Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Rolph, Edi, Hank, & Jasmine

Seen on the Purple Line to Linden at about 8:30 a.m.

On the day of The Great Test, everyone spent the morning doing some last-minute cramming. Their government-issued study guides warned against this strategy. The guides suggested they get a full night’s sleep, eat a breakfast high in protein, and drink lots of water. But could you blame them for disregarding this advice? Each person desperately wanted to prove him or herself to be the best and the brightest. It was imperative.

When Rolph was young, learning came easy to him. He won spelling bees and math contests. He was captain of the debate team. He was his high school valedictorian, and he wasn’t too far off the mark in college, either. Each day since the President announced The Great Test on TV, someone had told him not to worry. “It’ll be a breeze for a smart guy like you,” said his friend Ed over coffee. “It’s us working class guys that gotta watch out.” “Surely you’re the type of man they want to keep,” said his wife. “If I had to build a society, I’d want to model all the citizens after you.” Despite these reassurances, Rolph spent the train ride to the testing center flipping through his pocket guide.

Caress: to hold or touch in a soft and affectionate way. Monopolize: in the case of a single person or entity, to dominate something entirely. Deceive: to make others believe something that is untrue. (I before E, except after C.) Edi had only been a U.S. Citizen for one year when The Great Test was announced. Her English needed work. Everyone told her she spoke so well, but she believed that was probably a…deception. Had she known this would happen, she never would have left Japan. Better to face a lifetime of economic uncertainty than to be completely eradicated. Eradicate: to destroy or remove entirely, permanently.

Hank had this all figured out. Everyone was just going through the guides again and again, but the trick was to write it down. Write down everything you remember. That was the key. Hank had notebooks full of it, every single bit of knowledge that he had stuffed into his brain. Everything from the guides, everything not from the guides. Idioms, song lyrics, folk tales, pieces of advice his mother had given him when he was a kid. Who knew what would come up on the test? He was still scribbling the day of the test, notebook splayed open on his lap, left hand smeared with red ink. He only stopped once that morning, to call his mother. To thank her.

At least all the kids will be okay, thought Jasmine. At least Ana will be safe. Only adults had to take the test, and Jasmine had already secured a place in a nice home for her daughter, in case she didn’t pass. She thought she’d probably pass—she had followed every instruction in the guide exactly—but there were no guarantees. It was all for the best, in the long run. It was a simple case of supply and demand; too many people, not enough resources. The government had the unenviable and unpleasant task of deciding who to keep around, and this was the fairest way to do it. Could you think of a way that was more just? Jasmine couldn’t. If she had to sacrifice herself for the good of the country, for the good of her daughter, then so be it. 

Long one today. Had to finish it up in the office. It may be gloomy and rainy, but that's quite alright, because it's Neil Gaiman day! Going to see him at the Music Box tonight, and get my copy of his new book signed. Exciting stuff. In other news, you should read Leta's newest story on All Together Now. It's a weird one, but a good one. 

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