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ADELAIDE Independent Bimonthly Literary Magazine / Revista Literária Independente Bimensal, New York / Lisboa, Online Edition  

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE LAST GIRL IN AMERICA
By Robin Zabiegalski

 

 

 

 

23 days. 23 fucking days. That’s how long it’s been since those boys left me in this glass room. Like a goddamn pet turtle. They don’t know what else to do with me. Until they found me in this glass room, they’d never seen a girl. They’d probably never even seen a real woman. Only female bots. They’re only ten or eleven years old, too young to remember what the world was like before.

I was out hunting when I heard their voices in the woods. I was miles from the cabin off the coast of Oregon, where my mother and I had lived for almost as long as I could remember. We’d been in hiding since right after the Revolution, or The Uprising as the Administration calls it. The victors always get to decide what events are called in the history books.

I’d been hiking all day. I’d been hunting too often and the animals were slowly disappearing. Mom had tried to warn me, but I didn’t listen. In the few days before I’d had to go further and further from the cabin to find game.

I’d heard the snapping branches and crunching leaves before I heard their voices; thin, high voices. Children. I hadn’t heard a child’s voice in years. They weren’t trying to hide their presence. They clunked on heavy feet, as if they were sure the woods were their kingdom to rule.

I should have turned around. I should have quietly crept back to the cabin, to Mom, to safety, but I wanted to see them. I hadn’t seen a child since I was small. I had almost forgotten they existed. Alone and isolated for so long, the outside world seemed distant, unreal, like a show we watched on TV. I just wanted to see their faces, even from a distance.

I crept closer to their voices, peeking around the edges of thick, ancient trees. As the voices grew closer I stepped more cautiously, keenly aware that to be seen would be disaster. I peered around a tree trunk that stood on the edge of a clearing. I slipped the bow and quiver filled with arrows off my back, placed them on the ground, and covered them with dirt and leaves. I judged the distance to the next tree big enough to conceal my presence. I listened and tried to estimate their distance from me before stepping out from cover. I took a deep breath and bounded in to the clearing.

Less than halfway in to the clearing I heard a whooshing noise. I was confused, but I didn’t stop running, until I smacked face first in to an invisible barrier. I lay on the ground stunned for almost a minute. Eventually, my hand made its way to my face. My fingers touched warm stickiness coming from my nose, which ached and throbbed.

I shakily got to my feet and reached out to touch the invisible barrier I’d hit. It was a glass wall. I let my fingers graze the surface and began to walk around the edges, constantly touching it as I went. The walls formed a square. I counted my steps as my mother had taught me to do to approximate distances, and judged that the room was about 8 feet square. I looked up, trying to see the outline of a glass ceiling, but I couldn’t. I tried jumping to see if I could touch the ceiling, but I felt nothing. I went to one of the walls and jumped, trying to see if I could catch the edge of the wall and hoist myself over the top, but I just slid back down the wall.

Three boys burst through the trees. They were busy chatting and none of them had raised their heads yet. I sat on the ground and waited, panting with fear. They all seemed to lift their heads at the same time and I heard their excited gasps and shouts. They all broke in to a sprint, headed toward the room, but they all stopped just short of the wall.

“I think it’s a girl,” said one of the boys excitedly.

“There are no girls anymore stupid,” one of the other boys snapped back.

“Maybe it’s someone’s bot,” replied one of the other boys.

“They don’t make kid bots. Only Mom bots and Wife bots,” said the third boy with exasperation. I stood up and they all instinctively backed away from the wall. I walked directly to the wall and breathed heavily. My hot breath fogged up the glass. I heard their collective gasp.

“It’s breathing! It’s alive.” They all stared at me for a minute in silence. I stared back at them imploring them with my gaze. Please. Please just let me out. After a moment of silent staring, comprehension flashed across the face of one of the boys.

“But look at how old she is. She’s way older than us, right? Maybe she was born before the Uprising.”

“All the girls born before the Uprising were sent away with the women,” the same boy retorted, “so they wouldn’t brainwash boys with their feminism.” His face twisted as he spat out the word “feminism.”

“Maybe she got away,” chimed in the third boy. They all paused for a minute, considering this argument, considering my existence and all the contradictions it proposed.

One of them finally spoke, authoritatively, “It must be a girl.” They looked at each other and nodded, then turned their attention back to me. I nodded as well. He walked up to the wall and tapped the glass, like a child at the zoo. I rolled my eyes and tapped back. He jumped backwards, lost his balance, and fell on the ground. His friends exploded with laughter. His face twisted with anger and embarrassment as he shoved himself off the ground. He shot me a venomous look then turned his back to the glass.

“What should we do with her?” he asked harshly.

I finally found my voice and whispered, “Please let me go home.” None of them turned, so I said a little louder, “Please let me go.” They looked up, their faces gone white. Perhaps they didn’t know I could speak. I realized that though they’d concluded I was a girl, they did not consider me to be like them, to be human.

“Go where?” one of them asked.

The word left my lips before I could think, “Home.” I gasped and clapped my hands over my mouth. I felt hot tears in my eyes. I crumpled under the weight of my mistake.

“You live around here?” the same boy asked incredulously.

“We can’t just let her go,” said the boy who’d fallen to the ground. “She’s illegal.” He paused for a moment, then said with finality, “We have to keep her in here.” I began to cry.

He continued over my sobs, “What if she gets caught and she tells someone we saw her? We could get arrested. Or deported. Or maybe killed. We can’t just let her go home.” The other two considered this carefully.

One said quietly, “Why can’t we just take her back to your house and tell your Dad? He’d call the police and have her arrested.” The other nodded in agreement, but the boy who fell shook his head.
“My dad would kill me if he knew we’d gone this far in to the woods. Besides how would we explain where we found her? No one but us knows about this room. We promised it was our secret. She can be our secret too.” The other two looked at him and then at each other. Resignation came over their faces. I continued to sob, shaking on the ground.

“We have to get back before my Dad gets home,” he stated firmly. They turned their backs on the wall, on me, and walked away.

As soon as they left I began throwing rocks and slamming them against the glass, but they never even left a mark. I tried climbing the glass walls, but I slid down. I tried jumping until my legs felt like they would fall off. My hands never found something to hold on to.

I combed the forest floor within the room. It had occurred to me almost immediately that I must have stepped on some sort of weight sensitive trigger that caused the walls to raise. I walked heel to toe over every inch of the room, but the walls did not come down. I crawled on my hands and knees moving every leaf, but found no button or device that would move the walls.

The trigger mechanism must lock after being triggered. It could only be disengaged by someone who knew the trick. My best guess was that the police had placed the room there years ago, to catch people like my mother and I as they tried to flee. The boys must have found an animal trapped in here on one of their illicit adventures. They must have worked out the trigger and set the animal free in the process. Now they held the secret to keeping me trapped.

I gathered leaves in the corner of the room and crafted a makeshift bed. After I laid down I huddled in to the leaves and brushed some more over me until I was almost covered and closed my eyes.

 

I am small again. Three or four years old. I’m in my own bed, in the cabin where I’ve lived most of my life. I’m supposed to be asleep, but I’m not. The voices down the hall are too loud. Mimi and Poppy are here. We snuggled on the couch all day. I buried my face in Mimi’s neck and smelled her sickly-sweet perfume. She ran her fingers through my dark brown curls. I curled up in Poppy’s lap and smelled the rich tobacco he used in his pipe. Everyone was smiling, even Mom. But it doesn’t sound like she’s smiling now. I slide out of my bed and my feet land softly on the floor. I step deliberately, soundlessly. Ninja steps, that’s what Mom calls them. We’ve been Ninja stepping my whole life.

I creep down the hall and stop just outside the living room. Mom says sometimes I’m too good at listening, which is confusing because she’s the one who taught me to listen all the time, for every little sound.

I hear Mimi tensely say, “I just don’t understand why we can’t come anymore.”

“It’s too dangerous,” Mom spits back at her.

“But the police never connected you to the Revolution,” replies Poppy. “I never understood why you thought you had to hide out here. And why you had to take our granddaughter out here with you. You covered your tracks so well.”

“It’s been over a year sweetheart,” Mimi says calmly. “If they haven’t figured it out yet, why would they now?”

“Do you even watch the news?” snaps Mom. “Haven’t you heard about the arrests? The deportations?”

“Of course we have,” exasperation edges in to Mimi’s voice.

There’s silence for a moment before Mom says, “They got Nadia. That’s a direct connection to me.”

Poppy inhales sharply, then replies, “She wouldn’t say anything, would she?”

Mom’s voice lowers and fills with quiet anger. “You have no idea what they’ll do to her.” Mimi begins to cry.

She chokes out, “Can we at least say goodbye to Eva?”

“In the morning,” says Mom. “I don’t want to wake her. We’ve had too many sleepless nights already.” The voices stop and all I can hear is Mimi softly crying. I creep back to bed and close my eyes.


I woke up on the ground, shivering. I sat up, for a moment disoriented. Why had I fallen asleep in the woods? How far was I from home? I wiped my runny nose and it ached. Slowly, I remembered running in to the glass, and the boys, and desperately searching for a way out. I crawled forward until I touched the glass, reached down to the earth and began to dig. I scooped small bits of earth in to a pile next to me.

After a few minutes of digging my fingernails scraped on a rough surface below the dirt. I yelped and stuck my fingers in my mouth. I leaned down over the gap I’d created between the earth and the wall and tried to make out what my hand had hit upon. I reached down and slowly ran my fingers across the surface and realized it was concrete. I moved to another spot and started digging, until my fingernails scraped the concrete again. I moved through the rest of the room, digging until I hit the concrete floor with my hands. I didn’t stop until I heard the sound of footsteps coming toward the room.

I looked up and saw the boy who’d fell the day before. He glared at me contemptuously as he approached, carrying a bottle of water in one hand and a granola bar in the other. He stopped just short of the glass, looked up, and tossed the bottle and the bar over the top of the wall. I tried to watch their trajectory and judge where the top of the wall was, but he’d thrown them so high and they came down in a large arc. I scrambled toward the food and water, scooping it up greedily. As I picked them up, the boy began to walk away. I dropped the bottle and granola bar and ran to the wall.

“Wait! Please don’t leave me in here.” He didn’t even turn. I slammed my body against the wall, screaming obscenities at him until his figure disappeared from sight. I slammed my open hand against the glass wall, angry tears streaming down my face.

After I ate, I resumed my digging. By the time the sun was setting I had uncovered most of the bottom of the room. It was a solid slab of concrete. I crawled around the room, running my fingers over the concrete, feeling for a trigger to open the door, but found nothing. Exhausted, I curled up in one of the piles of dirt I’d made while uncovering the floor and passed out.

I spent the next morning gathering the piles of dirt I’d made in to a small hill near one of the walls. I packed it down as much as I could, trying to make a surface that would support my weight.

Late in the afternoon, I heard feet tromping through the forest. I stopped digging and headed to the wall closest to the sound. Another one of the boys emerged from the tree line. As he approached, I saw that he was carrying a bottle of water and a large bag of Doritos. He stopped just short of the wall and stared at me. It was the boy who’d suggested turning me in. I glowered at him through the wall. He examined the bottom of the room and his eyes darted to the small dirt pile I’d made. He smiled a little. I slammed my palm against the wall and he involuntarily jumped.

“Are you giving me the food or not?” I snarled. He looked up toward the top of the wall and then chucked the water bottle. The bag of Doritos followed. I grabbed the water bottle and bag, then turned to watch him walk away. He hadn’t moved. He just stood, staring. I walked back to the wall and stared him down.

“I’m not a fucking animal in a zoo. I’m not here for your fucking entertainment. I’m trapped and you little cowards won’t let me out.” He was silent, watching me the whole time.  I screamed, but he didn’t even flinch. I sat, opened the water and the Doritos, took a drink, and ate. He sat on the ground and watched me. When I’d finished the water and half the bag of Doritos, I turned my gaze to him. I stared him down, willing him to get up and leave, but he didn’t.

Eventually, I stood up and went back to the dirt pile I’d been constructing. I continued to move the dirt from all around the room. He watched me work, studying my every movement.

“Do you think you’ll get it high enough to jump over the wall?” I started at the sound of his voice and turned to face him.

“I wouldn’t have to if you would just let me the fuck out of here.” He stood up slowly and walked away.

By nightfall I’d finished moving all the dirt to the pile. It only came up to my waist. I tried to climb up it, but the dirt crumbled under my feet and I slid downward. I yelled and kicked the dirt pile hard, stubbing my toe against the wall behind it. I sat down and cradled my foot, staring blankly in to the trees.

 

Mom and I are in the cabin, sitting in front of the TV. The flashing image shows women being dragged out of their houses in handcuffs, their families screaming behind them.

The anchor announces, “As the Administration’s investigation in to the Uprising continues, more connections to women’s groups all over the country are being discovered. Those found to be involved in the Uprising are being taken in for questioning. Those found guilty of participating in the Uprising will be charged with treason, which carries a death sentence since the recent passing of the ‘Domestic Terrorism Act’.”

Mom picks up the remote and hits pause. We’ve watched this footage over and over in the past twelve years. She turns from the TV and looks right in to my eyes.

“The Administration created a narrative in which feminist groups throughout the country were responsible for the Uprising. They televised the ‘confessions’ of hundreds of women who had been abducted from their homes and tortured until they were willing to say whatever they had to in order to avoid execution. The Administration used these confessions as ‘proof’ that women were a threat to national security. They exploited pre-existing misogyny and fear to justify annihilating an entire gender.” I let out an exasperated sigh.

“Thanks for the history lesson Mom. Not like I’ve heard it a hundred times or anything.” Her eyes harden and her fingers clench in to a fist.

“I risked my life to prevent this. I risked my life to try and give you a world where this wasn’t real.”
“But instead we’ve been alone in this cabin my entire life,” I snap back. Her fist raises, but she immediately drops it.

Through clenched teeth she says, “Let me tell you about some of the other people who risked their lives, and lost them, fighting the Administration.” She gets up and leaves the room. I consider escaping in to the woods, but it’s not worth the screaming match that would ensue when I came back.

Mom reenters the room, stands over me, and tosses a small book in to my lap. I’ve never seen it before, which is saying something, since the cabin is so small and we’ve been isolated here so long. She’d hidden this well.

“Open it,” she barks. I open the cover and see a photo staring back at me. How quaint. I didn’t know anyone kept photo albums anymore. I stare at the faces of two women, one olive skinned, wearing a hijab, the other dark skinned and voluptuous. Their faces beam at me. As I stare at their faces, faded images pop in to my head. I vaguely remember the soft fabric of the hijab against my face, the dark-skinned woman blowing raspberries on my belly as I laughed uncontrollably.

“That’s Samira and Aamino. They were my college roommates. Aamino was deported after the Immigrant Registration Act was passed. Samira was killed six months later by a mob, in the street, in broad daylight. They screamed ‘ISIS bitch’ as they beat her to death.” My heart does somersaults and nausea overwhelms me.

“Turn the page,” she commands. I comply and find a photo of two handsome men in suits, kissing under a flower covered arch. “Gary and Mason. When the Administration repealed gay marriage, they were no longer legally married. When Gary got cancer, Mason wasn’t allowed to make medical decisions for his husband. Gary died alone, in the middle of the night, because the nurses wouldn’t allow Mason in the room.” I feel hot tears in my eyes.

“Turn the page.” I see a man and a woman in front of a small storefront. “Hannah and Rob opened that store together right after they got married. Turned out, Rob was an abusive asshole, but Hannah never left him because the Property Acts stated that she couldn’t own the business without her husband’s name on the paperwork. And he would have gotten all her assets if they’d gotten a divorce.”

“Mom, please stop.”

“Turn. The. Page.” I see a thin, pale woman, trying to smile, but her attempt is insufficient. “That’s Mary. In our senior year of college, she was raped. She took her rapist to court, but he was cleared of all charges because the jury didn’t believe a ‘mistake’ should ruin his future.” Tears roll down my cheeks.

“These are people who fought in the Revolution. Revolutionaries. The Administration took everything from them, and they took it legally. They used the systems already in place to strip these people of their basic human rights. When these people, and hundreds of others fought back, they were slaughtered on the steps of the Capital building in D.C. during a peaceful protest. The cops told the media and the media told the world that these people fired first; that they were violent degenerates who just wanted to see the world burn. And the people were so scared they believed it. These are the people I fought next to. These are the people I watched die.” She crouches down and takes my chin in her hand. “Don’t you ever, ever take for granted the fact that you and I are still alive.”

 

For the first few weeks one of the boys came every day to toss me food and a bottle of water. Sometimes they stayed for a bit and sometimes they didn’t. The boy who’d fell the first day never stayed. He barely even looked at me. He just threw the food and water bottle, then left; like I was a chore that needed completing.

The boy who’d watched me continued to just watch, from a distance, studying me like a mad scientist. If he could have snuck in at night and built a maze for me to run through I’m sure he would have. After that first day he’d come, I swore to myself that I’d never do anything even vaguely interesting while he watched. I didn’t look at him, I didn’t move, I just sat. A living statue. My body almost vibrated with anger in that stillness. He never spoke to me and I never spoke to him.

The third boy came the most often, four or five times a week. He would toss the food and water over the wall and then sit right next to the glass and watch me eat. He just sat there, silently, and watched me for what seemed like hours. He would look straight in to my eyes. It was unnerving until I realized that his eyes were always sad. Sometimes there were tears trying to spill over the edges. He never cried. The tears were suspended on the edge of his eyes, making them glassy.

 

            I kept trying to build up the dirt in to a hill that would support my weight. I started saving some of my water and mixing it with the dirt, hoping that if the mud dried it would create a stronger surface. The hill still collapsed under my weight. I tried piling the dirt on top of the water bottles to give it more structure. This helped enough for me to be able to stand on top of the hill and reach up. Even standing on the pile, I couldn’t feel the top of the glass walls. I tried jumping, praying my fingers would catch on the top edge of the wall, but they didn’t. I realized then, for the first time, that I maybe I wouldn’t ever make it out of the room. Everything went numb.

 

A few days later, the teary boy came back. He tentatively approached the wall and placed his palm on the glass, with all of his fingers spread. At first, I ignored him. I sat in the corner of the room, and stared at his hand. He kept his hand there for a few minutes, then dropped it, maintaining eye contact with me the whole time. He placed his palm on the glass again, and stared at me expectantly. Cautiously, I crawled over to the glass. I stared at his hand, and then lifted my eyes to his eyes. Today, for the first time, the tears spilled over and slid down his face. I lifted my hand and placed my palm against the glass, exactly where his was on the other side. My fingers stretched out past his, and I realized for the first time how young he actually was.

As we held our hands together on the glass, I just barely heard him say, “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” I put my other hand up and pressed my forehead to the glass. He mirrored me. Our hot breath fogged both sides of the glass.

“Please let me go home,” I said, staring in to his eyes, so close to mine on the other side of the glass. He looked away, bowed his head, and began to sob.

“I don’t know how to open the room. They won’t show me.” All the air was sucked from my lungs. I dropped my hands from the glass, curled my arms around my knees, and began to rock. The boy on the other side of the glass got up and ran.

 

The crying boy never came back. The other two boys started coming less often. The hateful boy only came every once in a while. The mad scientist came more often, for a while, but still less than he had in the beginning. They were getting bored with me. It was becoming too much of a chore to keep me alive.

 

Then, they stopped coming at all.  It seems like forever ago, but maybe it was just last week. I can’t tell anymore. Everything is getting fuzzy. They haven’t come for a long time. Well, it seems like a long time, but maybe it was last week. I can’t seem to remember anything anymore. I can’t seem to keep my thoughts in order. They run around, then stop midway, and don’t come back. Then it’s empty, until different thoughts start running around all over again.

I hoarded food and water. I made it last as long as I could, but it’s gone now, and it’s been gone for a while. I can’t figure out how long. When I can think clearly, I know that I’m going to die if they don’t come back. When I can think clearly, I know that they’re not coming back. I know that I’m going to die in this glass room.

I sleep a lot. I still dream. My dreams seem to be the only place where my thoughts can organize themselves coherently. I dream of Mom. I dream of being wrapped up in her warm arms in front of the fire in our cabin. I’m so cold all the time now. I dream of Mimi and Poppy. How I used to sit in their laps, before it was too dangerous to see them. I dream of inhaling Mimi’s perfume, Poppy’s pipe smoke.

I hear Mom’s voice, loud in my ears, telling me about the Revolutionaries and how hard they fought. I hear her speeches about feminism and human rights. I used to roll my eyes and tune her out. Now I wish she would lecture me forever. I swear I’ll listen Mom. I promise I’ll listen.

 

The dreams stop coming. Her voice fades from my ears. I lie on the cold leaves and stare up at the sky until everything goes black.

 

 

 

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