Tuesday, 3 November 2009 - 7:23 pm

No sweet sorrow

“You two are insane.”

My heart was thudding so loudly that it took me a moment to make sense of the words. I couldn’t see, my eyes narrowed to painful slits in the white light, and I struggled to untangle myself from Matt enough to shield myself from the beam.

“Could you lower that, please?” Matt was quicker than I was to form the question.

The flashlight beam continued to pin our heads for a few long seconds, and then moved down to our bellies. Thrown-up light still illuminated our faces, but we had a chance to let our eyes adjust and see what was around us. It took much blinking and squinting, but eventually the dazzle faded.

I was relieved to see that Jonah was alone. For a stomach-clenching second, I was afraid that he had grabbed some backup before coming up to spring blindness on us. I desperately tried to think about what he might have overheard and when we had last mentioned our escape efforts. He had come in just as we were moving on to more innocent stuff, but I had no idea how long he might have been standing outside. Fear curled up in my belly, cold and scaly.

Jonah was scowling at us over the dipped beam, his mouth set into an unhappy line. The expression pulled at a scar on his jaw, making it stand out in the shadow of his stubble.

“Don’t you know how much trouble you’re in already?” he said. “This will only make it worse.”

“Only if you tell them,” Matt said. That was when I noticed that he was standing slightly in front of me, an arm held out across my front. Protecting me. I stepped up behind his shoulder and took his hand, trying to offer him support and solidarity. I didn’t need protection but I was grateful for the gesture.

“Jonah, we’re not doing anything wrong.” The lie curdled around the snake in my belly and it was an effort not to let it show on my face. I hoped my desperation was coming across as earnestness.

“If I tell the officers about this–”

“If?” Matt moved to take a step forward and I had to hold him back. I tightened my grip on his hand and he stopped, standing tautly. I could tell he was glaring at the cutout.

“We know,” I said quickly. “We know. Please, don’t. You know what they’ll do. You don’t have to, right?”

“Technically, I do.”

“But are you going to?”

Jonah paused, watching us narrowly. Weighing us up, judging our worth. I could feel Matt vibrating with tension.

“What do you want?” he asked before Jonah came to a decision. “For not telling them?”

“Have you got something I want?”

I felt Matt tense when Jonah’s gaze flicked to me. By then, I was holding onto my boyfriend with both hands, just in case. The last thing any of us needed right now was a physical fight – the noise would bring everyone down on us, and if I’m honest, I don’t think that Matt would win. Cutouts have training in this kind of thing, and Jonah knows that my boyfriend has a weak leg. It could only end badly for us.

“Might not get exactly what you’re after,” Matt said.

Jonah frowned. “That goes for both of us.”

“Guys, please.” My desperation was rising quickly – I didn’t want testosterone or pride from getting in the way of us reaching some kind of agreement. I wanted a solution that didn’t mean something awful for any of us. “We have to find a way to resolve this. Jonah, what do you want? To keep this just between us?”

“A promise that you’ll never do this again, to start with.” As demands go, it wasn’t a horrible one, though it still made me shift closer to Matt. I didn’t want to make that promise; I didn’t want this one warm hope to be taken away from me. Even if we were leaving soon. Whenever ‘soon’ was.

Jonah went on to say that he never wanted to be in this position again – that was why he wanted us not to meet up like this after tonight. One secret was all he was willing to keep. The more we meet up, the worse he’ll look for not noticing, or they’ll suspect that he didn’t report it. So no more. For his sake as well as ours.

I hadn’t ever thought of it like that. I hadn’t thought about how our deceptions will reflect on him. What will they do to him when we leave? When I slip away from him and leave him without a charge to watch over? Will they accuse him of being involved, or incompetence? What will his punishment be?

I couldn’t think about that then – the matter at hand was far more pressing. Jonah was talking about us owing him a favour – nothing he would define now, but a token he would call in when he needed to. Matt and I were both nervous about agreeing to it.

We didn’t have a lot of choice. We had to agree now and hope that the request wasn’t too awful later; better that than reaching no agreement at all. Better that than being turned in. So it was wrung from us, reluctant words passed over the flashlight’s beam.

Jonah nodded uncomfortably and left us alone. For a while, Matt and I just hung onto each other.

“Soon,” he promised me. “We’ll get out of here soon.”

I nodded and wrapped my arms around him, and we didn’t say anything else for some time. It was almost dawn before we kissed and said goodbye, and he said he’d see me again before long. One way or another.


I haven’t heard from him since. Little Debbie gave up her fight this morning, after such a long battle. By lunchtime, she was gone completely – I don’t know where they took her and I don’t want to ask. I can’t picture her like that, chained up in the basement like a tiny animal. I’d rather remember her pale, still face, greying as the blood settled in gravity’s grip.

I’m trying not to let her fate mean more than it does. I’m trying to believe that it’s not a metaphor for this world After the bombs, succumbing to the poison that surrounds us every day. We can get through this. We have to.

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