Neutralization by Robbin Taylor

Letty opened the front door and stepped out into the beautiful morning. The first cool breath of winter caressed her coarse cheek as the brilliant sun warmed her slightly stooped shoulders. “Ah, winter in Florida.” She smiled as she lifted her face to the sun. “There’s nothing like it.” She thought.

She ambled down the driveway admiring the sight of the beautiful red and white poinsettias she had placed on each side. Songbirds were chirping from the giant oak trees that were just beginning to lose their acorns, and squirrels skittered around searching for those delectable goodies.

As she reached the curb she stopped to admire the puffy white clouds floating lazily in the azure blue sky. It was the kind of sky that always reminded her of the long ago television cartoon, The Simpsons. She stepped down off of the curb and opened the mailbox. She waved to her next door neighbor Henry as she reached into the box to retrieve the mail.

She scanned through the papers as she made her way back up the sidewalk. There were the usual circulars, credit card offers and pleas for donations from various government offices. The final envelope in the pile made her stop dead in her tracks. It was from the Department of Neutralization.

She began to feel light headed as she ripped open the envelope. She knew why it had come, but she couldn’t quite believe that it was true. She scanned the letter and fainted dead away.

Henry came running over. As she opened her eyes, she saw him reading her letter with horror on his face. She feebly tried to grab the letter from him. “Letty, this letter says they are going to neutralize you! How can they do that?”

She shook her head as she gingerly sat up. She sighed. “It’s called the Neutralization Act, Henry. They passed the law years ago, remember? They’re the damned government. They don’t give a Sam Hill about us old folks except to get rid of us.”

“But you’re not old enough! It’s not supposed to be until you reach 80 or are proven infirm! And you are certainly neither of those.”

“That’s not true, Henry. I just turned 80 yesterday.”

Henry gasped as he helped her up. “What? You’ve been lying to me about your age all these years, Letty?”

“Right.” She smiled feebly as she stood and brushed herself off. “I have been lying about my age to everyone. Marty was the only soul besides the government who knew my true age.”

Henry look slightly amused. “I can’t believe I never even suspected.”

“Well, now you know. And I’m done. I don’t know what I was thinking. I guess I lied about my age for so long that I forgot how old I really am. And now I am 80 years old and I’ve reached my deadline.” She smiled and shrugged. “What can ya do?”

Henry looked pained. “I don’t know, Letty. But I’ve heard rumors that there is a group”

Letty held up her hand in a “stop right there” gesture. “Shhh don’t even say it! They could be listening… This is nasty business, this government sponsored murder. People are murdered every day to make room for the younger generation. The problem is that our generation just had too many kids. And the next one had too many kids and raised them to be self-centered, egotistical, no-one-else-matters-but-me brats. And this is the result. ‘Old people must die for they are useless to us’.”

Henry shook his head sadly. “I’m so sorry, Letty. You are a good woman. You are a good independent woman who never hurt a flea.” He looked down to the ground as if to compose himself. “Is there anything I can do for you, Letty?”

“Run off to Mexico with me?” She laughed, and quickly sobered when she saw the horrified look on Henry’s face. “Actually yes, there is something you can do for me, Henry.”

“Anything.”

“Will you find Mike a good home?”

“Mike has a good home with me. I’ll take him, Letty. I love that dog, you know.”

I know you do, that’s why I asked you. I didn’t really want to ask you to take him in, but I’m glad that you will. That makes me feel a lot better.” She reached over and hugged him. “I gotta go. Thanks for everything.” She turned and started up the driveway. Suddenly she stopped and turned back. “Henry!” She called after him. He turned around. “You were always a good neighbor. Thank you.”

Henry lifted his hand in a sad farewell salute and nodded his head. “I’ll miss you, Letty.”

She nodded and continued up the driveway towards the house.

She closed the door behind her and leaned with her back on it for support. She was so scared she could hardly stand. This was really it. These were to be the final hours of her life as she knew it. The thought overwhelmed her so much that she slid down and sat on the floor with her back still leaning against the door. Her twelve year old red Doberman approached her cautiously. He sensed that something wasn’t quite right. Mommy didn’t sit on the floor. That was his domain. What was going on? He muzzled Letty’s arm and curled up next to her. “Well, Mike, at least they won’t get you, old boy. I know you’re gonna like it over at Henry’s house. But I sure will miss you.” She leaned down and placed a kiss upon his soft head.

With not a small amount of trepidation, she looked at the letter again. There was the seal of the great state of Florida. The date, her name and address.

 

Dear Mrs. Schumacher:

We regret to inform you that under the rules of the Neutralization Act of 2035, you have reached the neutralization stage based upon the following criteria:

You are 80 years old.

In your own best interest, the following rules have been established regarding neutralization. Please note that the 24 hour Neutralization Board surveillance has been activated. You will be watched from now until your neutralization date, which is listed below.

DECEMBER 24TH, 2040

(Merry fucking Christmas, she thought)

You must be present in your home on the scheduled date of neutralization.

You will answer the door to the neutralizers.

Should you fail to answer the door to the neutralizers, they will force entry, as is mandated by Law.

It is recommended that you remove all pets and loved ones from the home before neutralization. All living things in the home will be neutralized.

Should you choose to leave the area on or before the date listed above, you will be tracked down and taken to the nearest neutralization station and the administration of the neutralization gas will occur.*

Following the administration of the neutralization gas, you will remain alive and well until you fall asleep. Neutralization will occur following sleep.

Should you choose to take any medication or substance to prolong wakefulness, neutralization will occur immediately.

THERE ARE NO EXCEPTIONS AND NO APPEALS ARE AVAILABLE TO YOU.

DO NOT CONTACT THE NEUTRALIZATION BOARD.

Your full cooperation is appreciated.

*Should it be necessary to transport you to a neutralization station, your nearest surviving relatives will be billed for the cost of transportation.

 

It wasn’t like this was a big surprise, she thought. Everyone on the planet knows that you are only allowed to live for 80 years if you are an American. And that’s only if you are healthy. It was such a shame to her that they murdered people just because they became old or ill. Why, they even murdered children who were diagnosed with terminal diseases. The government had just become one big killing machine. The wars simply did not get rid of enough people to satisfy them.

No one else in the world did this. They didn’t even do it in Canada or Mexico. The entire world had more sense than the good old USA. Some things never changed. She shook her head sadly and got to her feet.

She wandered through the living room taking in the white wainscoting they had installed a few years back, just before Marty died. Into the dining room with its large cherry wood table and the matching antique china hutch that held her grandmother’s china. How many dinners had they had at that table? Into the kitchen, which had been remodeled back in the 2020’s; it looked old now, but it was clean. She still loved that table in the breakfast nook with the matching colored vinyl and metal chairs. She walked back into the hallway again, and up the stairs. Turning right at the top of the stairs she peeked into her sewing room. She rarely used it anymore. She closed the door and turned back around having no desire to look into her own room where she’d slept alone for the past two years. Looking into the bathroom, she remembered the time she fell down getting out of the shower. Marty had been so scared that she’d been hurt, it took her 20 minutes to talk him out of calling an ambulance. Smiling, she opened the door to the den. This was mostly Marty’s room. It contained their computer and a filing cabinet for “important papers.” She never did use the computer much. That had been Marty’s forte, not hers.

It was a modest house, but it had been theirs, and it was a good house. It was a sturdy house. It was a house that had seen plenty of life and love and laughter.

It was so very hard to believe that it was now all over. She walked back downstairs and sat down on the living room couch. She stared at the blank TV. She just didn’t know what to do with herself.

The phone shrilled out its loud tone. She looked at it like it was some foreign object that she had never seen before. She didn’t bother to get up to answer it. She would just listen. Maybe call whoever it was back, maybe not.

The answering machine picked up. “We are unavailable to take your call at the moment, please leave a message. Thank you.” (Never let em know you live alone!) The voice that came through the speaker sounded like a robot. “Happy Birthday, Letiticia! You have reached your deadline! Your birthday gift will be delivered at (here the voice changes to a deeper toned robot voice) One Thirty AM (cheery robot voice again) On (deeper robot voice) December Twelfth Two Thousand and Forty. (cheery robot voice again) Please be prepared to receive your birthday gift and have a wonderful day! The answering machine clicked off and the message light began to blink.

Letty was one of the lucky ones. She was a very healthy 80 years old. If you wanted to escape, you had to be healthy.

Henry was right. There was a group that helped people to escape the fate of neutralization. And they were coming to pick her up in two days.

Letty was going to Mexico. This was her “birthday gift”. She had used the money she got when Marty passed away to buy her life. His life for hers. Was it a fair trade? He would probably think so. She did not. But it was what it was and she couldn’t change that. They never even told anyone that Marty was sick. They just toughed it out because they knew he would have been killed had the government gotten wind of it. Letty was very sad because she always wondered if they could have saved Marty by moving to Mexico or Canada. And now here she was getting ready to move to Mexico after all.

She had two days. Two days to spend with Mike. She’d not had much of a social life in the past few years since Marty got sick. They just stayed at home and watched movies and read most of the time. So there really wasn’t anyone else to say good bye to. They had no children and no living relatives, none that kept in touch at any rate. The only one that she had to say good bye to was her beloved dog. And he was following her every move. He would not let her be alone, even followed her into the bathroom. But that was ok with Letty. She sure was going to miss old Mike.

Perhaps she could get a dog in Mexico. A Chihuahua might be the perfect dog to have in Mexico.

She went back upstairs to the computer room and retrieved her will. She had assigned her lawyer to be her executor and he was instructed to sell her house and all of her belongings. The money was to be given to Henry to take care of Mike. Of course, there was much more money than was needed to take care of Mike, but that was ok. She didn’t want any of her silent relatives to come out of the woodwork when they heard she was gone. And so it went – her dog and her entire life’s savings all going to her neighbor.

She wondered if it was really worth it to run. How many more good years could she possibly have? She was all alone. And now she would be more alone than ever. She quickly dismissed the thought; the will to survive was strong.

That night as she fell asleep she prayed. She didn’t know if she needed anything else, but she only prayed for strength.

***

Letty was sitting alone in the kitchen drinking a cup of coffee when she heard a soft rap on the back door. She looked through the curtain and sighed. This was it. This was either the government come to kill her because they found out she was trying to escape or it was her rescuer. She opened the door and the man silently gestured her to come with him. She went back to retrieve her back pack from the kitchen table and took a moment for one last look. She didn’t bother to put her coffee cup in the sick. Who would care? Good bye house, she thought. Good bye Mike. Good bye life.

“Ma’am we’ve got about 30 hours of driving ahead of us and we can only freeze the video feed for two minutes, if you don’t mind.” He gave a come-with-me gesture that she didn’t see.

She turned and glared at the man. “Fifty years, young man. I lived here for fifty years. The least you can do is to give me 30 seconds to look before I leave forever.”

The man nodded his head once and turned his back.

She walked over to the place where Mike’s food and water bowl was kept. She knelt on the floor. “You were the best dog in the world, my friend. Live well.” She whispered. That was enough. It was now time to move on.

She walked out with the man and climbed into the black car that was quietly idling on the street behind her house. As the car pulled away she wiped the tears from her face. Ok, she thought to herself. Keep it together now. It’s a new life, a new adventure. You can reinvent yourself anytime. And now is the time.

***

30 hours is a long time to travel for anyone. It’s especially difficult for an 80 year old woman. They stopped to eat and to use the restroom, and that was it. There were two men taking turns driving and this left Letty to grab any amount of sleep that she possibly could in the back seat of the car. It was comfortable enough, the leather seats were soft, and they gave her a pillow and a blanket. Even so, her old bones were feeling stiff and she just wanted her own bed.

By the time they reached the border at Nogales, Letty was totally exhausted. They sat in line at the border for what seemed like hours. When they finally reached the checkpoint, the man driving handed over their passports. The border patrol agent looked into the back seat and tipped his hat to the smiling old woman. He handed the passports back to the driver and waved them through. Letty could not believe how easy it was.

The driver looked at her in the rearview. “Just another hour and we’ll be in beautiful San Carlos. You will be delivered directly to your foster family there. You will love it, it’s a beautiful town.”

Letty leaned up to the seat and asked “Could you please just do me one tiny favor before we go any further?”

“What’s that?” He asked.

“I would like to take one last look at my homeland, if you don’t mind.”

The man sighed. Why did these people have to be such pains in the ass? “Sure lady. I’ll just swing around here and you can walk up to the fence and take a look, ok?”

“Yes, thank you so much.”

The car swung around in a grand arc and stopped by a portion of the fence that separated the US and Mexico. Letty got out of the car and walked over to the fence.

It was hard to believe that she was on the outside looking in. She suddenly felt a great anger. How could her own country do this to her? How could they force her to live out her golden years in a foreign country? In her rage she could think of only one thing to do.

She lifted her hand, raised her middle finger, and let the little bird fly.

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Robbin writes mainly short stories, and has self published a short novel titled Sienna. She lives in Florida.

2 Comments
  1. Reply
    Roberta SchulbergGoro
    May 10, 2010 at 11:17 am

    Very interesting story set in an ambiguous time and upside down.
    But oak trees? Squirrels? Must be in a different part of Florida than the one I’m in.

  2. Reply
    Robbin
    May 12, 2010 at 2:20 pm

    LOL Roberta, Yes, I’m not sure which part you live in but there are many oaks and lots of squirrels here in West Central.

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