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Coming of Age Contemporary Speculative

Note: the title of this piece paraphrases the title of a record by the singer Morrissey. This is not an endorsement of his recent political statements or thoughts; I just liked the title.

She was standing at the dais when she thought about the Sunday when everything changed. With her mortarboard on and her most recent speech finished, Jessica looked back at everything that changed around her. The governments that hated each other announced that they would no longer be “pursuing interests in detriment to our citizens” (that was verbatim; she could not forget it if she tried). Weapons would be broken down; armies would be recalled. Peace would be established around the world. And it was all her fault.

When she made it to the microphone, she took out her speech and looked carefully at the notes she made for the day. Valedictorian, class president, highest grade point average for the final year of school, etc. All of that was in the back of her head and out of her speech.

And no one believed her.

To be honest, she did not believe it herself.

It was quite simple, actually. All she had to do was find a way to communicate with all of those different nations that she kept hearing about on the news (easiest way to get this started) and send them one simple message.

One simple message…

And no one thought it was her.

“My fellow students…”

It was hard for her to stick to the words on the page. Her mother and father, seated right at the front, had the camera out that she taught them to use. Her brother, not in her year (a small mercy) was with them and shaking his head as he saw how they held up their equipment. Her favourite teachers, right behind her, were expecting something remarkable (they had always told her that her future would be “bright and full of possibilities” – did they all work from the same script?).

It was hard to keep to the script.

So, why bother?

“I made this happen.”

She could see some of the mortarboards and tassels move from side to side as she finished her speech. She made what happen? No one really focused on her last line, after she thanked the staff, her fellow students and said how happy she was to have finally made it “to the end of this interesting path in life” (now, she would have be careful with her words). Her family did not even notice how she ended that talk. Her best friends were confused, but did not push her on it as they waited to throw their mortarboards in the air. They just did not hear it.

But she knew it.

Now, what to do about it?

*

Several years passed. People adjusted well to the new peace. Countries that once hated each other formed treaties and agreements on trade, travel, the return of prisoners of war, sports events, festivals, and so forth. Travel companies were deeply happy about the new situation. The demand to travel was one that Jessica thought the most about. She would often dream about travelling to some of those nations, consider the danger involved, and then give up on another dream. That would have to wait for grad school, but she could get her passport and whatever visas were still necessary (would there still be a demand for them if there was so much goodwill and trust?). In her final year of studies, they did remove most of the problems that travelers had with visas. Some borders were so open that even Doctors Without Borders considered changing their name (she was sure that the group would fold before she received her medical degree). Jessica travelled to regions where the signs of war were still evident, but there was no threat (she even received credit for this; her applications noted the five different hot zones that she toured in one year). Things had changed, for everyone.

*

It was not until her second year on rotation at a newly-built hospital in her hometown that Jessica began to read about some of the problems people were having with what everyone called “The New Normal”. Old conflicts did not return, but new ones began to rise. One of them Jessica found very odd. People could not decide how to apologize enough for past sins. You could change the way people behaved when they were violent. What can you do with them when they were peaceful?

Many governments, partially responsible for the lack of tact in this area, encouraged their citizens to just reflect on how wonderful the world was now and enjoy it. Instead, there was a lot of talk about guilt, regret, pity, empathy, sympathy and pain when the people began to wonder why it took them so long to find this peace.

Libraries and bookstores began to report that people were no longer checking out or buying books about history. A patron was interviewed at a local library and admitted that she felt sick when she found herself reading about past wars and conflicts over religion, race, gender and land. “What kind of people were we that we had to have that kind of past for this kind of present?” Jessica found the line very compelling; others found it too succinct and on-the-nose to deny.

There were less moviegoers (films were now either too violent or too honest about their past), people stopped listening to certain types of music (no one wanted to live vicariously through the words of anyone discussing killing, dying in battle or fighting the police), and hospitals where gun violence was once prevalent now found their waiting rooms filled with the occasional car accident or parents concerned over not-too-sick children. Jessica noted the number of diseases that were no longer a problem with the peace. Was there a correlation?

And then she made up her mind to do something about the change.

One day, she was bandaging a woman who had slipped and fallen at a supermarket. The patient began to talk about her injury.

“I cannot believe how silly I am. Would never have done that ten years ago.”

“Ma’am, it’s all right. You just did not see the sign.”

“Oh, I did.” She winked at Jessica from the gurney. “I just thought that I would not make a fuss about it.”

Make a fuss…

And then Jessica knew what she had to do.

*

Communication… It was not hard to go back and do what she did previously. Jessica had just finished a very light shift of work and was in her car when the plan began to grow in her thoughts. If she could speak to everyone then, why couldn’t she speak to them now?

So, she made a fuss.

And that fuss brought back everything people thought they had abandoned. Old conflicts returned and grew; weapons were developed; armies recalled. The laws on borders and visas became as strict as ever – she had already taken a tour of several former “difficult spots” (another news term she could not forget), so she did not mind – and the world returned to what it once was. Her night shifts would be quite busy.

She never took any credit for what they all secretly wanted.

And no one ever learned what it was that she said.

September 17, 2021 23:00

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