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By @Val

Place Of The Past

97 days to banishment

It is typical that we deviants get days off to visit Rosemary.

My feet carry me down the hall without hesitation, taking two lefts and a right before stopping at the nurse’s station. It is a familiar journey, as though my body imprinted on the Manor’s layout during my four years of volunteering. I spent countless hours navigating my way through the white corridors, often lost at first by the sameness of it all. Funny how these things remain with me even after a year away. A year of learning new skills and new patterns to replace those of volunteering.

There are several nurses in the hall, most young and dressed in white. Different workers in the medical sector wear assorted colors. When I donned my own pair of scrubs, I was only a volunteer. Walt, my mentor at the time, explained the significance of color in the medical community, pointing out different scrubs and describing their purposes. We were only children then, unsuspecting of the treason we would commit together later on in life. Then our only concerns were filling water pitchers, changing bed sheets, and discussing the meaning of color.

White is for volunteers. They are young workers, generally only present to keep the elderly occupied or maintain sickbeds. I was recruited at eleven years old, though I have seen children younger than that in these halls. It is not necessarily hard work, but for many deviants it is painful to do while aware of the outlook. Few, such as Walt, are allowed to stay in medical once they turn fifteen. Most are given over to one of the outer jobs, though which of the four is up to them. Only once in a great while, when true talent is expressed, a deviant is offered promotion to purple scrubs. These graduated nurses in purple have varying purposes. Some tend to checkups and treat minor blemishes on the first medical floor while others manage paperwork and file reports throughout. Those who frequent the second floor – the Manor – are responsible for making sure all is well with the old folk, and when Walt is not checking deviants in and out of Felle this is where he can be found.

He is currently nowhere to be seen. This disappoints me, but I do not let that show. I stand, face devoid, in line behind a nurse in blue awaiting attention from the station nurse.

I have always been most intrigued by the blue nurses. They are a rare and peculiar sight. I count myself lucky to be standing so close to one. They are usually fast paced things, remaining on their private floor above and only entering the public ones when paperwork or consultation is needed. Though uneducated in birthing, I was once told in curt detail what mothers go through and why they require the nurses in blue. It is fascinating, though I have found no one willing to discuss the matter at length. Most seem too embarrassed, and a few have become offended at my asking. Deviants, I have learned, have no business knowing about birthing. These things are beyond us, as we will never need to go through it.

Aside from the volunteer nurses in white and the birthing nurses in blue, there are other positions within the medical sector. Any nurse who dons grey scrubs is called a ferryman. They specialize in handling the deceased. Bodies have to be moved and disposed of often and it is the ferrymen’s jobs to make sure that happens as quickly and discreetly as possible. There are always a few lurking around the Manor, anticipating the passing of these dilapidated elders.

With a manila file newly in hand, the blue nurse departs from station. I watch him enter the stairwell, his keys jangling as he readies them to unlock the birthing floor. Only mothers, infants, and the nurses in blue are allowed up there, though a thought crosses my mind now about the ferrymen. They must have access to the birthing floor, or else Ellie’s body and her child would still be up there, haunting the inhabitants of what ought to be a happy place.

“Hello, Johanna.”

I am surprised the station nurse remembers my name. I hardly remember hers. Most common folk tend to blend together in my memory with their sallow faces and bald heads. Margery is no different, yet she has always been friendly to me since our time together volunteering. We are of the same year. When she graduated to purple scrubs, I was sent to Eden. That was a year ago, yet I can still recall a certain sadness in Margery over my leaving and am filled with shame for nearly forgetting about her completely.

After brief conversation, I tell Margery that I am turned around and ask for Rosemary’s office. This is a lie. The path could not have been clearer in my memory – one floor down at the end of this same hall – yet I pretend otherwise. I came to the Manor with the sole objective of finding Walt, though this want has not been satisfied. For my efforts, I am rewarded with conversational contact, of which Margery is good at providing. Her smile warms me like a touch and the recollection of her kindness is enough to make me content for the moment.

“Take the stairs down one and you’ll find her at the end of the main hall,” Margery says, ever smiling. I thank her and move towards the stairwell but Margery stops me, asking if everything is alright.

“Of course,” I reassure her. “Why do you ask?”

Margery’s lips waver, her dark brows crease. She even frowns – a severe turn of face for her – as she says, “No one sees a specialist if they’re sure they’re okay.”

This surprises me, though I cannot say why. I knew the reason for and the potential outcome of visiting Rosemary’s office, but never did I think deeper into things. I have been to see her a dozen times, and each time I have come out fine – every mole and marking cleared and each patch and freckle benigne. This has become custom for me. For the first time, I worry.

“I’m sorry,” she says. “I shouldn’t startle you like that. I’m sure it’s nothing.” Margery does something unexpected. She reaches across the station desk and places her hand gently over mine, patting it with sympathy. The touch is startling. I nearly withdraw, but compose myself in time to enjoy the contact. It is, after such a forced reassurance, in no way soothing to me. She pulls back, quick before anyone can see, and returns to her work without another word.

When I do find Rosemary’s office, I am second in line for examination.A young common boy is before me, his childish head so cleanly shaved that it looked to have never been there at all. It reflects the fluorescent sim light and I can tell there is no worry in him. I must remind myself that he is only a child, but this does not justify such ignorance and I cannot help but resent his leisure at a visit with Rosemary. We deviants, even when receiving good news, take it with a sense of dread. We leave this little office room knowing it is just another clearance leading up to the eventual diagnosis. Whether it is the next day, or not for months or years, it is coming for us. Sooner or later we deviants all face the effects of the sun’s rays.

When the door opens and the boy is given permission to enter, another body joins me in the hall. My eyes flick up towards his, and I am met with the swollen and bruised gaze of the gate sentry. It is a brief exchange, his battered face unreadable and mine an open slate of surprise and fear. Each bruise remains imprinted in my memory, as does the **** in his upper lip. If it heals with a noticeable scar, the sentry may receive backlash for deviance. This is an unheard of situation – a deviant maiming a sentry – and I know nothing of what Commander Edith will do if it heals wrong.

I cringe, thinking of the disservice I have done both Oliver and this sentry. There were things I could have done last night, gentler words to not stir Oliver’s anger or actions to stop his attack, but I failed us all. In the moment, I could not bring myself to do right by these men. Guilt floods me now and I am too dazed to respond when Rosemary opens her door, welcoming me into the office.

Her expression livens at the sight of me, and mine at her as I suppress my anxiety. She smiles through the doorway, her crooked teeth showing through pale, wrinkled lips. The only time a smile dares cross Rosemary’s lips is when a favored child is around. In my time of volunteering, she took a liking to me. Every visit since, though grave, has been warmly received.

“Long time,” she chuckles.

I smile in return. It has been hardly a month since my last visit for the mark that appeared on the white of my right hand. Simply discoloration, Rosemary determined. Nothing to worry about. It’s not as though they can punish a deviant for becoming slightly more deviant, Rosemary had said.

“What ails you?”

She takes a slip Walt wrote up when he found the mole. I read it only once, and have not glanced at it since. What it says, I have forgotten. It doesn’t matter to me. Only Rosemary’s examination will tell me for certain what the marking means. I remove my outer layer, revealing my shoulders for examination. Rosemary’s touch is feathery and I feel her fingers assessing the mole. She does so for hardly more than a minute before waving it away. “Solid color. Perfectly round,” she says. “You’re fine.”

There is a relief, but I am as unsatisfied as ever. Rosemary says I am fine, but what she means is that I am fine for now. Sooner or later, there will be a spot or patch or mole that is not round, symmetrical, solid or safe. It will be some variation of sun disease, and I will be released to Gratis.

Rosemary makes light conversation, and I linger longer than necessary. I have received my verdict, but the company is nice to keep. Some may say this sort of interaction between deviant and common person is treachery – a betrayal of practice. I find that hard to justify. Rosemary and I make no contact, only conversation. We do not speak against our Commander or our community. I have not forced her attention any more than she has willingly given it. Nothing in Felle’s standards says we cannot speak softly to one another about innocent, peaceful matters. When the standards were set, I suppose our ancestors never imagined a common person and a deviant would be inclined to favor one another in the way me and Rosemary now do.

Though Rosemary is generous in her kind behavior to me, I hesitate to ask the question that burns in me. She detects this trepidation, gently nudging me to speak up if something is bothering me. My voice wavers timidly as my curiosity overrules my senses. “The sentry,” I say, “who left your office just before -”

“Philip?” Rosemary interrupts.

I nod. It must be him. “Do you know what happened to…to his…to make him look so -”

She interrupts me once more. “Who attacked him?”

I nod slowly, hoping to conceal the fact that I already know this questions answer. Like a hound, Rosemary seems to detect my guilt. She tutts gravely, an aged hand running slowly over her headscarf. Quietly, “He will not say.”

An inaudible sigh escapes me. I feel my heartbeat slow and breathing return to rhythm. It is as Oliver and I hoped. The sentry – Philip – has kept our secret and thus saved our lives.

With this, our conversation turns to lighter topics, though I can sense it is not the same as before. Rosemary suspects something – something true. Though part of me that wants to think of Rosemary as a mother figure, there is a different, darker part of me that knows Rosemary may not choose to defend me in inquiry if I Oliver and I are revealed. It is not an easy choice to make – the truth, or defending a friend – when banishment is on the line. Slowly, I gather my thoughts. There are things to think through before speaking aimlessly to a common person, even one as familiar to me as Rosemary. Though this woman has been a friend to me for over five years, custom is custom. With her newfound suspicions I know I must revert to standard, and so it will be between us from this point on.

Rosemary stops me before I can twist the knob to leave. Her pale eyes are dense with unspoken understanding. I do not satisfy her with confirmation, but return the wistful stare with empty eyes.

“Johanna, be careful.”

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