Leeza, an old woman is talking to CoraLee, her great niece.

Leeza:
…I saw his face again last night. He was terrified. Terrified of what he was about to do and terrified that he might not have the courage to do it. Always unsure of himself, that was my twin, my little brother, Simon.

We were living in Seattle and he’d been restless for months after Ma died. He went off, god knows where, for a week he said. One week turned into two, then a month went by and we hadn’t heard from him.

CoraLee:
For an unbeliever, you sure mention God a lot Aunty!

Leeza:
Don’t get me started! I will not, cannot bring myself to believe in god, especially when so much evil has been done in his name. I don’t even notice blasphemy these days, and nor should you, child!. Simon died planning to change the future. His actions mean that you can make your own choice. He’d be happy with what you’ve chosen. Can’t say that I am!

CoraLee:
Never mind me. Go on Aunty. You were telling me about when Grandfather left.

Leeza:
Yeah, I was, wasn’t I? So we hadn’t heard from Simon and Pa was just about going crazy. He barely held it all together while Ma was busy dying, while she needed his support. But Simon was important to him. He was even needier than Pa when Ma died and that gave Pa a purpose. When Simon went, Pa’s state of mind worsened and he wandered around like a ghost. Then I got an email from Simon saying he’d gone back to his roots – our roots really. He’d gone east to join god’s army to fight against the west, the godless, ungodly, whatever. He didn’t really register that meant fighting against me and Pa and all the cousins.

We shared so much in the early days. He was always there for me to mother because Ma was already ill. In his early years he was the smaller one and I was strong. Maybe that’s when he got used to thinking of women in the subordinate role. Maybe it was my fault. But I’m sure the seeds of it were already there with the indoctrination the church piled on at Sunday school.

I remember shopping with him in a mall in Tulsa once. He’d come with me on sufferance. I was desperate to buy a dress that wasn’t homemade to wear to the church picnic. I always felt that the other kids sneered at our clothes. Ma said they were just envious because we were living closer to what god wanted and they weren’t skilled enough to do likewise.

Simon was wearing a red T-shirt with a jokey slogan on it that one of the cousins out west had sent him. The borders were more open then, before the war. Don’t know why they call it a civil war. Wasn’t anything civil about it.

CoraLee:
Stick to the point, Aunty. Tell me about Grandfather. I want to know what Mom’s father was like. I’m trying to see how she could come to marry Mo with the background she had.

Leeza:
What, you need some reassurance that it’s OK to be mixed race do you? Your beautiful brown skin and gorgeous dark eyes aren’t enough for you? Well that’s what your Mom fell in love with. The religion issue had been blown apart by the time she came to marry. Folk were falling over themselves to show their tolerance to everyone, lest the west turn out as bigoted as the UCSA.

Anyway, I digress. We were at the mall weren’t we? We’d have been about twelve then, but we probably looked like teens. We were both large for our age anyway, although he’d overtaken me in height as he’d never let me forget. The T-shirt slogan was “I’m not a Gynaecologist but I’ll take a look”. I doubt he even got the joke. These two women came over, godly and righteous matrons the pair of them. They gave him such a dressing down for his disrespect to women and to the holy sacrament of marriage and any number of holy other things the church preached against.

He changed after that incident. He started paying more attention in church. Making sure he’d never be that embarrassed in public again. They got to him, those women.

CoraLee:
But surely they were right Aunty? Doesn’t that disrespect women? I thought you were all for women’s rights?

Leeza:
And I am child, I am. That’s how they do it you see. They say they hold women as central to the hearth and home, to the sacred family, blah, blah, blah but all they’re doing is putting us in chains. Taking away our freedom to do anything other than be a good wife and mother. Taking away our right to think for ourselves, stand up for ourselves. Men and women should be equal. We don’t need a supreme arbiter telling us that the one should care for the other. We should be doing such caring as comes naturally. If that means that some men end up doing the housework and some women end up fighting, well so be it. Folk are as they are and no amount of forced religion is going to change that.

That’s why I was so glad when Pa moved us out to Seattle. He did it so that Ma could get proper treatment. They wouldn’t spare decent medicine for a woman back in the United Christian States of America. Because the godly could (and should) always marry again, you see. Women … descended from Eve. Put on Earth to tempt and taunt man and to be his trial and tribulation. It was a different story for men of the faith. They spared no expense for them.

CoraLee:
Aunty, you’re sounding like a preacher now. I reckon you’ve rehearsed these arguments so often you’ve come to believe them. Surely not all religions are as bad as the UCSA was in the olden days?

Leeza:
You’re saying olden days like it was centuries ago, CoraLee. Don’t you understand, I lived through those times? It was in those times that your grandfather, my brother Simon made his grand gesture. You have to understand the background we came from.

I’m really not seeing so much difference between the men of the book whether Christian, Jew or Muslim. Notice that I say men of the book. I’ve not seen many women starting religions. They’re all too busy, getting on with living. But men…well as far as I can see, their religions all aim to oppress others, including their own womenfolk. Their main premise seems to start with the thought that they are god’s chosen. I’m just thinking back over history and seeing what Hitler, Pol Pot and Elder Richardson did with that premise.

From where I was standing, it hadn’t been so long since America was a patriarchal society and women couldn’t inherit. They went from being their father’s property to being their husband’s property with no space in between to be themselves. Second class citizens we were. I wasn’t going back to that. I was ready to fight for the right to be myself and not some man’s property.

CoraLee:
But surely it’s good that we marry and have children? You’d need caring for when you’d just had a child wouldn’t you?

Leeza:
I haven’t seen so many men doing the caring for their wives when there’s a new born in the house. Mostly, it seems to be other women doing the caring. That’s just my point. Anyone can care for another, no matter what their gender. You don’t need religion to tell you that. You just do it because it’s the right thing to do. Think I’d be out on the streets or dead if you hadn’t taken me in? That wouldn’t have happened. I’ve got friends, men and women, young and old who value me just as you do. Anyone with any sense knows that religion’s a crutch used by the weak. We are all we have and we’d better rely on ourselves first and our friends and family second.

CoraLee:
Let’s get back to grandfather, Aunty. I’m not going to let you upset me with your dismissal of my faith. You have your beliefs and I have mine.

Leeza:
You’re right CoraLee. It isn’t fair of me to taunt you about it. As I say, Simon died for your future. Sure, I don’t think he thought his grand gesture would have the effect it did, but he was never one to over think any action. He just did what he had to do and trusted to others to do the thinking for him.

So I was going to tell you about him, because you can’t believe all you can read in the histories. Anyway, because he was my brother and I was so active in the armies of the West, they like to tell it like he was a western agent placed in the East. Don’t you believe it! He truly believed in god as preached by the chaplains of the UCSA army.

You must’ve read the headlines in the archives? “UCSA adopt mujahedin tactics.” “Suicide bomber sent to kill the President”. The first stories at that time play it straight, and that’s how it was. Simon really thought hitting that detonator would take the President of the West out of the equation and that our resistance to the UCSA would collapse. Later stories have him sacrificing himself to enable us to unite in a common cause.

Didn’t quite work out how he planned though. Somehow I knew what he was gonna do. Maybe it was the twin bond. Maybe it was something else. But I knew that the meeting that was planned would turn out to be an assassination attempt. So I warned the President. I offered to go to the meeting instead of her. I didn’t think he’d do it if he was faced with his own twin instead of the head of the decadent West. She didn’t accept my offer, but she sent her clone instead. Turns out the scientists had been experimenting…

CoraLee:
I don’t suppose that went down well with either side. Clones have rights too, don’t they?

Leeza:
The UCSA leadership were jubilant for about half a day, until they saw the President totally unharmed on TV, rallying us all. Then they railed at us for playing god by making clones. That was a smokescreen really, to cover Simon’s failure. Simon’s attack on the President served to unite us in the west against the UCSA. But there was a huge row about the clone and the west very nearly splintered. The UCSA made a lot of capital out of that.

I was in a kind of fugue by then. Pa was gone. He’d died not long after Simon left. Simon was gone. The only thing I had left to live for was my belief that everyone deserves the chance to make their own choices. If anything good was going to come out of my idiot twin’s sacrifice, then the west had to be free. If that meant I had to fight, then I’d do it. Did do it! Afterwards, well you know that our army defeated them outside of Colorado Springs. After that, we made a kind of peace.

You know it isn’t true what the UCSA said about the godless west. We had our own particular brand of caring, not one forced on us by some faceless being made in the image of a vengeful man. No, we truly cared for each other. And if that meant we ripped each other off in the next breath, surely that’s a kind of caring too? We’d earned the right to choose how we would behave.

CoraLee:
You don’t seem to respect other people’s choices though, Aunty. You say I’m a weak fool for having my faith, but surely that’s my choice?

Leeza:
I’m disappointed that religion is your choice, sure. I think you’re stronger than that. But you can choose. I may make light of your choice; that’s a bitter old woman’s privilege. I’m proud of you for standing up to me. Your grandfather’s sacrifice wasn’t for nothing. He died and I fought to make sure that your generation could choose.