By Alexandria Riker
December 2037- Canada
“…to show attention to today’s speaker, as a witness and tribute to the horrors of the Initiative, Ms. Darby Anne Rein.” The lights on the podium turned on, and the woman who was still merely a child no more than six months ago, sporting her slightly buzzed hair and button up flannel made her way to the stage with slow determination, escorted by her partner, Joseph. The United Nations members in attendance for this highly anticipated discussion silently watched her every footstep. Not one voice in the room could be heard, not one eye even blinked, too afraid that they would miss what would happen next.
Darby let go of Joseph’s hand, her Joey, and he walked off the stage and back into the audience as Darby took the podium and gathered her thoughts. She could still smell his cologne faintly as he made his way to his seat, clinging to the fading scent in hopes that it would calm her nerves. As she soaked in the hundreds of pairs of eyes in her immediate presence and gazed to the cameras streaming in non-fascist territory to imagine the hundreds of thousands of eyes watching her from screens at home, she raised her hands to the middle of her flannel. In one swift movement, she ripped the button up shirt open with her hands, exposing her flat and scarred chest, lacking the breasts that once adorned her body. The raised, red, diagonal scars sent shivers down the spines of the UN members, and if Darby had still had nipples, they would be rock hard from the chill that penetrated the room in that moment. She left no time for anyone to gasp. Shirt open, chest exposed, Darby set her hands on each side of the podium and spoke,
“My name is Darby Anne Rein, and I am here to talk about the Initiative”.
May 2037- United States of America
“What’s up, squeals? Headed home to the trough to feed with the other swine?”
Darby ignored Joseph’s remark as she walked out of the school gym, the red doors slamming behind her, and braced for the two mile walk home. The air around her felt warm, and there was no wind to cool her down as she walked under the beating sun.
Joseph Shapiro would have the balls to walk around saying such things. Shit, Darby would have them too if her father was their representative. She’d walk around with her head held high, gorgeous body that was pumped full of weight loss supplements and fueled by a regimented diet prescribed from dear old dad. She put his envied, toned body out of her mind so that her cheeks didn’t start turning red.
“Oh, come on, Carbs, show me a little love, here!”
If he hated her so much, why even bother showing up around her? This wouldn’t be the first time that he had purposely gone through her neighborhood on his way home, even though it was completely out of his way. Funny enough for being the kid who once had the hots for her in elementary school, she thought to herself. Sometimes when he ragged on her she would think about the fact that she was the first girl to have ever broken his heart when she said no to being his girlfriend during recess. It made her giggle.
She covered the small grin on her plump face with her long, brown hair and pulled her oversized hoodie tighter across her chest in the May heat as she walked to the run-down apartment she and her mother now called “home”. Darby scoffed at that thought. It wasn’t so much the Initiative as it was her mother trying to play Ms. Social Justice Warrior. They could still be in the house that Darby grew up in on the other side of town right now if only her mother had agreed to base her medical care as a practitioner off of the Initiative’s guidelines. Classic BMI scale, pill pushing, eliminate the fatties. How hard could it have been for her to do that? If she did, she wouldn’t have been stripped of her license (and their family’s only source of income), and Darby wouldn’t have to watch her mother work like a dog just to put food on the table for the two of them. She hadn’t seen her mother very much lately, and she desperately missed being able to come home from school and talk all about her day with her, sharing their girl gossip. It was one of the few things that still made them smile, getting to spend time together, cuddled up on the loveseat in their tiny living room that could barely hold the two of them anymore. They always wondered when the old thing would finally cave on them.
Darby turned her head away from her neighbors that sat outside their homes in rows, part of their daily routine to pass the time since most of them didn’t, or couldn’t, work. She felt a pit in her stomach every time she looked at them. She couldn’t stand that they had been forced to live this way, in poverty, filth. Although her mother made unauthorized house calls to most of them without healthcare, she still couldn’t recall them by name. Surrounded in the neglected area of their lower-class neighborhood, many of them sat in plastic lawn chairs, mutilated in one or more locations of their body, especially the older ones. Some of them lacked three or more fingers on each hand, some hobbled around on one leg, and there were too many women to count that had been relieved of their breasts, thanks to the under-the-radar procedures her mother would perform at their request. Every pound counts for the weigh in, and if you can’t make weight the traditional way, the weight must come from somewhere. Darby hated how conflicted this made her feel toward her mother’s decision. She didn’t even know what she would do if she had been in her own mother’s shoes. She subconsciously cupped her own breasts as she walked past the others and made her way the rest of the way home.
Darby had crumpled the “informative brochure” her school health teacher had given the girls in her class that day and consciously tossed it in the trash before walking through her front door.
WEIGH IN MUST-KNOWS AND REMINDERS
“To be a happier, healthier, country. It starts with you and you only.”
- You can expect to receive your official annual weigh in invitation and informational packet no later than one month after the date of your 18th birthday
- You have the right to re-schedule your weigh in up to ONE WEEK after the end date of your menstrual cycle (healthcare provider documentation required for start and end date of cycle)
- In case of pregnancy during course of annual weigh, in please refer to the following site for fetus average weight (per month) to be accounted for during your weigh in (healthcare documentation of predicted due date required to be presented at weigh in) www. ———-
- It is always helpful to weigh yourself throughout the year at any of these local pharmacies, recreation centers, and free clinics: ———–
YOUR body. YOUR choice. Make it a good one!
(Check with your school health administration officer or your local healthcare provider for more information regarding your explicit height and weight bracket, as well as for information on personal and familial incentives you may be found eligible upon successful passing of your annual weigh in)
What an absolute crock of shit, Darby thought. She had thrown it away so that her mother wouldn’t have any ammunition to use against her about the “serious need to prepare” for her weigh in this year. In her mind, Darby’s mother, Edna, was just another character in her story line calling her fat, but she also knew deep down that her mother just wanted to see her daughter make it to see another year of life. After her father had died, Darby was all that her mother really had left, especially after losing her medical license, and thus, her entire career.
Darby swung the once white, now stained yellow door to their dust shack apartment open. The bricks on the outside of the building were chipped, some of them missing. Regardless of the weather, the building always appeared to look gray, as if all the color and life had been sucked straight from its exterior. The smell of damp clothing permeated the entire building, even their own unit. There wasn’t much room for Darby to put her backpack down, so she opted for the floor. Their apartment was filled to the brim with everything her mother managed to save when they lost the house. Old family photos, china from dad’s mother that Darby’s mom just couldn’t let go of, even a suitcase of dad’s old clothes. Darby knew her mother opened the case from time to time, just to see if the shirts still smelled like him. Mostly, their apartment was full of stolen medical supplies that her friend, Tony, smuggled to her from the hospital so she could make her house calls and perform medical procedures. There had been more than several times that Darby had been forced to use a gauze pad as a napkin or as scratch paper for her homework.
Darby’s face fell when she walked down the hallway to find her mother not only home from work early, but sat at their kitchen table, head in her hands, tears silently descending down her cheeks. Her mother was in her usual work attire; headband to hold her short, brown hair back out of her face, old hospital scrub pants, raggedy V-neck, worn tennis shoes. Darby approached her mother’s slim, petite figure that was hunched over at the table.
Edna lifted her head up and turned toward Darby as her daughter approached, her freckles standing out on her red cheeks, soft, brown eyes watery and still leaking tears. Without a word she stood and flung her arms around her daughter that she wished was more of a mirror image of her at this singular moment in time. No words passed between the two. During her confusion at her mother’s uncharacteristic weeping, Darby looked over Edna’s shoulder to find the root of the crying problem laying on the table, neatly opened and sticking out like a sore fucking thumb with the brightness of the white envelope and the intimidating bold font heading the top of the unfolded paper. Darby had received her first invitation for her annual weigh in.
Nearly three weeks had passed since Darby had received her invitation, and she felt as if she was dead before ever even having stepped on the scale. Her mom had completely changed Darby’s diet, using every spare penny to her name to buy her daughter the fresh produce that they normally never had money for. She woke Darby up before school to run and perform HIIT workout together and made sure she was working out in the evenings before bed.
“Time to start the day!” Edna turned on the lights, standing in the doorway to Darby’s room. 5:30 AM and she was dressed in her running shorts and old t-shirt, holding out a breakfast shake to tempt her daughter to get out of bed.
“Please, stop,” Darby called out to her, head still buried under the covers to her twin bed. “No more. I’m tired.”
“Early bird gets the worm!” Edna sang.
“Okay, okay.” Darby sat up slowly, grimacing at her reflection in the stand-up mirror before taking the shake from her mother and sipping it. She had slowly started to buy into this morning routine, because it was making her slim down. Unbeknownst to her, Edna had been crushing up Phentermine tablets to put in Darby’s shakes to help curb her appetite.
“Atta’ girl, let’s get to it!” Edna jogged off to the kitchen and Darby rummaged around for whatever clean clothes she could find on her bedroom floor. After their grueling morning workout and breakfast, Darby grabbed her items for the long walk to school.
“What’s up Darbycakes,” Joseph taunted her as their afternoon P.E. block ended. “You’re looking good, lately.” He had clearly noticed Darby’s weight loss the past couple of weeks. Who couldn’t have? It was dramatic for someone her size. He wiped the sweat from his face with his gym shirt as he ran up to her off the soccer field, exposing his toned abdomen.
“Yeah, thanks,” Darby said sarcastically. She turned away from him, rolling the band of her gym shorts up a notch, as they were loosening up on her. These same shorts didn’t even fit her at one point in time last year. She pushed a strand of her dark hair behind her ear and readjusted her sports bra so her breasts didn’t fall out. Joseph stepped in her way, blocking her.
“I mean it, you look good,” he said.
Darby wasn’t going to be stupid enough to fall for it, but he was certainly convincing, that was for sure. His dark, brown eyes held her own, almost speaking to her on their own.
“Well, uh -” Darby started, cut off by the shouts of Joey’s friends who were running off the field to join him.
“Yo! Joey! What are you doing over here with Darbitch?” one of them yelled. Some of the others laughed and joined in.
“Yea come on bro, I don’t think any of us have any orders coming in from the WIDE LOAD truck today!” They all snickered. Darby winced. Joseph looked back at them before looking back at her, as if deciding what to do next. His posture and tone changed, and he spoke up.
“Later, squeals!” He kicked a soccer ball in her direction and ran off toward his friends, who seemed to get a kick out of his goal shot at her. Darby was glad she didn’t get to finish what she had been about to say to him.
Darby went home that day and cried her eyes out, only to be confronted by her mother with another workout. Edna wasn’t giving it a rest. It’s as if she cared more about Darby’s weigh in than Darby did. They argued nearly every day, going back and forth about the dieting, exercise, beating around the bush to avoid talking about the elephant in the room, which they both knew was going to come to light soon enough.
Within the last week, Darby had weighed in for her mother on their home government-issued scale every single day. She had made significant progress, remarkable even. They both knew that every pound counted, though. No matter how well they ate, or how hard they worked, the weight range that Darby had to meet wasn’t going to change. The scale didn’t give participation awards for trying.
“Honey, we have to.” Edna’s once sturdy hands were shaking vigorously, trying to cup Darby’s puffed cheeks. Tears were pouring down her face without regret as they sat there in the operating room.
“Mom, we don’t HAVE to,” Darby sobbed. “We don’t have to. It’s okay. Really, it’s okay. There are other options. There’s -”
“Darby Anne, there are no other options that leave you alive!” Her mother’s grip on each side of her arms was tight, and Darby knew it would leave a mark, not that that currently mattered. Darby knew her mother was catching onto her at this point. “You have to fight, Darby! You just have to!” She was speaking in between sobs, now. Her hands had softened on Darby’s arms, rubbing them, silently pleading with Darby. “If not for you, for me. Please do it for me”. The next words that came out of her mother’s mouth were nothing more than a whisper. “Don’t leave me here alone.”
Darby didn’t want to. She really didn’t want to. However, if not for her, for her mother. For Edna. She could smell the sweat that stained the pits of her shirt right now, even though it was much looser than it was not even a month ago. However, now it felt tight. The shirt, her chest, the room, everything. The air was hot, the operating table was too small. Darby’s breath caught in her throat. She couldn’t speak. She couldn’t tell her mom everything she wanted to. She didn’t even know what she wanted to tell her at this point. It was a foggy haze. Everything to come out of her mouth from here on out she knew would not be her own words.
“Okay, mom. Okay.” She was defeated. They had defeated her before her weigh in had even happened.
“Okay, hunny. Okay. Okay.” It’s as if that was all her mother could conjure up in the moment in terms of words. With what they both knew was about to happen, there wasn’t anything either of them could say that could change anything. No one was going to feel better, and they both knew that.
Without another word, Darby laid back onto the table, ready to take the next instructions that her mother would give her once Tony came in.
“I have a friend at the hospital, the one who always gives us, me, the supplies to help the others. He can help us; he can help you. I promise, we can do this. It’s standard, it’s as safe as we could hope for. I promise, Darbs.”
Darby’s chest, or what was left of it, felt bare and sore. Each step she took, alongside her mother, on the way to the municipal center for her “big day”, sent a surge of pain throughout her entire body. The slightest gust of wind in the early summer heat of day felt like a thousand knives targeting her chest cavity. Darby glanced toward her mother as they walked the streets, avoiding potholes and puddles, trying to look at the horizon above the trees beyond the mess of a city, a country, that presented itself in front of them.
No words passed between Darby and her mother. Edna was quiet and reserved today, dressed in the only remaining pair of slacks and blouse that she owned. The air smelled of nothing. Nothing. It was a quiet day. Any mandated weigh in days sprouted a sense of silent support from community members that didn’t have to participate that day. Everyone else, at least the ones that came from the same “caste” that Darby and her mother found themselves become a part of not too long ago. Darby sported thin, athletic shorts with a tank top, the lightest clothes she could possibly think of wearing for this day. She understood that every single ounce mattered on today only. After everything that she had endured the past week or so, she was determined to make every ounce count today.
Darby knew just as well as her mother did that her procedure was botched for all legal purposes and claims. There wasn’t time or resources for proper equipment, Darby’s recovery time violated all standards that follow a typical mastectomy protocol, and the morals behind the entire situation at hand were fucked. Darby knew this. Her mother knew this. The school knew this when Darby’s mother had called her out sick the entire last week. Joey Shapiro knew this, being one of the reasons he found himself up, out of bed, dressed, and at the courthouse on the morning of June –, 2037.
He knew his mother wouldn’t be a problem getting past. As always, she was coked out on the couch, a bowl of non-dressed cucumber tomato salad on the coffee table, nothing out of the norm. Still, it sent an uncomfortable chill up his spine when he passed her, noticing the state that she had taken on after the Initiative took full placement. Her hair had thinned, body slimmed past what Joey would have ever considered healthy, let alone attractive for a woman. It was sickening, and Joey had wondered if it had ever hit him as hard as it did today. Today was Darby’s day. He ran his hands through his dusty, brown hair, praying that he didn’t look at suspicious as he felt standing there this morning.
“Next.” The voice was monotone, containing not even an ounce of what could be considered compassion as it called up each person to check in for their weigh in.
“This is my daughter, Darby Anne R -”, Edna’s polite voice was cut off by the female nurse sitting behind the folding table in the front of the courthouse.
“All persons of the legal age must check in themselves.” Her voice was blunt, bold, matching her harsh facial features. Her dark, thick brown eyebrows were scrunched in what anyone would assume to be anger, the bun behind her enlarged head pulled back tight enough to cause a headache. Her demeanor matched the bleak surroundings of the courthouse. Chipped, brown paint on the walls, chairs from decades previous, the aroma of moth-infested interior. Once again, no part of this was designed to make anyone here feel better today. Darby grabbed her mother’s wrist lightly, pushing her way in front of her to speak to the woman. Her attire suggested that she might be a nurse, but neither Darby nor Edna held most medical professionals in high regard after the Initiative was set in place and medical professionals were given the choice to either join the ranks or, or, or.
“Darby Anne Rein. Birth date –, –, —-. Reporting for annual weigh in opportunity number 1.” Funny how it was called an opportunity, isn’t it?
The nurse glanced up at Darby, confirmed her birth date and identification check, and proceeded to type away on the laptop set out in front of her on the table. She stood up and turned toward her right
“There are no companions permitted beyond this point.” The nurse motioned toward the waiting hall, ushering for Darby to follow her. The hall, as bleak as the rest of the building, made Darby feel as if her feet were lead. Somehow, she managed to pick one foot up and move it in front of the other in the direction of the waiting hall.
“Wait!” Edna’s feeble voice echoed off the walls of the courthouse. “Wait, please! She’s just a child. Please if I could just -”. Darby interrupted her mother before her parental instincts led her to making a bigger scene than either of them cared to be a part of.
“Mom,” Darby whisper screamed. She put her arm in front of her mother’s body to stop her from advancing, leaving her in her tracks. She looked into her mother’s beautiful, sad eyes, and it took everything in her not to break right then and there. She couldn’t hold her mother’s gaze for too long, or else everything that they had worked for, all the pain that they have both shared the burden of, would have been for nothing. “Mom, it’s going to be fine. Everything is going to be fine.” Darby pulled out every trick in the book that she could to make her mother believe that the words she spoke were true. It took everything in Darby and more. “We’re fine. I’m fine. I need you to wait here until I come back out. If it’s anything like you’ve described to me, I’ll be no more than an hour. One hour, mom. It’s okay.” Darby leaned down ever so slightly to kiss her mother’s forehead, just as her father once did, and proceeded to follow the nurse down the corridor to the waiting hall. She didn’t know if it was the pain or the hunger that pounded in her head as she looked back at her mother for what she hoped wasn’t the last time.
The hairs on Darby’s arms were raised as she waited, and waited, and waited. Her head was getting dizzier, and she tried to focus on the bulletin board in front her to distract her from the rumbling in her stomach. Jeez, it had been — since she had last eaten. She refocused.
IT IS TIME TO RETHINK THE INITIATIVE
- Over the course of the last five years, food deserts in rural America have TRIPLED in quantity.
- Unemployment rates have reached an all-time high since the Great Depression
- Local police agencies across the country have identified “Blackout” zones that they no longer report to due to high crime
- Adoption agencies OVERFLOWING with children that we can no longer afford to feed
ARE WE REALLY THE HAPPIER, HEALTHIER COUNTRY THAT WE ONCE WANTED TO BE? YOU HAVE A VOICE! USE IT TO CALL (—) — —- TOLL FREE TO EXERCISE YOUR FIRST AMENDMENT RIGHTS
WE MUST RESTORE GREATNESS TO OUR COUNTRY
The flier had strips of the phone number lined along the bottom for people to rip off. Not surprisingly, not a single strip had been ripped off. Darby was surprised the flier was even allowed to be posted, considering its contents. She supposed that it was the municipal center after all, and that anyone technically had the right to post what they wanted for community consumption, but she doubted anyone would ever be dumb enough to go anywhere near that flier.
As she took a deep breath and tried to rub her hands up and down her thighs to warm up, she felt the clamminess of her palms. She wiped a bead of sweat from her brow as it began to roll down her face and rested grabbed the arm rest on the plastic chair she was sat in. She rocked back and forth slightly as black began to spot her eyesight. The pang in her stomach intensified, and she was barely able wrap her other arm around her waist before she fell forward out of her chair, collapsing onto the ground. Everything went dark.
“Ms. Rein. Ms. Rein,” the familiar stone-cold voice called. “Ms. Rein, we’ve given you fluids. You fainted.” Darby eyes slowly opened. She was back in the same plastic chair in the waiting hall, an IV drip standing off to her left. Her head was pounding, but she began to feel aware again rather quickly. “Ms. Rein, do you understand me?” Darby nodded, praying that her mother didn’t hear about this little incident. She would have lost her mind.
“Yes, I understand you.”
“This is a common occurrence on weigh in days for first timers. I’m sure you must be hungry. Don’t worry, you’ve only got one person in front of you and then you’re up. After that, assuming everything goes well, you’re off to the diner.”
“The dine—wait what? You mean I’m still weighing in? No, I can’t. That can’t be right. You can’t seriously expect me to -”
“Ma’am, the consent form you signed upon arrival explicitly states your time of arrival as check in for weigh in. No one can be held responsible for your decisions between the time of your check in and your scheduled appointment.” The nurse spoke as if she’d given this speech dozens of times, either not noticing or not caring about the misalignment of what she was saying. This was robbery. This was manipulation. Darby and her mom had calculated where she would be at today for –
“Darby Anne Rein, age 18,” a distant voice called out. It was Darby’s turn.
“No, I can’t! This isn’t fair! You can’t make me do this!” Darby ripped the IV out of her arm and stood abruptly, her body hating her for such harsh movements. The nurse looked at her, un-phased.
“Ma’am, a refusal of weigh in is counted as an automatic disqualification. Are you refusing your weigh in?” Darby knew what a disqualification meant. It was classified in the same category as a failure, and everyone knew what happened to those who failed their weigh in. She officially had no other option.
“No, I’m not refusing,” Darby said through gritted teeth.
“Then please, make your way to the call room.” The nurse glared at Darby as she followed the voice to the end of the hallway, making her way through double doors and taking the first bright, white door on the left. There was a small window in the upper center of the door. It reminded Darby of a cell in a psychiatric ward.
The room looked like a scene out of a horror film to Darby. White tiled floors, white walls that were left blank, a singular white chair in the back corner, and dead in the center of the room stood a standard, metal scale, just waiting to sign Darby’s death sentence.
Dr. Shapiro, their local representative, walked in just as the door had shut behind her. Darby whipped around in fear.
“Woah, woah, there,” Dr. Shapiro laughed. “I didn’t mean to startle you. Ms. Rein, right?” He checked the singular sheet on his clipboard, looking back up at her. He was a spitting image of Joseph, or Darby supposed, Joseph was a spitting image of his father.
His skin was sun kissed, his slightly graying hair was gelled back to perfection, and he bore the same smile that his son always gleamed at her when targeting her. “Darby, right? You go to school with my Joey! He just passed his first weigh in last month! It was almost like, passing a tradition of some sorts.” He smiled.
“Oh, uh, is that right?” Darby questioned. Shocked at not only the sight of this room, which felt like her coffin already, but by the demeanor of the doctor in front of her that single-handedly held her life in his hands at this moment, Darby was unable to conjure up anything else to offer him. He spoke on.
“The sweet boy even offered to come up and take me to lunch today after my appointments!” Dr. Shapiro almost sounded surprised that his son would want to spend time with him. “I’m sorry we kept you waiting for so long. My last guest (we’re calling them guests now?)yielded a failing result. Those appointments tend to take more, um… time, we’ll say.”
He coughed awkwardly and paused for a moment before his cheery countenance returned. “Anyways, I know we won’t have to worry about seeing that with you. You look great, might I add.” Once again, Darby was left speechless. She felt as if there was seepage leaking through the bandages on her breasts. Dr. Shapiro consciously avoided looking at her chest, not wanting to admit to himself what he knew Darby had to do to make this weigh in.
“Uh, um, yea.” Those were the only words Darby managed to emit this entire time. As if talking about her childhood bully was going to make her feel any better about what she was about to do.
“So anyways, this is your first time, but you have nothing to worry about.” Dr. Shapiro ushered her over to the scale as he stood in front of it. His smile was charming enough, if you consider feeding a baby duck to a hungry alligator charming. Darby stood opposite him, her feet square in front of the scale. Suddenly she felt as if she were five hundred pounds. She wished she could bolt, or just pass out again, right at this very moment. “Before we begin, the recorded height on your chart is 63 inches. For your reference, as I’m sure you’re already aware of, your avoidance number is 141.9 lbs. Does that sound correct to you?” He looked up at her eagerly.
“Um, yes. Yea, that sounds right.” Darby gulped.
“Great, great! With that out of the way, step on up!” He made it seem as if she was a baseball player stepping up to bat.
Darby took a deep breath and looked up at the door in front of her one last time, kissing her freedom goodbye before stepping onto the scale. Peering in the window was, Joseph? Darby’s mouth parted in surprise. What the hell? Was he serious? Absolutely, fucking great, Darby thought. He just couldn’t avoid one last good ragging on her. He was probably going to record her failing and then stream it for the whole school to see after she’s disposed of.
Truth be told, he had been walking around the back hallway to see when his father would be done for the day when he happened to see Darby in the room. At that moment his heart had stopped, and he couldn’t put feelings into words. Would Squeals actually pass her weigh in? It’s not something he’d ever had to think about before this very moment.
Nonetheless, she stepped onto the scale, one cement foot at a time, as silently as she could. Dr. Shapiro began to move the pieces along numbers on the scale, tallying her weight. For some odd reason, Darby found herself looking not at the scale or at Dr. Shapiro, but at Joseph, Joey as others call him, staring into his eyes. They looked browner today. Browner, and … bigger? Was he, worried or something? Probably worried he wasn’t getting a good enough angle to mock her or something, Darby thought.
She pulled away from his gaze upon hearing the deep sigh come from his father’s mouth. She looked at him, and then at the scale, which he was also looking at. Her throat dried, her eyes watered, her legs began to shake, threatening to cave in on her. The top block on the scale rested comfortably on the 100 lbs. mark. The bottom block on the scale, however, had made its way exactly to the 45 lbs. tick mark.
She failed. Darby failed. This was it. It was all over. Would she even get to say her goodbyes to her poor mother sitting in the waiting room in the front of this very same building? How would they notify her? Would she make a scene?
“Oh, Ms. Rein,” Dr. Shapiro said solemnly. I’m afraid -”
Before another word came out the lights in the room went black, and Darby heard a loud thump, followed by a crashing onto the floor. She panicked. Do they just kill people off immediately when they fail? Was this part of the routine? Her body went into fight or flight mode and she was ready to kick, scream, and fight her way out if she had to, but she ultimately froze in fear when a hand cupped her mouth.
The lights turned on, and she was inches away from Joey’s face, his hand being the one to cup her mouth, keeping her from screaming. His eyes were wild, as if he wasn’t even sure what he just did. She had half a mind to bite him to get away, but her eyes rolled to the right to see Dr. Shapiro on the floor, unconscious. What in the –?
“We have to go now.” His voice was deep, authoritative, slightly sexy if Darby was able to speak freely.
“What the fuck do you mean? What are you even doing here? What the fuck is going to happen to me?” Darby’s voice got louder in the heat of her reaction to all of this, and Joey cupped his hand over her mouth again.
“Fucking listen to me,” he whispered. “If you want to make it out of here alive, we need to go right fucking now. Unless you want to take the alternative, squeals?” That nickname still hit Darby to the core, and half of her didn’t even want to go with him after that comment. She said nothing. “That’s what I thought. Let’s go, my car is just out back. There’s only a minute or two before someone comes to gather the results from my father, and neither one of us can be here when that person comes. Let’s go.”
He grabbed her by the hand and they quickly walked down the hallway to the back of the building, leading them farther away from the waiting hall, even farther away from the front of the building, where Edna sat. Two lefts and a right later, they had left the emergency exit and found their way to Joey’s convertible. It had been less than 20 minutes since they had first called Darby’s name to go back to the white room.
“Wait here!” he called to her as he slammed the passenger door shut. He rummaged in the glove compartment in front of her until he was able to pull out an old notepad and a pen. He scribbled on the pad until the pen started working, and then jotted down a note of some sorts before running around to the front of the building. Darby thought he must have just wanted the glory of turning her into the authorities herself. She sat up just enough to reach over and begin to open the door of the car so she could flee, but before she had the chance Joseph was back in the vehicle, slamming his foot to the peddle and peeling out of the parking lot.
“Okay, Joseph, seriously, what the fuck? Stop this car and tell me right now what is going on!” Darby watched them pass all the streets they spent their lives growing up in, nearing the town board in the car. Her hands were shaking and her chest bandages had completely soaked her shirt. She thought her heart would stop in this very second, but the adrenaline must have kept it pumping. Joseph ran his hand through his thick hair, beads of sweat dripping down his face and neck, staining his shirt.
“Call me Joey,” he corrected her. The veins on his arms were prominent as he gripped the steering wheel, eyes wide like a maniac. “What did I just do? What did I just do?” he said out loud to himself over and over as they continued to drive, checking the rear view mirror every five seconds.
“What did you just do?! What is happening right now? Where are we going?” Darby was lost. Why was he being nice? Why was she to call him Joey now? Only his friends usually called him that. She hadn’t called him that since the day she rejected him on the playground in fourth grade.
“North, I guess.” The only thing Joey knew for sure was that it was a long drive to the Canadian border. If they could make it there without getting stopped, they would be alright.
December 2037 – Canada
“Everything that shouldn’t have grown, did. The number and sizes of the food deserts, the number of unemployed and homeless persons in the country, rate of murder and crime, drug overdoses, divorce rates, all of it. And don’t get me wrong, it worked. The numbers on the scale certainly went down, amongst other things. Birth and mortality rates, population size, life expectancy, and all for what? For this? For a happier, healthier country?” She paused and looked over to Joey. “If Joey hadn’t helped me escape, we’d both probably be dead, and I wouldn’t be here to tell you this tale. This is the truth. This is what we had given up to be here today. We gave up families, friends, any chance at a normal life where we grew up. When you leave here today, and when you all vote on matters discussing involvement in the Initiative, think about how much more others have given up.”
The crowd was silent. Darby slowly buttoned her shirt back up after sighing into the microphone and wiped what could have been a tear off the side of her face as Joey approached the podium to take her arm. She held on to him and tilted her head up to the ceiling as they walked off, but she just couldn’t resist pulling away for one second. She grabbed the microphone with her left hand, her right still clutching Joey’s arm.
“Mom, if you’re seeing this right now, I love you so much. I’m coming back for you.” Darby’s mom had seen her. She had watched her daughter’s speech in the recreation room at the women’s correctional facility in the town one over from where she once lived. Her fingers played with the crumpled note in her hands, a possession that hadn’t left her person since the day Joseph Shapiro ran into the courthouse to stuff it in her hands before whipping around to exit not a moment later.
I’m here to help her. I’m going to get her out. Whatever you hear, know we made it safely. We’re headed north. DONT make a scene. I’ll be in touch when we’re safe. -Joey
(Bio: Alexandria Riker is an emerging writer who is previously published in The Literary Garden online magazine. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Mary Washington in English: Concentration in Creative Writing and is currently a dual enrolled graduate student at Southern New Hampshire University studying Creative Writing with a concentration in Fiction and at Averett University studying Special Education. She is currently an elementary-level Special Education teacher. Her favorite authors are J.K. Rowling and Stephen King, and she enjoys the wonderful company of her cat and dog, Claire and Cannoli.)