I’m not meant to be here. The words bounce around my brain like a mantra, an earworm, a nervous tick.
The corridor lights had flickered on when their all-seeing eyes caught my movement, but in here, they refuse to acknowledge me. They’re mimicking an Earth-night cycle. We’re currently in a season of complete darkness – 187 windy but eerily hot days since we’ve felt the rays of either sun – but the hydroponics bay follows a strict 24-hour cycle. The light even vaguely follows an East-to-West motion.
“Ava, override system schedule – password delta-charlie-tango-6-9-4-omega-5. Set to twilight, full moon, cloudless sky. August, Northern hemisphere please.”
Gradually the lights shift from the inky black of deep night to a navy blue. Each time I blink, I register more stars. I scan the artificial sky, trying to get my bearings, and then I find him.
“Hello Orion, old friend,” I breathe, as I drift towards the memory of home. The moon’s pocked surface glows silver, and I can almost feel her pull at my womb, feel her grounding force. There’s no moon in the real sky outside, and while most people blame the lack of sun and vitamin D for the unusual behaviour, I suspect otherwise. Without the moon’s gravitational influence, our cycles have changed, our flow is uncertain, and some of the babies aren’t quite right.
I brush my fingers over some herbs as I walk by; particles of mint and lavender oils float through the air and stir familiarity. I spot the buds of tiny purple flowers on the basil and note that I’ll need to do a harvest tomorrow to keep everything from going woody. Tonight, though, I just want to dig my hands into the soil. To smell the earth, dank and musty, wet and tangy: home.
The artificial UV lights in the walls pulse suddenly.
“Tessa?” Micah’s voice breaks though my focus. I look up from my work, my fingers deep in the warm dirt. My mother taught me that eye contact was a sign of respect, but of course there’s no one there. The disembodied voice continues.
“You’re needed on the ward. I know you’re not on call but – ”
“S’alright, I’m up. I’m in the hydrobays. Should I grab anything?” I’m already moving towards the clary sage; I couldn’t find any during Samara’s birth last week.
“Let me check.”
“I’ve got the sage, and I’ll grab some chamomile. Walking now. Who’s up?”
“It’s Frankie. And Gina. And, well, um, Renatta.”
It takes me a moment to process the names. There are 89 women in regeneration cycle at the moment, but only seven are full term, none of which are Frankie, Gina or Renatta.
“Tessa?” Micah’s voice is hesitant. “Leah says to bring some Shepherd’s Purse too.”
It’s hard not to feel a little self-righteous when he says that. They almost threw out my box of seeds when they rushed me on board, said everything I needed was already growing. Stubborn old witch, the Agros said when the Council realised I was serious, that me and the seeds were a go/no go deal. They were none too happy about giving over four of their grow-pods either. But nothing’s going right with the regen team, their births are painful, long, and too many things are going… wrong. I’ve used so much of my crops that they’ve assigned me a full-time tech to maintain them, and one of the biochemists has mapped the genetic design of my herbs in order to find similar plants out there in the darkness. A few months ago, they had to scrap the butternut squash crops to give me more pod space.
But it’s not the moon. No. It’s the darkness, the lack of vitamin D.
I hurry through the maze of grow-pods to the drying room – another space I had to bully my way into – and run my fingers across the jars of dried leaves until I find the right one. They’ll need a tea, and a good amount by the sounds of it. The rustling sound of brittle leaves brings back the unwanted mantra. I’m not meant to be here.
I’m not meant to be here.
I didn’t tick the right boxes. I’m too old, my bleeding is done, my ovaries dormant. The only life I carry within me now is the knowledge of generations, a life of experiences that are perhaps unrivaled, but mostly insignificant in the scope of this place. I was meant to pass my knowledge to someone else; a younger someone whose body could serve the double purpose of bearing my knowledge, as well as the next generation. But sometimes these things don’t work out. Sometimes our bodies turn on us, reject our intentions and follow a path of their own. Hers did. And so, in the panic of the evacuation, and out of a need for my knowledge, they pushed me on board, loading me with vitamins and injections and antibodies.
So now I’m here instead of her. Here, surrounded by uneasy silent moments, like the pauses in labour when we take a deep breath, stealing ourselves against the coming pain, eyes closed, focusing on relaxing rather than tightening. That moment when we feel the awe of the coming change, the inevitable tearing of one life into two. This silence presses in on all sides and I feel suffocated by darkness, despite the gentle glow from the wall panels.
The jar’s label is peeling, and I pick at it absently as I hurry through the corridors. The bold letters of my calligraphy make me smile. I remember spending hours trying to emulate my mother’s confident handwriting, her simple and bold lines. Bending over the labels, writing the words as she dictated, our call and answer of each herb and its properties. Chamomile, she’d say, and I’d spell it out carefully. To ease the pain, I replied. Lavender? To calm an anxious mind. Shepherd’s Purse? To prevent hemorrhaging. Causes the uterus to contract, inducing labour.
My fingers stop picking at the label. Shepherd’s Purse. Why are they trying to induce women who aren’t full term?
My flash fiction, ‘Blood Moon’, was inspired by the Terra Tuesday workshops at York St John University. I have been thinking a great deal about marginalised experiences lately, specifically experiences unique to women and their physiology; pregnancy, childbirth, the mother-bond, and ageing into the invisible woman. I have been experimenting a great deal with birth narratives, and have now begun to also consider the ancient medicine and wisdom of sage women. When we lose the bearers of a marginalised discipline, we can erase them from history. There is power in our old ways, and moving forward into a new landscape of technology, I think we need to consider the knowledge and experience that kept us alive before our own industrial revolution. Blazing a trail into the unknown, settling off-world, we must remember what we have known.
Anne Dawson is a writer and mother interested in landscape and feminist birth narratives, and how the two can be explored through the lens of speculative fiction. She has an MA in Creative Writing from York St John University, and she has worked previously as writer, researcher and producer in film and documentary production in Canada.