- A Novel
- I survived my first encounter with
State Security of the Administrative Government of North America.
They didn't come after me and Mother wasn't punished. Someone at
AGNA must have found the incident amusing. Years later I learned
it was reported in my dossier with a brief note: possible
discipline problem. Oh, yeah.
- I had played with all the voicechips
that were hidden in the plants and around the big paintings at my
mother's party. I wasn't allowed to attend her charity art show
because I was only five, and besides, Mother didn't like me
hanging around her when she was working. Or any time, really. I
seemed to embarrass her somehow, although I'm legal and was
planned. "Working" for Mother was throwing parties like the one
that day, where she invited people from our social class and
chatted with them and then handed over the vid and voicechips to
her boss at StateSec. She didn't know I knew what she
- She let me watch the technicians set
up, though, and I saw where they hid all the surveillance stuff.
They let me follow them around and help them and they joked with
me and were funny. Big guys. Alters, which surprised me. They had
that blank stare that alters have when they talked to me. It's
mostly women who are altered, so if these men were, it meant that
they once did something horridly anti-social &emdash; like
stealing or rape &emdash; and were convicted of inappropriate
behavior. Of course, they're harmless now.
- You can always tell the alters. It's
something in the eyes, as if the pupils don't reflect the light. I
learned in art class that in the eyes of all portraits there is a
little white dot &emdash; a spark of life. In the great portraits,
it's a double dot. Well, alters don't have that. Their eyes are
opaque. No fire inside. Smile at them and they smile back, like
petting a dog to see its tail wag.
- I had watched a concert earlier on
the children's hour, on the vidscreen in my bedroom, and there was
one song that I liked. I sang it into the voicechips, just like
Halli4077 did on the vid. I had a pretty mean kind of croon. I had
no idea it would get me into trouble, and Mother, too. But it
- The next day, when I got back from
school, Mother was waiting for me with her hands on her hips,
standing in front of the big mirror in our entrance hallway. She
looked pretty in a soft blue dress with white chrysanthemums
splashed on it, but she wasn't smiling.
- "Into the living room,
- She wouldn't tell me what was wrong
when I asked, and &emdash; even worse &emdash; told me not to say
a word until Daddy got home. It was big trouble if we had to wait
- So I sat for a couple of hours on a
chair in our living room, looking out the French doors at the
flowers blooming outside, watching the wind snaking through the
trees, and our neighbor drinking coffee out of a shiny black mug
on her patio. She's always friendly to me, and when no one's
around she gives me coffee, even though children aren't supposed
to have stimulants. She's a Wife but doesn't have any children
yet. I think she's getting too old now.
- Our house was a big one because
we're stable class. It's in L.A. but under the Santa Monica dome,
which meant we got blue skies in our dome most of the time, and
rain only when we needed it. L.A. has twenty domes, all
interlocking to keep out the bad stuff from the Countryside, the
toxins that kill people. Well, they kill women anyway. It is a
marvel of technology that the climate is controlled under each of
them. We studied about it in science class.
- Where I lived was a sprawling house
called a ranch-style, a replica of one that was popular in the
olden days, in the mid-twentieth century, with much more space
than we needed for just Mother and Daddy and me, but we're
privileged, and besides, Mother has all those parties.
- I loved our house. My bedroom looked
over the back lawn with its swimming pool off the patio and what's
called an English-style garden at the far end, with a birdbath and
two statues by Cliff What's-his-number, who was very famous and
went to college with Daddy. The whole yard was enclosed in a
stockade fence made of real wood, with vines and flowers twining
over it. They flowered most of the year, and the smell of
night-blooming jasmine sneaked into my bedroom
- Mother has spy-parties out there,
too, and I'd flop on my bed to watch them. I liked to see the
patterns that people made and re-made, clustering around the food
and the drinks and each other, especially around my mother. Weird
how grown-ups got drunk and stupid. I usually picked out two or
three people to follow throughout the party. I gave them goofy
names that reflected how they looked, like Bowlegged Bignose or
Fake-haired Fanny, and I kept a record in my comp unit of how much
they ate and drank and what they did in the shrubbery. Mother
didn't know that. She'd board up my windows if she did. (Just
- My official name is
JE2MDRA77290FF400RT913. That's the DNA tag, regional files, blood
type, class, all that stuff the government takes care of for us.
But I'm called Jemma, except by my teachers at school, where they
used the more formal Jemma7729.
- In school we were divided into
quads, with all the social classes represented in each quad. There
was one other stable, like me, plus four each of the productive,
useful and necessary classes, and two kids who were X-class
because they're gifted. In mathematics, I think. Mixing up the
classes was supposed to teach us to get along with each other and
I guess it did. I didn't have problems with anyone except
- Daddy was a muckety-muck in the
government. He was the Regional Administrator for the Environment
for the whole L.A. Basin, and that made him important because, of
course, most of our food comes from the Near-Countryside around
the L.A. Megadome. Beyond the farms and gardens, the land was
ruined and pretty desolate. We'd all seen pictures of
- Mother was important, too. She had
chosen to be a woman who marries when she was young, which meant
she got to have a child (me) and could also do other work. So she
spied for AGNA and we all pretended she didn't. She looked for
something called "malcontents." I didn't know what that was. It
seemed silly to me but Daddy said I wasn't old enough to
understand and I should just keep my mouth shut. So I
- I thought about school while I
waited for Daddy to come home. We'd started preparing for our
first Choosing Day, when each of us, of our own free will, decided
what we would do and be. That happened every January first and you
have to be seven to do the first ceremony. For me, that would be
in two years, and then we made the final choice at the official
Final Choosing Day, after we're ten. My birthday is August 12, so
I made my final choice on January 1, 2193. I thought about that,
too, while I waited, and how I wished we stables had more
- I had homework, but Mother had said
I wasn't allowed to do anything &emdash; no vids, no reading, no
getting up and sitting down. She had gone somewhere else in the
house so I tried to think what I'd done that was so
- I had spilled some yellow paint at
school but the teacher wasn't upset and I had cleaned it up. I
couldn't imagine that it got reported. The art teacher likes me.
I'm not gifted, but I'm good.
- Then Daddy came home. I heard his
GAV whirr in. We had a private ground/air vehicle because he
traveled a lot. We also had a hovercar, with a driver, which
Mother used because she didn't like to fly. Daddy left his GAV in
our circle driveway instead of putting it in the garage. That
meant no rain was scheduled even though it seemed to me the
flowers needed it.
- Mother met him in the entrance hall.
He gave her a kiss on the cheek but she didn't respond. She said
something in a voice too low for me to hear and Daddy frowned and
looked into the living room where I sat trying to keep my feet
still, then back at her and smiled.
- They looked wonderful together so I
liked to watch them. He was tall and tanned. His hair and
carefully groomed mustache were silver. His white shirt was
without flaw and peeped correctly out from the sleeves of his
summer light blue jacket. When he touched Mother's face, I saw the
flash of a gold watch.
- Mother was slim and pale beside him,
her hair glistening purple-black. It swung slightly on the sides
when she moved. She was very beautiful. Her eyes were a pale, icy
blue. Daddy's eyes were blue. Not mine.
- I have my mother's dark hair,
cropped short with bangs, and my father's slightly upturned nose,
but no mustache. I have nobody's eyes. Mine are like lumps of
coal. I could have been deleted when they saw my eyes were the
wrong color, but Daddy said they liked me anyway. Or he did, at
least. He teased me and said I was a "keeper." My best school
friend Lila said you couldn't tell what I was thinking from my
eyes. I still don't know if that's good or bad.
- They came into the living room and
Daddy sat in a chair across from me.
- "So, Jemma, what's the
- I grinned at him. "I don't
- Mother paced between us. "The
trouble is that I took the chips from yesterday's party to
StateSec and they called me in today and told me that there was a
child singing on all of them! They're contaminated."
- "Singing?" Daddy frowned again but
he didn't look angry, just puzzled.
- Mother stopped and pursed her lips.
"Jemma. Singing some stupid song on every single
- Oh. I guess that had not been a
smart thing to do. Daddy laughed and my mother wheeled around and
gave him a nasty look.
- "It isn't funny, Roger! I'm in
trouble! They want to know why a child knew where all the
surveillance devices were planted! And if a child knew, didn't
everyone? What could I say?"
- Daddy stopped laughing but his eyes
were merry. "I'm sorry, Elane, it just struck me funny. You're
right, of course." He turned to me. "How did you know where they
- "I helped plant them." I looked at
Mother. She was shaking her head back and forth and flexing her
fingers. "You said I could, Mother. You said I could watch them
set up the party. The guys were nice to me and I helped
- Mother sat down on the couch with a
sigh. "Well, then, they're in more trouble than I am."
- I didn't like the sound of
- "Oh, Elane," and Daddy went to sit
beside her, putting an arm around her shoulders, "it was just a
childish prank. No harm done."
- "Yes, harm done!" She snapped at him
and he withdrew his arm and waited until she calmed
- He leaned back on the couch.
"Security has no sense of humor. What did you say to
- Mother made a worried face. "I told
them the truth. I don't know if that was wise, but I didn't know
what else to do. I said that it was probably my daughter who had
done it, that she was a bit mischievous."
- "Well, then."
- "They don't want it to happen
again!" Mother looked at me with those glacial eyes and it felt as
if the room got chilly.
- "And so it won't," Daddy said,
sitting up and leaning towards me. "Will it, Jemma?"
- "No. I'm sorry, Mother." I was. I
didn't want her to be in trouble. "I was just imitating
- Daddy grinned. "I'll get you a mike
of your own if you want to practice singing. It's not a good idea
to use your mother's."
- Mother stood up. "Roger! That's
rewarding her for bad behavior! She ought to be punished, not
coddled. Honestly!" She walked to look outside. "You keep spoiling
her and she'll wind up deleted after all!" She pushed the door
open and walked out of the house.
- I squirmed. Daddy played with his
mustache like he always does when he's thinking. He looked tired.
"What did she mean, Daddy? That I'll wind up deleted after all?" I
thought, after all what?
- "Nothing, baby. She's just upset.
But she's right &emdash; I shouldn't reward you. You leave your
mother's parties alone. Stay out of her way."
- I studied my shoes. "Yes,
- "Jemma, look at me." I did. His eyes
were kind and his mustache wiggled at the corners. "Promise
- "I promise." I thought about my
files on her guests and decided I should get rid of them before
anyone found out I had them. I don't know why I never did that. I
wonder if anyone ever found them.
- "Okay. Now," and he patted the couch
beside him, "tell me what happened at school today."
- I went to sit with him and told him
about spilling the paint and what we had learned in science and
that I had done well in computer class. Mother returned inside but
went into her study and Daddy and I talked until the cooking woman
told us supper was ready.
- # # #
- I was jumping rope with Lila and
some other girls on our recreation break. The boys were playing
ball on the other side of the courtyard. Someone hit a long one
and the ball came over to our side, so I picked it up and threw it
back to them.
- Thom7726 yelled at me, "Hey, Jemma!
Who taught you to throw a ball?" I just waved at him, but his
friends chimed in.
- "Yeah! Hey, Jemma, you going to do a
sex change on Choosing Day?"
- The boys came over and interrupted
our game. Thom grabbed the rope and started whipping it around.
Lila wanted to stop playing but I didn't. Two of the other girls
left us and went to play on the far side.
- Thom was the other stable class in
our quad and Teacher likes him. Some of the girls do too, but his
ears stick out. He'd had an operation on them but it hadn't worked
and someone told me he was going to have them fixed again over our
vacation break. He was a year older than me and tall for his age.
Aside from his ears, he was a handsome boy but not very
- "How can you see out of those eyes,
Jemma?" he yelled, and the boys laughed. I hate it when people
talk about my black eyes.
- "How can you hear out of those ears,
Thom?" I yelled back.
- Lila grabbed my arm and tried to
pull me away. "C'mon, Jemma, you'll get into trouble." She looked
scared. I wasn't scared. I thought the boys should leave us
- Thom came right up to me, shoved
Lila away, and poked his fist under my chin. He gave me a
- I stood my ground so he kept shoving
me, pushing me backwards until I was against the wall that
encloses the courtyard. The other boys were grinning and following
him, egging him on. I couldn't move away because there was no
place to go.
- "You're a genetic mistake!" Thom
made a terrible face at me and stuck out his tongue. His breath
stank. I told him so and tried to push him away.
- The other boys started chanting,
"Shark's eyes! Shark's eyes!"
- "You're not even your father's
- "Don't talk about my
- Thom hit me on the shoulder. It
didn't hurt and I laughed. "You're a de-fect, Thom! You've got
- He hit me again. I slapped him in
the face, but not hard. He staggered sideways and started to
snivel and Teacher came from nowhere and grabbed me by the back of
my tunic, literally lifting me off the ground. The schoolyard got
quiet. Everyone just stared at us with their mouths hanging
- "Thom7726, go to the quiet room,"
Teacher said in a low voice. "Jemma7729, you come with me." He
didn't let go of the back of my shirt and pushed me ahead of him
into the building, me walking on my toes because he was
- It was hushed inside the school.
Teacher released me when we walked down the long hall to the
master's office at the end. He knocked on the door, then opened it
and pushed me in ahead of him when the master said we could
- The master's office was deeply
carpeted and quiet and cool. There were six monitors built into
the storage shelves on the walls, an outsize vidscreen, and two
overstuffed chairs in a dark green floral pattern. There were
flowering plants in the window, perfuming the air. I had only been
in his office once or twice before, and never for anything like
- The master sat behind his desk,
reading on a small comp unit. He looked up at us, his eyebrows
rising high on his forehead, absolutely symmetrical, like cartoon
eyebrows. He was so blond his hair looked white in the sunlight
slanting in the window behind him.
- "Jemma7729. She struck a
- "He hit me first," I said, and then
wished I hadn't.
- The master's expression didn't
change but he got fine tense lines around his eyes. "Is this true?
You hit a boy?" He had a wonderful voice, like a vid announcer on
AGNA's News Network, syrupy and sweet, but he spoke very
- I looked at him straight in the
eyes, the way Daddy said I should when I talked to adults.
- "Thank you, Lans." The master didn't
even look at him but Teacher left us, closing the door carefully.
It made a clicking sound when it shut.
- The master put his comp unit
carefully to one side, straightened it so that its edge was
parallel with an envelope, and came around to the front of his
desk. I hadn't noticed before that he was as tall as Daddy, except
he had a round stomach that sagged over his belt, and big ugly
hands. He towered over me and it made me feel little, but I stood
still and waited. My guts were jiggling.
- He asked me what had happened and I
told him. He didn't interrupt me, he just kept nodding to keep me
talking. I told him everything and then said I didn't think it was
fair that Thom went to the quiet room. I said he should be there
with me, since he started it.
- "Fair? Fairness has nothing to do
with it. This is about aggression. Aggression is not tolerated in
females. You do know that?" I didn't say anything, so he repeated
the question with his eyebrows moving up again and I
- "I didn't aggress. I
- He leaned against his desk, his
mouth puckered. He had the same squinty look Teacher gets when he
asks me a question. "You're the regional administrator's daughter,
- "Yes, sir. He's the regional
administrator for the environment."
- "Yes... well, that's neither here
nor there. The boy shouldn't have hit you. Males should be gentle
and kind to females, that's a given, but sometimes boys get
rambunctious. However, you were absolutely wrong to hit him. Girls
do not hit &emdash; ever. That is inappropriate behavior and a
punishable offense. You realize that, don't you? And answer me,
don't just nod."
- "Yes, sir. But&emdash;"
- He wasn't listening. He strode to a
small wooden table below the flowers hanging in the window, opened
the center drawer, and came back to me with a narrow leather strap
in his hand.
- "A punishable offense! Jemma7729,
you've learned our history. It was the aggression of women
&emdash; women challenging authority, fighting, practicing martial
arts, behaving in ways inappropriate for the female &emdash; that
started the wars that nearly destroyed North America in the past.
That will not happen again. Turn around."
- I did. He put one hand on my
shoulder and held me firmly. "I want you to repeat what I say
- He hit me hard with the strap across
my butt and I flinched. It made a cracking noise and it hurt. "I
am a female. I do not fight. Repeat it!"
- I did, and got nine more whacks,
saying the words nine more times as clearly as I could, gritting
my teeth. When he was done he let me go and tossed the strap on
his desk. I had to blink fast to not show my tears.
- "Women are precious vessels. We love
them, we protect them, even from themselves. That's what I am
doing right now. Millions of females have died, Jemma7729, for
just the sort of behavior you have exhibited here today. You
cannot win; you should not try. Is that understood?"
- "Yes, sir."
- "You know that it was women who
caused the Countryside to be toxic, so that you can't even exist
in it anymore. Right?"
- "Yes, sir."
- "You know that by fighting the
Necessary Genocide, in the early days of our republic, it was
women who inspired the massacres, caused the famine, fought the
reforms that finally saved the planet?"
- "Yes, sir. That was a long time
- He pinched his lips together and
stared hard at me. Then he sighed and shook his head, his eyes
darting towards the desk and the strap. I was afraid he was going
to pick it up again.
- "I'm aware of your record. You're a
good student. You seem to do best in music and art. Is that
- "Yes, sir. And communications. I do
okay in that."
- He grunted. I took a deep breath. It
felt like the worst was past.
- "I'm going to recommend that you
have special classes in history. You obviously have not understood
it. Tomorrow you will apologize publicly to the boys, and to the
whole school. I'm going to send you home now, so you don't
contaminate the others this day. I want you to think seriously on
your crime, Jemma7729. Don't discuss this incident with anyone
except your family. I'll send a report with you and will want to
talk to your parents here in my office. Do you have a
- I turned to look at him. My legs
were shaking and I felt cold. "No, sir, I take regular transport
when my mother is using our hovercar." Most people thought I had a
regular chauffeur because of my social class, but Daddy usually
dropped me off on his way to work, or Mother did, or one of our
servants walked me to a designated stop so I could pick up a
schoolcar. Thom7726 had private transportation just for
- "Well, one of our drivers will take
you home. Go wait in reception. I'll want to see you again, after
you've completed your special history studies."
- "Yes, sir."
- I left and waited for half an hour
in the reception area while someone wrote up a report and the
school's hovercar was called. It took a while because the driver
was off on another errand. No one talked to me, not even the
Secretary when she handed me the sealed envelope. She usually
smiled at least. I felt like an outcast.
- # # #
- Our cooking woman's name was
Resa7629 and I called her Reesie. She belonged to the useful
class. She was a small woman with large breasts that stuck out and
wiggled. Her hair was gray and short, and her eyes were brown with
thick, straight eyebrows over them. She had a nice, rosy kind of
complexion. She was cheerful and sociable to me and made me extra
things &emdash; cookies sometimes, or pudding. And she let me
sneak coffee now and then when I caught her in the kitchen
drinking some herself, alone and not busy. I didn't tell on her
and she didn't tell on me.
- I was seven and the Choosing Day was
looming, so I often went to talk to her after school, before
Mother or Daddy got home. I was supposed to go right to my room
and do my homework, but if nobody was around I went to talk to
Reesie and drink coffee. This day I really needed some
- "So," she said to me, pouring me a
half a cup, loading it with cream and sugar, "have you decided?
Are you ready to choose?"
- "Jemma! What's the
- "I don't know what to
- She sat down at the table with me
and pulled her full mug closer to her. "If I had your choices, I
- "What would you choose?"
- "I'd be a wife. I would love to be
able to just stay home and look after a house and do the shopping
and all that."
- "You have children, Reesie. It's
like being a wife."
- "Not quite, Jemma. A wife doesn't
have to work at anything else. It would be heaven." She peered at
me over the rim of the cup. "That doesn't interest you?" I shook
my head. "Well, you must have some idea."
- "I'd like to drive a hovercar or a
- "You can't do that."
- "I know. Or I'd like to be a park
worker, but I can't do that, either. Reesie, I don't like the
choices I have. They're boring."
- She chuckled. "You should be like
your mother &emdash; be a woman who marries."
- "I suppose. But I don't like
- She laughed out loud then, a big
whooping kind of laugh that made her eyes water and made me smile,
too, although I didn't think what I'd said was funny, especially
not this day when boys had made me so miserable.
- "You will, darlin', you will." She
glanced at the chrono over the sink. "You're home early.
- I sighed and leaned my chin on my
hand, "I'm in trouble." She stiffened her body and moved her feet
under the table and her face screwed up and she pinched her
- "What kind of trouble?" I didn't
think she really wanted to know because she had pulled her body
back in the chair, like the snake in the bio lab recoiling when I
stick my hand in its cage.
- I shook my head. "I can't tell
anyone but Mother and Daddy. Maybe tomorrow I can tell you, but
they made me promise not to discuss it." She got up abruptly and
started to take my cup. "I'm not finished!"
- "Well, finish it and give me the
cup. Go do your homework."
- She turned away from me as if she
were angry, though why she would be I didn't know. I guess it's
because people don't want to get involved with other people's
troubles. I asked her if that was the case and she agreed. I
finished my coffee.
- She took my cup to the sink to rinse
it. "Jemma, you're a good kid and I like you, but there's
something... different about you, and I don't mean your eyes, so
don't get mad. I worry."
- I grinned at her and stood up to
give her a hug. I liked to hug her hard because those big breasts
squished and she made an oofing kind of noise.
- "Thanks for the coffee, Reesie. I'll
be okay. I hope."
- I ran upstairs and not only did my
homework but cleaned my room and brushed my hair and my teeth,
then watched the vid and waited for my parents to get home. I
would have to give them the note the master had sent home with
- I was going to do it when they first
got home, but supper was ready so I put it off until after we had
- Mother and Daddy were going to have
coffee on the patio. I followed them out and waited until Reesie
had brought the tray and left. They were surprised that I was
hanging around. I didn't usually stay with them once we were
finished with food.
- Mother poured coffee out of the
silvery pot into two elegant china cups. She did it so gracefully
I always liked to watch. She had promised to show me how to do
that some day, but she never got around to it. She glanced at
- "Don't you have
- "I did it already." I took a big
breath. It made a noise, so Daddy looked over at me as he took his
cup from Mother.
- "Something on your mind,
- "Yes." It was hard to do. I had
stuck the letter in the pocket of my skirt and now I brought it
out and handed it to him. It had crumpled around the edges. "I had
a problem at school today."
- Both of them set their cups down.
Mother closed her eyes. So she couldn't see me, I guess. Daddy
opened the envelope and read it. His face was neutral but he
clenched his jaw.
- "Oh, Jemma!" His voice was full of
disappointment. I winced. "What happened?" He handed the note to
my mother. She read it and threw it down on the table in
- "It was Thom7726. He teases me all
the time. He drives me crazy."
- "Boys tease, Jemma. You know that."
Mother fluffed out her hair in the back and stared at the swimming
- "But &emdash; he started pushing me.
We were outside in the play yard, and he kept teasing me and
pushing me into the wall and he hit me."
- Daddy picked up the letter again and
read it out loud. "Jemma7729 shows definite signs of aggression,
which must be dealt with now before an irrevocable pattern is
established." He looked up at me. "Do you know what that means?
What 'irrevocable' means?"
- "Yes. It means something that can't
- Daddy put the letter in the inside
pocket of his jacket. "What did you do when he pushed
- "Nothing at first, except to tease
him back. And then, when he wouldn't stop and he hit me twice, I
- "Oh, God!" Mother shook her head and
rubbed her eyes.
- "What did you hit him
- "Just my hand."
- Mother got up and stared at me. "You
deal with this Roger. I can't." She quickly went into the house
and I was surprised to see tears in her eyes. What did that
- I turned to Daddy in a panic.
"What's wrong with Mother? Why is she crying?"
- "Sit down, Jem." I did. He thought a
minute but didn't pull his mustache, just stared across the lawn.
"So, you hit this boy. Then what happened?"
- "Teacher came and pulled us apart.
Thom cried, but I didn't hit him that hard. He hit me harder and
he's bigger than me."
- "Slow down... then what
- "Teacher sent him to the quiet room
and I had to go to the master. He was mad at me."
- "Did the master punish
- I chewed on my lip. I had never been
so uncomfortable in my life. I nodded. "With a strap."
- "Did it hurt?"
- "Yes. He hit me harder than Thom
did. Ten times."
- Daddy made a kind of grunty noise.
"Did you cry?"
- "No!" Of course I didn't cry. I
couldn't let the master see me crying.
- Daddy leaned back in his chair with
a sigh that puffed out his cheeks. "Oh, baby..." He motioned for
me to come nearer.
- I stood in front of him and he put
his arms around me. His eyes were so sad they made me hurt. "I
want you to promise me something, okay?" I nodded my head. He
thought a minute, but didn't let go of me. "I want you to promise,
on your solemn oath, that should something like this happen again
&emdash; and it damn well better not! &emdash; if the master, or
anyone in authority, punishes you, I want you to cry. Do you
understand? You must cry."
- I didn't understand.
- "Don't argue. Punishments are
supposed to hurt. If you stand up to them, that's an act of
defiance. You're not allowed to defy authority. You know that! You
know the Woman's Creed." I nodded but he shook his head. "Say
- I sighed. It was boring. "'I am a
female. I will not question nor defy authority. I will not be
aggressive in thought or action. I will obey the request of any
male unless what he asks is immoral or unlawful.'" I took a deep
breath and spit the rest out. "'I will accomplish all that is
required of me cheerfully and without complaint I will not discuss
nor think about topics forbidden to my sex I will graciously
submit to my husband,' Daddy, I didn't mean to defy him. I just
didn't want him to think I'm a baby."
- "But you are, Jemma! You are a baby.
You're seven years old! You're female. No defiance is allowed you.
Period. Promise me!"
- His hands were tight on my arms. The
look in his eyes was so intense it scared me. "I promise that I'll
cry." He let me go and picked up his coffee cup. "I'm sorry,
- "So am, I, Baby." He sipped his
coffee and didn't look at me.
- Oh Daddy, darling, you have no idea
how that solemn oath came back to haunt me. Actually, I'm glad you
never knew. But it was you who taught me how to lie, and that came
- # # #
- That night I couldn't sleep. I
worried about school and what would happen to me. I felt guilty
for upsetting my parents. Choosing Day was coming up and I hated
the things that were possible for my sex and class. I didn't have
to choose absolutely until after I was ten, but it was the law
that a person chose at seven and then concentrated on being
prepared for the final choice.
- Mostly, though, I thought about
hitting Thom and what the master had said and done. I didn't like
it. And I didn't know what had made me break the rules. I felt
sorry for myself. It didn't seem fair that boys could hit girls
but not vice versa.
- There were diffuse lights on the
skydome, a springtime gift from AGNA for the citizens of L.A., a
monthly light show that would continue for several nights. It took
the place of moonlight, which of course we never saw because our
city had its miraculous roof, or at least that's what I was told.
The domes on all the cities in North America kept the toxins of
the Countryside out. They protected the females. I had studied
about the light projections in science class. Night-time light
exactly echoed the phases of the moon in the Countryside, where
women cannot go, to make our environment more natural. Scientists
said there was a connection between something called women's
cycles and the real moon, so they lit up the sky for us. Except,
of course, they never showed its image. It was just a satellite,
- The projections also made my bedroom
bright, so I got up and looked out at the back yard bathed in the
- Mother sat by the pool, all by
herself, drinking a glass of wine. She was wearing a white robe
and she glowed bluish in the light, like a ghost. I glanced at my
chrono. It was 03:27. Guess she couldn't sleep,
- I crept downstairs and sneaked out
onto the patio as quietly as I could. I didn't want to bother her,
but she heard or saw me.
- I walked slowly towards the pool. "I
didn't mean to disturb you, Mother."
- She shook her head. "You didn't.
What's the matter? Can't sleep?"
- "Come over here, please." She
straightened in her chair. She was barefoot. I couldn't remember
ever seeing her feet. They were long and delicate, like the rest
- I went to sit beside her. We didn't
talk for a while, then she said, "The light is beautiful. And it's
so quiet in the middle of the night. I guess it doesn't matter
that there isn't a real moon."
- "I'm sorry about today, Mother." I
whispered because I didn't want to disrupt the peace.
- "So am I." She sipped her wine. She
wasn't looking at me. She didn't look at me much at any time, as
if I were repugnant to her, even though people said there was a
strong resemblance between us.
- "I don't mean to make trouble." She
didn't respond, or wasn't listening. I was so depressed by
everything that I actually said, "I'm sorry that you don't like
- She turned to me with her lips
parted in surprise and carefully set her glass on the table. "Is
that what you think? That I don't like you?"
- I was afraid to answer.
- "Oh, Jemma," she whispered in a
husky tone and held out both arms to me. For a split second I
didn't know what to do and then I was in her arms in a flash and
she pulled me close. She smelled faintly of lilacs. I could hear
her heart beating in my ear.
- "I love you." She held me tightly.
"I love you, my girl. But you frighten me to death." I squirmed
but she didn't loosen her hold. "I'm so afraid you won't &emdash;
that you won't be able to do what you need to do."
- "I try to do everything
- She smiled. "I know you do, but
&emdash; it isn't what you do, Jemma, it's who you are. You have a
stubborn streak, an independent turn of mind. Sit down." She let
me go back to my chair. She picked up the glass while I basked in
the glow from her embrace. "Do you know what? I'm going to tell
you a secret."
- "What?" My heart pumped right in my
- "I was a bit like you at your
- "Were you?" I would never have
- "Not as troublesome, but I had some
ideas of my own, too."
- She took a sip of the wine and
handed me the glass, as a kind of token, I guess. She chuckled
when I tasted it and made a face. She was softer than I had ever
seen her, there in the quiet of the night.
- "Jemma, I have to keep a distance
from you, because I couldn't bear it if you fail. You're
dangerous, to yourself and to your father and to me."
- That confused me. She brushed my
hair back gently from my forehead and looked at me with a little
smile. Her eyes were sad. "Get some sleep. You have a big day
- I felt on safer ground discussing
real things. "It'll be awful. I have to apologize to the whole
school, and the boys. Probably have to apologize to Thom
- She leaned forward and touched my
knee. "Yes, and you will do that graciously, simply, with
humility. Keep your dignity. Be smart." She lowered her voice and
I had to lean even closer to hear her. "You're a woman, Jemma, and
we endure. We survive. I want you to survive. Remember
- She sat back then and sipped her
wine again and looked away from me. "Go to bed."
- I got up and kissed her cheek, but
she didn't respond. I went upstairs full of conflicting emotions.
I'm dangerous? How? Why? We survive, we women? Is that what she'd
said? Survive? Endure?
- I looked down on her from my window,
hovering back in the shadow. She stood up. She looked toward my
window but didn't see me. She glanced around the yard, then she
loosened her robe and let it drop from her body. She was naked. I
was shocked. Women were not allowed to be naked outside of their
houses. I glanced away for an instant, but she was so beautiful
that I had to keep watching as she slipped soundlessly into the