A short sketch I wrote years ago, I believe in college.
Fatima and Jerod were married in a small chapel called the Canticle of Light. Fatima’s family — her mother, two sisters, and brother — attended and dabbed at their eyes in the pews. Jerod had no family he cared to invite. The pastor was a tall thin white man with white hair and a friendly smile. They were the sixth couple he had married that Friday. He had performed marriage ceremonies for thirty odd years and he was tired of it. He smiled still.
Fatima’s mother cooked them dinner in her house, which was a tiny spartan flat on the twenty-sixth floor of the Newsom rise. She was still wide-eyed at the prospect of Fatima’s marriage. Jerod would take her to live in a house out in the country while he worked on a share-farm. It was the sort of thing she had dreamed about all her life.
Here, in Sachang, there was no space. The Newsom was where the poor were born poor and died poor or floated here from some other rise to meet the same fate. The community floors were always lousy with people. Most worked to support their ragged destitution, shuffling like graveborn husks from one place to another. It felt at times as though you couldn’t take a breath without stealing it from your neighbor. The crowding wasn’t much better in the other rises. Just a bit cleaner.
Fatima’s mother remembered their younger days when Jerod would moon over her daughter. Fatima was very beautiful. Raven hair still worn long despite changing trends. Smooth skin of dark olive. A full-lipped smile that always brought joy into Jerod’s heart. In those days she had dated the stronger boys, the athletes. They thought they would be drafted into one of the hexball leagues. How could all of them be drafted? And of course none of them were. Fatima and her mother tittered and Jerod’s cheeks burned.
But of course Jerod was a smart boy. Fatima’s mother had always said he was smart. She had always told Fatima to be nice to Jerod. Now Fatima joined Jerod in embarassment. Jerod had saved up for the thing that Fatima really wanted: open space. Freedom. And now they were happy and ready to start a life together.
Jerod smiled and reached across the table and Fatima gave him her hand. He squeezed it and smiled at her.
You must call me to visit, Fatima’s mother said. I’ve always wanted to see the country but could never find the money.
It’s hard to get the money these days, Jerod said. Things are hard all over.
But we’ll survive, Fatima said.
Of course. And thrive. The country will be wonderful.
When they were younger, they had gone to the roof of the Newsom house and looked out. Everyone did it. To see the soft green expanse, the purity of the world outside the city Sachang. A world they might observe in vids or read about but never be a part of. The promised land, where four years of honest work would bring a comfortable fortune. They had gone up separately in those days. Now they would see that dream together.
Two days passed while they packed for the trip. Neither had much to take with them.
A skycar met them on platform G-North. The bearded man that met them called himself Dalton. He was shorter than Jerod but broader, more solid. Dalton sized Jerod up and was unconvinced, but he was not being paid to judge Jerod’s fitness for work. They got in the car and soon were streaking through the sky over Sachang and out to the south, toward distant mountains blue-brown against the Earth-like sky.
Fatima stared below her as they crossed the vast countryside. Lush green crop fields were arranged in orderly rectangles below them. Here and there were groups of houses, mostly smallish, each suitable for three or four at most. These were separated from the others by many miles. There were also many buildings that must have been used for farmwork, some grouped, some separate. Her eyes grew large when she saw a very long building with a rich red roof. She called Jerod over and he said it must be a patron’s house. A great landowner. Fatima felt as if she were in a day drama.
There were some low grassy patches against the long fields of crops. Portions of these fields were fenced off and she saw big fat four-legged animals and sleeker four-legs and puffy ones and more. There were men tending to them, and dogs near the men. Fatima asked what the animals were.
Cow. Horse. Sheep, Jerod said.
You’re looking at a pad aren’t you?
How else would I know?
The skycar landed on a square of drab gray endurite at the edge of a group of five houses. The houses sat on a parcel of brown dirt. Each was of the same sort: whitish walls of composite, a brown roof of one enviroplast slat sloping forward over the front. Dalton pointed out his house then led them to their own. Fatima frowned at the houses. Jerod patted her arm.
Their house had been lived in before. Two of the chairs in the living room had broken legs. Dalton did not offer to have them fixed. Against one wall was an inter-cook unit, tall white complast appliance with range, oven, and nuker. Dalton informed them they would have to use matches for the range and the nuker was shoddy. They had a bedroom and a cramped bathroom with a shower. Their bed sagged in the middle.
Dalton was the facilitator for this living group. Every second Monday, they would get their req list to him. The next day, he would take the skycar to Sachang and buy supplies for two weeks. There was only one skycar for the group and Dalton had the run of it. Any issues, come to Dalton. If they were a problem, he would find them. At that he left.
This was not what Fatima had expected in the country, but now she chided herself. What was she supposed to expect? A life of unearned luxury? Foolishness, foolishness.
Up until Jerod her life had been a litany of missteps. She had been the same as the others in the Newsom: destitute, aimless, destined for the same poverty she was born in. Perhaps real sorrow at the way her life unfolded had been burned out of her because there were no tears now. She sat on a leaning chair and stared.
Jerod threw himself into unpacking. After some time, she came to herself and joined him. He told her it would be alright. Just let him start making some money. They would fix this place up. They would be happy here. Fatima smiled and imagined it. For him.
In the morning, Fatima stood on the doorstep while Jerod joined the group of men milling around outside. They were all dark, by birth or from the hot sun. She shaded her eyes as the pale sun rose.
Two of the men were looking at her. They wouldn’t stop. Fatima glared at them. Jerod caught on eventually and put a stop to it. She smiled, small and private.
Jerod returned. Planting would begin soon according to the other men. Three days, Wednesday, and then he’d be gone working the fields of Ignatio Oudeen. Only one day to figure out what they’d need. What she would need.
Tuesday brought them two cases of paloaf. Each red tin contained a brick of pink marbled meat whose origin was not animal but experimental. In Fatima’s narrow room in the Newsom she had the same. Paloaf could be cooked to a blend of flavors with the inter-cook, tangy chicken had been her favorite, but it always tasted like gristle besides. She’d eaten few meals that didn’t include it. Very few.
They also got a catalog for stores from the city.
That night they drew the curtains low and had sex. Fatima could tell that he was sorry. Sorry he was leaving for so long. Sorry he couldn’t stay with her. And she was sorry also, not just for them but for herself. They had come so far to be together in happiness but it meant this. This place. This distance. So they enjoyed each other because they fought for this and because they would be apart for some time and because they were tired of being low so they lifted each other up.