Author : Desmond Hussey
Melissa hesitated as she raised the cocktail to her lips and took in the vast crowd gathered in her honour. She caught her daughter’s eye and smiled, despite the pressure of tears welling up behind her eyes. Jamie was beaming with… was it gratitude, pride, respect? All Melissa’s living friends were here and thousands more. Some smiled. Others watched impassively. Two or three were crying. The magistrate stood in the corner checking his watch repeatedly. News cameras hovered everywhere.
Melissa wished her husband Galen could be here to share this monumental moment with her, but he had his Jubilee ten years ago, when Jamie was just eight. She remembers being angry at him for leaving them alone, but also fiercely proud. Very few volunteered. Galen’s act earned great distinction, awarding Jamie and Melissa special dispensations denied to most other families; extra clothes, food luxuries, an education for Jamie. Still, she missed him greatly. They often spoke of growing old together – in whispers, of course.
Somewhere, a speaker blared an ostentatious paean, while behind her a tri-D view screen played a slide show, brief holographic video snapshots of her life. Her as a baby. Her parents. Her first steps. The dog eating her ice-cream cone while she cried. Her graduation. Her marriage. Jamie’s birth and childhood.
She was glad she had her back to the large, vivid screen. She wasn’t that strong.
Unlike Galen, her Jubilee was obligatory. As soon as Jamie, their only permitted child, turned eighteen, Melissa had six months to get her affairs in order. This was more of a formality. She had known for years that this day would come and had long ago made all the necessary arrangements. Still, she had put it off ‘til the last possible moment. She could stall no longer. To be overdue for your Jubilee, especially this one would be considered a criminal act. It would bring great shame to Jamie.
The glass shook in her hand, spilling tiny amounts of the pale blue fluid over her fingers. She admitted to herself that she was afraid. The psychologists said this was natural. There was no dishonor in fear. She could have chosen the needle, but felt the cocktail was somehow more dignified. She took a deep breath and hoped she wouldn’t let Jamie down. Or the world.
The magistrate coughed. A frown crept across his fat, officious face. He knew she was stalling.
A wave of anger surged through her. This wasn’t right! This wasn’t natural! It wasn’t her fault that her self-centered ancestors over bred, pushing the earth’s population to well above sustainable limits. Why should she sacrifice herself for their selfishness? She wanted to see Jamie fall in love, hold her future grandchild, see Galen’s wrinkled elderly smile. She was only forty years old, for Christ sakes!
“Mrs. Woodcroft,” the Magistrate spoke, barely disguising his ghoulish eagerness. “It’s time.”
Yes. Yes it was.
In one quick swallow Melissa tossed back the deadly cocktail and raised the glass high. A tremendous cheer erupted from the gathered crowd. More were crying. All were relieved.
Her’s was the final Jubilee. This Melissa could be grateful for. The grisly tradition had reduced the world’s population from fifteen billion to the target one billion in just thirty years. Now that it was over, the world could finally celebrate.
Melissa met Jamie’s eyes one last time. They were both crying now. Jamie mouthed, “I love you, Mom”, as tears blurred Melissa’s vision. She could feel her limbs go numb and was suddenly grateful for the honorary couch they provided her.
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