Authors: Lois Lowry
But today she looked relaxed, and was making her unhurried way along the path. She smiled at Matty's greeting.
“Stop it, Frolic!
” Matty scolded his puppy, who had jumped to grab and tug at the frayed edge of the woman's skirt. Grudgingly Frolic obeyed him.
The woman leaned down to pat Frolic's head. “It's all right,” she said softly. “I had a dog once. I had to leave him behind.” She had a slight accent. Like so many of the people in Village, she had brought her way of speaking from her old place.
“Are you settling in?”
“Yes,” she told him. “People are kind. They're patient with me. I've been injured, and I have to relearn some things. It will take time.”
“Patience is important here, because we have so many in Village who have difficulties,” Matty explained. “My father .Â .Â .”
He paused and corrected himself. “I mean the man I live with. He is called Seer. You've probably met him. He's blind. He strides around everywhere on the paths without a problem. But when he first arrived and had just lost his eyes .Â .Â .”
“I have a concern,” the woman said suddenly, and he knew it was not a concern about the condition of the paths or directions to the buildings. He could see that she was worried.
“You can take any concern to Leader.”
She shook her head. “Maybe you can answer. It's about the closing of Village. I hear talk of a petition.”
“But you're already here!” Matty reassured her. “You needn't worry! You're part of us now. They won't send you away, even if they close Village.”
“I brought my boy with me. Vladik. He's about your age. Maybe you've noticed him?”
Matty shook his head. He hadn't noticed the boy. There had been a large crowd of new ones. He wondered why the woman would be worried for her son. Perhaps he was having trouble adjusting to Village. Some new ones did. Matty himself had.
“When I came,” he told her, “I was scared. Lonely, too, I think. And I behaved badly. I lied and stole. But lookânow I am fine. I'm hoping to get my true name soon.”
“No, no. My boy's a good boy,” she said. “He doesn't lie or steal. And he's strong and eager. They have him working in the fields already. And soon he'll go to school.”
“Well, then, no need to worry about him.”
She shook her head. “No, I don't worry about him. It's my others. I brought Vladik but I had to leave my other children behind. We came first, my boy and I, to find the way. It was such a long, hard trip.
“The others are to come later. The little ones. My sister will bring them after I have made a place here.”
Her voice faltered. “But now I hear people saying that the border will close. I don't know what to do. I think maybe I should go back. Leave Vladik here, to make a life, and go back to my little ones.”
Matty hesitated. He didn't know what to say to her. Could she go back? She had been here only briefly, so it was not yet too late. Surely Forest would not entangle the poor woman yet. But if she did, what would she go back to? He didn't know how the woman had been injured. But he knew that in some placesâit had been true, too, in Matty's old placeâpeople were punished in terrible ways. He glanced at her scars, at her unset broken arm, and wondered if she had been stoned.
Of course she wanted to bring her children to the safety of Village.
“They'll be voting tomorrow,” Matty explained. “You and I can't vote because we don't yet have our true names. But we can go and listen to the debate. We can speak if we want. And we can watch the vote.”
He told her how to find the platform before which the people would gather. Using her good hand, the woman grasped Matty's hands with a warm gesture of thanks as she turned away.
At the market stall he bought a loaf of bread from Jean, who tucked a chrysanthemum blossom into the wrapping. She smiled at Frolic and leaned down to let him lick some crumbs from her fingers.
“Are you going to the meeting tomorrow?” he asked her.
“I suppose so. It's all my father talks about.” Jean sighed and began to rearrange her wares on the table.
“Once it was books and poetry,” she said with sudden and passionate anguish. “I remember when I was small, after my mother died, he would tell me stories and recite poems at dinner. Then, later, he told me about the people who had written them.
“By the time we studied it in schoolâyou remember, Matty, studying literature?âit was all so familiar to me, because of the way he had taught me when I didn't even know he was teaching.”
Matty remembered. “He used different voices. Remember Lady Macbeth?
âOut, damn'd spot! Out, I say!'”
He tried to repeat the lines with the sinister yet regal voice Mentor had used.
Jean laughed. “And Macduff! I cried when my father recited Macduff's speech about the deaths of his wife and children.”
Matty remembered that speech as well. Standing by the bakery stall with Frolic scampering about at their feet, Matty and Jean recited the lines together.
All my pretty ones?
Did you say all? O hell-kite! All?
What! all my pretty chickens and their dam
At one fell swoop? .Â .Â .
I cannot but remember such things were,
That were most precious to me.
Then Jean turned away. She continued restacking the loaves on her table, but clearly her thoughts were someplace else. Finally she looked up at Matty and said in a puzzled voice, “It was so important to him, and he made it important to me: poetry, and language, and how we use it to remind ourselves of how our lives should be lived .Â .Â .”
Then her tone changed and became embittered. “Now he talks of nothing but Stocktender's widow, and of closing Village to new ones. What has happened to my father?”
Matty shook his head. He did not know the answer.
The recitation of Macduff's famous speech had reminded him of the woman he had spoken to on the path, the woman who feared for her lost children's future.
All my pretty ones.
Suddenly he felt that they were all of them doomed.
He had forgotten completely about his own power. He had forgotten the frog.
The meeting to discuss and vote on the petition began in the orderly, careful way such meetings had always been handled. Leader stood on the platform, read the petition in his strong, clear voice, and opened the meeting to debate. One by one the people of Village stood and gave their opinions.
The new ones had come. Matty could see the woman he had met on the path, standing beside a tall, light-haired boy who must be Vladik. The two were with a group of new ones who had a place apart, since they could not vote.
Small children, bored, played along the edge of the pine grove. Matty had once been like them, when he was new here and hadn't liked meetings or debates. But now he stood with Seer and the other adults. He paid attention. He had not even brought Frolic, who usually accompanied Matty everywhere. Today the puppy was left at home, whimpering behind the closed door as they walked away.
It was frighteningly obvious now, with the population gathered, that something terrible was happening. At Trade Mart it had been evening, dark, and Matty had been so interested in the proceedings that he had not noticed many individuals, only those who went to the platform, like Mentor, and the woman who had been so oddly cruel to her husband as they started home.
Now, though, it was bright daylight. Matty was able to watch everyone, and to his horror he could see the changes.
Near him stood his friend Ramon, with his parents and younger sister. It was Ramon's mother who had asked to trade for a fur jacket and been denied. But they had had a Gaming Machine for quite a while, and so a trade had been made in the past. Matty looked carefully at his friend's family. He had not seen Ramon since the day recently when he had suggested a fishing expedition and been told that Ramon was not well.
Ramon glanced at Matty and smiled. But Matty held his breath for a moment, dismayed to see that indeed his friend was ill. Ramon's face was no longer tanned and rosy-cheeked but instead seemed thin and gray. Beside him, his little sister seemed sick, too; her eyes were sunken and Matty could hear her cough.
Once, he knew, her mother would have leaned down to tend the little girl at the sound of such a cough. Now, while Matty watched, the woman simply shook the child roughly by a shoulder and said, “Shhhh.”
One by one the people spoke, and one by one Matty identified those who had traded. Some of those who had been among the most industrious, the kindest, and the most stalwart citizens of Village now went to the platform and shouted out their wish that the border be closed so that “we” (Matty shuddered at the use of “we”) would not have to share the resources anymore.
We need all the fish for ourselves.
Our school is not big enough to teach their children, too; only our own.
They can't even speak right. We can't understand them.
They have too many needs. We don't want to take care of them.
We've done it long enough.
Now and then a lone citizen, untouched by trade, would go to the platform and try to speak. They spoke of the history of Village, how each of them there had fled poverty and cruelty and been welcomed at this new place that had taken them in.
The blind man spoke eloquently of the day he had been brought here half dead and been tended for months by the people of Village until, though he was still without sight, it had become his true home. Matty had been wondering whether he, too, would go up and speak. He wanted to, for surely Village had also become his true home, and saved him, but he felt a little shy. Then he heard the blind man begin to speak on his behalf:
“My boy came here six years ago as a child. Many of you remember the Matty he was then. He fought and swore and stole.”
Matty liked the sound of the phrase “my boy,” which he had never heard the blind man use before. But he was embarrassed to see people turn and look at him.
“Village changed him and made him what he is now,” the blind man said. “He will receive his true name soon.”
For a moment Matty hoped that Leader, who was still standing on the platform, would hold up his hand to call for silence, would call Matty, place his hand on Matty's forehead, then announce the true name. It happened that way, sometimes.
Matty held his breath, hoping for that.
But instead he heard another voice, not Leader's.
“I remember what he was like! If we close the border, we won't have to do that anymore! We won't have to deal with thieves and braggarts and people who have lice in their hair, the way Matty did then, when he came!”
Matty turned to look. It was a woman. He was stunned, as if someone had slapped him. It was his own neighbor, the very woman who had made clothes for him when he came. He remembered standing there in his rags while she measured him and then put on her thimble to stitch the clothing for him. She had a soft voice then, and talked gently to him while she sewed.
Now she had a sewing machine, a very fancy one, and bolts of fabric with which she created fine clothing. Now the blind man stitched the simple things that he and Matty needed.
So she, too, had traded, and was turning not only on him, but on all new ones.
Her voice incited others, and now large numbers of people were calling out, “Close Village! Close the border!”
Matty had never seen Leader look so sad.
When it was over, and the vote to close Village had been finalized, Matty trudged home beside the blind man. At first they were silent. There was nothing to be said. Their world had changed now.
After a bit Matty tried to talk, to be cheerful, to make the best of things.
“I suppose he'll send me out now to all the other villages and communities with the message. I'll be doing a lot of traveling. I'm glad it isn't winter yet. It's hard in snow.”
“He came in snow,” the blind man said. “He knows what it's like.”
Matty wondered for a moment what he was talking about. Who?
The little sled.
“Leader knows better than anyone about things,” Matty remarked. “And he's still younger than many.”
“He sees beyond,” Seer said.
“He has a special gift. Some people do. Leader sees beyond.”
Matty was startled. He had noticed the quality of Leader's pale blue eyes, how they seemed to have a kind of vision most people didn't have. But he had not heard it described that way before.
It made him think of what he had only recently come to know about himself.
“So some people, like Leader, have a special gift?”
“It's true,” Seer replied.
“Is it always the same? Is it alwaysâwhat did you say?âseeing beyond?”
They were nearing the curve in the path where it branched off and led to their homeplace. Matty watched in awe, as he always did, how the blind man felt the coming curve and knew even in his darkness where to turn.
“No. It's different for different people.”
“Do you have it? Is that how you know where to walk?”
The blind man laughed. “No. I've learned that. I've been without eyes for many years. At first I stumbled and bumped into things. People had to help me all the time. Of course in the old days in Village, people were quick to help and guide.”
His voice became bitter. “Who knows what will happen now?”
They had arrived at the house and could hear Frolic scratching at the door and woofing in excitement at the sound of their approach.