The Jewel

By: Amy Ewing

One


TODAY IS MY LAST DAY AS VIOLET LASTING.

The streets of the Marsh are quiet this early in the morning, just the plodding steps of a donkey and the clinking of glass bottles as a milk cart rolls by. I throw off my sheets and slip on my bathrobe over my nightdress. The robe is a hand-me-down from my mother, dark blue and worn at the elbows. It used to be huge on me, the sleeves hanging past my fingertips, the hem dragging on the floor. I’ve grown into it over the past few years—it fits me now the way it used to fit her. I love it. It’s one of the few items I was allowed to bring with me to Southgate. I was lucky to be able to bring as many as I did. The other three holding facilities are stricter about personal items; Northgate doesn’t allow them at all.

I press my face against the wrought-iron bars on my window—they are arched and curl into the shape of roses, as if by making a pretty pattern, they can pretend they’re something they’re not.

The dirt streets of the Marsh glow dull gold in the early-morning light; I can almost imagine they’re made of something regal. The streets are what give the Marsh its name—all the stone and concrete and asphalt went to the wealthier circles of the city, so the Marsh was left with a thick brown mud that smells briny and sulfuric.

Nerves flutter like tiny wings in my chest. I will get to see my family today, for the first time in four years. My mother, and Ochre, and little Hazel. She’s probably not so little anymore. I wonder if they even want to see me, if I’ve become like a stranger to them. Have I changed from who I used to be? I’m not sure if I can remember who I used to be. What if they don’t even recognize me?

Anxiety thrums inside me as the sun rises slowly over the Great Wall off in the distance, the one that encircles the entire Lone City. The wall that protects us from the violent ocean outside. That keeps us safe. I love sunrises, even more than sunsets. There’s something so exciting about the world coming to life in a thousand colors. It’s hopeful. I’m glad I get to see this one, ribbons of pink and lavender shot through with streams of red and gold. I wonder if I’ll get to see any sunrises when I start my new life in the Jewel.

Sometimes, I wish I hadn’t been born a surrogate.

WHEN PATIENCE COMES FOR ME, I’M CURLED UP ON MY bed, still in my bathrobe, memorizing my room. It isn’t much, just a small bed, a closet, and a faded wooden dresser. My cello is propped in one corner. On top of the dresser is a vase of flowers that gets changed every other day, a brush, a comb, some hair ribbons, and an old chain with my father’s wedding ring on it. My mother made me take it after the doctors diagnosed me, before the Regimentals came and took me away.

I wonder if she’s missed it, after all this time. I wonder if she’s missed me, the way I’ve missed her. A knot tightens in the pit of my stomach.

The room hasn’t changed much since I came here four years ago. No pictures. No mirror. Mirrors aren’t allowed in the holding facilities. The only addition has been my cello—not even mine, really, since it belongs to Southgate. I wonder who will use it once I’m gone. It’s funny, but as dull and impersonal as this room is, I think I’ll miss it.

“How are you holding up, dearie?” Patience asks. She’s always calling us things like that, “dearie” and “sweetheart” and “lamb.” Like she’s afraid of using our actual names. Maybe she just doesn’t want to get attached. She’s been the head caretaker at Southgate for a long time. She’s probably seen hundreds of girls pass through this room.

“I’m okay,” I lie. There’s no use in telling her how I really feel—like my skin is itching from the inside out and there’s a weight deep in the darkest, lowest part of me.

Her eyes scan me from head to toe, and she purses her lips. Patience is a plump woman with gray streaks in her wispy brown hair, and her face is so easily readable, I can guess what she’s going to say next before she actually says it.

“Are you sure that’s what you want to wear?”

I nod, rubbing the soft fabric of the bathrobe between my thumb and forefinger, and scoot off the bed. There are perks to being a surrogate. We get to dress how we want, eat what we want, sleep late on the weekends. We get an education. A good education. We get fresh food and water, we always have electricity, and we never have to work. We never have to know poverty—and the caretakers tell us we’ll have more once we start living in the Jewel.

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