Crossed(2)By: Ally Condie
The Society wants us to be afraid of dying. But I’m not. I’m only afraid of dying wrong.
“This is how Aberrations end,” the Officer tells us impatiently. He takes a step in our direction. “You know that. There’s no last meal. There’s no last words. Let go and get out.”
This is how Aberrations end. Looking down I see that the water has gone black with the sky. I don’t let go yet.
Citizens end with banquets. Last words. Stored tissue samples to give them a chance at immortality.
I can’t do anything about the food or the sample but I do have words. They’re always there rolling through my mind with the pictures and numbers.
So I whisper some that seem to fit the river and the death:“For tho’ from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crossed the bar.”
Vick looks at me, surprised.
“Let go,” I tell him, and at the same time we do.
The dirt is part of me. The hot water in the corner washbasin runs over my hands, turning them red, making me think of Ky. My hands look a little like his now.
Of course, almost everything makes me think of Ky.
With a piece of soap the color of this month, of November, I scrub my fingers one last time. In some ways I like the dirt. It works into every crease of my skin, makes a map on the back of my hands. Once, when I felt very tired, I looked down at the cartography of my skin and imagined it could tell me how to get to Ky.
Ky is gone.
All of this—faraway province, work camp, dirty hands, tired body, aching mind—is because Ky is gone and because I want to find him. And it is strange that absence can feel like presence. A missing so complete that if it were to go away, I would turn around, stunned, to see that the room is empty after all, when before it at least had something, if not him.
I turn away from the sink and glance about our cabin. The small windows along the top of the room are dark with evening. It’s the last night before a transfer; this next work assignment will be my final one. After this, I’ve been informed, I will go on to Central, the biggest City of the Society, for my final work position in one of the sorting centers there. A real work position, not this digging in the dirt, this hard labor. My three months’ work detail has taken me to several camps, but so far all of them have been in Tana Province. I had hoped to find my way to the Outer Provinces somehow, but I am no closer to Ky than I was when I began.
If I’m going to run to find Ky, it has to be soon.
Indie, one of the other girls in my cabin, pushes past me on her way to the sink. “Did you leave any hot water for the rest of us?” she asks.
“Yes,” I say. She mutters something under her breath as she turns on the water and picks up the soap. A few girls stand in line behind her. Others sit expectantly on the edges of the bunks that line the room.
It’s the seventh day, the day the messages come.
Carefully, I untie the small sack from my belt. We each have one of these little bags and we are supposed to carry them with us at all times. The bag is full of messages; like most of the other girls, I keep the papers until they can’t be read anymore. They are like the fragile petals of the newroses Xander gave me when I left the Borough, which I have also saved.
I look at the old messages while I wait. The other girls do the same.
It doesn’t take long before the papers yellow around the edges and turn to decay—the words meant to be consumed and let go. My last message from Bram tells me that he works hard in the fields and is an exemplary student at school, never late to class, and it makes me laugh because I know he’s stretching the truth on that last count at least. Bram’s words also make tears come to my eyes—he says he viewed Grandfather’s microcard, the one from the gold box at the Final Banquet.
The historian reads a summary of Grand father’s life, and at the very end is a list of Grand father’s favorite memories, Bram writes. He had one for each of us. His favorite of me was when I said my first word and it was “more.” His favorite of you was what he called “the red garden day.”
I didn’t pay close attention to the viewing of the microcard on the day of the Banquet—I was too distracted by Grandfather’s final moments in the present to fully note his past. I always meant to look at the card again, but I never did, and I wish now that I had. Even more than that, I wish I remembered the red garden day. I remember many days sitting on a bench and talking with Grandfather among the red buds in the spring or the red newroses in the summer or the red leaves in the fall. That must be what he meant. Perhaps Bram left off an s—Grandfather remembered the red garden days, plural. The days of spring and summer and autumn where we sat talking.
▶ Also By Ally Condie
- · Crossed