Chapter 1 of DELIRIUM – Lauren Oliver | Audiobook

[MUSIC] Chapter One. The most dangerous sicknesses are those
that make us believe we are well. Proverb 42, the Book of Shh. [MUSIC] It has been 64 years
since the president and the consortium identified
love as a disease. And 43 since the scientists
perfected a cure. Everyone else in my family has
had the procedure already. My older sister Rachel has been
disease free for nine years now. She’s been saved from love for so long, she says she can’t even
remember its symptoms. I’m scheduled to have my procedure
in exactly 95 days on September 3rd, my birthday. [MUSIC] Many people are afraid of the procedure,
some people even resist, but I’m not afraid, I can’t wait. I would have it done tomorrow if I could,
but you have to be at least 18, sometimes a little older,
before the scientist will cure you. Otherwise, the procedure
won’t work correctly. People end up with brain damage,
partial paralysis, blindness, or worse. I don’t like to think that I’m still
walking around with the disease running through my blood. Sometimes I swear I can feel it writhing
in my veins like something spoiled, like sour milk. It makes me feel dirty. It reminds me of children
throwing tantrums. It reminds me of resistance, of diseased
girls dragging their nails on the pavement tearing out their hair,
their mouths dripping spit. And of course, it reminds me of my mother. After the procedure,
I will be happy and safe forever. That’s what everybody says, the scientists
and my sister and Aunt Carol. I will have the procedure and then I’ll be paired with a boy
the evaluators choose for me. In a few years, we’ll get married. Recently I’ve started having
dreams about my wedding. In them, I’m standing under a white
canopy with flowers in my hair. I’m holding hands with someone, but
whenever I turn to look at him, his face blurs, like a camera losing
focus, and I can’t make out any features. But his hands are cool and dry and
my heart is beating steadily in my chest. And in my dream, I know it will
always beat out that same rhythm, not skip or jump or swirl or
go faster, just, womp, womp, womp, until I’m dead,
safe and free from pain. Things weren’t always as
good as they are now. In school, we learned that in
the old days, the dark days, people didn’t realize how
deadly a disease love was. For a long time, they even viewed it as a
good thing, something to be celebrated and pursued. Of course, that’s one of
the reasons it’s so dangerous. It affects your mind so
that you cannot think clearly or make rational decisions
about your own well-being. That’s symptom number 12 listed in
the amor deliria nervosa section of the 12th edition of the Safety,
Health and Happiness Handbook, or the Book of Shh, as we call it. Instead, people back then named other
diseases, stress, heart disease, anxiety, depression, hypertension,
insomnia, bipolar disorder. Never realizing that these were in fact
only symptoms that in the majority of cases could be traced back to
the effects of amour deliria nervosa. Of course, we aren’t yet totally free
from the deliria in the United States until the procedure has been perfected. Until it has been made safe for the under
18s, we will never be totally protected. It still moves around us with invisible,
sweeping tentacles choking us. I’ve seen countless uncureds dragged to
their procedures, so racked and ravaged by love that they would rather tear their
eyes out or try to impale themselves on the barbed wire fences outside of
the laboratories than be without it. Several years ago on the day
of her procedure, one girl managed to slip from her restraints and
find her way to the laboratory roof. She dropped quickly, without screaming. For days afterward, they broadcast
the image of the dead girl’s face on TV to remind us of the dangers of the deliria. Her eyes were open and her neck
was twisted at an unnatural angle. But from the way her cheek was
resting against the pavement, you might otherwise think she
had lain down to take a nap. Surprisingly, there was very little blood, just a small dark trickle at
the corners of her mouth. 95 days, and then I’ll be safe. I’m nervous, of course. I wonder whether the procedure will hurt. I wanna get it over with. It’s hard to be patient. It’s hard not to be afraid while
I’m still uncured, though, so far the deliria hasn’t touched me yet. Still, I worry. They say that in the old days,
love drove people to madness. That’s bad enough. The Book of Shh also tells stories of
those who died because of love lost or never found,
which is what terrifies me the most. The deadliest of all deadly things. It kills you both when you have it and
when you don’t. Chapter Two, we must be constantly
on guard against the disease. The health of our nation,
our people, our families, and our minds depends on constant vigilance. Basic health measures, the Safety, Health,
and Happiness Handbook, 12th Edition. The smell of oranges has always
reminded me of funerals. On the morning of my evaluation,
it is the smell that wakes me up. I look at the clock on the bedside table,
it’s six o’clock. The light is gray, the sunlight just
strengthening along the walls of the bedroom I share with both
of my cousin Marsha’s children. Grace, the younger one, is crouched on her
twin bed, already dressed, watching me. She has a whole orange in one hand. She’s trying to gnaw on it like
an apple with her little kid teeth. My stomach twists and I have to close
my eyes again to keep from remembering the hot scratchy dress I was forced
to wear when my mother died. To keep from remembering
the murmur of voices, a large rough hand passing me orange after
orange to suck on so I would stay quiet. At the funeral, I ate four oranges,
section by section. And when I was left with only a pile
of peelings heaped on my lap, I began to suck on those. The bitter taste of the pith
helping to keep the tears away. I open my eyes and Grace leans forward, the orange cupped in
her outstretched palm. No, Gracie,
I push off my covers and stand up, my stomach is clenching and
unclenching like a fist. And you’re not supposed to eat the peel,
you know. She continues blinking up at me with her
big, gray eyes, not saying anything. I sigh and sit down next to her. Here, I say. And show her how to peel
the orange using her nail, unwinding bright orange curls and
dropping them in her lap. The whole time trying to hold
my breath against the smell. She watches me in silence. When I’m finished, she holds the orange
now unpeeled in both hands as though it’s a glass ball and
she is worried about breaking it. I nudge her, go ahead, eat now. She just stares at it and I sigh and begin separating the sections for
her one by one. As I do, I whisper as gently as possible,
you know, the others would be nicer to you if
you would speak once in a while. She doesn’t respond,
not that I really expect her to. My aunt Carol hasn’t heard her say
a word in the whole six years and three months of Grace’s life. Not a single syllable. Carol thinks there’s something
wrong with her brain, but so far the doctors haven’t found it. She’s as dumb as a rock, Carol said
matter-of-factly just the other day, watching Grace turn a bright
colored block over and over in her hands as though it
was beautiful and miraculous. As though she expected it to turn
suddenly into something else. I stand up and go toward the window,
moving away from Grace and her big staring eyes and
thin, quick fingers. I feel sorry for her. Marsha, Grace’s mother, is dead now. She always said she never wanted
children in the first place. That’s one of the downsides
of the procedure. In the absence of deliria nervosa,
some people find parenting distasteful. Thankfully, cases of full-blown
detachment, where a mother or father is unable to bond normally,
dutifully, and responsibly with his or her children, and winds up drowning
them or sitting on their windpipes or beating them to death
when they cry are few. But two was the number of children
the evaluators decided on for Marsha. At the time, it seemed like a good choice. Her family had earned high stabilization
marks in the annual review. Her husband, a scientist,
was well respected. They lived in an enormous
house on Winter Street. Marsha cooked every meal from scratch and taught piano lessons in her
spare time to keep busy. But, of course, when Marsha’s husband
was suspected of being a sympathizer, everything changed. Marsha and her children, Jenny and Grace,
had to move back with Marsha’s mother, my Aunt Carol, and people whispered and
pointed at them everywhere they went. Grace wouldn’t remember that, of course. I’d be surprised if she has any
memories of her parents at all. Masha’s husband disappeared
before his trial could begin. It’s probably a good thing he did. Trials are mostly for show. Sympathizers are almost always executed. If not, they’re locked away in
the crypts to serve three life sentences back to back. Marsha knew that, of course. Aunt Carol thinks that’s the reason her
heart gave out only a few months after her husband’s disappearance when
she was indicted in his place. A day after she got served the papers,
she was walking down the street and bam, heart attack. Hearts are fragile things. That’s why you have to be so careful. It will be hot today, I can tell,
it’s already hot in the bedroom. And when I crack the window to
sweep out the smell of orange, the air outside feels as thick and
heavy as a tongue. I suck in deeply, inhaling the clean
smell of seaweed and damp wood, listening to the distant cries of
the seagulls as they circle endlessly somewhere beyond the low grey
sloping buildings over the bay. Outside, a car engine guns to life. The sound startles me and I jump. Nervous about your evaluation? I turn around. My aunt Carol is standing in the doorway,
her hands folded. No, I say, though this is a lie. She smiles, just barely a brief,
flitting thing. Don’t worry, you’ll be fine. Take your shower, and
then I’ll help you with your hair. We can review your answers on the way. Okay, my aunt continues to stare at me. I squirm, digging my nails
into the windowsill behind me. I always hated being looked at. Of course, I’ll have to get used to it. During the exam, there will be
four evaluators staring at me for close to two hours. I’ll be wearing a flimsy plastic gown,
semi-translucent, like the kind you get in hospitals,
so that they can see my body. A seven or an eight, I would say,
my aunt says, puckering her lips. It’s a decent score and
I’d be happy with it. Though you won’t get more than
a six if you don’t get cleaned up. Senior year’s almost over and the
evaluation is the final test I will take. For the past four months, I’ve had all
my various board exams, math, science, oral and written proficiency, sociology
and psychology and photography specialty elective, and I should be getting my
scores sometime in the next few weeks. I’m pretty sure I did well enough
to get assigned to a college. I’ve always been a decent student. The academic assessors will
analyze my strengths and weaknesses and
then assign me to a school and a major. The evaluation is the last step so
I can get paired. In the coming months, the evaluators
will send me a list of four or five approved matches. One of them will become my
husband after I graduate college, assuming I pass all my boards. Girls who don’t pass get paired and
married right out of high school. The evaluators will do their best to
match me with people who received a similar score in the evaluations. As much as possible, they try to avoid
any huge disparities in intelligence, temperament, social background, and age. Of course,
you do hear occasional horror stories. Cases where a poor 18-year-old girl is
given to a wealthy 80-year-old man. The stairs let out their awful moaning and
Grace’s sister Jenny appears. She’s nine and tall for
her age but very thin. All angles and elbows, her chest
caving in like a warped sheet pan. It’s terrible to say, but
I don’t like her very much. She has the same pinched
look as her mother did. She joins my aunt in the doorway and
stares at me. I’m only 5″2 and Jenny is amazingly
just a few inches shorter than I am now. It’s silly to feel self conscious
in front of my aunt and cousins but a hot, crawling itch begins
to work its way up my arms. I know they’re all worried about
my performance at the evaluation. It’s critical that I get
paired with someone good. Jenny and Grace are years
away from their procedures. If I marry well, in a few years it
will mean extra money for the family. It might also make the whispers go away. Sing song snatches that four years after
the scandals still seem to follow us wherever we go, like the sound of
rustling leaves carried on the wind. Sympathizer, sympathizer, sympathizer. It’s only slightly better than
the other word that followed me for years after my mom’s death. A snake like hiss undulating, leaving its trail of poison, suicide, a sideways word. A word that people whisper and
mutter and cough, a word that must be squeezed out behind cupped palms or
murmured behind closed doors. It was only in my dreams that I
heard the word shouted, screamed. I take a deep breath, then duck down to
pull the plastic bin from under my bed so that my aunt won’t see I’m shaking. Is Lena getting married today? Jenny asks my aunt. Her voice has always reminded me of
bees droning flatly in the heat. Don’t be stupid, my aunt says. But without irritation, you know
she can’t marry until she’s cured. I take my towel from the bin and
straighten up. That word, marry, makes my mouth go dry. Everyone marries as soon as
they’re done with their education, it’s the way things are. Marriage is order and stability,
the mark of a healthy society. See the Book of Shh,
Fundamentals of Society, page 114. But the thought of it still makes
my heart flutter frantically like an insect behind glass. I’ve never touched a boy, of course, physical contact between uncureds
of opposite sex is forbidden. Honestly, I’ve never even talked to
a boy for longer than five minutes. Unless you count my cousins,
and uncle, and Andrew Marcus, who helps my uncle at the Stop and
Save and is always picking his nose and wiping his snot on the underside
of the canned vegetables. And if I don’t pass my boards,
please God, please God, let me pass them! I’ll have my wedding as soon as I’m cured,
in less than three months. Which means I’ll have my wedding night. The smell of oranges is still strong and
my stomach does another swoop. I bury my face in my towel and inhale,
willing myself not to be sick. From downstairs,
there’s the clatter of dishes. My aunt sighs and checks her watch. We have to leave in less than an hour,
she says, you’d better get moving.

Posts Tagged with…

Reader Comments

Write a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *