There’s a loud noise. It’s faint buzzing at first, which becomes prominently louder until it’s at the point where I have to cover my ears in order to comprehend my thoughts.
Of course, the ones running our own utility breakers forgot to switch the noise control, which happens every once in a while. The people down the road from us are old and can barely hear, so I doubt their noise control is even on.
Mom pops into my room, her fingers all the way into her ears. She’s trying to tell me something, but I can barely hear myself, so nothing is communicating properly. Instead of trying to listen to her, I get up from the floor and walk straight past her and out the front door.
Once I’m out of the house and I’m able to think again, I watch as Mom comes outside and closes the door behind us. She sighs and then says “good morning.”
I yawn as a response, now heading down the road and toward the breaker panel for our housing area. I don’t even have any shoes on, but I never have them on anyway unless I’m going to work. There’s a couple people already there, which tells me that the old couple left the noise control off for everyone.
A man in barely any clothes is trying to find his house on the panel, making everyone wait for him. It’s difficult though, since all of the houses are labeled with random letters and numbers and only the old couple know whose is which.
“Who the hell put the deaf ones in charge of our road?” someone complains as they stand in line.
“We all agreed because it would allow them to make money since they can’t travel to the breaker buildings,” Juneau says, who’s my neighbor. She’s older and single and sweet, which is the worst combination of traits for someone out here in Yousul.
“That was when they could do their job properly. Now look where we are, having to do it ourselves when we don’t know how.”
“This is ridiculous,” I say out loud, pushing my way through the line. People are yelling at me to not cut or whatever as I push past, but they’re failing to use their brains and solve the solution quickly.
I get to the guy up front, who is switching one breaker at a time, looking over to his house, then unswitching it if his lights don’t turn off. I don’t weigh that much and I’m not tall, but I use all the energy I have at 7 in the morning to shove the guy aside and have access to the panel myself.
There are 5 switches for each house on our road, and there are about 20 houses. They control light, noise, water, air, and gas. It is a little more complicated than I was expecting, since all the switches along with the houses are left unlabeled. If there’s a reason for this, I don’t see it, given that this makes it so much harder to do something.
I think back to the codes from the breaker buildings, and where the noise breakers would be located. Then, taking a complete guess, I start to switch random ones until I hear noise from neighboring houses stop. Once I see the pattern, it’s easy to turn the noise off for all of the houses while keeping everything else on for the moment.
“Okay, you’re all good now,” I say, moving out of the way. There’s a couple thank yous, but most just end up watching back to their houses without saying anything to me. I roll my eyes.
When I get back to my own house, I’m glad to see that the noise has stopped, only Mom is still outside.
“I may have locked us out,” she says.
House Kr0iJ needs gas to cook whatever they’re going to cook. I hit their name on the computer monitor and get up from my chair and head toward the Ks. Once I’m there, I find their specific house and switch their gas on.
There’s another beep from the monitor, and it says that house Au7eM needs water for a shower they’re about to take. I walk over and turn on their water. Then, of course, house Kr0iJ wants their gas off now.
Sometimes I can’t believe that this is my job, that I’m turning on utilities for wealthy people in different provinces that I’ll never meet. Even crazier, I’ve only been doing this for a couple years and my mom has been doing this for her entire life. How can someone go on for that long without losing their mind? How has she not wondered about what else is out there that’s potentially fulfilling?
I guess my dad wondered that, and that’s the reason he’s not here. We weren’t fulfilling enough for him.
The monitor beeps again. House Je3pE wants their lights on. I turn them on. Then they immediately want them off. I turn them off. Then they want them on again. After doing this a couple times, I turn off their noise control for a second as a retaliation and then turn it back on. They ask for their lights on and stop messing with me.
My boss, Ryker, comes in a couple seconds later, ready to give me a lecture.
“Could you not turn people’s noise control off?” he yells at me.
“I will when they stop being annoying on purpose!” I argue back.
“Maren, this is your job. It doesn’t matter if they’re annoying. You want money, don’t you?”
I try not to roll my eyes at him. “I guess.”
“Then listen to their commands and do them. There’s a reason people are turning to automatic utilities, and you’re one of them.”
The monitor beeps. House Au7eM is done with their shower. I go over to the As and turn off their water while Ryker watches me do so. “Fine.”
“Thank you,” he says and then leaves back to his own little room where he is watching everyone switch the stupid breakers.
The room that I’m in is long in length but short in width. There’s enough room for a chair and the monitor, along with a large wall of breakers. I have 37 houses to keep up with, when the starting amount is 25. If you have more houses, you get more money. The thing is, you actually have to keep up with that many commands or else you get booted down to 25 again. I started at the normal amount, then increased my load slowly so it didn’t seem like so much at once.
Mom manages to run 52 houses, but that’s because she’s really quick in her work and she’s been working with the same boss for forever. She’s in a different breaker building than I am, the one that is all houses from Haven. My building is the Imber houses, so it does give me more freedom to mess around with them. At least I like to think it does.
There’s 4 beeps from the monitor at once. Sighing, I start walking toward the end of the alphabet as I’m looking at the screen.
A full 10 hours later, my shift is over. I hate that it’s so long, but it’s either a 10 hour day shift or an 8 hour night one, and day seems much better. Night shifts have to deal with resetting and resupplying the utilities while also dealing with the people who mess around in the night.
I meet up with Mom at the main road. I take off my shoes and start to walk with her down the road to our house. She looks more stressed than normal.
“Everything okay?” I ask her.
She shrugs. “I lost 4 houses today.”
“Many people in Haven are switching to automatic utilities, so houses are dropping out pretty quickly. I bet in a year's time that we’ll all be out of work.”
“How are we supposed to… live, then? Almost everyone in this province relies on utility work to make money.”
“I guess they’re going to find something new for us to do, or they’ll just let us die off. I could see either happening. Haven and Imber have no heart for us, they don’t see us as real people who work for them.”
“I hate it. I hate them.”
“Don’t say that.”
“And why not?” I complain. It’s not like there’s cameras that are watching what I say. No one’s going to come and kill me for talking bad about Haven.
“Because, we must have pride in our province and the work we do.”
“I am doing that, just hating on them too.”
“Maren, don’t. It does no good to be hateful with no plan of actually changing anything,” she tells me, clearly frustrated.
“Anyway, I’m changing the topic of conversation. Juneau and her son are coming for dinner tonight and I’d like you to go to the store and buy more vegetables.”
“Do we have enough money to have guests over?” I ask.
“It’s not a big deal.”
“And since when did Juneau have a son?”
“Since 25 years ago. He moved to Janalyn when you were young for better work,” she tells me.
“What happened to being prideful of our province? He literally moved somewhere else and now you want to feed him dinner with money that we don’t have just for him to go back and make his own money?”
“Stop it, Maren. He’s moved back home,” she says, her voice raised. “He is welcome in our house, even if he went to a different province. He’s back now, and that’s what matters. So I need you to stop being so negative and let us enjoy this one damn dinner.”
I don’t say anything more, even though I still think this is a horrible idea. She said it herself, we’re going to be out of work soon. This is no time to be spending the little money we have just to be hospitable to our neighbors.
But she’s the mom, and I’m the daughter. So when we get back to the house, I’m given a couple coins and then sent to the store.
There aren’t many vegetables today, since it changes daily due to the demand in other provinces. We get what’s left, which means mostly carrots and brown lettuce. I manage to dig and find a couple of mushrooms and a cucumber, which’ll have to be enough to fill Mom’s needs. After purchasing the food, I start walking back to my house.
Two kids from Haven are walking on the other side of the road, staring at me. They have very nice clothing, not to mention shoes on.
“Put some shoes on!” one yells at me while the other laughs.
“Go back to your own province!” I shout back.
“We would if we could, trust us!”
I roll my eyes. The Haven Host Program keeps sending their rich kids to Yousul just for them to make fun of it for a month and ‘suffer’ before getting to go back to their lives of wealth and comfort. It’s demeaning and annoying, and most of the families that decide to host a Haven kid are disowned by the rest of the province because everyone hates them so much.
When I get back to my house, I walk in to see that Juneau and her son are already there. Our house is very small, with 3 rooms: a bathroom, a bedroom, and a room for everything else. With everyone in the multipurpose room, it’s cramped.
“Maren, hello dear! Thank you for fixing the noise problem this morning,” Juneau greets, smiling. “I’d like you to meet my son, Harvey.”
Harvey looks at me and smiles a little. He has blonde hair and green eyes, and looks pretty tall just sitting in the chair. He has dimples on the left side of his mouth, and looks pretty fit for a manufacturing worker. Even if he’s good looking, the fact that he left his province and his mother for something ‘better’ makes me hate him.
“Hi,” I say dully, walking over to give the vegetables to Mom. She looks in the bag.
“Is that all there was?”
“Unless you wanted old and moldy tomatoes, yes. This was all there was,” I tell her, and she sighs.
“I’m not sure there’s much I can do with this tonight.”
“Oh no,” I say sarcastically to her, which she does not seem to appreciate.
“Maren, we have guests over. I’d appreciate it if you were more polite,” she tells me, glancing over at Juneau and Harvey. They can definitely hear our conversation, they’re only like 7 feet away.
“I don’t want to be polite to a traitor.”
“Okay, I’m going to go, since I’m causing so much conflict,” Harvey says, standing up from the chair. I was right, he is very tall, especially compared to all of us.
“Wait, don’t. Please, I’m so sorry about my daughter. She’s never like this,” Mom begs, but he’s already out the door. Juneau looks at me and scoffs before leaving herself.
I consider my mission accomplished, only Mom is looking at me like I’ve just killed someone. It’s a mixture of disappointment and anger.
“What the hell is wrong with you?” she says somewhat calmly, which is actually a little scary. “I bet if your dad walked through that door that you wouldn’t treat him like that.”
“You’re right,” I tell her. “I’d treat him worse.”
“Mom, I know that you still love him and whatever, but I don’t! He left us and he hasn’t come back. We would be notified if he was dead, and he’s not. That means that he’s in Haven, living his dream life without us. We weren’t enough for him, and the faster you come to that conclusion and stop loving him, the better we’ll be.”
“Go apologize to Harvey and Juneau.”
“I will not!”
“Then you don’t have to be in this house!”
I know that I have to stop arguing when she threatens to kick me out. It means that she’s reached her breaking point, and I don’t want to test her anymore.
“Fine,” I mutter, and leave the house. Harvey and Juneau are already back in their house, and I walk slowly across the 5 feet of lawn until I’m at their door. I’m about to knock when Harvey opens the door and stares at me.
“Yes?” he says, annoyed.
“I’m sorry,” I tell him.
“No you’re not.”
“You’re right. I’m not.”
“My mom told me about your dad, and I’m going to tell you one huge difference between me and him. It’s that I’m back here, with Mom and money to keep us going for years. And your dad never came back. So you can hate him, but you can’t hate me for going and getting a better life for us,” he tells me.
I want to say something back, but there’s nothing to say. He’s right, I guess what matters is that he’s returned. And well, Dad hasn’t.
“You’re crying,” he tells me, and I notice that a couple tears are rolling down my face. I wipe them with my arm quickly.
“No I’m not,” I deny.
“Yeah you are.”
“Well you don’t have to stare at me.” He looks up instead of at me. “Tell Juneau I’m sorry, if you could.”
“Do you want the sarcastic tone with it too?”
I look up at him, and he’s smirking at me. “No. Try to sound genuine with it.”
“But that’s not what you did with me.”
“That’s because I don’t care about you like I care about Juneau.”
“What’s it going to take for you to care about me, then? You know, we’ve technically known each other ever since you were born.”
“So why don’t I remember you?”
“Because I left home when I was 12 after my dad died, which makes you approximately 5 years old. If anything, you were too preoccupied with your own dad leaving.”
‘Thanks for making me feel so good,” I mutter sarcastically.
“And thanks for caring about me.”
Harvey shuts the door on me, and I’m left staring at the door. It’s annoying that Harvey will argue back with me and ultimately win, but it’s also a little refreshing that I’m not the only one losing my mind in this province. It doesn’t matter how much I want to leave, though. I will always be proud to live in Yousul.
I head back to our house, and Mom is eating a raw carrot on the floor, staring out the window. I sit down with her, starting to feel a little guilty about our fight earlier.
“I don’t think you ever loved your dad,” Mom tells me as we’re sitting. “Because if you truly did, then you would understand how hard it is to stop loving someone.”
“I’ve just seen all the pain that you’ve been in,” I reply, putting my head on her shoulder. “And you’re right, I guess. I was young when he left, but that doesn’t mean he’s had any less of an impact than he did on you.”
“Honey, I’m sorry we weren’t enough for him.”
“No, I’m sorry that he doesn’t get to see what he’s missing.”
"What is he missing, though?"
"You. Me. Together, we're enough."