By Elizabeth Markley
I wake early. The room is warm, and a film of perspiration already coats my lower back. But this is not unusual. The room is always warm. I look to the open window, where an ancient, analog thermometer is clipped to the sill. I can just make out the red line in the dim morning light. Seventy-nine degrees. Actually, not bad for late October. Even in the fall the temperature in our room routinely reaches one hundred degrees. I try not to think of the heat as an enemy. If you think of it that way, if you try to fight it, you’ll go crazy. It’s the same as when a new employee cuts themselves in the grow house. Our pruning shears are deceptively sharp and easily wedged into unsuspecting flesh. This happens every time we get a new person, and I always tell them the same thing. The trick is to accept the pain. You must let it in, welcome it as a friend, and then it won’t be a foreign attacker. The heat must be dealt with in the same way.
Grace is sleeping soundly beside me, covered in a threadbare sheet. She sleeps beneath the sheet every night, even when the room is sweltering. I can’t sleep uncovered, she said to me once. Then I can never leave the real world. Grace has no reason to be nervous, and therefore no reason to wake early. I have no reason to be nervous, I tell myself. I don’t know why I’m getting worked up. All I have to do is go to the government building and, on my own free will, answer a simple question. Every citizen is required to make the decision of course, but that’s the end of the line for the government. Once you’re sitting in the chair, it’s not like someone is holding a gun to your head.
I rise quietly so as not to wake Grace, and walk into the tiny kitchen. That’s all our apartment is – a bedroom, a kitchen, and a miniscule bathroom. The whole place is about three hundred square feet, if I had to guess. But we don’t need any more space, and absolutely no one lives large anymore. Well, no one except The Honorables. They live in mansions outside the city, in palaces with pools, and tennis courts, and orange groves. But they made a deal with the devil to get those things, and however luscious those oranges may be, they would taste like poison to me.
I make my way through the empty city streets until I reach the government complex. The complex is enclosed by a high steel gate, though the gate is not meant for protection or intimidation. The things really worth stealing - the food stores, the potable water, the solar panels – are held outside of the city, fiercely guarded by the police. The gate here is just for organization; an object of demarcation for citizens who no longer have maps or GPS to guide them. At the center of the complex is the old capitol building. The gold dome appears dull now, but in the bright light of midday it shimmers like a mirage. The building is left over from The Time Before. That’s what we call the years before everything went to hell. The capitol used to be the beating heart of Atlanta, the seat of the state government, where the governor ruled over his rich, productive, diverse state. This was, of course, before Savannah was swallowed by the sea. Before the farms dried up and the famous peach trees shriveled into skeletons. There is still a state of Georgia, and there is in fact still a governor, at least in name. But everything real is