by Sylvia Neumann
“You are a transitional generation.”
– Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale
Lena sits at her computer, watching the film. The voiceover is grave. “The Catastrophe made life in the open air impossible. There was too much radiation, making air and water unsafe. Many people died, and there was not enough food for those who survived. However, our wise Leader had domes built, where people could live in safety. The domes provide everything humans need: clean water, healthy food and gyms where adults and children can exercise. Education is provided for children and useful work for adults. Be grateful to the Leader.”
At fourteen, Lena is old enough to remember life outside. Her parents used to take her walking. A favourite walk led up a hill, past trees and bushes which sometimes flowered. At the top, they would stop and look down. Tiny houses and churches clustered in villages below. Horses grazed in fields. She could feel the wind and the sun on her face.
At the time, the Catastrophe had bewildered her. People were told to go into underground shelters. Somewhere there was an explosion. When they emerged, people started getting ill. After her father died, she and her mother set out to join a community. They were often hungry and thirsty, but eventually they found a place where a dome was being constructed. Her mother died before it was finished. She was left numbed by her losses. Now she is grateful to the Leader for saving her life, but she misses the outside air.
A few days later, she is walking to a gym session with other teenagers. Hearing a noise somewhere above, she stops and looks up. At first, she can see nothing. Suddenly, she spots a small object high above, fluttering against the plastic skin of the dome. It must be a bird, which has somehow got in. A new hope is born in her heart. There is a world outside where life is possible.