Matched, p.13
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       Matched, p.13

         Part #1 of Matched series by Ally Condie
Page 14


  Feet pounding, fists clenched, I hit the tracker running.

  I wish I could run outside, away from the sadness and shame in my house. Sweat trickles down the front of my gymgear, through my hair, across my face. I brush it away and glance back down at the tracker screen.

  There’s a rise in the curve on the tracker screen: a simulated hil . Good. I’ve reached the peak of the workout, the most difficult part, the fastest part. The tracker spins below me, a machine named for the circular tracks where people used to compete. And named for what it does—tracking information about the person running on it. If you run too far, you might be a masochist, an anorexic, or another type, and you wil have to see an Official of Psychology for diagnosis. If it’s determined that you are running hard because you genuinely like it then you can have an athletic permit. I have one.

  My legs ache a little; I look straight ahead and wil myself to see Grandfather’s face within my mind, to hold it there. If there’s real y no chance for him to ever come back, then I am the one who has to keep him alive.

  The incline increases, and I keep pace, wishing for the feeling of climbing the hil earlier that day when we were hiking. Outside. Branches and bushes and mud and sunlight on the top of a hil with a boy who knows more than he wil say.

  The tracker beeps. Five minutes left before the workout ends, before I’ve run the distance and time I should in order to keep up my optimal heart rate and maintain my optimal body mass index. I have to be healthy. It’s part of what makes us great, what keeps our life span long.

  Al of the things that were shown in early studies to be good for longevity—happy marriages, healthy bodies—are ours to have. We live long, good lives. We die on our eightieth birthdays, surrounded by our families, before dementia sets in. Cancer, heart disease, and most debilitating il nesses are almost entirely eradicated. This is as close to perfect as any society has ever managed to get.

  My parents talk upstairs. My brother does his schoolwork and I run to nowhere. Everyone in this house does what he or she is supposed to do. It’s going to be al right. My feet hit smack-slap on the belt of the tracker and I pound the worry out of me step by step. Step by step by step by step by step.

  I’m tired, I don’t know if I can go any farther, when the tracker beeps and slows, slows, slows to a stop. Perfect timing, programmed by the Society. I bend my head down, gasping for breath, sucking in air. There is nothing to see at the top of this hil .

  Bram sits on the edge of my bed, waiting for me. He holds something. At first I think it is my compact and I take a step forward, worried—Has he found the poetry?—but then I realize that it is Grandfather’s watch. Bram’s artifact.

  “I sent a port message to the Officials a few minutes ago,” Bram says. His round eyes look up at me, tired and sad.

  “Why did you do that?” I ask in shock. Why would he want to see or talk to an Official after what happened today?

  Bram holds up the watch. “I thought that maybe they could get enough tissue from this. Since Grandfather touched it so many times. ” Hope shoots through my veins like adrenaline. I pul a towel from the hook in my closet and wipe it across my face. “What did they say? Did they respond?”

  “They sent back a message saying it wouldn’t be enough. It wouldn’t work. ” He rubs the shiny surface of the watch with his sleeve to clean away the smudges where his fingers were. He looks at the face of the clock as if it can tel him something.

  But it can’t. Bram doesn’t even know how to tel time yet. And besides, Grandfather’s watch hasn’t worked in decades. It’s nothing but a beautiful artifact. Heavy, made of silver and glass. Nothing like the thin plastic strips we wear now.

  “Do I look like Grandfather?” Bram asks hopeful y. He slides the watch onto his arm. It is loose around his thin wrist. Skinny, brown-eyed, straight-backed, smal —he does look a little like Grandfather in that moment.

  “You do. ” I wonder if there is anything of Grandfather to see in me. I liked hiking today. I like reading the Hundred Poems. Those things that were a part of him are a part of me. I think about the other grandparents I have, out in the Farmlands, and about Ky Markham and the Outer Provinces and about al the things I do not know and places I wil never see.

  Bram smiles at my response and looks down proudly at the watch.

  “Bram, you can’t take that to school, you know. You could get in trouble. ”

  “I know. ”

  “You saw what happened to Papa when the Officials got after him. You don’t want them getting mad at you for breaking the rules about artifacts. ”

  “I won’t,” he says. “I know better than that. I don’t want to lose it. ” He reaches for my silver box from the Match Banquet. “Can I keep it in here? It seems like a good place. You know, special. ” He shrugs in embarrassment.

  “Al right,” I say, a little nervously. I watch him open the silver box and put the artifact careful y inside next to the microcard. He doesn’t even glance at the compact sitting on the shelf and for that I am grateful.

  Later that night when it is dark and Bram has gone to bed, I open the compact and take the paper out. I do not look at it; instead, I slip it into the pocket of my plainclothes for the next day. Tomorrow, I wil try to find a trash incinerator away from home to drop it in. I don’t want anyone to catch me doing it here. It’s too dangerous now.

  I lie down and look up at the ceiling, trying again to think of Grandfather’s face. I can’t bring it back. Impatient, I rol over, and something hard presses into my side. My tablet container. I must have dropped it when I changed my plainclothes earlier. It isn’t like me to be so careless.

  I sit up. The light from the street lamps outside comes in foggy through the window, enough to see the tablets as I twist open the container and spil them onto the bed. For a moment, as my eyes adjust, they al seem to be the same color. But then I can see which is which. The mysterious red tablet. The blue one that wil help us survive in case of an emergency, because even the Society can’t control nature al of the time.

  And the green one.

  Most people I know take the green tablet now and then. Before a big test. The night of the Match Banquet. Any time you might need calming. You can take it up to once a week without the Officials taking special note of it.

  But I’ve never taken the green tablet.

  Because of Grandfather.

  I was so proud to show him when I started carrying it. “Look,” I told him, unscrewing the lid of the silver container. “I’ve got blue and green now. Al I need is the red one and I’l be an adult. ”

  “Ah,” Grandfather said, looking properly impressed. “You are growing up, that’s for certain. ” He paused for a moment. We were walking outside, in the greenspace near his apartment. “Have you taken the green one yet?”

  “Not yet,” I said. “But I have to give a presentation on one of the Hundred Paintings in my Culture class next week. I might take it then. I don’t like speaking in front of everyone. ”

  “Which painting?” he asked.

  “Number nineteen,” I tel him, and he looks thoughtful, trying to remember which one that is. He doesn’t—didn’t—know the Hundred Paintings as wel as the Hundred Poems. But stil , he knew it after enough thought. “The one by Thomas Moran,” he guesses, and I nod. “I like the colors in that one,” he said.

  “I like the sky,” I told him. “It’s so dramatic. Al the clouds up above, and in the canyon. ” The painting felt a little dangerous—streaming gray clouds, jagged red rocks—and I liked that, too.

  “Yes,” he said. “It’s a beautiful painting. ”

  “Like this,” I said, even though the greenspace was beautiful in an entirely different way. Flowers bloomed everywhere, in colors we were not al owed to wear: pinks, yel ows, reds, almost startling in their boldness. They drew the eye; they scented the air.

  “Greenspace, green tablet,” Grandfather said, and then he looked at me and sm
iled. “Green eyes on a green girl. ”

  “That sounds like poetry,” I said, and he laughed.

  “Thank you. ” He paused for a moment. “I wouldn’t take that tablet, Cassia. Not for a report. And perhaps not ever. You are strong enough to go without it. ”

  Now, I lie down on my side, curl my hand around the green tablet. I don’t think I’l take it, not even tonight. Grandfather thinks I’m strong enough to go without it. I close my eyes and think of Grandfather’s poetry.

  Green tablet. Green space. Green eyes. Green girl.

  When I fal asleep, I dream that Grandfather has given me a bouquet of roses. “Take these instead of the tablet,” he tel s me. So I do. I pul the petals off each rose. To my surprise each petal has a word written on it, a word from one of the poems. They’re not in the right order, and this puzzles me, but I put them in my mouth and taste them. They taste bitter, the way I imagine the green tablet would taste. But I know Grandfather is right; I have to keep the words inside if I want to keep them with me.

  When I wake in the morning, the green tablet is stil in my hand, and the words are stil in my mouth.


  Breakfast sounds from the kitchen carry down the hal to my room. The chime, announcing the arrival of the food delivery sliding through its slot. A crash—Bram knocking something over. Chairs scrape, voices murmur as my mother and father talk with Bram. Soon, the smel of the food comes in underneath my door, or maybe it drifts through the thin wal s of our house, permeating everything. The smel is a familiar one, a smel of vitamins and something metal ic, perhaps the foilware.

  “Cassia?” my mother says outside my door. “You’re late for breakfast. ”

  I know. I want to be late to breakfast. I don’t want to see my father today. I don’t want to talk about what happened yesterday, but I don’t want to not-talk about it either, to sit at the table with our portions of food and pretend that Grandfather isn’t gone for good.

  “I’m coming,” I say, and I pul myself out of bed. Out in the hal I hear an announcement on the port, and I think I catch the word hiking.

  When I walk into the kitchen, my father has already left for work. Bram pul s on his raingear, grinning wildly. How can he forget about last night so quickly? “It’s supposed to rain today,” he informs me. “No hiking for you. They said so on the port. ” My mother gives Bram his hat and he jams it onto his head. “Good-bye!” he says, and he heads for the air train, early for once because he likes the rain.

  “So,” my mother says. “It looks like you’l have a little free time. What do you think you’l do?” I know immediately. Most of the other hikers wil use their time hanging out in the common area inside the school, or finishing assignments in the school’s research library. I have something else in mind, a visit to a different library. “I think I might go visit Papa. ” My mother’s eyes soften; she smiles. “I’m sure he’d like that, since you missed him this morning. He won’t be able to stop work long, though. ”

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