GIVETHEREADERSWHATTHEYWANT!
One writer's experiment to tackle any subject his friends come up with.
5/16/11-JEORG ELLEN SAUER

The Broken Bridge and the River Beneath

A disease develops that affects only the Y chromosome, killing off all the males in the world, including the animal population. I envision several short stories about different women and how this affects their lives with the loss and also moving forward with the new world.

I envision a little Faulkner as I lay dying where editing of which story plays out in which order as vital. Pure character development some stories, science fiction others, relationships, religion, etc. An anthology linked by a commonality without being cheesy with intertwining stories.

 

**R-rating for this story, folks.  The starter took me to serious explorations of sexuality and persecution.  No apologies, though; the piece merited the content, and is better for meeting it head-on.**


Dear Future:

I’m writing to make you real. To seize onto you. To force you into existence despite impossible odds. I want to believe you are out there. I want to believe that a planet that has aborted half of itself and abandoned sexual reproduction is somehow not in cardiac arrest. I want to know that there’s something more for the remaining women than living out the death throes of this world.

But that certainty is not going to come. I know. The past two years have seen nothing but struggle. Evolution has not performed any great intervention. With what little sperm that survived the Great Thaw, we are able to bear girls for a while longer. But we can barely manage these efforts for ourselves. We can do nothing for the animal population. Our planet cannot feed itself.

I’m trying to stop writing about the past. There’s no sense to be made of it. I’ve tried and failed, failed so much that I have to make myself stop trying.

Even this trying, this pondering, is a luxury, one we didn’t have a year ago. We’ve only just gotten some order back into our lives, a few of us anyway. Most of the last year has been a constant struggle to survive amidst a neo-gothic nightmare, a plague that descended overnight. Surrounded by moldering industry and technology. Reduced to burning furniture for warmth and safety.

Decay was inescapable, disease rampant. Every home, street, backyard, littered with the dead male of every species: dogs, cats, birds, squirrels, possums. Existing male fetuses miscarried. All infrastructure collapsed. All utilities stopped. No life support, no means of getting basic necessities. Six months after all the men died, half of the women had died as well.

Women abandoned towns to rot, along with the corpses they couldn’t bury. Death surrounded us, permeated our existence. We became inured to its constant presence. We hadn’t the energy to find meaning. Our lives were rubble, and our hands ached from the effort of digging out.

Future, I don’t see how we’ve come through what we have, how the few stragglers are still remaining, still managing to live, barely, with half the world dead and everything broken. I’m sometimes surprised that the sun still shines down on us.

Eventually the women gathered and made new families. The constant numbness of looming death subsided, the hollowness of their lives filled out. Once our faculties could be distracted from full-time basic survival, we began to think on why this had happened. And our troubles began again.

People had to make sense of it. I can’t blame them. Was it a virus? Was it natural? Was it an experiment that went wrong on a global scale? A terrorist attack, some insane biological warfare?

The past again. Factions will try to impose their own flawed logic on it; it’s all fallacy to me. I understand the need to make sense of this capricious Armageddon, but I have yet to see any sense come from it.

How could we so quickly begin to devote energy to persecuting again? How, when we’ve just begun to get our heads free from this avalanche of decay, can we waste effort on judging and hurting each other? It demonstrates the worst madness of our species, one I would have been happy to blame on the men.

I understand the desire to make sense of what happened. I wish, desperately, that I could do it for myself. I wish there were some conclusive evidence. But there never is in the most important things, never an undeniable sign. And so people’s biases, their irrationality, prejudices, fear, ignorance, all gain a foothold. I won’t have anything to do with it. I try not to. I’m constantly on guard against it. I’ve chosen not to seek an answer, to be content in not knowing the unknowable.

But sometimes I find myself in the minority. The smaller the minority, the more dangerous. Through the experience of the last year, at the heart of it all, my true minority has a member of one. Even putting this down is probably unwise. But Future, you’re not giving me anything new to write about, and all I have are my thoughts. If I burn this later, let my thoughts be the fuel for a few more moments of warmth.

When I was eight, my mother asked me why I never played with other girls. A question that would have gone unasked for years gradually overtook my mind. Why didn’t I play with girls? Because girls weren’t fun. They didn’t have the good toys. They were boring. They were background. A year later, they became pretty. They grew to a distraction. Then from distraction, to puzzle, and finally mystery. A mystery I needed to solve in order to understand myself.

I began dating women. I began dressing like a man. After a while, I found the mystery was something to cherish. I was okay not knowing. It was good that two parts could exist in imperfect balance. Some loves burned hot and quick, some warm and long. I was happy in the fullness of life explored.

I grew fascinated with the ocean, and devoted myself to its study. Oh, Future, if you knew the wonder I had for Earth’s teeming multitudes of life, and the horror of seeing it failed and wasting upon the shore.

Now I find myself surrounded by women desperate for the safety and comfort of intimacy, in a world where sexual orientation is an irrelevant distinction. But the needs in my prior life moved me to make changes. And these are the stigmata that define my existence today.

I’ve told Cheryl that I can’t get any closer. That after losing almost everything, it hurts to enter that openness again. But she needs a warm body, and she sees my distance as a rejection. I tried to let her know she’s welcome to share herself with anyone, but she doesn’t approach it that way. In some ways, she’s still such a part of the old world.

Future, I don’t know why I addressed this to you. All I can write about is the past. And I don’t want you to have anything to do with the past. Maybe I hoped I’d be able to write and forget about these things that make us what we are today. But I can’t ignore the present. I can’t get past the brutal truths we live with everyday. I can’t pretend I see any light at the end of the tunnel.

I’m alive, when countless others aren’t. That’s all I have, for better or worse. Future, I don’t yet believe in you.

I have to go now; supper needs making. See you soon.

 

 

Catherine

***

 

Cheryl and I stood in the derelict kitchen, warming our last tin of beans over stair balusters burning in the fireplace. She had bathed in the rain barrel that afternoon and braided her vibrant blonde hair. I had spent the day tilling earth with six other members of our family. The soil was extremely fertile for the time being, with so much decomposing in and on it. But I knew the lack of animal activity would begin to take its toil within another year. Androgynous worms were not enough to enliven the soil beneath us. Birds were few and far between. What would the earth be like when worms ruled undisturbed? How much more upheaval could there be before life was completely reset? The men had gotten off easy.

Cheryl stirred the tin as I poked at the fire. She looked up at me, and her eyes were frail from my past rejections. I was covered in filth, and amazed as ever at her comfort with me. She rested her hand on my shoulder, and I fought the reaction to turn, afraid of hurting her more, afraid of her touch and the revelations it would bring.

Her face fell at my stiffness. Her hand remained: her own act of strength. But her eyes were on the floor. “Catherine, I’m not asking you to do anything you find unnatural. I don’t want to make you uncomfortable.”

The irony of the situation was enough to make me ill. This beautiful, timid girl, accepting me in my clumsy, dirty shell. There was nothing more natural to me than to lift her up and love her. Surely she was the one stepping outside herself to approach me. I could not know whether her desire for me was born out of a need for love, comfort, or safety. But I was weary of hurting her. I pinned hopes on understanding, and laid my hand on hers.

“Honey, I care about you. I do. And I hate that I make you doubt yourself. But to open up makes me more vulnerable than you can imagine. You’re beautiful, and accepting, and all the more lovely for it. But – I’m a risk, in this world. My self, I mean.”

Damn, why was I so clumsy? And so afraid? I’d been able to find a family of common, earthy women. We were far away from the Purity Clan. There was no neo-Amazon nonsense surrounding me anymore.

But the tortured face of Chloe was still branded into my mind. Chloe, a young, silly girl, who’d been stupid enough to joke about using a strap-on within earshot of these militants. In that time and place, our lives were defined by desperate attempts at some imagined order, often resulting in senseless tragedy. Millions of women, most in relationships that would have repulsed them two years ago, and the militant ones the most masculine of them all. But any indication of gender treachery sent them into a rabid frenzy.

They preached that after Eden and the Flood, the Purge was the third and final chance God gave humanity. And their methods of enforcement rivaled any past religion for barbarity. By the end of Chloe’s punishment, I found myself praying to the male God of my youth for the swift blessing of her death, while I fought to keep from passing out from the press of the crowd around me. A claustrophobia I’d never known was born with a vengeance. Surely these women all felt the same as me, and were chanting out of fear. How many still had the capacity for reason and love? Could anyone be trusted with truth and acceptance?

I spent the night trembling and retching in a ditch outside the compound, wondering how an exit could lead to anywhere but death. The strength I’d found in those numbers was reserved only for those willing to lose themselves to the mindless mobocracy.

Cheryl turned her face to me. Still pale, after a year of hard labor. But the smaller ones usually stayed inside. Strangers were never trusted, unless traveling alone. Even then, they were stripped naked, searched, and watched closely in their work for months before being allowed to become a member of the family. I’d been a part of looser families; their lack of security was their undoing. I was a founding member of this one, and thus had escaped the strip search. My privacy was legend among the women, but unquestioned.

“I respect you, Catherine. I haven’t held anything from you. And don’t intend to, ever. I just hope I have something I could give you, like you have me. Everybody needs comfort. I’m – I’m just, here, is all.”

I shouldn’t have looked. Her eyes were overbrimming cerulean pools. I found myself holding her before my defenses could react. That embrace – even now, knowing how it ended, I can still cherish how my stomach warmed, how my shoulders went from stone to flesh again, amid shudders of forgotten release.

After the charge of our embrace subsided, a quiet awe enveloped us. With a wry smile between us, I removed the tin from the fireplace – the beans could wait. I guided her to my room, and she began to undress, but I stopped her. She deserved to know before committing. Even now, I had no expectations of her loving me. My existence had become a disguise. I had become expert at hiding myself, ignoring the truths in which I had invested a previous life. I had to fight my newer instincts as I exposed myself, the anathema I had become.

I removed my shirt, and the ever-present padded bra. Cheryl stared in wordless, uncommitted confusion. No hint of welcoming breast greeted her. I continued to undress, revealing more truths, and confusion allowed a hint of ecstatic delight. But the surgeries that had allowed me to manifest my nature years ago only held up to a passing glance. As Cheryl continued to take me in, her wonder gave way to shock. Then from shock to betrayal. And, finally, revulsion.

Cheryl covered her face and fled from the room. I collapsed to the thin mattress on the floor, my pants still around my ankles. I buried my face in sheets heavy with must. I welcomed the sobs I thought would come, but found I lacked the energy. The quiet stillness I found instead was of defeat, not peace.

My family locked me in my room, unnecessarily. My fate was discussed, outside of earshot. I awaited condemnation. These good, simple women, that I had carved a life out of this land with. Had the cataclysm destroyed a better part of them as well?

In the end, they summoned one of the Daughters of Gaia. Such is our religion in a mad, dying world. As I sat, trussed like a plucked bird, she preached that evolution had brought us beyond a lower form of our species, that we had the strength within ourselves to renew Earth to its former glory, and beyond. That the mistake of yin and yang had been corrected, the dichotomy cloven. That those who had rejected their motherhood deserved man’s fate.

I sat with my head high, emboldened and embittered by the obvious effects of my naked body. I was sick of these desperate fools, scratching at half-truths to cobble together a flawed theory based on their own predilections. I told them Nature got it wrong. Nature was simple-minded and stupid. Life was richer than they or their imbecilic Gaia would allow for. I was a man, in a truer sense than their primitive definitions of chromosomes. And there were others. Men had not been removed. They themselves were men, in varying shades, the dichotomy absorbed, never to be unified, never answered, never amended.

Then she removed my manhood, cutting the femoral artery. The pain ripped through me; my soul was torn asunder. But she was not a butcher. I watched through streams of tears as her hands performed a procedure of strange familiarity. I looked into her eyes, and saw my secrets and fear reflected back. I looked out to my family, and saw their own tears of shame and confusion. My life ebbed, and I longed to tell them…

 

***


My heart pours out its mysteries. Like everything ancient, sacred, and fundamental, blood is water, is stardust, is ocean and life, is swimming with ourselves, all come from the same font, all steeped in the same wonder. There are no sexes, no separate bodies, no removed consciousness. A and C, G and T are different shades of the same brown sand, pouring through an hourglass. A random pile on the top, a random pile on the bottom. Funneled but not filtered. Rearranged but not ordered. The hourglass breaks, our blocks scatter, we seek a higher power to organize us. Time and tide washes in, washes us, we interplay, forget the loss, rejoice in the wholeness of living again. This is order. This is chaos. This is fullness and protection. We are we, swimming, swirling, moving and moved, integrated and integral. Stir us up, we froth and settle. Let us lie fallow, life begins itself again within us. Ssshhhhhh. Ssshhhhhhhhh. The bloodflow of waves within our womb are life in peace, in balance. Take from us what you will. It will be received again in time, and was never absent. Life continues, unabated. Differing forms, degrees, all unjudged and worthy. Does the world contain more life now than in the distant past? Is the current manifestation more or less valid? The forms we cling to ensnare us, deceive us. They seduce us into permanence, stagnation, stepping out of the flow. We will take other forms, be blessed with more or less substance. We join, we pull apart. We take ourselves with us and everyone else as well. The flow of our lives through our hearts does not stop at our bodies. It pours outward and inward from an infinite sea.

 

Copyright Cole Bennett, all rights reserved.

 

 

9 Comments to “5/16/11-JEORG ELLEN SAUER”

  1. Cole Bennett says:

    Jeorg, I’m so glad for the challenge. So many of these topics I would never have tried to imagine for myself! Time to limber up! I don’t know if you’re aware of a comic book called “Y: The Last Man”,
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Y:_The_Last_Man, but it has a similar premise. Of course, being written by a man (Brian K. Vaughan, but illustrated by a woman, Pia Guerra), it’s more about how the only man left after such a disaster gets along in the world. It’s a good read, but I could never figure out why it wasn’t just about his boffing everything in sight. But Vaughan can’t own that topic, and you’ve taken it one further. The more extreme premise gets rid of those cliche possibilities, and really makes one think hard about redefining everything.

  2. Adam Gillett says:

    I’m glad to say this was an enjoyable story even with the necessary burden of tremendous exposition. It was good idea to leave a lot of the “worldmaking” context as small hints and let the reader fill what they wished, without diverting from Catherine’s story.
    A technical note: some animals have different chromosomes. In sexual reptile species, females are Z+W while males are W+W. So, even with such a cataclysm affecting Y chromosomes, there would be some male animals around. (You can shift the blame to Jeorg for that one!)

    • Cole Bennett says:

      Thanks, Adam! I agree on the worldmaking – I thought Catherine’s voice alone conveyed a lot of the desperation, if only some of the details.

      In my non-exhaustive preparatory study for this one, I ran across multiple references for smaller animals being able to switch sexes when necessary (a la Jurassic Park). The largest animal mentioned was a certain lizard. I only saw scant references to the “W” chromosome, and I’m not sure if it ties into the gender bending lizards or not. I could have maybe made a reference to these, but was kinda fighting the technicality aspect in making her descriptions simple and powerful. I think the truth still rings true, though – Earth would probably be reduced to worm food.

      If I ever get ahead of my deadlines on these, watch out, or you’ll end up with an editing position!

  3. Joe says:

    A fantasy like this must have a larger purpose, a philosophical or political idea if it’s to be more than a mere page-turner. I really felt this did the job. The first part made me see our gender wars as being so much like our racial battles: the essential core of our humanity goes missing in the fight. It reads very movingly. I know when writing is good. My jealousy genes start hopping.
    The second part brings in the horror of human nature, that will find division even when almost none exists. Anti-semitism in Poland is still strong though there are almost no Jews left. So your star-chamber for gender purity ala the inquisition. Some of his/her dialogue to Cheryl didn’t work for me as well, but the whole drama was shocking and powerful

    A thoughtful and powerful piece overall.

  4. Gail M. Koehler says:

    Cole: a worthy imaginative examination of a horrific premise. The multiple POV works really well. Beginning with a letter—”Dear Future”— was brilliant. Each of the nine stories has been great in different ways. This one, I suspect, will stay with me like a burr on my socks, as I move through the day… Great writing, and congrats.

    • Cole Bennett says:

      I’m honored, Gail! Thank you so much. BTW, we were planning on coming out to the Peace Fair, but got scared off by the rain. I hope it was still a great event!

  5. Jeorg Ellen Sauer says:

    Cole!!! I love it!!!! It is amazing!!! And I totally see you being able to come back to this and making a novel out of it or abandoning it and letting it be just this. It is very well done. Intense and thoughtful and terrifying and fascinating!

    • Cole Bennett says:

      Thank you so much Jeorg! I’m really glad you like it. As much as I took a pseudo-cynical approach at the start of this to really “giving the readers what they want”, I do find myself honestly thinking about the people who started them off and how this will read to them. Thanks again for a powerful one!

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