They don’t even seem to notice every last bit of their freedom has been stripped from them, from all of us; they just care about the kids, the kids, the kids.
I want to tell Mrs. Roberts to stop being such a damn hypocrite—to tell Mr. Monroe, and Mrs. Gonzalez, and Mrs. Hart that they did this to themselves. They sent their “babies” to school that day and then stood around the playground fence with the rest of us, watching as the black uniforms ushered the freaks onto the buses. They regret it; now they see what most of us suspected all along. Those buses were only going one direction: away from them.
Here’s the thing I don’t understand: The government tells you over and over again, through the news, through the papers, on the radio, that the only way these freaks are going to survive is if they receive this rehabilitation treatment in these camps. They even roll out the president’s kid to prove that it “works,” parading him around the country in some kind of celebration tour that’s clearly designed to soften people’s attitudes about sending their freaks away. Okay, sure, fine.
But after a year or two passes, more and more freaks are affected. More are sent to these rehab camps by desperate parents. But in the meantime, we’re not seeing any “cured” freaks coming out of them. Not in year three, or year four, or year five. If these parents had been paying attention from the beginning, not running around like a band of panicked chickens, all of them scrambling for the last scrap of hope, none of them willing to be the one to stand up and question it, they would have seen the lie a mile away. They would never have registered their freaks in that online database, the one the government basically just turned into a network to help skip tracers and PSFs later collect the freaks that weren’t sent willingly.
It’s been six years. They’re not coming back, and even if they were, look at what these “real adults” have let this country become. Why would they want to bring a kid back into a place like this? Where the newspaper they’ll read is filled with lies, and every step they take and word they speak will be monitored. The kind of world where they can work their whole lives, only to be slowly smothered by knowing they’ll never amount to anything and things will never get better for them.
I just want them to admit that they did this to themselves, that they let Gray take their kids, but they also let him steal hope for the future. I’m so sick of having to feel sorry for these people when the rest of us are suffering, too.
I just want them to admit to themselves we’ve lost more than a few freaks.
I just want us all to stop lying.
There’s no gas in the old blue truck. Of course. I have to hike all over town begging people for a quarter of a liter here and another quarter there, and all the while these people are looking at me like I’ve asked them to set themselves on fire. I know the right people to talk to, though. They were the smart ones who saved up each gas ration the National Guard doled out by the old Sinclair gas station. I remember waiting under the sign—the big green dinosaur—shivering because it was five below, and the entire city was lined up down the highway, waiting their turn. About two years ago, the National Guard just stopped coming, and when they disappeared, so did the gas.
So did a lot of things.
They’ve turned the old fairgrounds into a trailer park and campground. Ten years ago if you had asked me to imagine a world where thousands of people were crammed into a few miles of space while thousands of houses sat empty and locked up by banks…I don’t know what I would have thought. Probably that you were talking about a bad movie.
Hutch says each kid can bring in around ten thousand dollars. Ten thousand dollars. One or two aren’t going to be enough to buy myself a real house or anything like that, but it might be enough to do one of those two-year university degree programs. With a certificate, I might be able to find a steady job in another town, and maybe that’ll mean an opportunity to own some kind of home, even if it’s in the far future. Staying here, I wouldn’t have a choice.
I triple-check to make sure the truck is locked before I start trudging through the muddy grass toward home. Already I sense the curious eyes following me, taking a second look at my truck. Considering. I’ve been there. We’ve all been there. It’s always easier to take something than work for it—but I don’t know how many people want a thirty-year-old gas-guzzler with paint rusting off in huge clumps.
And anyway, I’m not going to be here long enough for them to swipe it. In and out. I told myself that the whole drive over. In and out.
The door to our trailer creaks as I open it and rattles as it slams behind me. It was a gift from the United States of America, but everywhere there are parts stamped with MADE IN CHINA. The aluminum sides are so thin they pop in and out depending on which way the wind is blowing.
There’s not much room beyond the space for the bunk beds at the back and a small kitchenette, but Mom’s figured out a way to hook up a fist-sized TV on the fold-down table where we’re supposed to eat. No one’s got the cash or time to create anything new anymore, so it’s either news or reruns all the time. Right now, it looks like an episode of Wheel of Fortune from the 1990s. Sometimes I think I like the days we have no power better, because that’s the only thing that breaks her out of her trance long enough for her to remember to eat and wash her hair.
She doesn’t even look up as I come in—but I see it right away. She’s taken my original draft notice and taped it back up on the small fridge. I keep ripping it and she keeps taping it, and I keep explaining and she keeps ignoring me.
“The PSF recruiters were by again,” she says, not breaking her gaze on the TV. “I told them about your problem and they said you should come in and be double-checked. You know, just to be sure.”
I close my eyes and count to twenty, then stop when I remember that’s what Dad used to do. Mom’s brittle blond hair looks like it hasn’t been brushed in weeks, and she’s wearing a pale pink robe over a Mickey Mouse shirt and jeans. Otherwise known as what she slept in last night and the night before. I open the fridge just to be sure I’m right—and there it is. The endless, gaping nothing. We ate the last can of soup last night for dinner, so if she didn’t go out to get her boxed rations this morning—
“Why do you smell like smoke?” she asks suddenly. “You been at the bar? Your daddy’s old bar?”