I'm standing in a river. It's blue. Dark blue. Reflecting the color of evening sky.
I don't move. The river does. It pushes against me and hisses through the grass at the water's edge. "Get out of there," the Officer says. He shines his flashlight on us from his position on the bank.
"You said to put the body in the water," I say, choosing to misunderstand the Officer.
"I didn't say you had to get in yourself," the Officer says. "Let go and get out. And bring his coat. He doesn't need it now."
I glance up at Vick, who helps me with the body. Vick doesn't step into the water. He's not from around here, but everyone in camp knows the rumors about the poisoned rivers in the Outer Provinces.
"It's all right," I tell Vick quietly. The Officers and Officials want us to be scared of this river- of all rivers- so that we never try to drink from them and never try to cross over.
"Don't you want a tissue sample?" I call out to the Officer on the bank while Vick hesitates. The icy water reaches my knees, and the dead boy's head lolls back, his open eyes staring at the sky. the dead don't see but I do.
I see too many things. I always have. Words and pictures connect together in my mind in strange ways and I notice details wherever I am. Like now. Vick's no coward but fear films his face. The dead boy's sleeves are frayed with threads that catch the water where his arm dangles down. His thin ankles and bare feet glow pale in Vick's hands as Vic steps closer to the bank. The Officer already had us take the boots from the body. Now he swings them back and forthby the laces, a sweep of black keeping time. With his other hand he points the round beam of the flashlight right into my eyes.
I throw the coat to the Officer. He has to drop the boots to catch it. "You can let go," I tell Vick. "He's not heavy. I can take care of it."
But Vick steps in too. Now the dead boy's legs are wet and his black plainclothes sodden. "It's not much of a Final Banquet," Vick calls out to the Officer. There's anger in Vick's voice. "Was that dinner last night something he chose? if it was, he deserves to be dead."
It's been so long since I've let myself feel anger that I don't just feel it. It covers my mouth and I swallow it down, the tast sharp and metal as though I'm gnawing through foilware. This boy died because the Officers judged wrong. They didn't give him enough water and now he's dead too soon.
We have to hide the body because we're not supposed to die in this holding camp. We're supposed to wait until they send us out to the villages so the Enemy can take care of us there. It doesn't alwyas work that way.
The Society wants us to be afraid of dying. But I'm not. I'm only afraid of dying wrong.
"This is how Aberrations end," the Officer tells us impatiently. He takes a step in our direction. "You know that. There's no last meal. There's no last words. Let go and get out."
This is how Abberations end. Looking down I see that the water has gone black with the sky. I don't let go yet.
Citizens end with banquets. Last words. Stored tissue samples to give them a chance at immortality.
I can't do anything about the food or the sample but I do have words. They're always there rolling through my mind with the pictures and numbers.
So I whisper some that seem to fit the river and the death:
"For tho' from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crossed the bar."
Vick looks at me, surprised.
"Let go," I tell him, and at the same time we do.