Or so at first it seemed.
I’d been named valedictorian of my class at Pennsboro High School. And I’d been the only one at our school, of five students nominated, to be awarded a federally funded Patriot Democracy Scholarship.
My mother came running to hug me and congratulate me. And my father, though more warily.
“That’s our girl! We are so proud of you.”
The principal of our high school had telephoned my parents with the good news. It was rare for a phone to ring in our house, for most messages came electronically and there was no choice about receiving them.
And my brother, Roderick, came to greet me with a strange expression on his face. He’d heard of Patriot Democracy Scholarships, Roddy said, but had never known anyone who’d gotten one. He was sure that no one had ever been named a Patriot Scholar while he’d been at Pennsboro High.
“Well. Congratulations, Addie.” “Thanks! I guess.”
Roddy, who’d graduated from Pennsboro High three years before and was now working as a barely paid intern in the Pennsboro branch of the NAS Media Dissemination Bureau (MDB), was grudgingly admiring. Smiling at me strangely — just his mouth, not his eyes. I thought, He’s jealous. He can’t go to a real university.
I never knew if I felt sorry for my hulking tall brother, who’d cultivated a wispy little sand-colored beard and mustache and always wore the same dull brown clothes, which were a sort of uniform for lowerdivision workers at MDB, or if — actually — I was afraid of him. Inside Roddy’s smile there was a secret little smirk just for me.
When we were younger Roddy had often tormented me — “teasing,” it was called (by Roddy). Both our parents worked 10hour shifts and Roddy and I were home alone together much of the time. As Roddy was the older sibling, it had been his task to take care of your little sister. What a joke! But a cruel joke that doesn’t make me smile.
Now that we were older, and I was tall myself (for a girl of my age: five feet eight), Roddy didn’t torment me quite as much. Mostly it was his expression—a sort of shifting, frowning, smirk smiling, meant to convey that Roddy was thinking certain thoughts best kept secret.
That smirking little smile just for me — like an ice sliver in the heart.
My parents had explained: It was difficult for Roddy, who hadn’t done well enough in high school to merit a scholarship even to the local NAS state college, to see that I was doing much better in the same school. Embarrassing to him to know that his younger sister earned higher grades than he had, from the very teachers he’d had at Pennsboro High. And Roddy had little chance of ever being admitted to a federally mandated fouryear university, even if he took community college courses and our parents could afford to send him.
Something had gone wrong during Roddy’s last two years of high school. He’d become scared about things—maybe with reason. He’d never confided in me.
At Pennsboro High — as everywhere in our nation, I suppose — there was a fear of seeming “smart,” which might be interpreted as “too smart,” which would result in calling unwanted attention to you. In a True Democracy all individuals are equal—no one is better than anyone else. It was okay to get Bs, and an occasional A–, but As were risky, and A+ was very risky. In his effort not to get As on exams, though he was intelligent enough, and had done well in middle school, Roddy seriously missed, and wound up with Ds.
Dad had explained: It’s like you’re a champion archer. And you have to shoot to miss the bullseye. And something willful in you ensures that you don’t just miss the bullseye but the entire damned target.
Dad had laughed, shaking his head. Something like this had happened to him.
Poor Roddy. And poor Adriane, since Roddy took out his disappointment on me.
It wasn’t talked about openly at school. But we all knew. Many of the smartest kids “held back” in order not to call attention to themselves. HSPSO (Homeland Security Public Safety Oversight) was reputed to keep lists of potential dissenters/MIs/SIs, and these were said to contain the names of students with high grades and high IQ scores.
Of course, it was just as much of a mistake to wind up with Cs and Ds— that meant that you were dull-normal, or it might mean that you’d deliberately sabotaged your high school career. Too obviously “holding back” was some times dangerous. After graduation you might wind up at a community college hoping to better yourself by taking courses and trying to transfer to a state school, but the fact was, once you entered the workforce in a low level category, like Roddy at MDB, you were there forever.
Nothing is ever forgotten; no one is going anywhere they aren’t already at. This was a saying no one was supposed to say aloud.
So Dad was stuck forever as an MT2 — medical technician, second rank — at the district medical clinic, where staff physicians routinely consulted him on medical matters, especially pediatric oncology — physicians whose salaries were five times Dad’s.
Dad’s health benefits, like Mom’s, were so poor, he couldn’t even get treatment at the clinic he worked in. We didn’t want to think what it would mean if and when they needed serious medical treatment.
I hadn’t been nearly as cautious in school as Roddy. I enjoyed school, where I had (girl) friends as close as sisters. I liked quizzes and tests—they were like games at which, if you studied hard and memorized what your teachers told you, you could do well.
But then, sometimes I tried harder than I needed to try. Maybe it was risky. Some little spark of defiance provoked me.
But maybe also (some of us thought) school wasn’t so risky for girls. There had been only a few DASTADs—Disciplinary Actions Securing Threats Against Democracy — taken against Pennsboro students in recent years, and these students had all been boys in category ST3 or below.
(The highest ST— SkinTone — category was 1: “Caucasian. “ Most residents of Pennsboro were ST1 or ST2, then there was a scattering of ST3s. There were ST4s in a neighboring district and of course dark-complected ST workers in all the districts. We knew they existed but most of us had never seen an actual ST10.)
It seems like the most pathetic vanity now, and foolishly naive, but at our school I was one of those students who’d displayed some talent for writing, and for art; I was a “fast study” (my teachers said, not entirely approvingly), and could memorize passages of prose easily. I did not believe that I was the “outstanding” student in my class. That could not be possible! I had to work hard to understand math and science, I had to read and reread my homework assignments, and to rehearse quizzes and tests, while to certain of my class mates these subjects came naturally. (ST2s and ST3s were likely to be Asians, a minority in our district, and these girls and boys were very smart, yet not aggressive in putting themselves forward — that’s to say at risk.) Yet somehow it happened that Adriane Strohl wound up with the highest gradepoint average in the class of 23 — 4.3 out of 5.0.
My close friend Paige Connor had been warned by her parents to hold back — so Paige’s average was only 4.1. And one of the obviously smartest boys, whose father was MI, like my dad, a former math professor, had definitely held back — or maybe exams so traumatized him, Jonny had done poorly without trying, and his average was a modest/safe 3.9.
Better to be safe than sorry. Why had I ignored such warnings?
Fact is, I had just not been thinking. Later in my life, or rather in my next life, as a university student, when I studied cognitive psychology, I would become aware of the phenomenon of “attention”—“attentiveness”— that is within consciousness but is the pointed, purposeful, focused aspect of consciousness. Just to have your eyes open is to be conscious, minimally; to pay attention is something further. In my schoolgirl life I was conscious, but I was not paying attention. Focused on tasks like homework, exams, friends to sit with in cafeteria and hang out with in gym class, I did not pick up more than a fraction of what hovered in the air about me, the warnings of teachers that were nonverbal, glances that should have alerted me to — something . . .
So it happened: Adriane Strohl was named valedictorian of her class. Now I can see that no one else who might’ve been qualified wanted this “honor”— just as no one else wanted a Patriot Democracy Scholarship. Though there’d been some controversy, our principal was said to favor another student for the honor, a boy with a 4.2 average but also a varsity letter in football and a Good Democratic Citizenship Award, whose parents were of a higher caste than mine, and whose father was not MI but rather EI1, a special designation granted to Exiled persons who had served their terms of Exile and had been what was called 101 percent rehabilitated.
Maybe the school administrators were worried that Adriane Strohl would say “unacceptable” things in her valedictorian’s speech?
Evidently I had acquired a reputation at school for saying things that other students wouldn’t have said. Impulsively I’d raise my hand and ask questions. And my teachers were surprised, or annoyed — or, maybe, scared. My voice was quiet and courteous but I guess I came across as willful.
Sometimes the quizzical look on my face disconcerted my teachers, who took care always to compose their expressions when they stood in front of a classroom. There were approved ways of showing interest, surprise, (mild) disapproval, severity.
Of course, all our classrooms, like all public spaces and many private spaces, were monitored. Each class had its spies. We didn’t know who they were, of course—it was said that if you thought you knew, you were surely mistaken, since the DCVSB (Democratic Citizens Volunteer Surveillance Bureau) chose spies so carefully, it was analogous to the camouflaged wings of a certain species of moth that blends in seamlessly with the bark of a certain tree. As Dad said, Your teachers can’t help it. They can’t deviate from the curriculum. The ideal is lockstep — each teacher in each classroom performing like a robot and never deviating from the script under penalty of — you know what.
(Was this true? For years in our class—the class of NAS 23—there’d been vague talk of a teacher—how long ago, we didn’t know—maybe when we were in middle school?—who’d deviated from the script one day, began talking wildly and laughing and shaking his/her fist at the “eye” [in fact, there were probably numerous “eyes” in any classroom, and all invisible], and was arrested, and overnight Deleted—so a new teacher was hired to take his/her place; and soon no one remembered the teacher who’d been Deleted. And after a while we couldn’t even remember clearly that one of our teachers had been Deleted. [Or had there been more than one? Were certain classrooms in our school haunted?] In our brains, where the memory of should have been, there was just a blank.)
Definitely, I was not aggressive in class. I don’t think so. But compared to my mostly meek classmates, some of whom sat small in their desks like partially folded up papiermâché dolls, it is possible that Adriane Strohl stood out — in a bad way.
In Patriot Democracy History, for instance, I’d questioned “facts” of history, sometimes. I’d asked questions about the subject no one ever questioned — the Great Terrorist Attacks of 9/11/01. But not in an arrogant way, really — just out of curiosity! I certainly didn’t want to get any of my teachers in trouble with the EOB (Education Oversight Bureau), which could result in them being demoted or fired or — vaporized.
I’d thought that, well—people liked me, mostly. I was the spikyhaired girl with the big, glistening dark brown eyes and a voice with a little catch in it and a habit of asking questions. Like a really young child with too much energy in kindergarten, whom you hope will run in circles and tire himself out. With a kind of naive obliviousness I earned good grades, so it was assumed that, despite my father being of MI caste, I would qualify for a federally mandated State Democracy University.
(That is, I was eligible for admission to one of the massive state universities. At these, a thousand students might attend a lecture, and many courses were online. Restricted universities were far smaller, prestigious and inaccessible to all but a fraction of the population; though not listed online or in any public directory, these universities were housed on “traditional” campuses in Cambridge, New Haven, Princeton, and so on, in restricted districts. Not only did we not know precisely where these centers of learning were, we had not ever met anyone with degrees from them.)
In class, when I raised my hand to answer a teacher’s question I often did notice classmates glancing at me—my friends, even—sort of uneasy, apprehensive: What will Adriane say now? What is wrong with Adriane?
There was nothing wrong with me! I was sure.
In fact, I was secretly proud of myself. Maybe just a little vain. Wanting to think I am Eric Strohl’s daughter.
The words were brisk, impersonal: “Strohl, Adriane. Hands behind your back.”
It happened so fast. At graduation rehearsal.
So fast! I was too surprised — too scared — to think of resisting.
Except I guess that I did — try to “resist”— in childish desperation tried to duck and cringe away from the officers’ rough hands on me, wrenching my arms behind my back with such force I had to bite my lips to keep from screaming.
What was happening? I could not believe it — I was being arrested.
Yet even in my shock, thinking, I will not scream. I will not beg for mercy.
My wrists were handcuffed behind my back. Within seconds I was a captive of Homeland Security.
I’d only just given my valedictorian’s speech and had stepped away from the podium to come down from the auditorium stage when there came our principal, Mr. Mackay, with a peculiar expression on his face — muted anger, righteousness, but fear also — to point at me, as if the arresting officers needed him to point me out at close range.
“That is she—Adriane Strohl. That is the treasonous girl you seek.”
Mr. Mackay’s words were strangely stilted. He seemed very angry with me — but why? Because of my valedictory speech? But the speech had consisted entirely of questions — not answers, or accusations.
I’d known that Mr. Mackay didn’t like me. He didn’t know me very well but knew of me from my teachers. But it was shocking to see in an adult’s face a look of genuine hatred.
“She was warned. They are all warned. We did our best to educate her as a patriot, but—the girl is a born provocateur.”
Provocateur! I knew what the term meant, but I’d never heard such a charge before, applied to me.
Later I would realize that the arrest warrant must have been drawn up for me before the rehearsal — of course. Mr. Mackay and his faculty advisors must have reported me to Youth Disciplinary before they’d even heard my speech — they’d guessed that it would be “treasonous” and that I couldn’t be allowed to give it at the graduation ceremony. And the Patriot Democracy Scholarship — that must have been a cruel trick as well.
As others stood staring at the front of the brightly lit auditorium, the arrest warrant was read to me by the female arresting officer. I was too stunned to hear most of it — only the accusing words arrest, detention, reassignment, sentencing — treason-speech and questioning of authority.
Quickly then, Mr. Mackay called for an “emergency assembly” of the senior class.
Murmuring and excited, my classmates settled into the auditorium. There were 322 students in the class, and like wildfire news of my arrest had spread among them within seconds.
Gravely Mr. Mackay announced from the podium that Adriane Strohl, “formerly” valedictorian of the class, had been arrested by the State on charges of treason and questioning of authority; and what was required now was a “vote of confidence” from her peers regarding this action.
That is, all members of the senior class (excepting Adriane Strohl) were to vote on whether to confirm the arrest or to challenge it. “We will ask for a show of hands,” Mr. Mackay said, voice quavering with the solemnity of the occasion, “in a full, fair, and unbiased demonstration of democracy.”
At this time I was positioned, handcuffed, with a wet, streaked, guilty face, at the very edge of the stage, a few yards away from the flush faced, indignant principal. As he spoke, from time to time he glared at me, even pointing at me once with an accusing forefinger. As if my classmates needed to be reminded who the arrestee was.
Gripping my upper arms were two husky officers from the Youth Disciplinary Division of Homeland Security. They were one man and one woman, each with razorcut hair, and they wore dark blue uniforms and were equipped with billy clubs, Tasers, Mace, and revolvers in heavy holsters around their waists. My classmates stared wide eyed, both intimidated and thrilled. An arrest! At school! And a show of hands vote, which was not a novelty in itself except on this exciting occasion.
“Boys and girls! Attention! All those in favor of Adriane Strohl being stripped of the honor of class valedictorian as a consequence of having committed treason and questioned authority, raise your hands — yes?” There was a brief stunned pause. Brief.
Hesitantly, a few hands were lifted. Then a few more.
No doubt the presence of the uniformed Youth Disciplinary officers glaring at them roused my classmates to action. Entire rows lifted their hands — Yes!
Here and there were individuals who shifted uneasily in their seats. They were not voting, yet. I caught the eye of my friend Carla, whose face too appeared to be wet with tears. And there was Paige all but signaling to me — I’m sorry, Adriane. I have no choice.
As in a nightmare, at last a sea of hands was raised against me. If there were some not voting, clasping their hands in their laps, I could not see them. “And all opposed — no?” Mr. Mackay’s voice hovered dramatically as if he were counting raised hands; in fact, there was not a single hand, of all the rows of seniors, to be seen.
“I think, then, we have a stunning example of democracy in action, boys and girls. ‘Majority rule — the truth is in the numbers.’”
The second vote was hardly more than a repeat of the first: “We, the senior class of Pennsboro High School, confirm and support the arrest of the former valedictorian, Adriane Strohl, on charges of treason and questioning of authority. All those in favor . . .”
By this time the arrestee had shut her teary eyes in shame, revulsion, dread.
No need to see the show of hands another time.
The officers hauled me out of the school by a rear exit, paying absolutely no heed to my protests of being in pain from the tight handcuffs and their grip on my upper arms. Immediately I was forced into an unmarked police vehicle resembling a small tank with plowlike gratings that might be used to ram against and flatten protesters.
Roughly I was thrown into the rear of the tank. The door was shut and locked. Though I pleaded with the officers, who were seated in the front of the vehicle, on the other side of a barred Plexiglas barrier, no one paid the slightest attention to me, as if I did not exist.
The officers appeared to be ST4 and ST5. It was possible that they were foreign born indoctrinated NAS citizens who had not been allowed to learn English.
I thought, Will anyone tell my parents where I am? Will they let me go home?
Panicked, I thought, Will they vaporize me?
Heralded by a blaring siren, I was taken to a fortress-like building in the city center of Pennsboro, the local headquarters of Homeland Security Inter rogation. This was a building with blank, brickedup windows that was said to have once been a post office, before the Reconstitution of the United States into the North American States and the privatization and gradual extinction of the Postal Service. (Many buildings from the old States remained, now utilized for very different purposes. The building to which my mother had gone for grade school had been converted to a Children’s Diagnostic and Surgical Repair Facility, for instance; the residence hall in which my father had lived as a young medical student, in the years before he’d been reclassified as MI, was now a Youth Detention and Reeducation Facility. The Media Dissemination Bureau, where my brother worked, was in an old brownstone building, formerly the Pennsboro Public Library in the days when books existed to be held in the hand — and read!)
In this drafty place I was brought to an interrogation room in the Youth Disciplinary Division, forcibly seated in an uncomfortable chair with a blinding light shining in my face and a camera aimed at me, and interrogated by strangers whom I could barely see.
Repeatedly I was asked—“Who wrote that speech for you?”
No one, I said. No one wrote my speech, or helped me write it—I’d written it myself.
“Did your father, Eric Strohl, write that speech for you?” No! My father did not.
“Did your father tell you what to write? Influence you? Are these questions your father’s questions?”
No! My own questions.
“Did either of your parents help you write your speech? Influence you? Are these questions their questions?”
No, no, no.
“Are these treasonous thoughts their thoughts?”
I was terrified that my father, or both my parents, had been arrested, and were being interrogated too, somewhere else in this awful place. I was terrified that my father would be reclassified no longer MI but SI (Subversive Individual) or AT (Active Traitor)—crimes punishable by Deletion.
My valedictory speech was examined line by line, word by word, by the interrogators—though it was just two printed doublespaced sheets of paper with a few scrawled annotations. My computer had been seized from my locker and was being examined as well.
And all my belongings from my locker—laptop, sketchbook, backpack, cell phone, granola bars, a soiled school sweatshirt, wadded tissues—were confiscated.
The interrogators were brisk and impersonal as machines. Almost, you’d have thought they might be robot interrogators—until you saw one of them blink, or swallow, or glare at me in pity or disgust, or scratch at his nose.
(Even then, as Dad might have said, these figures could have been robots, for the most recent AI devices were being programmed to emulate idiosyncratic, “spontaneous” human mannerisms.)
Sometimes an interrogator would shift in his seat, away from the blinding light, and I would have a fleeting but clear view of a face — and what was shocking was that the face appeared to be so ordinary, the face of someone you’d see on a bus, or a neighbor of ours.
My valedictory address had been timed to be no more than eight minutes long. That was the tradition at our school — a short valedictorian address, and an even shorter salutatorian address. My English teacher, Mrs. Dewson, had been assigned to “advise” me — but I hadn’t shown her what I’d been writing. (I hadn’t shown Dad, or Mom, or any of my friends — I’d wanted to surprise them at graduation.) After a half dozen failed starts I’d gotten desperate and had the bright idea of asking numbered questions — twelve in all — of the kind my classmates might have asked if they’d had the nerve (some of these the very questions I’d asked my teachers, who had never given satisfactory answers) — like What came before the beginning of time?
And What came before the Great Terrorist Attacks of 9/11?
Our NAS calendar dates from the time of that attack, which was before my birth, but not my parents’ births, and so my parents could remember a pre-NAS time when the calendar was different — time wasn’t measured as just a two-digit figure but a four-digit figure! (Under the old, now outlawed calendar, my mother and father had been born in what had been called the twentieth century. It was against the law to compute birthdates under the old calendar, but Daddy had told me — I’d been born in what would have been called the twenty first century if the calendar had not been reformed.)
NAS means North American States — more formally known as RNAS, Reconstituted North American States — which came into being some years after the Great Terrorist Attacks, as a direct consequence of the Attacks, as we were taught.
Following the Attacks there was an Interlude of Indecisiveness, during which time issues of “rights” (the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, civil rights law, etc.) versus the need for Patriot Vigilance in the War Against Terror were contested, with a victory, after the suspension of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights by executive order, for PVIWAT, or Patriot Vigilance. (Yes, it is hard to comprehend. As soon as you come to the end of such a sentence, you have forgotten the beginning!)
How strange it was to think there’d been a time when the regions known as (Reconstituted) Mexico and (Reconstituted) Canada had been separate political entities—separate from the States! On a map it seems clear, for instance, that the large state of Alaska should be connected with mainland United States, and not separated by what was formerly “Canada.” This too was hard to grasp and had never been clearly explained in any of our Patriot Democracy History classes, perhaps because our teachers were not certain of the facts.
The old, “outdated” (that is, “unpatriotic”) history books had all been destroyed, my father said. Hunted down in the most remote outposts — obscure rural libraries in the Dakotas, below ground stacks in great university libraries, microfilm in what had been the Library of Congress. “Outdated”/“unpatriotic” information was deleted from all computers and from all accessible memory — only reconstituted history and information were allowed, just as only the reconstituted calendar was allowed.
This was only logical, we were taught. There was no purpose to learning useless things, which would only clutter our brains like debris stuffed to over flowing in a trash bin.
But there must have been a time before that time — before the Reconstitution, and before the Attacks. That was what I was asking. Patriot Democracy History—which we’d had every year since fifth grade, an unchanging core of First Principles with evermoredetailed information — was concerned only with post-Terrorist events, mostly the relations of the NAS with its numerous Terrorist Enemies in other parts of the world, and an account of the “triumphs” of the NAS in numerous wars. So many wars! They were fought now at long distance, and did not involve living soldiers, for the most part; robot missiles were employed, and powerful bombs said to be nuclear, chemical, and biological. In our senior year of high school we were required to take a course titled Wars of Freedom — these included long ago wars like the Revolutionary War, the Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the more recent Afghanistan and Iraqi wars — all of which our country had won — “decisively.” We were not required to learn the causes of these wars, if there were actual causes, but dates of battles and names of highranking generals and political leaders and presidents; these were provided in columns to be memorized for exams. The question of Why? was never asked — and so I’d asked it in class, and in my valedictory address. It had not occurred to me that this was treason-speech, or that I was questioning authority. The harsh voices were taking a new approach: Was it one of my teachers who’d written the speech for me? One of my teachers who’d “influenced” me?
The thought came to me — Mr. Mackay! I could blame him, he would be arrested . . .
But I would never do such a thing, I thought. Even if the man hated me and had had me arrested for treason, I could not lie about him.
After two hours of interrogation it was decided that I was an “uncooperative subject.” In handcuffs I was taken by YD officers to another floor of Homeland Security, which exuded the distressing air of a medical unit; there I was strapped down onto a movable platform and slid inside a cylindrical machine that made clanging and whirring noises close against my head; the cylinder was so small, the surface only an inch or so from my face, I had to shut my eyes tight to keep from panicking. The interrogators’ voices were channeled into the machine, sounding distorted and inhuman. This was a BIM (BrainImage Maker) — I’d only heard of these—that would determine if I was telling the truth or lying.
Did your father — or any adult — write your speech for you? Did your father — or any adult — influence your speech?
Did your father — or any adult — infiltrate your mind with treasonous thoughts?
Barely I could answer, through parched lips — No. No, no!
Again and again these questions were repeated. No matter what answers I gave, the questions were repeated.
Yet more insidious were variants of these questions.
Your father, Eric Strohl, has just confessed to us, to influencing you—so you may as well confess too. In what ways did he influence you?
This had to be a trick, I thought. I stammered — In no ways. Not ever. Daddy did not.
More harshly the voice continued.
Your mother, Madeleine Strohl, has confessed to us, both she and your father influenced you. In what ways did they influence you?
I was sobbing, protesting — They didn’t! They did not influence me . . .
(Of course, this wasn’t true. How could any parents fail to “influence” their children? My parents had influenced me through my entire life — not so much in their speech as in their personalities. They were good, loving parents. They had taught Roddy and me: There is a soul within. There is “free will” within. If — without — the State is lacking a soul, and there is no free will that you can see, trust the inner, not the outer. Trust the soul, not the State. But I would not betray my parents by repeating these defiant words.)
At some point in the interrogation I must have passed out — for I was awakened by deafening noises, in a state of panic. Was this a form of torture? Noise torture? Powerful enough to burst eardrums? To drive the subject insane? We’d all heard rumors of such torture interrogations—though no one would speak openly about them. Shaken and excited, Roddy would come home from his work at MDB to tell us about certain “experimental techniques” Homeland Security was developing, using laboratory primates — until Mom clamped her hands over her ears and asked him to please stop.
The deafening noises stopped abruptly. The interrogation resumed.
But it was soon decided that I was too upset — my brain waves were too “agitated”— to accurately register truth or falsity, so I was removed from the cylindrical imaging machine, and an IV needle was jabbed into a vein in my arm, to inject me with a powerful “truth serum” drug. And again the same several questions were asked, and I gave the same answers. Even in my exhausted and demoralized state I would not tell the interrogators what they wanted to hear: that my father, or maybe both my parents, had influenced me in my treasonous ways.
Or any of my teachers. Or even Mr. Mackay, my enemy.
I was strapped to a chair. It was a thick, squat “wired” chair — a kind of electric chair — that sent currents of shock through my body, painful as knife stabs. Now I was crying, and lost control of my bladder.
The interrogation continued. Essentially it was the same question, always the same question, with a variant now and then to throw me off stride.
Who wrote your speech for you? Who influenced you? Who is your collaborator in treason?
It was your brother Roderick who reported you. As a treason monger and a questioner of authority, you have been denounced by your brother.
I began to cry harder. I had lost all hope. Of all the things the interrogators had told me, or wanted me to believe, it was only this — that Roddy had reported me — that seemed to me possible, and not so very surprising.
I could remember how, squeezing my hand when he’d congratulated me about my good news, Roddy had smiled — his special smirk smile just for me.
This short story appeared in It Occurs to Me that I Am America, an anthology of stories and art by more than 50 of today’s most acclaimed writers and artists, compiled to celebrate the work of the ACLU.