Matched, p.12
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       Matched, p.12

         Part #1 of Matched series by Ally Condie
Page 13


  The air-car’s landing gear is delicately splayed out, resting on the grass. Behind the plain white curtains in the window, I see figures move. I hurry up the steps and hesitate at the door. Should I knock?

  I tel myself to stay calm, stay clear. For some reason I picture the blue of Ky’s eyes and I can think better, realizing that reading the situation correctly is part of getting through it safely. This could be anything. They could be checking the food distribution system, house to house. That happened once, in a Borough near here. I heard about it.

  This might have nothing to do with me.

  Are they tel ing my parents about Ky’s face on the microcard? Do they know what Grandfather gave me? I haven’t had a chance to destroy the poems yet. The paper is stil in my pocket. Did someone besides Ky see me reading it in the woods? Was it the Officer’s shoe that snapped the stick?

  This might have everything to do with me.

  I don’t know what happens when people break the rules, because people here in the Borough don’t break them. There are minor citations issued from time to time, like when Bram is late. But those are smal things, smal errors. Not large errors, or errors committed with purpose. Infractions.

  I’m not going to knock. This is my house. Taking a deep breath, I twist the knob and open the door.

  Someone waits for me inside.

  “You’re back,” Bram says, relief in his tone.

  My fingers tighten around the piece of paper in my pocket, and I glance in the direction of the kitchen. Maybe I can make it to the incineration tube and stuff the poems down into the fire below. The tube wil register a foreign substance; the thick paper is completely different from the paper goods

  —napkins, port printings, delivery envelopes—that we are al owed to dispose of in our residences. But that might stil be safer than keeping it. They can’t reconstruct the words themselves after I’ve burned them.

  I catch a glimpse of a Biomedical Official in a long white lab coat moving through the hal into the kitchen. I let go of the poems, take my hand out of my pocket. Empty.

  “What’s wrong?” I ask Bram. “Where are Papa and Mama?”

  “They’re here,” Bram says, voice shaking. “In their room. The Officials are searching Papa. ”

  “Why?” My father doesn’t have the poems. He never even knew about them. But does that matter? Ky’s classification is because of his father’s Infraction. Wil my mistake change my whole family?

  Perhaps the compact is the safest place for the poems after al . My grandparents kept it hidden there for years. “I’l be right back,” I say to Bram, and I slip into my room, slide the compact out of my closet. Twist. I open the base, put the paper in.

  “Did someone come in?” an Official in the hal asks Bram.

  “My sister,” Bram says, sounding terrified.

  “Where did she go?”

  Twist, again. The compact doesn’t close right. A corner of the paper sticks out.

  “She’s in her room, changing clothes. She got al dirty from hiking. ” Bram’s voice sounds steadier now. He’s covering for me, without even knowing why. And he’s doing a good job of it, too.

  I hear footsteps in the hal and I open the compact back up, slide the corner in.

  I twist, a muted snap takes place. At last. With one hand, I unzip my plainclothes; with the other, I put the compact back on the shelf. I turn my head as the door opens, surprise and outrage on my face. “I’m changing!” I exclaim.

  The Official nods at me, seeing the smudge of dirt on my clothes. “Please come into the foyer when you’re finished,” he says. “Quickly. ” My hands sweat a little as I pul off the clothes that smel of forest and put them in the laundry receptacle. Then, in my other plainclothes, stripped of everything that might look or smel like poetry, I leave my room.

  “Papa never turned in Grandfather’s tissue sample,” Bram says in a whisper once I come back into the foyer. “He lost it. That’s why they’re here. ” For a moment, curiosity overrides his panic. “Why’d you have to change your clothes so fast? You weren’t that dirty. ”

  “I was dirty,” I whisper back. “Shh. Listen. ” I hear murmurs of voices in my parents’ room, and then my mother’s voice, raised. And I can’t believe what Bram told me. My father lost Grandfather’s sample?

  Sorrow cuts through the fear inside me. This is bad, very bad, that my father has made such an enormous mistake. But not only because it might mean trouble for him, and for us. Because it means that Grandfather is real y gone. They can’t bring him back without the sample.

  Suddenly I hope the Officials find something in our house after al .

  “Wait here,” I tel Bram, and I go into the kitchen. A Biomedical Official stands near the waste receptacle waving a device up and down, back and forth, over and over. He takes a step and begins the motions again in a new spot in the kitchen. I see the words printed along the side of the object he holds. Biological Detection Instrument.

  I relax slightly. Of course. They have something to detect the bar code engraved on the tube Grandfather used. They don’t need to tear the house apart. Perhaps they won’t find the paper after al . And perhaps they will find the sample.

  How could Papa lose something so important? How could he lose his own father?

  In spite of my instructions, Bram fol ows me into the kitchen. He touches my arm and we turn back toward the hal way. “Mama’s stil arguing in there,” he says, gesturing to our parents’ room. I grab Bram’s hand and hold it tight. The Officials don’t need to search my father; they have the Detection Instruments to tel them where to look. But I guess they have to make their point: My father should have been more careful with something so important.

  “Are they searching Mama, too?” I ask Bram. Are we al going to share in our father’s humiliation?

  “I don’t think so,” Bram says. “She just wanted to be in there with Papa. ”

  The bedroom door opens and Bram and I jump back out of the way of the Officials. Their white lab coats make them seem tal and pure. One of them can tel we are frightened, and he gives us a smal smile intended to reassure. It doesn’t work. He can’t give back the lost sample or my father’s dignity. The damage is done.

  My father walks behind the Officials, pale and unhappy. In contrast, my mother looks flushed and angry. She fol ows my father and the Officials into the front room, and Bram and I stand in the doorway to watch what happens.

  They didn’t find the sample. My heart sinks. My father stands in the middle of the room while the Biomedical Team berates him. “How could you do this?”

  He shakes his head. “I don’t know. It’s inexcusable. ” His words sound flat, as if he has repeated them so many times that he has given up any hope of the Officials believing him. He stands up straight, the way he always does, but his face looks tired and old.

  “You recognize that there is no way to bring him back now,” they say.

  My father nods, his face ful of misery. Even though I am angry with him for losing the sample, I can tel that he feels awful. Of course he does. This is Grandfather. In spite of my anger, I wish I could take Papa’s hand but there are too many Officials around him.

  And I’m ful of hypocrisy. I did something against the rules today, too, and what I did was intentional.

  “This may result in some sanctions for you at work,” one of the Officials says to my father, in a tone so mean I wonder if she wil get cited herself.

  No one is supposed to speak this way. Even when an error occurs, things aren’t supposed to get personal. “How can they expect you to handle the restoration and disposal of artifacts if you can’t even keep track of one tissue sample? Especial y knowing how important it was?” One of the other Officials says quietly, “You ruined the sample belonging to your own father. And then you didn’t report the loss. ” My father passes his hand over his eyes. “I was afraid,” he says. He knows the seriousness of the situation. He doesn’t ne
ed them to tel him.

  Cremation occurs within hours of death. There’s no way to get another sample. It’s gone. He’s gone. Grandfather is real y gone.

  My mother presses her lips tightly together and her eyes flash, but her anger is not for my father. She is mad at the Officials for making him feel worse than he already does.

  Even though there is nothing to say, the Officials do not leave. A few moments of cold silence pass during which no one says anything and we al think about how nothing can save Grandfather now.

  A chime sounds in the kitchen; our dinner has arrived. My mother walks out of the room. I hear the sounds of her taking the food delivery and placing it on the table. When she walks back into the room, her shoes make stabbing, serious sounds on the wood floor. She means business.

  “It’s mealtime,” she says, looking at the Officials. “I’m afraid they haven’t sent any extra portions. ” The Officials bristle a little. Is she trying to dismiss them? It’s hard to tel . Her face seems open, her tone regretful but firm. And she’s so lovely, blond hair winding down her back, flushed cheeks. None of that is supposed to matter. But somehow, it does.

  And besides. Even the Officials don’t dare disrupt mealtime too much. “We’l report this,” the tal est one says. “I’m sure that a citation of the highest order wil be issued, with the next error resulting in a complete Infraction. ” My father nods; my mother glances back at the kitchen, to remind them that the food is here and getting cold, possibly losing nutrients. The Officials nod curtly at us and, one by one, they leave, walking through the foyer, past the port, out the only door in the house.

  After they depart our whole family sighs with relief. My father turns to us. “I’m sorry,” he says. “I’m sorry. ” He looks at my mother and waits for her to speak.

  “Don’t worry about it,” she says bravely. She knows that my father now has a mistake logged against him in the permanent database. She knows that it means Grandfather is gone. But she loves my father. She loves him too much, I sometimes think. I think it now. Because if she isn’t angry with him, how can I be?

  When we sit down to dinner my mother embraces him and leans her head on his shoulder for a moment before she hands him his foilware. He reaches up to touch her hair, her cheek.

  Watching them, I think to myself that someday something like this might happen to me and to Xander. Our lives wil be so intertwined that what one of us does wil affect the other down to the ends, like the tree my mother transplanted once at the Arboretum. She showed it to me when I came to visit her. It was a little thing, a baby tree, but stil it tangled with things around it and required care to move. And when she final y pul ed it out, its roots stil clung to the earth from its old home.

  Did Ky do that, when he came here? Did he bring anything with him? It would have been difficult; they would have searched him so careful y, he had to adapt so quickly. Stil , I don’t see how he couldn’t bring something. Secret, maybe, inside, intangible. Something to nourish him. Something of home.

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