Sunday, June 19, 2011

Origins II: Part 2

Hey kid ~

Sorry it took so long to get back to you. They don't let you send outgoing mail for the first month. Something about cutting the umbilical cord, toughening us up. The whole 'turning boys to men' thing I guess.

Basic has been amazing, if a little routine, even to a fault. And very precise. They lock the doors to the classrooms when classes start, so if you're five seconds late, you aren't allowed in; but you're not allowed in the hallways outside of class either, so if you're found you get in trouble. Yesterday found Scott and I in a foot race to get to class on time. He's been trying to make the best of it, usually by distracting himself from the trials of training with the company of our female recruits.

I've been getting to know some of the other recruits here. You'd like Patrique, he is an artsy type like you. He doesn't get to paint here but he draws miniature army men battling across his homework assignments.

Otherwise, typical Basic stuff. The food is bad, could be worse. The instructors aren't as strict as they say. They know most people are here because of Conscription, not because they want a career out of it. And most of the rumors aren't true; if they were, Scott wouldn't have the fingers to type with, which would bring his dreams of a computer science career crashing down. A word to the wise, though, pack your own blanket. They give you something slightly less comfortable than steel wool and with about as much warmth.

I'm really, really happy to hear about Mom. Sounds like she is doing a lot better. Hopefully with me out of the way you two can reconnect, spend some quality time together. And tell me how you're doing - weren't you seeing that actor guy you met at the spring play? Send me some pictures of you both, I need something pretty to look at, it's all sweat and uniforms up here.

Write me back, I can't wait to hear more from you.

I'll be home soon.

Emma Grace

Slowly, Katrina folded the letter and slipped it back inside the envelope. They had originally tried email, but there was only one computer for every couple hundred recruits so they found old fashioned letters to be the most reliable method, if not as fast.

I'll be home soon.

Katrina felt that tingle from behind her eyes and started blinked rapidly, then reciting literature in her head, focusing her attention to half-remembered poems and plays until the threat of tears had passed. She leaned back against the headboard of her bed, taking long, measured breaths like Emma taught her. Even a month later, the wound of missing her sister was still fresh. It was silly, she knew, but Emma was her other half. A connection between sisters was one unmatched by all other ties, and even though she knew this time would come, she always imagined somehow it would work out better. As if Emma would get to Basic, realize it wasn't worth it without her, and turn right back around. Such a stupid thought.

Now, remembering her sister, she imagined Emma having to be awake at dawn. Sure, the first morning she would be alright, all full of adrenaline, but Emma didn't do mornings, and if she was able to avoid eye contact  until it turned into an afternoon, all the better. The thought brought her a smile, and soon she was laughing aloud. Remembering them playing together, or laughing, or spending all that time putting Emma's hair up only for it to return to its normal state of unmitigated disaster. Often before she could set the hairbrush down. Her laughter brought the tears back with renewed strength. She couldn't stop them this time, a mix of longing, sorrow, and bright memories, and they spilled onto the envelope, splotching and smearing the address on its cover.

Eventually she made her way downstairs, on the hunt for some stamps so she could start writing her next letter. From the bottom of the stairs, she passed the door to the living room, cracked enough that the light from the television squeezed out into the hallway. A glance inside was rewarded with a common sight: Mother, sleeping in the recliner, remote still in one hand folded on her chest. She wanted Emma to know about things at home. How their Mom was drinking again, that she and John weren't speaking. Again. How upset Mom was all the time, and when things got really bad, when she had a bad day at work, she came home and took it out on Katrina. Not that she ever laid a hand on her, of course. She didn't have to. Their family was well practised in the art of verbal discipline.

When it was her and Emma, they could weather it together, each helping the other and keeping their spirits up. Now alone, Katrina had to hold it upon her shoulders alone. She wanted to beg Emma to come back, or ask her for advice. Even as they shared their chores, punishments, and nights sneaking into the kitchen for food after being sent to bed without, she knew Emma had taken the worst of it herself.

But Katrina was a big girl now. She had to stand on her own two feet. No more running to Emma to solve her problems. So she put pen to paper, and started to craft her fiction.

Hey Sis,

Things are going great. All the teachers at school say they miss you, and Mom took out all those old pictures of us as kids...

[From the author]

I'm really unhappy with this one. Of course I don't expect everything I write to be solid gold before even one revision, but I'm inherently unsatisfied with how this played out. See, Katrina (and I'm terrible with names, let me own up to that before anyone makes a comment) is indeed supposed to be pining for her sister. Emma leaves, things at home become increasingly difficult, but wanting to prove she's all grown up and can take care of herself, she lies in her letters and has to find a way to make do on her own. Over time this hardens her, shapes her by brute force into a much stronger (and colder) adult than Emma remembers.

Still, something is just not quite right. I don't want to make a novel out of this little Retrospectives series itself, so I was okay with the rushed pacing, (again none of this is meant for publication, just for my own uses), but I don't know I just don't like it. After enough scrapping and trying and deleting and threatening Joshua (my computer), I decided to just say hell with it and put this up for now. If you have any thoughts, feel free to share them; and don't worry about hurting my feelings - I'm feeling rather malevolent towards this particular entry and I'll happily join you in any criticisms you want to share.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Origins II: Part 1

Twenty seconds. Emma Grace was standing in total darkness, waiting at the door to the cadet quarters, and waiting for the signal. Around her, sleeping recruits occasionally broke the silence with a muffled snore or dream-induced mutterings. She adjusted her weight to the other foot. Again. The floor creaked in protest to her restless shifting.

"Em? Are you already up?" That would be Scott, a classmate since childhood who, thankfully, would be accompanying her through Basic Training. Ten seconds. It will be nice to have the company. Even though her whole graduating class entered Basic together, the number of recruits entering every year meant you weren't likely to get put into a company with people you knew. Some thought they deliberately split you up so you were less like to rely on favors from friends. Three seconds.

"Seize the day." And the morning bell rang.

Ten minutes later, Emma was sitting at a table in the mess hall, surrounded by identical cadets, most with their head down and trying not to make eye contact with the older cadets. Despite the constant flood of students in and out of the hall, and the wall of uniforms constantly flowing like a living thing made entirely of fear, hope, and awe, she picked out Scott from across the hall, tracking his advance while focusing on her breakfast. He squeezed in between her and another student, setting down a plate that somehow contained three recruits worth of food. She glanced up from something closely resembling eggs and cocked an eyebrow, "I'm surprised you managed to find me. It's packed in here," She had to lean in and speak over the din of conversation and hundreds of pieces of silverware shoveling hundreds of plates of food into hundreds of mouths.

Scott grinned and rubbed her head, running his hands through what he could of her newly crew cut hair, "You're a splash of red among a sea of blue BDUs. You sorta stand out." He dropped a letter in front of her. Emma batted his hand away with one arm and picked up the envelope over in the other. He eyed the letter, "It was dropped off this morning, right after you left. Good thing I was diligently guarding the bunks an extra minute or two, or it might have gotten lost. Who's writing you on your first day?"

Once she saw the return address, her eyes lit up and she tore open the packaging, "It's Katrina!"

Hey Egg Head

I hope this gets to you on time, I tried to send it out in time for your first day. How was your trip? Did you get to sit next to any cute guys on the way up?

"Of course you did. Didn't she know we were shipping out together?"
"Shut up Scott."

Your graduation put Mom in a good mood, so I should thank you for that. Her and John were reminiscing about their time in training - she even brought out her old uniform! It was really nice, everyone getting along. It's too bad you didn't get to see it - I think its the longest Mom has been sober at one time. Now they can't wait until I graduate in a few years and get to go to Basic. Most of my classmates are excited, but no one will give us much information at school. Is it true they break a finger for every minute you're caught out after curfew?

I already miss you, sis. Two years feels like such a long time. Do you get vacations? Holidays? It's going to be the first time we've ever missed the other's birthday. I'll have to see what they will allow me to mail you for a present.

Well, I have to get this into the mail to get it to you in time for your big day. Good luck! Tell me all kinds of stories!

Tell Scott I said hi.

Love you sis,

Emma folded the envelope, tucked it into her breast pocket. Memories flooded her, and the sounds of two girls laughing was suddenly clearer than the din and ting of cheap silverware against plastic plates.

"Egg head? Is that meant to be a term of endearment?"

Scott's voice snapped Emma back to the present, and the echoing cacophony of too many voices in such a small proximity seemed deafening. As the momentary lapse faded like a forgotten dream, she returned her friend's lopsided grin, "My initials are E-G-G. It was her nickname for me as kids."

"Oh, good, at first I thought she was implying you were smart."

She stuck her tongue out at him, standing. Packing the rest of her eggs in a few over sized bites, she gathered her plate and cup and deposited them in the dirty dishes bin, which was picked up by whatever unlucky recruit had caused the most trouble lately and washed for the next meal. Scott called after her, shouting over the crowd, "I'll see you in first class then?"

Emma turned, taking a few backward steps, and though he was too far away to hear her, he could read her words. I'll beat you there. Exchanging a smile, she slipped out the door, walking outside and slipping on her hat that they were required to wear at all times while outside. The challenge meant that Scott would hurry and race to the classroom to beat her, so Emma would take her time. Besides, she needed to find a pen and paper.