Matched, p.34
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       Matched, p.34

         Part #1 of Matched series by Ally Condie
 
Page 35

 

  “Thank you. I look forward to it. ” I step back, sure that the portscreen communication is finished, but the Official has one last question for me.

  “Are you sure that there aren’t any changes you want to make before the sort is implemented?” My last chance to take back what I’ve done. I almost say it. I have his number memorized; it would be so easy. Then I remember what she told me about life expectancy, and the words turn to rocks in my mouth and I can’t speak around them.

  “Cassia?”

  “I’m sure. ”

  I turn away from the port and almost run into my father. “Congratulations,” he says. “Sorry. I hope you don’t mind that I listened. They didn’t say it was a private communication. ”

  “It’s fine,” I say. Then I ask, “Did you ever wonder . . . ” I pause, unsure of how to phrase this. How to ask him if he ever doubted his Match with my mother. If he ever wanted someone else.

  “Did I ever wonder what?” he asks me.

  “Never mind,” I say, because I think I already know the answer. Of course he didn’t. They fel in love immediately and never looked back.

  I go into my room and open my closet. Once it held the compact and the poem. Now it is empty except for clothes and shoes and the smal , framed piece of my dress. I don’t know where my silver box is and I panic. Did they accidental y take it when they took the artifacts? No, of course not. They know what the silver boxes are. They’d never mistake them for something from the past. The Match Banquet boxes are clearly for the future.

  I’m hunting around through my meager belongings when my mother comes into the room. She returned late last night from her third trip out of Oria. “Are you looking for something?” she asks.

  I straighten up. “I found it,” I say, holding up the fragment of green under glass. I don’t want to tel her that I can’t find the Match Banquet box.

  She takes the square from me and holds it up, the green fabric from the dress catching the light. “Did you know that there used to be windows with colored glass?” she asks. “People put them in places where they worshipped. Or in their own homes. ”

  “Stained glass,” I say. “Papa’s told me about it. ” It does sound beautiful: light shining through color, windows as art or tribute.

  “Of course he has,” she says, laughing at herself. “I final y submitted that report today, and now I’m so tired I can’t think wel . ”

  “Is everything al right?” I ask. I want to ask her what she meant about the trees that day, why she thought their loss was a warning to her, but I don’t think I want to know. After the real-life sort I feel like I can’t take any more pressure; I feel as though I already know too much. Besides, my mother seems happier now than she’s seemed in weeks, and I don’t want to change that.

  “I think it wil be,” she says.

  “Oh, good,” I say. We’re both silent for a moment, looking at my dress under glass.

  “Are you going to have to travel again?”

  “No, I don’t think so,” she says. “I think that’s finished. I hope. ” She stil looks exhausted, but I can see that submitting the report has lifted a burden.

  I take the memento back from her, and as I do, I have an idea. “Can I see the piece of your dress?” The last time I looked at it was the night before my Match Banquet. I was a little nervous, and she brought me the dress fragment and told me again the story of their Match with its happy ending. But so much has changed since then.

  “Of course,” she says, and I fol ow her into her bedroom. The framed bit of fabric sits on a little shelf inside the closet she shares with my father, along with two silver boxes—hers and Papa’s—that held their microcards and, later, the rings for their Contract. The rings are purely ceremonial, of course—they don’t get to keep them—and they give the microcards back to the Officials at the Contract celebration. So my parents’ silver boxes are empty.

  I pick up her dress fragment and hold it up. My mother’s gown was blue and thanks to preservation techniques, the satin is stil bright and lovely in its frame.

  I put it next to mine along the windowsil . Together, side by side, I imagine that they look a little like a stained-glass window. The light behind them brightens them, and I can almost imagine that I could look through the colors and see a world made beautiful and different.

  My mother understands. “Yes,” she says. “I imagine the windows looked something like that. ” I want to tel her everything but I can’t. Not now. I am too fragile. I am trapped in glass and I want to break out and breathe deep but I’m too afraid that it wil hurt.

  My mother puts her arm around me. “Can you tel me what’s wrong?” she asks gently. “Is it something to do with your Match?” I reach for my dress fragment and take it down from the window so my mother’s sits up there alone. I don’t trust myself to speak, so I shake my head. How can I explain to my perfectly Matched mother everything that has happened? Everything I’ve risked? How can I explain to her that I’d do it again? How can I tel her that I hate the system that created her life, her love, her family? That created me?

  Instead, I ask, “How did you know?”

  She reaches for her frame and takes it down, too. “At first, I could see that you were fal ing deeper and deeper in love, but I didn’t worry about it because I thought your Match was perfect for you. Xander is wonderful. And you might be able to stay in Oria, nearby, since both of your families live here. As a mother, I couldn’t imagine a better scenario. ”

  She pauses, looking at me. “And then I was so busy with work. It took until today for me to realize that I was wrong. You weren’t thinking of Xander. ”

  Don’t say it, I beg her with my eyes. Don’t say that you know I’m in love with someone else. Please.

  “Cassia,” she tel s me, and the love in her eyes for me is pure and true and that’s what makes her next words cut deep, because I know she has my best interests at heart. “I’m married to someone wonderful. I have two beautiful children and a job I love. It’s a good life. ” She holds out the piece of blue satin. “Do you know what would happen if I broke this glass?”

  I nod. “The cloth would disintegrate. It would be ruined. ”

  “Yes,” she says, and then it’s almost as if she’s speaking to herself. “It would be ruined. Everything would be ruined. ” Then she puts her hand on my arm. “Do you remember what I said the day they cut the trees down?” Of course I do. “About how it was a warning for you?”

  “Yes. ” She flushes. “That wasn’t true. I was so worried that I wasn’t acting rational y. Of course it wasn’t a warning for me. It wasn’t a warning for anyone. The trees simply needed to come down. ”

  I hear in her voice how badly she wants to believe that what she says is true, how she almost does believe it. Wanting to hear more, but not wanting to push too hard, I ask, “What was so important about the report? What makes it different from other reports you’ve done?” My mother sighs. She doesn’t answer me directly; instead, she says, “I don’t know how the workers at the medical center stand it when they’re working on people or delivering babies. It’s too hard to have other lives in your hands. ” My unspoken question hovers in the air: What do you mean? She pauses. She seems to be deciding whether or not to answer me, and I hold perfectly stil until she speaks again. Absentmindedly she picks up her dress fragment and begins polishing the glass.

  “Someone out in Grandia, and then in another Province, reported that there were strange crops popping up. The one in Grandia was in the Arboretum, in an experimental field that had been fal ow for a long time. The other field was in the Farmlands of the second Province. The Government asked me and two others to travel to the fields and submit reports about the crops. They wanted to know two things: Were the crops viable as foodstuffs? And were the growers planning a rebel ion?”

  I draw in my breath. It’s forbidden to grow food unless the Government has specifical y requested it. They control the food;
they control us. Some people know how to grow food, some know how to harvest it, some know how to process it; others know how to cook it. But none of us know how to do al of it. We could never survive on our own.

  “The three of us agreed that the crops were definitely usable as foodstuffs. The grower at the Arboretum had an entire field of Queen Anne’s lace. ” My mother’s face changes suddenly, lights up. “Oh, Cassia, it was so beautiful. I’ve only seen a sprig here and there. This was a whole field, waving in the wind. ”

  “Wild carrot,” I say, remembering.

  “Wild carrot,” she agrees, her voice sad. “The second grower had a crop I’d never seen before, of white flowers even more beautiful than the first.

  Sego lilies, they cal ed them. One of the others with me knew what they were. You can eat the bulb. Both growers denied knowing you could use the plants for food; they both asserted that their interest was in the flower. They insisted the plants were new to them and that they cultivated them as research, for the blossoms. ”

  Her voice, which has been soft and sad since she mentioned the field of Queen Anne’s lace, grows stronger. “The three of us argued the whole way back after the second trip. One expert was convinced the growers were tel ing the truth. The other thought they were lying. They submitted conflicting reports. Everyone waited for mine. I asked for one last trip to be sure. After al , these growers wil be Relocated or Reclassified based on our reports. Mine would tip the balance one way or the other. ”

  She stops polishing the glass and looks down at the piece of blue cloth as though there is something written there for her to see. And I realize that for her, there is. That blue cloth represents the night she was Matched to my father. She reads her life, the life she loves, in that square of blue satin.

  “I knew al along,” she whispers. “I knew when I saw the fear in their eyes when we first arrived. They knew what they were doing. And something the Queen Anne’s lace grower said on my second visit convinced me even more of the truth. He acted as though he’d never seen the plant outside of a portscreen before until he raised the crop, but he grew up in a town near mine, and I knew I’d seen the flower there growing wild.

  “But I stil hesitated. And then when I came home again and saw al of you, I realized I had to report the truth. I had to fulfil my duty to the Society and guarantee our happiness. And keep us al safe. ”

  That last word, safe, is as soft and hushed as the swish of silk.

  “I understand,” I tel her, and I do. And the hold she has over me is much greater than the Officials, because I love her and admire her.

  Back in my room I find the silver box where it fel inside one of my winter boots. I open it up and take out the microcard with al of Xander’s information and the courtship guidelines. If there hadn’t been a mistake, if I’d just seen his face and everything had been normal, none of this would have happened. I wouldn’t have fal en in love with Ky and the choice wouldn’t have been so hard to make in the sort. Everything would have been fine.

 
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ALLY CONDIE SERIES:

Matched