“BRITANNICA” An Open Letter to Congress: An Autobiography by Heather Lukins

Pollinated by

Nature recedes,
And still we stay

– Daniel Johnson

Birdsong. That was first element of our world to fall. Nightingales that had once serenaded the night moon had slipped into oblivion; the little robin redbreast who had blushed at the first hint of winter had been swallowed by shadows; and even the common blackbird had vanished. We all noticed it but we wouldn’t talk about it. It was like a gigantic pink elephant had stampeded a quaint tea party but we all kept chewing squashed sandwiches and sipping from chipped teacups. We didn’t want to say it was happening because to say it, means to bring it into existence.

Language is funny like that. It’s the darkest, most ancient force in our conscious brains. When I was younger, I was afraid of the imaginary monster under my bed. I refused to tell my parents what I believed lurked in those dark shadows. I refused to emerge from the safety of that garishly pink duvet. Instead I’d bite down on my tongue so hard that sometimes I drew blood.

Funny how blood has remained. All the nice things — birdsong, autumn, rivers — they have disappeared long past the horizon. But blood and pain remains. It seems Humans are consistent even when we know that blood is what got us here. Nobody bullies anyone about their appearances anymore: we’ve all been transformed into the monster under the bed. We haunt the streets like nightmares refusing to end. Looping over and over. A scratched vinyl squawking for help.

There are no TV reports anymore. The presenters that once wished us a cheery good morning with wide grins are now toothless; their eyes blind; shoulders hunched. Now we just have two radio stations — one for nationwide news, one for local. Sometimes they play music. Hotel California played this morning. This was only after we were updated on the growing ugly mass of Affected, of the Dead, and of charity hospitals working to do their best. As an establishment, the NHS had been obliterated. Yet, the staff stayed. They spend every waking second treating those in agony, fresh cuts sweating and bones pulsating, in sticky despair. I know. I’ve been there. I went with my parents. I left alone.

Now I live in my old home with only the walls to comfort me. And Mog. Mog is my (now) three legged cat. She’s missing an eye and yowls every night when she hunts mice. The neighbouring cats have gone through a similar transformation. A lack of Whiskers biscuits would do that, after all. That’s not to say we don’t have supermarkets anymore. In fact, we have everything we used to. People still get up and go to work (if they’re able) and they still go to the gym (if they’re able). If they’re one of those unlucky Affected, then they sit at home hoping that today’s the day the district nurse will come change their bandages. The Affected shop at different supermarkets because who wants to see a man with only teeth in his face? Who wants to see the woman missing her jaw? Or the child whose skin has frozen mid-waterfall?

I still go to school. I’m not an Affected but I’m not one of the Ables either. I’m somewhere in between. I’m one of the Borns. My parents were Affected and they were — in a word — gruesome. Deformed and constantly hacking up wads of phlegm — green, black, red. It got worse as they got older. Even the slightest sniffle could snap a rib or crack a vertebra. In the middle of the panic and the mourning, I was born. And I, like Mog, have a stumped right leg and — unlike Mog — only three fingers and a thumb on each hand. Of course, you wouldn’t see that from hearing me. I also have a 95% of developing cancer. I think it’s starting. My bones ache and my heart hurts when it beats. Of course, that could just be from losing my parents.

It sounds horrible to admit it but I didn’t cry. It was like the doctor had injected me with his anaesthesia not my parents. It was my nerves that were frozen. It was me that felt no pain. My mother had sobbed and my father had grasped my hand close to his crimson flecked lips. They had always told me this day would come. Maybe they had grasped onto some invisible hope that maybe it wouldn’t.

Hope. It’s a strange word. A word reminiscent of a time when things could still become better; the pollution hovering above our sky could be stopped from growing, even if not eliminated; war was not set in stone. Yet, with Humanity’s incapability of wielding language, it was. Because if you don’t at first admit the problem, then how can you begin to fix it?

By the time Humanity realised that the birdsong had disappeared it was too late. They managed to overlook the dead trees. Trees with branches so thin that they would sometimes snap for no apparent reason. Once the arm of a large tree shattered the roof of our school bus. I remember it in flashes: driving along a country lane; anorexic sheep nibbling at the wooden fence; the sound of God’s anger thrashing through the upper deck; my vomit showering my hair as the bus collapsed on its side; the sparks that singed my eyelashes; the squeal of metal on tarmac as we spun uselessly. My parents hobbled into the hospital, worry etched into their ugly faces, we embraced, and it was the most beautiful moment of my life. I cried then in the hospital.

Yet despite the many amazing moments my parents gave me — ice cream in the park in winter; letting me keep one of Mog’s kittens (until a cat from across the street ate him); summer hikes up Mam Tor — I never hoped for me. I hoped for what we had. And I loved every second. Maybe that’s why I wasn’t sad when they died. The nurse had whispered to a janitor that maybe I was an Affected who couldn’t love. But I can love and I have loved. I loved my parents with every inch of my diseased heart. Every sick breath I exhaled was because they had fought for my right to live. They fought for their right to me.

A lot of my early childhood was riddled with asthma attacks and unsuccessful social service interventions. They claimed my parents were unfit because they had me despite knowing that I would be an abomination, an outcast, a mutant. They claimed my parents were negligent because of the bruises on my shins from learning to walk. They lied over and over but my parents fought. The neighbours rallied around us. I was — am — the first child born to two severely Affected parents who had lived past age two. I was a miracle. Maybe there was something more to social services trying to claim me, maybe there wasn’t. Maybe the world just wanted to help foster the growth of a medical wonder.

But what would be a real medical wonder, would be the rebirth of birds. Somehow, despite the dead trees, despite the birds, despite the mass swarms of insects that mean schools are shut for months on end, somehow Humanity soldiers on.

The rest of the world hangs its head in regret. My parents often said they wanted it to hang its head in a noose. A gigantic noose big enough for all those faux-haired, tangerine coloured politicians to clamber into. Shine a dollar in the sun and they’ll come running, my father used to tell me. And he’d press into my hand an American quarter and wink clumsily.

This is my quarter. This open letter will burn in the hearts of every Briton — no matter race or gender or sex or deformity — and the smoke will mark the cataclysmic beginning of a new world without shame.

Don’t be afraid to show what this world has done to — what the Great American War has done to you. Everyone has something to show. They may hide it with scarves or prosthetics or sunglasses but they have it. We need to show what has been done.

Stand on the edge of this burning Earth, where glaciers shatter and the Poles shift, where birdsong has been replaced by radio static, and push. Tip the balance and let it be known: we will not die unheard. Our screams will haunt their streets and we will not go quietly into the night.

We can either wait for oblivion to be brought to our doorstep, or we can bring it to theirs. Nature has fled as the storm rolls in; lightning will flash and burn our barren landscape like the gates of Hell. But we will stay. We will rise.

It’s time.

– Offspring 0

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