Will it stay cloudy forever?” I release a pillow of breath through the slit in my box, try to imagine Jared’s expression, lost to me from behind cardboard folds. He’s brought me to the ravine for a reason, and I sniff the morning air as if searching for a clue. “Smells cloudy, anyways.” Dolly wheels squeal past, struggling to part sand. The chervil Parting Mirror rides atop the platform, a sultan of the olden days. Its arched surface is regally outlined by protective plastic. “Is there a Sealing today?”
“Don’t know, Ingrid.” Jared finally answers, shuffling his feet. “Why do you always ask this sort of nonsense, anyway?” I wonder what his scowl looks like. I imagine a bulldog’s wrinkle between his eyes. “And what’s more. I don’t really care. Not about the fog, not about the ceremony, none of it.” He exhales, a toxic mass forced from his lips joins with the smog of the city.
Sealings take place on Sundays. Any female ready for reproduction is invited to attend. Their parents decide when to bring them here to the edge of the ravine to peer into the Parting Mirror, bid farewell to their own reflections.
I remember my Sealing. I froze before the Parting Mirror, frantic to memorize myself, fearful I would be sealed for the rest of my days.
“Goodbye, lips,” I pouted then forced a smile, shifting rapidly between the two, in a panic. After all, I needed to know my own lips. I noticed how my top lip protruded just a bit more than my lower, and how I only had one dimple on the right side.
“Goodbye, eyes.” This was my hardest goodbye. It was through my eyes I expressed all unsaid. I remember my irises matched the cloudless sky and expanded like the horizon. Jared used to ask me before about my face, but that was in the early days.
“Look, Ingrid.” I turn to take in what he’s trying to show me, but this tiny slit was made for younger eyes, and in truth, he is mostly shadow these days. I hear him fumbling with something, but I can’t see what. “I can’t keep doing this. I don’t think you’re the right fit.” He places a small wooden ring in my palm and closes my fingers. The circle is warm, and smooth from cycles of wear.
“Sorry.” He moves to touch me, but I flinch. I’m inches from the edge, and he doesn’t want to be the reason I fall in. “Really, Ingrid, I am.”
“What are you sorry for? Leaving me in a paper prison to rot or being a selfish jailer for four long years?” There’s no answer.
“Know what, Jared? I don’t believe you’re sorry. Not for one second. There must be a new package that’s arrived. Something fresher, I imagine?”
I take his ring, arch back my arm, and sling it as far as I can. I imagine it cutting the fog, slicing its way through all the bully-like clouds to the bottom of the ravine where it sinks.
“Good luck, Ingrid. I do hope you find your person.” Jared’s voice is muffled, but his footsteps are crisp on the slick stones.
“Monster!” I yell after him, not caring how many boxes I turn. “I may be behind the cardboard, but you’re the one who can’t see the truth!
The last time I saw my parents’ faces, they stood together smiling as they completed the sacred ceremony, fitting the box around my head.
“You’re the perfect package, sweetie,” Dad whispered, sealing the thick cardboard into place.
“You’re sure to be unwrapped soon.” Mom cut the eye slits with precision to try and give me the perfect view.
I slide off my promise ring, toss it into the abyss after Jared’s. Was there a sea down there as we had been taught in primary or just a never-ending ravine? From within my mildewy box, I was no longer sure. The unknown deepens daily when you’re waiting to be someone’s special delivery.