by Barbara L. Baer
The Marshal of Events, a tiny nonagenarian in a bow tie, his suit festooned with ribbons and medals, filled our champagne glasses and spoke in a high tremulous voice.
“Some of you are too young to remember when our Village of Blessed Elders was the megalopolis of catastrophes. Tonight, our honored guests, repositories of memories, revered Western Centenarians, celebrate a happy return of their days.” Applause rang out over the fountains and trees of Longevity Park.
The Marshall approached me with the microphone. “Mother Dorothy, radiant in your 103rd year, share with us your story.”
Radiant was not what I felt trapped by lights on the dais in my golden robe and banner. More like an overcooked turnip. But I had been ordered and so began describing the chaos of the past century when temperatures soared and the grid failed, sending young people into the streets looking for old people to bash.
A giant screen over the stage flashed cities from New York to San Francisco in ruins, planes smoldering on runways, bridges collapsed, headless corpses, and all avenues of escape cut off. Cymbals clanged, drums pounded.
“Sometimes we risked going out after dark to reach cooling stations in malls. Grandpa and I were almost safe when a band of tattooed youth with chisel-pointed teeth captured us. ‘Dottie, run, I’m done for,’ he cried. On my knees, I begged a girl with rivets in her lips to take pity. ‘He’s my only family.’ She spat, ‘He’s a geezer,’ and thrust her blade into Grandpa’s chest.”
Groans and protestations rose as cameras panned on grief-stricken, tear-stained elders in the audience. I saw my daughter, Luna, who is 78, weeping in the front row.
“Mother Dorothy, you’ve brought us to the brink, now lead us home.” The screen changed to flowering orchards, meandering streams and “Ode to Joy” on the sound track.
I related the re-conquest by retired military officers who rounded up raging youth in detention camps over which Right to Age banners flew. “Children had to repair the havoc. We worked all day and cried out of hunger and missing family, but in those times, we had hope of generation integration.”
A hush fell over the crowd. The Marshall tapped my shoulder with his baton. Generation integration was not on the agenda.
“Mother Dorothy, at 103, you cycle daily to generate energy for the common good. Do we need more?” He waved his baton.
“No need! Keep them out. Life for us!” The crowd shouted.
I continued to speak. “My cycling is symbolic. We’re living below capacity. We’d have more to life than survival if we admitted …”
Before I said the word young, my microphone went dead.
“Who walks more lightly than the old Zen Master? What is more beautiful than Ancients with watering pails? Slow and tranquil Blessed Village.” The Marshall bowed.
“May Elders live forever!” came the chorus.
“Bless you, Mother, for your many years of guiding.” I recognized the voice of my daughter, walking toward me beside the Marshall.
“My good mother has her aged moments. You understand,” she said.
“Moments … moments …” the audience chanted.
White heads, bald heads, bowed, hands together, they prayed for longer life.
In our room, Luna reproached me. “I’m being evaluated for early retirement. You know I’ve not been well, Mother.”
Poor Luna. She was my only child, over-medicated like so many in late middle years, waiting for elder status.
“Isn’t it wrong, Luna, that you’ve never seen your precious grandchild and my great grandchild? That we haven’t heard their laughter? Those little faces I yearn for.”
“There’s no need to speak treason.” Luna clamped her hands over her ears. “Can you do ten more miles and generate credits?”
Luna took her meds and I climbed onto my bike, my golden Happy Birthday banner across my chest. The sound of cycling covered the tap on our window. My young friend rode me on his handlebars to the Wall of Separation where we removed brick after brick until daylight. If only I were to live until young people emerge from hiding, bringing with them the blessed laughter of children, I shall happily breathe my last.
Barbara L. Baer has been published in 34 Parallel, Persimmon Tree, Uppagus, The Nation, Redbook, Orion, and Commonweal, among others. She lives in northern California.