real lj idol | week 26 | 908 words
Me and Jimmy found something yesterday, buried under the ground where the woodpile used to be.
We didn't know what it was. It had knobs and numbers, and looked like there might've been wires inside. We took it to Ma, hoping she'd know what to do.
You hardly ever see stuff like that anymore, not since the Remaking. The government threw all the machines away, and nobody's allowed to make new ones. Some people say gadgets are still okay—simple ones, anyway—but how can you tell what's a gadget and what's a machine? Most of the pictures and drawings are gone, too, along with the books about science and machines and history. People talk sometimes about the way things used to be, but they keep their voices quiet and they don't seem to know much of anything.
I figure they've forgotten, or maybe it's all lies.
Ma wasn't sure what we'd found, so she had to turn it in. She said that was the safest thing to do. I wish she could've told us something about it, but all she said was, "Curiosity killed the cat, Charlie." I always wondered, "What cat? What was it doing?" Because me and Jimmy were just digging in the yard and playing, and we didn't find that thing on purpose. What's wrong with digging?
They teach us a little about Before at school, but mostly we hear about the Remaking and why the Science And Technology Elimination Department still exists. People got too involved with the technology back then, too involved with their machines. They forgot their duty to God and each other, and the country was messed-up and weak. The government destroyed all the things called computers and all the fancy science, and burned all the information about them.
Some people think computers and science still exist, but only the government uses them. I heard Ma say once that the real problem was that the government didn't like people finding things out.
"What things?" I asked.
But she said, "I can't tell you that, Charlie. It's dangerous to even talk about it."
I hate that kind of answer—it's like when somebody says, "Whatever you're doing, stop it." Usually it's grown-ups who say that, and if you don't know what's bothering them, how are you supposed to stop?
I asked her who decided what to throw away and what to keep. For instance, we still have electricity, but you can't use it all the time. Each family only gets a certain amount, depending on how big the family is, and you have to decide how to use it. Most people use an electric washer to clean their clothes, but just hang the clothes up to dry afterwards. People in hot places sometimes still use air-conditioning, but if it gets cold, most people burn coal or wood to stay warm. We still have stoves and ovens and refrigerators. We have lights too, but hardly anyone ever uses them.
Ma says she was lucky to grow up on a farm, because she knew how to do a lot of things other people didn't—like chop wood and grow food, and make things to use and wear. Life after the Remaking wasn't so different from what she grew up with, just a little harder. We can't imagine how it was Before, she says, where a message could cross the world in the blink of an eye! Telegrams are still pretty fast, but it's not the same.
I asked her if she missed the past, and if she'd like to go back. The past isn't a place you can visit, she said. What's gone is gone. I think she means like Dad, but she doesn't talk about him either.
I wish she would.
I heard Uncle Pete say that Dad used to be a computer programmer. Nobody knows how he disappeared, or at least, they won't tell me. All the programmers are gone, and all the chemists and a bunch of other scientists I don't even know the words for. We don't have real doctors anymore either, just people who give shots and set broken bones. That's Ma's job now, when somebody needs her. She did something else when we were little, I think she called it avertizing, but the government got rid of it. Jobs that aren't services or don't make things aren't allowed anymore. Amusements aren't allowed either—even writing.
Since the Remaking, we all strive toward lives of purpose. That sounds pretty boring to me, but I'm not supposed say that out loud.
I don't know what I'll be when I grow up—maybe a farmer or a teacher, or a carpenter. I don't think they'd let me dig holes for a living, even though I'm pretty good at it. Jimmy says he wants to work for the S.A.T.E.D. That way, he'd get to see what kind of cool stuff people turn in, and then he'd get paid to destroy it. Ma always brings up curiosity and the cat every time he says that, but Jimmy's only six. I think he's just kidding.
None of it probably matters anyway. Deep down, we all know we're not going to have a lot of choices. Better to be a kid while you can, and not worry too much about the future.
When it finally comes, you'll have the rest of your life to learn to like whatever it is you got stuck with.
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