Rose reached for her daughter, holding her protectively close. Dread filled her veins and her heart beat faster. It was just like last time.
“I know that many of the children aren’t of age yet, but by the end of the year they will all have reached their Significant. Be aware that Friday’s are tape day. On your child’s tape day, feel free to send in cupcakes to help them celebrate.” Mrs. Sanderson’s eyes rested on the petite blonde sitting in front of Rose, as she said, “If you have any concerns regarding tape day, please feel free to speak with me in private.”
“We have to get out of here,” Rose whispered.
“But,” pale blue eyes pleaded, “I want to talk to my friends.”
“We can’t, Christmas.” Rose pulled the child behind her, pushing her way through the throng. “We have to get you out of here.”
They were steps from the door when swollen pink fingers wrapped around Christmas’ forearm, causing the girl to yelp in surprised pain. Piggish eyes sparkled triumphantly behind thick purple frames. Grunting with the effort, the larger woman jerked at the child.
“What do you think you’re doing?” Rose pried thick paws from her child, pulling her close for protection.
“Look at her!” The woman snarled. “She’s almost reached her Significant, and look at her!”
“There’s nothing to look at,” Rose insisted.
A thick arm reached behind Rose, grabbing the child and spinning her into the mob.
Christmas screamed in fear as fingers grasped at her from all sides.
Fighting her way back to her child, Rose reached the tiny blonde just as Mrs. Sanderson pushed through the throng.
A fierce whistle pierced the air, instantly quieting the crowd. “What has gotten into you?” Mrs. Sanderson demanded. “This child has not yet reached her Significant. Even if she had, it is not for you to judge her fitness.”
“Look at her!” A voice called. “She’s tiny.”
“An insult to the rest of us.”
“There’s no way she can make tape!”
“Enough,” Mrs. Sanderson commanded. “Go home. All of you.”
In a quiet voice, Christmas asked, “Why do the other parents hate me?”
“Rose,” Mrs. Sanderson frowned disapprovingly, “You haven’t told her?”
“How could I?”
“The Significant.” Mrs. Sanderson frowned. “Surely, you’ve told her about that.”
“I know all about the Significant,” Christmas declared.
The two older women turned their attentions to the young girl.
“Everyone knows about it.” Christmas stood up straight, smiling eagerly. “I’ll have mine soon, at my birthday.”
“Yes.” Mrs. Sanderson gave Christmas a pitying look.
“She’s so young,” Rose pleaded, “just a child.”
“I am NOT a child! At least, I won’t be in a few weeks. That’s what the Significant is about.” Christmas lifted her head in defiance.
“You have to prepare her,” Mrs. Sanderson insisted.
“I just hoped she’d be spared,” Rose admitted.
In the car, Christmas asked, “Who is Eva?”
“I have a sister?”
“You HAD a sister.”
“What happened to her?”
Taking a deep breath, Rose whispered, “She didn’t make tape.”
At home, Christmas followed her mother, wanting to ask questions but not knowing where to start. Leading the way into the attic, Rose peered into a dark corner, gently selecting a white box from behind a mass of dust covered items.
“I haven’t been up here in years. It’s so hard…” Taking a faded picture from the box, she whispered, “Here she is.”
Christmas gasped. The girl in the picture was about her age, with the same big blue eyes, long blonde hair, and petite frame. It was like being introduced to a twin. Questioning eyes turned to Rose. “What happened to her?”
“We lost her.” Tears trickled down Rose’s cheeks.
“She failed her Significant. Then, they…,” Rose took a deep breath, “they took her.”
Christmas stared in open mouthed horror at her mother.
“She didn’t understand. None of us really did,” Rose trailed off, lost in another time.
“I don’t understand.” Christmas stared at the picture, mesmerized.
“Years ago, before your grandmother was born, our world was being pulled apart from so many directions (race, social status, immigration, finances, education, drug use, sexual preference…). To save us from each other, our leaders made the decision to be a tolerant society. Then, bullying resurfaced, through body shaming. Steps were taken. Actors and actresses openly talked about their eating habits, models couldn’t work below a certain weight, employers and colleges measured BMI. Everywhere we focused on ending the body shaming that had been poisoning our minds by putting the focus on the outside, preventing us from being able to accept ourselves for who we are on the inside. Then, the unhealthily thin cried discrimination, threatening our fragile harmony. The government stepped in to save us from ourselves.”
“We’re studying this in history,” Christmas interjected. “The Significant ended eating disorders and body shaming, freeing us all of the unattainable body image.”
Taking a deep breath, Rose explained, “When children reach a common age of physical maturity, they must participate in yearly measurements of height and weight.”
With a frown, Rose asked, “Did you ever wonder what happens to those who don’t make tape?”
Christmas shook her head.
“They take them. Away." Rose choked out the words, "Forever.”
The two stared in silence at the faded photograph.
With a small voice, Rose broke the silence, “Eva was like you. Small. Dad is a doctor, so we knew she was behind the curve. But, she ate. She wasn’t in any health danger. She was just small. Like you.” Rose smiled, stroking Christmas’ hair. “We weren’t worried. We thought that, even though she didn’t meet the standards, they would see that she was healthy, just small.”
“What happened to her?” Christmas traced familiar features with a dainty finger.
“After her taping, they came for her. They said she had an eating disorder. That she would poison the other students with it. We never saw her again.” Tears streamed down Rose’s cheeks at the memories. “They stole her.”
Christmas stared openmouthed at her mother as the full weight of her words sank in. “MOM!” She shrieked, panic etching her features.
Pulling the child to her, Rose hugged her close, stroking her hair. “We won’t let them take you,” she whispered. “Not this time.”