The perfect world. That is where I lived. Nothing bad ever happened. The news was only good news. The government was perfect. It was all perfect. That’s why it was such an awkward moment seeing a runner. They would often be screaming, but not this one. He looked strong, confident he would escape. He barged past others in the street as the day editors pursued him. His long grey overcoat was swaying behind him, his hat lost to the pavement in the chase.
I glanced up, and immediately regretted it, I could be fined or edited for looking at the scene unfold. I pulled my gaze away and continued up the street, despite the yells and the following sounds of a scuffle in the road. I heard a punch and one of the day editors fall. He was certainly a fighter, whoever this man was but he would soon be forgotten when the truck arrived to take him away. Editing out the bad things was what this government excelled at. The national edit force took the largest part of the state’s annual budget each year, so day editors were on every street, had cameras attached to walls, in people’s houses and cars. They watched with hawk-like attention for the smallest indiscretion, a woman not smiling at the appropriate time, a child in the wrong clothes, a man swearing aloud. Children were trained from birth to avoid inappropriate performance and allowed only a few ‘disgraces’ until they turned thirteen.
I chose to keep my eyes fixed on the lines in the paving slabs. Sometimes, there would be a red mark or an abandoned shoe but mostly the paving was uniform and colourless, safe to look upon.
People simply vanished, edited out of the world at such a rate it was hard to keep relationships. People, I learned, were transient. I lost my mother very early to an edit at the school gates. It had been at the start of the day so I spent the day in the classroom not knowing if my father could pick me up, or if my father even knew mother had been edited. Then of course, my father was officially to be forgotten three years ago when he slipped in the rain and fell into a doorway. Clumsiness edits had been introduced only four years ago, so he was unlucky with the introduction of the new law. I could never talk of him again. I wasn’t permitted to ask what happened when edits occurred, and I was swiftly rehomed to a state orphanage, as a matter of process. As there were so many cameras, there was never much time for waiting around and processes were carried out very quickly and efficiently. Truth be known, I could see his face in my mind, every single day, as clear as the light from the sky.
Relatives were allowed three days seclusion, exempt from fines for crying, before the full weight of the law became applicable again. I had decided as all did, when I was led to a seclusion cell, to cry as hard as I could, to make sure as many of the tears could come out as possible in the time allotted.
My father had once whispered to me: “You leave a piece of your heart with everyone you dare to share it with.” At the time I remember him scanning the street in the dark as he leant down, pretending to straighten my collar. The statement stood out. I should have reported it but he was my father, so I decided I was more afraid of losing him than being edited. In the end of course, he was edited anyway.
The large, mean looking armoured truck rumbled past toward the scene unfolding behind me that I was trying hard to ignore. In the front seats of the truck’s cabin sat two high level day editors dressed in black from head to toe, masks concealing their facial features. They could have been robots for all I knew. I wondered how someone became a day editor? We were usually allotted tasks to be useful, but day editors never seemed to come up in the selection process in my street, but then, I was from a very low-grade district, one that rarely saw selection above factory or cleaning work.
I arrived at the gate to the compound and found the courage to look up before I was searched and scanned. The compound was where fitness was assessed for duty every week. We would line up and be inspected quickly. Last week they dragged someone out for coughing and led him away. I doubted very much I would see him again. He had been a wiry fellow, pale and thin and his eyes looked red rimmed. Perhaps he had committed crying crime? That might explain it.
We lined up as usual and some of the men there were quivering, I noticed. I was sure they would be found out for that, and I hate to think it, but I felt sorry for them. The inspector was a short woman. She had no hair, which was standard, and the one-piece dark blue overalls of officialdom we had grown to respect.
An explosion rocked the street I had come from. It happened just before I was to be inspected in the lineup and I flinched and cowered in shock. I had a moment of pure undiluted horror when I realised I had shown too much emotion, too much reaction. Maybe this was a test?
The explosion was real enough, it turned out. The armoured truck had blown up. A wheel, a whole wheel landed and bounced inside the compound’s walls and flames towered into the air beyond. What surprised me was the inspector, I realised she was flinching too, a punishable non regulation reaction. She was not even looking at me. Very odd. She was staring at the raging flames.
Gunshots came next, several, from a machine gun, followed by screams of pain and panic. What happened next, I shall never forget, despite my requirement to. The yells came first, swiftly followed with a surge of movement as several men in the lineup turned on the guards. They grappled and kicked and bit. Flaming bottles spiraled over the wall and smashed webs of fire over the vehicles parked in the compound.
“Rise up!” the voice screeched. “Rise up!”
I remained calm and stood there. I did nothing and was upright and still like a statute on a plinth, closing my eyes. I had to keep the visions out, at least. The noises erupted around me. More explosions, more gunshots. It sounded like these people were angry and then the sounds began to change, to indicate they were dying. The whole district was shattering apart in an instant. I knew it could not last. I would estimate it took about thirty minutes before the quiet returned, the order of the day flattening out. There were shuffles and groans and the odd singular gunshot, rather than the crashes and explosions. Soon after that, just the voices of day editors and inspectors. They instructed me to open my eyes, led me to the street and I was to return to my sleeping quarters for the duration of the day. The fires were still burning, but the flames no longer looked out of control, they whispered rather than roared. I returned my eyes to the pavement, holding a hand up to shield the view of the carnage.
I was so glad I had chosen to be still and silent and I was relieved I had kept my eyes so tightly shut. It would have been much harder to forget the incident if I had kept them open.