بخش 05

مجموعه: چهارگانه بخشنده / کتاب: بخشنده / فصل 5

بخش 05

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DAYS WENT BY, and weeks. Jonas learned, through the memories, the names of colors; and now he began to see them all, in his ordinary life (though he knew it was ordinary no longer, and would never be again). But they didn’t last. There would be a glimpse of green—the landscaped lawn around the Central Plaza; a bush on the riverbank. The bright orange of pumpkins being trucked in from the agricultural fields beyond the community boundary—seen in an instant, the flash of brilliant color, but gone again, returning to their flat and hueless shade.

The Giver told him that it would be a very long time before he had the colors to keep.

“But I want them!” Jonas said angrily. “It isn’t fair that nothing has color!”

“Not fair?” The Giver looked at Jonas curiously. “Explain what you mean.”

“Well . . .” Jonas had to stop and think it through. “If everything’s the same, then there aren’t any choices! I want to wake up in the morning and decide things! A blue tunic, or a red one?” He looked down at himself, at the colorless fabric of his clothing. “But it’s all the same, always.”

Then he laughed a little. “I know it’s not important, what you wear. It doesn’t matter. But—”

“It’s the choosing that’s important, isn’t it?” The Giver asked him.

Jonas nodded. “My little brother—” he began, and then corrected himself. “No, that’s inaccurate. He’s not my brother, not really. But this newchild that my family takes care of—his name’s Gabriel?” “Yes, I know about Gabriel.”

“Well, he’s right at the age where he’s learning so much. He grabs toys when we hold them in front of him—my father says he’s learning small-muscle control. And he’s really cute.” The Giver nodded.

“But now that I can see colors, at least sometimes, I was just thinking: what if we could hold up things that were bright red, or bright yellow, and he could choose? Instead of the Sameness.” “He might make wrong choices.”

“Oh.” Jonas was silent for a minute. “Oh, I see what you mean. It wouldn’t matter for a newchild’s toy. But later it does matter, doesn’t it? We don’t dare to let people make choices of their own.” “Not safe?” The Giver suggested.

“Definitely not safe,” Jonas said with certainty. “What if they were allowed to choose their own mate? And chose wrong?

“Or what if,” he went on, almost laughing at the absurdity, “they chose their own jobs?”

“Frightening, isn’t it?” The Giver said.

Jonas chuckled. “Very frightening. I can’t even imagine it. We really have to protect people from wrong choices.”

“It’s safer.”

“Yes,” Jonas agreed. “Much safer.”

But when the conversation turned to other things, Jonas was left, still, with a feeling of frustration that he didn’t understand.

He found that he was often angry, now: irrationally angry at his groupmates, that they were satisfied with their lives which had none of the vibrance his own was taking on. And he was angry at himself, that he could not change that for them.

He tried. Without asking permission from The Giver, because he feared—or knew—that it would be denied, he tried to give his new awareness to his friends.

“Asher,” Jonas said one morning, “look at those flowers very carefully.” They were standing beside a bed of geraniums planted near the Hall of Open Records. He put his hands on Asher’s shoulders, and concentrated on the red of the petals, trying to hold it as long as he could, and trying at the same time to transmit the awareness of red to his friend.

“What’s the matter?” Asher asked uneasily. “Is something wrong?” He moved away from Jonas’s hands. It was extremely rude for one citizen to touch another outside of family units.

“No, nothing. I thought for a minute that they were wilting, and we should let the Gardening Crew know they needed more watering.” Jonas sighed, and turned away.

One evening he came home from his training weighted with new knowledge. The Giver had chosen a startling and disturbing memory that day. Under the touch of his hands, Jonas had found himself suddenly in a place that was completely alien: hot and windswept under a vast blue sky. There were tufts of sparse grass, a few bushes and rocks, and nearby he could see an area of thicker vegetation: broad, low trees outlined against the sky. He could hear noises: the sharp crack of weapons—he perceived the word guns—and then shouts, and an immense crashing thud as something fell, tearing branches from the trees.

He heard voices calling to one another. Peering from the place where he stood hidden behind some shrubbery, he was reminded of what The Giver had told him, that there had been a time when flesh had different colors. Two of these men had dark brown skin; the others were light. Going closer, he watched them hack the tusks from a motionless elephant on the ground and haul them away, spattered with blood. He felt himself overwhelmed with a new perception of the color he knew as red.

Then the men were gone, speeding toward the horizon in a vehicle that spit pebbles from its whirling tires. One hit his forehead and stung him there. But the memory continued, though Jonas ached now for it to end.

Now he saw another elephant emerge from the place where it had stood hidden in the trees. Very slowly it walked to the mutilated body and looked down. With its sinuous trunk it stroked the huge corpse; then it reached up, broke some leafy branches with a snap, and draped them over the mass of torn thick flesh.

Finally it tilted its massive head, raised its trunk, and roared into the empty landscape. Jonas had never heard such a sound. It was a sound of rage and grief and it seemed never to end.

He could still hear it when he opened his eyes and lay anguished on the bed where he received the memories. It continued to roar into his consciousness as he pedaled slowly home.

“Lily,” he asked that evening when his sister took her comfort object, the stuffed elephant, from the shelf, “did you know that once there really were elephants? Live ones?” She glanced down at the ragged comfort object and grinned. “Right,” she said, skeptically. “Sure, Jonas.”

Jonas went and sat beside them while his father untied Lily’s hair ribbons and combed her hair. He placed one hand on each of their shoulders. With all of his being he tried to give each of them a piece of the memory: not of the tortured cry of the elephant, but of the being of the elephant, of the towering, immense creature and the meticulous touch with which it had tended its friend at the end.

But his father had continued to comb Lily’s long hair, and Lily, impatient, had finally wiggled under her brother’s touch. “Jonas,” she said, “you’re hurting me with your hand.” “I apologize for hurting you, Lily,” Jonas mumbled, and took his hand away.

“’Cept your apology,” Lily responded indifferently, stroking the lifeless elephant.

“Giver,” Jonas asked once, as they prepared for the day’s work, “don’t you have a spouse? Aren’t you allowed to apply for one?” Although he was exempted from the rules against rudeness, he was aware that this was a rude question. But The Giver had encouraged all of his questions, not seeming to be embarrassed or offended by even the most personal.

The Giver chuckled. “No, there’s no rule against it. And I did have a spouse. You’re forgetting how old I am, Jonas. My former spouse lives now with the Childless Adults.” “Oh, of course.” Jonas had forgotten The Giver’s obvious age. When adults of the community became older, their lives became different. They were no longer needed to create family units. Jonas’s own parents, when he and Lily were grown, would go to live with the Childless Adults.

“You’ll be able to apply for a spouse, Jonas, if you want to. I’ll warn you, though, that it will be difficult. Your living arrangements will have to be different from those of most family units, because the books are forbidden to citizens. You and I are the only ones with access to the books.” Jonas glanced around at the astonishing array of volumes. From time to time, now, he could see their colors. With their hours together, his and The Giver’s, consumed by conversation and by the transmission of memories, Jonas had not yet opened any of the books. But he read the titles here and there, and knew that they contained all of the knowledge of centuries, and that one day they would belong to him.

“So if I have a spouse, and maybe children, I will have to hide the books from them?”

The Giver nodded. “I wasn’t permitted to share the books with my spouse, that’s correct. And there are other difficulties, too. You remember the rule that says the new Receiver can’t talk about his training?” Jonas nodded. Of course he remembered. It had turned out, by far, to be the most frustrating of the rules he was required to obey.

“When you become the official Receiver, when we’re finished here, you’ll be given a whole new set of rules. Those are the rules that I obey. And it won’t surprise you that I am forbidden to talk about my work to anyone except the new Receiver. That’s you, of course.

“So there will be a whole part of your life which you won’t be able to share with a family. It’s hard, Jonas. It was hard for me.

“You do understand, don’t you, that this is my life? The memories?”

Jonas nodded again, but he was puzzled. Didn’t life consist of the things you did each day? There wasn’t anything else, really. “I’ve seen you taking walks,” he said.

The Giver sighed. “I walk. I eat at mealtime. And when I am called by the Committee of Elders, I appear before them, to give them counsel and advice.”

“Do you advise them often?” Jonas was a little frightened at the thought that one day he would be the one to advise the ruling body.

But The Giver said no. “Rarely. Only when they are faced with something that they have not experienced before. Then they call upon me to use the memories and advise them. But it very seldom happens. Sometimes I wish they’d ask for my wisdom more often—there are so many things I could tell them; things I wish they would change. But they don’t want change. Life here is so orderly, so predictable—so painless. It’s what they’ve chosen.” “I don’t know why they even need a Receiver, then, if they never call upon him,” Jonas commented.

“They need me. And you,” The Giver said, but didn’t explain. “They were reminded of that ten years ago.”

“What happened ten years ago?” Jonas asked. “Oh, I know. You tried to train a successor and it failed. Why? Why did that remind them?”

The Giver smiled grimly. “When the new Receiver failed, the memories that she had received were released. They didn’t come back to me. They went . . .”

He paused, and seemed to be struggling with the concept. “I don’t know, exactly. They went to the place where memories once existed before Receivers were created. Someplace out there—” He gestured vaguely with his arm. “And then the people had access to them. Apparently that’s the way it was, once. Everyone had access to memories.

“It was chaos,” he said. “They really suffered for a while. Finally it subsided as the memories were assimilated. But it certainly made them aware of how they need a Receiver to contain all that pain. And knowledge.” “But you have to suffer like that all the time,” Jonas pointed out.

The Giver nodded. “And you will. It’s my life. It will be yours.”

Jonas thought about it, about what it would be like for him. “Along with walking and eating and—” He looked around the walls of books. “Reading? That’s it?” The Giver shook his head. “Those are simply the things that I do. My life is here.”

“In this room?”

The Giver shook his head. He put his hands to his own face, to his chest. “No. Here, in my being. Where the memories are.”

“My Instructors in science and technology have taught us about how the brain works,” Jonas told him eagerly. “It’s full of electrical impulses. It’s like a computer. If you stimulate one part of the brain with an electrode, it—” He stopped talking. He could see an odd look on The Giver’s face.

“They know nothing,” The Giver said bitterly.

Jonas was shocked. Since the first day in the Annex room, they had together disregarded the rules about rudeness, and Jonas felt comfortable with that now. But this was different, and far beyond rude. This was a terrible accusation. What if someone had heard?

He glanced quickly at the wall speaker, terrified that the Committee might be listening as they could at any time. But, as always during their sessions together, the switch had been turned to OFF.

“Nothing?” Jonas whispered nervously. “But my instructors—”

The Giver flicked his hand as if brushing something aside. “Oh, your instructors are well trained. They know their scientific facts. Everyone is well trained for his job.

“It’s just that . . . without the memories it’s all meaningless. They gave that burden to me. And to the previous Receiver. And the one before him.”

“And back and back and back,” Jonas said, knowing the phrase that always came.

The Giver smiled, though his smile was oddly harsh. “That’s right. And next it will be you. A great honor.”

“Yes, sir. They told me that at the Ceremony. The very highest honor.”

Some afternoons The Giver sent him away without training. Jonas knew, on days when he arrived to find The Giver hunched over, rocking his body slightly back and forth, his face pale, that he would be sent away.

“Go,” The Giver would tell him tensely. “I’m in pain today. Come back tomorrow.”

On those days, worried and disappointed, Jonas would walk alone beside the river. The paths were empty of people except for the few Delivery Crews and Landscape Workers here and there. Small children were all at the Childcare Center after school, and the older ones busy with volunteer hours or training.

By himself, he tested his own developing memory. He watched the landscape for glimpses of the green that he knew was embedded in the shrubbery; when it came flickering into his consciousness, he focused upon it, keeping it there, darkening it, holding it in his vision as long as possible until his head hurt and he let it fade away.

He stared at the flat, colorless sky, bringing blue from it, and remembered sunshine until finally, for an instant, he could feel warmth.

He stood at the foot of the bridge that spanned the river, the bridge that citizens were allowed to cross only on official business. Jonas had crossed it on school trips, visiting the outlying communities, and he knew that the land beyond the bridge was much the same, flat and well ordered, with fields for agriculture. The other communities he had seen on visits were essentially the same as his own, the only differences were slightly altered styles of dwellings, slightly different schedules in the schools.

He wondered what lay in the far distance where he had never gone. The land didn’t end beyond those nearby communities. Were there hills Elsewhere? Were there vast wind-torn areas like the place he had seen in memory, the place where the elephant died?

“Giver,” he asked one afternoon following a day when he had been sent away, “what causes you pain?”

When The Giver was silent, Jonas continued. “The Chief Elder told me, at the beginning, that the receiving of memory causes terrible pain. And you described for me that the failure of the last new Receiver released painful memories to the community.

“But I haven’t suffered, Giver. Not really.” Jonas smiled. “Oh, I remember the sunburn you gave me on the very first day. But that wasn’t so terrible. What is it that makes you suffer so much? If you gave some of it to me, maybe your pain would be less.” The Giver nodded. “Lie down,” he said. “It’s time, I suppose. I can’t shield you forever. You’ll have to take it all on eventually.

“Let me think,” he went on, when Jonas was on the bed, waiting, a little fearful.

“All right,” The Giver said after a moment, “I’ve decided. We’ll start with something familiar. Let’s go once again to a hill, and a sled.”

He placed his hands on Jonas’s back.


IT WAS MUCH the same, this memory, though the hill seemed to be a different one, steeper, and the snow was not falling as thickly as it had before.

It was colder, also, Jonas perceived. He could see, as he sat waiting at the top of the hill, that the snow beneath the sled was not thick and soft as it had been before, but hard, and coated with bluish ice.

The sled moved forward, and Jonas grinned with delight, looking forward to the breathtaking slide down through the invigorating air.

But the runners, this time, couldn’t slice through the frozen expanse as they had on the other, snow-cushioned hill. They skittered sideways and the sled gathered speed. Jonas pulled at the rope, trying to steer, but the steepness and speed took control from his hands and he was no longer enjoying the feeling of freedom but instead, terrified, was at the mercy of the wild acceleration downward over the ice.

Sideways, spinning, the sled hit a bump in the hill and Jonas was jarred loose and thrown violently into the air. He fell with his leg twisted under him, and could hear the crack of bone. His face scraped along jagged edges of ice and when he came, at last, to a stop, he lay shocked and still, feeling nothing at first but fear.

Then, the first wave of pain. He gasped. It was as if a hatchet lay lodged in his leg, slicing through each nerve with a hot blade. In his agony he perceived the word “fire” and felt flames licking at the torn bone and flesh. He tried to move, and could not. The pain grew.

He screamed. There was no answer.

Sobbing, he turned his head and vomited onto the frozen snow. Blood dripped from his face into the vomit.

“Nooooo!” he cried, and the sound disappeared into the empty landscape, into the wind.

Then, suddenly, he was in the Annex room again, writhing on the bed. His face was wet with tears.

Able to move now, he rocked his own body back and forth, breathing deeply to release the remembered pain.

He sat, and looked at his own leg, where it lay straight on the bed, unbroken. The brutal slice of pain was gone. But the leg ached horribly, still, and his face felt raw.

“May I have relief-of-pain, please?” he begged. It was always provided in his everyday life for the bruises and wounds, for a mashed finger, a stomach ache, a skinned knee from a fall from a bike. There was always a daub of anesthetic ointment, or a pill; or in severe instances, an injection that brought complete and instantaneous deliverance.

But The Giver said no, and looked away.

Limping, Jonas walked home, pushing his bicycle, that evening. The sunburn pain had been so small, in comparison, and had not stayed with him. But this ache lingered.

It was not unendurable, as the pain on the hill had been. Jonas tried to be brave. He remembered that the Chief Elder had said he was brave.

“Is something wrong, Jonas?” his father asked at the evening meal. “You’re so quiet tonight. Aren’t you feeling well? Would you like some medication?”

But Jonas remembered the rules. No medication for anything related to his training.

And no discussion of his training. At the time for sharing-of-feelings, he simply said that he felt tired, that his school lessons had been unusually demanding that day.

He went to his sleepingroom early, and from behind the closed door he could hear his parents and sister laughing as they gave Gabriel his evening bath.

They have never known pain, he thought. The realization made him feel desperately lonely, and he rubbed his throbbing leg. He eventually slept. Again and again he dreamed of the anguish and the isolation on the forsaken hill.

The daily training continued, and now it always included pain. The agony of the fractured leg began to seem no more than a mild discomfort as The Giver led Jonas firmly, little by little, into the deep and terrible suffering of the past. Each time, in his kindness, The Giver ended the afternoon with a color-filled memory of pleasure: a brisk sail on a blue-green lake; a meadow dotted with yellow wildflowers; an orange sunset behind mountains.

It was not enough to assuage the pain that Jonas was beginning, now, to know.

“Why?” Jonas asked him after he had received a torturous memory in which he had been neglected and unfed; the hunger had caused excruciating spasms in his empty, distended stomach. He lay on the bed, aching. “Why do you and I have to hold these memories?” “It gives us wisdom,” The Giver replied. “Without wisdom I could not fulfill my function of advising the Committee of Elders when they call upon me.”

“But what wisdom do you get from hunger?” Jonas groaned. His stomach still hurt, though the memory had ended.

“Some years ago,” The Giver told him, “before your birth, a lot of citizens petitioned the Committee of Elders. They wanted to increase the rate of births. They wanted each Birthmother to be assigned four births instead of three, so that the population would increase and there would be more Laborers available.” Jonas nodded, listening. “That makes sense.”

“The idea was that certain family units could accommodate an additional child.”

Jonas nodded again. “Mine could,” he pointed out. “We have Gabriel this year, and it’s fun, having a third child.”

“The Committee of Elders sought my advice,” The Giver said. “It made sense to them, too, but it was a new idea, and they came to me for wisdom.”

“And you used your memories?”

The Giver said yes. “And the strongest memory that came was hunger. It came from many generations back. Centuries back. The population had gotten so big that hunger was everywhere. Excruciating hunger and starvation. It was followed by warfare.” Warfare? It was a concept Jonas did not know. But hunger was familiar to him now. Unconsciously he rubbed his own abdomen, recalling the pain of its unfulfilled needs. “So you described that to them?” “They don’t want to hear about pain. They just seek the advice. I simply advised them against increasing the population.”

“But you said that that was before my birth. They hardly ever come to you for advice. Only when they—what was it you said? When they have a problem they’ve never faced before. When did it happen last?” “Do you remember the day when the plane flew over the community?”

“Yes. I was scared.”

“So were they. They prepared to shoot it down. But they sought my advice. I told them to wait.”

“But how did you know? How did you know the pilot was lost?”

“I didn’t. I used my wisdom, from the memories. I knew that there had been times in the past—terrible times—when people had destroyed others in haste, in fear, and had brought about their own destruction.” Jonas realized something. “That means,” he said slowly, “that you have memories of destruction. And you have to give them to me, too, because I have to get the wisdom.” The Giver nodded.

“But it will hurt,” Jonas said. It wasn’t a question.

“It will hurt terribly,” The Giver agreed.

“But why can’t everyone have the memories? I think it would seem a little easier if the memories were shared. You and I wouldn’t have to bear so much by ourselves, if everybody took a part.” The Giver sighed. “You’re right,” he said. “But then everyone would be burdened and pained. They don’t want that. And that’s the real reason The Receiver is so vital to them, and so honored. They selected me—and you—to lift that burden from themselves.” “When did they decide that?” Jonas asked angrily. “It wasn’t fair. Let’s change it!”

“How do you suggest we do that? I’ve never been able to think of a way, and I’m supposed to be the one with all the wisdom.”

“But there are two of us now,” Jonas said eagerly. “Together we can think of something!”

The Giver watched him with a wry smile.

“Why can’t we just apply for a change of rules?” Jonas suggested.

The Giver laughed; then Jonas, too, chuckled reluctantly.

“The decision was made long before my time or yours,” The Giver said, “and before the previous Receiver, and—” He waited.

“Back and back and back.” Jonas repeated the familiar phrase. Sometimes it had seemed humorous to him. Sometimes it had seemed meaningful and important.

Now it was ominous. It meant, he knew, that nothing could be changed.

The newchild, Gabriel, was growing, and successfully passed the tests of maturity that the Nurturers gave each month; he could sit alone, now, could reach for and grasp small play objects, and he had six teeth. During the daytime hours, Father reported, he was cheerful and seemed of normal intelligence. But he remained fretful at night, whimpering often, needing frequent attention.

“After all this extra time I’ve put in with him,” Father said one evening after Gabriel had been bathed and was lying, for the moment, hugging his hippo placidly in the small crib that had replaced the basket, “I hope they’re not going to decide to release him.” “Maybe it would be for the best,” Mother suggested. “I know you don’t mind getting up with him at night. But the lack of sleep is awfully hard for me.”

“If they release Gabriel, can we get another newchild as a visitor?” asked Lily. She was kneeling beside the crib, making funny faces at the little one, who was smiling back at her.

Jonas’s mother rolled her eyes in dismay.

“No,” Father said, smiling. He ruffled Lily’s hair. “It’s very rare, anyway, that a newchild’s status is as uncertain as Gabriel’s. It probably won’t happen again, for a long time.

“Anyway,” he sighed, “they won’t make the decision for a while. Right now we’re all preparing for a release we’ll probably have to make very soon. There’s a Birth-mother who’s expecting twin males next month.” “Oh, dear,” Mother said, shaking her head. “If they’re identical, I hope you’re not the one assigned—”

“I am. I’m next on the list. I’ll have to select the one to be nurtured, and the one to be released. It’s usually not hard, though. Usually it’s just a matter of birthweight. We release the smaller of the two.” Jonas, listening, thought suddenly about the bridge and how, standing there, he had wondered what lay Elsewhere. Was there someone there, waiting, who would receive the tiny released twin? Would it grow up Elsewhere, not knowing, ever, that in this community lived a being who looked exactly the same?

For a moment he felt a tiny, fluttering hope that he knew was quite foolish. He hoped that it would be Larissa, waiting. Larissa, the old woman he had bathed. He remembered her sparkling eyes, her soft voice, her low chuckle. Fiona had told him recently that Larissa had been released at a wonderful ceremony.

But he knew that the Old were not given children to raise. Larissa’s life Elsewhere would be quiet and serene as befit the Old; she would not welcome the responsibility of nurturing a newchild who needed feeding and care, and would likely cry at night.

“Mother? Father?” he said, the idea coming to him unexpectedly, “why don’t we put Gabriel’s crib in my room tonight? I know how to feed and comfort him, and it would let you and Father get some sleep.” Father looked doubtful. “You sleep so soundly, Jonas. What if his restlessness didn’t wake you?”

It was Lily who answered that. “If no one goes to tend Gabriel,” she pointed out, “he gets very loud. He’d wake all of us, if Jonas slept through it.”

Father laughed. “You’re right, Lily-billy. All right, Jonas, let’s try it, just for tonight. I’ll take the night off and we’ll let Mother get some sleep, too.” Gabriel slept soundly for the earliest part of the night. Jonas, in his bed, lay awake for a while; from time to time he raised himself on one elbow, looking over at the crib. The newchild was on his stomach, his arms relaxed beside his head, his eyes closed, and his breathing regular and undisturbed. Finally Jonas slept too.

Then, as the middle hours of the night approached, the noise of Gabe’s restlessness woke Jonas. The newchild was turning under his cover, flailing his arms, and beginning to whimper.

Jonas rose and went to him. Gently he patted Gabriel’s back. Sometimes that was all it took to lull him back to sleep. But the newchild still squirmed fretfully under his hand.

Still patting rhythmically, Jonas began to remember the wonderful sail that The Giver had given him not long before: a bright, breezy day on a clear turquoise lake, and above him the white sail of the boat billowing as he moved along in the brisk wind.

He was not aware of giving the memory; but suddenly he realized that it was becoming dimmer, that it was sliding through his hand into the being of the newchild. Gabriel became quiet. Startled, Jonas pulled back what was left of the memory with a burst of will. He removed his hand from the little back and stood quietly beside the crib.

To himself, he called the memory of the sail forward again. It was still there, but the sky was less blue, the gentle motion of the boat slower, the water of the lake more murky and clouded. He kept it for a while, soothing his own nervousness at what had occurred, then let it go and returned to his bed.

Once more, toward dawn, the newchild woke and cried out. Again Jonas went to him. This time he quite deliberately placed his hand firmly on Gabriel’s back, and released the rest of the calming day on the lake. Again Gabriel slept.

But now Jonas lay awake, thinking. He no longer had any more than a wisp of the memory, and he felt a small lack where it had been. He could ask The Giver for another sail, he knew. A sail perhaps on ocean, next time, for Jonas had a memory of ocean, now, and knew what it was; he knew that there were sailboats there, too, in memories yet to be acquired.

He wondered, though, if he should confess to The Giver that he had given a memory away. He was not yet qualified to be a Giver himself; nor had Gabriel been selected to be a Receiver.

That he had this power frightened him. He decided not to tell.


JONAS ENTERED THE Annex room and realized immediately that it was a day when he would be sent away. The Giver was rigid in his chair, his face in his hands.

“I’ll come back tomorrow, sir,” he said quickly. Then he hesitated. “Unless maybe there’s something I can do to help.”

The Giver looked up at him, his face contorted with suffering. “Please,” he gasped, “take some of the pain.”

Jonas helped him to his chair at the side of the bed. Then he quickly removed his tunic and lay face down. “Put your hands on me,” he directed, aware that in such anguish The Giver might need reminding.

The hands came, and the pain came with them and through them. Jonas braced himself and entered the memory which was torturing The Giver.

He was in a confused, noisy, foul-smelling place. It was daylight, early morning, and the air was thick with smoke that hung, yellow and brown, above the ground. Around him, everywhere, far across the expanse of what seemed to be a field, lay groaning men. A wild-eyed horse, its bridle torn and dangling, trotted frantically through the mounds of men, tossing its head, whinnying in panic. It stumbled, finally, then fell, and did not rise.

Jonas heard a voice next to him. “Water,” the voice said in a parched, croaking whisper.

He turned his head toward the voice and looked into the half-closed eyes of a boy who seemed not much older than himself. Dirt streaked the boy’s face and his matted blond hair. He lay sprawled, his gray uniform glistening with wet, fresh blood.

The colors of the carnage were grotesquely bright: the crimson wetness on the rough and dusty fabric, the ripped shreds of grass, startlingly green, in the boy’s yellow hair.

The boy stared at him. “Water,” he begged again. When he spoke, a new spurt of blood drenched the coarse cloth across his chest and sleeve.

One of Jonas’s arms was immobilized with pain, and he could see through his own torn sleeve something that looked like ragged flesh and splintery bone. He tried his remaining arm and felt it move. Slowly he reached to his side, felt the metal container there, and removed its cap, stopping the small motion of his hand now and then to wait for the surging pain to ease. Finally, when the container was open, he extended his arm slowly across the blood-soaked earth, inch by inch, and held it to the lips of the boy. Water trickled into the imploring mouth and down the grimy chin.

The boy sighed. His head fell back, his lower jaw dropping as if he had been surprised by something. A dull blankness slid slowly across his eyes. He was silent.

But the noise continued all around: the cries of the wounded men, the cries begging for water and for Mother and for death. Horses lying on the ground shrieked, raised their heads, and stabbed randomly toward the sky with their hooves.

From the distance, Jonas could hear the thud of cannons. Overwhelmed by pain, he lay there in the fearsome stench for hours, listened to the men and animals die, and learned what warfare meant.

Finally, when he knew that he could bear it no longer and would welcome death himself, he opened his eyes and was once again on the bed.

The Giver looked away, as if he could not bear to see what he had done to Jonas. “Forgive me,” he said.


JONAS DID NOT want to go back. He didn’t want the memories, didn’t want the honor, didn’t want the wisdom, didn’t want the pain. He wanted his childhood again, his scraped knees and ball games. He sat in his dwelling alone, watching through the window, seeing children at play, citizens bicycling home from uneventful days at work, ordinary lives free of anguish because he had been selected, as others before him had, to bear their burden.

But the choice was not his. He returned each day to the Annex room.

The Giver was gentle with him for many days following the terrible shared memory of war.

“There are so many good memories,” The Giver reminded Jonas. And it was true. By now Jonas had experienced countless bits of happiness, things he had never known of before.

He had seen a birthday party, with one child singled out and celebrated on his day, so that now he understood the joy of being an individual, special and unique and proud.

He had visited museums and seen paintings filled with all the colors he could now recognize and name.

In one ecstatic memory he had ridden a gleaming brown horse across a field that smelled of damp grass, and had dismounted beside a small stream from which both he and the horse drank cold, clear water. Now he understood about animals; and in the moment that the horse turned from the stream and nudged Jonas’s shoulder affectionately with its head, he perceived the bonds between animal and human.

He had walked through woods, and sat at night beside a campfire. Although he had through the memories learned about the pain of loss and loneliness, now he gained, too, an understanding of solitude and its joy.

“What is your favorite?” Jonas asked The Giver. “You don’t have to give it away yet,” he added quickly. “Just tell me about it, so I can look forward to it, because I’ll have to receive it when your job is done.” The Giver smiled. “Lie down,” he said. “I’m happy to give it to you.”

Jonas felt the joy of it as soon as the memory began. Sometimes it took a while for him to get his bearings, to find his place. But this time he fit right in and felt the happiness that pervaded the memory.

He was in a room filled with people, and it was warm, with firelight glowing on a hearth. He could see through a window that outside it was night, and snowing. There were colored lights: red and green and yellow, twinkling from a tree which was, oddly, inside the room. On a table, lighted candles stood in a polished golden holder and cast a soft, flickering glow. He could smell things cooking, and he heard soft laughter. A golden-haired dog lay sleeping on the floor.

On the floor there were packages wrapped in brightly colored paper and tied with gleaming ribbons. As Jonas watched, a small child began to pick up the packages and pass them around the room: to other children, to adults who were obviously parents, and to an older, quiet couple, man and woman, who sat smiling together on a couch.

While Jonas watched, the people began one by one to untie the ribbons on the packages, to unwrap the bright papers, open the boxes and reveal toys and clothing and books. There were cries of delight. They hugged one another.

The small child went and sat on the lap of the old woman, and she rocked him and rubbed her cheek against his.

Jonas opened his eyes and lay contentedly on the bed, still luxuriating in the warm and comforting memory. It had all been there, all the things he had learned to treasure.

“What did you perceive?” The Giver asked.

“Warmth,” Jonas replied, “and happiness. And—let me think. Family. That it was a celebration of some sort, a holiday. And something else—I can’t quite get the word for it.” “It will come to you.”

“Who were the old people? Why were they there?” It had puzzled Jonas, seeing them in the room. The Old of the community did not ever leave their special place, the House of the Old, where they were so well cared for and respected.

“They were called Grandparents.”

“Grand parents?”

“Grandparents. It meant parents-of-the-parents, long ago.”

“Back and back and back?” Jonas began to laugh. “So actually, there could be parents-of-the-parents-of-the-parents-of-the parents?”

The Giver laughed, too. “That’s right. It’s a little like looking at yourself looking in a mirror looking at yourself looking in a mirror.”

Jonas frowned. “But my parents must have had parents! I never thought about it before. Who are my parents-of-the-parents? Where are they?”

“You could go look in the Hall of Open Records. You’d find the names. But think, son. If you apply for children, then who will be their parents-of-the-parents? Who will be their grandparents?” “My mother and father, of course.”

“And where will they be?”

Jonas thought. “Oh,” he said slowly. “When I finish my training and become a full adult, I’ll be given my own dwelling. And then when Lily does, a few years later, she’ll get her own dwelling, and maybe a spouse, and children if she applies for them, and then Mother and Father—” “That’s right.”

“As long as they’re still working and contributing to the community, they’ll go and live with the other Childless Adults. And they won’t be part of my life anymore.

“And after that, when the time comes, they’ll go to the House of the Old,” Jonas went on. He was thinking aloud. “And they’ll be well cared for, and respected, and when they’re released, there will be a celebration.” “Which you won’t attend,” The Giver pointed out.

“No, of course not, because I won’t even know about it. By then I’ll be so busy with my own life. And Lily will, too. So our children, if we have them, won’t know who their parents-of-parents are, either.

“It seems to work pretty well that way, doesn’t it? The way we do it in our community?” Jonas asked. “I just didn’t realize there was any other way, until I received that memory.” “It works,” The Giver agreed.

Jonas hesitated. “I certainly liked the memory, though. I can see why it’s your favorite. I couldn’t quite get the word for the whole feeling of it, the feeling that was so strong in the room.” “Love,” The Giver told him.

Jonas repeated it. “Love.” It was a word and concept new to him.

They were both silent for a minute. Then Jonas said, “Giver?”


“I feel very foolish saying this. Very, very foolish.”

“No need. Nothing is foolish here. Trust the memories and how they make you feel.”

“Well,” Jonas said, looking at the floor, “I know you don’t have the memory anymore, because you gave it to me, so maybe you won’t understand this—”

“I will. I am left with a vague wisp of that one; and I have many other memories of families, and holidays, and happiness. Of love.”

Jonas blurted out what he was feeling. “I was thinking that . . . well, I can see that it wasn’t a very practical way to live, with the Old right there in the same place, where maybe they wouldn’t be well taken care of, the way they are now, and that we have a better-arranged way of doing things. But anyway, I was thinking, I mean feeling, actually, that it was kind of nice, then. And that I wish we could be that way, and that you could be my grandparent. The family in the memory seemed a little more—” He faltered, not able to find the word he wanted.

“A little more complete,” The Giver suggested.

Jonas nodded. “I liked the feeling of love,” he confessed. He glanced nervously at the speaker on the wall, reassuring himself that no one was listening. “I wish we still had that,” he whispered. “Of course,” he added quickly, “I do understand that it wouldn’t work very well. And that it’s much better to be organized the way we are now. I can see that it was a dangerous way to live.” “What do you mean?”

Jonas hesitated. He wasn’t certain, really, what he had meant. He could feel that there was risk involved, though he wasn’t sure how. “Well,” he said finally, grasping for an explanation, “they had fire right there in that room. There was a fire burning in the fireplace. And there were candles on a table. I can certainly see why those things were outlawed.

“Still,” he said slowly, almost to himself, “I did like the light they made. And the warmth.”

“Father? Mother?” Jonas asked tentatively after the evening meal. “I have a question I want to ask you.”

“What is it, Jonas?” his father asked.

He made himself say the words, though he felt flushed with embarrassment. He had rehearsed them in his mind all the way home from the Annex.

“Do you love me?”

There was an awkward silence for a moment. Then Father gave a little chuckle. “Jonas. You, of all people. Precision of language, please!”

“What do you mean?” Jonas asked. Amusement was not at all what he had anticipated.

“Your father means that you used a very generalized word, so meaningless that it’s become almost obsolete,” his mother explained carefully.

Jonas stared at them. Meaningless? He had never before felt anything as meaningful as the memory.

“And of course our community can’t function smoothly if people don’t use precise language. You could ask, ‘Do you enjoy me?’ The answer is ‘Yes,’” his mother said.

“Or,” his father suggested, “‘Do you take pride in my accomplishments?’ And the answer is wholeheartedly ‘Yes.’”

“Do you understand why it’s inappropriate to use a word like ‘love’?” Mother asked.

Jonas nodded. “Yes, thank you, I do,” he replied slowly.

It was his first lie to his parents.

“Gabriel?” Jonas whispered that night to the newchild. The crib was in his room again. After Gabe had slept soundly in Jonas’s room for four nights, his parents had pronounced the experiment a success and Jonas a hero. Gabriel was growing rapidly, now crawling and giggling across the room and pulling himself up to stand. He could be upgraded in the Nurturing Center, Father said happily, now that he slept; he could be officially named and given to his family in December, which was only two months away.

But when he was taken away, he stopped sleeping again, and cried in the night.

So he was back in Jonas’s sleepingroom. They would give it a little more time, they decided. Since Gabe seemed to like it in Jonas’s room, he would sleep there at night a little longer, until the habit of sound sleep was fully formed. The Nurturers were very optimistic about Gabriel’s future.

There was no answer to Jonas’s whisper. Gabriel was sound asleep.

“Things could change, Gabe,” Jonas went on. “Things could be different. I don’t know how, but there must be some way for things to be different. There could be colors.

“And grandparents,” he added, staring through the dimness toward the ceiling of his sleepingroom. “And everybody would have the memories.

“You know about memories,” he whispered, turning toward the crib.

Gabriel’s breathing was even and deep. Jonas liked having him there, though he felt guilty about the secret. Each night he gave memories to Gabriel: memories of boat rides and picnics in the sun; memories of soft rainfall against windowpanes; memories of dancing barefoot on a damp lawn.


The newchild stirred slightly in his sleep. Jonas looked over at him.

“There could be love,” Jonas whispered.

The next morning, for the first time, Jonas did not take his pill. Something within him, something that had grown there through the memories, told him to throw the pill away.


TODAY IS DECLARED AN UNSCHEDULED HOLIDAY. Jonas, his parents, and Lily all turned in surprise and looked at the wall speaker from which the announcement had come. It happened so rarely, and was such a treat for the entire community when it did. Adults were exempted from the day’s work, children from school and training and volunteer hours. The substitute Laborers, who would be given a different holiday, took over all the necessary tasks: nurturing, food delivery, and care of the Old; and the community was free.

Jonas cheered, and put his homework folder down. He had been about to leave for school. School was less important to him now; and before much more time passed, his formal schooling would end. But still, for Twelves, though they had begun their adult training, there were the endless lists of rules to be memorized and the newest technology to be mastered.

He wished his parents, sister, and Gabe a happy day, and rode down the bicycle path, looking for Asher.

He had not taken the pills, now, for four weeks. The Stirrings had returned, and he felt a little guilty and embarrassed about the pleasurable dreams that came to him as he slept. But he knew he couldn’t go back to the world of no feelings that he had lived in so long.

And his new, heightened feelings permeated a greater realm than simply his sleep. Though he knew that his failure to take the pills accounted for some of it, he thought that the feelings came also from the memories. Now he could see all of the colors; and he could keep them, too, so that the trees and grass and bushes stayed green in his vision. Gabriel’s rosy cheeks stayed pink, even when he slept. And apples were always, always red.

Now, through the memories, he had seen oceans and mountain lakes and streams that gurgled through woods; and now he saw the familiar wide river beside the path differently. He saw all of the light and color and history it contained and carried in its slow-moving water; and he knew that there was an Elsewhere from which it came, and an Elsewhere to which it was going.

On this unexpected, casual holiday he felt happy, as he always had on holidays; but with a deeper happiness than ever before. Thinking, as he always did, about precision of language, Jonas realized that it was a new depth of feelings that he was experiencing. Somehow they were not at all the same as the feelings that every evening, in every dwelling, every citizen analyzed with endless talk.

“I felt angry because someone broke the play area rules,” Lily had said once, making a fist with her small hand to indicate her fury. Her family—Jonas among them—had talked about the possible reasons for rule-breaking, and the need for understanding and patience, until Lily’s fist had relaxed and her anger was gone.

But Lily had not felt anger, Jonas realized now. Shallow impatience and exasperation, that was all Lily had felt. He knew that with certainty because now he knew what anger was. Now he had, in the memories, experienced injustice and cruelty, and he had reacted with rage that welled up so passionately inside him that the thought of discussing it calmly at the evening meal was unthinkable.

“I felt sad today,” he had heard his mother say, and they had comforted her.

But now Jonas had experienced real sadness. He had felt grief. He knew that there was no quick comfort for emotions like those.

These were deeper and they did not need to be told. They were felt.

Today, he felt happiness.

“Asher!” He spied his friend’s bicycle leaning against a tree at the edge of the playing field. Nearby, other bikes were strewn about on the ground. On a holiday the usual rules of order could be disregarded.

He skidded to a stop and dropped his own bike beside the others. “Hey, Ash!” he shouted, looking around. There seemed to be no one in the play area. “Where are you?” “Psssheeewwww!” A child’s voice, coming from behind a nearby bush, made the sound. “Pow! Pow! Pow!”

A female Eleven named Tanya staggered forward from where she had been hiding. Dramatically she clutched her stomach and stumbled about in a zig-zag pattern, groaning. “You got me!” she called, and fell to the ground, grinning.


Jonas, standing on the side of the playing field, recognized Asher’s voice. He saw his friend, aiming an imaginary weapon in his hand, dart from behind one tree to another. “Blam! You’re in my line of ambush, Jonas! Watch out!” Jonas stepped back. He moved behind Asher’s bike and knelt so that he was out of sight. It was a game he had often played with the other children, a game of good guys and bad guys, a harmless pastime that used up their contained energy and ended only when they all lay posed in freakish postures on the ground.

He had never recognized it before as a game of war.

“Attack!” The shout came from behind the small storehouse where play equipment was kept. Three children dashed forward, their imaginary weapons in firing position.

From the opposite side of the field came an opposing shout: “Counter-attack!” From their hiding places a horde of children—Jonas recognized Fiona in the group—emerged, running in a crouched position, firing across the field. Several of them stopped, grabbed their own shoulders and chests with exaggerated gestures, and pretended to be hit. They dropped to the ground and lay suppressing giggles.

Feelings surged within Jonas. He found himself walking forward into the field.

“You’re hit, Jonas!” Asher yelled from behind the tree. “Pow! You’re hit again!”

Jonas stood alone in the center of the field. Several of the children raised their heads and looked at him uneasily. The attacking armies slowed, emerged from their crouched positions, and watched to see what he was doing.

In his mind, Jonas saw again the face of the boy who had lain dying on a field and had begged him for water. He had a sudden choking feeling, as if it were difficult to breathe.

One of the children raised an imaginary rifle and made an attempt to destroy him with a firing noise. “Pssheeew!” Then they were all silent, standing awkwardly, and the only sound was the sound of Jonas’s shuddering breaths. He was struggling not to cry.

Gradually, when nothing happened, nothing changed, the children looked at each other nervously and went away. He heard the sounds as they righted their bicycles and began to ride down the path that led from the field.

Only Asher and Fiona remained.

“What’s wrong, Jonas? It was only a game,” Fiona said.

“You ruined it,” Asher said in an irritated voice.

“Don’t play it anymore,” Jonas pleaded.

“I’m the one who’s training for Assistant Recreation Director,” Asher pointed out angrily. “Games aren’t your area of expertness.”

“Expertise,” Jonas corrected him automatically.

“Whatever. You can’t say what we play, even if you are going to be the new Receiver.” Asher looked warily at him. “I apologize for not paying you the respect you deserve,” he mumbled.

“Asher,” Jonas said. He was trying to speak carefully, and with kindness, to say exactly what he wanted to say. “You had no way of knowing this. I didn’t know it myself until recently. But it’s a cruel game. In the past, there have—” “I said I apologize, Jonas.”

Jonas sighed. It was no use. Of course Asher couldn’t understand. “I accept your apology, Asher,” he said wearily.

“Do you want to go for a ride along the river, Jonas?” Fiona asked, biting her lip with nervousness.

Jonas looked at her. She was so lovely. For a fleeting instant he thought he would like nothing better than to ride peacefully along the river path, laughing and talking with his gentle female friend. But he knew that such times had been taken from him now. He shook his head. After a moment his two friends turned and went to their bikes. He watched as they rode away.

Jonas trudged to the bench beside the Storehouse and sat down, overwhelmed with feelings of loss. His childhood, his friendships, his carefree sense of security—all of these things seemed to be slipping away. With his new, heightened feelings, he was overwhelmed by sadness at the way the others had laughed and shouted, playing at war. But he knew that they could not understand why, without the memories. He felt such love for Asher and for Fiona. But they could not feel it back, without the memories. And he could not give them those. Jonas knew with certainty that he could change nothing.

Back in their dwelling, that evening, Lily chattered merrily about the wonderful holiday she had had, playing with her friends, having her midday meal out of doors, and (she confessed) sneaking a very short try on her father’s bicycle.

“I can’t wait till I get my very own bicycle next month. Father’s is too big for me. I fell,” she explained matter-of-factly. “Good thing Gabe wasn’t in the child seat!” “A very good thing,” Mother agreed, frowning at the idea of it. Gabriel waved his arms at the mention of himself. He had begun to walk just the week before. The first steps of a newchild were always the occasion for celebration at the Nurturing Center, Father said, but also for the introduction of a discipline wand. Now Father brought the slender instrument home with him each night, in case Gabriel misbehaved.

But he was a happy and easygoing toddler. Now he moved unsteadily across the room, laughing. “Gay!” he chirped. “Gay!” It was the way he said his own name.

Jonas brightened. It had been a depressing day for him, after such a bright start. But he set his glum thoughts aside. He thought about starting to teach Lily to ride so that she could speed off proudly after her Ceremony of Nine, which would be coming soon. It was hard to believe that it was almost December again, that almost a year had passed since he had become a Twelve.

He smiled as he watched the newchild plant one small foot carefully before the other, grinning with glee at his own steps as he tried them out.

“I want to get to sleep early tonight,” Father said. “Tomorrow’s a busy day for me. The twins are being born tomorrow, and the test results show that they’re identical.” “One for here, one for Elsewhere,” Lily chanted. “One for here, one for Else—”

“Do you actually take it Elsewhere, Father?” Jonas asked.

“No, I just have to make the selection. I weigh them, hand the larger over to a Nurturer who’s standing by, waiting, and then I get the smaller one all cleaned up and comfy. Then I perform a small Ceremony of Release and—” He glanced down, grinning at Gabriel. “Then I wave bye-bye,” he said, in the special sweet voice he used when he spoke to the newchild. He waved his hand in the familiar gesture.

Gabriel giggled and waved bye-bye back to him.

“And somebody else comes to get him? Somebody from Elsewhere?”

“That’s right, Jonas-bonus.”

Jonas rolled his eyes in embarrassment that his father had used the silly pet name.

Lily was deep in thought. “What if they give the little twin a name Elsewhere, a name like, oh, maybe Jonathan? And here, in our community, at his naming, the twin that we kept here is given the name Jonathan, and then there would be two children with the same name, and they would look exactly the same, and someday, maybe when they were a Six, one group of Sixes would go to visit another community on a bus, and there in the other community, in the other group of Sixes, would be a Jonathan who was exactly the same as the other Jonathan, and then maybe they would get mixed up and take the wrong Jonathan home, and maybe his parents wouldn’t notice, and then—” She paused for breath.

“Lily,” Mother said, “I have a wonderful idea. Maybe when you become a Twelve, they’ll give you the Assignment of Storyteller! I don’t think we’ve had a Storyteller in the community for a long time. But if I were on the Committee, I would definitely choose you for that job!” Lily grinned. “I have a better idea for one more story,” she announced. “What if actually we were all twins and didn’t know it, and so Elsewhere there would be another Lily, and another Jonas, and another Father, and another Asher, and another Chief Elder, and another—” Father groaned. “Lily,” he said. “It’s bedtime.”


“GIVER,” JONAS ASKED the next afternoon, “Do you ever think about release?”

“Do you mean my own release, or just the general topic of release?”

“Both, I guess. I apologi—I mean I should have been more precise. But I don’t know exactly what I meant.”

“Sit back up. No need to lie down while we’re talking.” Jonas, who had already been stretched out on the bed when the question came to his mind, sat back up.

“I guess I do think about it occasionally,” The Giver said. “I think about my own release when I’m in an awful lot of pain. I wish I could put in a request for it, sometimes. But I’m not permitted to do that until the new Receiver is trained.” “Me,” Jonas said in a dejected voice. He was not looking forward to the end of the training, when he would become the new Receiver. It was clear to him what a terribly difficult and lonely life it was, despite the honor.

“I can’t request release either,” Jonas pointed out. “It was in my rules.”

The Giver laughed harshly. “I know that. They hammered out those rules after the failure ten years ago.”

Jonas had heard again and again now, reference to the previous failure. But he still did not know what had happened ten years before. “Giver,” he said, “tell me what happened. Please.” The Giver shrugged. “On the surface, it was quite simple. A Receiver-to-be was selected, the way you were. The selection went smoothly enough. The Ceremony was held, and the selection was made. The crowd cheered, as they did for you. The new Receiver was puzzled and a little frightened, as you were.” “My parents told me it was a female.”

The Giver nodded.

Jonas thought of his favorite female, Fiona, and shivered. He wouldn’t want his gentle friend to suffer the way he had, taking on the memories. “What was she like?” he asked The Giver.

The Giver looked sad, thinking about it. “She was a remarkable young woman. Very self-possessed and serene. Intelligent, eager to learn.” He shook his head and drew a deep breath. “You know, Jonas, when she came to me in this room, when she presented herself to begin her training—” Jonas interrupted him with a question. “Can you tell me her name? My parents said that it wasn’t to be spoken again in the community. But couldn’t you say it just to me?” The Giver hesitated painfully, as if saying the name aloud might be excruciating. “Her name was Rosemary,” he told Jonas, finally.

“Rosemary. I like that name.”

The Giver went on. “When she came to me for the first time, she sat there in the chair where you sat on your first day. She was eager and excited and a little scared. We talked. I tried to explain things as well as I could.” “The way you did to me.”

The Giver chuckled ruefully. “The explanations are difficult. The whole thing is so beyond one’s experience. But I tried. And she listened carefully. Her eyes were very luminous, I remember.” He looked up suddenly. “Jonas, I gave you a memory that I told you was my favorite. I still have a shred of it left. The room, with the family, and grandparents?” Jonas nodded. Of course he remembered. “Yes,” he said. “It had that wonderful feeling with it. You told me it was love.”

“You can understand, then, that that’s what I felt for Rosemary,” The Giver explained. “I loved her.

“I feel it for you, too,” he added.

“What happened to her?” Jonas asked.

“Her training began. She received well, as you do. She was so enthusiastic. So delighted to experience new things. I remember her laughter . . .”

His voice faltered and trailed off.

“What happened?” Jonas asked again, after a moment. “Please tell me.”

The Giver closed his eyes. “It broke my heart, Jonas, to transfer pain to her. But it was my job. It was what I had to do, the way I’ve had to do it to you.” The room was silent. Jonas waited. Finally The Giver continued.

“Five weeks. That was all. I gave her happy memories: a ride on a merry-go-round; a kitten to play with; a picnic. Sometimes I chose one just because I knew it would make her laugh, and I so treasured the sound of that laughter in this room that had always been so silent.

“But she was like you, Jonas. She wanted to experience everything. She knew that it was her responsibility. And so she asked me for more difficult memories.”

Jonas held his breath for a moment. “You didn’t give her war, did you? Not after just five weeks?”

The Giver shook his head and sighed. “No. And I didn’t give her physical pain. But I gave her loneliness. And I gave her loss. I transferred a memory of a child taken from its parents. That was the first one. She appeared stunned at its end.” Jonas swallowed. Rosemary, and her laughter, had begun to seem real to him, and he pictured her looking up from the bed of memories, shocked.

The Giver continued. “I backed off, gave her more little delights. But everything changed, once she knew about pain. I could see it in her eyes.”

“She wasn’t brave enough?” Jonas suggested.

The Giver didn’t respond to the question. “She insisted that I continue, that I not spare her. She said it was her duty. And I knew, of course, that she was correct.

“I couldn’t bring myself to inflict physical pain on her. But I gave her anguish of many kinds. Poverty, and hunger, and terror.

“I had to, Jonas. It was my job. And she had been chosen.” The Giver looked at him imploringly. Jonas stroked his hand.

“Finally one afternoon, we finished for the day. It had been a hard session. I tried to finish—as I do with you—by transferring something happy and cheerful. But the times of laughter were gone by then. She stood up very silently, frowning, as if she were making a decision. Then she came over to me and put her arms around me. She kissed my cheek.” As Jonas watched, The Giver stroked his own cheek, recalling the touch of Rosemary’s lips ten years before.

“She left here that day, left this room, and did not go back to her dwelling. I was notified by the Speaker that she had gone directly to the Chief Elder and asked to be released.” “But it’s against the rules! The Receiver-in-training can’t apply for rel—”

“It’s in your rules, Jonas. But it wasn’t in hers. She asked for release, and they had to give it to her. I never saw her again.”

So that was the failure, Jonas thought. It was obvious that it saddened The Giver very deeply. But it didn’t seem such a terrible thing, after all. And he, Jonas, would never have done it—never have requested release, no matter how difficult his training became. The Giver needed a successor, and he had been chosen.

A thought occurred to Jonas. Rosemary had been released very early in her training. What if something happened to him, Jonas? He had a whole year’s worth of memories now.

“Giver,” he asked, “I can’t request release, I know that. But what if something happened: an accident? What if I fell into the river like the little Four, Caleb, did? Well, that doesn’t make sense because I’m a good swimmer. But what if I couldn’t swim, and fell into the river and was lost? Then there wouldn’t be a new Receiver, but you would already have given away an awful lot of important memories, so even though they would select a new Receiver, the memories would be gone except for the shreds that you have left of them? And then what if—” He started to laugh, suddenly. “I sound like my sister, Lily,” he said, amused at himself.

The Giver looked at him gravely. “You just stay away from the river, my friend,” he said. “The community lost Rosemary after five weeks and it was a disaster for them. I don’t know what the community would do if they lost you.” “Why was it a disaster?”

“I think I mentioned to you once,” The Giver reminded him, “that when she was gone, the memories came back to the people. If you were to be lost in the river, Jonas, your memories would not be lost with you. Memories are forever.

“Rosemary had only those five weeks worth, and most of them were good ones. But there were those few terrible memories, the ones that had overwhelmed her. For a while they overwhelmed the community. All those feelings!  They’d never experienced that before.

“I was so devastated by my own grief at her loss, and my own feeling of failure, that I didn’t even try to help them through it. I was angry, too.”

The Giver was quiet for a moment, obviously thinking. “You know,” he said, finally, “if they lost you, with all the training you’ve had now, they’d have all those memories again themselves.” Jonas made a face. “They’d hate that.”

“They certainly would. They wouldn’t know how to deal with it at all.”

“The only way I deal with it is by having you there to help me,” Jonas pointed out with a sigh.

The Giver nodded. “I suppose,” he said slowly, “that I could—”

“You could what?”

The Giver was still deep in thought. After a moment, he said, “If you floated off in the river, I suppose I could help the whole community the way I’ve helped you. It’s an interesting concept. I need to think about it some more. Maybe we’ll talk about it again sometime. But not now.

“I’m glad you’re a good swimmer, Jonas. But stay away from the river.” He laughed a little, but the laughter was not lighthearted. His thoughts seemed to be elsewhere, and his eyes were very troubled.

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