#fridayflash: Women, Alone

This week I’m cheating a bit by presenting the opening to my work-in-progress novel—though I’m using the expression "in progress" very loosely since I haven’t done any work on this in over a year.

I want to point out that the story doesn’t have an especially feminist bent, this isn’t man-hating lit. It’s more an exploration of how each sex (male vs. female) defines the other to some extent, and the possible impacts of removing one sex’s influence on the other. I got the idea one day after hearing someone say, yet again, that if women ran the world there would be no wars or crimes against humanity, and women everywhere would go around in sweatpants and ponytails. I disagree, and wanted to explore the reasons why.

The day all the men and boys vanished was otherwise unexceptional. There were no natural disasters to report, no curious lights in the sky, no extraterrestrial visitations. They were simply…gone. As the sun crawled across the surface of the Earth that morning, its indifferent rays sought out each empty bed and cot and filled them all with an unforgiving light.

All over the world, small, identical dramas played out in houses, flats, huts, tents, kibbutzim and hotel rooms. The length of time it took doubting wives and would-be wives to journey from disbelief to resignation betrayed the relative degree of their secret ambivalences. Resolute wives and lovers fared worse, having been certain they had no reason to hold back some small part of themselves against future abandonment.

The worst anguish was reserved for mothers, robbed as they were not only of their sons, but of the rallying support of family, friends and the general public that had always been the acknowledged due of these bereft, temporarily singular, creatures. When each utterly shattered, hysterical woman tumbled to the door of her neighbor, she was as likely to meet a maelstrom of horror matching her own as to collapse into the arms of a supportive caretaker. And what mother has not, for at least one brief second, harbored a dark wish to be rid of a colicky infant, screaming toddler, churlish adolescent, cruelly spiteful teenage daughter or failed son? The self-recriminations of mothers who knew such impulses had been fleeting and unintentional were no less intense than those of mothers who reacted to their losses with a flood of relief that was at once sickening and welcome to them.

The full scale of the situation wasn’t fully understood for several days, while fruitless searches were conducted and wary, halting intelligence trickled across borders. A handful of tribes and isolated nations maintain to this day they were unaffected, but the truth of the matter is known: at some point between the previous nightfall and the dawn of that inexplicable morning, every human male on Earth, from zygote to centenarian, disappeared and was never heard from again.

Following the initial storm of panicked calls, emails, tweets and reportage, a peculiar lull took over and life momentarily came to a standstill. News of the crisis remained unchanged, yet no other news seemed worthy of attention. Soon enough, the pull to routine asserted itself. The comfort of it both surprised and shamed the women.  They seemed not to realize that the pragmatism bred into them by centuries of vigilant, if subconscious, self-containment and self-denial constituted their most powerful survival skill.