Abigail C. Keane ROOTS - MAR/APR 2019

A Life Missed Out On

Written by Abigail C. Keane

The year was 2075. It’s been twenty years since the creation of the TreeO2 tank – a significant day for many, helpful for few. Jackie saw some teachers putting up posters commemorating the event when she entered school that morning.

As she walked through the halls to her locker, she thought back to her early encounter with some demonstrators on the way to school. They were sharing a tank and coarsely chanting “Give us air! Give us air!” one after the other. One of them feebly threw a shoe toward her with a “damn the bourgeois!”

That was a close one.

Luckily, most days the smog detectors indicated a toxicity level way too high for any tankless poor sod to set foot unto the streets, though maybe a larger man could jog a block or two before passing out.

Jackie trudged into class and sat at her regular seat by the window. She deposited her tank in the circular hold on her left and took her notebook from her satchel. Mr. Peterson, a skinny, frail-looking guy of about 40, commenced the class with a regular “Ahem. Good morning everyone.”

The sky was lilac grey, with hints of yellow and orange glowing from the city lights.

Mr. Peterson pointed at the map on the board and began explaining The Transcendence, a revolutionary period that lasted from the 2040s to the 60s. “Does anyone know what about this period is revolutionary?” he asked. After a short silence, he sighed and continued, “As you may know, the 40s and 50s were a, um, climatically tumultuous period… But!” he picked up, “humanity re-built. And that’s why we are lucky enough to have oxygenated buildings, sand-proof suits, and, of course, the TreeO2’s.”

Jackie thought back to the poor airless group, her conscience feeling unease, her face betraying nothing.

I guess that’s just what it means to have bad luck.

Suffice to say, Jackie knew there was no God, no system, no meaning. Things just happened because they happened – an unappealing philosophy, but one that had been central to the rise of Moved Manhattan, Second Shanghai, and Nuevo Miami, among other rebirths.

Jackie’s attention was set back on track when Mr. Peterson tapped his stick on the map. “And can anyone show us how big the Sahara was before the 50s?”

Finally, something I know.

She walked up to the board and silently traced an outline – the figure seemed tiny compared to the giant that now took up over half of Africa. “Very good,” Mr. Peterson was pleased, “before you go back to your seat, could you please tell the class why the Sahara grew so much?”

Jackie frowned. It was an odd question to ask. “Well,” she began, “It’s hard to say. I mean, there could be a million different reasons why it changed… I don’t suppose it’s related to all the wildfires that burned down most of the world’s forests?”

“Oh no, no-no-no,” Mr. Peterson shook his head. “You were right the first time, we don’t know! That was a trick question class.” Jackie sighed in relief as she approached her desk. The teacher continued, “Once again class, we really can’t determine why anything happens. So there’s no use in dwelling on it.”

He sounds a bit too chipper.

Most of the records predating 2045 had been lost. According to old news reports, internet servers went down, erasing everything that was being stored digitally. No one she knew was really sure how that worked, or what any of the technical explanations meant. And she knew, as she had always been told, that there’s no use in dwelling on the past, or in questioning the present.

After all, there’s nothing we can do about it now.

Jackie spent the rest of that class thinking about how lucky she was to have a full family and an oxygenated house she didn’t have to share. She thought of her TV, and of course, her companion and ticket outside – the TreeO2.

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