BLISS

The world may be stricken with misery and suffering, but at least the blessed few who live inside the city are happy. With the invention of a revolutionary new antidepressant named BLISS, the Government can finally award happiness, compliance and coexistence to whoever uses it. Of course, it comes at a price - your free will.

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3. CHAPTER THREE // MOTHER KNOWS BEST

Everyone had been instructed to wear monochrome colours for the assessment and of course nobody objected, even though I highly doubted that anyone in my school owned more than one article of black or grey clothing. Maybe that was a test in itself, or maybe the Government wanted us to feel as miserable and hopeless as humanly possible.

 

I ran my fingertips over the plain grey top folded across the back of my desk chair, its neon-tinted designer label covered by a strip of black tape. Pulling it over my head and zipping up the matching jeans Mother had leant me, I gave myself a customary glance in the mirror. Long black hair, narrow eyes, a boyish figure; new clothes but the same old, carefully neutral expression carved into my features. Satisfied, I pulled my unruly hair into a loose ponytail and bent over to lace up my trainers.

 

“Sakura?”

 

I jumped before I could stop myself, a cold, entirely unpleasant flush heating my skin as I twisted my head around to see who had entered. My stomach muscles relaxed as my mother’s anxious face swam into view, her usually no-nonsense expression marred with rare concern. I rose to my feet, suddenly not caring about the state of my laces.

 

Okaasan? Is … is something wrong?” I asked, frowning at her dishevelled, hurried outfit and noticeably bare face. Maybe it was because she hadn’t had any BLISS today, but my mother took immense pride in her clean, professional appearance and was constantly nagging me about my careless choice of clothing, so this was completely out of character for her.

 

“No… no, nothing’s wrong, darling. I just wanted to make sure you were ready to go,” she said, her hands reaching out to cradle mine as she spoke and her voice cracking partway through. She blinked back what looked suspiciously like tears and continued, only fuelling the creeping sense of dread that had been festering in the pit of my stomach from the moment she entered.

 

“Sakura… Saku, honey, please do well on this assessment. I know it’s hard for you; it’s hard for all of us, watching you like this, but please… I couldn’t bear for something to happen to you,” she whispered, her words thick and unbearably hoarse as she held back desperate sobs. I had never, ever seen my mother like this - I wasn’t even sure that this was her anymore. Confusion and a nauseating uneasiness gnawed away at my throat and choked back any words I might have wanted to say to her.

 

“Sakura, whatever happens, whatever the Government say, remember that I love you more than anything else. Your father and Shion and I all love you more than you’ll ever know. Please… please, just do whatever you have to do to survive,” she choked out, tears streaming freely down her cheeks now. I felt like grabbing my waste basket and throwing up the contents of my stomach; if I hadn’t been nervous for this evaluation before, I was surely about to pass out now.

“Mum, what’s going on? What… what’s happening?”

 

She choked out a wet, sticky laugh and pulled me into a hug before I could register what was happening, her arms wrapping around my shoulders like steel vices intent on crushing my ribs to pieces. I let her cry some more, standing rigid and uncomfortable in her tightly bound arms.

 

Aishiteru.”

 

With her final and completely unexpected declaration of love, Mother pulled away, wiped her bloodshot eyes and patted my cheek, perhaps for some final form of consolidation, before opening my bedroom door and exiting without another word. A noise somewhere between disbelief and dread escaped from between my lips as I sunk to my knees, the reality of the situation hitting me like a freight train.

 

I was so, so screwed. I wouldn’t be able to lie my way through this sort of test - knowing the Government, they’d give us some pills or a tonic or strap something to our heads as we did God knows what for them to observe. They’d be able to see inside my mind and look at all the nerves and the brain transmitters and see that everything was messed up, no matter what kind of sweet talk I fed the examiners.

 

I could feel frustrated tears on my cheeks and taste the bitter tang of bile in my mouth as I curled into a ball on my bedroom floor and sobbed into my knees. Maybe it was stomach pains or withdrawal symptoms, but I knew, deep down, that the dull ache in my chest was telling me this was the end of life as I knew it.

 

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