I like flash fiction. I’ve written a fair bit, although haven’t ever tried to publish any. Chuck Wendig, a science fiction writer who’s blog I read, has a flash fiction challenge, and it seemed the right time. So here is my humble entry (the text in bold are two of the random sentences given.)
Day of Remembrance
We’d gotten all the food we needed from the market, and the preparations had begun in all seriousness. My wife and husband were off to the main center, picking up this Day’s stranger. I’d put the sweet potatoes in the oven, and I looked forward to the pie-making process later in the afternoon. Mannie was outside, shelling peas, and his twin brother, Jel, was outside with him, shucking the first corn of the season.
The sun was still high in the sky, yellow and bright, with high clouds scudding across the blue expanse. It reminded me of that fateful afternoon, when the body of my first love, Jayla, was returned to Sixty-four. Jayla was one of the last scouts to the Forbidden States. She’d been shot, recognized as one of us, even though she’d tried hard to pretend. The States were where men still ruled by watching everyone, and taking everything they earned. The scouts stopped scouting when they learned that those in the States were no real danger to us anymore. They would die of their own accord. There were fewer and fewer born there each year, and our population was stable, by design.
I shook my head, remembering I was supposed to be kneading one of the four loaves of bread I’d bake this day. Mari, our youngest, and last, came inside holding the first bowl of peas. The last Remembrance Day, she was just a toddler who couldn’t talk yet. Now she was nine. This one was really her first, and I hadn’t had a chance to explain it yet.
“Mama, here are the peas. Mannie says he’s taking a break. I can take over!”
“Taking a break, is he?”
“Petu just came by.”
“Ah, I see. Alright. Bring the peas inside, and shell them while I knead the bread, alright?”
Mari put the bowl of shelled peas on the table, went outside, and returned with the large bowl of peas still in their pods, and the cloth bag now holding the empty pods. She sat down, and started to shell. I continued kneading the rye bread.
“So Mama, why all the fuss today?”
I took a breath. It was going to be a lot to explain.
“Today is a Remembrance, Mani. We Remember what we lost, and we Remember how we survived.”
“But we seem to be the only ones around putting up such a fuss. Petu’s family isn’t doing a big dinner today.”
“Each family decides when they want to do the Remembrance. We chose to do it the day we all got married.”
“Oh! The day you and Mami and Da got married?”
“Why that day?”
“It doesn’t matter which day you pick, dear. Everyone just picks a day. And once every 7 years, that day is special – Remembrance Day. We make a lot of extra special food. The stranger officiates the meal, Reminding us to welcome people we don’t know. Someone from Sixty-four comes asking for bread, which we give them.”
“Why Sixty-four? Why not Fifty-five, or Thirty-one?”
“This is our home. That’s the Reminder to take care of our friends in need.”
“But why do we have to Remember, Mama?”
“Because if we forget, we’ll end up like the people in the Forbidden States. That life was almost the end of the Earth, until our ancestors decided to break away, and live differently.”
“Oh. But what was wrong with it?”
“It’s hard to explain it all, little one. They had things you can’t really understand now. I don’t even understand all of it, and I study it. But, for example, if I wanted to talk with Mami or Da, for instance, I could instantaneously talk with them.”
“That’s weird. But what could be wrong with that?”
“There isn’t anything really wrong with that, but it was all that came with it.”
“Do people sometimes want that back?”
“Of course. Wouldn’t you love it if you could talk with Mami or Da right now?”
“But that’s what Remembrance Day is for. We have to remember why we don’t have those things, and why we live the way we do. That’s the purpose.”
Mani looked unconvinced. Most children were, until their mandatory field trip to the almost deserted city of San Francisco, just after they left home at 14 to enter the youth corps. That would be in two years for the twins.
Mani and I worked side by side in companionable silence for a while, and Jel came in with the shucked corn. I gave both of them varied tasks, and before I knew it, Jae and David were back, accompanied by a woman I’d never met – the stranger. We welcomed her, and I offered her the ceremonial wine, made just two years ago for this exact occasion. Jon Brae from the west side of Sixty-four came around asking for bread, and I gave him the biggest loaf I’d baked. He thanked me with a sweet bow. I knew he would share it ceremoniously with his family. No one really is needy here, but it’s important to Remember.
After the sumptuous dinner, David put the children to bed, and the four adults sat around, drinking more wine, talking about Remembering. Jae had been a stranger for a family in Twenty-one once. Not everyone got this honor, not everyone wanted it, as pleasant as it might be. For some, like me, even though it has been more than a hundred years, the memory is too fresh.