In a classroom not far from the presses, a boy named Jimmy Saguto flipped to the front page of his testing packet, where he found row upon countless row of Scantron bubble, waiting to be filled. They were tedious questions not only about himself, but his family. As he bubbled in (2) for Number of Mothers, he snuck a quick peek at the other students around him. Their faces were all tight with determination. Their fingers all seemed to be sliding slowly down their pencils, lubricated with the expectant sweat before a test begins. For Jimmy though, this particular test meant very little to him. He never really understood why standardized testing – on paper no less – was one of the few things that remained from the Pures. It must have been a remnant that had yet to attract the attention of the Abolitionists, otherwise it would’ve almost certainly been abolished by now. After dragging himself through a majority of the rows, he came upon #71, tucked away in fine print.
RACE: Caucasian ()
All the tests automatically had “Other,” shaded in. Nobody knew what the question was even for anymore.
“If you guys are done filling in the bubbles, go ahead and start, okay?” sang the proctor. Jimmy stabbed his pencil between the sheets and wedged it through the sticker, ripping his test booklet open.
At the exact same time in Pureside, a teenage girl named Barb ripped open the newspaper that had just arrived at her front door. Running back into the tenement, Barb quickly scanned the front page, murmuring rapidly, “Landslide causes Calendula to cave in… thousands of young workers killed… chemical fire… some still trapped… deadly dust clouds. Scattered regions in Pureside will experience recurring power outages…” She sank into her chair. “…For an indeterminate period of time…”
Bob trudged into the kitchen, making his habitual beeline for the fridge. “What you got there?” Barb felt a cold blast of air from the open door on her skin.
“There’s been a landslide, Dad.” She tried to breathe. “At the factory where Connor works.”
An eerie strip of fluorescence lit Bob from below. “Connor? You mean the plant?” His hand gripped the door handle, suddenly sweaty.
“Yeah,” Barb whimpered, shoving the paper towards him. “Shit, Dad, what are we gonna do? What if he was there? What if he’s still trapped? This is really fucking bad, Dad!” It dawned on them both just then that she never called him Dad. She pulled her knees up to her chest for something to hug.
The dim lights above them flickered twice and went out. In the dark, Barb could feel the moths, aloof to her just moments ago, now bouncing off her forehead, arms, and hair.
Her dad, just a few steps away, now seemed a world apart. In the short span of time between taking the paper in his hands and the lights going out, Bob had read all that he’d needed to. She heard him lower himself into the chair across the table. They sat among the fluttering moth wings.
His voice thick, Bob creaked a low, slow “Yeah?”
Barb swallowed. “Do you think Connor’s okay?”
After too short a time, he answered, “I think he’s dead, Barb.”
For some reason, Barb could only go hysterical in her mind. Her real body, the one she had no control over, sat mute. Somehow, along the years, her body had become acclimated to injustice.
“What do you think the police are gonna do?" She hesitated, the word still foreign to her. "Dad?”
“Barb, Jesus Christ!” A long pause. “Now, look, you made me go and use the good Lord’s name in vain.” Barb heard him push his metal chair back on the linoleum floor and stand up. Above the chair’s balking, she could only hear him say, “Jesus Christ,” as he walked away. Sitting in the darkness, Barb wondered if Jesus Christ had anything to do with the matter.
There were three main towns in Pureside, and in each town, the houses and trees indicated a lot about the state of things. In Portsby, the cleanest of the three, the houses and trees neatly lined the streets. Almost every house had its own tree, and the trees thrived off impressively clean air. Portsby’s institutional buildings were spacious and well-kept.
The second town, Klammath, had more of a rural feel to it.
And the third, where Barb and her father resided, had no name. It was simply referred to as “the bad part.” “The bad part” made up about 85% of Pureside, and it was precisely where the factory had caved in, and it was the first of the three towns in Pureside to be hit by the power outage.
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