Chapter 1 (pgs.1-2). Significance: Revelation of government corruption and oppression. This passage displays Sydney’s fear of being caught yet her bravery to escape into a freer place.
I suspect the government has used this rationale to veil their chief intent, to institute ever-watchful eyes guarding against attempts from citizens to flee their experimental Petri dish.
It took me at least ten attempts to scale this wall the first time I tried. Today, I execute the undertaking without thought or sweat. My movements from one hold to the next are now so ingrained that I easily accomplish the climb despite the predawn darkness.
The only detail that perpetually needs attention is my timing under the rotation of the camera mounted on the corner of EPA 7-8. I can’t risk that my clothing, pack, or even a wisp of hair be detected by surveillance when I propel myself atop the building. I don’t know whether it’s environmental protection agents or some government-created task force who are the observers on the other side of the camera’s lens. Whoever they are, I know that they don’t have to distinguish a face to determine whom it was that breached. They can locate an escapee’s position the very instant that they glimpse an oddity by cataloging all nearby chips. Depending on how many miles a runaway has attained, they may earn at most five minutes of freedom before they’re captured, held, and interrogated in a manner I assume to be sinister.
I safely slink on top of the roof and continue to study the camera’s position. The first time I foolishly jumped just over two years ago, I was extremely lucky. The next time, and every time thereafter, I’ve calculated. I have precisely twenty-two seconds to disappear before the camera scans the landscape, which must appear undisturbed.
I methodically count down the seconds as I jog toward the far side of the roof and double-check the vacant street. Ten seconds until optimal jump time. I focus on the dim ledge opposite me. Five. Four. I bolt from my line and instantaneously push off of the ledge at one.
Chapter 3 (pgs. 19-21). Significance: Sydney dreams of the day that her grandmother, her caregiver, explains to her that her time has come and that she will inherit the responsibility of raising her sister and hiding her mother’s mental illness.
“But now, our nation has decided it would be better if people didn’t live so long.”
“So that they wouldn’t have to hurt?”
“Something like that, sweetie.”
“Well what did they do, grandma?” asks the concerned child, already predicting a worrisome answer.
“Well sweetie, the people who make the laws worked together with doctors to find a way for the old people to leave the world very peacefully, before most of them are old enough to get very sick or have much hurt.”
Suddenly the little girl isn’t so brave. Tears overtake her small face as she buries herself in her grandmother’s lap. “You’re not going to let them take you away, are you grandma? You can’t leave us!” The desperate pleas of the helpless child prove to be too much for her grandmother. The tears escape her too, but she fights to hold in the anger and the revulsion in order to be strong for the sake of the child.
“I wish I could stay forever, sweetheart. I wish I could see you and your sister grow into the strong, beautiful women that I know you will become. I wish I could see your mother get healthy again.” The tears try to choke off her words, but she forces them out. “But, you see, last night was my last Friday night sleepover with you and your sister, and sweetheart,” she places her hand on the shoulder of the little girl and smiles, “it was one of the best days of my life. I get to leave this world with warm memories of baking cookies and painting flowers with my two favorite people in the world.”
“I don’t want you to go!” the child protests as her heart boils and her face floods. She pulls her grandma’s arms around her and buries her head into her chest as she begs, “Just tell them you don’t feel sick. Tell them you want to stay a little longer.” She closes her eyes tightly and wishes that it were a nightmare. But already the little girl knows better than hoping for happiness in her life. She knows there are no exceptions to the unchallengeable laws.
“I know, sweetheart, I know.” The woman strokes and kisses the distraught and fragile girl’s hair as the child clings to her tightly. A few more tears slide from her weary eyes before she finds the strength to make a final request of her beloved grandchild.
“Sydney?” She looks down to where I’m still clinging to her, not ready to come away and meet the eyes I love so much as she tells me that this is the last time I will see her. “Sydney,” she tries again, this time gently pulling my chin from her chest. “I need you to do me one last favor, okay?” My grandma can see that I can’t handle this. How can she ask me, a mere child, to let go of the one I love most, the unyielding presence in my life? Her next words seem sharper than the rest in the memory, and I never let them go.
“Sydney Harter, I know it will be hard, but you have no choice other than to be the bravest girl there ever was. You have to be brave so that you and Evvie can grow up strong. Grandpa and I, your dad, and grandma and grandpa Harter, want to look down on you and smile because of how proud you’ve made us.” She waits. My wails have subsided to sobs, but the pain hasn’t lessened any. “You want to make all of us proud, right honey?”
“Yes,” I reply shakily. It took so much to utter that single word because with it came the acknowledgement that I had only begun learning hardship.
“Good, sweetheart. Good girl,” she soothes. “What I need you to do is try your very hardest to take care of your sister. Be good all of the time and try to help your mom when she seems sick.” Grandma’s eyes enlarge and she squeezes my hand more tightly. “Never ever tell anyone about your mom’s sickness, even if it seems like they are trying to help. Can you be a big girl and do those things for me, sweetheart?” I nod that I can, although I don’t believe it, and empty my heart in her lap for the last time.
GABRIELLE ARROWSMITH enjoyed writing her debut novel, Concealed in the Shadows, during a lovely Minnesota summer that she had off from her primary profession, teaching. She looks forward to continuing the story. Acting, playing and coaching soccer, reading, playing piano, and spending time with family and friends are among her other interests.
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