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Authors: Susan Beth Pfeffer

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BOOK: The Shade of the Moon
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No, that wasn’t true. Jon had never been that close to death. The others had given
their food to him. He’d been hungry, and he’d been tired from the endless labor of
chopping firewood, but they’d seen to it that he would survive.

He looked at his mother, his brother and sister and thought about how he alone was
living in the enclave, with its well-heated homes with breathable air, and fresh vegetables,
chickens, and eggs. Before, somehow it had felt right. He was the youngest. He was
the closest to Lisa. When they’d learned that one of the three passes Alex had given
to Miranda would have to be used for Gabe, it made sense that Jon be the one to live
with him and Lisa. They’d talked it out. Miranda, holding on to the thought that Alex
would return, had refused to move to Sexton. Matt and Syl had decided to make a home
somewhere else. Mom said it wouldn’t work for her and Lisa to live together. They
got along remarkably well, given they’d both been married to the same man, but enough
was enough.

So, just as they’d given their food to Jon, they gave him their chance at a decent,
comfortable life.

The passes had been meant originally for Alex, Bri, and Julie.

“Julie would want you to have her pass,” Lisa had said. Lisa had loved Julie and been
closer to her than any of them, except Jon.

But Jon knew something Lisa didn’t, something Lisa would never know. Julie might still
be alive if it weren’t for him. Taking the pass was like stealing from the dead.

Still, he took it. Miranda and Alex, who could have used the passes for themselves,
were grubs now. Their baby was coming into a world of inequality at best, hunger and
cold at worst.

“How’s the teaching going, Mom?” Matt asked.

Mom shook her head. “Sometimes I don’t know why I even try,” she said. “I teach three
classes, fifty kids in a class. Most of them don’t care. They’re killing time until
they’re sixteen and can start working in Sexton. But there was this boy. I’ve never
seen a kid that intelligent. Not book-learning smart. He hasn’t had the chance. But
he grasped concepts faster than I could discuss them. Brilliant kid. I thought maybe
he could get into Sexton University. There’s no rule against it, and a boy that smart
should be able to find sponsors.” She sighed. “He left two weeks ago. He was nice
enough to tell me, which is more than most of them do. His father got arrested, and
his mother is dead, and he has two younger brothers. The kid is fifteen. He’s going
to work in the mines. You don’t have to be sixteen to work in the mines. He’ll send
the money home to support his brothers until the older one is sixteen and can go to
work.”

“These are hard times, Mom,” Matt said. “The important thing is not to quit.”

“I’m not quitting,” she said. “Just despairing.” But she laughed, and Jon knew things
were all right again.

“The moon crash anniversary is a week from Monday,” Miranda said. “I guess I should
look at it as a day off, but I dread it.”

“Sunday night will be worse,” Mom said. “Matt, will you be on the road?”

Matt shook his head. “I’ll get home Saturday afternoon. I won’t be going out again
until Tuesday.”

“Mom, do you remember that first anniversary?” Miranda asked. “When you and Syl and
I had that crazy ceremony?”

“What are you talking about?” Jon asked.

Mom and Miranda had just finished telling the story of their ceremonial sacrifice
to the moon goddess Diana when Alex came in. He hugged Miranda and Jon and shook Matt’s
hand.

“You look tired,” Matt said to him.

Alex shrugged. “I am,” he said. He sat next to Miranda and squeezed her hand. “But
it’s worth it.”

“I’ve been waiting until you got home before I mentioned something,” Matt said. “It
involves you and Miranda. Mom, too.”

“What is it?” Mom asked. “Is everything all right?”

“Everything’s fine, Mom,” Matt said with a grin. “It’s something good. Or at least
something to consider.”

“I’m listening,” Alex said.

“You know how much I travel,” Matt said. “Mostly from enclave to enclave, but I spend
the nights in lots of different places. Keep this confidential, but there’s a group
of people who’ve set up their own community. Not an enclave, no government involvement,
but not . . . well, not a place like White Birch either.”

“Not a grubtown,” Alex said.

“I hate that word,” Mom said.

“Laura, that’s what this is,” Alex said. “You’d rather I called it a slavetown?”

“The point is, this new place won’t be any of those things,” Matt said. “Remember
communes? Kibbutzes? That’s what they’re planning. They’re starting small, but they
figure to expand. Syl and I are talking about joining, but we’re not ready to make
a commitment yet.”

“What will they do for food?” Jon asked.

“Grow their own,” Matt said. “They’ve put together the money for two greenhouses,
and they’ll build from there. It’s going to be rough, a lot rougher than White Birch,
to start out with. But they won’t be dependent on the whim of some enclave. They’ll
be independent.”

“Where do we fit in?” Alex asked.

“I told them my brother-in-law is a mechanic,” Matt said. “That you’d passed the mechanic’s
test, but you’re not connected enough to get the promotion. A place like that is going
to need mechanics. They love the fact that Miranda’s pregnant. Actually, they’re so
pleased with the thought of you two, they are willing to take Mom, also.”

“That’s very gracious of them,” Mom said.

“We know you’re essential,” Matt said. “But you don’t bring a lot of skills to a community
like they’re planning. Alex does.”

“What about me?” Jon asked.

“I didn’t ask,” Matt said. “You’re fine in Sexton.”

“What do you think, Alex?” Miranda asked.

“I don’t know,” he said. “Carlos and I have been saving money for our own truck,”
he said to Matt. “In another year, eighteen months, we should be able to buy one.
We figure that’s the only way, to go independent.”

“But you’d stay in White Birch,” Matt said.

“There are some pretty nice sections in White Birch,” Alex replied. “And there’s no
law against fixing our home, buying more food if we can afford it.” He grinned. “Living
the middle-class life.”

“We can’t go anywhere until the baby is born,” Miranda said. “But if we did decide
to move, Mom, you’d have to come with us. I’d worry about you if you were here alone.”

“Yes,” Alex said. “If we go, you come with us, Laura.”

“I’ll come, too,” Jon said.

“No, you won’t,” Mom said. “Whatever happens, you’re staying in Sexton.”

“Why?” Jon said.

Mom stared at him. “Look at your sister, Jon, and your brother and Alex,” she said.
“Matt’s a courier and Miranda works in the greenhouses and Alex is a bus driver. You
call them grubs. Well, you’re not going to be a grub. You’ll graduate high school
and college. That’s the whole point of your living in Sexton, so you can get an education,
make something of yourself.”

“What if I don’t want to?” Jon asked.

“I don’t care,” Mom said. “In case you haven’t noticed, none of us are doing what
we want. We’re doing what we have to, and we expect the same from you.”

“Matt?” Jon said, but Matt just shook his head.

“Listen, Jon,” Alex said. “You have a chance Miranda and I will never have. But it’s
not just us. It’s Bri’s chance and Julie’s. You’re the survivor, Jon, and survivors
have responsibilities. If you walk away from your chance, you make all that loss,
all that sacrifice, meaningless.”

“All right,” Jon said. “But don’t go without telling me. Let me know where I can find
you.”

“Of course we will,” Miranda said. Then she laughed. “The baby’s kicking. Here, Jon.
Feel.” She put his hand on her belly, and he felt the movement that promised life.

“Soccer player,” Jon said. “Takes after me.”

For a moment they laughed, and for that moment they were a family again.

 

 

Tuesday, May 12

 

“He’s looking at her again,” Zachary said as they sat in the cafeteria.

Ryan snapped his fingers in Jon’s face. “Earth to Evans,” he said. “Come in Evans.”

“What the hell does that mean?” Luke asked.

Ryan shrugged. “I don’t know,” he replied. “But my father says it sometimes.”

“What?” Jon said. “What about your father?”

“What about you?” Ryan said. “Why do you keep staring at Goldman that way? She isn’t
even pretty.”

“You could have any girl you want,” Luke said.

“No, I can’t,” Jon said.

“Okay, some of the girls won’t go out with you,” Luke admitted. “Their parents won’t
let them. But most of the girls would, if you asked them. Instead, you keep staring
at
her
.”

Jon tried not to look at Sarah, who sat silent and alone, while the other students
were laughing and talking. “You’d think she’d have friends by now,” he said.

“No one likes her because of what she did to my grandfather,” Zachary declared.

“She didn’t do anything to your grandfather,” Jon said.

“She’s living in his house,” Zachary said angrily. “She’s worse than a slip.”

“Look, Evans, if you feel sorry for her, be her friend,” Tyler said. “Go sit with
her. Just don’t expect to sit with us again.”

“Her or us,” Zachary said. “Get that, slip?”

“I get it,” Jon said, and stayed where he was.

 

Thursday, May 14

 

“What’s going to happen Sunday?” Sarah asked Jon as they began their walk to the bus
stop.

“I have a soccer match,” Jon said. “In Longley. It’s about an hour, hour and a half
from here.”

“I mean Sunday night,” she said.

“Some of our neighbors are having a party,” Jon said. “Carrie and Val will be in White
Birch, so Lisa’s taking Gabe to the party with her.”

“You can’t stay with him?” Sarah asked.

“I’m going to White Birch after the match,” Jon replied. “Luke says it’s like Mardi
Gras. The one chance a year we have to blow off steam. What about you? Will you be
closing the clinic early?”

“Daddy wanted to keep it open all night,” Sarah said. “In case anyone gets hurt from
all that steam you’ll be blowing off. But the town board said no, it might give the
grubs bad ideas. They’re making Daddy stay at the clinic anyway, in case some clavers
get hurt.”

“You’re not going to be there, are you?” Jon asked. “It can get pretty crazy that
night.”

“I’ll be home,” Sarah said. “Daddy won’t let me anywhere near White Birch on Sunday.
Jon, you’re not going to do anything too crazy, are you?”

Jon shook his head. “Just have some fun,” he said. “Then church and fasting on Monday.”

“I hate anniversary day,” Sarah said. “I hate it so much.”

“It’s just one day,” Jon said. “Then it’s back to normal.”

“There’s no normal anymore,” Sarah replied. “Normal got lost four years ago. It’s
never coming back.”

“I know,” Jon said.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” Sarah cried. “I know how lucky we are. How lucky I am. I just wish
I could be luckier. Is that wrong of me, Jon? To wish I could be luckier?”

Jon checked to see no one was around. Then he embraced her. “It’s not wrong,” he murmured.
“It’s just not going to happen, that’s all.”

 

Saturday, May 16

 

“Matt gave me five quarters before he left,” Mom said. “He picks up whatever change
he finds on the road when he’s biking. It’s amazing there are any coins left, but
he says if you look hard enough, you can still find some. Five quarters. We’ll be
able to talk for fifteen minutes.”

“Isn’t there a line?” Jon asked. “Usually someone’s shouting at you to get off the
phone.”

“I’m using one in a bad neighborhood,” Mom replied. “People are too scared to use
it.”

“Is that safe?” Jon asked.

“I’m fine,” Mom said. “The neighborhood isn’t really that bad. Just a lot of drunks
who’ll be spending their quarters on potka, not pay phones. So tell me, Jon, how did
your week go?”

“It was okay,” Jon said. “Mom, I don’t like the idea of your being in a bad neighborhood.
Why don’t we just say hello, and you can call me next week, at your regular phone
booth.”

“There isn’t any place in White Birch that’s really safe,” Mom said. “Remember, back
home, how I’d make sure the doors were locked all the time? I can’t even do that here.
None of the doors have locks.”

“I know, Mom,” Jon said. All the locks were removed when laborers had been moved into
White Birch. That way, the people who used to live in White Birch couldn’t use their
homes as barricades. Once the grubs were resettled, no one saw much point in giving
them locks and keys. Grubs didn’t have anything worth stealing.

“I hope Alex and Miranda leave,” Mom said. “I’d rather never see my grandchild than
have her grow up in a place like this.”

“White Birch is a lot better than most of the grubtowns I’ve seen,” Jon said. “There
are schools and the clinic. Police, too, for protection.”

BOOK: The Shade of the Moon
4.41Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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