December’s theme was female friendship. This was a much harder prompt for me than the November sentence one. It was very broad, and I struggled with where to take it. I thought of this idea when I visited the Holocaust Museum the day after the Paris shootings and I felt the weight of humanity and senselessness to my core. I liked the idea of two friends separated by circumstances that were unjust. I also used this to write WAY outside of my comfort zone. I mean WAY outside my comfort zone (YA dystopia). My two lovely, talented writing group friends took this is in very interesting directions: one did a non-fiction article and the other did a play. Very cool. See where you take it!
Calliope knew it was not allowed, but she did it anyway. Ma’am would be furious if she found out about it, and Callie tried to tell herself she didn’t care. That she was brave enough. But she worried she wasn’t.
Her palms grew sweaty as she took her place in the meal line, her blue plastic tray dangling from one hand while she tried to appear casual. Girls chattered like budgies around her. Mary Alice told the redhead next to her that she’d seen the boys from Sector Two while she’d been completing weapons training in the fields. Teagan, the petite raven-haired first year behind Callie in line, whispered anxiously to a mousey blonde. They were to take their first leadership exam after Meal, and were worried about failing it. Any other day, Callie would have leaned forward to ask M.A. about the boys. What they looked like, when she saw them, where they were headed. Or turned around to offer words of comfort to the young pair behind her.
She did neither, and tried not to look anywhere but at the black and white marble tiled ground. She felt the eyes of one of the mistresses bore into her back, and she wondered if she was imagining it. She did not dare sneak a peek to check. She slid the tray onto the steel cylindrical tubes that gleamed under the fluorescent lighting. The Lesser-Than stationed behind the counter pushed a plate piled high with slightly burnt chicken, kale, and — what Callie always thought of as their sick joke — a piece of melon that passed as dessert. Callie smiled her thanks, but the girl looked through her as if she weren’t even there. Callie moved on.
And there it was. Sitting at the end of the counter for each girl to take. One white plate. In the middle was a thick, crusty loaf of sourdough. It was a miracle they even still received their daily ration, what with the flour shortages. But she was one of the chosen. The More-Thans. They still got bread. There was even a small pat of butter next to it, a pretty fleur de lis perched on the upper rim of the plate. Callie bit her lip. She thought of Isla. She was really the brave one. She would do it and laugh about it later. Callie slipped the bread on to her tray.
The rest of lunch was never-ending. She picked a table in the middle, knowing that if she chose one at the end, it would be more obvious. Half-way through the 45-minute period she tucked the bread into the pocket of her gauzy white pants. Her tunic hid the bulge. She did not look around. If she did she might appear suspicious. The chatter still buzzed as she unenthusiastically dug into the rest of the meal. She just wished she could have slipped the butter in as well. Isla would be happy with the bread, but it would have been a nice surprise.
She finished every bite of the meal. If she hadn’t, she knew it would be suspicious. Food was so precious these days, throwing any away was almost criminal. It was probably headed in that direction, Callie thought. She stood, leaving her tray for the Lesser-Than who circulated through the room during lunch time.
The mistress eyed her on the way out, but Callie stared straight ahead, walking past. She never smiled at the mistresses. She wouldn’t start now. She hurried down the darkened hallway. They did not waste the electricity to light the passageway when the majority of the students were in the mess hall. The light poured in through the windows, anyway, so she could see where she was going. She new the route well. She also knew where the cameras were. She ducked to the left, a quick move, when she knew she was in a blind spot.
Three more turns brought her to the little utility closet, and she stepped in. Isla was already there, sitting on an overturned gray mop bucket, reading. She glanced up with a smile, tucking away her little pamphlet book. Callie worried about Isla reading but knew it was not the time to take up that lecture.
“Callie!” Isla said, bounding to her feet to hug her friend. The girls embraced. It was the first time they’d seen each other since Isla had been punished for talking to Callie in public. She’d been banished to the backbreaking menial outside work that took the girls away from each other. “I heard there were boys seen in the yard.” Isla said, giggling and resuming her seat. Callie admired her friend’s good nature when she could see the sharp bones of her face, even more stark than they had been earlier in the month. She played along though. “Mary Alice said they were in the fields, and they were very handsome.”
Isla smiled, eager for every juicy detail. Callie told her friend all that she’d overheard in the line, and then dug into her pocket for the bread. Isla eyed it. “Oh Callie, you should not have. You will get in so much trouble if a mistress finds out.” But she had not taken her eyes off it.
“Isla, your rations were cut because you’re my friend,” she said holding it out to her. “Mine were not. Don’t be a dummy. Take it.”
Isla hesitated before reaching out a hand to snatch it with the desperation of someone who has been living on watery bone soup for too long. She held it to her face in joy, and Callie wanted to cry. She wished she could do more for her friend. But even talking to a Lesser-Than had proven disastrous for them both. Callie just had to make it through the Academy. Then she could do something about the way of the world. Until that time came, until she had enough power, enough training to change the injustice, she would have to keep being brave for Isla.
But she’d been here too long.
“I will try to get another piece in a few days,” Callie promised over Isla’s objections. She hugged her friend once more, before opening the door. Her mind went blank as stared into the cold eyes of the Head Mistress. Fuck, she thought.