Recently I’ve been overwhelmed by just how much we, as a society, are truly divided. Even people on the ‘same side’ seem to do hardly anything else aside from bicker and pick each other apart, until there is nothing left for their former enemies to even have to attack.
In the wake of how troubled the general public seems to be – financially, socially, politically – I’m honestly a little frightened. I wish often that people will finally ‘wake up’ and ‘get it’: that we are stronger together than we ever will be divided amongst ourselves. We need to stop, breathe, take a step back, and admire the bigger picture and what that looks like. Too long have we been too short-sighted, seeking instant gratification and throwing away that which appears to be broken instead of attempting to mend it. We need to work together. To be unified.
One would think that Death, Destruction, and Fear would be a pretty strong unifying force – and even that doesn’t seem to work anymore. Or it may for a week or two, or until its use to push an agenda for personal gain is exhausted, and then people begin to nitpick the details; it’s like playing tug-of-war with an old rag doll: everything falls apart.
I wrote this piece, “One For All”, in High School nearly 12 years ago. I thought I’d lost it when my old computer bit the dust, but then I found a copy of it hidden in a stack of old print outs of my stories. With everything that’s been going on in the world lately, I can’t get it off my mind; and so, I’ve decided to post it. Granted, it’s an old story, and I’ve only done some very basic and crude edits on it as I’ve re-typed it – so, uh, keep that in mind, will you?
With laughter and love,
“One For All”
by Meghan K. Grey
I knew a girl once. A very strange girl – you know the type. The girl who never went to a single school dance; the girl who sat home on a Friday night looking over her English notes for next Wednesday’s exam. That kind of girl. I knew this girl. I saw her brilliance shine more brightly than a thousand candle flames – saw her intelligence deepen and ripen as though a macintosh apple at the climax of Autumn. I saw her insanity finely laced and hidden as though by a monarch’s seamstress. But only I knew this girl. And her name was Independence.
The sky was an intimate shade of blue laced with faint, near-invisible slivers of clouds; the lazy sun rested high and bright in the sky, its seductive rays arching every which way in an attempt to coat the world with its own brand of happiness. The only thing that stopped their paths were the emerald-leaf laden branches of trees dancing in time with the filtered breeze and making obscure shadow puppets on the parched grass below. Insects buzzed through their daily business, eager to be through with the burden of their work by midday, after which their production would surely be sluggish and inexcusably obsolete.
Through the gentle lull and murmurings, a voice could be heard from the window outside of which they worked. A deep, serious voice gave a long speech of tumbling instructions, strict and rhythmic; his tone expressed urgency but held an underlying calmness that oozed strength and security. As he finished speaking, he ran a curled hand across a freshly sealed envelope and handed it over to a waiting staff member. His last words were quick and clipped, and it was with a sighing monotony that she answered his request.
“Yes, Mr. President – of course, sir.”
Accepting the envelope she turned on her heel, exiting the Oval Office and flowing through the stream of corridors and other staff members of the White House. The woman passed several people she knew, turning the envelope over and over again in her hands and barely offering a nod of her head to the more lucky of her associates; once she stopped to speak with another woman, they both smiled and laughed over something that had little importance. She twirled the forgotten envelope within her fingers, ignoring the massive weight of the few pages contained within, until the other woman was called away; with a mutual, conspiratorial eyeroll, they each set off, and the staff member was once more on her way. She stepped out into the sunlight, pausing a moment to adjust to its brightness and inhale the scent of a beautiful day.
With slow and measured steps, she made her way through one of the side gardens of the White House, past the fat bursts of fuchsia flowers that overwhelmed the shrubs they grew on. High heels finally click-clacking on asphalt, she slid in one fluid motion into the black car waiting for her; the driver reversed and pulled them down the long stretch of driveway and through the gates.
The envelope lay atop the woman’s thighs as she sat looking out the shaded window, admiring the tangle of traffic along their way. Occasionally she would run a single finger over the thick paper, feeling the way the President’s words marred its marble-smooth surface with indentation. She glanced at the driver, coiled earpiece whispering in his ear as he received clearance and instructions to bring them through yet another set of gates. Once they pulled to an abrupt stop her door opened and she slid out without a thought, envelope secure in her hands once more.
Approaching the entrance to the Capitol building the first set of doors were opened for her – the second she heaved open with a sigh. She was stopped by a man waiting on the other side; the agent was rather stereotypically clad: in a dark, finely tailored suit overriden with too many electronics. She presented the envelope to him, leaning forward to whisper in his ear. The agent nodded, having been expecting this. He checked the identification card clipped to her breast and stepped aside to allow her forward.
With a deep breath, the staff member walked through a final set of doors to inhale the history of the gaping Congressional chamber. Murmurs picked up as she made her way down the aisle; the air was thick with ripe tension and anticipation. They were expecting this; it was why, perhaps, there were so many seats full at once.
Approaching the dais and podium where the Speaker of the House was standing, the woman silently handed over the envelope. The Speaker reached for the envelope and paused mid-way, hesitating as though for a fleeting moment he wasn’t going to take it. She heard him blow out a puffed breath and he finally snatched it between his fingers, dismissing her with a nod. The staff woman turned on her heel once more, and left the way she had come.
With a slightly disturbed look around toward his cliff-hung audience, the Speaker slid a finger through the flap of the envelope and tore it open without delicacy. His gaze, tired and tense, scanned over the words scribbled by the President’s curled hand. Moistening his lips, the Speaker cleared his throat; once more he looked, watched, and prepared to address his anxious crowd.
“This is what we’ve been waiting for … it states: ‘Esteemed ladies and gentlemen of the House and Senate of the United States of America, it is time to act now upon that which we have danced around these past few months. By this we have been hurt. By this our children’s blood has been split. But most importantly an worst of all, by this we have been greatly humiliated. It is now that I ask, in serious earnest as your Commander-in-Chief, that you declare full and open war on —’”
“Independence! Indi, Indi! Wake up!”
Groaning, Indi listened as the words echoed around her head; the more they echoed they alternately become more clear and more obscure with each fuzzy syllable. At one point she could hear her name being called as clear as a tinkling bell, and in the next moment it was as dank and sluggish as molasses slowly crawling over a shard of broken glass. Suddenly, her eyelids flew open with urgency, though her body lay still upon the beaten mattress beneath her. Her eyes shone a clear grey in the lack of early morning light – or were they green? It was difficult to tell. Indi looked toward her bedside for the source of this nonsensical disturbance, but again there was no one there. The cherubic voices she heard calling her name merely resided in her head; something, by which, she certainly should have been used to by now. She was certainly used to me.
Independence groaned again, raking a fist over her eyes to try to adjust to being awake. And in the next moment, she suddenly leapt out of bed; Indi began donning her slippers and a large sweatshirt that fell loosely over her slight frame, all the way down to the hems of her boxer shorts. Patting down the mess that was her auburn hair without much effect, she shot a glare in my direction.
“You couldn’t have brought in the newspaper just this once, could you have, Cicero?” she asked, scolding me sharply. Indi rushed out of the room – to get the paper, I could only assume.
“I’m sorry, my Lady,” I replied, even though she had left. I never could do anything right when she first woke up in the morning; there was always something to nitpick. Though today’s scolding was doubly curious and peculiar: Independence should know that we never received a newspaper. Nevertheless, I found her, as I usually did after she bounced out of bed, in the kitchen. Indi swiftly whipped out mixing bowls and ingredients with a swiftness that made one think she had to be at a very important important within the next five minutes. She set to her daily morning ritual of making pancakes, and before long her beautiful face was half-covered with fine white flour and splotches of batter. She often had a knack for mixing with too much excitement.
“What would you like this morning, strawberry jam or maple syrup?” she asked me, all scolding forgotten.
“You know what I like, Lady. I like what you like,” I replied.
“Syrup it is, then,” Indi continued, pretending she did not hear the slight tone of cheek in my response. Indi ladled great big splotches of pancake batter onto a sizzling griddle already overflowing with rivers of golden butter. She sprinkled the first batch over with cinnamon before flipping each in turn; she held her tongue carefully between her teeth in deep concentration lest she lose control over one of the rascals. Indi was always careful about this part, especially careful, because there had been one time when one of them had gotten away. Of course, she blamed me for it; but in all seriousness, I was just as baffled and troubled by it as she was.
“Perfect golden brown,” she muttered to herself, content. She stacked the batches on top of one plate in a precarious sort of pyramid and brought them over to our kitchen table – a small round wooden structure that was dented, scratched, and missing hole chunks of light blue paint. Once she sat down she looked over to me with a great amount of expectation.
“Very good, my Lady,” I offered, and she beamed. “Would you like milk today as well?”
Her lips pursed as she thought about my question, piling both our plates high with pancakes, even though we never had any other beverage in the house. Finally, she nodded, and I poured each of us a glass and brought over some forks. Indi’s flatware was always interesting; nothing every matched correctly. Each dish was a different pattern, each fork, knife, and spoon laden with a myriad of designs. It was almost as though she’d plucked each item – carefully of course, Indi always did everything carefully – from a place entirely different than where she’d gotten the item before. Though where, she never disclosed. Indi didn’t remember much of anything about her long-ago past. This often made her passionate for her present and overly desperate to entertain ideas and form plans, even drastic ones, for the future.
Her ideas sparked many an argument between us, and sometimes she’ll go on and ignore me for days. During these times I almost fade away. But she’ll always come back apologetically, and the frightened sadness in her eyes is too much for me to turn away. Then, of course, she’ll want to be held, as though a child that had woken up from a gruesome nightmare feeling exposed and vulnerable. That’s too much to turn away, too.
“What’re we doing today, Lady?” I asked, watching her swallow a large mouthful of pancakes.
“We’re going to the coast,” she replied. “I need to get my pay.”
I nodded. “Are you bringing your new pieces?”
Indi shook her head, shoveling another forkful into her mouth, and then reconsidered. “Yes, thank you, I think I will.” And she was off again, stuffing as many pancakes that could fit into that petite frame of hers. How she managed to get half of them in there, I could only guess, but she never seemed any worse for the wear afterwards – which thoroughly eased my feelings.
“Stop worrying, Cicero,” Indi ordered, reading my mind.
“Yes, Lady,” was my only response.
After breakfast Independence cleaned herself up and we left our house, which stood alone on a very small, rocky island. She cleaned up well, Indi did, and she soon found herself standing on the darkened wet sand, staring down into the coming surf. Bending over, she dug around with her fingers after the water had gone back out and quickly pulled up several new, brightly polished shells. A triumphant gleam lit up her eyes as she brought them back to me, standing on the large, jagged rock just outside her front door.
“For next week’s pieces!” she said, cheery. Indi placed them into a water-filled bucket next to her door and then grabbed the cardboard box she’d abandoned only moments earlier. This box contained her treasures, her pieces of art made from the gifts the solemn grey sea gave to her. I squinted out toward the horizon, marveling again at how the sea and sky nearly always matched one another on the island. There was a rare special occasion when we might receive a few frozen, golden rays of sun; but most of the time it was grey sea, grey sky, and Indi’s pretty grey eyes.
“Hurry, Cicero!” Indi called, jogging toward the boat, “I have much to do today!”
“Yes, Lady,” I replied, climbing over the rocks to reach her. Soon enough we were off, heading straight toward the great steel skyscrapers looming at us from Manhattan. It would take us a fair bit of time to get there, but the motor of the boat hummed cheerful melodies beneath the waves. Sometimes the birds ahead would offer their harmony. When they sang, Indi thought it was the sound from the great and powerful firmament, but I thoroughly disagreed. It was on this topic that we argued many times as well.
When we reached the city, the sun shone down on us through the haze as we ascended the hot, sandy shore until we’d finally reached the hustle and bustle of the streets. Indi started off in a direction that I knew all too well – toward the tiny dented mailbox in front of an old, dilapidated boarding house that the tenants let her use. The landlord of the house supposedly owned a gift shop, at which he sold Indi’s pieces. Just as she pulled open the door, pulling out a crisp white envelope, the landlord came down the steps of the house with a smile. Indi offered him the box she had been carrying – large enough to carry a toaster oven – and upon opening it he saw only two little pieces of Indi’s art: two clusters of shells and seaweed, one a mountain holding a splintering piece of driftwood. But the landlord smiled and nodded, offering his thanks. He told her that he had compensated her in advance for the two pieces in the envelope she was holding. Indi looked too delighted for words, and my insides swelled with gladness as we started back for the boat. Feeling the envelope, I could tell there was only a few coins inside. Before I could investigate further, Indi snatched it from me, holding it both reverently and protectively within her grasp.
As soon as we reached the house, alone on its grey rocky island, she started a large, roaring fire in her study and tossed the envelope, unopened, into the hungry flames. Such was the routine she followed each and every week. Indi wanted to lock me out as she set about to work on her special project, her project that would “change the world” she’d told me on numerous occasions. This time I begged and pleaded with her to let me stay for once.
“Fine,” she huffed, pointing a finger at my face, “but if you breathe a word …”
“I won’t, Lady,” I reassured her, “I promise, Indi. I promise.”
And so I sat there by the roaring fire, curled up and dazed, watching as she intricately wove spool after spool of silky, satiny ribbon. It make my smile, a secret smile to myself, for if she ever caught it I would certainly be in trouble. Indi did not like to be laughed at by me, not at all. So I watched her spin and weave and carefully twist for hours and hours; merely enjoying the rhythm of her fingers, the intense look of purpose and concentration in her oddly colored eyes, the beauty with which she finished each one. Yet what I found particularly interesting was while I watched her incorporate a multitude of different colors and textures, she always wove one specific thread in with them all. Yes, I found this very interesting, indeed.
After a while I found my eyes growing drowsy, the warmth of the fire and softness of the chair engulfed me to the point where I couldn’t stay awake any longer. I drifted off to sleep with the memory of only one disturbance – that was Independence curling up next to me in the squishy armchair, and falling fast asleep against my side.
Indi did not talk to me for several days after that. She became enthralled with her work and her weaving, so much so that she’d even forgotten twice to make pancakes. But the results were breathtaking; I couldn’t believe the delicate spools of ribbon as I saw them when she finished. They looked as though they had been made by the most skilled of artisans, born and not handmade by this girl. She had to have been practicing this at one point or another, in order to have become this advanced in her craft. Though when I asked her about it she grew stubborn and irritated, even though they were the first words I’d heard from her in a week.
“How would I have practiced? And wasted all these materials?” she asked me, tone monotonous and light, though almost daring me to give her a cheeky rebuttal. “I’m just a natural.” And she shrugged.
“Yes, Lady,” I answered. The results were beautiful, and I knew that if she were to find the right place to sell these, her envelope would be stuffed with dollars instead of random quarters and nickels. I began wandering the island by myself, leaving her engulfed with her work. After my obvious abandonment, Indi began locking the door to her study, keeping me from coming to curl up by the fire and watch her as she worked. There was such determination in her eyes, a glittering of purpose that I’d seen in so few. It was during those times when I’d watched her that I began to get the idea there was more to this than I’d originally noticed. The focus and dream in her eyes was intense – perhaps too intense. I brought this idea up to her once, when she’d left her study door open and the fire roaring. She merely smiled at me, finishing a spool that filled her tenth box. White, it was, accented finely with gold and holding the slightest bit of a black accent.
“Oh, Ciceero,” she sighed, voice heavy with hope and exhausted dreams, “it’s going to change the world.”
“Change the world, Lady?”
“Yes,” Indi said happily. “It will bring the world together. All peoples, all beliefs. Oh, think how great that would be, Cicero! Think!” She was delirious with this idea, I saw. I could not help but feel softer toward her for this idea – this gargantuan, unfocused dream.
“Forgive me, Lady, but how will ribbon bring the world together?” I asked, treading with caution. “Unless you mean to tie everyone all together!”
Independence ignored me for my cheek, but it was enough for me to see the gleam of mischief in her eyes; of unmistakable genius. I knew she at least had an answer to my question, even if she wouldn’t choose to reveal it to me. I had found out her goal, and she had spoken to me more so in that one moment than she had in the past several days. And even as she rose the next morning and made pancakes once again, I could not help but wonder how the ribbon would accomplish the gigantic goal of Independence. And if it didn’t, how she’d cope with yet another shattered dream.
“Indi, where are we going?”
She shot me a look of impatience, clutching the large cardboard box full of spool upon spool of her beautiful ribbon. It was taped up very intricately so that not one of them could get away, not one of them could be seen. I had found out that this little mission of hers had become somewhat of a secret – or perhaps it was only more of her exerting her desire for privacy. For whichever reason, Indi seemed very concerned with making sure her ribbon was only seen by the people she wanted it noticed by.
“We’re going there,” she answered me, shifting the box so as to point to one of the skyscrapers looming a bit eerily in the distance. I couldn’t help the overwhelming feeling of astonishment as it washed over me; the change in Indi’s face told me it showed.
“But Lady, I do not mean to be rude,” I began, backtracking over my words before I even really began to speak, “that looks like a very important building.”
“It is,” Independence replied, cheery as ever. “And we have an appointment! I sent them some of my ribbon, and they’re interested in commercializing it as a product. Do you hear that, Cicero? A product!”
Her smile was too great, as was the sparkle that played clearly in her eyes. I could not bear to ask more questions, potentially argue further. And after all, we did have an appointment, didn’t we?
As big as the skyscraper was, it was still very far away, and my feet grew tired of walking after a few New York City blocks. I watched as crowds upon crowds of people walked on and on, as though no more than machines programmed for that very specific purpose. The women wearing high heels in particular made me flinch. Soon after we passed through some of the more industrial streets and alleyways we walked along a wrought-iron protected park where children were playing and running around. I decided to try again what I’d tried only a few days ago.
“Lady,” I began, “what is the purpose of your ribbon?”
A sigh of impatience and superiority answered me first. “I told you, Cicero, it’s going to bring the world together.”
I nodded, allowing that fact. “Yes, Lady, yes. But how?” I held back every remark of a cheeky nature I could have made, lest I turn hr mind away from genuinely giving me an honest answer. She smiled then, a smile that held all of her genius and mischief and beautiful white teeth. It made me anticipate her response all the more – as she was often so good at doing – and for a few moments while I basked in the flow of her shining expression I thought that perhaps her dream, her beautiful idea, could actually take root and prove to be successful.
“I’m going to make the world sick so that it can make itself better.”
I paused in my steps then, hearing her words and wondering what exactly she meant. Indi showed no signs of stopping for my thoughts or reaction, and continued toward the building that was now just a half a block away. There was a bounce in her step now, as my questions had reminded her of her great task, and it looked almost as though she were skipping. Quickly, I caught up to her.
“How do you mean, Lady?” I asked finally, almost dreading the response she would give me. I did not want to decide the implication of her words – to play translator and decipher the code in the completely wrong way.
“What do you mean, ‘how do I mean’?” she asked me, looking at me rather crossly. “I mean it exactly how I mean it. I’m going to make the world sick, and then it can make itself better.” Indi examined my face, the meaning behind my expression, catching that I was not completely happy with her idea. In that moment of hesitant disapproval and skepticism I could have shattered her entire world, before she even had her chance to try out her dream.
“Indi, how do you propose to do that by ribbon? Of all the things …” I hesitated in my speech, holding back slightly so as not to offend her; she was my greatest and only friend. “It could be dangerous, what you are saying.”
“Fine,” she huffed. “Fine!” Her cross look deepened, a harsh frown marring her beautiful face, grey eyes narrowed in obvious anger but even so clouded by hurt. Indi stopped and turned to me, giving me the full blast of her expression and ire. “It won’t be dangerous, it will be wonderful! Why don’t you understand that?”
As hesitant as I was to further injure her feelings, I attempted to add my perspective, determined to make her see some form of reason that might counteract her maddening, though seemingly misguided, genius. “Forgive me … forgive me, Lady. I just do not understand how you will do this with your ribbon. I am only curious, Lady …”
Independence sighed, shifting the weight of the box in her arms. I could tell it was getting too heavy for her, and the only reason I did not offer to carry it for her was that I knew she would not let me. “You saw me weave some of my ribbon … they all have one thing in common. One thread.” I nodded, thinking back to being cozily curled up before the fire, enveloped by the softness of the armchair and the complete and utter joy of being in Indi’s presence. There had been one thread that she’d woven into each spool of ribbon, though then I had not understood why. “I made something to put on it. Anyone who comes into contact with it will get sick. I made an antidote … but I am the only one who knows how to – and will know how to.” She smiled again, sunshine chasing away the storm. “It’s simple, see?”
Of course I nodded – to not agree would cause disaster. “I do not know, Indi … it sounds very horrible.”
Independence gave me another hurt, long-suffering look, and opened her mouth to retort.
“Hey, lady!” someone shouted. “Who are you talking to?” One of the kids playing in the park had come up to the fence, picking up a kickball that had gotten away, and was staring at Indi with an odd look in her eyes. The child’s gaze searched for someone that Indi could be speaking to, looking right through me and finding only a stray dog sniffing an overturned trashcan across the street.
Indi, who could not be bothered by this at the moment, abruptly replied, “Cicero,” with a hand gesture in my direction, in a tone that stated her answer should have been obvious. The girl stared, trying hard to see me, but soon gave up and wandered back to her friends and their game.
Clucking her tongue, Indi looked back to me, and I began to say something – but she cut off my words before they barely had time to form in my mouth. “No, Cicero. I see you don’t understand. You don’t have to come if you don’t want to … in fact, I’d rather you not.” And with such hurtful words she ran across the street, narrowly avoiding a delivery truck and racing into the lobby of the ominously tall skyscraper. I was left to ponder her words out in the cold with the tinkling sound of children’s laughter ringing mercilessly in my ears.
We traveled the world after that. I found that Indi had sent samples of her beautifully woven ribbon to many countries. Almost all of them had returned her gesture with positive and excited business propositions. We traveled to England, France, Germany, Russia, India, and China. Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Canada, and Argentina. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the Czech Republic, and South Africa. I loved watching Indi meet with these people, for language had never been a barrier for her, for one reason or another. Each peoples’ tongue flowed with effortless eloquence from her lips, and she charmed the most harsh of all business leaders. Indi’s ribbon was fast selling on the market, and it would have been a marvelous thing. I should have been so happy for my dear Independence, but all I could think about was what she meant to accomplish by this blooming business trade and her devotion to her ideals.
I had already seen the effects of the poison on her, she having not taken the antidote of her own creation even after handling the affected thread and weaving more spools of ribbon. I dared not bring the idea up to her, either; she was barely speaking to me since that day in New York City. Every day Indi managed to find a newspaper, and every day she clipped every reported case of this mysterious virus that was suddenly spreading venomously around the world. People were close to death, dangling above the pit of demise by a mere thread, and each time Indi got more news of this, she grew even more giddy.
“My plan is working, Cicero,” she confided in my gleefully. “Soon the whole world will be brought together. Isn’t this exciting?” I could only nod while swallowing the pit of icy fear and concern at the back of my throat. Her eyes were too bright, her smile too wide. I had never, in all my years of friendship with this girl, seen her so incredibly happy. And if was all because her horrific dream was coming true.
Indi continued to work hard each time she arrived home, creating a poison that worked more quickly and was more deadly than the one she had birthed before. She filled a small crystal phial with this poison, and another with the antidote for both of her creations; she wrapped the antidote with a small stripe of paper detailing the ingredients and instructions on how it should be made. I caught her one evening, examining the both of them in the firelight, more particularly the antidote. Her face had grown thin and gaunt, her skin had paled to an ashen grey over time, and her stomach could not contain anything she ate. And each day the crevice in my heart grew larger and all the more painful.
“I want something done, damn it!”
The Prime Minister slammed his fist onto the table before him, and the sound echoed caustically about the large United Nations meeting room. Several representatives flinched, not knowing how to reply.
“We understand your concern, Prime Minister,” replied another leader in an even tone. “All of our people are afflicted!”
“What we have here on our hands is a major international health crisis. Super crisis, if you will. Many of our people have been poisoned by mystery. Is there no cure?”
Another representative stood and shook his head sorrowfully. “We have been working hard, day and night, searching for a cure, an antidote, an anti-virus. But we have found none. There are no traceable organisms or chemicals we can find to counteract.”
“The only thing we can rely on now are our intelligence organizations,” continued the Prime Minister. “With all of our best working cooperatively, I’m certain we can discover what’s behind this and set it right.”
“Lady … Lady!” One again, Indi was ignoring me. I found it frustrating how, on some days, she chattered ceaselessly to me – and on others she would not even acknowledge my presence. I tried harder to catch her attention. “Indi, they are on to you! Lady, they will find you and do you harm.”
This did catch her attention, and for several moments she remained quiet. I did know, however, that she would finally respond to me. While I had been talking to her, I thought she had been anxiously pacing the kitchen out of nerves, and would soon break down into the tears of her inner-child and want to be held and consoled, and told of what she should do to make it better. But instead I found that she was grabbing bowls from the cupboards, along with flour and sugar and eggs. When she finally turned around to me, I saw only that she was smiling – that bright, twinkling light forever glowing now within her beautiful but oddly colored grey eyes.
Independence was preparing for company. She made batch after batch of delicious smelling cookies of all flavors and shapes: chocolate chip, peanut butter, sugar, butter, white chocolate macadamia nut, ones with sprinkles. I could not believe what I was seeing. My heart broke to see such pure happiness pouring from her dream-come-true, and I found that I was too restless – too worried – to watch her any longer.
“Indi,” I began, trying to catch her attention. “Indi, I cannot remain … I cannot remain.” Still, Independence ignored me, and I felt my heart break completely. “Lady …” She took another batch of cookies from the oven. “Lady, I cannot stay here with you any longer. I cannot watch you be harmed.” Indi gave me a look of clean indifference, and I felt the shards of my heart slow-fall into my stomach.
“Go if you want to. In fact, I would prefer it if you did. You never did remember to bring in the paper, Cicero. It was the least you could have done.”
Those were the last words I ever uttered to her, the last chance I had to fill my eyes with her beautiful face with its formerly pale cheeks flushed with excitement and the exertion of her cookie-baking labors. Her eyes and smile made her entire face glow with an inner light, and her brilliant auburn hair had been let down to fall in soft, idle waves around her shoulders. Yes, Indi was ready for her company.
It had apparently not taken much longer for them to trace the poisonous virus back to the ribbon, and upon analysis the dangerous spools of ribbon were collected and immediately destroyed. But there was still the matter of dealing with the damage that had been left by such a beautiful product. No antidote could be found or made, and it was up to finding Indi to get her to reveal the ingredients of her poison so that millions of afflicted people could be healed. When the authorities invaded Indi’s home, upon that drafty grey and rocky island, she greeted them warmly with many smiles and cookies which they of course did not eat. They took her prisoner in her ow home until she confirmed she had an antidote for this torturous virus, and that she could deliver it to them.
They secured her in an isolation cell containing a small cot that rested up against the corner wall, beneath a barred window. The other cells and offices on her floor were empty, and Indi took her leisure time as something of great fun. She immensely enjoyed being directly below all the activity of the floor above hers. Independence spoke to me from time to time, and I wondered if she even knew that I had left her, and that part of the reason I did so was because wanted me to go. Still, the night she spent there was full of her cheerful and melodious voice as she told me how happy she was that her plan had worked; she teased and chided me for not believing in her in the first place. She had brought the world together: unified as one against her, against one.
The following day Independence was silent. She listened to a celebration that was taking place on the floor above her cell. There were tinkling glasses and laughter and scattered congratulations as world leaders and representatives reveled in joyous relief at catching Independence. Smiles were abundant, handshakes flew as easily around the room as the champagne, and pacts of friendship, peace, and prosperity had formed through strong words and gentle gestures.
Indi sat upon the cold stone floor of her cell, listening with a look of far-off contentedness upon her gaunt but still-beautiful features. Without blinking she reached slowly into an inner pocket she had sewn into the large hooded sweatshirt she had been allowed to keep. She pulled out the two crystal phials, holding one in each hand and admiring the way they caught the light. She whispered something to me then, something I did not hear and could not respond to. Indi brought her phials close up to her eyes, examining them the way I had seen her do several times before. The clinking of glasses, of laughter, the dull roar of conversation magnified about her, encircling her head and spinning with the threat to drop around her neck.
Silently, Indi deliberated. She argued with herself in her own mind until a determined buzz had filled her ears, replacing the joyous sounds from above. In one quick movement, as though she’d made the decision in that very second, Indi lifted up her right hand and ripped the stopper out of the clear, unwrapped phial. For a heartbeat more she stared at the clear, colorless, seemingly harmless liquid. Her eyes glazed over with fragile obsession.
“All for one … and one for all.”
Indi tipped her head back and downed the liquid in a split second, swallowing several times afterward to keep herself from throwing it back up. Slowly, like a very old, worn out woman who had labored for hours, she raised herself up from the floor and made her way to the cot. The world around her appeared to move in slow motion, twisting and teasing her with its lack of timely movement. She sat down upon the cot as the tinkling of glasses and the roar of voices once again reached her ears. Independence fell back hard upon the cot, and she tried to lay very still to stop the hazy rocking of the room around her.
“Mr. Love is on his way down there right now,” a voice said. “Said we would collect that antidote today.”
There was a round of cheers that disintegrated into arguing. It seemed that ever leader, each representative, wanted to kill Independence in their native and horrifically inhumane ways; everyone wanted the credit of brewing the antidote that was held fast still in her delicate little hand. Indi stared up at the ceiling through which she heard the slurs fly about the room, faster than the champagne could be poured. She blinked hard, swallowing again, her mouth open and breaths coming in very slow, short draws. The sound of footsteps pounded in her ears and she drew in another shallow breath.
Finally, Indi lay motionless; her chest did no longer rise or fall, her eyes did not blink. Her lips did not quiver in search of moisture, and her beautiful but oddly colored grey eyes did not sparkle with their twinkling light.
The cell door slid open as Mr. Love entered, intent to collect the information for the antidote everyone had been so frantic about recovering. The sight of Independence lying motionless on the cot stopped him in his very footsteps for the briefest of moments, the barest of seconds.
“Miss … ?” he called quietly, hesitantly, his voice full of a sympathetic warmth. Independence did not move to answer him; she could not move at all. With a weary expression on his face, Mr. Love approached the side of her cot. Slowly, he moved to touch her cheek, which was abnormally cold beneath his fingertips. He let out a held breath, a sorrowful sigh, and shook his head.
Gently, like a father who did not wish to disturb his sleeping baby girl from slumber, he pried her fingertips open and removed the paper-wrapped phial from its grasp. Mr. Love gave a last look at her, swallowing down each disturbing emotion that threatened to spill from his chest. He closed her eyes, hesitating a moment as though waiting her her to jump up and try to stop him from taking her phial. But she didn’t, and Mr. Love made his way out of the cell, making sure still to close and lock it behind him; he returned to the party, at which there was still much arguing.
“Lady.” I corrected him, insignificantly though he had gone. I hesitated, locked away in the corner and the shadows, but I removed myself from their chains with a strength that I did not know I possessed. I settled down on one knee at the side of the cot where my dear Independence lay and placed a tender kiss upon her cold forehead. With my own fingertips I brushed a few rogue strands of her beautiful auburn hair back into place, and bowed my head to weep the tears that Independence could not weep for herself.
Like I said, only I knew this girl. The brilliance, the intelligence, the gold-embellished insanity. She held a lesson, this girl. You know the type. Never danced, never sang. Never remembered. You know the girl.
“All those in favor of this declaration of war, raise your right hand.”
The Speaker’s voice boomed through the lower chamber of Congress, alight with a new and fiery passion after reading through the letter from his Commander-in-Chief. Arms were adamantly shot skyward, all hands on deck within this chamber of humanity. Every hand pointed toward the heavens Except for one.
Her name was Independence.