Matched, p.8
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       Matched, p.8

         Part #1 of Matched series by Ally Condie
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Page 9


  One of the doors along the hal opens and an old woman peeks her head out. “You’re going to the Banquet for Mr. Reyes?” she asks, and she doesn’t even wait for us to answer. “It’s private, isn’t it?”

  “It is,” my father says, stopping politely to speak with her, even though I know he is eager to see his father. He can’t keep himself from glancing down the hal at Grandfather’s closed door.

  The woman grumbles a little. “I wish it were public. I’d like to go so I can get ideas. Mine’s in less than two months. You can bet it’s going to be public. ” She laughs a little, a short, harsh sound, and then she asks, “Can you come and tel me about it afterward?” My mother comes to the rescue, as she and my father always do for each other. “Perhaps,” Mama says, smiling, and she takes my father’s hand and turns her back on the woman.

  We hear a disappointed sigh and then a click behind us as the woman closes her door. The nameplate on her door says Mrs. Nash, and I remember that Grandpa has talked about her before. Nosy, he said.

  “Can’t she wait for her own turn to come, instead of talking about it on Grandfather’s day?” Bram mutters, pushing open the door to Grandfather’s residence.

  It already feels like a different place. More hushed. A little lonelier. I think that is because Grandfather is not sitting at the window anymore. Today, he rests in a bed in the living room as his body shuts down. Right on time.

  “Could you move me over to the window?” Grandfather asks, after saying hel o to al of us.

  “Certainly. ” My father reaches for the edge of the bed and pul s it smoothly toward the early morning light. “Remember when you did this for me?

  When I had al those inoculations as a child?”

  Grandfather smiles. “That was a different house. ”

  “And a different view,” my father agrees. “Al I could see from that window was the neighbor’s yard and an air-train track if I looked high enough. ”

  “But beyond that there was sky,” Grandfather says softly. “You can almost always see the sky. And what’s beyond that, I wonder? And after this?” Bram and I exchange glances. Grandfather must be wandering a little today, which is to be expected. On the day the elderly turn eighty, the decline always accelerates. Not everyone dies at exactly the same time, but it is always before midnight.

  “I’ve invited my friends to come immediately after the Committee visits,” Grandfather says. “And then after they leave I’d like to spend some one-on-one time with each of you. Starting with you, Abran. ”

  My father nods. “Of course. ”

  The Committee does not take long. They arrive, three men and three women in their long white lab coats, and they bring things with them, too. The Banquet clothes that Grandfather wil wear. Equipment for tissue preservation. A microcard with a history of his life so he can watch it on the port.

  With the exception of maybe the microcard, I think Grandfather wil like our gifts better.

  After a few moments, Grandfather reappears wearing his Banquet clothes. They are basical y plainclothes, simple pants and a shirt and socks, but they are made of fine-quality material, and he has been able to select the color.

  I feel something catch in my throat when I see that the color he has chosen for his clothing is a light green. We are so much alike. And I wonder if he realized when I was born that the days of our Banquets would be so close together, since our birthdays are only a few days apart.

  We al sit politely, Grandfather in his bed and the rest of us on chairs, while the Committee completes their part of the celebration.

  “Mr. Reyes, we present to you the microcard with images and records from your life,” they say. “It has been compiled by one of our best historians in your honor. ”

  “Thank you,” Grandfather says, reaching out his hand.

  The box containing the microcard is like the silver one we receive when we are Matched, except for the color: gold. The microcard inside has pictures of Grandfather as a smal boy, a teenager, a man. He hasn’t seen some of these images in years, and I imagine that he is excited to view them today. The microcard also includes a summary of his life in words, read by one of the historians. Grandfather turns the golden box over in his hands as I did with my silver box not long ago at the Match Banquet. His life cupped in his palms, as mine was.

  One of the women speaks next. She seems gentler than the others, but maybe that is because she is smal er and younger than the rest. “Mr.

  Reyes, have you chosen the person to take possession of your microcard when today is over?”

  “My son, Abran,” Grandfather says.

  She holds out the device for the tissue col ection, which, as a final courtesy to the elderly, the Society al ows to take place privately, among family.

  “And we are pleased to formal y announce that your data indicates you have qualified for preservation. Not everyone qualifies, as you know, and it is another honor that you can add to your already long list of achievements. ”

  Grandfather takes the device from her and thanks her again. Before she can ask him who he’s trusted with the delivery of the sample, he volunteers the information. “My son, Abran, wil take care of this as wel . ”

  She nods her head. “Simply swab your cheek and put the sample in here,” she says, demonstrating. “Then seal it up. You need to bring the sample to the Biological Preservation Department within twenty-four hours of col ection. Otherwise we cannot guarantee that preservation wil be effective. ”

  I’m glad that Grandfather has qualified to have a tissue sample frozen. Now, for him, death may not necessarily be the end. Someday, the Society might figure out a way to bring us back. They don’t promise anything, but I think we al know that it wil happen eventual y. When has the Society ever failed in reaching a goal?

  The man next to her speaks. “The food for your guests and your own final meal should arrive within the hour. ” He leans over to hand Grandfather a printed menu card. “Are there any last-minute modifications you would like to make?” Grandfather looks at the card and shakes his head. “Everything looks in order. ”

  “Enjoy your Final Banquet, then,” the man says, pocketing the card.

  “Thank you. ” There is a wry twist to Grandfather’s mouth as he says this, as though he knows something they don’t.

  As the Committee leaves, they al shake Grandfather’s hand and say, “Congratulations. ” And I swear that I can read Grandfather’s mind as he meets their gaze with his sharp eyes. Are you congratulating me on my life, or on my death?

  “Let’s get this over with,” Grandfather says with a spark in his eye, looking at the tissue col ection device, and we al laugh at his tone. Grandfather swabs his own cheek, puts the sample in the clear glass tube, and seals it shut. Some of the solemnity leaves the room now that the Committee has gone.

  “Everything’s going very wel ,” Grandfather says, handing the tube to my father. “I am having a perfect death so far. ” My father winces, an expression of pain crossing his face. I know he, like me, would prefer that Grandfather not use that word, but neither of us would think of correcting Grandfather today. The pain on my father’s face makes him look younger, almost like a child for a moment. Perhaps he remembers his mother’s death—so unusual, so difficult compared to a Final Banquet like this.

  After today, he wil be no one’s child.

  Even though I don’t want to, I think of the murdered Markham boy. No celebration. No tissue preparation, no good-byes. That hardly ever occurs, I remind myself. The odds of that happening are almost a million to one.

  “We have some gifts for you,” Bram says to Grandfather. “Can we give them to you now?”

  “Bram,” my father says reproachful y. “Perhaps he wants to get the microcard ready for viewing. He has guests on the way. ”

  “I do want to do that,” Grandfather says. “I’m looking forward to seeing my life pass before my eyes. And I’m looking forward to the food. ”
  “What did you choose?” Bram asks, eager. The selections for Grandfather and his guests are the same, but it is an actual law that we must eat the food from the trays and he must eat the food on his plate. We’re not al owed to share.

  “Al desserts,” Grandfather says with a grin. “Cake. Pudding. Cookies. And something else. But let me see your gift before we do any of that, Bram. ”

  Bram beams. “Close your eyes. ”

  Grandfather obeys and holds out his hand. Bram places the rock gently into Grandfather’s palm. A few particles of earth fal on the blanket covering Grandfather, and my mother reaches to brush them away. But at the last second, she pul s her hand back and smiles. Grandfather won’t mind the dirt.

  “A rock,” Grandfather says, opening his eyes and looking down. He smiles at Bram. “I have a feeling I know where you found it. ” Bram grins and ducks his head. My grandfather holds on tight to the rock. “Who’s next, then?” he asks, almost merrily.

  “I’d like to give my gift later, during the good-byes,” my father says quietly.

  “That won’t leave me very much time to enjoy it,” Grandfather teases.

  Suddenly self-conscious about my letter—I don’t want him to read it in front of everyone—I say, “Me too. ” There is a knock on the door: some of Grandfather’s friends. A few minutes after we let them in, more arrive. And more. And then the nutrition personnel, with al of Grandfather’s desserts—his last meal—and the separate trays for his guests.

  Grandfather lifts the cover from his plate and a heavenly, warm-fruit smel fil s the room.

  “I thought you might like some pie,” Grandfather says, looking at me. He saw me, then, the other day, and I smile at him. At his signal, I lift the covers from the guest trays and we al gather around to eat. I serve everyone else first and then I pick up my piece of pie, flaky and warm and fruit-fil ed, and lift a forkful of the pastry to my mouth.

  I wonder if death wil always taste this good.

  After al the guests have put down their forks and sighed in satiation, they talk with Grandfather, who leans back on a pile of thick white pil ows.

  Bram eats on, stuffing himself with bites of everything. Grandfather smiles at him from across the room, amused.

  “It’s so good,” Bram says around a mouthful of pie, and Grandfather laughs outright, a sound so warm and familiar that I smile, too, and put my hand down. I was about to touch Bram’s arm, tel him to quit feasting. But if Grandfather doesn’t mind, why should I?

  My father doesn’t eat anything. He puts a piece of pie on a round, white plate and then holds it in his hands, juice seeping out onto the china without him noticing. A little drop of it fal s to the floor when he stands up to say good-bye to Grandfather’s guests after the viewing of the microcard.

  “Thank you for coming,” Papa says, and my mother bends down behind him to dab up the drop with her napkin. Someone else wil move in after Grandfather leaves, and they won’t want to see the signs of another person’s Banquet. But that’s not why my mother did it, I realize. She wanted to spare my father any worry, any tiny bit at al .

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