The Camellia Resistance
she heaved until she sat down on the cot in her cell and put her head
between her knees.
It had been July. They couldn’t afford the
environmental tax that went along with air conditioning. India had
gotten them into a basement apartment, so at least it wasn’t sweltering.
“Back when people used to smoke, they taxed cigarettes like this,”
India would say and Willow would think back to the illegal movies they
watched together, movies where it was socially acceptable—desirable
even—to smoke. The men with their rugged hands held up to their face to
light a cigarette, the women leaning back and looking indifferent. Not
many people knew those days even existed, but India knew, so Willow knew
“Now the government makes up for lost revenue by taxing
environmental impact. But we are smarter, Will. We live down here.”
India made it sound like they were playing at skipping school days. But
there was no “smarter” that explained going to bed hungry, or why Willow
wore her mother’s shoes, or why it was okay for Willow to crawl into
bed with her mom after a bad dream.
different, pumpkin, that’s all,” India would say when Willow asked why
it was okay for them to touch skin to skin inside the apartment, but
they always had to wear gloves when they went outside. “Just about
everyone else is so afraid of dying they never get around to living. One
day, you and me, we decided not to be afraid anymore. Bring on the
germs. We aren’t running scared.”
But there is fear and then
there is watching your kid lose weight because there just isn’t enough
of anything to go around. India left Willow alone with the black and
white version of Count of Monte Cristo playing in the VCR and promised
to be back in an hour. It was an hour and a half, but she did come home.
She stumbled through the door like a drunk, but she hadn’t been
drinking. She was dying.
As an eight-year-old, Willow didn’t
know about social diseases and the lengths people will go to keep them
out of their beds. She didn’t know about state-sponsored prostitutes
that made good money and went through painful cell cleansing procedures
to ensure that they were clean enough for the high-powered politicians
and businessmen that purchased their time. She didn’t know about black
markets, that the Ministry controlled the cleaners and if you weren’t
already in the records, you couldn’t get one done. She’d never seen the
machines, the needles in each arm, pumping blood out, bathing it in a
series of chemical baths and light treatments before pouring it back
into the body. And that was from the state-run clinics. In the illegal
clinics, they used SaniCheck, diluted.
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So it didn’t make sense that India wouldn’t allow Willow to call the Health Ministry’s emergency line. Instead, India just coughed blood and cried blood and wiped it off of her skin when it broke through like beads of sweat. Willow held India’s hand. What else can you do when you’re eight? She died two days later. Willow pulled her from the bed into the bath, India’s limp feet dragging along the carpet leaving a faint trail of blood behind. Willow washed her mother with warm water, then dried her face and put makeup on her. There weren’t many ways India was conventional, but she never left the house without her mascara and Willow knew India wouldn’t have wanted anyone to see the softness around her eyes.
The men in hazmat suits burst through the door an hour later, their disembodied breathing filling the house with the whirring and clicking of automatic air purifiers. Willow was bare-armed, bare-handed, her pale skin exposed to the world and all the hazards therein. She was sitting on the edge of the toilet, studying the tub where her mother had been, when she overheard the two goons in their white blimp suits commenting. “Not a bottle of SaniCheck in the house. Not even the generic shit. No wonder the bitch died.”
Willow didn’t cry. She wasn’t even surprised. She knew what SaniCheck was. The teachers had it at school in dispensers at their hips. They took off their latex gloves, wiped their hands down with the stuff, then put on a new pair of gloves. They used designer gloves, with fingernails painted on them, and a slight tanned hue that almost passed for real skin.
But Willow saw the skin underneath: parched, flaking and old. Older than her teachers’ perfectly painted faces. Her mother’s hands were beautiful, even if Willow begged her mom to buy the latex gloves to be like other moms. India just laughed and kissed Willow on the forehead. Willow cringed. Other moms didn’t do that either.
Sitting in the Ministry’s jail, the memory was brand new, like it just happened yesterday, not almost twenty-five years ago. For the first time in her adult life, Willow understood what her mother had been trying to teach her about fear, about love, about accepting the good and the bad in the world and finding the beauty in both. Willow stayed bent over her knees and the motion sensors in the lab switched off the lights. The only sound left was the sound of Willow’s heart beating in time with the clock on the wall.
Marked and unemployed, Willow falls in with a band of dissidents. Everyone wants something. In the process of discerning friend from foe, Willow begins to unravel secrets that will shake the New Republic of America to its foundation.
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About the Author
A.R. Williams is obsessed with language and myth, not just playing with words and making up stories, but with the real-world impact that our words have on the way we live. Words are the only puzzle that never gets boring, and writing is the only thing she has wanted to do consistently. Other interests, such as sewing and photography, become alternate means to feed the writing habit.
Ms. Williams feeds her obsession with curiosity: people, philosophy, technology, psychology, and culture. Living in Washington D.C. is a good source of inspiration. From the sublime heights of arts and achievement available for free at the Smithsonian to the bureaucratic banality of Beltway politics and scandals, it is a great city for fantasy, possibility, power, and consequence—ideal fodder for the fictional life. She lives between an ordinary external life filled with time cards, meetings, and deadlines; and an extraordinary imaginary world where anything is possible and everything is fueled by music.
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