Welcome to Janet's Blog

I first used this blog to publish "Trash" before I knew about ebooks. I wrote "Trash" twenty years ago. The novel explains why, in the original version of "If not for the tomatoes" Annie wrote: "We had aliens come and tell us". It wasn't Al Gore at all.

Annie isn't the hero of "Trash", but she has her own story ( a much more polished novel). Go to smashwords.com and look for "Tipping Point". (Follow the link to the right.)

If you're a first time visitor to my blog, try reading "If not for the tomatoes" first. (It's the short story in Annie's future - look in 6/5/07) This is only half the story, though. The complete story that inspired Tipping Point appears in my other blog as "Our choices".

To begin reading "Trash", start at 17/6/07. (Many apologies for the poor navigation.)


Monday, 7 May 2007

"If not for the tomatoes"

Among the greatest challenges/threats that we face at present is global warming. Like war and the nuclear “deterrent”, the best way to tackle the problem requires support from the people and from the government. In a democratic country the two should go hand-in-hand.

We already know what has to be done. We have the technology! And it continues to improve. We must cut emissions, live sustainably, get serious about slowing down and reversing population growth so that the task will not be so arduous for our children’s children. It will mean hard work, and for those of us leading the Western lifestyle, changes that may feel like sacrifice.

How will the future regard us, dragging our feet because saving the world is inconvenient?

The future is uncertain – no-one can accurately predict what will happen in one hundred years. What if, for example, in a world that was already struggling to reverse environmental damage and re-establish plundered forests, there was an ecological disaster which wiped out the algae in our oceans that provide the world with 60 to 70 % of its oxygen?

If not for the tomatoes, Annie would not have noticed. Now, unwanted, adrenaline kicked in. She did not want to have to breathe – the air in the tunnels was too close. She tried to take a deep, calming breath, ignoring the constricting tube around her. Could she be wrong?

Their conversation the other day was clear in her memory. “How did you learn to swim, Annie?” Holly knew how much she loved the beach.

“They gave us lessons in public pools. But eventually they had to close the pools. There was still the beach, though. If you were careful.”

Peter ignored her moment of melancholy. “What did people do if they didn’t know how to swim? Could they still go in the water?” Such a harmless question.

She had talked of fun on lilos and rubber tubes in muddy rivers. And the gastro afterwards. “You could use anything that would float.” Life preservers, chunks of wood. And then they had dragged out of her the basics – how to float, treading water, survival stroke – the easy bits. She cursed. Why else would someone have taken the bubble insulation from the hydroponics storage locker? Stupid children!

She heard them as soon as she opened the hatch. Peter was panicking, calling out and splashing. On the inspection deck, Holly was holding a long-handled scrubber out to him. Annie quickly stripped to her underwear. “Peter!” she called. “Lie on your back and stop struggling! Take a breath of air. You’ll be safe! I’ll get you out!”

She eased herself into the water as Peter fought for control of himself. He tried to lay back, but could not let any of his head relax back into the water. He was too afraid and the sheets of plastic bubbles tangled his limbs as he thrashed again in fear.

Annie took the long pole from Holly, able to just reach Peter from her lower perch. He clutched at the pole, almost dragging it from her. With something to hold he calmed a little.

“Now please lie back and float, Peter. It’s all right to put the back of your head into the water. You have to. You will be safe. Just hold the pole in front of you.” Gently Annie drew him towards the ladder that supported her. He did not need to be told to grip the rungs. He stayed there, breathing properly again, while Annie untangled the insulation sheets from around him.

“I am too old for this. “When I’m Sixty-Four” does not mention rescuing teenagers who want to drown themselves.” She sat on the decking with Holly and Peter until the shaking began to subside. “Well,” she finally said. “I guess we’d better go tell every-one you’ve been swimming in the back-up water supply.”

“What a bloody stupid thing to do!”

“Thanks for stating the obvious, Bruce.” Annie faced him, Holly behind her, comforting Peter, shivering in a blanket. “The kids should go home. We’ll find Zeke and decide on the proper consequences.”

“Consequences!” Rage and frustration moulded his face. “We all suffer for their consequences. What if the water is contaminated?”

“Bruce! We’ll talk about this when the kids have gone. We’re the council executive, once we find Zeke . . . “

“Ah! What’s the bloody difference. Consequences don’t matter any more!” He rose from his chair, pleading. “They should be told.”

“No, Bruce. Not now. We need a calm decision. Just wait until we can talk.” The teenagers’ parents arrived, stalling the conversation. Bruce turned to face the wall while Jacinta fussed over Holly, and Peter was whisked away by Tran and Sahara.

“Thanks Annie.” Holly stepped forward to hug Annie. “I don’t think I could have rescued Peter. Thank-you.”

“I’m glad I got there soon enough. You rest. We’ll talk tomorrow.”

“You have to get this in perspective,” Annie began to explain to Bruce, as she shut the hatch and turned to face him. Head in hands, he had slumped over the desk.

“It’s too much. I just don’t think I can keep doing this.”

“This isn’t so bad, Bruce. Peter is safe. We can filter the water. We have to decide on some sort of consequences. Put him in charge of water purity . . . permanently . . .”

“It’s not that. It’s the lie. Constantly. Lying. They should be told.”

“We’ve had this conversation before, Bruce. You agreed with Zeke and I. The few others who know, or have realised, all agree. Bruce,” her voice pleaded gently, “there has to be hope.”

“But there isn’t.”

There was no answer to him. Annie knew he was right. Should they live to her age, Peter or Holly might die with no-one to mourn them. Adam and Eve in reverse. “Maybe,” she replied, “but that’s not the point. Do you want those children to have to suffer the knowledge of their own doomed futures the way you do – the way we all do.”

Annie sat in the comfy chair by the filing cabinet. Exhaustion overtook her as the adrenaline wore off. “It’s been a long day, Bruce. Maybe we should talk about this in the morning.”

There was a sharp rap at the hatch, which opened and Zeke joined them. “Well,” he said. “I’ve brought potato peel vodka and the last of my real coffee beans. Which is it to be?”

Sleep would not heal Annie this night. She wrapped a blanket about herself and began writing in her journal.

I want to wake up in the morning, when light is oozing into the world. Birds are piping and chattering their morning gossip, welcoming a new day. Maybe it is still possible. There always has to be hope.

If it hadn’t been for those tomatoes giving me such trouble, Peter might have drowned. I don’t even like these tomatoes. I remember tomatoes, tiny ones, picked sweet and juicy under open skies. I remember the smell of earth in the air. I remember the ocean, beaches . . . such beautiful places.

I want to wake in the morning, light oozing into the world, and hear birds piping and chattering their morning gossip. It’s the birds I miss the most. Some of the children don’t even remember birds.

I sometimes feel as though memory cripples us. Knowing how things should be, could be, makes us rebel against this . . .

Is this all there is?

The feeling is so strong – is it despair? A tired sense of hopelessness defeats me. There will never be more than this. I never expected to be a grandmother, but I’ve worked with other people’s children, laughed with them, taught them, cherished them. I thought there would always be children. But they cannot survive in our survival pod. They die. And are no longer conceived.

Sometimes I feel guilt for my own emotions. In the midst of global disaster I have the temerity to feel sorry for myself. “I want to go for a walk in a forest,” I whine. “I miss the birds.” My grief for what I have lost seems self-indulgent. I must be cheerful for my remaining charges. Maintain the lie of hope. Yet I can’t protect myself from despair. I go through the motions . . . believing it to be futile. All the while afraid that if I allow my students to see my pain I will have betrayed them.

Every-one deserves to have hope. But what about me? I am right to despair. But I am wrong. Should I just sit in a corner and weep?

Is this all there is? I want more.

Annie knew there was hope. Of a vague general sort. There was word of hopeful signs for the environment. A team had managed to establish a viable colony of zooplankton (cultured from specimens that survived in a laboratory) in the Atlantic waters. If they continued to survive . . .

“There’s the rub,” thought Annie vaguely, rubbing her hand, strained by heroics. Eventually it would work. Normal oxygen levels would gradually build up. But it would take time. Thirty years or more. There were survival shelters, arks where plants and animals were treasured and guarded, in the hope that one day they would return to live unaided on the surface of their home.

But there were problems with breeding for some of the species . . .

It wasn’t just that she was too old to hope to see the saving of the world. It was the children. The few remaining teenagers, those who’d survived the “danger phase”, were possibly the last generation of mankind. “This is the way the world goes, this is the way the world goes,” Annie muttered to herself. “Not with a bang but a whimper.”

The shelter she lived in was a good one. It was large enough to house a “viable breeding population”. Annie hated the language they used in the manuals – so clinical, so wrong. The system was sustainable; and now there were less of them, their safety was not in doubt. This shelter had been set up to observe conditions on the east coast of Australia in an area where people no longer survived in great numbers. Drought and bushfires had driven them away, or killed them.

And when the air turned bad, the isolation of the observation shelter had protected them from the horror. Annie could remember the tales of shelters surrounded by mobs, trying to break in. Sometimes succeeding. Or shelters that took in too many people, and perished.

“But can we survive?” Annie looked at the walls around her. Precious momentos, photos, pictures, treasured objects covered them. It was still a prison underneath the trimmings. She could not leave – she could not survive outside the shelter. None of them could. They were too far from any other survivors for rescue.

Annie, her ear often to the “Net”, was certain there were shelters, colonies where children were being born and surviving. But here, where she was, there was no-one under the age of fourteen. And other shelters, mourning in their words, sent messages describing the sterility of their population.

“How could they let this happen!” Annie cried, focussing her anger on people she could never reach. The people of the early twenty-first century, one hundred years ago, when they could have saved the world.

Why didn’t they . . . we . . . just stop. But we didn’t. We kept living like there was no tomorrow, blaming our democratic bad decisions. (What was the name of that fool who was U.S. President at the time?)

We had Al Gore come and tell us to get our act together. We had the technology, for Christ’s sake!

And there's another thing. God.

How could an all-powerful being allow this to happen – allow us to do this? I don’t want to believe there is a God. Unfortunately I can't believe there isn't one either. It's distressing. I'm left in a frenzy of doubt, aware of the mess in the world, wanting to shout into the storm, my arms raised to the heavens in battered supplication. "Just what the **** do you think you're doing!" I rage, facing the windswept landscape, devoid of deity.

The Judeao-Christian God made us as gods, in control of our own destiny. If there is such a Being, their shoulders are bowed with grief for what we have done to this Paradise that was created for us with such savage tenderness.

And when I look beyond the Complex, at the burning wasteland outside this prison refuge, sometimes I think there is no tomorrow. At least – not here.

Annie was always telling her students that the good thing about life is that you get fresh mornings to start again. This morning, Annie looked at the photo of a wide blue beach that was above her desk. She knew she would never walk there again and pushed her tears back into her soul – maybe there would be time for tears later.

This morning, after breakfast, they would tell the whole community that, for any-one who lived here, there could be no fresh start. Their home would be their tomb. There would be no chance of escape.

There was no hope.


punchbuggy said...

When is your novel coming out Janet? What a fantastically depressing story! I hope you are more optimistic about the future than Annie. Not long now, until the election.

roar_a_dragon said...

This is very nice Janet.

sue said...

Wow, Janet. Taut and convincing. Perhaps you could flip forward and give us another glimpse. I wonder how it seems to the kids. Do they ever get to taste the tomatoes? Or smell the flowers? [Remember that old hippy poster we used to have in the loungeroom at Kingsbury?]