Matched, p.14
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       Matched, p.14

         Part #1 of Matched series by Ally Condie
Page 15


  “I know. I just want to say hel o. ” And destroy something dangerous, something I’m not supposed to have. Something more likely to be found at an old library than anywhere else, if they truly do record the composition of everything burned in the incineration tubes.

  I pick up one of the dry triangles of toast tucked inside my foilware, thinking of the way the two poems looked on the paper. I remember many of the words, but not al of them, and I want al of them. Every last one. Is there any way I can sneak one more glance before I destroy the paper? Is there any way to make the words last?

  If only we stil knew how to write instead of just type things into our scribes. Then I could write them down again someday. Then I might be able to have them when I am old.

  Looking out the window, I watch Bram waiting at the air-train stop. It’s not raining yet, but he jumps up and down on the metal steps to the platform. I smile to myself and hope no one tel s him to stop, because I know exactly what he’s doing. In the absence of real thunder, he’s making his own.

  Ky is the only one walking toward the air-train platform when I go outside. The train to Second School has left and this next one goes into the City.

  He must have to report to work when his leisure activities get canceled; no free hour or two for him. Watching Ky walk, his shoulders straight, his head up, it strikes me how lonely he must be. He’s spent so long blending into the crowd, and now they’ve separated him out again.

  Ky hears me coming up behind him and turns around. “Cassia,” he says, sounding surprised. “Did you miss your train?”

  “No. ” I stop a few feet away, to give him his space if he wants it. “I’m taking this one. I’m going to visit my father. You know, since hiking was canceled. ”

  Ky lives in our Borough, so of course he knows the Officials visited us last night. He won’t say anything, though—no one wil . It’s not their business unless the Society says that it is.

  I take another step toward the air-train stop, toward Ky. I expect him to move, to start up the stairs to the platform, but he doesn’t. In fact, he takes a step closer to me. The tree-spiked Hil of the Arboretum rises in the distance behind him, and I wonder if we wil ever hike there. The thunderstorm, stil a few miles away, rol s and rumbles gray and heavy across the sky. Ky looks up. “Rain,” he says, almost under his breath, and then he looks back at me. “Are you going to his office in the City?”

  “No. I’m going past that. He’s working on a site out at the edge of Brookway Borough. ”

  “Can you make it out there and back in time for school?”

  “I think so. I’ve done it before when he was working out that way. ”

  Against the clouds, Ky’s eyes seem lighter, reflecting the gray around them, and I have an unsettling thought: perhaps his eyes have no color.

  They reflect what he wears, who the Officials tel him to be. When he wore brown, his eyes looked brown. Now that he wears blue, they look blue.

  “What are you thinking about?” he asks me.

  I tel him the truth. “The color of your eyes. ”

  My answer catches Ky off guard; but after a second he smiles. I love his smile; in it, I see a hint of the boy he was that day at the pool. Were his eyes blue then? I can’t remember. I wish I’d looked more closely.

  “What are you thinking about?” I ask. I expect the shutters to close in as they always do: Ky wil give me some expected answer, like “I was thinking about what I need to do at work today” or “The activities for free-rec on Saturday night. ” But he doesn’t. “Home,” he says simply, stil looking at me.

  The two of us hold each other’s gazes for a long, unembarrassed moment and I feel that Ky knows. I’m not sure what he knows—whether he knows me, or just something about me.

  Ky says nothing more. He looks at me with those changeable eyes, those eyes that I thought were the color of earth but instead are the color of sky, and I look back. I think we have done more seeing the last two days than in al the years we have known each other.

  The female announcer’s voice cuts through the silence: “Air train approaching. ” Neither of us speaks as we hurry up the metal steps to the platform together, racing the clouds in the distance. For now, we win, reaching the top as the air train slides to a stop in front of us. Together we climb on, joining groups of others in dark blue plainclothes and a few Officials here and there.

  There aren’t two seats together. I find a seat first, and Ky sits across from me. He leans forward, resting his elbows on his knees. Someone, another worker, cal s out a greeting to him and Ky cal s back. The train is crowded and people pass between us, but I can watch him now and then in the gaps they leave. And it strikes me that this might be part of the reason I am going to see my father today; not just to destroy the paper, but to ride on this train with Ky.

  We reach his stop first. He climbs off without looking back.

  From the raised air-train platform, the rubble of the old library appears to be covered in enormous black spiders. The huge black incinerators spread their leglike tubes out across the bricks and over the edges into the basement of the library. The rest of the building has al been torn away.

  I climb down the stairs and walk toward the library. I’m out of place at this work site. But not forbidden. Stil , it would be better if no one saw me yet. I edge close enough to see down into the hole. The workers, most dressed in blue plainclothes, suck up piles of papers with the incineration tubes. My father told us that right when they thought they had gone through everything, they found steel boxes of books buried down in the basement. Almost as though someone tried to hide and preserve the books against the future. My father and the other Restoration specialists have been through the boxes and they haven’t found anything special, so they wil incinerate al of it.

  One figure wears white. An Official. My father. Al workers have protective helmets, so I can’t see his face, but the confidence is back in his walk.

  He moves purposeful y, in his element, giving directions and pointing out where he wants the tubes to go next.

  Sometimes I forget that my father is an Official. I rarely see him on-duty, in his uniform, which he changes into at work. The sight of him in his uniform simultaneously comforts me—they didn’t take away his ranking after last night, at least not yet—and sets me on edge. It is strange to see people in different ways.

  Another thought crosses my mind: before he turned seventy and was required to quit work, Grandfather was an Official. But it’s different with Papa and Grandfather, I tel myself. Neither of them are, or were, high-level Officials in places like the Match Department or the Safety Department.

  Those are the ones that do most of the Official-type things, like implement rules. We’re thinkers, not enforcers: learners, not doers.

  Most of the time. My great-grandmother, an Official herself, did steal that poem.

  My father glances once at the sky, aware of the impending thunderstorm. Speed is important, but they have to be methodical. “We can’t just set things on fire,” he’s told me. “The tubes are like the incineration devices at home. They record the amount and type of the matter destroyed. ” There are a few piles of books left and, as I watch, the workers move from one to another, fol owing his orders. It’s faster to incinerate individual pages instead of books, so they slice the books open, gutting them along the spines, preparing them for the tubes.

  My father looks at the sky again and gestures in a “hurry up” motion to the other workers. I need to get back to school, but I keep watching.

  I’m not the only one. As I glance up, over across the chasm of spiders and books, I see another figure in white. An Official. Watching, too.

  Checking on my father.

  The site personnel drag the incineration tube to a newly readied pile. The books’ backs are broken; their bones, thin and delicate, fal out. The workers shove them toward the incineration tube; they step on them. The bones crackle under their boo
ts like leaves. It reminds me of fal , when the City brings around the incineration equipment to our neighborhoods and we shovel the fal en maple leaves into the tubes. My mother always laments the waste, since decayed leaves can be good fertilizer, just as my father laments the waste of the paper that could be recycled when he has to incinerate a library. But the higher Officials say some things are not worth saving. Sometimes it’s faster and more efficient to destroy.

  One leaf escapes. Caught on a swirl of wind from the impending thunderstorm, it rises up, almost reaching my feet as I stand near the edge of this smal canyon that was once a library. It hovers there, so close I can almost see the words written on it, and then the wind dies down for a moment and it fal s back.

  I glance up. Neither Official watches me. Not my father, not the other. My father is intent on the books he’s destroying; the other Official is intent on my father. It’s time.

  I reach into my pocket and pul out the paper Grandfather gave me. I let go of it.

  It dances on the air for a moment before it fal s, too. A fresh gust of wind almost saves it, but a worker catches sight of it and lifts a tube up to suck the paper from the air, to suck the words from the sky.

  I’m sorry, Grandfather.

  I stand and watch until al the bones are shoved into the incineration tubes, until al the words have been turned into ash and nothing.

  I lingered too long at the library work site and I’m almost late for class. Xander waits for me near the main doors of Second School.

  He pushes one of them open, holding its weight with his shoulder. “Is everything al right?” he asks quietly as I stop there in the doorway.

  “Hi, Xander,” someone cal s out to him. He nods in their direction, but doesn’t look away.

  For a moment, I think that I should tel Xander everything. Not just about what happened last night with the Officials, which is what has him worried, but everything. I should tel him about Ky’s face on the screen. I should tel him about Ky in the woods, how he saw the poem. I should tel Xander about the poem itself and the way it felt to let it go. Instead, I shake my head. I don’t want to talk right now.

  Xander changes the subject, his eyes lighting up. “I almost forgot. I have something to tel you. There’s a new Saturday activity coming up. ”

  “Real y?” I ask, grateful to him for understanding, for not pressing further. “Is there a new showing?”

  “No, even better. We can replant the flower beds in front of First School and eat dinner outside. Like a—what’s the word?—like a picnic. There’s going to be ice cream afterward, too. ”

  The enthusiasm in Xander’s voice makes me smile a little. “Xander, that’s nothing but a glorified work project. They want some free labor and they’re bribing us with ice cream. ”

  He grins at me. “I know, but it’s good to have a break. Keeps me fresh for the games the next time. So you want to plant, too, right? I know the spots wil fil up fast, so I signed you up already in case you did. ”

  A tiny bit of annoyance that he did this without talking to me first flashes through me, but it vanishes almost instantly when I notice that his smile seems a little awkward. He knows he’s crossed a line—he never would have done something like this before we were Matched—and the fact that he worries about it makes it al right. Besides, even though it is a glorified work project, I would have signed up in a heartbeat myself. Xander knows that. He knows me and he looks out for me.

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