By: Ally Condie

The message from my parents seems full of elation; they had received the word that this next work camp rotation would be my last.

I can’t blame them for being glad. They believed enough in love to give me a chance to find Ky, but they are not sorry to see that chance end. I admire them for letting me try. It is more than most parents would do.

I shuffle the papers back behind each other, thinking of cards in games, thinking of Ky. What if I could get to him with this transfer, stay hidden on the air ship and drop myself like a stone from the sky down into the Outer Provinces?

If I did, what would he think if he saw me after all this time? Would he even recognize me? I know I look different. It’s not just my hands. In spite of the full meal portions, I’ve grown thinner from all the work. My eyes have shadows because I can’t sleep now, even though the Society doesn’t monitor our dreams here. Though it worries me that they don’t seem to care very much about us, I like the new freedom of sleeping without tags. I lie awake thinking about old and new words and a kiss stolen from the Society when they weren’t watching. But I try to fall asleep, I really do, because I see Ky best in my dreams.

The only time we can see people is when the Society allows it. In life, on the port, on a microcard. Once there was a time when the Society let its citizens carry around pictures of those they loved. If people were dead or had gone away, at least you remembered how they looked. But that hasn’t been allowed in years. And now the Society has even stopped the tradition of giving new Matches pictures of each other after their first face-to-face meeting. I learned that from one of the messages I didn’t keep—a notification from the Matching Department sent out to all those who had chosen to be Matched. It read, in part: Matching procedures are being streamlined for maximum efficiency and to increase optimal results.

I wonder if there have been other errors.

I close my eyes again, wishing I could see Ky’s face flash in front of me. But every image I conjure lately seems incomplete, blurring in different places. I wonder where Ky is now, what is happening to him, if he managed to hang onto the scrap of green silk I gave him before he left.

If he managed to hold on to me.

I take out something else, spread the paper open carefully on the bunk. A newrose petal comes out along with the paper, feeling like pages to my touch, its pink yellowing around the edges, too.

The girl assigned to the bunk next to me notices what I’m doing and so I climb back down to the bunk below. The other girls gather around, as they always do when I bring out this particular page. I can’t get in trouble for keeping this—after all, it’s not something illegal or contraband. It was printed from a regulation port. But we can’t print anything besides messages here, and so this scrap of art has become something valuable.

“I think this might be the last time we can look at it,” I say. “It’s falling to pieces.”

“I never thought to bring any of the Hundred Paintings,” Lin says, looking down.

“I didn’t think of it either,” I say. “Someone gave this to me.”

Xander did, back in the Borough, the day we said good-bye. It’s #19 of the Hundred Paintings—Chasm of the Colorado, by Thomas Moran—and I gave a report on it once in school. I said then that it was my favorite painting and Xander must have remembered that all those years. The picture frightened and thrilled me in some vague way—the sky was so spectacular, the land so beautiful and dangerous, so full of heights and depths. I was afraid of the vastness of a place like that. At the same time, I felt sorrow that I would never see it: green trees clinging to red rocks, blue and gray clouds floating and streaming, gold and dark over all of it.

I wonder if some of that longing came through in my voice when I spoke of the painting, if Xander noticed and remembered. Xander still plays the game in a subtle way. This painting is one of his cards. Now, when I see the painting or touch one of the newrose petals, I remember the way he felt so familiar and knew so much, and I ache for what I’ve had to let go.

I was right about this being the last time we could look at the picture. When I pick it up, it falls to pieces. We all sigh, at the same time, our combined exhalation moving the fragments on its breeze.

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