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The Terminal City

Pine Ridge Reservation, SD

Lillian O’Connor’s life was over. She had accepted that her life had ended years ago, as Lillian Sovonowsky, on her eighteenth birthday, which spent almost entirely alone, was the day she discovered her insignificance. That’s the problem we face when we finally become adults. We wait so desperately for it to come that we don’t prepare ourselves for the realities. Adulthood is not an age, or blessing of extended rights and more authority. For Lillian, adulthood was defined by the sudden understanding that the effort it takes to survive, is not worth or lack of purpose. As children, we are guaranteed a support system. Having a purpose is unimportant in relation to Barney sing-a-longs and free baths. Adulthood means we are no long ignorant children, but adults, with the responsibility to support our own life, and justify why we should. So sure, Lillian O’Connor proclaimed her life to have ended years ago, but the demolition of her childhood is a resurrection.They landed in Sioux Falls, South Dakota on a bitter Wednesday afternoon in 2026. Without looking down, Lillian walked carefully down the wobbly metal steps of the small airplane, stopping only at the sound of her black patent-leather heels hitting the flatness of the prairie. Before her, she was surprised to see an airport standing in front of a bleak, never-ending horizon. She was even more surprised to see a multitude of workers. All were struggling from task to task as though petrified by the bitter air.“What a waste of perfectly rare money,” Max, the main assistant afforded to Lillian by the company, didn’t believe in the funding of public transportation, nor did he support the expense of flying. When he did business, he preferred to be in the comfort of an office, looking in from the outside. He stood on the metal steps, disgusted that twenty-three years had only brought him to this grey prairie. Rationality was foreign to his generation.“It’s only for the time being, Maxie. One cannot evacuate an entire state…territory via web-cam.” Lillian’s voice was intentionally pontifical, “Our purpose is to represent the government’s confidence in their decision, not to denote every inefficient way the territory does…did things.” Lillian knew full well that the people of South Dakota had a high regard for their standard of living, regardless of it’s antiquity.

She indicated a pile of purple bags to a tall man dressed in grey, another, less-important assistant. Dutifully, he picked up all three, and awaited her next order. As did everyone around her. All she could muster in response to their stares was a turn of her thighs inward; an attempt to conceal a tear running straight down her opaque stockings. Instinctively, she started towards the black Land Rover at the end of the platform. A cloud of brown hair swayed rhythmically behind her like a wagging tail enticing her attendants to follow. The local committee for the project had been expecting her yesterday, but naturally, in a moment of weakness, she missed her flight. Packing had become a bit of a distraction. What does one wear to a city’s demolition? “Ripped tights and bags under my eyes, apparently,” she mumbled to no one in particular, frustrated.

Back in Jackson, she would have immediately rectified such an unacceptable fashion faux-pas, but everything was still different here. She put on her favorite Prada sunglasses, and raised her chin an entire inch. She could not let the unsophisticated air of the Mid-West remind her that her life was over, that there was no reason to look presentable or uphold her reputation. Her superiority had never been important. There was no time for the past.

“As a former member of this community, I understand your disappointment,” Lillian professed to a group of people, about half the size of the city when it was at it’s largest, “however, in light of the recent economic collapse of the Western States, I must officially declare the form state of South Dakota, a territory of the United States,” gasps were released from nearly every person in the room. A woman holding a child began to hyperventilate in the corner, collapsing into a mess of tears, but Lillian soldiered on, “As a territory of the United States, the only law will be federal law. The sole purpose of the land formerly known as South Dakota will be to harvest crops for food. Therefore, any and all farmer’s who wish to remain in the territory, are encouraged to do so. They will be provided with all the necessities to live in return for their efforts to sufficiently produce the most abundant supply of crops possible.”

Her speech began to waver, only because she was beginning to recognize the severity of her words. They must realize, they are not her words. She paused and glanced over the mass of people standing in the street before her. She was placed atop a tractor trailer bed, with a podium and a microphone that were dug out of the basement of the convention center.
“All other person’s living in the territory of South Dakota must evacuate by year’s end,” she continued her announcement. A singular television station video taped her from the wings, but also swung to the screams and protests from the audience. “Any and all person’s remaining in the territory after the thirty-first of December who are not subsidized farmers hired by the federal government, will be considered trespassers.” Her heartstrings began to tear through each other as she saw an old high school friend, Thomas, rush to the aid of a fainted woman, his blond hair propelling sweat as his overweight body strained to be sufficient.

Lillian continued to speak to the crowd. She continued to administer the fate of a community which she had so narrowly and bitterly escaped. She continued to speak but nobody listened. Even in the silence, nobody listened. There was no chaos, no rioting, just acceptance. People began to disappear into the distance and Lillian began to cry.
This was the only time she had ever resented her husband, David O’Connor. At least, the only time that it mattered. When she had accepted his insistent offer to take the place of the recently deceased Head of Marketing and Public Relations at his equally as recently popular demolition firm, she hadn’t expected it to be so difficult. He had only offered it to her in hopes to keep her busy after she had received a fourth rejection on the publication of her memoir. Still, it could not be argued that she wasn’t a prime candidate for the job.

It was David, specifically, who had suggested she go on the trip.

“I think that it would be a good idea for you. I mean, you hate it there so much. Why not watch it burn to the ground?” and he was right. For as long as she could remember, Lillian detested the state of South Dakota. Having moved to one of the biggest cities in the state when she was twelve years old, she had a miserable amount of conflicting life experiences. She believed that the isolation of the Mid-West was enough to drive a girl crazy, and it had. She escaped narrowly, after graduation from high school, by attending a private college on the Eastern Coast. Her compassion towards the place only extended as far as pity, for those who chose to live there. Still, the suggestion to revisit her past by quite literally destroying it put a look of unease on her face. David continued, “Okay, at the very least, you will get the opportunity to see your sister.”

Lillian’s younger sister Margie had been stranded on the prairie with thanks to the destroyed economy. When their parents fell ill in 2017, Margie was the only one who returned. She left the University of Maryland the spring of her junior year to return to the slowly deteriorating Mid-Western town she’d grown up in. Lillian hadn’t seen her since she married David he summer after she graduated from the Terry College of Business at UGA. Lillian could only hope that Margie had held on to the house after their parents died, otherwise, she had no way of locating her.

Lillian walked down the sidewalk of her childhood home. The brick tudor stood high above the flat ground, as the neighboring houses has been eradicated. The doorbell was broken. She walked around the back on a brick path her father had installed himself. She could see her border-collie racing around the flower beds, begging for attention on many a fourth of July. Lillian was disappointed, she had left so quickly, she didn’t even remember to say goodbye. She had always wanted another dog, but couldn’t seem to expel Oreo from that space in her heart.

“Hello? Margie? It’s me?” Lillian stood at the gate and fidgeted with the lock. It wasn’t an actual lock, just the kind that keep animals out, maybe stupid humans, on occasion. She reached around the slats in the wood to pull the lock loose, putting too much pressure on the wood itself. The fence collapsed at her feet; sodden pieces finally relieved of their duties. Lillian stepped over the wood as best she could. Her expensive shoes didn’t appreciate this place, and her feet, sore as hell, didn’t appreciate her.Inside the gate, she found the patio. Of course, her father had laid that too. He had picked out each and every brick with purpose, just for her mother, when all he really wanted was an in ground pool. The white birch that needed injections once a year, was flattened to mulch against the fench. Papery white bark spiraled down a replaced section of fencing. One winter had been so cold, that a four hundred pound, two story icicle had fallen off the neighbors gutter and shattered everything beneath it. Including the fence. There was much ado about fences those days.“Hey Margie, I hope that you’re in there?” Lillian was hesitant to enter the house, fearful that it held the same fate as the fence and the birch tree. Instead, she stood at an agape back door and shouted desperately. “I’m really sorry that all of this is happening to you Margie. You know that it really is the most logical way. I was thinking you would come live with me and David for a little while?” Despite all of the pain the evacuation caused, Lillian really did believe that it was the most reasonable solution to the empty pockets of the U.S. Why continue funding an entire state’s government when you could just take all that money and give it to other states? The population of South Dakota declined to half it’s most populated size after the Western states collapsed, as people scrambled to Canada and Minnesota in hopes of more opportunities. Maybe Margie had been one of them.After an hour of shouting, Lillian had given up. Hair matted to her face, she sat down on what used to be a basketball court. At one in the afternoon on Sundays in the summertime, the sun hit this spot perfectly. Lillian remembered laying on her favorite towel, reading a book written in the sixties about a family of girl’s who killed themselves,  maybe it was a book about the sixties about a group of girl’s who transcended it all, she couldn’t remember; and it didn’t matter. The grey cement froze her exposed thighs until they turned purple. In an effort to return their color, she shook her legs. When that didn’t work, she shook them harder. When that didn’t work either, she screamed. She screamed until her vocal chords were frozen and her muscles felt like they were going to rip.

There wasn’t anything that she could do. She had never been more powerless. Her tears froze in their ducts. She had spent so much time avoiding this place, she thought, just to end up here anyway. On her eighteenth birthday, Lillian Sovonowsky sat alone in bed and accepted that all of life was over, but on the day her home was destroyed, Lillian O’Connor laid down on the frozen cement and accepted that she had been wrong.

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