In a world where men outnumber women 4:1, I am a rarity. By saying that, I not only mean I am a woman, but a woman who is employed, a bank account of my own, and a home. I have no boyfriend. No husband. No fiance. No lover.
I am a rarity because I exist alone.
The people after The Culling came to call women such as myself Gambles. Literally speaking, we are gambles considering everyone is betting at the chance we will finally decide to settle down with them. Women do not remain single in this world.
Medically, however, we are called Gambles simply because we survived.
When I was six years old, I was forced to witness my mother’s life drain from her body. Her beautiful olive skin turned ash and her chocolate eyes faded into milky grey, signifying the blindness. I was there for her final moments when her lungs began to collapse and it seemed like every orifice of her body leaked blood. My father held both her hand and mine as she whispered how much she didn’t want to leave us. How she wasn’t ready to die, not yet. Even then, she was fighting death, while her body drowned in on itself and closed her in darkness.
I listened to my father promise her he’d raise me with poetry and move to the beach, teach me to ride a horse and let my hair grow as long as I wanted. Such beautiful things, he promised her. In turn, I listened to her beg him to guard me with every ounce of his being. Not to trust officials or security, not in a time like that. The last words she uttered were blood soaked and gurgling, forcing me to turn my face away:
“Let her marry for love. Promise me, Jake.”
“I promise, Lily,” he whispered, his voice breaking. Tears rolled silently down his cheeks, pooling in the dimple in his chin and his jawbone.
When her hand went slack and the last bit of life flickered out of her eyes, I fled the room. I pushed past FBI agents and military personnel, all yelling for me to stop. I slammed into doors that set off alarm whistles.
I fled to the library, the place so full of her smell and the ghostly echoes of her voice reading to me. I curled into a ball on the soft leather sofa where we had last lay before she got sick. My eyes closed against the searing tears, while my throat battled seizing up in denial.
Nobody followed me.
I sat silent for what felt like hours, listening to the tick-tock of the wall clock in between the quiet brown walls before I heard tentative footsteps approach me.
I sat waiting for big, muscled arms to scoop me up and return me to my father as the FBI agents so frequently did. Or for the housekeeper, Reeta, to sit across from me and lull me to sleep with a song. Instead, I felt a cool hand rest against my forehead and sensed someone sit down on the floor in front of me.
I pressed my lips tightly together, feeling the first tear flavor them with salt.
“I’m not leaving,” he whispered, taking my hand. Slowly, he managed to pull apart my fist and lace his tiny fingers between mine. “Cry if you want. I won’t look.”
Looking back on it now, my heart warms and my lips light with a smile at his steadfast protection. That young boy, who held my hand as my whole body shook with uncontrolled sobs.
I remember the way I soaked the entire blanket all the way through with snot and tears and spit. And the way I pulled my hair out of its braid with angry yanks. And the way I bit down on my tongue until it bled. I remember all those little things. And I remember Brig being there, little Brigham Hill, holding my hand at only the age of ten. Ten: when a boy is struggling most between liking girls and hating girls, wanting to be a man and being a child. He lay there, cooing to me as he sat on the floor, acting twice his age and triple his size.
The only agent Brig didn’t threaten when he came close, his own father, took care of me that night. His arms wrapped the blanket tightly around my small body and carried me swiftly upstairs; past my mother’s room, I could hear filled with sorrowful moans coming from my father’s lips. People sat crying in the hallway, house workers and private security alike. Everyone mourned her that night.
She was one of millions who died that year. The Culling, as it grew to be called, was the spread of a virus which attacked the ovarian system. There were no symptoms, at least, not until it was too late. By the time the disease showed its dirty face, it had already spread like wildfire to all the other organ systems.
Women between the age of fifteen and thirty were hit the hardest, the disease particularly fond of those who had healthy, reproductive systems and were pre-menopausal. The progression was always the same: initial abdominal pain and fever, then loss of pigmentation in skin, onto blindness, and lastly internal bleeding.
The night my mother passed, the year had only begun. She was the third to die before the scientists finally discovered The Culling virus. The creator, a student voted most-likely-to-cure-cancer in his yearbook, released the virus to the world claiming “women presented the only evolutionary problem because they reproduced with just anyone.” He believed he was curing the world of the weaker minded portion of the sex, saying only the strong would survive and would benefit civilization.
He was shot point blank in a hotel lobby a week after his admission to constructing the virus.
Everyone believes their mother is special, however, that particular year, mine truly was.
As I stated, I am a rarity; then because I survived The Culling. Now, I am a rarity because I am alone and single at the age of twenty-three and providing for myself.
Now, because I am Mia Rose Windham, the daughter of the last President of the United States of America.
Copyright © 2016 Pearl Bayou