The Ones Who Don't Walk Away Fast Enough
1087 words long
No one is proud of what goes on inside the Room.
Notes from the author:
If you haven't already read Ursula K. Le Guin's "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas," you probably should. It's short and easy to find online. But here's a summary: The fictitious city of Omelas enjoys surpassing peace, happiness and prosperity, which every citizen knows they owe to the imprisonment of a single miserable child. Most citizens, upon learning this, accept it. A titular few do not.?
Conversations surrounding "Omelas" often treat it as a moral dilemma type of thought experiment: Would you walk away? Or would you accept that the good of the many outweighs the good of the one? Would you be so outraged at the price of the Omelas lifestyle that you'd break the kid out of prison, give them a better life, and thus condemn "the prosperity and beauty and delight of Omelas [to] wither and be destroyed"?
And if you did, would Omelas really be destroyed forever? Wouldn't they just start the system up again as soon as a suitable new victim could be chosen? They'd probably done it before. You wouldn't be the first compassionate expatriate to think of rescuing the child. The child in that room now probably isn't the first victim, either. Children are a renewable resource.
But all that is, I think, missing the real point of the story, which is not that the utopia of Omelas has a horrific underbelly, but that Omelas needs a horrific underbelly to be sufficiently convincing. Le Guin segues to the introduction of the victim by asking the reader, "Do you believe? Do you accept the festival, the city, the joy? No? Then let me describe one more thing." Those who walk away from Omelas are heroes not simply because they refuse to benefit from the child's suffering, but because they, unlike the reader and even the author, can imagine and believe in a version of Omelas that doesn't require anyone to suffer.
Jerod sits in the waiting room staring at the piece of paper in his hand. It's very small, just a half-sheet of official stationery, and most of it taken up by the seal of the city. Some people, he reflected, would treasure this missive as an heirloom for future generations to gawk at. They might frame it, put it up over the mantle, show off their family's evident importance, to have received such important correspondence.
They'd have to hide the message, though. No one likes to remember to what and whom they owe the city's prosperity and happiness.
Obviously it's no secret. Everyone is told about it. Most of everyone has gone to see it. And, having learned about it to their satisfaction, everyone--or, at least, everyone who's still here--agrees that it is necessary. But no one celebrates it. There are no parades held in honor of the Room's inhabitant, no prayers thanking whatever Gods that be for granting their city's happiness at what is really so cheap a price. No one is proud of what goes on inside the Room.
But it is hard not to think about the Room when one of its stewards has arrived, delivered a message into his very hand, and taken a seat. He sits at stiff-necked attention, reading a magazine in a manner more suggesting duty than interest. He won't be the only one here, Jerod knows, but he is the only recognizable component of the team that will shadow Jerod and Anya and, for a little, their newborn child, until the request-that-is-not-a-request is honored. Neither Jerod nor Anya will ever see any of the other representatives of the Room unless they do something ill-advised, like attempt to leave.
Jerod thinks of Anya, in labor with their first child. He no longer knows what outcome to hope for....
This has been an excerpt from the Friday Fictionette for January 5, 2018. Subscribers can download the full-length fictionette (1087 words) from Patreon as an ebook or audiobook depending on their pledge tier.
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