Flumes Vol. 5: Issue 1, Summer 2020 - Page 61

done as other countries did with their old. Now, I’m not sure what that was exactly, but most of them disappeared very quickly.

But we can’t do that. We’re still hanging on to civilization. Don’t get me wrong, we had our fair share of dying. In the bloody decade especially, the ten years after the collapse started, that was the worst of it. Wildfires raging down the dry spine of California, hurricanes battering the Eastern seaboard. But there was nowhere to escape to. The news from overseas was atrocious - tales of famine and chaos, until we stopped getting news altogether. For a little while it seemed like we would follow suit, but then the military stepped in.

There is no civil war or anarchy here, and in fact, it’s the opposite. The government runs everything now – food, water, housing, healthcare. And the government is the reason The Honorables exist. They implemented the program years ago, for a very simple reason. There were just too many people. Too many mouths to feed, too many greedy lungs sucking up the oxygen. Better to pay for people for one year, the government reasoned, rather than the next fifty. They won’t release official statistics so no one knows how many Honorables live in the city. And who is to say how many there are across the country. But one thing is certain. The policy is working, and the population is dwindling. In fact, some might say we’re dying off in droves.

Even I, a hardened opponent of the program, must admit there are certain desirable aspects to it. For starters, an Honorable doesn’t have to work. No backbreaking labor for them, no hernias from picking tomatoes ten hours a day. Like most civilians I work in a grow house, tending to the city’s vertical gardens. They’re the only things that saved us, these vast hydroponic farms. Every once in a while, if I am feeling particularly tired or bored, I find a quiet corner and close my eyes. With the warm air and the profuse greenery, I imagine myself lounging in The Hanging Gardens of Babylon. I become nothing except a Babylonian prince, lost in his pleasure garden. It’s easier to fancy myself in an ancient context. I can’t bear to imagine some lush landscape of recent memory. The hanging gardens were something that was already lost. Something that may not have existed at all. Something that was not stolen from us.

The woman clears her throat, snapping me from my reverie. She has finished the required dictation and hands me her paper. I glance over the page, but I don’t see any place to mark my selection. The woman does not say anything else, and turns on her heel.

“Wait,” I say, “when can I make my decision?”

“You have to speak with a program representative first,” she replies.

“We can skip that. I’m ready.”

But the woman is well trained. As she is leaving she just says, “Sorry, policy.”