If you'd like to check it out - here's the (current) first chapter.
I feel like Dickens writing in installments. lol.
It's (currently) called:
"In The Fall of a Sparrow." © 2014
Schwartz & McEntyre
305 Madison Avenue
New York, NY 10165
They don’t tell you that living is the hardest thing you will ever do. Life is an action, a choice, as much as taking a test or confessing your love. You don’t understand until you’ve reached the end. But don’t worry. You will.
I wonder, is death an action? DyING. Yes. But Death itself? Perhaps it works the same as life – you can’t tell until you’ve come to the end of death. But there is no end. That’s the thing about death. It’s final. The possibility of my death has always been there, a specter hovering in the corner. As familiar as a mortal enemy and as constant as the knowledge of what I am. The two are inexorably linked. You can’t have one without the other. My entire life has been defined by one fact: I am disabled in a world without disabilities.
I believe, somehow, that there is beauty in what they call my illness. The way I see the world is precious to me. It’s rumored that before the founding of the State there were disabled persons who contributed greatly to the flourishing of mankind. Some of the greatest artists had handicaps. That may just be wishful thinking. But since it seems this, my story, may be the only thing I leave behind, it gives me hope there may be something of worth in it. There has to be.
They say what they are doing is a service, a protection for me and for society. I tell them I wont hurt anyone. I offer to just go away somewhere by myself. I don’t want to upset anybody. But they won’t allow it. I grew up seeing the newsreels and hearing the warnings about people like me. I know that I am, though I can’t believe it myself, that dangerous thing that is to be feared. Quarantined. Destroyed. Yes. That part they don’t make as clear to you. Do they? That they destroy us. I knew. I was forewarned. That explains The Test, to a degree. I’ll elaborate in more detail later. I’m sure you’re very curious about that part of my story. If you’re reading this, you must be. Achieving that score on The Test was one of the most difficult things I ever did, and that’s saying something. Funny, I don’t actually know if anybody ever will read this. The only time I could be truly myself was, is, inside my own head. You wouldn’t imagine the conversations I had with myself. Now I’m suddenly picturing a person, a face sitting across from me, listening to those things I had to keep absolutely secret. It is a luxury I have always wished for.
I am known simply as Case Number 37401. It’s easier to erase a number. But my name is Sophie. Sophie Barre. Like a fruit. I prefer to say like J. M. Barrie. But a fruit is a nice comparison, and I’m sure you’ve never heard of Mr. Barrie. I still remember the way my father used to say my name with a slight lilt, as if it were played by a cello. So-phie. It made my name sound beautiful. Yes, my name is Sophie, I’m twenty-five years old, and today is my last day on earth. My specter has come for me. I don’t know how I am to die, and I’m afraid. I’ve spent so long hiding from it. Perhaps that’s one grace, I’ll never have to worry about dying again.
You are probably wondering what is it like having my disease. I remember having to get used to the loneliness. The boredom too. They were both difficult in their own ways. One was an infirmity of the mind, one of the heart. Boredom provided most of my daily torment, like constant static on a TV that followed me around day and night and never turned off. The loneliness proved the one I found I truly could not bear. I have found that the heart can exist, in a way, without the mind. I don’t think it works the other way around. That sounds a bit ironic perhaps given the speaker. Being inside my mind was like being in a Wonderland no one else had ever visited. But perhaps that is not the best way to begin. I doubt you have ever heard of “Alice in Wonderland” or that the reference has any meaning for you.
They keep asking about my childhood. Growing up. My interview transcripts could make a whole autobiography. Perhaps you have already read them? Or perhaps not. Maybe, like them, you would also like to know. I can recite it by rote now. I was born in the Block Seven hospital. I grew up in a surprisingly normal way. I had a happy childhood. I went to school, came home, set meals, played. I liked to read, I remember. I still do. I don’t think I was much for playing with dolls or blocks. I was an only child. I liked to have conversations with my parents. Is that unusual? Perhaps not. Though now looking back I tend to view everything as a marker. We talked about ideas. At least my father and I did. We lived near the center of Block Seven in a small two-bedroom apartment on the third floor. My mother was a young children’s instructor, and my father was an assistant speechwriter for the lower level Government officials in our sector. His superior was the Dean of Creative History at the National Upper Education Compound. Our home was small, but warm. Dark, in a cozy way. Brown. Earthy. I was scared to venture too far outside of it. I was afraid, as we all were, of enemies on the outside. It wasn’t until I turned ten that the Great War was won, and we sent emissaries off to introduce our peaceful existence to the other nations of the world. Then we all relaxed a bit. I remember the parades and celebrations.
I used to like to play-act stories with other children I knew. I suppose all children do this to a degree – playing Chancellor, playing at The Test. But I used to make up fantastical stories of imagined, far-away places that were not as safe or comfortable as the world we lived in. I remember since practically the moment I was born of having a feeling of a kind of homesickness, as if I desperately missed a home I had never actually been to. The closest I ever got to feeling that things were the way they were supposed to be was in art. In books, in music, in the sunlight and the sky. Nature is a kind of art. But eventually real life became far more interesting to my friends, and they grew up and forgot. Of course I grew up too, but I never really wanted to leave such magical worlds, as the others did. In some ways, I never did leave them. I always knew that I saw the world differently. The trouble was that I used to think I had companions in my world; I quickly learned I did not. I lost my compatriots, but I never quite lost my homesickness.
I progressed through the grades as normal. Ironically, I don’t remember liking most of school. Some things, but not many. I was always anxious to get home at the end of the day. “Homebody,” Ben would call me. My father would just chuckle when I mentioned the comment, disgruntled, at the dinner table.
“There’s nothing wrong with sticking close to home,” he said. “Besides, it’ll keep you out of trouble. Just lay low, and you can sail through life. No reason to grab attention. Be smart Sophie,” he said. “You’re a smart girl.” I didn’t feel smart. I felt like everyone else lived in some sort of world I couldn’t reach. If I WAS smart, I’d figure out how.
Mother would just smile. A thin smile that seemed to denote the opposite of happiness. She was quiet, never really said much. I don’t remember my mother and I ever having a real conversation. We never exchanged more than a few words at a time with each other. Mother was thin. Wispy. Bird-like. I remember her, always with her hair pulled back wearing a simple, unremarkable dress that I prayed she wouldn’t try to pass on to me someday.
I remember one day, as I was apt to do, I began hounding my father with questions. “Where does our food come from? Why are blankets so soft?” Father always humored me, and dutifully tried to answer each and every query.
“The soft stuff in our blankets, our pillows, even some of our clothes come from animals.” Animals! What a sensational word! Later that night, I heard him and mother fighting.
“You shouldn’t be filling her head with such nonsense!” Mother pronounced.
“What?” Father replied. “Animals are necessary to our existence.”
“They are useful to the Government in providing what we need,” she snapped. “But they are not, and never will be, a part of our lives. Now she’ll just be harping on them for weeks. You know her. Really, you wouldn’t be talking with a child about chemical formulas, so why talk to her about animals? It’s just as ridiculous and unimportant.”
“You’re going to get her in trouble. You’re going to get us ALL in trouble! The things she says…I’m worried she might be sick, and you just keep encouraging her! How could you do that, how could you even think about putting us in that position after everything -”
“She is not sick!” Father shouted back, interrupting Mother. “She’s just…different. She’s bright. She’s not sick.”
I didn’t ask about animals again. I have never seen an animal, nor I assume have you (I mean a real animal, not the common insects we’ve all seen every now and again.) But I think about them when I get lonely. I like the idea of a big comforter walking about and following me around.
I think about Father when I get lonely too. There was something…cozy about him. No, I can’t think of the right word. How can I possibly describe Father? He was like your favorite armchair that you run to and curl up in. Strong, but soft, and warm. There was something almost magical about him, as if he had a secret, a secret I thought only I could see, behind his often stern exterior. Like the Man in the Moon. He demanded respect, and could be intimidating, but never in a scary way. The closest analogy I can make is that he was like a giant redwood tree. At least how I imagine it. When I read about a tall tree, I picture my father.
People say that after a certain age they begin to long for something they miss, and realize that they’ve lost. A comfort, a joy, a peace and safety that somehow seems to have seeped out and disappeared. Everything misplaced since their childhood that they wish they could bring back. The longing is right. The memory is not. I think the feeling tends to be associated with such a time because it is always the furthest away from now you can get. If you don’t keep it active, memory becomes fuzzy, and ends up as a home for all sorts of homeless thoughts and feelings. The truth is, it seems to me I have had just such a longing all my life. Really looking back with a hard, cold view, it seems that I longed for the same thing in childhood that I long for now. We forget that all children long for the day they are grown up, just as all grown ups long to be children again. Neither are right. Both are searching for that feeling they know exists, but is somehow out of their grasp. I miss the safety and comfort I feel in the nostalgia of my childhood. As a child, I longed for the safety and comfort I did not feel, but was certain would come in that far off day when I was free, with none of the responsibilities that burdened me. It isn’t a matter of not appreciating what I had when I had it. I greatly appreciated what I had. But it was not what I was searching for. Just as being an adult is not all we hoped it would be, so being a child was not everything we wish we could remember it as. Our whole lives we are longing for something we never truly experience.
“You live in the greatest age this world has ever known” Ms. Thompson used to say. She was our grade three instructor, when we first learned about National history and the workings of our Government.
“There was a time when you, yes, even some of you sitting here right now might have gone your whole life without being able to see, or walk, or even feed, or speak for yourselves,” she told us. “When most of the population, even if they were born completely normal, would die a horrific death after only a few decades. Not anymore.” She showed us some of the newsreels we’d seen in the cinemas. Cartoon images of people sitting in rolling chairs because their legs didn’t work, people with mental infirmities – some couldn’t understand basic concepts or perform simple skills, some were instead like mad scientists, minds like whirling dervishes, inventing crazed concoctions and insane methods of bringing the world to an end. Lost in their own terrifying fantasies. Ms. Thompson explained that mental disabilities, just like food, could be dangerous both by having too little of what you needed, and by having an excess.
“You can have too much brains?” asked Molly, as a cartoon figure of a man with an oversized brain extending out of his skull launched a massive bomb, wiping out an entire state. He laughed gleefully as children screamed.
“Well, earlier this year we learned how a cell divides, didn’t we?” Ms. Thompson answered, “we learned that even though it’s a cell’s job to divide, and it’s very important that it does so, if it divides too much, and is never stopped, it becomes something called Cancer, and will end up destroying not only itself, but also the healthy cells near it, and eventually the entire person. Sometimes a brain can do the same thing. So we help those kinds of mental disabilities the same way we stop the little cell dividing too much.”
“Oh,” said Molly. The class smiled.
“Most of these illnesses can be dealt with when we’re still only a collection of a few cells. Some do not become apparent until after a person is born. But we have ways of addressing those too. Scientists are working on ways to keep people from being born with any of these diseases. Just like they have invented new types of plants, even seeds that are resistant to bugs, cold, and lots of other bad things so that food will last longer, and be able to feed more people. We are able to use those techniques on more and more things.”
“Now, just like we saw these news reels of all the things our Government has overcome, we’re going to make our own newsreel of all the wonderful things we now have because of our esteemed Chancellor and our wonderful State.”
“Eternal glory to the Chancellor
Forever their State will reign!”
“Good,” said Mrs. Thompson. “Now you may take out your paper and crayons.”
I don’t remember an earth shaking moment when I realized I was different. Instead it was something that just gradually became a part of my consciousness. When I heard Father use that word, different, to describe me when he was fighting with Mother, it didn’t shock me. It gave voice to something I had always somehow known. I used to say there was too much noise in my head, and it used to drive me crazy that I couldn’t seem to turn my mind off. My father told me not to talk about it at school, that it would go away when I got older, and to just do my assignments as much like the other children as possible. But that only lead to impossible frustration and boredom. I wanted to throw things at the wall. School was all facts. We memorized formulas and theorems, and then repeated them back on tests and exams. I felt as if I were being tested on how high I was able to jump in a tiny closet with a ceiling one inch above my head. Everyone kept saying, “Good! Good!” when I was really just banging my head against a wall over and over and over again.
I finally started spending more and more time, at least at school, focusing my attention on things I did no more than adequately. Painting was never my favorite, and on the occasions when assignments required that we create posters or mini-newsreels, I would go through the motions as best I could, my work never more than absolutely average. I began to focus on it more often to pass the time. Painting was, after all, something I could improve, and at least provided some sort of a challenge. But what I always wanted to do was write. I suppose there is no harm in confessing now (keeping the secrets is no longer any protection for anyone involved in my case) that my father had a collection of illegal books he kept hidden in his study in the underlevel of our home. He was allowed by the Government to reference some illegal books because of his work, but how he attained such a collection I’ll never know. But he let me devour them as soon as I was old enough to make an attempt. Let me. He encouraged me to! I love him for it, and at the same time it enrages me. Why would Father put me in such a position? I believe he was so desperate to have someone to relate to, to discuss these illegal thoughts with, that he allowed himself to overstep common sense. Would things have turned out differently if he had kept his secrets? But in any case, I had dreams of being our Nation’s great literary genius. Funny, This is the only thing I shall ever write.
I wonder, what would you have done in my circumstances? Some may challenge me for being less heroic than I ought to have been. I did not lead a rebellion against the society that did this to me. I won no battles. Achieved no great victory. Others may think the opposite, that I foolishly stepped too far out of my depth. It is very easy to lead a charge when doing it alongside a character in a story, where there is a seductive empathy but no consequences. Or to have a foresight of danger to come when you have the clear-headed mind of an outsider. But if you were truly facing hunger, or going without a roof over your head, or danger to your person, or cold, or sorrow, not just in an imagined existence but in real life, what choices would you have made? Am I right in what I did? Would you have done the same if it were real to you, and not just ciphers on a page? Was what I did bravery or cowardice? Or is it simply human nature? Am I permitted that grace? Of saying I have a human nature? I suppose that’s left for you to decide. My unknown confessor.
So then, let us begin. I don’t have much time. I shall lay my thoughts out as best I can, and try to give you a clear picture of what has led me to where I am now. You, whoever you are, are left to be the judge and jury of my life, and to determine what value, if any, might be found in it.