EIGHTY-SEVEN, 2.0

Doxon lost his toenail again. Well, not “lost” like “misplaced”, but “lost” as in “rammed his toe into the bedside table and his nail fell off”. We didn’t bother to look for it, though, and didn’t even seem bothered by the blood on the sheets the next morning.

The broken toenail had been accompanied a broken toe, and breaks mean blood to us. I worked quickly to wrap the gauze around his toes — I keep three rolls in the nightstand because we’re both klutzy — then I cooked him breakfast in bed. I tore off the old sheets for a good wash, and unrolled the replacement sheets while he lay there eating.

Some people say Doxon is lazy when I do these things, but it’s hard for him. They don’t understand how hard it is. Our bones are brittle, our muscles thin. Six years on rations that are meant for children will bring anyone’s composition down, no matter how big or small they once were. When you walk up and down forty flights of stairs every day, for 2,189 days, your muscles fade to everything you once were. Bones become wafer thin, your organs scrunch down and wait for any signal that they’re needed — to digest, to pump blood, to filter vitamins to the rest of you.

To see. To hear. To smell. Taste is secondary, and since we don’t communicate verbally, our tongues are simply mushy, dangling things, helpless in our mouths. At least, that’s how mine feels. I can’t speak for Doxon (haha) but he tells me he’s tired of his tongue all the time, or he sends me those kinds of messages.

After he finishes breakfast and the new sheets have been unrolled, I take away the tray and give him a look of pity. The poor thing, his entire right foot is covered in gauze at his toes, and two of his left foot’s toes are also wrapped.  He keeps running into things, and I’m worried about his vision. He won’t even look at me when he speaks to me, which garbles our messages. He just pretends I’m not there until I complete something he’s asked me to do.

But I don’t do everything he asks. I’m not a robot. And he doesn’t catch me in my lies.

It’s difficult for me to bathe, for instance, because my skin is so sensitive. Removing my gloves and stockings and thermal shirt takes almost half a morning, so by the time I bathe I’m already sore and just waiting for it to be over. I tried showering once, but my skin peels too easily. Doxon tells me it’s like a sunburn, that sometimes skin has to peel away. Then I show him my back, or my shoulders, or my elbow, and the exposed muscle or bone, and he quietly wraps me in gauze.

Doesn’t even apologize.

I’m not bitter. It’s not his fault we’re like this, nor is it mine. It just is. Everyone else in our building is like this, but when we go to work it’s hard to find more than a few hundred people in the shape we’re in.

Rations are divided out in an hierarchy, a very complex system, and our placement in the lottery has been terrible for every year since they began. But this year, Doxon promises, it will be different. He was promoted onto the same floor as the Lottery Makers, and he’s made friends with one of them. This man, he says, just wants one thing, a simple thing, and when we give it to him, he’ll make sure we’re in the top three.

That means triple rations for three years. The Three-fer.

At first, three hundred people would get this each raffle. But that was too many, and for the Jury there were still too many healthy citizens. So they decreased it to thirty, then three.  We will be in those three, and Doxon says it won’t cost much.

I’ve asked him a dozen times what it is the Lottery Maker wants, but he won’t tell me. He’s thought up a wall. Perhaps that’s why he’s been so quiet lately; he doesn’t want me to know. But I sense something dark afoot.

I ignore him the rest of the morning. I’ll be going to work, he’s staying home. His foot is too damaged, and besides, there’s no need for a filer today. The lack of filing has been happening too often since the bombings, but what can you do? There’ll always be a need for mappers, which is why I still get called in.

All of the drones will keep flying.  That’s good business for me. Each time they fly a new route, it means updating our maps. And each update comes with a date. I’ve dated and re-dated updates from the same region six times this year already.

Six times.

The drones are going in circles, but I seem to be the only one who knows this. Do I tell anyone? I don’t. For one thing, messaging isn’t as easy with everyone as it is for Doxon and I, or any partnership that’s been around as long as ours. Not with the way the minds were melded before the first bombing. For another thing, I don’t particularly care. You don’t get rations if you don’t work, and despite repeating work and doing more than I probably need to, I prefer the job, and rations.

Today I updated twice as many maps as usual. My quota was going up weekly, and as a reward for completing the most work, I was given an hour off.  An hour to myself, to my family, however I wanted to work it.  They left the decision to me.

It was an odd feeling to have this much control, even if only for an hour, but I took it and ran to the lake. Well, I didn’t run. I don’t have the energy to do that.  But I walked fast and sat with some chipped ice — a free perk the city offers a few months a year.

On the lake there were ice skaters performing in loops, a job that very few wanted but when you got that job you were treated so well, fed all day to perform and work a few hours at a time. I watched as one of the skaters swirled around and around, almost getting dizzy myself. Then she stumbled to the ice and was quickly shot. Imperfection is not tolerated.

I quickly finished my ice and walked home. I couldn’t wait to ask Doxon to snuggle tonight.  I’d keep my feet off of his.

But that was not meant to be.

Instead, I got to stare at his closed eyelids, sewn shut after donating his eyes to the Lottery Man. A Three-fer, and the only price were a pair of eyes that carried our messages to each other.

Silence is now my only friend.

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