In the colony, there was one purpose and one purpose only for its inhabitants.
Rapid population growth, where we had exactly two hundred years to grow our population as much as we could. Theoretically, by the time the colony was winding down, the thirteenth generation, or twelve born in the colony, would be learning about how to live in the outside world again. They’d learn their laws, and be told about their ways, and there would be efforts made so that they could more easily rejoin society.
But up until that generation was born, we were completely isolated from the outside world, with what little trade allowed being controlled by the outside government. We would always have what we needed to fulfill the purpose of the colony, but not much else.
Every mated couple was expected to produce at least four children before they were thirty years old, with a minimum of seven children in a lifetime the ultimate goal. Your children, of course, we're only counted when they themselves produced a child of their own, so if you had seven children and four didn’t survive to adulthood and one of the three that did had yet to have any children of their own, then the government said you only had two -
That was a math problem I had been given when I was still in school, I remembered.
I also remembered being told that two was not nearly enough.
A woman had roughly forty years to have those seven children, and men had right about sixty years.
Of course, men could produce children right up until their death, and while men regularly lived to see the triple ones of one hundred and eleven, it was vulgar to have a mate more than twenty years your junior, even if you were a widower. And as one only had children with their spouse, then men really only had until their wife was in her forties to have those seven children.
So every person in the colony had forty years – thirty-five, really – to have at least seven children. At least seven children, actually, with everyone saying that eight or nine was the safer number in case one or two died before they could have a child of their own.
More often than not, you were married before fifteen and usually had at least two children before you were twenty. Some like my younger brother had four before they were twenty. Some, like our parents, didn’t have any until they were very nearly thirty. It really depended on the maturity of the individual, what they had to offer a prospective mate and whether or not you were born in a town where there were enough eligible partners – my parents, for instance, both came from towns where nearly everyone there was a first or second cousin, so they had to leave to find each other. My siblings and I were much more fortunate, as we were the first in our families to be born in our town, where we had no relations to the locals.
But every three months after you turned sixteen years old and you were still unmarried, you got a letter from the government that required you to fill out a form and mail in an explanation as to why you were unmarried and what you were doing to fix that. The first four or five times, they accepted answers like ‘I have a matchmaker working on it, I just haven’t found someone I would want to build a life with.’ or ‘I just got out of a relationship, but I’m looking quite hard for another.’ They might even require your parents and grandparents to vouch for you. Probably half of all residents had to fill out one or two forms before they were married.
After those four of five forms, you’d get a summons from the government. First, you had to go talk to the mayor, and the mayor of your town would have to sign off on the fact that you were trying to find a spouse. If you were still unmarried six months after speaking with the mayor, you would get a more firm letter that the mayor as well as your parents, grandparents, and great grandparents would all have to sign off on saying you were making attempts.
So more often than not, you were married before your sixteenth birthday.
Matchmaking was a very, very serious business because divorces were very difficult to be granted, and because infidelity was an offense that would lose you something precious – one finger if you were lucky, your entire hand if not – it was important to find someone that you would be comfortable building a life together. And as lives were long and marriages could easily last eighty years, it was important to choose someone you could be happy with and grow with, someone you could raise a family and built a life together with.
Choose the wrong partner, and you could be honest to God miserable….
Which is why I was sitting here with a summons to the mayor.
If I had more than six siblings that all had at least three children, then I would have had more time, but I had six younger siblings and the only one of them that was married with children was my brother, who had one son and three daughters. (Well. Four. But they wouldn’t count poor Joy because she wouldn’t ever have children of her own, now would she?)
And so I was in exceptionally hot water and expected a very stern talking to by the mayor later today.
But first, chores.
Nearly everyone in the colony rose with the rising sun, and I was no
Summer was ending and we were about to begin our busiest time of the year, so there wouldn’t be many lazy mornings to be had for much longer. In just a few shorts weeks, by this time of the morning, I’d already be dressed, finishing breakfast, and getting ready to go out the door to start harvesting.
But not today.
Today I took my time and stayed as quiet as possible so my sisters, whom I shared a room with, got that extra time to rest before they to had to get up. I sat on the side of my bed for a few minutes as I looked out the window, watching the sky brighten with the dawn. Though Roy had always hated it when he was in here with us, my younger sisters and I all enjoyed sleeping with the curtains open so we could see out at the night sky, watch the wind pass through the maple trees, and gaze up at the moon.
The morning light, however, was never much of a friend to my sisters, so while I rose with it, I would go and pull the curtains closed before it got too bright, and it’d stay that way until my mom came in to wake my sisters. Before I closed them, I looked out at the fields around my family’s home. The air was heavy with moisture and dew still clung to the grass, a golden sunrise making everything glow like it was enchanted. Mabel loved to paints dawns. I hoped that she would be able to see one like this here before the light began to change with the seasons.
I looked over it for a moment longer before I pulled closed the lacy white curtains, which would block out most like but not all, leaving enough for the girls to see around the room when Mom came in.
I went and pulled on a pair of jeans, combing my fingers through my hair before I ran my hands over my head and grabbed a thin t-shirt. I carried it out into the hall and closed the bedroom door quietly behind me, padding over to my parents' room to look into their open door and see that my three nieces were still passed out on my parents' bed.
My brother Roy and his wife Mabel were going through a very difficult time as their fourth born, a little girl named Joy, had not come home with them from the maternity ward. Though it had been a live birth, she died shortly after. Both had taken it very hard as Mabel herself was the fourth born of nine siblings, so it was a special number for them both. Unlike with her previous children though, Mabel was also suffering from very severe postpartum depression and so last night she had been brought back to the maternity ward until she had recovered.
When I came downstairs, Little Laurie was sitting on my father’s lap as they read the cartoons in the paper, my mom busy packing my sister’s lunches for school – but I suppose I should call him Lawrence, because while he was named for myself, he enjoyed my legal name while I preferred the shorter Laurie, which had been the name of my father’s favorite brother.
“Roy not back yet?” I asked quietly as I entered, pulling my shirt on before I went to sit with my father at the kitchen table, accepting the plate of eggs he handed to me before he adjusted the glasses on his nose.
“Got word that Mabel’s great granny is coming down on the same train as Big Blue -she’s come down to help with poor Mabel,” My dad said with a little nod, Little Laurie – Lawrence - shoveling a spoonful of oatmeal into his mouth as continued to stare at the newspaper in my Dad’s hands. The morning cartoon read was something Lawrence usually did with Roy, but today Dad was stepping in for him. “He explicitly said he would be going with us to see the mayor, though.”
My lips pressed together and I exchanged a concerned look with my dad because Roy – though well-meaning – was not like the two of us. My Dad and I were relatively even-tempered, very easygoing. My mother was the same way, my sisters as well. Roy, however, was hot-blooded and incredibly assertive, and while I loved him greatly…
He was not a great person to have around in high-stress situations. He didn’t handle stress well at all, and right now especially was a hideous time for him due to the loss of his daughter. We were all kind of worried about how he might lash out due to that, but so far he had just thrown himself into taking care of his bride and their children, keeping it together for them and for us too, maybe.
And if he was put into a situation where he felt like he needed to defend me…
It was very concerning.
He would very likely make an already difficult position into something worse.
But neither Dad nor I were really good at standing up to him, mom either. He always kind of got his way because we were all considerably more easygoing than Roy, and I don’t think any one of us would stand up to him now more than ever, considering what he was going through with his loss.
So my Dad and I both sulked at the breakfast table, Dad clearly as eager as I was to go and talk to the mayor with Roy and Big Blue.
As we were finishing breakfast my mom went up to wake up my sister and nieces, and soon the house was in utter chaos. While Lawrence and I feed his sisters, my mom and dad cooked breakfast for my own sisters.
“Mama, I need to get a soul bangle for my love of cats!” I heard Milla telling my mom, and I chuckled. Soul bracelets were all the rage with young single girls and had been for some time. You were supposed to get a bracelet for a specific thing that ‘defined who you were’, like your love of books or in my sister’s case, cats.
They could describe your loves, fears, ambitions, all worn on your forearm, and while some girls wore just a few, most had at least twenty.
Boys had pins and wore them on their belts or if situational was formal, on a sash. I stopped wearing mine about three months ago when I had come to the decision to stop looking for a wife. My pin covered sash still hung on the headrest of my bed though, and I imagine it’d stay there until I disbursed my precious pins among nephews – Lawrence was already eyeing my dog pin, so I imagine once he was old enough to wear them in another ten years, I’d be giving him that one first.
I wondered what I would be doing in ten years…
Would I have been forced into marriage by then to some poor, unsuspecting young woman, or would I be like my parents had, constantly going on dates, every weekend of my future filled with having a first date with a new girl in a new town in the hopes that I’d find a match?
But there would be no match for me here.
And that terrified me.