Detergent

In sixteen year old Beadtris Dryer's world, society is divided into five fashions, each dedicated to a particular virtue, in an attempt to form a perfect society after a terrible fashion show. (Divergent parody)

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5. FIVE

 

The bus we take to get to the Clothing Ceremony is packed full of grey clothing like our washing machine at the end of each week, and the clouds in the sky soaring above us look like bubbles. Like the kind you blow with washing up liquid.

The Peg is a huge skyscraper and even when I tilt my head, I cannot see the top that dissolves into the cloudy bubbles. It is the tallest building in the city. I follow my parents off the bus. Cleanleb seems calm but I think I have peed my pants from nerves, which sucks because if I don’t choose Abnegucci today my mother won’t do the washing anymore, and I will have to wash my own knickers. My thighs feel warm and sticky, and my heart is thumping far too loudly. I have to grab Cleanleb’s arm to steady myself as I walk up the front steps.

The elevator is also crowded and my father being selfless volunteers to give our place to a group of Armanity. I scan the corridors for a toilet but I don’t see any signs. Oh crap. We climb the stairs instead, me trudging along slowly behind. We set an example for our fellow fashion members. We practically blend in with the grey cement stairs. The rhythmic pounding of feet in my ears makes me believe that I could choose this. But that thought is quickly interrupted by the waterfall that is soon to flow between my legs. I keep my legs tightly together and waddle the rest of the way. But then my legs get sore, and I become breathless, and I am again distracted by the need to urinate. I guess it could be worse. Brown stains on grey clothing do not go well together. We have to climb twenty flights of stairs to get to the Clothing Ceremony room.

My father holds the door open on the twentieth floor because he’s so selfless. I would have just slammed it in their faces because I need to pee and when you need to pee you don’t hold open doors for other people. I would wait for him, but the crowd presses me forward, and I really really really need to pee. Just before I enter the room in which I will decide the rest of my life, I see the little female sign on one of the doors and sigh in relief. It gushes out of me like a fast flowing river.

The Clothing Ceremony room is arranged in circles, like 5 big washing baskets, one for each fashion. On the edges stand the sixteen year olds of every fashion. Our decisions today will make us initiates, and we will become members if we complete initiation. Sounds simple? Well it’s not. And I just don’t get how I’m considered mature enough to decide my life at sixteen years old.

We have to sit in alphabetical order, according to our last names so Cleanleb and I are right next to each other and near the beginning because we both have the D, for Dryer.

This year my fashion, Abnegucci, has the responsibility of conducting the ceremony and as our leader, Marcurtains will give the opening address and read the names in reverse alphabetical order so Cleanleb will choose before me. I may as well call it my fashion for as long as I can to ease the guilt when I leave it behind.

At the front of the room, there are five large bowls. Each one contains a substance that represents each fashion: grey concrete for Abnegucci, rich leather for Erodarte, cotton wool for Armanity, black lace for Dauntlouis, and plastic for Candior.

When my name is called, I will walk up to Marcurtains and take the needle that he offers. I will prick my finger with the needle and spill a drop of my blood into the bowl of the fashion I choose. My blood on the concrete. My blood on the daring black lace. I consider my options.

Before our parents sit down, they kiss us on the forehead, for me it is a kiss goodbye. I hear my father say to Cleanleb “See you soon,” but he does not say the same to me. A lump forms in my throat.

My mother hugs me, and I try my best to push the lump down my throat but it is reluctant to budge. Instead, I clench my fists and stare up at the ceiling, where curtains drape from high above and spill the scent of lavender. My mother holds me for what feels like a long time, and before she pulls away, she whispers in my ear, “I love you. No matter what.” I feel like I am going to throw up, and the lump is actually a brussel sprout that I had for dinner last night.

They know what I might do. They must know. I swallow the sprout.

Cleanleb grabs my hand, squeezing my palm so tightly it hurts, but I don’t let go because if he squeezed tight enough maybe my blood would stop circulating and my fingers would fall off so I couldn’t prick them. I can only wish.

The room slowly comes to order. Marcurtains stands at the front and clears his throat into the microphone. I wonder if he has a sprout lodged in his windpipe too. “Welcome,” he says. “Welcome to the Clothing Ceremony.”

Marcurtains goes on to explain the fashion system. “Decades ago, our ancestors divided society into five fashions that sought to eradicate those qualities they believed responsible for the fashion war.”

My eyes shift to the bowls. What fashion will I choose? I do not know; I do not know; I do not know.

The Armanity are at the far end of the room. They are dressed comfortably, in bright colours that are supposed to reflect their bright personality. Every time I see them, they seem kind, loving, and free.

The Erodarte are next to them dressed in blue. Ruling them out was easy.

Then there’s Candior. They seem okay. Actually, that’s a lie and that’s why I can’t be Candior. I have never liked them.

Next to the Candior, is my fashion, the Abnegucci or known to everyone else as Sniffs. But I am not selfless enough to continue calling this my fashion. Sixteen years of trying and I am not enough.

Right at the end are the Dauntlouis bearing their skin and tattoos and piercings.

Marcurtains continues to talk and I wonder if his son left because he got bored of his father talking crap. Speaking of crap, I think I need the toilet again. “Working together, these five fashions have lived in peace for many years, each contributing to a different sector of society.”  I think of the motto I read in my Fashion History textbook: Fashion before blood.  More than family, our fashions are where we belong.

A silence lingers in the room. It is not one of those awkward silences, but a heavy silence filled with fear. Even the Dauntlouis, fearless, are scared. It is not death that we fear, but being Fashionless.

Marcurtains continues, “Therefore this day marks a happy occasion. Our new initiates will work with us toward a better society and a better world. The future belongs to those who know where they belong.”

A round of applause breaks the silence. I try to stand completely still, because if my knees are locked and my body is stiff, I won’t shake and accidentally shit myself.

One by one, each sixteen year old steps out of line and walks to the bowls. The first girl to choose decides on Armanity, the same fashion from which she came. I watch the white wool soak up the red droplet, and then the crowd cheers, mostly Armanity who chant something like Kumbaya.

The room is constantly moving, a new name and a new person choosing, a new needle and a new choice and occasionally a new fashion.

“James Fucker,” Marcurtains says.

James Fucker of the Dauntlouis is the first person to walk awkwardly on his way to the bowls. Maybe he needs to pee. He looks from the Dauntlouis bowl to the Candior bowl. He breathes deeply as he pricks his finger. Then, he hovers it above the bowls and lets his blood fall onto clear plastic, and he is the first of us to switch fashions. The first transfer. The crowd gasps and mutter and exchange glances.

They will see him as a traitor from now on, just like Marcurtains’ son. His Dauntlouis family will have the option of visiting him in his new fashion on Visiting Day, but they probably won’t because he left them. That’s how it seems to work. His absence will haunt their hallways, and he will be a space they can’t fill. And then time will pass, and the hole will be gone, like when the washing is removed from the washing machine and it is empty. But washing machines can’t tolerate emptiness for long and humans always fill them up again.

“Cleanleb Dryer,” says Marcurtains.

Cleanleb squeezes my hand one last time, and he walks away. His hands are steady, unlike mine, as they accept the needle from Marcurtains. He pricks his fingertip and stands, blood ready to drop.

He inhales and exhales deeply as if he is having a hard time. And then he holds his hand over the Erodarte bowl, and his blood drips onto the rich leather, blending in black, as black as his soul.

I hear mutters that lift into outraged cries. I want to join them. My brother, my selfless brother, a faction transfer? My brother, a backstabbing bro?

Why didn’t I realize that when he told me to think of myself yesterday, he was also giving that advice to himself? How did I manage to get Erodarte on my Appearance Test when I’m as thick as Cleanleb’s eyebrows?

The Abnegucci whisper and glare across the room at the fashion that has become our enemy and I can see them judging Cleanleb as he goes to join them.

 “Quiet, please!” Marcurtains shouts and the room goes silent.

I hear my name and my legs go stiff. Halfway to the bowls, I am sure that I will choose Abnegucci. I can see it now. I can see myself growing into my mother. I take a sneaky glance at Cleanleb and curse him under my breath as I walk the rest of the way.

If he wasn’t fit for Abnegucci, how can I be? But what choice do I have, now that he left us and I’m the only one who remains? How can I do that to our parents?

I will be the child that stays; I have to do this for my parents. I have to. That’s selfless right?

Marcurtains offers me my needle. I turn toward the bowls. Dauntlouis lace and Abnegation cement are next to each other. I hold the needle firm in my hand and touch the sharp point to my fingertip. It stings a little, but I barely notice. A drop of blood immediately forms on the surface. I hold my hand steady and try to breathe but I can’t so I squeeze my eyes shut in fear that I am going to die at this very moment in this very spot.

But then the breath comes and when I open my eyes again, I thrust my hand out to let my blood drip onto the black lace.

I can hardly breathe. But I am selfish. I am brave. I am Dauntlouis.

“Fashion before blood,” I whisper.

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