Jenna Fox / Year Fourteen
Since Lily isn’t driving me to the mission until ten o’clock, I continue to fill the morning with the task of walking. I was hoping to have it figured out before I saw Ethan again. I practice in front of the mirror. I move slow. I move fast. I sway my hips, my hands, my chin. I glide, but it is all still off. I see that now. Am I trying too hard?
I decide to watch the videos. Maybe I’ll learn something. Isn’t that what Mother says? That it might trigger something? Maybe it will trigger something in my legs and arms so I walk like everyone else. I want to be like everyone else. I saw how Dane looked at me, before he saw me clod my way across the classroom. I liked the way his eyes were fixed on me. Close. Personal. So slow it almost felt like he was sliding his hands over me. It makes me feel different. Familiar. Maybe like the old Jenna.
‘Play,’ I say, and the disc follows my command.
I get lucky. Year Fourteen appears to be all about Jenna walking and moving.
As with all the discs, Year Fourteen begins with my birthday. I pose next to a street sign, Champs-Elysées, and then run along the street, the Arc de Triomphe as my destination. Paris. Not bad for a fourteenth birthday. ‘Hurry, Dad!’ I call. But I don’t fuss too much. Jenna is so used to every move being recorded at this point that she seems to have surrendered herself to the adoration of Jenna Fox. There is no such thing as hurry for Mother or Father. I am too important. Why is this Jenna Fox so strong, but I feel less powerful than a single kilowatt?
Jenna stops on the sidewalk, a speck in the distance. She twirls, her arms outstretched, her face lifted to a blue and cloud-puffed sky, strangers passing her, absorbed in her perfect, happy world. Her movements are smooth and assured. Her limbs, graceful and elegant. Even her fingers look like calligraphy against the sky.
‘Pause.’ I stand and move to the center of my room. I stretch out my arms. I look at my fingers. They are every bit as lean and delicate as the ones on the disc. I turn. Slowly, at first. And then faster. I try to imitate fourteen-year-old Jenna, but my feet cannot keep up. My ankles collide. I stumble to the side and catch myself on my desk. Nothing has been triggered. I am still not the nimble Jenna Fox on the disc.
I look at my fingers again, the ones that trembled and shook just a few days ago at Mr Bender’s kitchen table. I bring them together, fingertip to fingertip, like a steeple. Each one perfect in appearance. But something is not … right. Something that I still have no word for. It is a dull twisting that snakes through me. Is this a tangled feeling that everyone my age feels? Or is it different? Am I different? I slide my steepled fingers, slowly, watching them interlace. Trying to interlace, like a clutched desperate prayer, but again, I feel like the hands I am lacing are not my own, like I have borrowed them from a twelve-fingered monster. And yet, when I count them, yes, there are ten. Ten exquisitely perfect, beautiful fingers.
The New Lily and Jenna
Lily drives. I tap my knee. We don’t speak. I watch her from time to time. Sideways, when I am sure she doesn’t notice. I look at the lines fanning out from her eyes, the simple knot she has pulled her hair into, and the hastily pla
ced clip that holds it together. She drives me to the mission because of Mother. I have figured that out now. Anything she does for me is really for Mother. There is nothing she wouldn’t do for Claire.
They seem to be at odds right now over me. But I see the way Lily watches Claire, the way she will come up and squeeze her shoulders, or hug her for no reason at all, the way they still share something that I am not a part of.
I think she loved me once. But it is clear that is not the case anymore. She tolerates me. For Claire’s sake, I gather. Occasionally she is touched by something in our past. I see a crack. Like the day I thought I was drowning. But then she puts her rigid exterior back on, like protection against me. Does she think I am dangerous? That I would hurt her?
Would I? I wanted to this morning in the kitchen when she told Claire to stop encouraging me. I think I wanted to hit her. Hard. I could have. But I didn’t.
Strangely, I want her to like me. I don’t know why. Maybe it is just wanting to go back to the way things were. To be the old Jenna. The one I don’t know but the one she loved.
We take back roads. The hills are brown, dry, cold. But beneath the dry scruff, spring is emerging. Bright emerald grass contrasts with the brown chaparral that hovers above it. Winter is not welcome in California. It is only the beginning of February, and spring is already forcing its way in. Claire says she likes the temperate climate—that she will never go back to the icy winters again. That I will never go either. How does she know? I might. I will not always be seventeen.
We pass a toppled building, its rubble being eaten by weeds, and vines. Apparently after the quake, some parts of California were worth rebuilding and others were not. ‘Hm,’ Lily comments as we pass, forgetting our agreed silence.
‘Are you afraid?’ I ask.
She feigns surprise. ‘Of earthquakes? No. When it’s my time to go, I go.’
Is she really that confident? Just where does she think she’s going? ‘Go where?’ I ask, enjoying pushing her.
She stares at me. Longer than is safe when driving fifty miles per hour. ‘Never mind,’ she answers and looks back at the road. I look straight ahead again, too. I know what go means to her, but I wanted her to say it.
To heaven? Is that where she thinks she’s going? Is she really sure of going to a place that isn’t even on a map? And how can she be sure she’d like it once she got there? But that’s Lily. One big question mark.
We return to our silence. There are no more comments about tumbled buildings, who we are, were, or the strain between us. We return to something unnatural and painful and familiar. The way Lily and I are now.
The mission comes sooner than I think. We are here and I long for more of the strained silence. It doesn’t make sense, but I suppose in my new world, it does. I follow Lily down the same path as last time—through the heavy wooden gate, the cemetery, and finally through the church that leads to the inner courtyard where I am to meet Ethan. When she opens the door into the church, an unexpected wave of chanting stops us. A choir of pink-cheeked boys lift their voices as a priest seems to pull the music from their throats with the urging of his hands. Lily immediately crosses herself and closes her eyes. The echo of their voices makes me stop, too. It feels like it is shaking something inside of me, something that aches.
‘Come along,’ Lily whispers. ‘They’re practicing.’
We cross through the church, the priest acknowledging our presence with a nod but not stopping from his work. Lily opens the opposite door, and we exit to the courtyard.
‘Ethan is bringing you home, so once I finish my business with Father Rico, I’ll be going.’ She turns to leave.