The Stubbornest Broad on Earth

The Stubbornest Broad on Earth

by Janet Kagan

There’s always one. Tell the population Mount Saint Helens is about to blow its top and they ought to evacuate and somebody will set his feet and refuse to do so. Tell the town Hurricane Andrew’s on its way and deadly and they’ve got to head for high ground, and somebody will say, “No, absolutely not.” If the governments of Earth thought it would be any different this time, they had another think coming. Tell the population of a planet it’s got to evacuate because old Sol is about to go nova and we’ve all got to pick up and move out—no doubt about it and several bilhon years too soon—and there’ll still be that one.

That one was Cora Jowett. She was ninety-seven years old and admitted to every last one of them. Tiny as a bird, straight as an arrow, she’d farmed all her life and she was damned if she’d leave the land she’d sweated over all those years.

Her kids and grandkids all had their places on the evacuation fleet, but no amount of talking from them or from the sheriff would budge her, not even if the sheriff was Harry Johnson, her favorite grandson. She’d set her feet, she’d fold her arms, and she’d simply say, “No. This is my home. I was born here, and I’ll die here.”

The newspapers quickly dubbed her “The Stubbornest Woman on Earth” but Harry had heard his grandmother speak himself and knew the reporter had politically corrected her. “Your granddaddy always said I was the stubbornest broad on Earth,” she’d told him, her chin high and defiant. “I guess it’s time I proved him right. I buried his ashes under that oak that shades the front porch. I’d always planned to join him there when my time was done—and I’ll be damned if I’ll let a little thing like a nova ruin my plans.”

She’d become a cause célèbre in the last few days. Preachers and movie stars and famous scientists and even the President came to speak to her—each and every one of them hoping to be the man or woman who could talk her into climbing aboard a shiny silver ship and heading out for the stars.

It amused the hell out of her. She let them all talk as long as they were willing to lend a hand to the chores. Knowing the city water would soon be gone, she made sure the old hand pump was still in good working order. Knowing she’d be without electricity, she laid in kerosene for the old lamps she’d brought down from the attic.

When the CEO of one of the local utility companies offered her an emergency generator, she accepted, and the entire world took this for a sign that if she’d accept one technological assist maybe she could be talked around. The CEO never told anybody Cora Jowett had made him chop two weeks’ worth of firewood, “for when the generator breaks down.”

They even sent “Doc Rickie.” (Her real name was Fredricka Schall but by now everybody knew her face and thought they knew her personally. It was the Schall Drive that made the evacuation fleet possible and the Schall drive that made the evacuation plans go.) The reasoning went, if Doc Rickie could cajole and cozen an entire world into action, how hard could it be for her to convince the one last person…?

Doc Rickie came out smiling—but shook her head at the assembled reporters. “No,” she said, “she won’t come.” And that was all she said. She never told a word of the long quiet conversation they’d had between them or said a word about the three books and the family album and the seeds she’d been given to take along. “They weigh somewhat less than I do,” the old woman had told her. She never said that Cora had given Fredricka the keeping of her children, and that Fredricka had given Cora the keeping of the last days of Earth.

When Evacuation Week began, the President of the UN himself called Harry Johnson and asked him to give it one last try. Harry had spent his summers on Grandma Jowett’s farm and he knew that once Grandma had made up her mind, that was that and there was no doing anything about it, but he went to say good-bye.

She was sitting contentedly in the rocker Granddaddy Jowett had carved for her one winter long ago. “Have a safe trip,” she told him, as she always did. And then, quite unexpectedly, she said, “I hope that new planet’s half as pretty as this one.”

“They don’t even know for sure there’s a planet waiting,” Harry said. “Be forty years before we can find out.”

She said, “God will provide.” Then she smiled and stopped rocking for a moment. “Seems to me I’ve been worrying about your new home for nothing. I promise you, God will take care of it. Any god who could make Earth this glorious can surely make your new home just as glorious. God’s not likely to run out of imagination. That’s what God is—the Great Imagination.” She patted his hand and resumed her contented rocking. “You run along now. You mustn’t miss your ship. And you give those great-grandchildren of mine all my love”—she gazed into the branches of the old oak—“and all Granddaddy Jowett’s love too.”

She sat on the porch until long after dark. The moon had risen bright and full, and every so often she caught the faint glimpse of a shadow against the coin-bright disc. One of those shadows held Harry and Milly and Seabright and all the grandchildren and the great-grandchildren. She wished them well.

When at last she went inside, she turned on the television. All of the channels had gone off the air. The radio gave her the same result but in noisier fashion. She nodded. There was no one left to run the stations now.

No one left but her. She discovered, much to her surprise, that she had one regret. She’d always wanted to see the pyramids, and now there was no flight—no pilot—to take her to Egypt. No use crying over spilt milk, Cora told herself, as her own grandmother had told her so many years ago.

But, on the whim, and because there was nobody to stop her, she went up to the attic and brought down a dusty pile of National Geographies to leaf through, as she’d done so many times before.

She smiled as she turned the pages. A beautiful world, Earth, and she’d hardly seen more of it than her own few acres. But here was proof, in glorious pictures. It occurred to her to wonder if the Evacuation Team had taken a collection of old National Geographics, for the children to leaf through on a lazy evening and to dream of faraway places just as she had.

Then she laughed: those children would see a faraway place—a whole new world! She hoped someone someday would build pyramids for them as well. Surely their new world would have a desert somewhere on its face; surely someone would think of pyramids.

There was a knock at the door. Cora Jowett started violently, then rose to answer. Just like kids—probably one of them had forgotten something and they’d had to come back for it. She poked her glasses back up and glanced around the room—what could they possibly have forgotten here?

The knock came again and, still clutching the issue of National Geographic with her favorite shots of the pyramids, she went to find out.

She blinked into the moonlight that fell across the porch. Perhaps she’d fallen asleep on the couch, dreaming. Certainly she couldn’t be awake. Three slender creatures bowed to her very politely and said, “Sir or madam, your sun will go nova in approximately sixteen days of your time. We are here to take you to a place of safety.”

Well, for dream creatures, they were friendly enough. She opened the door and gestured them in. “You’ve come too late,” she told them. “They’ve all left.”

The dream creatures took some convincing on that count. Eventually, she made some tea and showed them the newspapers and the plans for the voyage and the civil defense instructions—she even turned on the television and put in the tape great-granddaughter Talitha had made of “all the people who talked to great-granny about coming with us, but great-granny said no.” That last was Talitha herself explaining her tape. She looked oddly proud of great-granny’s great stubbornness.

Somewhere in the midst of pouring the leader of the dream creatures another cup of tea, Cora Jowett at last came to the realization that she was not dreaming.

“We could rescue you,” the smallest of them said.

“Don’t be a—” the largest told him, finishing the sentence with a staticky sound. Cora inferred that the word was not translatable or perhaps not fit for a lady’s ears. “She doesn’t want to be rescued. You saw for yourself.”

The middle-sized one managed to look sulky, despite the fact that his features didn’t quite allow for such an expression. “We didn’t realize there was an intelligent species on this world at all, until we started our full-scale study of a star about to go nova. We did our level best to scrounge the equipment to rescue you, and now we’ve gotten here too late and the only representative of the 9pecies left doesn’t want to be rescued.”

She almost felt sorry for him or her. They’d had such good intentions. She glanced at the shiny magazine beside her place at the kitchen table. “There is something you could do for me, if you would,” she said.

The creatures brightened visibly.

“I’d like to see the pyramids. Would one of your ships take me to Egypt to see them?”

They would. They did—they saw the pyramids and the Sphinx. They went to the Louvre in Paris and saw the Winged Victory, but not the Mona Lisa—she’d been light enough to take along. They saw the Empire State Building in New York, and the Go ...

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