Jonas glanced at the clock. There was so much work to be done, always, that he and The Giver seldom simply sat and talked, the way they just had.
"I'm sorry that I wasted so much time with my questions," Jonas said. "I was only asking about release because my father is releasing a new child today. A twin. He has to select one and release the other one. They do it by weight." Jonas glanced at the clock. "Actually, I suppose he's already finished. I think it was this morning."
The Giver's face took on a solemn look. "I wish they wouldn't do that," he said quietly, almost to himself.
"Well, they can't have two identical people around! Think how confusing it would be!" Jonas chuckled.
"I wish I could watch," he added, as an afterthought. He liked the thought of seeing his father perform the ceremony, and making the little twin clean and comfy. His father was such a gentle man.
"You can watch," The Giver said.
"No," Jonas told him. "They never let children watch. It's very private."
"Jonas," The Giver told him, "I know that you read your training instructions very carefully. Don't you remember that you are allowed to ask anyone anything?"
Jonas nodded. "Yes, but — "
"Jonas, when you and I have finished our time together, you will be the new Receiver. You can read the books; you'll have the memories. You have access to everything. It's part of your training. If you want to watch a release, you have simply to ask."
Jonas shrugged. "Well, maybe I will, then. But it's too late for this one. I'm sure it was this morning."
The Giver told him, then, something he had not known. "All private ceremonies are recorded. They're in the Hall of Closed Records. Do you want to see this morning's release?"
Jonas hesitated. He was afraid that his father wouldn't like it, if he watched something so private.
"I think you should," The Giver told him firmly.
"All right, then," Jonas said. "Tell me how."
The Giver rose from his chair, went to the speaker on the wall, and clicked the switch from OFF to ON.
The voice spoke immediately. "Yes, Receiver. How may I help you?"
"I would like to see this morning's release of the twin."
"One moment, Receiver. Thank you for your instructions."
Jonas watched the video screen above the row of switches. Its blank face began to flicker with zig-zag lines; then some numbers appeared, followed by the date and time. He was astonished and delighted that this was available to him, and surprised that he had not known.
Suddenly he could see a small windowless room, empty except for a bed, a table with some equipment on it — Jonas recognized a scale; he had seen them before, when he'd been doing volunteer hours at the Nurturing Center 148 and a cupboard. He could see pale carpeting on the floor.
"It's just an ordinary room," he commented. "I thought maybe they'd have it in the Auditorium, so that everybody could come. All the Old go to Ceremonies of Release. But I suppose that when it's just a newborn, they don't — "
"Shhh," The Giver said, his eyes on the screen.
Jonas's father, wearing his nurturing uniform, entered the room, cradling a tiny new child wrapped in a soft blanket in his arms. A uniformed woman followed through the door, carrying a second new child wrapped in a similar blanket.
"That's my father." Jonas found himself whispering, as if he might wake the little ones if he spoke aloud. "And the other Nurturer is his assistant. She's still in training, but she'll be finished soon."
The two Nurturers unwrapped the blankets and laid the identical newborns on the bed. They were naked. Jonas could see that they were males.
He watched, fascinated, as his father gently lifted one and then the other to the scale and weighed them.
He heard his father laugh. "Good," his father said to the woman. "I thought for a moment that they might both be exactly the same. Then we'd have a problem. But this one" — he handed one, after rewrapping it, to his assistant" is six pounds even. So you can clean him up and dress him and take him over to the Center."
The woman took the new child and left through the door she had entered.
Jonas watched as his father bent over the squirming new child on the bed. "And you, little guy, you're only five pounds ten ounces. A shrimp!"
"That's the special voice he uses with Gabriel," Jonas remarked, smiling.
"Watch," The Giver said.
"Now he cleans him up and makes him comfy," Jonas told him. "He told me."
"Be quiet, Jonas," The Giver commanded in a strange voice. "Watch."
Obediently Jonas concentrated on the screen, waiting for what would happen next. He was especially curious about the ceremony part.
His father turned and opened the cupboard. He took out a syringe and a small bottle. Very carefully he inserted the needle into the bottle and began to fill the syringe with a clear liquid.
Jonas winced sympathetically. He had forgotten that new children had to get shots. He hated shots himself, though he knew that they were necessary.
To his surprise, his father began very carefully to direct the needle into the top of the new child forehead, puncturing the place where the fragile skin pulsed. The new-born squirmed, and wailed faintly.
"Why's he — "
"Shhh," The Giver said sharply.
His father was talking, and Jonas realized that he was hearing the answer to the question he had started to ask. Still in the special voice, his father was saying, "I know, I know. It hurts, little guy. But I have to use a vein, and the veins in your arms are still too teeny-weeny."
He pushed the plunger very slowly, injecting the liquid into the scalp vein until the syringe was empty.
"All done. That wasn't so bad, was it?" Jonas heard his father say cheerfully. He turned aside and dropped the syringe into a waste receptacle.
Now he cleans him up and makes him comfy, Jonas said to himself, aware that The Giver didn't want to talk during the little ceremony.
As he continued to watch, the new child no longer crying, moved his arms and legs in a jerking motion. Then he went limp. He head fell to the side, his eyes half open. Then he was still.
With an odd, shocked feeling, Jonas recognized the gestures and posture and expression. They were familiar. He had seen them before. But he couldn't remember where.
Jonas stared at the screen, waiting for something to happen. But nothing did. The little twin lay motionless. His father was putting things away. Folding the blanket. Closing the cupboard.
Once again, as he had on the playing field, he felt the choking sensation. Once again he saw the face of the light-haired, bloodied soldier as life left his eyes. The memory came back.
He killed it! My father killed it! Jonas said to himself, stunned at what he was realizing. He continued to stare at the screen numbly.
His father tidied the room. Then he picked up a small carton that lay waiting on the floor, set it on the bed, and lifted the limp body into it. He placed the lid on tightly.
He picked up the carton and carried it to the other side of the room. He opened a small door in the wall; Jonas could see darkness behind the door. It seemed to be the same sort of chute into which trash was deposited at school.
His father loaded the carton containing the body into the chute and gave it a shove.
"Bye-bye, little guy," Jonas heard his father say before he left the room. Then the screen went blank.
The Giver turned to him. Quite calmly, he related, "When the Speaker notified me that Rosemary had applied for release, they turned on the tape to show me the process. There she was — my last glimpse of that beautiful child — waiting. They brought in the syringe and asked her to roll up her sleeve.
"You suggested, Jonas, that perhaps she wasn't brave enough? I don't know about bravery: what it is, what it means. I do know that I sat here numb with horror. Wretched with helplessness. And I listened as Rosemary told them that she would prefer to inject herself.
"Then she did so. I didn't watch. I looked away."
The Giver turned to him. "Well, there you are, Jonas. You were wondering about release," he said in a bitter voice.
Jonas felt a ripping sensation inside himself, the feeling of terrible pain clawing its way forward to emerge in a cry.