Book One in the CUSA series
(C) 2017 Adam Cole
Published by Nuncici Press, an imprint of Adam Cole Works LLC
When Rosa wanted to relieve herself, she had to use a little pan in the corner. Glory took it out every few hours, but if Rosa spilled the pan at all, she had to live with the stink of anything that made it onto the floor. Even worse, the bugs seemed to gather in a more concentrated way when the waste was left for too long, and they bit more.
Eventually the odor of her own pee made her think about trying to get out of the little room. She contemplated a hundred ways to do it, to get past Glory’s protesting hands, outrunning the cries of alarm. Some kind of subterfuge, persuasion, arguing. But in that last scenario, the Pastor was always behind her, huge and threatening, looking down imperious at her, his eyes blazing. “Get back in there!” he’d say.
One time Glory stayed with Rosa while she ate, and watched her.
“You’re from far away,” she said in a voice soft like a ruffled bedsheet. Today her thick hair was tied back with a tattered blue ribbon.
“Yeah,” Rosa nodded, through her food.
“What’s it like?” she asked.
“I don’t know!” Rosa replied. “It’s my home! It’s different. Where am I?”
“You’re in Ascension.”
“Where’s that? I don’t know where that is.”
“About a week’s walk from Richmond,” she said.
Rosa shrugged. That didn’t mean anything to her either.
Tell me about your home,” said Glory, leaning her back against the wall and putting her arms up. “I like hearing about far away places. My mother was from somewhere far away.”
Rosa couldn’t help herself. She had to ask. “Where? CUSA?”
“Oh, no, I don’t think so. Just far. She wandered in here like you did, but from some other place. The mountains, I think. I never got to ask her.”
“She died when I was little,” Glory said.
Rosa felt her eyes smart, because she wanted to ask Glory if she knew where her parents were. But she couldn’t even bring herself to ask. She was afraid Glory wouldn’t know, or worse, that she would, and that it wouldn’t be good. Noticing Rosa’s discomfort, Glory went on quickly. “I’ll take your plate if you’re done. Are you getting enough to eat?”
“When do I get out of here?” Rosa demanded.
“Sometimes I ask myself that too…” Glory answered. For a second she looked like she wanted to say more. Then some kind of sense got the better of her and she shook her head.
“I got to get back to my parents!” Rosa insisted, getting louder again, because that was the only way anybody ever paid her any attention.
“Shhh!” said Glory, her eyes squinting in fright. “Look, don’t shout. Wait here.”
She disappeared for a minute. Rosa could hear low whispers on the other side of the door. The whispers grew more emphatic, but Rosa still couldn’t hear what they were about.
At once, the door to the closet opened and closed. The Pastor loomed in the doorway. Rosa instinctively shrank back.
But the Pastor didn’t threaten her. He simply stood there. He voice came out surprisingly low and quiet. “What do you want to know?”
Rosa blinked once, tried to get her equilibrium, didn’t know if she could ask him. But she tried. “Are…are you going to kill me?”
“Not likely,” said the Pastor gruffly. That was the extent of his answer. Rosa couldn’t tell if it was sarcastic or kind.
“I have to get back…back…to my parents.”
The Pastor didn’t reply. He shuffled awkwardly.
“They were…on a bus with a lot of other people,” Rosa said. “We had to get off the bus. I lost…I…” Her face burned. She didn’t want to tell the Pastor the truth, that she ran away. “I got separated from my family. I got lost in the woods.”
In the dark, Rosa could see the Pastor nod once. Encouraged just a little, she went on. “I was trying to get back to them when you found me. I have to be with them to get back into CUSA. I’m from CUSA.” Like he didn’t know that. “They have my voucher. Without them I ain’t got no voucher.”
If the Pastor understood about vouchers, he gave no real sign. He watched her from up high, his face even more shadowed by the little light coming through the door behind him. Finally he spoke. “We’re going to take care of you,” he said. And that was all. He turned as though satisfied and disappeared.
Then the door closed and Rosa was alone again.
She sat there for a long time, sometimes crying, trying to reason what was happening to her. She was obviously in some small town in the Unincorporated States where she wasn’t supposed to be. They had her in this closet because if anybody saw her they would do horrible stuff to her like Porter would have done.
But how long was she going to have to stay in here being eaten alive by bugs? Forever? She wasn’t going to do that. Maybe there was an AVE she could use to contact her parents. They were probably looking for her, and would post in different places. But what if her parents had never made it to DC?
Basil’s face came to her like he was standing in front of her. He could help. He would be able to figure something out. If she could get to an AVE.
But first she had to get out of the closet. Getting up, she moved cautiously to the locked door and turned the handle.
To her great surprise she found it was unlocked. An oversight? Glory’s way of letting her out? Either way, she took the opportunity and ran. Then she was in the light, instantly relishing the air, still hot and close, but with a smell of flowers and pine. The sound of crickets just outside the window was loud as an alarm, alerting the world to her escape. The oblong space into which she had emerged was bright and silent.
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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