yelled. “That a million miles away! We ain’ never gonna make it! What about my friends?”
“Last year my cousins who survived the fever made it to DC,” Rosa’s mother said in a strained voice. “If we can get up there with them, they may be able to help us…find another job.”
“But ain’ there crazy whites between Atlanta and DC? What about them?”
Rosa’s Daddy looked at the floor. Then he looked up at her and said, “Get packed and get some sleep. Don’t forget to make sure the lights don’t come on when the blackout ends.”
For a while Rosa lay in her bed and listened to her parents whisper, whisper. They were fighting again.
At one point her father’s voice got loud. “We don’t have enough number for vouchers!”
“Shhh! I sold some sleep…” said Rosa’s Mama, and her voice went really quiet.
“We’ll have to forfeit the rest of this week’s water to make…” her father went on, his own voice cutting out. After that, Rosa couldn’t make out any more, but she knew that things were bad, especially if they were going to lose their water.
When the blackout finally ended, and Rosa’s parents were snoring, she was on her AVE cashing commercials. Old fashioned music came on with its heavy drums and ancient samples. Her avatar came up, a little three-dimensional animated girl named Leethe. “Hi Rosa!”
She didn’t answer. The little girl was just a construct of the Net, there to help her navigate and go to school. It didn’t care if she was polite.
“Show me the Young Guns!” she whispered.
“Yo! Yo! Join the Young Guns!” The commercial came up.
She always liked the way it started, the old fashioned beats, the camera flying over the City Proper. You could see the tall buildings sparkling in the sunlight, surrounded by the canal and all those little blocks of white nothing, and then you were past it and all you could see were the empty lots on the other side that kept people like her out. Rosa loved the way the Proper looked.
The announcer spoke in an official and authoritative voice. “Join the Young Guns! Defend CUSA against the Axis of Evil. Ya daddy did it, ya granddaddy did it, now it your turn, bra!”
Then she got to see the Young Guns in action, running all around her, firing sprayers at enemy combatants, smiling, looking slick. There was this one soldier with hazel eyes she saw every time in that commercial. You could see him up close, good teeth. When Rosa was a little girl she used to fantasize about being married to him. There were female soldiers in the commercial, too. They looked tough, slick, confident.
“We all in this together.” Fade to black.
“Are you thirsty? Look at this, Rosa!” Now the AVE showed a bunch of stuff on a golden shelf that Rosa would never get to own: better shoes, better clothes, better AVE. Rosa pulled out of the sensation-envelope and lay back on her bed, only able to hear the AVE now.
“What am I going to do, Leethe?” she asked her avatar.
“What’s wrong, Rosa?”
“I got to leave. I got to leave Atlanta.”
She didn’t want to leave Atlanta. Maybe she could run off tonight and join the Young Guns. Would they take her? She imagined herself in that uniform, coming home, telling her Mamma and Daddy that it was going to be all right, that she’d take care of them now.
“Where are you going?”
“Don’t worry, Rosa. We can hook up again when you get there! Look! I tallied all your friends! They’re going to miss you while you’re offline!”
Rosa heard a what sounded like a rock bouncing off her window. She looked over but didn’t see anything through the bars except a roach. She peeked behind the curtain to see if her parents were asleep.
They were currently living in the dining room of a McMansion in the Mt. Paran neighborhood. That room, their living space, was divided in two by a big piece of splintered plywood which separated the front half of the dining room which they used as a kitchen from the back half where they slept. There was also a little curtain between her parents’ bedroom and hers.
After her little brother went down with toxic fever, she had gotten the room to herself. Rosa’s room was farthest from the kitchen so she couldn’t sneak out the front door without her parents hearing. But she had a window which opened up on a weedy backyard lawn. The yard was a risky place to go because Mamma could see the lawn too. But there was a big broken fountain with a huge crack in it, and as long as she could get to that fountain without Mamma seeing, she could hide behind it until she knew no one was looking. Then she could slip down the hillside and go around the side of the house next door.
The window was supposed to be locked, but Rosa had broken the latch a year ago and nobody ever bothered to fix it. There were bars on the outside, but they were loose. Rosa had sprayed some lubricant on them one time, and now they swung, without squeaking, far enough for her to get out.
Everything went pretty smoothly this time. She got out the window and made it to the fountain. She ducked down under the disinfected clothes hanging on the line and slid down a bank of grass into the woods behind her house. She didn’t want any of the other parents to see her either because she knew they’d tell her Mamma. She had to be careful ’til she got all the way around the condemned house next door. After that, it was a straight shot out to the street.
Basil was there. She could see the red tip of his cigarette, and he held it out to her as she came close.
More about Motherless Child
When Rosa’s mother loses her job with the Corporate United States, her family must flee or be killed in an employee purge. Taking the dangerous bus trip across the Unincorporated States, they are ambushed by bandits. Hopelessly separated from her family, Rosa is rescued by the people of Ascension, a small backwoods Virgilna town with a terrible secret.
Seventeen years in the making, Cole’s book about a girl trapped between two Americas serves as a reminder of what the United States has become, and what it still could be.
Adam Cole is an author and music educator in Atlanta, GA. He has written numerous books and stories for children, as well as a number of adult and non-fiction titles including The Girl With the Bow and Seven Ways the World Can End.
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