My sleep is pitiful, waking up every few minutes or so before falling back under. My sleep deprivation mixed with coffee causes my dreams to become almost life like. Each time I fall back under I catch a glimpse of a memory. Dancing with Danielle on our wedding day, clenching her hand while she gave birth to Rose, cooking dinner for them both on my holidays, teaching Rose how to ride a bike.
Before we got married and before the boundaries were built, air travel was still allowed so I took Danielle on a holiday. We travelled to the country of America where we spent two weeks. It was a fun and exciting journey. We visited iconic places and relaxed at some of the best resorts.
“I had an interesting thought today,” she had said to me one night at dinner.
“And what might that be?” I asked her around a mouthful of ravioli.
“What if everyone was the same?” she said eyes bright in thought. “We wouldn’t get into the fights that we do now because we would only be fighting against ourselves.”
“What do you mean the same?”
“If we all looked the same, we wouldn’t be able to bully those that people call ugly or put those called beautiful on a pedestal. If we were all straight, no one would be able to fight about sexuality differences. If we took away all religion, people wouldn’t get in fights about different beliefs.”
“You’re crazy,” I had shaken my head with a smile. “That would never happen.”
“Maybe not,” she shrugged. “It’s just an idea.”
I’m jerked away by the door slamming shut and the sound of Rose walking down the hall.
I quickly jump to my feet, running my fingers through my hair and wait for her to pass the lounge room.
She does without so much as a look in my direction. I crack a grin.
“Hey sweetie,” I startle her in the kitchen and she drops the tub of yoghurt she just pulled from the fridge.
“Dad?” she looks confused. “Why are you home?”
“My hours have changed,” I grab a dishcloth and get to work cleaning up the spilled yoghurt. “My late nights are going to be a regular occurrence and I also wanted to be home to help you with your homework.”
Her eyes brighten and she sets the tub on the counter before hugging me around the waist.
“Thank you. I’m really not good at maths.”
“Nor am I, but I won’t let that stop me from helping my princess.”
When she laughs, it’s like music to my ears. She sounds just like her mother.
After resting for a little while and having a light snack, Rose and I sit down at the table to do her homework. While she’s working on her English, I grab my laptop from the office and do some more work on the brochure. Ideas from the dream are still circling my mind, but now isn’t the time to go into much thought on it. I know once I do I won’t come out of it for a while and I want to give Rose as much of my attention as I can. I wish I had had the same mindset when Danielle was still alive.
My attention is drawn away from the laptop when Rose huffs quietly.
“What is it?”
“What the hell does this equation even mean?” she holds her homework up in front of my face.
I’m thankful that I still have some knowledge of maths and a lot of the times I have to deal with it at Telcorp.
I spend an hour or so helping Rose with her maths. I can see just how much my lack of help has affected her knowledge and fight the feelings of self-loathing, even though it’s rightly served. Danielle never finished her school years and instead opted out at grade ten. It never affected her career as an artist, not negatively at least, but I can see now that she would have struggled to help.
“You know,” I tell Rose as she’s packing up her homework, “If you need a maths tutor, I could probably see if one of the geniuses at work would be interested in helping out.”
“Thanks, dad, but I’m already getting some tutoring from some friends.”
“Which ones?” I ask, hoping I sound interested. I am, but I’ve never really paid much attention to her friends.
“Lachlan and Kiara.”
“Have I met them?”
“Once maybe,” she says thoughtfully. “I was hanging with them when you picked me up on Friday.”
I try to remember the faces of the friends she was sitting with, but I can’t so I shake my head.
“I’ll have to meet them again because I honestly don’t remember.”
This doesn’t seem to bother her and she skips out of the room. I close my laptop with a smile.
After cooking a meal of diced beef and salad for Rose and I, I collapse in bed again, hoping to get a few more hours of shut eye. Rose understands why I’m going to bed early and no longer seems bothered by the idea. I’m hoping having me in the afternoons is enough to support her. If not, I don’t know what I can do to fix it.
When the alarm blares at twelve am, all I have to do is pull on my coat and shoes, choosing to have slept in my clothes so I could sleep longer. Even though it feels uncomfortable, I choose not to let it bother me.
I’ll shower in the morning again.
I don’t worry about checking on Rose. No doubt she’ll probably hear me leaving so there’s no point trying to be sneaky.
I grab an apple from the kitchen and make my way outside. It’s chilly again, but not as much as the previous night. Turning on the heater, I quickly back out of the carport, wanting to see Riles as soon as possible.
It’s now, as I’m driving along, that I let myself really consider Danielle’s idea. At the time of her suggestion, things weren’t as extreme as they are now. With the terrorist attacks growing in frequency and size, it’s not long before a fallout civil war goes down. Anything to stop it is welcome.
Gordon isn’t waiting for me tonight which is expected. Luckily I brought a torch along.
I practically sprint into the building and rip open the hidden door. I bounce in place as the elevator makes it decent and once the doors open, I fly out into the hallway.
Even though I know it’s not all that exciting, I burst into the conference with a wide grin on my face. Everyone turns to stare at me.
“I have the perfect idea.”
The room stays silent for a few moments before Riles takes a loud gulp of coffee and chuckles.
“We’ve heard that one before.”
The rest of the room chuckles a long with him and I feel myself wavering.
“Not like this, you haven’t.”
“Grab yourself a coffee,” Riles tells me, still grinning. “We’ll hear your plan once the meeting starts.”
Everyone continues doing what they’re doing and I continue to stand in the doorway, feeling quite embarrassed by my own eagerness.
Looking down, I make my way to the machine and get my double shot cappuccino with two biscuits of my choosing before taking a seat. I’m early, that’s apparent, but I’m hoping Riles will still early so I can voice my idea. I’m hoping that my idea isn’t a bust like the others. I saw the shame on their faces when people laughed at their ideas.
Plus, this isn’t even my idea. Danielle always had her supporters along with quite a few haters. She was one of the rare kind that weren’t afraid to voice their thoughts. When we first started dating, it used to embarrass me. Overtime I learned to love it and when that failed, which sometimes it did, I’d just ignore it.
I hope these men have a better response to the idea then I did.
After what seems like forever, Riles calls the meeting to attention and everyone takes their seats. I clutch my notebook, watching Riles carefully.
“Welcome everyone,” he glances around the table. “I trust that you’ve slept well. Just a reminder that the next meeting will in two days’ time. We decided last night to hold it tonight rather than tomorrow night because most of you want to stay home and watch the football game.”
A few people cheer, including Thomas the genius. I look at him in surprise and he gives me a toothy grin. I would have never taken him for the football kind.
“As we all heard,” Riles continues once everyone has settled down. “One of our members have had an idea. Charles, please share.”
Shakily, I fold my hands on the table in front of me and fix my eyes on the clock above Riles head.
“I was reminded of something my wife brought up a few years ago.”
Some people sigh and rub their foreheads. Already I’m losing peoples interests. I press forward, letting my eyes land on Riles this time.
“What if we made everyone the same? What if we could create some sort of medication that could change the way we look so no one was unique? If it’s possible, and I’m sure it is, even fix everyone’s sexuality to be the same. We could take away all religion and shut down any religious buildings and everyone would have to believe the same things.”
I want to say more, keep arguing my point, but instead I choose now to shut up and lean back in my chair.
“Well?” I ask the silent crowd.
“That would be a violation of human rights,” Marcus says, brow furrowed. “We can’t take away the rights to beliefs.”
“We can if we’re dedicated to the idea,” I point out. “Maybe it would take a few generations for the different beliefs to fully die out, but it’s a step in the right direction.”
“What about the sexuality?” a middle aged man raises his hand. “I’m gay, man. What would the sexuality be?”
“Straight, you idiot,” Riles frowns in deep thought. “We still need to produce kids and since the IVF treatments have been exposed, it’s the best way for that to happen.”
The man looks offended and goes to say something, but the grey haired man across from him shakes his head.
“It’s the best for the world.”
“What would everyone look like?” the man next to me asks. He looks to be young, around the age of twenty. His blonde hair is tied at the nape of his neck and he’s dressed in a light blue button down. I can’t help but think his blue eyes are similar to Danielle’s. He says me staring and offers me a smile. “I’m Nate, by the way.”
I shake his hand as people mutter around us.
“White of course,” one guy says and the others nod. Riles shakes his head though.
“Look, Charles, this is a good idea but I don’t know if it’s possible and I don’t know if the government will agree to it. World peace would rest in what, the hands of medication?”
“I know it’s crazy,” I admit and Marcus snorts.
“You got that right. It’s bloody insane. The people will not like this at all.”
“They didn’t like the barriers either,” I point out. “Of course they won’t like it. You men have said it yourself. It’s a selfish nation and to fix it will go against what they want.”
“It’s an extreme,” Thomas says thoughtfully, “But it could work if well planned out.”
Riles scratches the back of his head, looking pained.
“I’m not sure about this.”
“You have to take some sort of action,” Nate comments and Riles glares at him. He quickly shuts up.
“Thomas,” Riles points at the genius. “Would something like this be possible?”
“It’d be quite hard, sir,” he admits. “And I definitely wouldn’t be able to do it on my own. I’d need more people.”
“I don’t know if we have any,” Riles closes his eyes in frustration. Marcus clears his throat.
“My grandson could be of some help. They’re scientists in training.”
“We need professionals, Marcus. We can’t just let anyone come in here wielding needles and what if they get the word out to the public? We’d be destroyed before we’ve even started.”
“You could just threaten them,” I point out and Riles shakes his head.
“These geniuses are smart.”
“They also want to help,” Thomas points out. A few men murmur in agreement. “I always said I’d need help if any human experiments were needed.”
“I will admit, men,” Riles sits back in his chair with a huff. “It sounds brilliant in theory but I’m not so sure about how we’ll be able to execute it.”
“Leave that up to the government,” Marcus tells him. “We’re not meant to be the ones that execute it, just invent it.”
“It’s a dangerous water we’re walking,” Riles tells us. “If we suggest something to crazy they could stop all funding and we’d be cast for the system, maybe even killed so we don’t tell others they’re planning new enforcements.”
“People would already be theorising,” Thomas states. “They’re not dumb enough to believe that the government isn’t going to be doing anything about it.”
“To this extent though.”
“It’s worth the shot though, right?” I ask, excitement crawling back into my voice. “Harsh it may be, but it might just work.”
The room goes quiet and all eyes are fixed on Riles, waiting for affirmation or some sort of reaction. He looks torn and undecided. You can almost see the battle going on inside his mind, torn between right and wrong. I have to wonder too if he’s torn because of his own selfish desires. Like he said, we all have them and I doubt he’s an exception to the rule.
The whole idea will take a lot of sacrifice from everyone. I could only imagine what it would do to him, a man high in authority, to be brought down to the same level of others on some regards. I realise I haven’t thought about what it would mean for me and I pause, holding my breath.
All my hard work would mean nothing if we were to all be equal and there are to any variables anyway. To be the same would mean to live the same and own the same things. There would be no one richer than the others, except maybe those in high up authority.
Marcus interrupts my thoughts.
“How about we take a vote on it? If the majority votes yes then we will go to the politicians for their thoughts on the matter and we can start planning more in-depth.”
“If they don’t?” the gay guy asks, almost in hope.
I do feel sorry for him.
“If they don’t we’ll just have to keep thinking.”
“Sounds like an idea,” Thomas shrugs. “I say it’s worth ago.”
He puts his hand up in the air and others follow, including me.
There’s around fifteen people at the table and it’s obvious very quickly we have the majority on our side. Only six have their hands down, three of which are Riles, Marcus and the gay man.
His eyes fix on mine and narrows.
“Let’s not fight, guys,” Thomas raises his hands, seeing the exchange. “We always knew it’d come down to a vote, no matter what we decide.”
“This is extreme,” he almost growls through his teeth.
“What’s your name?” I ask, trying to change the topic, plus, I don’t want to identify him by his sexuality.
He looks taken aback by my question.
“Richard,” he tells me.
Riles starts talking before I can say anything more.
“The vote is yes and that’s that. I’m not happy with the idea, frankly because I don’t believe the government would ever agree to such a thing and it could cost us everything.”
“If anything it’d be a pay cut,” Nate says matter-of-factly and a few people snicker. “They can’t kill us for coming up with ideas when that’s the whole point of us being here. If they can handle the idea of killing people, guilty or not, they can handle a poor idea.” He looks at me out of the corner of his eyes and smiles slightly. “Not that I think its bad.”
“Then that’s that,” Riles closes his notebook and everyone else follows suit. “Marcus and I will book an appointment with the leaders when we can.”
“Are we still meeting here Thursday night?” one man asks.
Riles pauses in thought before nodding.
“Good idea. If this plan doesn’t work, we want to keep having fresh ideas.”
“I have a question,” I raise my hand and Riles nods for me to continue. “Are other countries experiencing the same thing or is it just Australia? And will our city be the only ones to carry this out?”
“At the moment we’re just focused on this city. If it works well, others might adopt the idea if things get bad enough.”
“Why is ours the first?” Nate asks.
Riles smiles a tight smile.
“We’re not. Just remember that we don’t see what goes on except out in the big world except for our own city and the surrounding areas. When we were divided it was with the intent that we would focus on bettering our own areas instead of focusing away from them. They believe that’s why poverty got so bad in 2016.”
I nod in agreement. I remember what that was like. So many people were focused on fixing the poverty and homeless situations in other countries that our own sky-rocketed. It was a badly judged situation and not one to be repeated. At least within our city, all poverty has been ended. With those that don’t own houses, multiple soup kitchens now offer bedding and places to stay. I hope that other places have done the same things.
“For all we know,” Riles continues, “Others might be doing the same thing we’re planning now and likewise, maybe we could be the first with the idea and many government spectators could end up watching us like hawks to see how well it works.”
“Enough with trivial thinking,” Marcus yawns and stands to his feet. “I’m tired and I’m going to head home.” His eyes catch mine. “Interesting idea, Mister Charles. Let’s hope others think so.”
It sounds like almost a threat, but I still offer a tight smile. My other had always taught me to be polite, no matter the words or actions and said towards me.
I rise to my feet along with everyone else and tuck my notebook on my arm. Gordon claps me on the shoulder as he walks past.
“I knew it would take something drastic to change things, but others never listened.”
I don’t point out that changing people wasn’t as drastic as killing innocent children to claim control. Plus, we all saw how that worked out.
“Your wife sounds like she would have been quite interesting,” Riles says as he walks out the doors with me.
“Oh she was, sir,” I tell him with a sad smile. “She had the craziest ideas.”
“A woman who spoke her mind, hey?”
“Very much so. She was always respectful to people’s opinions but she would always win any arguments that were put in front of her.”
“The world needs more women like that,” Riles sighs and punches the elevator button. It’s already left to take a group of people up. “You’ve probably wondered why there’s no women in our midst.”
“Yes I have,” I admit. “Surely it’s not because of sexist reasons? Those were thrown out long ago.”
Riles smiles wryly.
“A few women were involved in the original group Marcus and I were a part of. They couldn’t keep their mouths shut and blabbed to their friends. The consequences were.. necessary.”
“You killed them?” I ask, trying to keep the disdain out my voice as a group of us climb into the elevator. The others are engaged in deep conversation and pay us no mind.
Riles nods as the doors closed.
“Them and their families. We also had to take down any suspected friends they could have told.”
“You didn’t even have proof?” I frown. “That’s harsh.”
“But necessary,” Riles points at me. “We did what was necessary. Because of the sheer destruction of it all we decided that no more women would be invited.”
“So a few couldn’t keep quiet, that doesn’t mean anything.”
“It means everything in a situation like this.”
I badly want to argue against him but instead choose to remain quiet. Sometimes arguments are lost before they’ve started and I feel Riles would be no exception to the idea. I’ve never thought lowly of any women, even those that had caused me trouble in the past.
Just like with any group of people, they always have their bad eggs. Men included.
The elevator comes to a stop and people start to file out. I gesture Riles forward, but he shakes his head.
“I must return underground. I simply wanted to usher everyone out.”
I frown at him.
“What is it Charles?”
“Why do you have to stay?”
“That’s hardly any of your business although I appreciate the concern.”
I bite back a remark and step through the door.
“See you later, Riles.”
“See you later, Charles.”
I strip down to nothing but my underwear and collapse onto the bed, wide awake and curled around Danielle’s pillow. The ache in my chest is a distraction from the thoughts that whirl around my head.
Her funeral is tomorrow afternoon and I’m not looking forward to it. How do you say goodbye to the person you love the most?
“I don’t know what I’m going to do without you,” I mumble into the pillow, tears welling up. It feels like I haven’t cried in ages. “I miss you so terribly.”
I miss holding her in my arms, kissing her when I come home from work and washing the paint off her arms when she has a particular messy day at work. I miss her smile lighting up the room when she walks in and the sound of her laughter that lives in Rose now.
I don’t know how long I lie there crying, but eventually I drift to sleep.