The Bottleneck Years by H. E. Taylor – Chapter 39

The Bottleneck Years

by H.E. Taylor

Chapter 38 Table of Contents Chapter 40

Chapter 39

A Walk in the Park, April 26, 2056

I got a bit of a surprise when I got home. Edie caught me just as I was entering and asked, “Do you think we are descending into a New Dark Age?”

My head was full of genomic patterns, molecular shapes and chemical cycles — walking home I had been going over the design of my synthetic carbon eater — and I was flummoxed. It was so out of the blue.

“I don’t know. I haven’t thought about it.”

Edie wasn’t about to be put off. “Well think about it. I’d like to discuss the idea.”

“Can I go to the bathroom and wash up first?”

Edie laughed and pecked me on the cheek.

“What brought this on?” I asked as I headed for the bathroom.

“I was listening to an old Jane Jacobs talk.”


“Oh don’t worry. Go. Go.” She waved me away.

I was washing my face, my eyes closed, when it occurred to me. What is a Dark Age? How would you know you are in one? The first thing that occurred to me was widespread ignorance. Which would imply a lot of people wouldn’t realize.

Edie was at the stove cooking, when I walked back into the kitchen. “If it is a Dark Age, it’s not going to be anything like the fall of the Roman Empire. There are enough new factors that the analogy would be misleading. Population, climate disruption, the degradation of the natural world — these are problems the ancients didn’t have to face. And then there’s the difference in technology. The term ‘ecological collapse’ may be more useful than ‘dark age’.”

I stood at the top of the stairs. I still wanted to change out of my school clothes. Anna was underneath the table intently pushing a sparkly ball.

“Think of it in terms of the breakdown of society,” Edie said. “Consider the rates of autism, of fetal alcohol syndrome, of juvenile crime. Have you thought about how difficult it is to raise a healthy, wholesome child nowadays?”

“Are you talking about Anna or the fall of empires?”


I laughed. “I’m going to get changed.”

“Supper will be half an hour,” Edie called after me as I went downstairs.

I changed, checked my mail on the house system, answered a couple and came back upstairs for supper.

Edie caught me as she was putting out the carrots and peas. “I don’t expect you to have a Dark Age thesis ready, but think about it. Okay? I’d like to consider it an open topic of conversation.”

“Okay, sure.” I kept it light. “How about if we go for a walk along the lake after supper. There’s an old stroller in the basement for Snookums here.” I leaned over and rubbed noses with Anna who giggled in delight.

“Sure.” She sounded more tentative than her word allowed.

“Right after I do the dishes,” I said.

That got a smile from her.

The sky was cloudy except for the far west, but it didn’t feel like rain. The Doppler radar was also clear, which gave me a little more confidence. And it was warm so Edie and I both went as we were.

When Edie started dressing Anna, she objected at first, but when I brought the stroller upstairs and plunked her down in it, she quieted quickly. This was something new. What were the giants doing now?

We crossed the road and made our way westward on the crushed rock path beside the lake. Joggers, young couples, old couples, the odd solitary passed. Anna was wide-eyed staring all around. Muskrats dove in the water as we approached. Blackbirds sang in the reeds and crows flew overhead. Anna gurgled, holding her hand out towards the fleeting black apparitions.

When we had gone far enough into the sunset and turned our footsteps back toward the house, a woman I had seen at the University, but didn’t know, approached with a male companion.

“Good evening, doctor. Isn’t it a lovely evening?”

The man stayed back, but the woman leaned over to make googoo eyes at Anna. “And how are you, young lady?”

Anna stayed perfectly still, just staring at the stranger.

The woman straightened up, looked at me, then looked back at Anna. “She has your eyes, doctor.”

I felt very strange. “I…uh…don’t know…uh…”

“Come along dear.” Edie took my hand and pulled me forward. “But she’s going to have my nose,” she said, wrinkling her nose at the woman as we passed. Then she giggled, leaving the woman perplexed.

I was just glad to be away from her. My feelings about Edie were becoming more complicated and difficult. She was Matt’s girlfriend. Anna was my niece. She had Matt’s eyes, but mine… were the same…

“Thank you for rescuing me.”

“Oh I know how hung up you are about sex.”

“I’m not hung up about sex.”


“I’m hung up about you.”


Excerpted from _The Bottleneck Years_ by H.E. Taylor

For further information see:

A Gentle Introduction.

Last modified May 7, 2013

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