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A row of houses stood in perfect rows like repeating notes of identical frequency. Each house had black shutters and as twilight began to curl its feline sinews about the neighborhood, the shutters up and down the street shut in mechanical unison. The flowers, all solid colors and identical to the last chromosome, gently closed their petals with a motion mimicking the graceful fold of an umbrella. Iron gates, unadorned, safely enclosed immaculate square yards. They darkened with the sky above.
At precisely six o' clock, a row of silver cars streamed down Capitol Street. Each pulled into tiny cement drives and parked perpendicular to the pristine white siding of the houses. Simultaneously, all twenty-two garage doors rose with a squeak of steel and twenty-two men in pressed black suits entered the shuttered houses.
In House Number Seventeen, Mrs. Bradford set a plain white plate upon a plain white tablecloth in the kitchen. She smartly pecked Mr. Bradford on the cheek as he hung his jacket in the tidy hall closet.
"How was your day at work, dear?" she questioned him politely as he took his seat at the head of the table. Two pairs of matching green eyes focused upon him. One belonged to a girl with straight brown hair, dressed in a gray polo shirt; the other, a slightly younger boy whose countenance bore a striking resemblance to the unremarkable features of his sister. The two had an eerie tendency to latch unflinching gazes on the object of their attention at precisely the same time. Their empty stares seemed to bait this object and reel it in slowly, as one would reel in a struggling fish.
"It went quite well," Mr. Bradford replied. He lifted a neat rectangle of rotisserie chicken onto his plate. He reached for his glass, but suddenly his hand froze. Mrs. Bradford followed her husband's eyes to the glass with growing horror. Mr. Bradford sat rigid as a pole, his elbow in a geometrically perfect right angle, his open hand poised near the glass. The girl and boy widened their eyes but remained silent. The digital clock mounted on the wall blinked six-thirty. All throughout the neighborhood, each man sipped out of a clean glass. Except at House Number Seventeen.
Effectively shattering the silence, Mrs. Bradford snatched up the full glass. She scurried into the kitchen, her kitten heels clicking on the tile like impatient fingers snapping. Her husband's hand was still suspended in midair. With a surreptitious last glance at the table, to be sure her husband was not looking her way, she squeezed three drops of red food coloring from an unmarked bottle into the water inside the glass. She clicked her way brusquely back into the kitchen and set the deep scarlet liquid in front of Mr. Bradford. He blinked, and it was as though the motion unfroze his paralyzed hand. He reached forward, clutched the glass, and brought it to his lips. The two children lowered their heads to their plates as their father shot one last disapproving glance at his wife. Mrs. Bradford's hand fluttered like broken wings to the pin on her lapel, a tiny silver lamb.
"So, children," Mr. Bradford said, "how was school?"
"Wonderful, Father," they replied in unison.
"Good, good," Mr. Bradford said absently. "What marvelous wine." He lifted the glass in a salute to his wife, a smile on his face. But his eyes crackled like gunshots, their green irises smoldering. Mrs. Bradford lowered her head, admonished. She had failed; neglecting to have the "wine" ready for her husband was akin to a deadly, unforgivable sin. The rest of the dinner was finished in silence.
After dinner, Mrs. Bradford cleared the table, avoiding her husband's gaze. Mr. Bradford led the children into a sparsely furnished living room. As the boy and girl settled themselves on the couch, the girl smoothing the wrinkles in her black skirt, Mr. Bradford carefully inspected a small gray electronic device mounted on the wall. He made sure it was plugged in and, picking up a rag on the nearby coffee table, lightly dusted the camera lens. A red light blinked at the children lazily, ruby cat eyes.
After Mr. Bradford was satisfied that the camera was functioning well, he sat down on the left side of the boy and folded his hands on his lap. Mrs. Bradford entered, untying a linen apron and hanging it on a hook outside of the kitchen. The clock mounted on the wall read seven fifty-nine. The family watched as the second hand swung around the circle on time's endless carrousel. When the minute hand moved so that the clock read eight o' clock, eight eyes turned to the plasma television on the wall. It flickered to life, right on cue, as televisions all across the neighborhood sprang to life as well.
A man, looking self-assured and radiating confidence bordering on haughtiness, sat with his fingertips in a steeple at a black desk. He was dressed smartly in a black suit with a red tie. A pin depicting the American flag flashed in the light alighting on his suit jacket. He cleared his throat, looking straight at the camera.
"Good evening, my fellow Americans," the president greeted families across the country. "In this evening's National Discussion, I have some grave news to report. The iSpy home cameras have caught two families engaged in espionage against the United States." Mrs. Bradford's gaze unwittingly wandered up to the pulsing red light on the camera upon the wall.
"These two families have been in cahoots, according to further evidence that has been collected. They are neighbors currently residing in Presidential Town, New Eagle." A map flashed up on the right corner of the screen with a red dot indicating a location. "This was, of course, formerly known as Boston, Massachusetts.
"These families are currently being detained at the Presidential Town CIA headquarters for questioning. Their family names are..." The president consulted his notes on the desk. "...Jenson and Nathans." The map on the screen dissolved, yielding to a photo of two families, each including a middle-aged husband and wife and two children wearing gray polo shirts.
The president cleared his throat again. "One thing you may notice," he said somberly, "is that the Jensons and Nathanses have failed to adhere to one of the most basic Marks of Patriotism: the blue eye contacts." The image enlarged, and the Bradfords leaned forward to see the incriminating feature branded into the skin of the two families: matching jade-green eyes.
Mrs. Bradford chanced a fearful glance at Mr. Bradford, who closed his eyes wearily. The president cheerfully closed the evening's Discussion and the T.V. died with a tinny noise, a small sigh. The Bradford children dutifully reached for their gray backpacks, hanging side by side on hooks by the couch. As they began on homework, Mrs. Bradford rose shakily and began straightening picture frames around the room: a beaming picture of the current president, a flawless family portrait, a campaign poster for Re-Prohibition in a golden frame, a neatly typed list of the Marks of Patriotism. Mr. Bradford watched her tensely, then pulled her into the kitchen.
"What are you doing?" he hissed. "Straightening is not part of the routine on Thursday nights." He nodded toward the camera, which languidly winked at him. "Do you want to give them any more reason to suspect that we are traitors?"
"Robert," Mrs. Bradford sighed, "don't you think this has gone a little far? We have a six o' clock curfew, everyone must prove their American loyalty with the Marks...for God's sakes, we can't even drink alcohol because it's flammable and someone could use it to make a bomb!" She finished in a hysterically high squeak. Mr. Bradford's eyes narrowed.
"Laura," he began warningly. But just then, a rapping sounded on the heavy steel door. Mrs. Bradford jumped and Mr. Bradford laid a steady hand on her shoulder. "Stay here," he commanded. She peered after him like a small, frightened lamb as he strode slowly to the door.
"Mr. Robert Bradford?" The man, dressed entirely in black with nondescript black shades on despite the dark, was flanked by six other men, all dressed alike and standing roughly at the same height. The man flashed a CIA badge like a blinding flashlight. "Agent Peters. May we enter?" He didn't wait for an answer, stepping over the threshold and closing the door behind him and his men.
"We are innocent--" Mr. Bradford ventured, but he gasped as a small pinpoint of light shattered his vision. He gaped as Agent Peters pocketed the tiny optical light.
"We have been watching you and your family," Agent Peters stated. "We are aware you have not been wearing the blue eye contacts. Are you aware that the recent spies discovered did not wear them either? We have reason to believe that green eyes suggest treason; they go against the Marks of Patriotism."
"My wife was meaning to order new ones! The old ones--"
"Take them away," Agent Peters said calmly. The bewildered children were handcuffed, their blank, synchronized faces watching homework flutter to the ground like ash. Mr. Bradford was dumbfounded, his face slowly leaking of color. Mrs. Bradford screamed as two burly, stoic men dragged her out of Number Seventeen Capitol Street. "You can't do this!" she pleaded desperately.
The steel door clicked shut at Number Seventeen as the Bradfords were imprisoned in caged black cars. As the cars sped away, the lights, carefully controlled by motion sensors, shut off. Only the red light of the camera remained, pulsating.