Friday, September 24, 2010

two feet of stone

“Tell me, Romeo,” she says through the hole. “Is it customary for that side to eat fish?”
“Raw, cooked, burnt. Take your pick.”
“We have it in sushi. An Asian food. It’s basically rice and other stuff in a little roll, wrapped in seaweed. Sometime fish is in it. Don’t you have fish?”
“Not lately. People who eat fish get sick. I think it’s the pollution. Sushi sounds interesting. Does it taste more like fish or more like rice?”
“Um, well, only sometimes it has fish. Sometimes it’s other things, too.”
“Hm,” she says. I can almost hear the gears turning in her head. Nice summer days like these, when it feels like we’re the only two people in the world, make the two feet of stone between us like nothing.
“It’s good,” I tell her. I hate fish, but she loves it. “I’d pass it through the hole, but...”
“Maybe you can throw it over,” she suggests, laughter in her voice.
“Over a thirty foot wall? You’re joking! It’d probably get stuck at the top. I won’t throw some measly sushi just so the birds could have a feast. Maybe you can make some, instead. I’ll tell you how.”
“No thank you,” she says lightly. “We don’t have any rice for it, anyway. We don’t have anymore Asians here, not since the last Purge, and no one knows how to grow it.”
We fall silent. The wind rushes past me, whipping through the branches and trees in the orchard. I wonder if she’s feeling the same wind. Probably not. Up above, the artificial sun beams brightly with some fifteen thousand LED light bulbs. The sun provides the light, the generators make the heat. It’s always warm and breezy on this side of the Wall; it feels like we’re living on a tropical island all year round, except for the holidays. The sun’s programmed to cool down a bit then, and the generators make snow. We always have white holidays.
“How’s the weather over there?” I call through the hole.
“Boring,” she replies promptly. “It’s quite dreary. Gray skies and foggy. Can’t see the sun anywhere.”
I look up at my own sun, still shining as brightly as ever. Beyond the top of the Wall, I can see just a strip of dark grey sky, almost like an extension of this stone Wall. If you’re high enough, it looks like someone’s cut the sky in half and painted one side black, and one side blue.
It’s not fair that we who live under the blue side have every luxury available, while those under the black side of the sky live in fear and poverty. What did I do to deserve this, and what did she do to deserve that, besides being born in families on opposite sides of the Wall?
“Hard to believe people used to have both sunny and grey sky, isn’t it?” she says.
“Hard to believe this wall didn’t always exist,” I reply, wincing at my harsh tone.
I can’t help it. It’s all I can think of these days.

“It’s your birthday next week, isn’t it?”
“Maybe I’ll hop on over and give you a birthday kiss.”
“Don’t be stupid. Only officials are allowed through the Gate, you know that.”
“Sheesh, Romeo. I was just joking.”
“My name’s not Romeo, Jen. It’s Al. Stop calling me that.”
“And my name’s not Jen, it’s Juliet. Sheesh, Romeo. What’s up with you these days?”
“Nothing’s wrong with me.”
“Don’t be stupid. You’ve only been a pessimist for these past two weeks. What’s up?”
“Nothing’s up.”
“Doesn’t sound like nothing.”
“Just leave me alone, okay? Can’t you stop shoving your nose into my life?”
“Gee. Fine. If it’s like that, I’ll leave you alone.”

I don’t return to the wall until my birthday. Somehow, turning sixteen isn’t as exciting as it should be. I invited just about half of my school, but the whole party feels wrong. It feels like someone’s missing. A girl whose face I don’t know, who calls me Romeo, who lives on the other side of the Wall.
As soon as I can get away without anyone noticing me, I run to the orchard, to that spot next to the bench no one knows but me.
“Jen?” I call. “Jen!” I’m almost panicking. What if she isn’t there? What if she doesn’t come back? “Jen!”
“Hey, Romeo,” she says, and I think my heart skips a beat in relief.
“Hey,” I say. “Look, I’m sorry. It was stupid of me to blow up at you--I’m sorry. I just--”
“Hey, it’s okay,” she says. “We all have bad days, right? Don’t worry about it. It’s not like I’m going to stop being your friend or anything. Oh, and happy birthday, Romeo. Have a wonderful sixteenth and don’t forget to eat some cake for me.”
“I won’t. It’s chocolate cake with whipped cream and strawberries.”
“Can I still have that kiss?”
“I said so, didn’t I?”
Though it’s hard, cold granite and a small hole I press my lips against, I can almost feel the press on the other side. At that moment, we are the only two in the world. Two feet of stone is nothing. I’m the luckiest person in the world.
“Happy birthday, Romeo.”
“Thanks, Juliet.”
“I love you.”
“I love you, too.”

“It’s almost fall over here. Why don’t you come on over for a picnic?” she asks.
A while ago, I might have scoffed at her suggestion. Now, I laugh. “Sure, why not? I’ll bring cake.”
“It’ll be grand,” she says, and I can just imagine a dreamy look in her eyes. “We’ll have a barbecue. Ribs and fish and cake. How’s that? And sushi, we’ll have sushi. You’ll have to teach me how to make it. You can bring your guitar, and I’ll sit and listen. And it’ll be wonderful--you have to see the valley in fall. When the trees turn red and orange, it’s beautiful.”
Something in her little speech pulled at my chest. Something that made my heart squeeze. “Juliet?”
“Do you really think we’ll ever...?”
She doesn’t reply for a while. “Maybe,” she says quietly.
I lean against the wall, feel the warm stone against my side, and listen. My ears catch a fierce howl of the wind, far away, on other side. Nothing like the calm rush of the wind here. Though I’m warm, the slightest shiver runs up my spine. It’s a harsh world out there. And here, I look up at the sun, and everything is perfect. We have everything, they have nothing. What are we doing except hiding out in our little city, leaving the rest of the world to die? It’s disgusting.
Once upon a time, I thought this was the norm. Of course the sun shines every day, of course it’s always warm and breezy, of course my family has a mansion, of course I can go buy candy and throw all the parties I want. Of course--until I met Juliet. And then I realized how fake my life was. It’s amazing how much my world has shaken up because of her. The rest of the Capital needs people like Juliet.
“How about I come over there?”
“I’m not joking. How about I come over there? Permanently.”
A moment of shocked silence passes. “You’re joking. You’d give up everything you have to come--over here?”
“Yeah. Look, Jules. I want to be with you. I love you.”
“You know how many people would literally kill to be on that side? Why would you want to give up your life, you family, your friends, to be with--with me?”
“Is that hard to believe?”
“We haven’t even seen each other.”
“And we never will, if I don’t.”
“They won’t let you do it. No one’s ever done it before.”
“It’s because no one’s tried. Of course they’re not going to let people into the Capital--but they’ll probably let people out of here.”
“You’re crazy. That... that you’d give that all up to be with me.”
“I don’t think I’m crazy. Actually, I think I’m saner than the rest of the people in here.” I smile, and I can feel her smile on the other side, too. “And you’re worth it, Jules,” I tell her firmly. “A life without you... I can’t live that. I can’t live life without you. I know that sounds cliche, but it’s true. Jules... you are my life.”
“Romeo,” she says, a tremor in her voice. I think I can hear her crying.
“Jules?” I ask, alarmed. “Are you okay?”
“Romeo,” she says. “You’re my life, too.”

Two populations, under different skies, living in a world split in half.
We’ll be the first to break the wall.

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