My mother was pregnant out of wedlock. She was locked up for it.
The old women shook their heads. Then, the old women gathered round the rudder wheel. The engineers were busy making their calculations. Until then, my mother was locked up in the bilge. The ship’s crew and passengers gathered round the rudder wheel.
The pilot ignored all of it. He had to guide the ship through the jet streams, and had little patience for crowds clogging his viewports, thermometers, and turing engines. He pushed the elder women’s bodies away from the wheel lest one of them lean in a roll and push the wheel to our doom.
The crew and passengers waited for the engineers to return from their abacuses and papers and quills.
I abandoned them there. Nothing I did there mattered. I went down to the hold, to my mother. She sat on her haunches in the little cell. If they decided her crime was too much weight upon the helium,
“Will they throw you overboard this time?” I asked.
“Don’t be silly, Crumpet,” she said. “It’s all an act. The old birds are just trying to make a big show to scare all you children.”
“Don’t be, Crumpet,” she said. She reached her fingers out from the cell bars. She ran her hands through my hair. “Everything’s going to be fine.”
First, the engineers measured the impact of the weight upon the hydrogen core. Then, they gave their numbers to the elder women that rationed food. The elder women made their recommendation based on a male or female child. The boys are bigger, with larger appetites. The women would set a weight limit for the new child that might be very high or very small. I had heard a rumor that once the weight limit was five pounds. When the baby was born, it was six pounds. It was thrown overboard immediately. No record exists in the logs because the child was never even given a name. It was just excess weight dumped into the endless sea.
All the people wait around the rudder wheel. They vote on their recommendation, and argue the numbers. The passengers and crew listen in utter silence as the women speak. There are no secrets on an airship, after all. Even I knew who my mother’s lover was, and I was only a child of nine.
When the elder women argued the number into a unanimous vote, they wrote their recommendation and amended it onto the form that would go to the Captain. They did this at the rudder wheel so their old legs wouldn’t have to travel far to the Captain’s tea room behind the bridge.
The bilge deck was at the lowest point on the ship, just below the bridge. I didn’t have many ladders to climb to abandon all the people crowded around the Elder women, cluttering up the ladder to the higher decks and the storage halls where the fishermen should have been busy on the calm day with their hundred yard twine and the gentle seas below their windows.
“How’s Jonathen doing?” she asked me. Jonathen was my little brother. I hadn’t seen him since my mother was taken to the bilge. The last I saw of him one of the elder women had carried him off.
“He’s fine,” I said.
“And what about Clarence?”
“I don’t know,” I said, “Shouldn’t he be here?”
“Of course not,” she said, “because he knows everything is going to be fine.”
Clarence was the engineer’s son that had done this to my mother. He was only ten years older than I was. The baby’s grandfather was right this second working the numbers to decide whether his family’s great shame was going to live or to be tossed into the sea.
somebody tagged me in comments. will i be it? will i not?
this i do not know. i do know that today i will not be it.