Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Happy (07/12/07)
TITLE: Whenever I See That Scar...
By Jan Ackerson
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Despite the biting incident, we were best friends through proms, sororities, the whirlwind of early adulthood, frightful bridesmaid dresses. After college, Lisette could easily have joined my fast-paced, glittering world; she was a far more promising business student than I had been. But Lisette chose the diapers-and-drool route, staying with her new husband, Keith, in her childhood home, while I followed the allure of power and success.
Still, we met once a month over coffee and pastries. Lisette often rushed into the café breathless but smiling, armed with photos of little dimpled Sadie. We’d speed-talk in an effort to catch up before my insistent earpiece would demand my attention elsewhere—I had taken a job with the government, one of many idealists working to co-ordinate the country’s transition to the World Economic Community.
The last time I spoke to Lisette, I urged her over a chocolate croissant to use my discount on the new implant that would make all her financial transactions easier, and to come with me to the grand opening of the Church of the Universal Spirit. I thought that would appeal to Lisette, as she’d always been religious—and I’d always found her fervency charming and quirky.
But she just smiled and shook her head, her face suddenly pale and drawn. I half-listened to her earnest explanations while voices in my ear pressed me to other appointments. We parted with a quick embrace and a word of warning from me—the implant was painless, and those without it would soon find themselves locked out of banking, insurance, even employment.
That was three years ago, and we’ve not met at the café since. My career blossomed, and I moved into a condo on the east side. Lisette’s continued resistance to government policies, on the other hand, set her family on the road to destitution.
No, we haven’t spoken in years, but our paths have crossed twice, and each time I’ve been left with a lingering question.
The first time, Lisette and Sadie were getting off the crowded downtown bus. I was half a block away, waiting for my limo, and I watched as she stepped off, then turned with outstretched arms to receive Sadie’s hop from the tall step. Lisette threw her head back and laughed—I could hear it from where I stood—and swung Sadie twice before setting her down.
They’d been dropped off at the open-air market for the non-registered. (We were not, after all, unfeeling toward those unenlightened Resisters). Before I boarded the limo, I saw her purchase three small apples, rummaging cheerfully for a few bills in the pockets of her tattered jeans.
Why is she so happy?
The next time I saw Lisette, it was a glimpse only. My route that day took me near the old neighborhood, and on a whim I asked the driver to go past Lisette’s house. She was outside in the yard, washing clothes in a large tub and hanging them up to dry. Conserving energy, no doubt—electricity was rarely available here. I begged the driver to go slowly, despite his obvious reluctance to linger in a Resistance Zone.
She was teasing Sadie—threatening to splash her, flicking water at her wild ringlets. Keith toiled nearby, stacking sticks of firewood. Lisette was alarmingly thin, and the family’s drying clothes were threadbare. Through the slightly opened window of the limo, I heard the three of them, their joyful voices colored by laughter and love.
Why is she so happy?
This morning I was called into the office of the President of the Transitions Commission. I have been put in charge of public relations for our newest project: requiring all citizens to join the Church of the Universal Spirit. It will be a difficult assignment to spin; those who will not join are to be relocated in Resistance Camps.
As the President was outlining my assignment, I fingered the scar on my wrist and thought of Lisette. I fear that she and her family still cling to their old-fashioned, anarchist views. Surely they will refuse this latest directive too, and they will be driven from their home and taken away.
Lisette, Lisette, my friend—will you still be happy, in the squalor of the camps?
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