‘Let’s go into my study,’ Father says. ‘We can talk in there.’
‘We’ll be a while,’ Mother says to Lily over her shoulder. ‘Will you bring the coffee in when it’s ready?’
They slowly usher Allys’s parents into Father’s study and shut the door behind them.
Lily and I remain in the hallway, staring at the closed door.
‘Here we go,’ she finally says.
I shake my head. ‘Allys wouldn’t approve.’
Lily lets out a long breath. ‘What did you say about change? Small steps? If the world changes, I suppose minds do, too. Sometimes it just takes time and perspective.’
Have my perspectives changed? Yes. But Allys? The world?
‘I’m not so sure,’ I say. ‘But I suppose you’re right about some perspectives. Just a few weeks ago, I thought you were a dickhead.’
She smiles, tired lines fanning out from her eyes in a way that seems like we are sitting at her kitchen counter and not three years and three thousand miles from who we were. She puts her arm around me. ‘Come help me with the coffee. And if you don’t tell your parents, I’ll let you have some.’
We walk through the church as though it is a day like any other. Lily dips her hand in the holy water, bends her knee and moves her hand like a musical note across her chest—she, on her way to discuss seeds and plants, and I, on my way to meet Ethan.
But it is not a day like any other. Something is different. Something that is small and common like a whisper, but monumental and rare at the same time. I stop in the crosshairs of the church and look upward to the cupola. I close my eyes and feel the cool, smell the mustiness of history, wood and walls, listen to the echoes of our shuffles and my memories. I breathe in the difference of being on this earth now and maybe not tomorrow, the precipitous edge of something new for me but as ancient as the beginning of time.
Lily’s feet shuffle closer and I open my eyes to see her standing just inches from me. Her fingers are wet, freshly dipped in the holy water, and she raises them to my forehead. I close my eyes again and she whispers a prayer, her hand touching my forehead and then passing across my chest and shoulders.
‘How can you know?’ I ask.
‘Some things aren’t meant to be known. Only believed.’
A drop on my forehead. Hardly enough to feel. But still enough for Lily. And maybe enough for me. Washing away the old, believing in the new.
The world has changed. So have I.
Two Hundred and Sixty Years Later
I sit in the center of Mr Bender’s garden. He has been gone for so many decades I have lost count. I live here now. I moved here forty years ago when Mother and Father’s house burned down. They’ve been gone even longer than Mr Bender.
Father was wrong about the two or two hundred years I would live, but I’m not bitter. Faith and science, I have learned, are two sides of the same coin, separated by an expanse so small, but wide enough that one side can’t see the other. They don’t even know they’re connected. Father and Lily were two sides of the same coin, I’ve decided, and maybe I am the space in between.
‘Jenna?’ I hear the call of the only person on the planet whom I can now truly call a peer. ‘There you are,’ she says. It is Allys. She does not hobble. Her words are not harsh. She is a happier Allys than the one I met so long ago. The new Allys. Twenty-two percent. Not that percentages really matter anymore. There are others like us now. The world is more accepting. We worked and traveled for many years to create awareness about people like us. But I am still the standard. The Jenna Standard, they sometimes call it. Ten percent is the minimum amount. But people change. And the world will change. Of that much I am certain.
Allys and I live together now. We are old women in the skin of teenagers. Another factor Father and his scientists didn’t count on, that biochips would learn, grow, and mutate because somewhere in that ten percent was a hidden message: survive. The biochips made sure we would. How much longer? No one knows. But Bio Gel has been modified for future recipients so that no one lives beyond an ‘acceptable and appropriate’ time. In our old age, Allys and I giggle about being inappropriate. We laugh easier now about a lot of things.
‘Kayla’s home,’ Allys calls from the edge of the garden.
‘Send her out here.’
I had seventy good years with Ethan. It wasn’t until long after he was gone that I was brave enough to arrange for Kayla. She has his coloring, wit, love of literature, and sometimes his temper. But she has my eyes. My breaths begin and end with her. But I know that one day, when Kayla is of a certain age, I will travel to Boston in winter and I will stay there, taking long walks and feeling the softness of cold snowflakes on my face once again, because no parent should outlive their child.
She bounds around the corner. ‘Mommy!’
‘Shhh,’ I say, holding my fingers to my lips. She quiets, full of knowing and anticipation, her eyes wide and ready, and as I look into them—every time I look into them—I am reminded of Mother, Lily, and the something that it took Kayla for me to truly understand. ‘Come here, Angel,’ I whisper, and she tiptoes close and nestles beside me on the bench.
I reach into my pocket and a squadron of birds already flutter at our shoulders. I share my fistful of seed with Kayla and we hold out our offering. The birds are immediately on our arms and hands. A dozen or more. And each so light. A few ounces at most. They take up only a handful of space, and yet their touch fills me in immeasurable ways. A few miraculous ounces that leave me in awe. And today, like each time they have landed on my hand for the past two hundred years, I wonder at the weight of a sparrow.