A tale of gender in a conservative dystopia from Asteroid: A Collection of Ten Stories
After a while in prison, she began to resemble her old self. Pale skin, dark eyes edged with long lashes, and thick, dark hair, strands coming onto her shoulders. Tiny claw marks in her skin from acne. They'd stripped her of the affectations, the things that had set my parents tight-lipped and concerned at first and then screaming, apoplectic in fear: the shirts, the ties and blazers, the men's caps and hats. She was dressed in a loose shift and the cell was cold. Her nails were long and misshapen. I had brought her food.
"Thanks, Lei," she said. Her voice had always been deep. She would use that as an argument in her favour with our parents.
"Mum specially got meat," I said. She knew Naima didn't want to eat meat anymore, but she worried about her iron levels.
"Nothing's happened to them since the training?"
"No. It was only a week or something," I say. I don't say anything about neighbours muting their greetings in the morning, and keeping eyes downcast at dusk when we pass. I don't say anything about how suddenly Dad is last in the allocation of petrol rations, and how sometimes he can't get a lift to work and Mum's friends don't come round to bake or sew or sort anymore either.
At least my friends are kind to me. Even if their parents are afraid.
"What will happen now?" I ask. I know the answer.
"Either I renounce or I don't," says Naima.
I want her to eat, so I don't argue.
I am only fifteen, and I already know that there are many reasons to not want to be a woman. Some parents let their daughters pass for as long as possible, until puberty at least, and even beyond, if they can. Other parents begin the circling in of girls, the reeling them in like fish in nets, long before that point. In time to subdue their spirits and acclimatise them to the restrictions. Naima told me that.
I think my parents were kind of halfway between. I am a son, and so both my parents wholeheartedly wanted to teach me how to navigate the nooks and hurdles of the world my father ventures into each day. The actions, the expectations. And it is dangerous. Naima doesn't seem to know. Sure, she would accompany him to places before, but less and less as she grew older, and when she stayed behind, it was most often at my mother's behest, not my father's. Mum was afraid. The private property laws, she would say, her jaw clenched, when my father said yes to dropping Naima off at a friend's house. Anyway, one day, when she was the age I am today, Naima said she was no longer Naima. She said she was a boy and that's who she - he - is.
It's more than the private property laws. I mean, we all know of rapes that happen, despite the reprisals, the organised rings of armed men, of fathers. I can understand, I can see it. Others are not as bright as me. Naima is, though. She told me about it and said I was bright. Like a flame or a bright, bright bird from the Amazon forests, she said. What's left of them, birds and forests.
The city state is crumbling, and our father travels to the next city along to work. Both cities are in the same county state, the ultimate power to repeal or entrench laws. Counties expand and shrink, depending on the city state's vote. Some cities allocate enfranchisement for working men only, to avoid excessive change and upheaval. Ours is one of them.
At work, Dad is one of the many men from our neighbourhood who build and repair robots. The level below recycle robots, and they're from the poorest neighbourhoods. Mum, of course, has to stay at home. Most city states keep women at home, although there are a few county states right at the edges of the old country, near where the coast crumbles into the sea, that pay women for their reconstruction efforts. Mostly sweeping, tidying debris, the stuff men won't do, the stuff that's unskilled. Anyway, Dad doesn't earn much, even if he knows robot parts as well as our broken down car and the beams and joists of our house. It didn't help that he had to take seven days for parental training. Both my parents had to attend after Naima was arrested, even though it's not their fault that she decided to dress like a boy and go out pretending to be a boy. She got her hair cut short and pulled strands of it down in front of her ears, she somehow got hold of pills that flattened her breasts and made her grow facial hair, she took chemicals that stopped her bleeding. She became angry when confronted by my father; she tapped into a pool of aggression lying deep within and claimed that it was because she was a man.
I would come home from school to find my mother crying into the pot bubbling on the stove.
Naima is eating the hot food quickly. She is hungry.
"How are they?" she asks, her mouth full.
"They're all right," I say. I don't tell her that they're not. Mum blames herself. But why does she? It's not her fault.
"Lei," Naima had said when it all began. "You know why Mum lets you out but not me anymore?"
"'Cos you're a girl," I mumbled. That was three years ago. I was only twelve.
"Come on, Lei. You know better than that," she had replied.
She then told me about the global wars, and the fall of the nation state. With the emergence of privatised cities, laws were passed to ease policing. After the bill was passed that gave men legal priority in the allocation of jobs, women had to stay at home, enabling the privatisation of schools. Then another bill was passed, declaring the prosecution of a criminal act on private property possible only with the consent of the property owner. And then another stating that no crime apart from murder and robbery could be prosecuted if perpetrated on private property, whether the property owner consented or not. That way taxes could be lowered and the cost of policing minimised and the city state could grow richer and so everyone could concentrate on the reconstruction effort after the war, and on grappling with the changes in the earth's seasons and climate. So counties passed the cities' laws without question and cities upheld the laws of the counties, with the men peopling the court benches and state offices of both often one and the same. Women were beaten back in the protests, even killed, Naima said. Men were encouraged to police their communities themselves, and so men banded together and walked the streets as vigilantes. White men armed with guns, black men in their neighbourhoods armed with baseball bats. It is hard to buy arms unless you work, and work is prioritised for white males. Licensing laws are enforced vigorously for all but them.
So Naima said that the city states effectively legalised rape.
Overnight, the culture of the land broke, fragmented and dissipated, she said, and with it the memory of the world the way it was, and the hope of how it could have been. Naima could be forceful when she wanted to be, and poetic with it. She said freedom was lost to the ideology of the older generation.
And that's how she changed. By studying history, and taking care to learn about the past. We have books at our house, and she read all of them. She would keep her ears open when men visited, even as she helped prepare drinks and food with my mother. Our home is small, and the kitchen opens straight onto the living room, which the front door opens onto, just like all the houses here.
So Mum would quietly explain that only prostitutes went to parties. Only loose girls whose parents didn't care for them went to the houses of friends alone. Only boys went out, seeking amusements along the streets, or to the conventions where men gathered, to discuss the latest developments in the governance of the city states, to learn about the newest techniques in robot technology, to formulate strategies for the change in the summer weather, for the coming of hurricane season, for the changes in riverbeds and sea levels as earth heated up, turning the screw on humans already blackened with the smoke and dirt of their broken civilisation.
Dad would teach both of us things, especially when Naima was young. I mean, before she turned fourteen or fifteen. She is clever, and picked things up with a thirst and agility Dad said was rare even at the robot factory where he worked. So she learned a lot about robots.
Naima talked to me about it all by candlelight, which I wanted to tell her was a girl thing to do, but the electricity was out anyway.
"You just make Mum and Dad upset," I had said to Naima after the end of her potted history of where we are today. I had wanted to tell her that I used to think that I disappointed Dad, and that I used to wonder if he wished she was the boy and I the girl.
"I want to be called Ned now. I don't feel like a girl, Lei. I'm not like Mum or her friends. I was never going to spend my life making soup and baking cakes and sewing. I'm not interested in waiting for a man to get home and doing everything he says. I know I'm not a girl."
I remember how she stretched, how she ended the conversation with a long stretch, just like a stretch our father would do after a sleep, filling the space around her just like he does, limbs and sounds sonorous with the stretch. Even I don't stretch like that.
She went out that night, sneaking out while Dad was on his ride home and Mum was cooking.
And then, one day, she was arrested.
Two days after I delivered Naima her hot meal, one of the fathers whose daughter was arrested with Naima visited our house. It was evening, and Mum had just finished sweeping.
As Dick lumbered over the threshold, Mum bustled back to the kitchen, backing away and then rushing to make herb tea and bring out some of her pallid, sugarless biscuits, baked in her circle of women. She always keeps out of the way of the men. Had she behaved any differently, Dad would have turned his head towards his right shoulder slightly, eyes askance, and she would have left then, quietly.
I was allowed to stay. I will soon be a man.
"Fred," said Dick to Dad.
My dad shook his hand, not smiling.
"Come in, come in. Sit down."
A short, stilted exchange followed about the shipment of grains to the county, the insane expense of exotic fruit like oranges and pineapples. It was as if scarcity still seemed strange to them, as if they had inherited the shellshock that had wrenched tears from the two generations before them.
"Sarah is going to be allowed home, Fred."
Dad slowly nodded. Sarah is younger than Naima. She used to go by the name of Zak. Transition, they called it. She is louder, one of the more rebellious in the group, an only child - after a botched birth, her mother could not have any more children - and so in the assorted group of boys, half-boys, pretend-boys, and girls who were the daughters of street women and prostitutes, Sarah - Zak - was a popular figure. Naima loved the gang she called her band. Band of rebels, she said. They crashed robot conventions, sometimes, the boys in the group sneaking in the girls dressed as boys. They even tried to vote, the pretend-boys, using the names of their brothers or fathers or male friends. They dared attending city state rallies and meetings, and some would raise their hands to speak seriously, even as others heckled and shouted for them to leave.
Their rallying cry was freedom, Naima said. Although I would frown and she would become annoyed when I pointed out that pretending to be men was hardly going to help the women who wanted freedom while staying women. All the same, sometimes I hung out with them. I used to wonder about how none of the boys seemed to mind the girls who pretended to be boys, and Naima laughed. "Ned, call me Ned," she said to me. "They don't mind because we're all young, and we all want to be free."
I remembered her words as Dick fiddled with his thumbs, his legs spread only slightly, his elbows on his lap, avoiding the wooden arms of our bumpy couch. It was draped with an old rug, still furry with thin strands of sheep fur. The fire made the room warm, and Dick's eyes went to the open door of the kitchen. He lowered his voice.
"The county judge says we have to find her a husband. No more school."
Dad looked a little to the left of Dick, past his forehead. Halfway between Dick and the front door. He was trying not to react, but his mouth tightened under his beard. The grey and black hairs kind of gathered, aligned like filaments of iron under a magnet.
"The others?" he asked.
Dick glanced at the kitchen again. He seemed to see from the stillness of my mother's back that she listened. "Fred, I know this must be terrible for you. Nobody else is holding out, Fred."
Mum had hardly come out of the kitchen, holding a tray.
"Another time, Laura. Thanks anyway," said Dick. He stood up.
Dick left offering to procure Dad a space in the car pool to work. It was as if he felt guilty. Dad always sets off for work as dawn breaks; the robots are demanding, he used to laugh when Naima and I complained. Soon I'll be in the factory for young men. We don't own any robots, only parts and circuits and things that no one else wants. The wires that can be given away for free or shared between the men. Mum doesn't need a robot at home; she's there to do all the work. There is an old one in the neighbourhood that cleans the street sometimes, before it's pushed over.
Lately it feels as Mum's avoiding me. I lean by the kitchen door.
"Mum," I say. "Are we going to talk to her?"
Mum tidies when she's worried. From any angle, she has a stillness, as if frozen in a sudden pain. The way she holds herself, it kind of looks as if she has a sharp pain in the ribs the whole time.
"I think maybe we shouldn't," I say. "I mean, you know she can be stubborn -"
Mum's kitchen is so small, but it's as if it's her favourite place in the house. More than the bed she moved away from Dad's in the room they share. More than the bedside cabinet with the tiny oil lamp that she reads by. All her books are back in their place now.
"You want to go and see Sarah, don't you?"
She's my mother, she knows me better than anyone.
"Yes," I say.
That afternoon we set off for Sarah's house.
Sarah's mum has always liked me. It was a relief to get to hers, what with the whispers of the local kids playing on a pile of shorn tyres by the crossroads where the old shop used to be. They didn't jeer, though, which was something. They should be schooled at home until they go to the local robot school at thirteen, but in practice, some mothers can't cope and let their kids roam.
Mum was good at it, though. She taught us a lot, and told us that if we didn't pass the robot school tests, we wouldn't be allowed in, even if Dad could pay the fees. So we learned a lot.
Sarah's mum and my mum have one thing in common: they both had the operation to stop them having babies. And in my mum's case, she just stopped doing things with Dad for that extra precaution.
"Lei, so big and handsome now," said Sarah's mum, not ruffling my hair like she normally would.
Sarah's house is a bit nicer than ours. Her neighbourhood robot is larger and more efficient at clearing detritus than ours, and there are no kids on the streets near hers. Because they only have one child, they can afford a few more things. The chipboard floor of their living room is newer than ours and has a nice rug, all big and patterned. She has some old furniture, from before the war. She was effusive when we appeared at her door. She gave my mum a big hug, and ushered us in.
"Laura, I am so glad to see you," she says.
"Where's Sarah?" I ask.
Sarah's mum swallows. "She was married last night."
Both Mum and I gasp out loud, stunned. We haven't even sat down.
Mum stares at her. She is trying to hold it together, I can see.
And then when I look, I can see that Sarah's mum has red-rimmed eyes. The room is dim just like ours; no windows overlooking the street. Keeps the women safe, Dad told me, once.
I am still standing there when both mothers burst into tears at once.
"Naima," I said. "Listen, Naima. You have to renounce."
"I told you, call me Ned," sighed Naima.
She's pale and leaning against the wall, sat on the swept grey concrete of her cell.
I bite my lip. I've been biting my lip for days now, feels like.
"Sarah - Zak - is married now."
"You think the guards don't tell me all that? They do, with glee."
"I'm sorry, Naima."
"It's Ned. Who is she married to? "
Naima is concentrating on not showing her emotions. She does this by keeping her eyes clamped on me, concentrating on my face as if by staring enough she might see beyond me to the wall.
Chad is a widower. He is nice enough. Early thirties, not as skilled as Dad in robot technology and not as well-off as Sarah's family. His wife died in childbirth, and he gave his baby away to the owner of a robot export business a few county states away. There are rumours that he might try to get the baby back now that he has Sarah to keep house, but he doesn't stand a chance. Even I know that.
"If she agreed to getting married, you know why, " I say, finally.
"I am not a girl and I am not a woman. And I have no intention of getting married, ever."
"What if being a girl and woman was just as free as being a boy? Would you still say you're a boy then?"
"It's nothing to do with that," she says.
I laugh out loud. I can't help it. I am only fifteen and here I am counselling my mother, acting like go-between for my parents and trying to philosophise about gender with my sister.
"You don't have a Y chromosome. You're a girl who wants to be a boy and you never made a very good impression of it either. You looked ridiculous when you tried."
She stands up. I haven't seen her stand in her cell before. I notice how short and thin her shift is, how pale and thin her legs. Normally she stays slumped against the grey of the smooth plastered wall. Prisons are lovingly maintained, and there are lots of them; Dad says the companies who own them get tax breaks and subsidies from the county state.
"Don't you dare talk to me like that," she hisses.
"You don't know how it feels to be male, you just want to be free! You want to be a boy because you don't like the restrictions on women. But instead of fighting for that and trying to change things, you go into a stupid fantasy about how you're a boy instead. Way to go, Naima. Fight the big fight, why don't you. Take care of yourself and no one else. Instead of fighting laws that are only a few decades old, why not take on human biology and evolution instead?"
She stares at me, and her eyes are translucent with anger, the whites as if rinsed in red slime, and hatred is insinuating itself into every pore of her face, a fire lighting a fire.
"Who says a girl can't wear boy clothes and do boy things and not still be a girl? Why does that seem so impossible to you? Isn't that what you should be fighting for?"
"Guard!" she yells.
The guard comes, umpteen cell keys jangling at her hip, and I get shown out.
That night was awful. I had been going out a lot lately, but with the arrests and the tension in the neighbourhood since, lots of sons are being kept in as well as girls. Before all this I would have been pleased at that. I always preferred reading by the fire, but I made efforts to be like the other boys to please Dad. He would sometimes ask if I didn't have any plans for the night when I settled in the battered, low chair opposite Mum's. It was funny, how they would want Naima in and me out.
But we all accepted each other, and there used to be peace in our house. Naima broke that peace when I was twelve, and back then I found it hard to forgive her. I know she tried to make me understand. We were never the liveliest bunch, but we used to smile and laugh at least sometimes. And see other people more. And I think Naima is the reason Mum and Dad aren't happy. Well, Mum definitely keeps her distance from all of us now. As if she shrinks when she thinks about it, physically reducing her size and the space she's in. It's like the atoms in the air around her stick to her, fizzling in distress. She churns it over and over, and I know she blames herself. What was wrong with her as a woman and a mother that her daughter prefers to be a man?
What was it about her that made her daughter want to be anything but like her?
So, I often feel like holding my mum, even if I don't. But tonight, from her expression, I can see it would be better if I stay in.
I'm not much use; I can't bring myself to talk. My parents don't even ask how the prison visit went. They know Naima will never renounce.
This time, Naima is calm. She's still sunk on the floor, using the shift to cover her knees. They won't let us bring blankets.
"Naima - Ned," I say. "We love you whoever you are. We do. Please. But you have to renounce. You don't have to stay married..."
I know that I am lying. It is impossible for a woman to leave a marriage - or surely we would know a woman who had done it. Maybe Mum would have done it had she been able to. I shove that piece of knowledge away, pressing it down until it disappears.
"Lei," says Naima, wearily. "Can't we talk about something else?"
"Why don't you let Mum and Dad see you?"
"I will once -" she stops. She meets my eyes. I can see she feels sorry for me.
"No," I whisper.
Dick comes to our house again. This time with two men we've never seen before. Mum disappears to her bedroom, which opens onto the living room anyway, but the door is shut. I hover by the kitchen, unsure of what to do and where to go.
The men stand. The ceiling is low, and the space where there used to be a light bulb looks like a spiral, etched into the wood. I can see one of the men glancing at it and then at the chipboard floor, with its permanent mud marks. He isn't used to homes like ours.
Dad turns towards me. "Lei," he says.
I go out for the evening.
This time, the prison let me bring Naima a jumper and even a small blanket. The guard examines it carefully, as if looking for a microchip or transistor. What does she think could be embedded in a blanket? The prison cell key?
The circles under Naima's eyes are violet, her skin is almost ivory. She is cheered by the blanket, and somehow, we end up sitting back to back on it in her cell, the way we would sit sometimes when we played games as children.
"I know you don't want to talk about it," I begin.
Naima snorts. "You don't give up!"
"Why don't you want to be a woman?"
"I don't want to be what I'm not," she says.
I go quiet.
"You don't have a penis."
Naima bursts into laughter, and we turn and look at each other.
"Lei," she says, ruffling my hair. "I can't be what I am not."
"But, Naima - Ned - you don't have a choice. You have female bits. You're female. You have the bits to make babies the way women have. You are a woman!"
She stiffens. If I'm not careful, the conversation will turn.
I try again. "If you don't marry, if you don't renounce, they'll try you in the county court, and the men -"
"They won't try me, Lei." She cuts my words loose mid-air. "They won't bother. I know that you're worried. The guards here tell me everything. Some, you know. Some aren't against it -"
I look at her, stunned.
"You know, some of us loved each other, in our group. Some of us pretend-boys, as you used to call us. Some...some boys wanted to be girls, you know. One or two, I mean."
She waits for my surprise. And she laughs. I watch the shadow of the guard falling towards us from around the blank white corner, ready to verify what the noise is about.
I cannot speak. I can understand why a woman might not want to be a woman, but for a man to want to be a woman? That was insanity.
"Some boys like the thought of it," says Naima. Her lips twist, and I can see she's trying not to laugh.
"What, they like being told they can't work or vote or go out or do anything but keep house and have babies? You're kidding, right?"
Naima shrugs, but I can see she is still trying hard not to laugh.
"The human heart is complicated, Lei."
The next evening I come back from the prison, walking from the broad, robot-swept boulevards where it lies to our ramshackle, crowded little neighbourhood. A new robot factory stands white and silvery in the valley beneath, and I am on the hill that was made by men. The hill to save us from flooding.
They built the robot factory in the valley for a reason. It rose literally overnight. Apparently, to pack it away would take all of twelve hours. This is how efficient robots can be.
There will be more work for the men in the neighbourhood. Maybe we'll all become a little bit richer.
Naima once told me that robots were supposed to make all our lives easier. But somehow, the loss of work led to the world we have today. That, and the flooding, and the wars. I sigh. Things never seem to go right.
And I don't want to work in the robot factory. I would like to do something else. To learn more, to write things down more. Some robots read books, I've heard. But if I had to do something useful for the world, I would like to go and work on the rockets that fly into space. I know that very, very far away, across the ocean, there are people who work on rockets still.
I get home. I am about to open the front door when I hear voices. I stand as close to the door as I can without leaning on it. It's so thin it would swing open if I did.
I can hear Dick's voice - I know it is Dick - and he is mumbling. And then I hear someone else.
"Whoever is willing, but she cannot remain unmarried nor can she remain under your roof. The County Court's judgement is quite clear in stating this. It also states clearly that you have failed to teach your child the value of the society we've so painstakingly built here after the war, after everything our forebears - and we - have gone through under such challenging and terrible circumstances."
The voice was calm, not even raised. It enunciated words as if our living room were a courtroom, as if ornate plastered walls were there to amplify each word, and not chipboard and old, cheap furniture and throws.
"The sentence is final," said another voice. "Either your daughter renounces or -"
The words are interrupted by the sound of my mother's sobs. Surprised at the fact of Mum being in the room with the men, I fall against the door, and it swings wide open.
I tried to find the boys who had been in Naima's band of rebels. None of them appeared on the streets anymore. None of their parents allowed me in. Some had been sent away to other city states by the county court, or to do backbreaking work on reconstruction projects where the coast had fallen away. Others had been sent to board at schools far away, parents selling whatever they could to pay the enormous costs.
So many of Naima's band of rebels had been teenagers from backgrounds richer than ours. None of them remained in prison. Some hadn't even gone to prison, and all of them had renounced. All of them had submitted to the penalties exacted by their elders. None of them were fighting biology or anything else. Why was she? Why?
Mum was with me. Naima was sat against the wall, her knees up, the shift mercifully hidden from my mother by the blanket they'd allowed me to bring in.
"Hello, Mum." She didn't get up. She was either too cold or didn't want Mum to see her in her shift or, I don't know.
Mum knelt down and held her. She didn't speak.
Naima put her hands on Mum's arms and got them from around her shoulder blades but kept her hold on them and kept her close so that their faces were almost nose to nose.
"It's getting serious, huh," said Naima softly.
Mum began crying.
Naima held Mum.
When Mum calmed down, she begged Naima the way I had. But this time she begged forgiveness as well, for anything she had ever done wrong, for everything Dad had done wrong, sorry for everything, all of it. Naima asked where Dad was. He couldn't come, Mum said. He just couldn't.
"Please, my darling. My baby girl. My baby," said Mum.
Naima was calm.
"But this is your life here," said Mum.
"I can't take these options, Mum. I can't do it. I am sorry. If this is all they'll let life offer me, I prefer to do without it."
Mum broke down, and I stared at Naima as if I was frozen, wordless, as if the veins I could see under her pale skin had stopped coursing blood and her blood and mine sang in tune, unheard, frozen. Sang together on some lost, remote frequency. I had never seen her before, never known her. She had always been someone else.
"But if you're not here how will you change anything?" I whispered, and their faces were so close, nose to nose, touching, their eyes as close as they had ever been, locked.
Naima thinly smiled. "I like to think I'm important," she said, her eyes locked into Mum's.
And so that was the last time I saw her.
The door opened when I knocked on it, and Chad let me in as if he had been expecting me.
He was quiet and soft-spoken, and Sarah and he held hands on his couch. She cried and cried.
"You should call him Ned," she sobbed. "It was real, Lei. It was real."
She was choked up badly.
The way Naima held out was so unusual, even the sentence of death was improvised by the city state. And then passed into law by cities around, followed by the county state. Other county states followed. Even the coastal states passed laws. The crime of the imitation of an adult male became one of two crimes for which a female could be sentenced to death. That, and murder.
For a long time, my mind was a burr of memory, one after the other. Fights she had with Mum and Dad over her last three years, things she said in prison to me. How one time she got angry, when the drugs had worn off and she was bleeding again.
"This does not make me who I am," she had said. "This is not who I am."
I didn't even know what she meant. I had been embarrassed for her, and myself. The guard ignored me when I yelled. They were used to outraged family members.
But not for crimes such as Naima's.
"Try to forgive him, Lei," sobbed Sarah, her face red, Chad's arm about her shoulders. His place was modest, but they seemed ok. I wondered if they had slept together or if Chad was just glad to have a friend.
So Sarah was back to Sarah and nobody called her Zak anymore but she said Naima should be remembered as Ned. Sarah can go to hell.
Naima was my sister. She used to sit by the fire and work out equations with Dad while Mum and I read, or Mum and I played a board game. Sometimes all four of us would play, or Dad, Naima and I would fiddle with Dad's collection of wires and circuits and Mum would read or sew. We'd all smile, and it didn't matter if there were laws saying Dad could vote but Mum couldn't. We were kids, we didn't know. Everything seemed fine. It was our home.
She had a choice, but she as good as took a hammer to our lives. She smashed us to bits - Dad, Mum, me. And she let them tie her to a stake and riddle her with bullets for it. So I won't forgive her. And she will never be Ned to me.
But something did change. The way the men crept around, the way the streets were cleared of kids, the way the mothers reacted, the way the women acted...and eventually the way Mum straightened her back and Dad would try to hold her eye, hoping...the way kids would jump on buses to go across states to the coasts, the way the factory in the valley near us stayed up for ages, the way it became hard to find men to fill it...something changed all around. Things slowly began to adjust, to gather. And so my sister was right.
She changed everything.