“Tell me about the old times again, Mommy.”
Jessica was lying in bed, under the cozy canopy, surrounded by her favorite stuffed animals. Mommy had just closed the bedtime book. She smiled her lopsided smile.
This was an old ploy of Jessica’s, to get Mommy to keep telling stories to delay the moment of saying goodnight.
As usual, it worked.
“About the pandemic time?” said Mommy.
“Yes!” said Jessica, enthusiastically. “About the pandemic time!”
Mommy arranged Jessica’s pillow to make room for her own head against the headboard, and leaned back, cozied in to Jessica’s warm little body.
“Well, when I was a little girl, in the great country of the United States of America,” began Mommy.
“But it wasn’t great, was it, Mommy!” said Jessica, sitting up.
Mommy put an arm around Jessica and gently settled her back against her pillow.
“No, my love, it was not. But we liked to pretend.”
Jessica relaxed again and closed her eyes, the better to listen.
“And we were very good at pretending, right up until the Great Pandemic. Then we began to understand that we were not great at all.”
“Tell me about the schools, Mommy!”
“Yes, the schools. Well, when I was a little girl during The Great Pandemic, the schools were closed. We had to stay at home and try to learn through computers.”
“You didn’t have virtual environments, did you, Mommy?”
“No, my dear, we did not. And some children didn’t even have computers.”
“That’s right. Some children didn’t even have food.”
“Yeah,” said Jessica. “No food. That’s awful. Tell me about no food.”
“Well, before the Great Pandemic, those children would sometimes get to eat at school. But when the schools closed, they couldn’t even get lunch. They had to try to find food somewhere else, and sometimes they just didn’t get to eat at all.”
“But why didn’t they just go to the pantry and take what they needed?”
“We didn’t have pantries back then, my dear. At least, not like we have now.”
“And they didn’t have doctors, either, did they?”
“Oh, yes, we had doctors!”
“But not for the plague?”
“We had doctors for the plague, too.”
“Then why did so many people die?”
“Well, they didn’t know yet how to treat the plague. But the real problem was that everyone was fighting over whether they should wear masks.”
“Maybe you better tell the story from the start,” said Jessica, sitting up. “I’m starting to get confused. I forget how it went.”
So Mommy told it from the start. The closed schools. The closed businesses (“what’s a business again?”). The dying masses. The overwhelmed hospitals. The homeless masses. The banks taking people’s houses and cars (“isn’t that stealing, Mommy?”). The Great Debate over whether to send children back to school to die or keep them home to maybe not die (“why did any of them have to die at all?”). The Greater Debate over whether to wear masks (“I’m still confused, Mommy,” “I know, darling, I still am too”). The way all of this impacted people with darker skin (“I definitely don’t understand that part, Mommy, explain it again”) and less money (“why did they have less money?”) and other areas of marginalization (“like Aunt Glen and Aunt Steffy and how they tried to make them not be married anymore, right?” “yeah, and how they tried to make people be a gender they weren’t just because of their anatomy” “oh, yeah, that’s right”).
And then at the end, how the people finally rose up and said “enough.” How they rose up and said, “we will no longer sacrifice our children to your gods.”
“What were the names of the gods, Mommy?”
“Capitalism. Patriarchy. White Supremacy. Patriotism. Productivity. Individualism. Those were a few of them. There were more.”
“They were bad gods, weren’t they, Mommy?”
“Yes, my love. They pretended to be good gods, but they demanded that we sacrifice our children, our health, our happiness, and our communities to them.”
“But weren’t those gods mad when the people stopped making sacrifices?”
“Yes, my sweet. Of course they were mad. And they did very bad things. And the worst of the things they did was try to convince us that it was our fault we were suffering. They told us that we had to choose between having nice things and protecting each other. They told us that if we didn’t sacrifice people to them that we would all be poor and desperate for a very long time.”
“But they were lying, weren’t they?”
“They were. They didn’t want us to know that there were plenty of resources for all of us. They didn’t want us to know that if a few very rich and greedy people would do their share, that we could have safety AND nice things. That we could take care of each other AND have nice lives.”
“What did you do? How did you make them stop?”
“We rose up and told them it wasn’t going to be that way anymore. And the people who rose up first were the people who had been hurting the most. And then more joined them. And then more and more.”
“What did the bad gods do?”
“They yelled at us. Beat us. Shot at us. Ran us over with cars. They sat on our necks and choked us, they held us against the ground and they humiliated us. They rounded us up and sprayed us with chemical weapons. They used their worshippers to do all this in their names.”
“And some people died.”
“Lots of people died. From the disease, from the police,”
“The police were the bad guys!”
“Well, not all of them. But yes, the police force was one of the bad guys. Some of the police people were good, but it’s hard to be very good inside a very bad system. And it was a very bad system. Lots of people died before things got better.”
“That’s why we do The Remembering.”
“That’s right, my beloved. We do The Remembering to honor all those who died to bring down the false gods and return us to ourselves.”
Jessica was starting to feel sleepy now. She snuggled down among the stuffed animals and took a deep, contented breath.
“Now tell the rest,” she said.
“The rest is that we decided we didn’t need greedy Billionaires at all. We didn’t need to sacrifice anyone to anything. We decided to make everyone do their fair share in reciprocity. And we built pantries.”
“So everyone can eat, no matter what.”
“That’s right. And free hospitals.”
“Because healthcare is a human right.”
Mommy smiled. Jessica couldn’t see the smile because she was sleepy and her eyes were closed, but she knew Mommy liked it when she used big important phrases like “healthcare is a human right.”
“And we took all the money we were spending on bombs and chemical weapons and we spent it building new classrooms that honored the unique needs of every student. We made sure that teachers were well taken care of and that anyone who wanted to could be trained in how to – “
Jessica was suddenly less sleepy as she shot bolt upright.
“People used to pay to get trained!” she said.
“Yes,” said Mommy. “Even when their training was so that they could take care of the people, they still had to pay. And pay and pay and “
“Pay and pay and pay and pay for the rest of their lives!”
“Mommy, what’s ‘pay’?”
“Okay, darling,” said Mommy. “It is indeed time for you to settle in. That is a longer story than we have time for, even with universal childcare and basic income that ensures I have all the time I need to spend with you.”
“Okay,” said Jessica, snuggling down again. “But Mommy?”
“Was all that really true? What you said? About before the Great Pandemic time and about all those bad gods?”
Jessica opened her eyes a slit to peer at Mommy. To watch her doing what she knew Mommy was doing. To watch Mommy pull her shirt up a little and gaze at the spider-shaped scar on her side. Mommy never wanted to talk about that scar. Aunt Glen said she was too modest. Aunt Steffy said it didn’t matter why. They both said Mommy had been shot by a white person (“what is white again, Aunt Glen?”) because Mommy and her friends were chanting the magic words. (“What magic words, Aunt Glen?”)
“No justice, no peace.”
They were very powerful magic words.
“Yes, my love,” Mommy whispered. “It was real.”