Matched, p.7
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       Matched, p.7
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         Part #1 of Matched series by Ally Condie
Page 8

 

  “She can,” Xander said. “She just doesn’t like to do it. ”

  “I don’t like the jumping-in part,” I informed Grandfather.

  “I see,” he said. “What about the diving board?”

  “Especial y not that. ”

  “Al right,” he told me. He sat next to me on the edge. Even back then, when he was younger and stronger, I remember thinking how old he looked compared to my friends’ grandparents. My grandparents were one of the last couples who chose to be Matched later in life. They were thirty-five when they Matched. My father, their one child, wasn’t born until four years later. Now, no one is al owed to have a child after they turn thirty-one.

  The sun shone right through his silver hair and made me see each strand even when I wasn’t looking for such detail. It made me sad, even though he made me angry. “This is exciting,” he said, kicking his feet in the water. “I can see how you’d never want to do anything but sit. ” I heard the teasing in his voice and turned away.

  Then he stood up and walked toward the diving board. “Sir,” said the waterguard in charge of the pool. “Sir?”

  “I have a recreational pass,” Grandfather told her, not stopping. “I’m in excel ent health. ” Then he climbed up the ladder to the diving board, looking stronger and stronger the higher he climbed.

  He didn’t look over at me before he jumped; he went right in, and before he broke through the surface of the water I was on my feet, walking across the hot wet cement to the high-dive ladder, the soles of my feet and my pride both on fire.

  And I jumped.

  “You’re thinking of the pool, aren’t you?” he asks me now.

  “Yes,” I say, laughing a little. “You didn’t keep me safe then. You practical y dared me to leap to my death,” and then I cringe, because I didn’t mean to say that word. I don’t know why I’m afraid of it. Grandfather isn’t. The Society isn’t. I shouldn’t be.

  Grandfather doesn’t seem to notice. “You were ready to jump,” he says. “You just weren’t sure of it yet. ” We both fal silent, remembering. I try not to look at the timepiece on the wal . I have to leave soon so I can make curfew, but I don’t want Grandfather to think that I am marking the minutes. Marking time until our visit is over. Marking time until his life is over. Although, if you think about it, I am marking time for my own life, too. Every minute you spend with someone gives them a part of your life and takes part of theirs.

  Grandfather senses my distraction and asks me what is on my mind. I tel him, because I won’t have many more chances to do so, and he reaches out and grips my hand. “I’m glad to give you part of my life,” he says, and it is such a nice thing to say and he says it so kindly that I say it back. Even though he is almost eighty, even though his body seemed frail earlier, his grip feels strong, and again I feel sad.

  “There’s something else I wanted to tel you,” I say to Grandfather. “I signed up for hiking as my summer leisure activity. ” He looks pleased. “They’ve brought that back?” Grandfather used to hike as one of his leisure activities years ago, and he’s talked about it ever since.

  “It’s new this summer. I’ve never seen it offered before. ”

  “I wonder who the instructor is,” he says, thoughtful y. Then he looks out the window. “I wonder where they’l take you to hike. ” I fol ow his gaze again. There isn’t much wildness out there, though we have plenty of greenspace—parks and recreation fields. “Maybe to one of the larger recreation areas,” I say.

  “Maybe to the Hil ,” he says, the light returning to his eyes.

  The Hil is the last place in the City that has been left forested and wild. I can see it now, its prickly green back rising out of the Arboretum where my mother works. It was once mostly used for Army training, but since most of the Army has been moved to the Outer Provinces, there isn’t as much need for it anymore.

  “Do you think so?” I ask, excited. “I’ve never been there before. I mean, I’ve been to the Arboretum lots of times, of course, but I’ve never had permission to go on the Hil . ”

  “You’l love it if they let you hike the Hil ,” Grandfather says, his face animated. “There’s something about climbing to the highest point you can see, and there’s no one clearing a path for you, no simulator. Everything’s real—”

  “Do you real y think they’l let us hike there?” I ask. His enthusiasm is contagious.

  “I hope so. ” Grandfather gazes out the window in the direction of the Arboretum, and I wonder if the reason he spends so much time looking out lately is because he likes to remember what he carries within.

  It is as though he can read my mind. “I’m nothing but an old man sitting here thinking about his memories, aren’t I?” I smile. “There’s nothing wrong with doing that. ” In fact, at the end of a life, it’s encouraged.

  “That’s not exactly what I’m doing,” Grandfather said.

  “Oh?”

  “I’m thinking. ” Again, he knows my thoughts. “It’s not the same as remembering. Remembering is part of thinking, but not al of it. ”

  “What are you thinking about?”

  “Many things. A poem. An idea. Your grandmother. ” My grandmother died early of one of the last kinds of cancer when she was sixty-two. I never knew her. The compact was hers before it was mine—a gift from her mother-in-law, Grandfather’s mother.

  “What do you think she would say about my Match?” I ask him. “About what happened today?” He’s quiet, and I wait. “I think,” he says final y, “she would ask you if you wondered. ” I want to ask him what he means, but I hear the bel ringing, announcing that the final air train for the Boroughs wil be coming through soon. I have to go.

  “Cassia?” Grandfather says as I stand up. “You stil have the compact I gave you, don’t you?”

  “Yes,” I say, surprised that he would ask. It’s the most valuable thing I own. The most valuable thing I wil ever own.

  “Wil you bring it to my Final Banquet tomorrow?” he asks.

  Tears wel in my eyes. He must want to see it again to remember my grandmother, and his mother. “Of course I wil , Grandfather. ”

  “Thank you. ”

  My tears threaten to spil over onto his cheek as I bend down to kiss him. I hold them back; I don’t cry. I wonder when I can. It won’t be tomorrow night at the Final Banquet. People wil be watching then. To see how Grandfather handles leaving, and to see how we manage being left.

  As I walk down the hal , I hear other residents talking to themselves or to visitors behind their closed doors, and the sound of ports turned up loud because many of the elderly cannot hear wel . Some rooms are silent. Perhaps some are like Grandfather, sitting in front of open windows and thinking about people who are no longer here.

  She would ask you if you wondered.

  I step into the elevator and push the button, feeling sad and strange and confused. What did he mean?

  I know Grandfather’s time is running out. I have known this for a long time. But why, as the elevator doors slide shut, do I suddenly feel that mine is running out as wel ?

  My grandmother would want to know if I wondered if it wasn’t a mistake after all. If Ky were meant to be my Match.

  For a moment, I did. When I saw Ky’s face flash in front of me so quick I couldn’t even see the color of his eyes, only the dark of them as they looked back at me, I wondered, Is it you?

  CHAPTER 7

  Today is Sunday. It is Grandfather’s eightieth birthday, so tonight he wil die.

  People used to wake up and wonder, “Wil today be the end?” or lie down to sleep, not knowing if they would come back out of the dark. Now, we know which day wil be the end of the light and which night wil be the long, last one. The Final Banquet is a luxury. A triumph of planning, of the Society, of human life and the quality of it.

  Al the studies show that the best age to die is eighty. It’s long enough that we can have a complete life experience, but
not so long that we feel useless. That’s one of the worst feelings the elderly can have. In societies before ours, they could get terrible diseases, like depression, because they didn’t feel needed anymore. And there is a limit to what the Society can do, too. We can’t hold off al the indignities of aging much past eighty.

  Matching for healthy genes can only take us so far.

  Things didn’t used to be this fair. In the old days, not everyone died at the same age and there were al kinds of problems and uncertainty. You could die anywhere—on the street, in a medical center as my grandmother did, even on an air train. You could die alone.

  No one should die alone.

  The hour is very early, faint blue and pale pink, as we arrive on the almost-empty air train and walk along the cement pathway toward the door of Grandfather’s building. I want to step off the path and take off my shoes and walk with my bare feet on the cool, sharp grass, but today is not a day to deviate from what is planned. My parents and Bram and I are al quiet, thinking. None of us have work or leisure hours. Today is for Grandfather.

  Tomorrow, things go back to normal again and we wil move on and he wil be gone.

  It’s expected. It’s fair. I remind myself of this as we climb into the elevator to go to his apartment. “You can push the button,” I tel Bram, trying to joke with him. Bram and I used to fight over who got to push the buttons when we came to visit. Bram smiles and presses the 10. For the last time, I think to myself. After today, there wil be no Grandfather to visit. We wil have no reason to come back.

  Most people don’t know their grandparents this wel . The kind of relationship I have with my other grandparents in the Farmlands is much more common. We communicate via port every few months and visit every few years. Many grandchildren watch the Final Banquet on the portscreens, too, one step removed from what’s happening. I have never envied those other children; I’ve pitied them. Even today, I feel that way.

  “How long do we have before the Committee shows up?” Bram asks my father.

  “About half an hour,” my father answers. “Does everyone have their gifts?”

  We nod. Each of us has brought something to give Grandfather. I’m not sure what my parents chose for him, but I know Bram went to the Arboretum to get a rock from a spot as near to the Hil as possible.

  Bram catches me looking at him, and he opens his palm to show me the rock again. It is round and brown and stil a bit dirty. It looks a little like an egg, and when he brought it back yesterday, he told me that he’d found it under a tree in a pile of soft green pine needles that looked like a nest.

  “He’s going to love it,” I say to Bram.

  “He’l love your gift, too. ” Bram closes his fist around the rock again. The doors slide open and we step out into the hal .

  I’ve made Grandfather a letter for my gift. I got up early this morning and spent time cutting and pasting and copying sentiments on the letter-making program on the port. Before I printed the letter, I found a poem from the decade in which he was born and included it as wel . Not many people care about poetry after they finish school, but Grandfather always has. He’s read al of the Hundred Poems many times.

 
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ALLY CONDIE SERIES:

Matched