Offred is a servant in the Republic of Gilead. Once a day she can leave the home of the comandante and his wife to go to the food markets, whose signs are now pictures instead of words because the women can no longer read. when he played and protected his daughter; when I had a job, money of my own and access to knowledge.
The story of the maidPubr1.0
Originaltitel: The Handmaid's Tale
Margarita Atwood, 1985
Publisher digital: Titivillus
based ePub 1.2
For Mary Webster and Perry Miller
And when Rachel saw that she had children by Jacob, Rachel was envious of her sister;
And Jacob's anger burned against Rachel, and he said, Am I in the place of God, who prevented you from the fruit of the womb?
And she said: Behold my servant Bilhah, go to her; and she will give birth on my knees, so that I too may have children by her.
– Genesis, 30:1-3
But when, tired for many years of offering vain, idle, and visionary thoughts, and finally utterly despairing of success, I happily fell in love with this offer...
– Jonathan Swift, a humble suggestion
There is no sign in the desert that says: You must look at the stones.
– Sufi proverb
The floor was made of varnished wood, painted with lines and circles for the games that used to be played there; A balcony for spectators ran the full length of the room and I thought I could smell it, faint as an afterimage, the acrid smell of sweat permeated with the sweet stain of chewing gum and perfume from the girls watching, I felt it. a skirt like the ones she recognized from the photos, then a miniskirt, then pants, then an earring, spiky hair with green highlights. Balls would have been held there. ; the music stopped, a palimpsest of unheard sounds, style after style, a chain of drums, a helpless howl, garlands of tissue paper flowers, cardboard leprechauns, a spinning mirror ball showering the dancers with a snow of light. .
In the room was ancient sex and loneliness and anticipation of something without form or name.
We look to the future. How did we learn this, this talent for insatiability? I was in the air; the stools at the ends of the beds. The light was off but not turned off. Aunt Sara and Aunt Elizabeth patrolled; They had electric cattle prods attached to straps on their leather belts.
However, there are no firearms, they could not even be entrusted with weapons.
the guardians specially chosen from among the angels. The guards were not allowed into the building unless called and we were not allowed out except for our walks, two by two during the day, two by two around the soccer field, which was now fenced off by a fence. Barbed Wire. The angels stood outside with their backs to us. They were objects of fear, but also of something else. If only they would look. If we could talk to them.
We learned to whisper almost silently. In the semi-darkness, when the aunts weren't looking, we could get closer and touch each other's hands in the room. We learned to read lips with our heads on the beds, on our side, looking into each other's mouths. So we swap names, bed to bed:
Alma. Janine. Dolores. Moira. Juni.
A chair, a table, a lamp. Above, on the white ceiling, a raised ornament in the form of a crown, and in the middle a blank plastered spot, like the spot on his face where his eye had been gouged out. There must once have been a chandelier. They removed everything that could be tied.
A window, two white curtains. Under the window, a window seat with a small pillow. I can sit in the chair or window seat with my hands folded and observe this. Sunlight also enters through the window and falls in narrow, highly polished stripes on the floor, which is made of wood. I can smell nail polish. There is an oval rug made of plaited rags on the floor. That's the kind of touch they like: popular, archaic art made by women in their spare time from things that are no longer needed.
On the wall, above the chair, a painting, framed but unglazed: floral print, blue lilies, watercolour. Flowers are still allowed. Do we all have the same pattern, the same chair, the same white curtains?
Remember being in the army, said Aunt Lydia.
A bed. Single mattress of medium firmness, covered with a white flocked bedspread. Nothing happens in bed but sleep; It's unbreakable, it won't run away, they fear. We wouldn't go very far.
In addition to these details, this could be a college guest room
less illustrious visitors or rooms in boarding houses of bygone times for ladies in reduced circumstances.
But a chair, sunlight, flowers - you can't do without these seas. I live, I live, I breathe, I lay my alms unfolded in the sunlight.
The bell that measures the time rings. As in the past in monasteries, time is measured here with bells. As in monasteries, there are few mirrors.
I get up from the chair, put my feet in the sunlight, in her red shoes, low heels to protect my spine, and I don't dance. The red gloves are lying on the bed. .The skirt is long to the ankles, wide, gathered to a straight yoke that extends over the breasts, the sleeves are wide. White wings are also mandatory; they prevent us from seeing, but also allow us to see.
The bedroom door - not my bedroom, I refuse to say mine - is unlocked. Like a path in the forest, like a royal carpet, it shows me the way.
The carpet curves down the front steps and I walk with it, one hand on the banister, once a tree transformed into another century rubbed to a warm glow. The late Victorian house is a family home built for a large wealthy family.
There is another mirror hanging on the wall in the corridor. If I turn my head so that the white wings framing my face draw my gaze towards them, I see going down the stairs, round, convex, a glass mirror, like a fish eye, and I in it like a distorted shadow . , a parody of something, a red-robed fairy tale character descending into a moment of heedlessness that equates to danger. A sister bathed in blood.
At the base of the stairs is a bentwood type hat and umbrella stand, long rounded wooden steps that curve gently into hooks shaped like the open fronds of a fern. I leave the umbrella where it is because I know from the window that the day is sunny. I wonder if the commander's wife is in the living room or not.
I walk down the hall, past the living room door and the dining room door, open the door at the end of the hall and into the kitchen. Here the smell is no longer furniture wax. Rita is here, standing at the kitchen table, which has a chipped white enamel top. She wears Martha's usual dress, which is pale green, like a doctor's coat from days gone by. Bake the bread, add the loaves to the grand total, knead, and then shape.
Rita sees me and nods, whether it's a greeting or just an acknowledgment of my presence it's hard to tell, and she wipes her floury hands on her apron and rummages in the kitchen drawer for her chip book. Frowning, he pulls out three chips and hands them to me. Your face can be friendly when you smile.
Sometimes I listen in front of closed doors, something I never would have done before. I don't listen to it often because I don't want to get caught.
Nobody asks you, said Cora. Anyway, what could you do, guess?
Go to the colonies, said Rita. You have the opportunity.
With the wendies and hungry and God knows what? said Kora. I understand you.
They shelled peas; even through the nearly closed door I could hear
the soft clinking of hard peas falling into the metal bowl. I heard Rita, a sigh of protest at the deal.
They're doing it for all of us anyway, said Cora, at least that's what they say.
Better her than me, Rita said, and I opened the door. Their faces were like women's faces when they talk about you behind your back and think you heard them: embarrassed but also a little defiant, as it should be. That day Cora was kinder to me than usual, Rita more grumpy.
Hoje, apesar da cara fechada da Rita e dos lábios cerrados, eu gostaria de ficar aqui, na cozinha. ,ourbacks,allthedifferentkindsofmischiefthatourbodies,likeunrulychildren,cangetupto.Wewouldnodourheadsaspunctuationtoeachother'svoices,signallingthatyes,weknowallaboutit.Wewouldexchangeremediesandtrytooutdoeachotherintherecitalofourphysicalmiseries;gentlywewouldcomplain,ourvoicessoftandminor-keyandmournfulaspigeonsintheeavestroughs.Iknowwhatyoumean,we'dsay.Or,aquaintexpressionyousometimeshear,still,fromolderpeople:Ihearwhereyou'recomingfrom,asifthevoiceitselfwereatraveller,arrivingfromadistantplace.Whichitwouldbe,whichitis .
How I used to despise that kind of speech.
Or we clap. Las Martas know things, they talk to each other, they pass the unofficial news from house to house. Sometimes I listened to them, smelled their private conversations. It was stillborn. Or stabbed her in the stomach with a knitting needle. It must have been jealousy that gnawed at her. Or, temptingly, it was the bathroom cleaners you used.
Or I would help Rita make bread and dip my hands into that soft, long-lasting heat that feels so much like meat. I'm hungry to touch something
except fabric or wood. I'm hungry to commit the act of touching.
But even if he asked, even if it was so disrespectful, Rita would not allow it. I would be very afraid. Las Martas shouldn't be fraternizing with us.
Fraternizing means acting like a brother. Lucas told me that. He said there was no equivalent word meaning act like a sister. Sororize, that should be it, he said. From Latin. I made fun of him for being pedantic.
I take the chips from Rita's outstretched hand. They have pictures of things that can be traded: twelve eggs, a piece of cheese, something brown that's supposed to be a steak. I keep them in the zip pocket on my sleeve where I keep my passport.
"Say them fresh, for the eggs," she says. "Not like last time. It's a chicken, tell them not a chicken. Tell them who it's for and they won't mess with it."
"Okay," I say. I didn't smile Why try friendship?
I go out the back door into the garden, which is large and well-kept: grass in the middle, a willow, catkins; at the edges the flowerbeds, where the daffodils are already wilting and the tulips are opening their cups and spilling paint.
This garden is the domain of the commander's wife. Looking out my shatterproof window, I often saw her there, knees on a pillow, a pale blue veil thrown over her wide gardener's hat, a basket at her side with scissors and twine tying the flowers together. leads the commander's wife and points with her staff. A lot of the wives have these gardens, it's something they have to tend, tend and tend.
I once had a garden. I remember the smell of churned earth, the turgid shapes of the bulbs in my hands, the fullness, the dry whisper of the seeds between my fingers.
She's not here now, and I'm beginning to wonder where she is: I don't like meeting the commander's wife unexpectedly. Maybe because of your arthritis you sew with your left foot on the stool in the living room. Or knitted scarves for the angels at the forefront. I can hardly believe the angels need handkerchiefs like that; in any case, those of the commander's wife are very elaborate. She doesn't care about the star and cross pattern that many other wives wear, it's not a challenge.
Sometimes I think these tissues aren't going to be sent to Los Angeles, but
unraveled and turned into balls to be rewoven in turn. Maybe it's something to keep wives busy, to give them meaning. But I envy the commandant's wife's knitting. It's good to have small goals that are easy to achieve.
what envy me
She doesn't talk to me if she can't help herself.
We first met face to face five weeks ago when I came into this role. The guard from the previous post led me to the front door. After a while it will be all front or rear ports.
Aunt Lydia said she lobbied for the front. He has an honorary position, he said.
The warden rang the bell for me, but before anyone had time to hear him and hurry to answer, the door swung inward. She must have been waiting behind her. I was expecting a marten, but instead she was unmistakable in her long light blue robe.
So you're the new girl, she said. She didn't step aside to let me in, she just stood in the doorway blocking the entrance. Today there is a lot of pushing and shoving around such supports.
Yes, I said.
Put it on the porch. He told this to the guard who was carrying my bag. The bag was red vinyl and not very big.
The guard put the bag down and greeted them. Then I heard his footsteps behind me on the sidewalk and the click of the front door, and it felt like a protective arm was withdrawn. The threshold of a new home is a unique place.
He waited for the car to start and left. He wasn't looking at another face, but at a part of her he could see with his head down: her thick blue waist, her left hand on the ivory tip of her cane, the big one
Brilliants on the ring finger which once must be fine and still in good condition, the nail on the tip of the gnarled finger polished to a slightly curved tip. It was like a crooked smile on that finger; like something she mocks.
You might as well come in, she said. He turned his back on me and hobbled down the hall. close the door behind you
I put the red bag inside, as she no doubt intended, and closed the door. I did not say anything. Aunt Lydia said it was better not to speak unless they were asking a direct question.
Here it is, said the Commandant's wife.
He stood facing her, hands clasped. So she said. The lighter was ivory. The cigarettes must have come from the black market, I thought, and that gave me hope. Even now that there is no real money, there is still a black market. There is always a black market, there is always something to trade.
I looked at the cigarette wistfully. Cigarettes are forbidden for me like drinking and drinking coffee.
So his face didn't work, he said.
No, ma'am, I told her.
She laughed as if she could have laughed, then coughed. Bad luck for him, she said. This is your second, isn't it?
Third, ma'am, I said.
It's not so good for you either, she said.
I sat on the edge of one of the hard-leaning chairs. I did not want to
Looking around the room, she didn't want to appear attentive; then the marble fireplace to my right and the mirror above it and the clumps of flowers were just shadows in the corner of my eye.
Now his face was level with mine. I thought I recognized her; or at least something seemed familiar to her. Part of her hair peeked out from under the veil. He was still blond. So I thought that maybe she bleached it that the hair dye would be another thing I could get on the black market, but now I know that she really is blonde. Her nose must have been what they call cute, but now it was too small for her face. His face wasn't fat, but it was big. Two lines descended from the corners of his mouth; between them was the chin clenched like a fist.
I want to see you as little as possible, he said. I hope you feel the same about me.
I didn't answer, a statement would have been an insult, a contradiction.
I know you're not stupid, she said. She inhaled, blowing out the smoke. I have read your file. For me it's like a business.
Yes, ma'am, I told her.
Don't call me ma'am, she said irritably. You are not Martha.
I didn't ask her what to call her because I could tell she was hoping I never got the chance to call her that. I was disappointed. So I wanted to make her a big sister, a mother figure, someone who would understand and protect me. My dependent wife before that spent most of her time in her room; But I could already see that I wouldn't have liked her or me.
He placed the cigarette, half-smoked, in a small rolled-up ashtray on the table lamp beside him.
a series of gentle touches favored by many wives.
As for my husband, he said he is just that. My husband. I want it to be perfectly clear. Until death do them part.
Yes, ma'am, I repeated and forgot. There used to be dolls for little girls that talked when you pulled a string behind them; I thought she talked like that, monotonous voice, doll voice. He probably wanted to punch me in the face.
It's one of the things we fight for, said the commander's wife, and suddenly she wasn't looking at me, but at her clasped diamond-encrusted hands, and I knew where I'd seen her before.
I was on TV for the first time when I was eight or nine years old. She was ash blonde, petite, with a snub nose and huge blue eyes that rolled at anthems. She could smile and cry at the same time, a tear or two falling gracefully down her cheek as if on cue, her voice rising on the highest notes, trembling, effortless. After that he turned to other things.
The woman sitting across from me was Serena Joy. Or had it been. So it was worse than I thought.
I walk down the gravel path that cuts the back lawn neatly like a hairline. It rained overnight;
I open the white door and move on, across the front lawn and to the front door. In the driveway, one of the guards assigned to our house washes the car. That must mean that the commander is inside, in his own quarters, behind the dining room and beyond, where he seems to be spending most of his time.
The car is very expensive, a hurricane; better than the Chariot, much better than the sturdy and practical Behemoth. It is black, of course, the color of prestige or a hearse, and long and elegant. The driver lovingly runs him over with a chamois.
He wears the Wardens' uniform, but the cloak has a slouchy neckline and the sleeves are rolled up to the elbows, revealing his forearms, which are tanned but covered with dark hair.
I know the name of this man: Nick. I know this because I heard Rita and Cora talking about him and once I heard the commander say to him: Nick, I don't need the car.
He lives here, in the house, above the garage. Low Status: They didn't give him a wife, not even one. Does not judge: any defect, missing connections. But he acts like he doesn't know or doesn't care.
how can you smell
He looks at me and sees me looking at him. She has a French face, thin, whimsical, all planes and angles, with lines around the mouth where she smiles. He takes one last drag on his cigarette, drops it on the driveway and steps on it.
I duck my head and turn to let the white wing cover my face and walk on. He's just taking a risk, but for what?
Maybe he was just being friendly. Maybe he saw my expression and mistook it for something else. What he really wanted was the cigarette.
Maybe it was a test to see what he would do.
Maybe it's an eye.
I open the front door and close it behind me, looking down but not back. The sidewalk is red brick. This is the landscape I focus on, a rolling, elongated field where the earth has folded decade after decade of winter frosts. The color of the bricks is old but fresh and clear. The sidewalks are much cleaner than before.
Iwalktothecornerandwait.Iusedtobebadatwaiting.Theyalsoservewhoonlystandandwait,saidAuntLydia.Shemadeusmemorizeit.Shealsosaid,Notallofyouwillmakeitthrough.Someofyouwillfallondrygroundor thorns.Someofyouareshallow-rooted.Shehadamoleonherchinthatwentupanddownwhileshetalked.Shesaid,Thinkofyourselvesasseeds,and right then her voice was wheedling, conspiratorial, like the voices ofthosewomenwhousedtoteachballetclassestochildren,andwhowouldsay,Armsupintheairnow;let'spretendwe' árboles
I'm in the corner pretending to be Iamatree.
A figure, red with white wings around the face, a figure like mine, a nondescript woman dressed in red, carrying a basket, comes down the cobbled sidewalk toward me.
"Blessed be the fruit," he tells me, the accepted greeting between us.
"May the Lord open," I reply, the accepted answer. We turned and walked together past the big houses towards the central part of the city.
allowed to go there except in two. This is supposed to be for our protection, although the idea is absurd: we are already well protected. The truth is that she is my spy as I am hers. When one of us falls off the grid because of something that happens on one of our daily walks, the other is blamed.
This woman has been my partner for two weeks. I don't know what happened to the predecessor. One day it was just gone, and this was in its place. It's not the sort of thing you ask questions about because the answers are usually not the answers you want to know. In any case, there would be no answer.
This one is a little fatter than me. your eyes are brown She walks cautiously, head bowed, red-gloved hands clasped in front of her, taking short little steps on her hind legs like a trained pig. During these walks he never said anything that wasn't strictly orthodox, but neither did I.
"The war is going well, as I understand it," she says.
"Praise him," I reply.
"They told us the weather was nice."
"Which I receive with joy."
They've defeated more rebels since yesterday.
"Praise him," I say. I'm not asking how you know that. "What were you?"
"Baptists. They had a stronghold in BlueHills. You smoked them.
Sometimes I wish he would shut up and let me go in peace. But I'm waiting for news, any kind of news;
We come to the first barrier, which is like the barriers blocking road works or digging sewers: a wooden cross painted with yellow and black stripes, a red hexagon meaning stop. There are some lanterns near the door that don't light up because it's not night. Above us, I know, there are emergency floodlights mounted on telephone poles, and there are men with machine guns in first-aid kits on either side of the street.
See the headlights and pill boxes through the wings around my face. I only know that they are there.
Behind the barrier, at the narrow gate, two men are waiting for us, in the green uniform of the Faith Guards, with coats of arms on their shoulders and caps: two swords, crossed, on a white triangle. Guardians are not real soldiers. They are employed for routine surveillance and other menial tasks, such as digging up the commander's wife's garden, and are dumb, old, disabled, or very young, except for those who are Incognito Eyes.
The two are very young: the mustache is still thin, the face is still blotchy. Your youth touches me, but I know I won't let that fool me.
A woman was shot here last week. She was a Martha. They thought it was a man in disguise. There have been such incidents.
Rita and Cora knew the woman. I heard her talking about it in the kitchen.
Does its job, said Cora. protect us.
Nothing is surer than death, Rita said angrily. She minded her own business. There's no call to shoot him.
It was an accident, said Cora.
None of that, said Rita.
Well, someone's going to think twice before they blow this house up anyway, Cora said.
Still, said Rita. She worked hard. That was a bad death.
I can't imagine anything worse, said Cora. At least it was quick.
You can say that, said Rita. I would choose to have a time like this before. To make things right
The two young guards greet us with three fingers on their arms.
Berets These tokens are awarded to us. You must show respect due to the nature of our service.
We produce our passports from the zipped pockets on our wide sleeves and they are checked and stamped. A man goes to the medicine cabinet on the right to punch our numbers into the compuchek.
As I come back down the pass, the one with the peachy mustache cocks his head to try and see my face. His face is long and sad, like a sheep's, but with the big, full eyes of a dog, not a terrier spaniel.
It is an event, a small challenge of rule, so small that it cannot be discovered, but these moments are the rewards I offer myself, like the candy I kept at the bottom of a drawer as a child. These moments are possibilities, tiny peepholes.
What if I arrive at night when he's on duty alone, though he's never been allowed such solitude, and leave him behind my white wings? And if I take off my red shroud and show myself to him, them, in the uncertain light of the lanterns? They must think of this sometimes as they stand eternally at that barrier beyond which none ever pass except the commanders of the faithful in their long, whispering black chariots, or their blue wives and their veiled daughters, white veils in his way. obedient to rescues or prayer walks, or their burly green martens, or the occasional partomobile, or their red damsels on foot. and the men in the front seats wear dark glasses: double darkness.
Pickup trucks are certainly quieter than other cars. When they pass, we look away. When noises come from within, we try not to listen to them. Nobody's heart is perfect.
When the black vans reach a checkpoint, they drive past without stopping. The Wardens would not risk looking inside, searching, and doubting their authority. whatever they think
If so, you can't tell by looking at them.
But chances are they're not thinking about the clothes lying on the grass. When you think of a kiss, you should immediately think of spotlights, gunshots. They think that instead of doing their duty and rising to the angels and possibly being allowed to marry, and then when they can gain enough power and live long enough, be made their own servants.
Theonewiththemoustacheopensthesmallpedestriangateforusandstandsback,well out of theway, andwepass through.Aswewalk away I knowthey’rewatching, these twomenwhoaren’tyetpermitted to touchwomen.TheytouchwiththeireyesinsteadandImovemyhipsalittle,feelingthefullredskirtswayaroundme.It’slikethumbingyournosefrombehindafenceorteasingadogwithaboneheldoutofreach,andI’mashamedofmyselffordoingit,becausenoneofthisisthefaultofthesemen,they’retooyoung.
So if I'm not embarrassed. I appreciate the power; the power of the dog bone, passive but present. Hopefully they'll get hard when they see us and secretly have to rub against the painted barriers. They will suffer in their neat beds later that night. Now they have no choice but themselves, and that is sacrilege. No more magazines, no more movies, no more substitutes; just me and my shadow, stepping away from the two men who stand rigidly at attention on a barricade, watching our retreating figures.
I squat down and walk down the street. Although we are no longer on the commanders' compound, there are also large houses here. In front of one of them, a guard is mowing the grass. The gardens are well kept, the facades are elegant and in good condition; They are just like the beautiful pictures you used to print in home, garden and interior design magazines. There is the same absence of people, the same air of sleep. The street is almost a museum or a street in a model city built to show how people lived.
This is the heart of Gilead where war can only invade on television. We're not sure what the limits are, they vary depending on the attack and counterattack;
Doctors, lawyers, university professors lived here. There are no more lawyers and the university is closed.
Luke and I have sometimes walked these streets together. Earlier we talked about buying a house like that, a big old house, fixing it up. This freedom now seems almost weightless.
We turn the corner onto a main road with more traffic. Cars drive by, mostly black, some gray and brown. There are other women with baskets, some in red, some in the dull green of Martha's, some in the striped dresses, red and blue and green and cheap and tiny, that mark the wives of the poorest men. Yes, you can. Sometimes
There's a woman all in black, a widow. There used to be more of them, but they seem to be dwindling.
You don't see the commanders' wives on the sidewalks.
The sidewalks here are cement. Like a child, I avoid stepping on the cracks. I remember my feet on those sidewalks in the past and what I put on them. Sometimes they were sneakers with padded soles and holes for breathing and fluorescent fabric stars that glowed in the dark. Although I've never run at night; and during the day directly on busy roads.
Women were not protected then.
I remember the rules, rules that were never spoken but that every woman knew: Don't open the door to a stranger, even if he says it's the police. If someone whistles, don't turn to look. Don't hit the mat alone at night.
I'm thinking of laundromats. What I wore for it: shorts, jeans, track pants. What I put into it: my own clothes, my own soap, my own money, money I earned myself. I think about having so much control.
Now we're walking down the same street, in red couples, and not a single man is yelling obscenities at us, talking to us, touching us. Nobody whistles.
There's more than one kind of freedom, said Aunt Lydia. Freedom for and freedom from.
In front of us on the right is the shop where we order clothes. Some people call them habits, a good word for it. Habits are hard to break. The shop has a huge wooden sign outside in the shape of a golden lily;
The Lilies used to be a cinema. The students went there a lot; Every spring there was a Humphrey Bogart festival where Lauren Bacal or Katherine Hepburn, single women, made their decision. They wore button-down blouses that hinted at the possibilities of the word undone. or not. They seemed able to
So it seemed like we had a choice.
I don't know when they stopped doing the festival. I must have grown. So I didn't notice.
We don't enter Lilies, but cross the street and continue down a side street. Our first stop is at a shop with another wooden sign: three eggs, bee, cow. The war affects California's oranges, and even Florida cannot be trusted when roadblocks or railroad tracks explode. I look at the oranges and long for one. But I didn't bring chips for the oranges. I think I'll go back and tell Rita about it. She will be happy. It will be something, a small achievement, to make the orange a reality.
Those who make it to the counter hand their tokens to the two men in Guardian uniforms on the other side.
But Ofglen next to me isn't looking. Maybe she doesn't know anyone else. Maybe they're all gone, the women she knew. Or maybe she just doesn't want to be seen.
As we wait in our double line, the door opens and two more women enter, both wearing red robes and white servant's wings. her belly swells triumphantly beneath her loose clothing. It moves in the room, a murmur, a puff of air; Despite ourselves we shamelessly turn our heads to see better; our fingers itch to touch it.
The women in the room whisper, almost speak, such are their emotions.
"Who is it?" I hear behind me.
"Shown," hisses a voice, and it's true. A pregnant woman doesn't need to go out, she doesn't need to go shopping. Daily walking is no longer required to keep the abdominal muscles engaged. Jealousy can too, it's happened before. All children are loved now, but not by all.
But the ride can be at whim, and whims are accepted when something has gone so far and there hasn't been an abortion. Or maybe she's one of them, Pileton, I can accept it, a martyr. She enjoys every minute.
"Quiet," says one of the guards behind the counter, and we fall silent like schoolgirls.
Ofglen and I reached the counter. We hand in our tokens, and one keeper enters their numbers into Compubite while the other gives us our food, milk, and eggs. as well as. The pregnant belly is like a huge fruit. Huge, word from my childhood.
When I walk past he looks at me, he looks me in the eye and I know who he is. She was with me at the Red Center, one of Aunt Lydia's pets. i never liked it Her name used to be Janine.
Janine then looks at me and a smile darts around the corners of her mouth.
Next we go to All Flesh, characterized by a large wooden pork chop hanging from two chains. There are hardly any snakes here: meat is expensive and even commanders don't eat it every day. Ofglen eats steak though, and it's the second time this week. That's what I tell the Marthas: They like to hear something like that. They are very interested in how other families work; give such petty gossip
the occasion for pride or dissatisfaction.
I take the chicken, wrapped in brown paper and tied with string. Few things are more plastic. I remember those endless white plastic bags from the supermarket;
She could do something like that over her head, he said. You know how children love to play. She would never do it, I would say. She's very old. (Or too smart, or too lucky.) But I felt a shiver of fear, and then guilt, for having been so careless. We never use them for anything. Garbage bags I would say. He would say...
Not then and now. Not where people are looking. I turn around, I see my silhouette in the glass window.
A group of people approach us. They are tourists, apparently from Japan, a trade delegation perhaps, on a tour of historical sites or in search of local colour. They are miniature and well made; everyone has their camera, their smile. They look around, their eyes bright, their heads cocked to the side like thrushes, their joy aggressive, and I can't help but look at them. It had been a long time since I had seen such low skirts for women. she, almost naked in her thin, cheeky stockings, her high-heeled shoes whose straps are tied to her feet like delicate instruments of torture. The women swing their feet on stilts nailed but unbalanced; Back arched at the waist, buttocks protruding outwards.
i stop walking Ofglen stands beside me and I know she can't take her eyes off these women either. We were fascinated, but also repelled. You look naked. It took me a while to change my mind about things like this.
Then I think: I used to dress like this. That was freedom.
Westernized, they used to call it.
The Japanese tourists come towards us, chirping, and we turn our heads too late: they have seen our faces.
There is an interpreter in a standard blue suit and a red patterned tie with the winged tie pin. One of them raises the camera.
"Sorry," he says quite politely to both of us. "They ask if they can take a picture of you."
I look at the sidewalk and shake my head. What I want them to see is just the white wings, a piece of my face, my chin and part of my mouth. Not the eyes. I know I'm not allowed to face the interpreter. It is said that most interpreters are Eyes.
I also know how not to say yes. Modesty is invisibility, said Aunt Lydia.
Next to me, Ofglen is also silent. She tucked her red-gloved hands into her sleeves to hide them.
The performer turns to the group, chatting with them in staccato. I know what he's going to say, I know the lyrics. They tell them that the women here have different customs, that for them it is an experience of rape to look at them through the lenses of the cameras.
"Sorry," the interpreter says again to get our attention. Inod to show I heard it.
"He asks are you happy," says the interpreter. I can imagine their curiosity: are they happy? how can they be happy I can feel their black eyes shining on us as they lean forward a little to take in our reactions, especially the women, but also: we're secret, forbidden, we turn them on.
Ofglen says nothing. There is silence. But sometimes it's so dangerous not to talk.
"Yes, we are very happy", Imurmur. I have to say something. what more can i say
AblockpastAllFlesh pauses Ofglen as if unsure which way to go.
"I'd like to stop by the church," Ofglen says piously.
"Okay," I say, knowing as well as she does what she really wants.
We went calmly.
If you could walk there is a road on the right that would take you to the river. Trees, green benches to sit on and look out over the water, and bare-armed young men raising oars into the sunlight as they played to win. On the way to the river are the old, now-used bedrooms with their fairytale turrets, painted white, gold and blue. When we think about the past, it's the beautiful things we choose.
The soccer stadium is also below where the male rescues take place. Just like soccer games. You still have them.
I don't go to the river or the bridges anymore. Or by subway, although there is a station there. We're not allowed in, there's guards now, there's no official reason for us to go down those steps, take the trains under the river, towards the capital. Why would we want to go from here to there?
The church is small and isolated, one of the first built here hundreds of years ago. It is no longer used except as a museum. In it one sees paintings of women in long, somber dresses, their hair covered by white caps, and upright men, dressed in dark, frowning. Our ancestors. Admission is free.
However, we will not, but stay on the path and look towards the cemetery. .
They didn't mess with the tombstones or the church. It's only the latest story that offends her.
Ofglen's head is bowed as if in prayer. She does that every time. Maybe I think there is someone who left, also because of her; Man, a kid but I can't believe it. I think of her as a woman for whom every action should show that she is more than an actual action. She does these things to look good I guess.
But that's how I should look at her. How can it be otherwise?
Now we are turning our backs on the church and there is what we actually came here for: the wall.
The wall is also hundreds of years old; Or at least more than a hundred.
No one walks through these doors voluntarily. The precautions apply to those attempting to get out, believing that getting to the wall from inside, beyond the electronic weapon system, would be nearly impossible.
At the front door, six more corpses are hanging by their necks, their hands tied in front of them and their heads thrown sideways on their shoulders in white sacks. There must have been a man rescue this morning. I didn't hear the bells. Maybe I got used to them.
As if on signal, we stood together and looked at the corpses. It doesn't matter if we look. You have to look: That's what they're there for, hanging on the wall. Sometimes they stay there for days until there is one
new batch so that as many people as possible have the opportunity to see it.
What they hang are hooks. To do this, hooks were placed in the masonry of the wall. The hooks look like devices for the armless. Or steel question marks, upside down and sideways.
The bags under the eyes are worse, worse than the faces themselves. It makes men look like dolls whose faces aren't painted yet; like scarecrows, which they far are, since they are made to frighten. Or as if their heads were bags filled with undifferentiated material, like dough.
Although if you look and look like we usually do, you can see the outlines of facial features under the white cloth, like gray shadows.
But there is blood in a bag that has seeped into the white cloth where the mouth should have been. Make another mouth, as small as the mouths painted by kindergarten children with thick brushes.
The men wear white coats, like those of doctors or scientists. Doctors and scientists aren't the only ones, there are others, but you must have gone through them this morning. Each wears a banner around their necks showing why they were executed: a drawing of a human fetus. They were doctors back then, back when these things were cool. They used to be called angel makers: or was it something else? They were now discovered through searches of hospital records or, more likely since most hospitals destroyed those records once it became clear what was going to happen, by whistleblowers: ex-nurses maybe, or two of them, just as evidence one woman isn't more allowed; or another doctor hoping to save his own skin; either someone who has already charged and is attacking an enemy, or randomly in a desperate attempt to protect themselves. Although informants are not always forgiven.
These men, we were told, are like war criminals. It's no excuse that what they did was legal at the time: their crimes are retrospective.
he committed atrocities, and for the rest, it must be done by example.
What we should feel towards these bodies is hatred and contempt. I don't feel like that. These bodies hitting the wall are time travellers, anachronisms. They came from the past.
What I feel for her is an emptiness. I shouldn't feel what I'm feeling. What I feel is partial relief because none of these men are Luke.
Ilookattheoneredsmile.TheredofthesmileisthesameastheredofthetulipsinSerenaJoy’sgarden,towardsthebaseoftheflowerswheretheyarebeginningtoheal.Theredisthesamebutthereisnoconnection.Thetulipsarenottulipsofblood,theredsmilesarenotflowers,neitherthingmakesacomment on theother.The tulip is not a reason for disbelief in thehangedman,orviceversa.Eachthingisvalidandreallythere.ItisthroughafieldofsuchvalidobjectsthatImustpickmyway,everydayandineveryway.Iputalotofeffortintomakingsuchdistinctions.Ineedtomakethem.Ineedtobeveryclear,inmyownmind.
I can feel the woman next to me tremble. She cries? How could that make her look good? I can't afford to know that. My own hands are clenched, I realize, clenched around the handle of my basket.
Ordinary, said Aunt Lydia, is what you are used to.
The night is mine, my time, I'll do what I want as long as I'm silent. As long as I don't move I really don't know what men used to say. He only had his words.
So I lie in the room, under the plaster grommet in the ceiling, behind the white curtains, between the sheets, neat as they are, stepping out of my own time.
But the night is my time limit. Where should I go?
Moira sitting on the edge of my bed, legs crossed, ankles on her knees, in her purple jumpsuit, one earring dangling, the gold nail she used to be eccentric, a cigarette between her thick, yellow-tipped fingers.
You're turning gray in my bed, I told him.
If you did, you wouldn't have this problem, Moira said.
In half an hour, I said. The next day I had a job. What it was? Psychology, English, Economics. So we study things like that. On the living room floor were books, open face down, side by side, bizarre.
Now, said Moira. You don't have to paint your face, it's just me. What is your job?
I said rape. you are so fashionable It looks like some kind of dessert. DateSnuff.
Haha said Moira. get your coat
She got up and threw it at me. I'm asking you to borrow five dollars, okay?
Or somewhere in a park with my mother. Had that age? It was cold, the breath hung in front of us, no leaves on the trees, gray sky, two ducks in the pond, desolate.
But there were some women who burned books, that's what I was really there for. To see your friends; she lied to me, my period should be on saturday.
There were also some men among the women, and the books were checked. They must have poured gasoline because the flames were very high and then they started throwing magazines out of the boxes, not many at a time.
Their faces were happy, almost jubilant. Fire can do that. Even my mother's face, usually pale and thin, looked flushed and happy, like a Christmas card;
Do you want to play one, honey? he said. Had that age?
Good luck, dance for the bad trash, he said, laughing. Everything's ok?
If you like, my mother said; she had a way of talking about me to others as if I couldn't hear her.
The woman handed me one of the magazines. She was a beautiful woman, naked, hanging from the ceiling by a chain wrapped around her hands. I looked at him with interest. I'm not afraid. I thought he was swinging like Tarzan on TV.
Don't see me anymore, my mother said. Here, he told me, coughing, quick.
I threw the magazine into the flames. It was blown up by the wind of its burning; large scraps of paper broke off, flew through the air, still burning, body parts of women crumbling to ash, in the air before my eyes.
But what happens then, but what happens then?
I know I wasted time
There must have been needles, pills, something. I couldn't have wasted so much time without help. You were in shock, they said.
I rose through a roar and confusion, like a boiling surf. I remember being pretty calm. I remember screaming, it sounded like a scream when it could have been just a whisper, where is she? what did you do to her
There was neither night nor day; just a blink. After a while there were chairs again, a bed, and then a window.
It was said that he was in good hands. With people who are in shape. You're not in shape, but you want what's best for her. I do not want?
They showed me a photo of her outside on the grass with her oval face. Her light hair was tied at the back of her head.
You killed her, I said. She looked like an angel, solemn, compact, made of air.
She wore a dress I had never seen before, white and floor length.
I want to believe this story I'm telling. Anyone who can believe that stories like this are just stories has a better chance.
If it's a story I'm telling, then I'm in control of the ending. Then the story will end and real life will follow. I can pick up where I left off.
It's not a tasty story I'm telling.
It's also a story I tell in my head as I walk.
Tell him instead of writing because I have nothing to write and writing is forbidden anyway. But if it's a story, even in my head, I have to tell someone.
Even if nobody is there.
A story is like a letter. Dear ones, I will say. Just you, no name. Attaching a name locks you into a world of facts that gets ever more risky: who knows what your chances of survival are? I say you, you, like an old love song. You can mean more than one.
It can mean thousands.
I'm in no immediate danger, I'm telling you.
I'm pretending you can hear me.
But it's no use because I know you can't.
IV WAITING ROOM
The good weather continues. That was imposed on him as a sentence, although they stopped it years ago when the cult wars started; the cassock made her clearly visible. The other two have purple banners around their necks: Gender Betrayal. Their bodies are still wearing the guards' uniforms. They must have been trapped together, but where? A barracks, a shower? It's difficult to say. The snowman with the red smile is gone.
"We should go back," I tell Ofglen. I always say that. Sometimes I feel like if I didn't say it, she'd be here forever. But is she mourning or is she rejoicing?
Without saying a word, it spins, as if activated by the voice, like greased wheels, like a music box.
We left the wall, walking back the way we came, under the scorching sun.
"It's a beautiful Mayday," says Ofglen.
"Yes I do. Lob, Iaddas was an afterthought. Mayday was a distress signal long ago in one of those wars we studied in high school. I kept messing them up, but you could tell by looking at the blueprints." If you were paying attention. But it was Luke who told me about Mayday. Mayday, Mayday, for the pilots whose planes were attacked, and the ships , were those ships too? - at sea. Maybe it was an SOS for ships .
Do you know where it came from? Luke asked. may day?
I didn't say it's a weird word to use, isn't it?
Newspapers and coffee on the Sunday mornings before his birth. There were still newspapers back then. We used to read in bed.
He's French, he said. By M'Aidez.
A small procession approaches us, a funeral: three women, each with a transparent black veil over the headdress.
The first is the mourner, the mother; she carries a small black vial. You can tell by the size of the vial how old he was when he fell in and flowed to his death. Two or three months, too young to know if it was a baby or not.
We stop out of respect when they pass. I wonder if Ofglen is feeling what I'm feeling, a sharp pain in her stomach.
We pass the shops and again reach the barrier and we are crossed. We walked on between the big houses that seemed empty, the meadows without weeds.
"Under their eyes," she says. The right farewell.
"Under her eye," I answer and she nods slightly. She hesitates, as if about to say something else, but then turns and walks down the street. I watch her, she is like my own reflection, a mirror from which I distance myself.
In the driveway, Nick polishes the whirlwind again. He picked up the chrome from behind. I put my gloved hand on the door handle, open it and push it in. The door clicks behind me. The tulips at the edge are redder than ever and open, no longer like wine glasses but like goblets; push you up, for what purpose? Finally they are empty. With age, they turn inside out, then slowly burst open and spit out petals.
Nick looks up and starts whistling. Then he says, "Nicewalk?"
Inod, but don't answer with my voice. You shouldn't talk to me. Of course some will try, said Aunt Lydia.
In the garden behind the house, the commander's wife is sitting on the chair she brought with her. Serena Joy, what a stupid name. It's like something you would put in your hair to straighten it next time, last time. . I read this in a profile of her in a news magazine long after I first saw her sing on Sunday morning while my mother was sleeping. She was good at it. Their speeches were about the sanctity of the home, about how women should stay at home. Serena Joy didn't do it alone, she gave speeches, but she portrayed her failure as a sacrifice she made for the good of all.
At that moment someone tried to shoot him and missed; Her secretary, who was right behind her, was killed instead.
Luke and I sometimes saw her on the evening news. Bathrobes, night caps. We saw her sprayed hair and her hysteria and the tears she still let down at will and the mascara darkening her cheeks. She wore more makeup then. We thought it was funny. Or Luke thought it was funny. I was just pretending to think so. She really was a bit scary. She was sincere.
He no longer gives speeches. She was speechless. He stays at her house but doesn't seem to agree with her.
She looks at the tulips. His cane is lying on the grass next to him. Be
In the profile I see it quickly, let's see how I record it on the side. He is no longer a pristine paper-cut profile, his face sags, and I think of those cities built along subterranean rivers where houses and whole streets suddenly disappear overnight in swamps, or of collapsing coal cities in mines . them.
She doesn't turn her head. She doesn't acknowledge my presence anyway, even though she knows I'm there. I can tell she knows, it's like a smell, her knowing;
It's not the husbands you have to worry about, said Aunt Lydia, it's the wives. They should always try to imagine what they must be feeling. Of course they will bother you. Try to sympathize with them. Forgive them, they don't know what they're doing. They must realize that they are defeated women. they could not...
Here her voice cracked and there was a pause during which I could hear a collective sigh from those around me.
The future is in your hands, he concluded. She held out her hands to us, the age-old gesture that was both an offer and an invitation to come forward, in a hug, an acceptance. In your hands, he said, looking down at his hands as if they had given him the idea. But there was nothing in it. They were empty. It was our hands that should be full of the future; you could see that, but not see it.
I go around the back door, open it, go in, put the basket on the kitchen table. although my own mother never baked bread. It smells like me when I was a mother.
It's an insidious smell and I know I have to close.
Rita is there, sitting at the table, peeling and slicing carrots. Old carrots are coarse, overwintered, scraped from the time they have been stored.
Rita stops chopping the carrots, stands up, almost willingly takes the packets out of the basket. She's excited about what I've brought her, although she always makes a face when she opens the packages; nothing I bring pleases her completely. She thinks she could have done better on her own. He prefers to go shopping, buys exactly what he wants;
"You have oranges," I tell him. "Not milk and honey. There are a few left." I was very moody yesterday. "Maybe I'll get some tomorrow if you give me the tokens." I hold the chicken. Today I wanted steak but there was none.
Rita grunts, betraying neither joy nor acceptance. She'll think about it, says the growl, in her sweet time.
"Bath day," Rita says without looking at me.
Cora enters the kitchen from the back pantry where they keep the mops and brooms. "A chicken," she says almost with relish.
"Skeleton," says Rita, "but it has to work."
"There wasn't much else," Isaiah. ignore me
"It seems too big to me," says Cora. are you standing in front of me I look to see if I should smile; She must have been pretty lately. On each of her ears is a small dimple-shaped mark where the earring holes grew.
"Tall," says Rita, "but bony. You should talk,” he says, looking directly at me for the first time. "It's not like you're ordinary." She
means the rank of commander. But on the other hand, she thinks I'm ordinary in her sense.
She goes to the sink, quickly wipes the faucet, and wipes down the dishcloth of the month. The kitchen towel is white with blue stripes. Kitchen towels are as always. Sometimes these flashes of normality come at me from the side, as if from an ambush.
'Who's bathing?' Rita says to Cora, not to me. "I have to soften this bird."
"I'll do that later," says Cora, "after I've dusted it off."
"That's how it's done," says Rita.
They talk about me like I can't hear. For them I am a term paper, one among many.
I got fired. I take the basket, go through the kitchen door and down the hall to the grandfather clock. The living room door is closed. .Follow the dusty pink hallway down the long floor, go back into the living room.
Someone is standing in the hallway, by the door of the room I'm in. The corridor is dark, that's a man, with his back to me; he looks into the room, dark against the light. I can see him now, he's the commander, he shouldn't be here.
I stop, he stops, I can't see his face, he's looking at me, what does he want?
I was shown something, but what is it? Like the flag of an unknown country seen for a moment on the curve of a hill, it could mean an attack, it could mean a negotiation, it could mean the edge of something, a territory. The signals the animals give each other: blue eyelids lowered, ears thrown back, claws raised. .I hope. Do you wash them up? Do you wash them in my room?
I called my
So my room. After all, there must be a space that I still claim for myself.
I'm waiting in my room, which is now a waiting room. When I went to bed it was a bedroom.
Someone lived in this room before me. Someone like me, or I prefer to think so.
I found out three days after moving here.
He had a lot of time to lose. I decided to explore the room. Not hastily, as one might explore a hotel room, not expecting surprises, opening and closing desk drawers, cupboard doors, unwrapping the small, individually wrapped bar of soap, rummaging through the pillows. Will I ever be in a hotel room again?
That afternoon, when Luke was still running from his wife, when he was still imagining me. Before we get married and consolidate. I was always there first, checked in. It came in a red and gold Chinese bottle.
I was nervous.
call the door; what could be done We thought we had so many problems. How did we know we were happy?
But now I also miss the rooms themselves, even the horrible paintings on the walls, the landscapes with autumn leaves, or the snow melting on the hardwoods, or the women in period costume, with china doll faces and busy and umbrellas, or the sad-eyed one clowns or fruit bowls, hard and chalky in appearance. reckless. I was careless in those rooms. I was able to pick up the phone and food appeared on the tray, food I had selected. The food which no doubt made me sick and the drinking too. It seems such an impossible thing now; like something you would do
So. I explored this space, not as fast as a hotel room, wasted it. I didn't want to do it all at once, I wanted it to last. I divided the space in my head into sections; I allowed myself one session a day. This is the section I would examine most closely: the irregularities in the plaster under the wallpaper, the scratches in the paint on the baseboard and window sill under the top coat of paint, the stains on the mattress because I got down to looking up at the blankets and sheets to fold them piece by piece so that they could be swapped out quickly if someone approached.
stains on the mattress. Like dried flower petals. It's not new. Old love;
When I saw this, this proof that two people leave behind, of love or something, I wanted at least, at least tact, between two people who are now perhaps old and dead, I covered the bed again and lay down on it. I looked up at the blind cast eye on the ceiling. I wanted to feel Luke lying next to me. I've got them, those attacks from the past, like power outages, a wave sweeping over my head. There is nothing to do. They also serve those who simply stand and wait. Or lie down and wait. I know why the glass in the window is unbreakable and why they turned out the light. I wanted to feel Luke
lay next to me, but there was no space.
I kept the closet until the third day. First I looked carefully over the door, in and out, then at the walls with their brass hooks. How could they have forgotten the hooks? Why didn't they remove them? Too close to the ground? And the rod with the plastic hangers, my clothes hang on them, the red woolen cape for the cold, the scarf.
I didn't know what it meant or what language it was in. I thought it might be Latin, but I didn't know Latin. And yet it was the same message, and it was written, forbidden by that very fact, and still undiscovered. Except for me, for whom it was meant.
I am happy to reflect on this message. I like to think that I am in connection with her, this unknown woman. Because she is unknown; or if it is known, they never mentioned it to me. I'm glad to know that your taboo message has reached at least one other person that has washed up on my closet and I've opened and read it. Sometimes I repeat the words to myself. You bring me a little joy. When I picture the woman who wrote them, I think of her my age, maybe a little younger.
I wonder who she was and what happened to her.
I tried Rita the day I found the message.
Who was the woman who stayed in that room?
Which one? She said; She sounded reluctant, suspicious, but then again, that's how she almost always sounds when she talks to me.
So there was more than one. Some did not serve their full terms, their full two years. Some were rejected for one reason or another. Or maybe they weren't sent;
The excited. I had assumed the one with the freckles.
Did you know her? Rita asked, more suspicious than ever.
I knew her before, I lied. I heard she's here.
Rita accepted. He knows there must be a vine, some kind of underground.
She hasn't exercised, she said.
In what way? I asked, trying to sound as neutral as possible.
But Rita pursed her lips. I'm here like a kid, there are things I shouldn't say. What you don't know won't hurt you was all he said.
Sometimes I sing to myself, in my head; something dark, sad, Presbyterian:
Amazing grace how sweet the sound
Might save a motherfucker like me
Who was once lost but is now found
I was trapped but now I'm free.
I don't know if the words are right. I do not remember. These songs are no longer sung in public, especially those using words like free. They are considered too dangerous.
I'm feeling lonely girl
I'm feeling lonely girl
I feel alone, I could die.
This is also forbidden. I know that from an old cassette of my mother's; She also had a scratchy, seedy machine that still played those things.
I don't sing that often. My throat hurts.
There isn't much music in this house other than what you hear on TV.
now with the volume turned down so she doesn't get caught knitting and remembering her once and now amputated glory: hallelujah.
It's hot for this time of year. Houses like this are heated by the sun, there isn't enough insulation. The air is all around me, despite the gentle current my breath penetrates through the curtains.
The summer dresses are unpacked and hanging in the closet, two of them made of pure cotton, which is better than synthetics like the cheapest ones, but you still sweat in them when it's hot in July and August. Now worry about the sunburn, said Aunt Lydia. Things happen, the word he used when all it meant was too nasty or dirty or horrible to get off his lips. For her, a successful life was one that avoided things, excluded things.
In the park, said Aunt Lydia, lying on blankets, sometimes men and women together, and bursting into tears as she stood before our eyes.
I'm doing my best, she said. I'm trying to give you the best chance you can get. She blinked, the light was too bright for her, her mouth was quivering around her front teeth, teeth that stuck out a little and were long and yellowish, and I thought of the dead rats we found on our doorsteps when we were in a House lived, the three of us, four of us with our cat who made these offerings.
Aunt Lydia pressed her hand to the mouth of a dead rodent.
Don't take it lightly from me either, said Aunt Lydia.
Moira walking into my room and dropping her denim jacket on the floor.
In my pocket, I said.
Moira reaches into my pocket. You should throw away some of that garbage
She says. I'm going to throw a whore party.
The? I say. No use trying to work, Moira won't let you, she's like a cat that crawls across the page when you try to read.
You know, like Tupperware, just underwear. cake stuff. Lace crotch, snap buttons. Bras that lift the breasts. Find my lighter, light the cigarette he took from my pocket. He wants?
Thank you, I say bitterly. You're crazy. How did you get such an idea?
Working at the university, says Moira. I have contacts, my mom's friend is big in the suburbs, once they start winning age groups they think they have to beat the competition. The Porn Markets and What You Have.
I laugh. She always made me laugh.
But here? I say. Who comes? Who needs to sit down?
You're too young to learn, she says. Come on, it's gonna be great.
Is that how we live? But we live as always. Everyone lives, most of the time.
We live as always entertaining. Ignoring is not the same as ignoring, you have to work on it.
Nothingchangesinstantaneously:inagraduallyheatingbathtubyou'dbeboiledtodeathbeforeyouknewit.Therewerestoriesinthenewspapers,ofcourse, corpses in ditches or thewoods, bludgeoned to death ormutilated,interferedwithastheyusedtosay,buttheywereaboutotherwomen,andthemenwhodid such thingswere othermen.Noneof themwere themenweknew.Thenewspaperstorieswere likedreams tous,baddreamsdreamtbyothers.Howawful,wewouldsay,andtheywere,buttheywereawfulwithoutbeingbelievable.Theyweretoomelodramatic, eles tinham uma dimensão que não era a dimensão de nossas Vidas.
We were the people who didn't make the papers. We lived in the blank spaces at the edges of the print. It gave us more freedom.
We live in the spaces between the stories.
From below, from the driveway, comes the sound of the car approaching. It's quiet around here, little traffic, you can hear things like this very clearly: car engines, lawn mowers, mowing an edge, a door slamming. If such noises were made here, a shot would be clearly heard.
I go to the window and sit on the windowsill, which is too narrow to be comfortable.
I can spend minutes, tens of minutes, letting my eyes wander over the letter: FE. It's the only thing they gave me to read. Would it count if I got caught?
The engine revs up, I lean forward and pull the white curtain over my face like a veil. It's semi-transparent, I can see through it. If I press my forehead against the glass and look down I can see the back half of the vortex.
Now the commander goes. I catch a glimpse of him, foreshortened, walking to his car. He's not wearing a hat, so it's not a formal event he's going to. your hair is grey. Silver, you could call him if you would be nice. So I think it's an improvement.
If you could spit out the window or throw something, like the pillow, it could hit you.
Moira and I, with paper bags full of water. They were called water pumps. I lean out of my bedroom window and let the boys' heads fall down. It was Moira's idea. What were they going to do?
This dorm used to be mixed, there were still urinals in one of the bathrooms on our floor. But when I got there, they put the men and women back the way they were.
The commander stops, gets in the car, disappears and Nick closes the door.
Door. A moment later the car backs up, pulls down the driveway and out onto the street, disappearing behind the hedge.
You should hate this man. I know I should feel this way, but I don't feel that way. What I'm feeling is more complicated than that. I don't know what to call it, it's not love
I went to the doctor yesterday morning. On these occasions I am alone.
They take me to the doctor once a month for tests: urine, hormones, cancer swabs, blood tests; Same as before, only now required.
The doctor's office is located in a modern office building. We ride the elevator in silence, the guard looks at me. I can see the back of his head in the elevator's black mirrored wall. I enter the office itself;
There are other women in the waiting room, three in number, in red: This doctor is a specialist. We secretly look at each other and measure our bellies: is anyone lucky? Then the nurse enters our names and passport numbers into the compudoc to see if we are who we are supposed to be. Keyboard, gun still holstered.
If they call me, I'll go through the door of the inner room. It is white, bland like the outside except for a folding screen, red cloths on a frame, a gold eye painted on it, with a sword coiled vertically in a serpentine shape as a sort of hilt.
After filling the bottle that's waiting for me in the small bathroom, I undress behind the partition and leave her folded on the chair.
Body. At neck level is another sheet suspended from the ceiling. It annoys me that the doctor never looks me in the face. It's all about the upper body.
When I'm done, I pull out my workbook, find the small tool holder on the right side of the table, and pull it back.
"How do we get along?" he says, a bit of old-fashioned gossip. The sheet lifts from my skin, a breeze sweeps over me. A cold, rubbery, gelatinous finger slides inside me, poking and poking.
"There's nothing wrong with you," the doctor says, as if to himself. "Pain, dear?" He calls me honey.
My breasts are touched again, a quest for maturity, rot. My breath comes closer, I smell stale smoke, aftershave, tobacco dust in my hair. Then the voice, very soft, close to my head: It's him who puffs out the sheet.
"I could help you," he says. whispers.
"What I say.
"Pssst," he says. "I could help you. I have helped other people.”
"Help me?" I say, my voice as quiet as his. "As?" You know something, you saw Luke, you found him, can you bring him back?
"How do you think that?" he says, still barely breathing. Is it his hand sliding down my leg? The glove has been removed. "The door is closed. No one will come in. You will never know this is it."
He lifts the sheet. The lower part of his face is covered by the regulation white gauze mask. Two brown eyes, nose, forehead with brown hair. His hand is between my legs.
I almost drowned: he said a forbidden word. Sterile. Unofficially, there is no longer a sterile man. There are only fertile women and barren women, that is the law.
“A lot of women do that,” she continues. You want a baby, right?
"Yes, I say so. It's true and I don't ask why because I know. Give me children or I die.
"You're soft," he says. "It's time. Today or tomorrow would be enough, why waste it? It would only take a minute, honey.
I do not dare. He offers me his services at my own risk.
"I hate to see what they did to you," he murmurs. It's real, real compassion;
"It's too dangerous," I tell him. "No I can't." The penalty is death. But they have to catch him in the act, with two witnesses.
Your hands stop. "Think about it," he says. "I've seen your file. You don't have much time left. But it's your life."
"Thank you," I say. I have to give the impression that I'm not offended, that I'm open to suggestions. He could falsify the tests, denounce me for cancer and infertility, send me to the colonies, to the non-women.
"Next month," he says.
I got dressed again, behind the screen. My hands are shaking. Because I'm afraid? I didn't cross borders, I didn't trust, I didn't take risks, everything is safe. It's the choice that scares me. Outside as salvation.
The bathroom is next to the bedroom. It is lined with small blue flowers, forget-me-nots, with matching curtains. There is a blue bath mat, a blue faux fur cover on the toilet seat; there were lacerations, drowning. Before they have solved all problems.
Bathing is compulsory, but also a luxury. Taking off the heavy white wings and veil, feeling your own hair with your hands again, is a luxury. like he was telling a joke.
Kora took a bath.
My nudity is already alien to me. My body looks outdated. Did I really wear a swimsuit to the beach? I did it without thinking, between men, not caring that my legs, my arms, my thighs and my back were in sight, they were being seen. Shameful, immodest.
I get into the water, lie down, let myself be held. The water is soft like your hands. yeah
I close my eyes and she's suddenly with me, without warning, it must be the smell of soap. I lean my face against the soft hairs at the back of her neck and inhale them, baby powder and baby hand shampoo, with an undertone, the wash of centofurine. That's how old he is when I'm in the shower.
One day when she was 11 months old, just before she could walk, she was stolen from a shopping cart by a woman. It was a Saturday that Luke and I shopped for the week because both had jobs. She sat in the little baby seats they had back then, in shopping carts, with holes for the legs It wasn't superstition and I wasn't an idiot, the studies were done. There are some differences, he said. He liked to say it, as if to prove that wasn't the case. But mostly he said that when my mother was there. He liked to tease her.
I heard her start to cry. I turned and she disappeared down the hall, in the arms of a woman I had never seen before. I screamed and the woman was stopped. He must have been about thirty-five years old.
She's crazy, Luke said.
At the time I thought it was an isolated case.
Shefades,Ican’tkeepherherewithme,she’sgonenow.MaybeIdothinkofherasaghost, theghostofadeadgirl,a littlegirlwhodiedwhenshewasfive.IrememberthepicturesofusIhadonce,meholdingher,standardposes,motherandbaby,lockedinaframe,forsafety.BehindmyclosedeyesIcanseemyselfasIamnow,sittingbesideanopendrawer,oratrunk,inthecellar,wherethebabyclothesarefoldedaway,alockofhair,cutwhenshewastwo,inanenvelope,whiteblonde.Itgotdarkerlater.
I don't have those things anymore, clothes and hair. I wonder what happened to all our stuff. Stacked, discarded, removed. confiscated.
I've learned to give up a lot. When you have said many things
Aunt Lydia, you are too attached to this material world and forget about spiritual values.
I lie down bathed in water next to an open drawer that doesn't exist and I think of a girl who didn't die at the age of five; I hope so, but not for me.
You must have told him he was dead. They would imagine. They would say that it would be easier for them to adapt.
Eight should be now. I entered the time I lost, I know how much it was. You were right, it's easier to assume she's dead. I don't have to wait or useless effort.
"I don't have all day," says Cora's voice outside the door. True, she doesn't. she has nothing, I can't take your time. I lather, use the brush and piece of pumice stone to scrub away the dead skin. I want to be absolutely clean, without germs, without bacteria, like the surface of the moon. I will not be able to wash tonight, nor for a day afterwards. It bothers them, they say, and why risk it?
I can't stop looking at the small tattoo on my ankle now. Four digits and an eye, an inverted pass. It must ensure that it can never disappear into another landscape for good. I'm too important for that, too rare. National Yama Resource.
I unplug, dry off, put on my fluffy red robe. I'm leaving today's dress where Cora will take it to the wash. Back in my room I get dressed again. The white headdress is not necessary for the night as I do not go out. Everyone in this house knows what my face looks like. The red haze still covers my wet hair, my unshaven head. who kneel in the town square, holding their hands, their hair falling in tufts? What did you do? It must be a long time ago because I can't remember.
Cora brings me dinner covered on a tray. Knock on the door before entering.
"Thanks," I say, taking the tray from her, and she gives me a genuine smile, but turns away without answering. When we're alone, he's ashamed of me.
I put the tray on the white-painted table and pull the chair towards her. I remove the lid of the tray. Chicken thighs, overcooked. Rita has ways of venting her grudges. Baked potato, green beans, salad. Canned pears for dessert. To eat healthy food. You have to get your vitamins and minerals, Aunt Lydia said sheepishly. You must be a worthy recipient.
I think of the others, the outsiders. This is the land of hearts, here I lead a spoiled life, may the Lord be truly grateful to us, said Aunt Lydia, or gratefully sat down and began to eat. I'm not hungry tonight. I have abdominal pain. I'm very nervous, that's all. Can I leave it on the plate, ask Cora not to give me away? I chew and swallow, chew and swallow, feeling my sweat break out. Food is piling up in my stomach, a tight, wet pile of cardboard.
Downstairs in the dining room there are candles on the large mahogany table, white tablecloth, silver, flowers, glasses with wine. .Possibly she won't say anything. If she says something, does he comment on it? If she doesn't say anything, do you notice? I wonder how he manages to get noticed. I think it must be difficult.
There is a knob of butter on one side of the plate. I tear off one end of the paper napkin, wrap it in butter, take it to the closet and tuck it into the toe of my right shoe, the spare pair, like I did before. I'll use the butter tonight. It wouldn't be nice to smell butter tonight.
I expect. I compose myself My self is something I have to compose now, like one composes a speech. What I have to present is made, not something born.
There is a lot of time. That's one of the things I wasn't prepared for: the amount of unfilled time, the long brackets of nothing. time as white clay. If I could embroider, knit, knit, do something with my hands. i want a cigarette I remember walking through art galleries in the 19th century: the obsession they had with harems. Dozens of paintings of harems, fat women lying on divans, turbans on their heads or velvet caps fanning themselves with peacock tails, in the background a eunuch standing guard. Studies of settled flesh painted by men who have never been there. But now I see what they really wanted. They were paintings about suspended animation; about waiting, about objects that are not needed. They were paintings about boredom.
But it can be boring and miserable for men when women do it.
I wait, I wash, I brush, I feed, like a stall pig. Sometime in the 1980s, they invented pork balls for pigs being fattened in stalls. The pork balls were big, colorful balls; the pigs rolled them up with their snouts. Hogmongers said it improved muscle tone; Pigs were curious, they wanted something to think about.
I read it in Introduction to Psychology; that and the chapter about rats in cages electroshocking themselves to do something. And the pigeons trained to pick a button that would reveal a kernel of corn.
I wanted a pork ball.
I lie down on the woven carpet. You can always practice, said Aunt Lydia. Multiple sessions a day to fit into your daily routine. Arms at sides, knees bent, pelvis lift, spine down. , clean it now from sewing machines and washers and dryers; together, lying on small Japanese carpets, they put on a cassette, Les Sylphides. Behind my closed eyes, slender white ballet flats flutter gracefully through the trees, their legs flapping like the wings of captive birds.
In the afternoon we lie on our beds between three and four for an hour in the gym.
A nap, Aunt Lydia called it in her decoy way.
The strange thing is that we had to rest. Many of us went to sleep. We were tired most of the time there. We took some kind of medicine in pill form I think they put it in the food to calm us down. But maybe not. Maybe it was the place itself. After the initial shock, after accepting it, it was better to be lethargic.
Imusthavebeenthere threeweekswhenMoiracame.Shewasbroughtinto the gymnasiumby two of theAunts, in the usualway,whilewewerehavingournap.Shestillhadherclotheson,jeansandabluesweatshirt–herhairwas short, she'ddefied fashion asusual – so I recognizedher at once.Shesawmetoo,butsheturnedaway,shealreadyknewwhatwassafe.Therewasabruiseonherleftcheek,turningpurple.TheAuntstookhertoavacantbedwherethereddresswasalreadylaidout.Sheundressed,begantodressagain , em silêncio, as tias de pé ao pé da cama, o resto de nós observando de dentro de nossos olhos semicerrados.
I couldn't speak to her for several days; we just look, small glances, like sips.
only the veils;
This is saloonybin, said Moira.
I'm so glad to see you, I said.
Where can we talk? said Moira.
bath, I said. look at the clock End of the parade, half past two.
That's all we said.
I feel safer that Moirais is here. I look at the electric and round clock in front of the green board. half past one during testimony. Aunt Helena is here, as is Aunt Lydia, because testimony is special.
It's Janine telling how she was gang raped when she was fourteen and had an abortion. She told the same story last week.
But whose fault was that? says Aunt Helena, holding up a fat finger.
His guilt, his guilt, his guilt, we sing in unison.
did you eat all monday Aunt Helena smiles happily at us.
She did. She did. She did.
Why did God allow such a terrible thing to happen?
Teach the lesson. Teach the lesson. Teach the lesson.
Last week Janine started crying. Aunt Helena had her kneel at the front of the room with her hands behind her back where we could all see her red face and runny nose. It looked disgusting: weak, distorted, mottled, pink, like a newborn mouse. None of us ever wanted to look like this. although for a moment
we knew what they were doing to her, we despised her.
cry baby cry baby cry baby
We mean business, that's the bad part.
I used to think a lot of myself. I didn't think so at the time.
That was last week. This week Janine doesn't expect us to make fun of her. It was my fault, she says. It was my fault. I guided her, I deserved the pain.
Very good, Janine, says Aunt Lydia. You are an example.
I have to wait until this is over before I raise my hand. Sometimes if you ask at the wrong time, they say no. If you really must go, this can be crucial. Yesterday Dolores wet the floor. Two aunts dragged them, one hand under each grave. She wasn't there for the afternoon walk, but at night she lay in her usual bed again.
What have they done to him? we whispered from bed to bed.
I don't know.
Not knowing makes it worse.
I raise my hand, Aunt Lydianods. I get up and walk out into the hallway as unobtrusively as possible. Aunt Elizabeth stands guard outside the bathroom. She waves and means I can come in.
This bathroom used to be for children. They look eerily like baby coffins. I marvel again at the nudity of male life: the open-air showers, the body exposed for inspection and comparison, the public display of private parts. What is it for? What security purposes does it serve? Lightning Badge, look everyone, everything is fine, I belong here. Why don't two men have to prove to each other that they are women? Somehow to unbutton, some opening routine between the legs, just casual. A sniffing dog.
The school is old, the parquet floor is made of wood, a kind of chipboard. There's a small hole in the wood, way down, next to the wall, more or less waist level, number eight, a reminder of previous vandalism or an old voyeur's legacy. Everyone in the center knows this hole in the heart
Carpentry; everyone except the aunts.
I'm afraid I'm too late, held back by Janine's statement: maybe Moira was already here, maybe she had to come back. They don't give you much time.
I put my mouth in the wooden hole. Moira? I whisper
is that you? she says.
When I say. Relief washes over me.
My God, put out a cigarette, says Moira.
I feel incredibly lucky.
It sinks into my body like a swamp, swamp where only I know the foot. Treacherous ground, my own territory. I became the earth against which I laid my year for the rumors of the future. Every sting, every faint hiss, ripples of shedding matter, swelling and thinning of soft tissue, flesh ooze, these are signs, these are things I need to know. Once again I failed to live up to the expectations of others which became my own.
I used to think of my body as an instrument of pleasure, or a means of transportation, or an instrument to carry out my will. I could use it to walk around, push buttons, one way or another, make things happen. There were limits, but my body was still flexible, unique, solid, one with me.
Now the meats are arranged differently. I am a cloud frozen around a central object, the shape of a pear, hard and more real than me, glowing red in its translucent shell. Inside is a room huge as the night sky and as dark and curved, though red-black instead of black. an omen. It transitions, pauses, resumes, and disappears from view, and I see despair coming at me like hunger. Feel that emptiness again, again.
I'm in our first apartment, in the bedroom. I stand in front of the closet, which has wooden folding doors. All around me I know it is
empty, all the furniture gone, the floor bare, not even the carpets; but still the closet is full of clothes. I think it's my clothes but they don't look like mine, I've never seen them. Maybe it's Luke's wife's clothes, which I've never seen either; just pictures and a voice on the phone late at night calling us crying accusing before the divorce.
Luke is there, behind me, and I turn to see him. He doesn't look at me, he looks at the floor where the cat is rubbing those paws, meowing and meowing plaintively. He wants food, but how can there be food when the apartment is so empty?
Luke I mean. He does not answer. Maybe he's not cheating on me. It turns out he may not be alive.
I walk with her, hold her hand, pull her, drag her through the fern, she's half awake from the pill I gave her so she wouldn't cry or say anything to tell us she doesn't. know where she is. I can't run fast enough, I could only run faster, I'm a good runner. Now she is crying, she is afraid, I want to carry her, but it would be very difficult. about her drowning, and the thought slows me down. Then the shots come behind us, not loud, not like fireworks, but sharp and clear like dry twigs breaking.
I pull her to the ground and roll over her to cover and shield her. Relax, I say again, my face is wet, the sweater is torn, I feel calm and floating, like I'm not in my body anymore; I don't want to smother her, instead I snuggle up to her and cup my hand over her mouth. There's my breathing and my heartbeat, like pounding, at night at the door of a house you thought you were safe.
very dark and nothing is left but a small window, a very small window, like the wrong end of a telescope, like the window of a Christmas card, an old woman, outside night and ice and inside a candle, a tree that shines, a family, me hear the seven bells, sleigh bells, on the radio, old music, but through this window I can see, small but very clear, I can see her walking away from me, holding her arm, holding Our arm is already red and turns
The bell wakes me; and then Cora knocking on my door.
When the chimes ended, I went downstairs and paused briefly by the glass eye hanging on the wall below. The clock ticked its pendulum and showed the time;
The living room door is wide open. I enter: so far there is no other.
The living room might have been called the drawing room; of the living room For others there is standing room only. Posture matters, here and now: Small inconveniences are instructive.
The space is discreet, symmetrical; It's one of the forms money takes when it's frozen. Money has seeped through this space for years as if through an underground cavern, crusting and hardening like stalactites in these shapes. the cow-tongued stillness of the upholstered Chinese carpet on the floor with its peachy-pink peonies, the soft leather of the commander's chair, the gleam of brass in the box beside it.
The carpet is authentic. Some things in this room are authentic, some things are not. For example, two paintings, both women, one on each side of the fireplace. Both wear dark clothes, like in the old church, but later. The paintings may be authentic. I suspect when Serena Joy acquired it after realizing that she needed to redirect her energies to something convincingly domestic, she had intentions of doing so
pass them on as ancestors. Or maybe they were in the house when the Commandant bought it.
Between them, on the mantelpiece, stands an oval mirror flanked by two pairs of silver candlesticks, with a white porcelain Cupid in the center with his arm around a lamb's neck. Serena Joy's tastes are an odd mix: strong desire for quality, gentle sentimental desires.
Rooms smell of mono-oil, heavy fabrics, wilted daffodils, the smell of leftovers from the kitchen or dining room, and Serena Joy: Lily of the Valley perfume. Perfume is a luxury, it must have a specific source. I breathe in and think I should enjoy it. It's the smell of prepubescent girls, of the gifts children usually give their mothers on Mother's Day;
I would like to steal something from this room. I'd like to take something small with me, the rolled-up ashtray, the silver casket on the mantelpiece maybe, or a dried flower: hide it in the folds of my dress or my zippered sleeve, keep it there until I'm done tonight, hide it. in my bedroom, under the bed, or in a shoe, or on the FAITH petit point hard pillow.
But such a feeling would be an illusion and very risky. My hands stay where they are, folded in my lap.
I hope the family gets back together. Family: This is us. The commander is the head of the family. The house is what it has. Have and hold 'till death do us part.
The hold of a ship. Gap.
Cora comes in first, then Rita, wiping her hands on her apron. We all have to go through this in one way or another.
Rita frowned before standing behind me. It's my fault, this is a waste of time.
Nick comes in, greets all three of us, looks around the room. He also takes his place behind me and stands up. It's so close that the guy's boot touches my foot. I feel my shoe soften, the blood rushes into it, it warms up, it turns into a skin.
"I wish he would hurry up," Cora said.
"Hurry up and wait," says Nick. He laughs and moves his foot to touch mine again. Nobody can see it, under the folds of my open skirt.
We hear Serena coming down the stairs, down the hall, pounding her cane on the carpet, pounding her good foot. He limps through the door, looks at us, counts, but sees nothing. It's useless to you, I think to him, my face still, you can't use it anymore, you're withered. They are the sexual organs of plants. I read it somewhere.
He goes to the chair and stool, turns, crouches, and lands awkwardly. He puts his left foot on the stool and fumbles in his sleeve pocket. I hear the whisper, the click of the lighter, I smell the warm smoke, I breathe.
"Late as always," she says. We do not answer
A male choir, yellow-green skin, color needs matching, sings "CometotheChurchintheWildwood".
Come sing the basses. Serena clicks on the channel switcher. Waves, colorful zigzags, a whooshing noise: it's Montreal's satellite station that's being blacked out.
Several empty channels, then the news. That's what she's looking for. She leans back, takes a deep breath. I, on the other hand, lean forward, a child falling behind with adults. That's the only good thing about these nights, ceremony nights, I can see the news.
That is, who knows if any of them are true? Could be old clips, could be fake.
First the front lines. They're not really front lines: the war seems to be happening in too many places at once.
Wooded hills seen from above, the trees are a sickly yellow. I want her to correct the color. The Appalachian Highlands, so the story goes, where the Angels of the Apocalypse, 4th Division, with air support from the 21st. We see two helicopters, black with silver wings on the sides. Below them, a clump of trees explodes.
Now a closeup of a prisoner with a dirty, bearded face flanked by two angels in their neat black uniforms. The prisoner accepts a cigarette from one of the angels and brings it awkwardly to his lips with his bound hands. He gives a small crooked smile. The camera is trained on him: is the smile a sign of defiance or submission? Are you ashamed to get caught?
They only show us victories, never defeats. Who's the bad news?
Possibly an actor.
Now comes the anchor. His manner is gentle, paternal; He looks at us from the screen and looks like everyone's ideal grandfather with his brown and white hair and soft eyes showing wrinkles around him.
all good soon.promise.there will be peace.you must trust.you must go to sleep like good children.
He tells us what we want to believe. It's very convincing.
i fight him He's like an old movie star, I tell myself, with fake teeth and a face. At the same time I rock myself towards him as if hypnotized. If only it were true If only I could believe
Now he tells us that a team from Eyes, working with an insider, has cracked a secret spy. The gang smuggled valuable national resources across the border into Canada.
"Five members of the heretical sect of Quakers have been arrested," he says with a gentle smile, "and more arrests are planned."
Two of the Quakers appear on screen, a man and a woman. They look scared but try to keep some dignity in front of the camera. The man has a large dark spot on his forehead; the woman's veil has been torn away, her hair falls in tufts over her face. Both are in their fifties.
Now we can see the city from the air again. That used to be Detroit. The sound of artillery can be heard under the voice of the announcer. Columns of smoke rise from the horizon.
"The relocation of the Hamis children is proceeding according to plan," says the reassuringly pink face back on screen. “Three thousand arrived at Patria Nacional Uno this week, with another two thousand in transit.” How do they transport so many people at once? trains, buses? We don't show a photo of it. National Homeland One is located in North Dakota. God knows what they must do once they get there. Farm, is the theory.
Serena Joy has heard enough news. Impatiently he presses the switch to change channels, appears in the aged baritone bass, his cheeks like empty udders. He sings "Whispering Hope". Serena pushes him away.
We wait, the clock in the hallway ticks, Serena lights another cigarette, I get in the car. It's Saturday morning, it's September, we still have a car. Others had to sell theirs. My name isn't Offred, I have another name that nobody uses now because it's forbidden. I retain knowledge of that name
like something hidden, a treasure that I'll dig up again one day. I think that name is buried. This name has an aura, like an amulet, a charm that has survived from an unimaginably distant past. I lie in my single bed at night with my eyes closed and the name hovers behind my eyes, not quite tangible, glowing in the dark.
It's a Saturday morning in September, I'm using my brilliant name. I know all the details. Those are sentimental details, but I can't help it. But I can't think much about the rabbit, I can't start crying, here on the Chinese carpet, inhaling the smoke that was pouring into Serena's body.
She thought we were going to have a picnic and sure enough there was a picnic basket in the back seat next to her with real food, hard boiled eggs, thermos and all.
I put on my walking shoes, she had sneakers. The laces featured a heart design, red, purple, pink, and yellow. It was hot for the time of year, the leaves were already changing, some; left behind, faded into the past tense, falling apart instantly as if it never existed because I'd never see it again, at least that's what I thought then.
Wehavealmostnothingwithus,wedon'twanttolookasifwe'regoinganywherefarorpermanent.Wehavetheforgedpassports,guaranteed,worththeprice.Wecouldn'tpayinmoney,ofcourse,orputitontheCompucount:we used other things, some jewellery that wasmy grandmother's, a stampcollectionLukeinheritedfromhisuncle.Suchthingscanbeexchanged,formoney,inothercountries.Whenwegettotheborderwe'llpretendwe'rejustgoingoveronadaytrip;thefakevisasareforaday. Before that, I'll give her a sleeping pill so she'll sleep when we cross the border. So that he doesn't betray us. A child cannot be expected to lie convincingly.
And I don't want him to feel fear, the fear that's now cramping my muscles, tightening my spine, pulling me up that I'm sure would break if he touched me.
a motel, or rather sleep in the car on a side street so there are no suspicious questions.
We turned onto the highway, which headed north and flowed along without much traffic. Gas has been expensive and scarce since the beginning of the war.
Back on the street he shakes my hand, looks at me. You're white as a sheet, he says.
This is how I feel: white, flat, thin. i feel transparent Surely they can see through me. Worse, how can I hold on to Luke, to her, when I'm so floored, so white? Think of it this way, Moira would say. Think so and you will make it come true.
Cheer up, says Luke. You're driving a little too fast. The adrenaline surged into his head. Now he sings.
Even his singing worries me. They warned us not to look too happy.
The commander knocks on the door. The call is mandatory: the room must be Serena Joy's territory, she must ask permission to enter. He likes to keep you waiting. It's a small thing, but in this house, small things mean a lot. Tonight, however, she doesn't even notice him because before Serena Joy can speak, he enters the room anyway. Maybe he just forgot the protocol, but maybe it's on purpose. Who knows what she told him about the silver-studded dining table? Or not said
The commander wears his black uniform, which makes him look like a museum attendant. A cool but cautious semi-retiree who kills time. But only at first glance. tmiss If you look at her chin she looks like an avocado in a glossy magazine from days gone by.
His manner is gentle, his hands are large with thick fingers and greedy thumbs, his blue eyes are closed, seemingly harmless. He manages to look confused, as if he can't remember how we got here.
He nods in the general direction of Serena Joy, who doesn't make a sound. EITHER
The Bible is locked up like people used to lock up their tea so the servants wouldn't steal it. It's an incendiary device: who knows what we'd do with it if we got our hands on it? We can be read by him, but we cannot read. Our heads turn to him, we are excited, here comes our bedtime story.
The commander sat down and crossed his legs, watched by us. The markings are there. open the book He clears his throat a little, as if embarrassed.
"Can I have some water?" he says into the air. "Please", head.
Behind me, one of them, Cora or Rita, leaves her place at the table and heads towards the kitchen. The commander sits and looks down. The commander sighs, takes a pair of gold-rimmed reading glasses from his inside pocket, and puts them on. Now he looks like a shoemaker from a fairy tale book.
We watch it: every inch, every spark.
To be a man guarded by women. It must be totally weird. Let her look at you all the time. Making her flinch when he moves, even though grabbing an ashtray might be a harmless move.
Dressed, tried on, tried on while he puts them on himself, like a sock on a foot, on the stump of himself, with his extra sensitive thumb, his tentacle, his delicate snail's eye on the prowl, it bulges, expands, trembles and withers when touched wrongly, grows back, slightly arched at the tip, pushes forward like a leaf, inside them, greedy for sight. Thus one achieves the vision, that journey in the dark made of women, a woman who can see in the dark while he himself goes blindly.
She watches him from inside.
But be careful, Commander, I tell him in my head. I am watching you. One wrong move and I'm dead.
Still, it must be hell to be a man like that.
It should be okay.
It must be hell.
You must be very calm.
Water appears, the commander drinks. "Thank you," he says. The flushed whisper returns to its place.
The Commander pauses, looks down and scans the page. He takes his time like he's ignoring us.
The commander begins to read reluctantly. He's not very good at it. Maybe he's just bored.
It's the same old story, same old stories. God to Adam, God to Noah. Be fruitful, multiply and fill the earth. Then came Rachel and Leah's moldy old stuff that had been stuffed into the center for us. Give me children or I die. Am I in the place of God who kept you from the fruit of the womb? She must bear on my knees that I too can have children with her. There is war, things are rationed. You spoiled brats, he winked at me like he was scolding a kitten.
For lunch it was the Beatitudes. Blessed are the merciful. Blessed are the meek. Blessed are the silent ones. I knew they made it up, I knew it was wrong, and they left things out too, but there was no way to verify it. Blessed are those who weep, for they shall receive comfort.
Nobody said when.
I look at the clock, over dessert, canned pears with cinnamon, pattern
for lunch and find Moira two tables away instead. She's already gone. I raise my hand, I apologise. We don't do that very often and always at different times of the day.
In the bathroom, as usual, I went to the penultimate cabin.
Is there? I whisper
Big as life and twice as ugly, Moira whispers.
What did you hear?
Nothing more. I have to get out of here, I'm going insane.
I'm in a panic No, no, Moira, I mean, don't try.
I'll pretend I'm sick. They're sending an ambulance, I saw it.
You only get as far as the hospital.
At least there will be a change. I won't have to listen to this old bitch.
They will discover you.
Don't worry, I'm good at it. When I was a kid in high school I skipped vitamin C, I was curvy. In the early stages, they cannot diagnose it.
I couldn't bear the thought that she wasn't with me.
They send two guys into the ambulance with you. Think about it. They must be hungry shit, they most likely can't even put their hands in their pockets...
You there. Time is up, said Aunt Elizabeth's voice from the door. I got up, flushed the toilet. Two of Moira's fingers stuck through the hole in the wall. It was only big enough for two fingers. I quickly touched her with my own fingers, holding her tight. release.
"And Leah said: God gave me my contract because I gave my servant to my husband," says the commander. Let the book close. The sound suggests the smoothness of the thin onion-covered sides as they would feel under your fingers. Smooth and dry, like paper powder, pink and powdery, used to be in little booklets to take the shine off your nose in shops that sold candles and soap in the form of things:
Mussels, Mushrooms Like Cigarette Paper. like flower petals.
The commander sits with his eyes closed for a moment, as if tired. He works long hours. He has many responsibilities.
Serena started crying. I can hear her behind me. It's not the first time. It always does on the night of the ceremony. She tries not to make noise. She's trying to maintain her dignity, right in front of us. The upholstery and carpeting muffle it, but we can still hear it clearly. The tension between her outburst and her attempt to quell it is terrifying.
The commander opens his eyes, he sees, he frowns, he doesn't see. "Now we have a moment of silent prayer," says the commander.
I lower my head and close my eyes. I hear the ragged breathing, the barely audible sighs, the shaking in my back. How he must hate me I think.
I pray silently: Nolite te bastardes carborundorum. I don't know what it means, but it sounds good and it has to work because I don't know what else to say to God.
What is it? I murmured to the woman next to me; Sure enough, a question like this for everyone but a fan.
He formed a fever with his lips. Appendicitis, they say.
I had hamburger buns and fries for dinner that night. My table was by the window, I could see as far as the front door. I saw the ambulance come back, this time without the siren. He dragged her through the door and up the front steps, holding her under his arms, one on each side.
On my side of the table we looked out the window. The window was greenish with that chicken wire they put in the glass. Aunt Lydia said: Eat your supper. He went there and lowered the blinds.
TheytookherintoaroomthatusedtobetheScienceLab.Itwasaroomwhere noneof us everwentwillingly.Afterwards she couldnotwalk for aweek,herfeetwouldnotfitintohershoes,theyweretooswollen.Itwasthefeetthey’ddo,forafirstoffence.Theyusedsteelcables,frayedattheends.After that thehands.Theydidn’tcarewhat theydidtoyourfeetandhands,evenifitwaspermanent.Remember,saidAuntLydia.Forourpurposesyourfeetandyourhandsarenotessential.
For example, Moira was lying on the bed. I shouldn't have tried, not with the angels, Alma said from the bed next door. We had to take her to class.
I'm still praying but what I see is Moira's feet how they managed to bring her back.
Oh god I pray
Is that what you had in mind?
The Commander clears his throat. He does this to let us know that he thinks it's time to stop praying.
It's the signature. He gets up. We're fired.
The ceremony proceeds normally.
I'm lying on my back, fully clothed except for my healthy white cotton boxer shorts. . She would not see the white carpet, nor the flowing curtains, nor the contoured vanity with its brushed silver mirror;
Or the sail of a ship. Pot-bellied sails, it said in the poems.
A lily of the valley nebula surrounds us, cold, almost transparent. It's not hot in this room.
Above me, stretched out at the head of the bed, is Serena Joy.
My arms are raised; she takes my hands, each of mine in hers. That should mean that we are one flesh, one being. What it really means is that she is in control of the process and therefore the product.
My red skirt is pulled up to my waist, although it's no higher. Below her the commander fucks. What the fuck is my lower body. I'm not saying making love because that's not what you do. also copulate
it would be inaccurate because it would involve two people and only one is involved. Even rape doesn't cover it: nothing happens here that I haven't signed up for. There weren't many options, but there were a few and that was the one I chose.
So I stop and imagine the invisible canopy over my head. I remember Queen Victoria's advice to her daughter. Close your eyes and think of England. But this is not England. I wish he would hurry.
Maybe I'm crazy and this is a new kind of therapy.
I wish it were true; then it might get better and it would go away.
Serena Joy grasps my hands as if it's her, not me, who's being fucked, as if she finds it pleasurable or painful, and the commander fucks non-stop in a steady two-four motion like a dripping faucet. He's busy, like a man humming to himself in the shower without knowing he's humming; like a man who has other things on his mind. It's like she's somewhere else, waiting for him to come, drumming her fingers on the table while she waits. There's an impatience in your rhythm now.
What's happening in that room beneath Serena Joy's silver canopy isn't exciting. It has nothing to do with sexual desire, at least for me and certainly not for Serena. Arousal and orgasm are no longer considered necessary; they would only be a symptom of frivolity, like jazz garters or beauty marks: unnecessary distractions for the frivolous. It seems odd that women should spend so much time and energy reading, thinking, worrying, and writing about these things. They are obviously pastimes.
This is not a reenactment, not even for the commander. This business is serious. The commander also does his duty.
If I opened my eyes a little, I could see him, his not uncomfortable face hanging over my torso, maybe a few strands of his silver hair fell on his forehead, engrossed in his inner journey, that place to which he rushes. , which, like a dream, recedes at the same speed as it approaches. I would see your eyes open
If he was prettier, would he enjoy it more?
At least it's an improvement over the previous one, which smelled like church locker room in the rain; like your mouth when the dentist starts biting your teeth; like a nostril.
Kissing is forbidden between us. That makes it bearable.
Man separates. The person describes
Finally he comes with a choked moan of relief. Serena Joy, who had been holding her breath, pushed them out. The commander, propped up on his elbows away from our combined bodies, does not allow himself to sink into us. He rests for a moment, steps back, steps back, zips up. He nods, then turns and walks out of the room, closing the door behind him with exaggerated care, as if they were both his navigator mother. There's something funny about it, but I don't dare laugh.
Serena Joy lets go of my hands. "You can get up now," she says. "Get up and go." This is supposed to be a moment of quiet meditation for her, but she's not in the mood for it. There is hatred in her voice, as if the touch of my flesh would disgust and defile her. I disentangle myself from his body, I stand up; The commander's juice runs down my legs. Before I turn around, I see her straighten her blue skirt, bring her legs together;
Who is worse, her or me?
This is what I do when I'm back in my room:
I undress and put on my nightgown.
I reach for the packet of butter in the toe of my right shoe where I used to hide it after dinner. I can remove most of the butter from the shoe lining tomorrow with a towel or toilet paper from the bathroom.
I rub the butter on my face, apply it to the skin of my hands. No more hand lotion or face cream, not for us. These things are considered vanities. We are containers, only the interior of four bodies is important.
Butter is a trick I learned at the Rachel and Leah Center. We named it Red Center because there was a lot of red.
As long as we do that, smearing our skin to keep it soft, we can believe that one day we will date, that we will be touched again, in love or in desire. We have our own private ceremonies.
Butter is greasy and goes rancid and I'll smell like old cheese; but at least it's organic, as they used to say.
For such devices we descend.
Buttered I lie on my single bed, flat as toast.
I fold the sheet, stand up carefully, silently, barefoot, in my nightgown, I go to the window like a child, I want to see. , a sliver of ancient rock, a goddess, a wink. The moon is a stone and the sky is deadly ironwork, but my goodness, how beautiful either way.
I really want Luke here. I want them to see me and tell me my name. I want to be appreciated in a way that I'm not;
I want to steal something.
In the corridor, the son of the night light, the long room glows softly pink;
As I walk past the fish eye on the hallway wall, I can see my white form, my toned body, my hair falling down my back in a mane, my eyes shining.
I come into the living room, the door is ajar, he slips, I leave the door open a little. A creak of wood, but who's around to hear it? I'm in the room, dilating the pupils of my eyes like a cat's. her, from above, behind my curtains, dark, cut-out forms. Now I see outlines, flashes: of the mirror, the lamp bases, the vases, the sofa that looks like a cloud at sunset.
What should I take? Something that will not be missing. In the forest at midnight, a magical flower. A wilted daffodil, not from the drying plant. The daffodils are soon thrown away, they start to smell.
I grope around, find a table in a corner, grope around. It rings, I must have hit something. I find the daffodils, break off the dried edges, hobble to the stems, pinch my fingers. I'll express it somewhere. Under the mattress. Leave it there for the next woman after me to find it.
But there's someone in the room behind me.
I listen to the footsteps, silent like mine, the creaking of the floorboard. The door closes behind me with a soft click, cutting off the power. I'm freezing: the white was a mistake.
Then he whispered, "Don't shout.
Like he's screaming like everything's fine.
Take a step toward me. Nick.
"What are you doing?"
I don't answer, he's also illegal here with me, he can't report me. Me neither; .In Serena's room, with the dried flowers, on the Chinese carpet, her slender body. A completely unknown man. It would be like screaming, it would be like shooting someone. My hand falls, how about I could unbutton it, and then. But it's too dangerous, he knows that, we're going away, not far. Too much trust, too much risk, too much.
"I came to look for you," he says, breathing, for almost a year. I want to reach out, taste his skin, I'm hungry. His fingers move, feeling my arm under my shirt sleeve as if his hand isn't listening to reason. It feels so good to be touched by someone, to be touched so greedily, to feel so greedy. , you would understand. You are here in another body.
"Because?" I can hardly get up. I have to go, get back to the stairs before I dissolve completely. His hand is still heavy on my shoulder now, pressing down on me like hot lead.
"He told me," says Nick. he wants to see you In his office.
"What do you think?" I say. It must be the commander.
"Tomorrow," he says, barely audible. In the dark room we move away from each other, slowly, as if pulled by a force, a current, partly supported by equally strong hands.
When you find the door, turn the knob, fingers on the cold china, open it.
I'm lying on the bed and I'm still shaking. You can wet the rim of a glass and run your finger over it and it will make a sound.
Lying in bed with Luke, his hand on my round stomach. The three of us, on the bed, she kicks, squirms inside me. Thunder outside the window, that's why she's awake, they can hear, they can sleep, they can be afraid, even there in the warmth of their hearts, like waves on the beach around them. Lightning, very close, Luke's eyes go white for a moment.
I'm not afraid. We're wide awake, the rain is falling now, we'll be slow and careful.
If I thought this would never happen again, I would die.
But that's wrong, no one dies from lack of sex. It's the lack of love that dies. There's nobody here I could love, all the people I could love are either in love or somewhere else. Anyone know where they are or what their names are now?
From time to time I see their faces glowing against the darkness like holy images in the old foreign cathedrals in the light of the wind candles; Candles you lit in prayer, on your knees, with your forehead on the wooden railing, waiting for an answer. I can hear my own heart beating against the springs of the bed, I can caress myself under the dry white sheets in the dark, but I'm also dry and white, hard, grainy; it's like running your hand over a plate of dry rice; it's like snow, there's something dead about it, something abandoned. I'm like a room where things used to happen and now nothing happens except the pollen of the weeds that grow outside the window and fly across the floor like dust.
That's what I think.
I think Luke is lying face down in a thicket, a tangle of ferns, last year's brown leaves under freshly opened greens, or maybe ground hemlock, though it's too early for berries. green and black, the leather belt, the work boots. I know exactly what he was wearing. I see her clothes, bright as a lithograph or a color ad in an old magazine, but not expensive, not that good. not your clothes
I pray that the hole, or two or three, was more than one shot, they were together, I pray that at least the hole in the stone is clean, quickly and finally through the skull, through the spot where all the pictures were, so there was only a flash, darkness or pain, numb I wait as the word struck, just one and then silence.
I believe in that.
I also think Luke is sitting, somewhere rectangular, gray concrete, a ledge or the edge of something, a bed or a chair. God knows what he's wearing. God knows what they got him into. . He hasn't shaved in a year, though they cut him whenever they want out of spite, they say.
Anyway, they don't suit him, his hair is disheveled, the back of his head is cut off, that's not the worst, he looks ten years older, twenty, he's bent like an old man, his eyes are swollen Little purple ones are springing up on her cheeks Veinlets, a scar, no, a wound, unhealed, tulip-colored, near the tip of the stem, on the left side of the face where the flesh has recently opened. The body is so easily damaged, so easily disposed of, water and chemicals are allitis, little more than a jellyfish, and dehydration.
It hurts him to move his hands, it hurts to move. He doesn't know what he's accused of. A problem. There has to be something, some accusation.
He is surrounded by a smell, yours, the smell of a caged animal.
a dirty cage I picture him resting because I can't picture him any more than anything under his neck, on his cuffs. I don't want to think about what they did to your body. do you have shoes No, and the floor is cold and wet. Now I believe in the transmission of thoughts, vibrations in the ether, that crap.
I also think they didn't catch him or they did, that he made it, reached shore, swam across the river, crossed the border, crawled to the other shore, an island, chattering teeth; found his way to a nearby farmhouse, was let in, suspicious at first but then when they understood who he was they were friendly, not the kind to make him maybe they were Quakers, they smuggle him into the country. From house to house the wife made him hot coffee and gave him a set of her husband's clothes.
He made contact with others we must resist, a government in exile. Someone has to be out there taking care of things. I believe in resistance as I believe that without shadow there can be no light; or rather, no shadow unless there is also light. Should you fight back or where do all the criminals on TV come from?
A message can come from you at any time. It will come in the most unexpected way, from the most unlikely person, someone you never suspected. Under my plate, on the tray? Did I get my hands on it when I got the chips from the other side of the counter in All Flesh?
The message will say I have to be patient: sooner or later it will get me out, we will find it where they put it. It's this message, which may never get through, that keeps me alive.
The things I believe in cannot all be true, although one of them must be true. But I believe in all, in all three versions of Lucas, at the same time and at the same time.
This is my belief too. That can also be wrong.
One of the tombstones in the cemetery near the oldest church has an anchor and an hourglass and the words: With hope.
In the hope. Why did they put it on a dead man? Was the body waiting, or were they still alive?
I dream that I'm awake. I dream that I get out of bed and cross the room, not this room, and
saia pela porta, não por esta porta. I'm at home, one of my homes, and she'srunningtomeetme,inhersmallgreennightgownwiththesunfloweronthefront,herfeetbare,andIpickherupandfeelherarmsandlegsgoaroundmeandIbegintocry,becauseIknowthenthatI'mnotawake.I'mbackinthisbed,tryingtowakeup,andIwakeupandsitontheedgeofthebed,andmymothercomes inwitha trayandasksme if I'm feelingbetter.When Iwassick,asachild,shehadtostayhomefromwork. Mas também não estou acordado desta vez.
After these dreams I wake up and I know I'm really awake because there's the crown on the ceiling and my curtains are hanging down like drowned white hair.
there is no hope I know where I am, who and what day it is.
Gray seeps through the curtains, hazy and light, not much sun today. I get up, go to the window, kneel on the windowsill, hard pillow, FE, and watch.
I wonder what happened to the other two pads. There must have been three. HOPE and CHARITY, where were they kept? Serena Joy has good habits. She wouldn't throw anything away that wasn't completely used. One for Rita, one for Cora?
The bell rings, I'm ahead, ahead. I straighten up without looking down.
Sit in the chair and think of the word chair. It can also mean the leader of
a meeting. It can also mean some kind of execution. It is the first syllable of charity. It's the French word for meat. None of these facts have any relation to the others.
These are the types of snacks I use to help me recover.
In front of me a tray and in the area of the tray a glass of apple juice, a vitamin pill, a spoon, a plate with three whole wheat toasts, a small plate with honey and another plate with a glass of egg. one of those that look like a woman's torso, with a skirt.
Thefirsteggiswhite.Imovetheegg-cupalittle,soit'snowinthewaterysunlight that comes through the window and falls, brightening, waning,brighteningagain,onthetray.Theshelloftheeggissmoothbutalsograined;smallpebblesofcalciumaredefinedbythesunlight,likecratersonthemoon.It'sabarrenlandscape,yetperfect;it'sthesortofdesertthesaintswentinto,sotheirmindswouldnotbedistractedbyprofusion.IthinkthatthisiswhatGodmustlooklike:anegg.Thelifeofthemoonmaynotbeonthesurface,butinside .
The egg now glows like an energy has locked in. Looking at the egg gives me intense pleasure.
The sun goes down and the egg disappears.
I take the egg in the glass and finger for a moment. It is hot. Women used to carry these eggs between their breasts to hatch them. That would have been nice.
The minimalist life. Joy is an egg. Blessings that can be counted on the fingers of one hand.
In reduced conditions, the will to live clings to foreign bodies. I would like to have a pet: for example a bird or a cat. a known
Then cover the egg with the spoon and eat the contents.
As I eat the second egg, I hear the siren, at first far away, crawling towards me between the big houses and the mowed meadows, a faint sound like the humofan insect; then approach, open, like a flower of
Opening sound, on a trumpet. A proclamation, that siren. I dropped the spoon, my heart was racing, I went back to the window: will it be blue and not for me? Joy to the world, quite rare today. I leave the second half-dead egg, run to the closet to get my cloak and already I hear footsteps on the stairs and the screaming voice.
"Hurry up," says Cora, "I won't wait all day," and she helps me with the lid, she smiles at everything.
I almost run down the hall, the stairs are like skiing, the front door is wide, today I can walk through and the guard is there to greet me. It started raining, drizzling, and gravity melts the fear and grass fills the air.
The back door is open and I go in. with a jerk, while above the sirens scream: Make way, make way!
"Who is it?" I ask the woman next to me; I almost have to scream, the sound is loud.
"Ofwarren," he yells back. On impulse he takes my hand, squeezes it as we turn the corner; She turns to me and I see her face, tears running down her cheeks, but tears from what? envy, disappointment?
I checked that: within limits.
Across from us, on the other pew, a woman is praying with her eyes closed and her hands over her mouth. Or you don't pray. She could bite her nails. Maybe she's trying to stay calm. The third woman is already calm. She sits with her arms crossed and smiles a little. The siren continues. This used to be the sound of death, for ambulances or fires. It may also be the sound of death today. We will know soon. What will Ofwarren give birth to? A baby like we all expect? Or something else, an unbaby, with a head like a dog's snout, or two bodies, or a hole in it
Heart or arms or connected hands and feet? It is unknown. You could say earlier, with machines, but that's forbidden now.
Thechancesareoneinfour,welearnedthatattheCentre.Theairgottoofull, once, of chemicals, rays, radiation, the water swarmed with toxicmolecules,allofthattakesyearstocleanup,andmeanwhiletheycreepintoyourbody,campoutinyourfattycells.Whoknows,yourveryfleshmaybepolluted,dirtyasanoilybeach,suredeathtoshorebirdsandunbornbabies.Maybeavulturewoulddieofeatingyou.Maybeyoulightupinthedark,likeanold-fashionedwatch.Deathwatch.That'sakindofbeetle,itburiescarrion .
Sometimes I can't think of myself, of my body, without seeing the skeleton: how I must appear to an electron. cradle of life made of bones; The women took medicine, pills, the men sprayed the trees, the cows ate grass, all the poisoned urine flowed into the rivers. Not to mention the nuclear power plants that explode in no-fault earthquakes all over San Andreas, and the mutated strain of syphilis that no one can touch. Jezebel's! Contempt for the gifts of God! wring hands.
It’s a riskyou’re taking, saidAuntLydia, butyouare the shock troops,youwillmarchoutinadvance,intodangerousterritory.Thegreatertheriskthegreatertheglory.Sheclaspedherhands,radiantwithourphonycourage.Welookeddownatthetopsofourdesks.Togothroughallthatandgivebirthtoa shredder: itwasn’ta fine thought.Wedidn’tknowexactlywhatwouldhappentothebabiesthatdidn’tgetpassed,thatweredeclaredUnbabies.Butweknewtheywereputsomewhere,quickly,away.
There was no reason, says Aunt Lydia. She is sitting at the front of the room in her khaki dress, holding a pointing stick. Lying in front of the blackboard, where there used to be a map, was a chart showing the birth rate per thousand for years: like a slippery slope, below the substitute zero line, and lower and lower.
Of course, some women believed there was no future, they thought the world was going to explode. That was the excuse, says Aunt Lydia.
Devil. They were lazy women, she says. They were bitches.
There are initials and dates carved out of wood on my desk. The initials are sometimes in two sentences, joined by the word ama. J H.amaB.P.1954.O.R. loves LT They seem to me like the inscriptions I read about earlier, carved into the stone walls of caves or drawn with a mixture of soot and animal fat. You look incredibly old to me. Inside the desk you can store things: books, notebooks. These former habits now seem luxurious, almost decadent; immoral, like the orgies of barbaric regimes. M. loves G., 1972. This engraving, penciled many times over the worn varnish of the desk, has the sharpness of all vanished civilizations.
There are no dates after the mid-1980s, it must have been one of the schools that were closed at the time due to a lack of children.
They made mistakes, says Aunt Lydia. We do not intend to repeat them. I would like to strangle her. I push that thought away almost as soon as I think about it.
An item is only of value, he says, if it is rare and difficult to obtain. We want you to be appreciated, girls. It is rich in breaks to be enjoyed in the mouth. Think of yourself as pearls. We sit in our ranks with downcast eyes and morally make them salivate.
I'm thinking of pearls.
All of us here will whip you into shape, says Aunt Lydia cheerfully and good-naturedly.
The van stops, the back doors open, the attendant leads them out. I see one of the doctors looking out the van window. I wonder what they're doing there, waiting. Probably playing cards or reading; some male search. Most of the time they are not necessary;
It used to be different, they were in charge. Too bad, said Aunt Lydia. Shameful. What he had just shown us was a movie shot in an old hospital: a pregnant woman hooked up to a machine with electrodes sticking out in all directions to make it look like a broken robot, with an IV tube arm. . . -Operating patient. They used to drug women, induce labor, cut them up, sew them up. Not even anesthetics. Aunt Isabel said it was better for the baby, but also: I will greatly multiply your pain and conception; in pain you will give birth to children.
As I climb the steps, wide steps with a stone urn on each side, the Commander of Ofwarren must be of higher status than us, I hear another siren.
Serena Joy has probably been to this house for tea before. Probably Ofwarren, formerly that whiny slut Janine, strutted in front of her, her and the other wives so they could see her belly, maybe feel it and compliment the woman. Strong girl, good muscles. Do you want a cookie honey?
Oh no, you're going to screw it up, too much sugar is bad for them.
Surely no one will hurt you, just this once, Mildred.
AndsuckyJanine: Oh yes, can I please ma'am?
Well, so well brought up, not rude like some, he does his job, period. More like a daughter to you, you might say. One of the family. That's all honey, you can go back to your room.
And after she's gone: bitches, everyone, but still, you can't be picky. You take what they offer, right girls? That of the commander's wife.
Ah, but you were lucky. Some of them, well, they're not even clean.
smells. i have to get marthas to do it i have to almost hug her in the bathtub you practically have to bribe her to take a bath anyway you have to threaten her.
I had to be tough on mine and now she's not eating well;
More tea? Modest change of subject.
I know what's happening.
And Janine, in her room, what is she doing? She sits there, the taste of the sugar still in her mouth, and licks her lips.
The central staircase is wider than ours, with a curved handrail on each side. Above I hear the singing of the women who are already there. We walked up the stairs in single file, careful not to step on the hems of each other's clothes. – They have oranges! – and freshly baked bread and cakes. As for us, we'll have milk rolls on a tray later. Warren's wife. A small, slender woman stretched out on the floor in a white cotton nightgown, her gray hair tied in a soft bun on the blanket;
The commander, of course, is nowhere to be seen. He goes wherever men go on such occasions, some hiding place. He's probably trying to figure out when his promotion will be announced if all goes well. I'm definitely going to get one now.
Ofwarren no está en cuarto principal, um bom nome para isso; where thisCommanderandhisWifenightlybeddown.She'ssittingontheirking-sizedbed,proppedwithpillows:Janine, inflatedbutreduced,shornofherformername.She'swearingawhitecottonshift,whichishikedupoverherthighs;herlongbroom-colouredhairispulledbackandtiedbehindherhead,tokeepitoutoftheway.Hereyesaresqueezedclosed,andthiswayIcanalmostlikeher.Afterall,she'soneofus;whatdidsheeverwantbuttoleadherlifeasagreeablyaspossible?Whatelsedidanyofuswant?It's thepossible that'sthecatch.She 'não está indo mal, Schluchzen als circunstâncias.
Dos mujeres que no conozco están de pie a cada lado de ella, tomándola de la mano o ella de ella. At her feet stands Aunt Elizabeth, in her khakidresswith themilitarybreastpockets;shewas theonewho taughtGynEd.AllIcanseeofheristhesideofherhead,herprofile,butIknowit’sher,thatjuttingnoseandhandsomechin,severe.AthersidestandstheBirthingStool,withitsdoubleseat,thebackoneraisedlikeathronebehindtheother.Theywon’tputJanineonitbeforeit’stime.Theblanketsstandready,thesmalltubforbathing,thebowloficeforJaninetosuck.
The other women sit cross-legged on the carpet; there are a lot of them, everyone in this district should be here. Of each, says the slogan, according to his capacity; each according to his needs. We recite this three times after dessert. It was from the Bible, or so they said. Street. Paula again, in Acts.
You're a transitional generation, said Aunt Lydia. It's the hardest thing for you. We know the sacrifices that are expected of you. It's hard when men insult you. It will be easier for those who come after you.
She didn't say: Because otherwise they wouldn't have any memories.
She said: Because they don't want anything they can't have.
We went to the cinema once a week, after lunch and before siesta. We sat on our little gray rugs on the floor of Home Science and waited while Aunt Helena and Aunt Lydia wrestled with the projection equipment. What reminded me of this was my own high school geography class thousands of years ago, where films from the rest of the world were shown; Women in long skirts or cheaply printed cotton dresses, carrying bundles of sticks or plastic baskets or buckets of water from one river or another, with babies hanging from scarves or hammocks, squinting or afraid of the screen because they know that something is being done in the glass machine, but without knowing what. These films were soothing and kind of boring. They put me to sleep while the men appeared on screen, their muscles bare, ripping up the hard earth with primitive picks and shovels, and hauling rocks. He preferred films with dances, songs, ceremonial masks, carved artifacts to make music: feathers, brass buttons,
Whelks, drums I liked to see these people when they were happy, not unhappy, starving, emaciated, working themselves to death for something simple, digging a well, irrigating the land, problems civilized nations had long since solved.
Aunt Lydia didn't show such films.
Sometimes the film shown was an old porn movie from the 1970s or 1980s, kneeling women sucking penises or guns, women in chains or with necklaces around their necks, women hanging from trees or upside down, naked, legs apart, Women are raped, beaten, murdered. We once saw a woman slowly hacked to pieces, her fingers and breasts cut off with pruning shears, her stomach slit open and her entrails ripped out.
Consider the alternatives, said Aunt Lydia.
Moira later said it wasn't real, it was made from models; but it was hard to tell.
At times, however, the film was what Aunt Lydia called a Not Woman documentary. Imagine, said Aunt Lydia, how you waste time when they should be doing something useful. Back then, non-women were always fooling around. They were encouraged to do this. The government gave them money to do just that. Remember that some of your ideas were strong enough to judge with the smug authority in your voice of someone capable of judging. We would still have to tolerate some of his ideas today. Just a few, mind you, he said sheepishly, raising his index finger and waving at us. But they were atheists, and that can make all the difference, don't you think?
I sit on my rug with my hands clasped and Aunt Lydia steps aside, away from the screen and the lights go out and I wonder if I can lean too far to the right in the dark without getting hit... see . , and I whisper to the woman next to me. what will i whisper They don't play the soundtrack for such movies, although they do play porn movies. They want us to hear the screams and growls and screams of what is
It's meant to be extreme pain or extreme pleasure or both at the same time, but they don't want to hear what women don't say.
Firstcomethetitleandsomenames,blackedoutonthefilmwithacrayonsowecan’treadthem,andthenIseemymother.Myyoungmother,youngerthanIrememberher,asyoungasshemusthavebeenoncebeforeIwasborn.She’swearingthekindofoutfitAuntLydiatolduswastypicalofUnwomeninthosedays,overalljeanswithagreenandmauveplaidshirtunderneathandsneakersonherfeet;thesortofthingMoiraoncewore,thesortofthingIcanrememberwearing,longago,myself.Herhairistuckedintoamauvekerchieftiedbehindherhead.Herfaceisveryyoung,veryserious,evenpretty.I’veforgotten mymother was once as pretty and as earnest as that. Ella está en un grupo de otras mujeres, vestidas de manera similar; ¿Esto algo que pretendemos ver, que nos recuerde los viejos tiempos sin seguridad?
Behind it are other signs, and the camera notes them briefly: FREEDOM TO CHOOSE. EVERY BABY IS A WISH BABY. RESTORE OUR
BODY. Do you think a woman's place is at the kitchen table? Below the last shield is a line drawing of the body of a woman lying on a table, dripping with blood.
Now my mother steps forward, she smiles, she laughs, everyone steps forward and now they put their fists in the air. The camera pans high into the sky, where hundreds of balloons are rising, pulling on threads: red balloons with a circle painted on them, a circle with a stem like the stem of an apple, the stem is a cross. Back on Earth my mother is now part of the crowd and I can't see her anymore.
IhadyouwhenIwasthirty-seven,mymothersaid.Itwasarisk,youcouldhavebeendeformedorsomething.Youwereawantedchild,allright,anddidIgetshitfromsomequarters!MyoldestbuddyTriciaForemanaccusedmeofbeingpro-natalist,thebitch.Jealousy,Iputthatdownto.Someoftheotherswereokaythough.ButwhenIwassixmonths'pregnant,alotofthemstartedsendingme these articles about how the birth defect ratewent zooming upafterthirty-five.JustwhatIneeded.Andstuffabouthowharditwastobeasingleparent. Foda-se essa merda, eu disse a eles, eu comecei isso e vou
end. In the hospital they wrote "Primpara Idosa" on the card, I caught them in the act. Shit, I told them, biologically I'm twenty-two, I could chase you any day. I could have triplets and get out of here while you're still trying to get out of bed.
When she said she would stick her chin out. I remember her drinking across from her in the kitchen, chin up; She's not young and serious like in the film, but the thin, courageous and composed woman who doesn't let anyone overtake you in the supermarket line. Anyway, what do I need this for, I don't want a man around, what are they good for, except for ten second half babies. Love is just a woman's strategy to make other women. It's not that his dad wasn't a nice guy, but he wasn't ready for fatherhood. Just do the work, then you can go, I said, I earn decent money, I can afford to take care of the children. So he went to the beach and sent Christmas cards. But he had beautiful blue eyes. It's like they're constantly distracted, like they can't remember exactly who they are. You look too much at the sky. They lose contact with their feet.
So he spoke, even in front of Luke.
Chauvinistic swine, he said.
She's not funny, Luke said to me, and my mother almost furtively watched.
You're lying to me, she said. I'm moldy already, I've paid my dues, it's time to go out of style.
As for you, he told me, you're just a reaction. good chance. History will absolve me.
But she didn't say things like that until after the third drink.
You young people don't value things, he said. You don't know what we had to go through to get to where you are. Look at him slicing carrots. Don't you know how many women's lives, how many women's bodies, how many armor they had to knock down to get this far?
Cooking is my hobby, Luke would say.
Hobby, pout, my mother would say. You do not have to apologize. Before they wouldn't have allowed you this hobby, they called it fag.
Well, mother, I would say. Let's not argue about anything.
Nothing, he said bitterly. You don't call it anything You don't understand correctly?
Sometimes he cried. She was so lonely, she said. You have no idea how lonely I was. And I had friends, I was lucky, but I was still lonely.
In a way, I admired my mother even though things were never easy between us. She expected a lot from me, she felt it. She expected me to justify her life to her and the choices she made. I didn't want to live my life on your terms. We used to fight about it. I'm not the justification for his existence, I once told him.
i want to go back I want everything back the way it was. But it's useless, this wanting.
It's hot here and very noisy. All around me women's voices rise up, a soft song that is still too strong for me after days and days of silence. In the corner of the room lies a bloodstained sheet, wrapped up and lying there since the water broke. I didn't realize that beforehand.
The room also smells bad, the air is locked, they should open a window. The smell of our own flesh, an organic smell, of sweat and iron, of the blood layer, and another smell, more animal, that must come from Janine: the smell of caves, of inhabited caves, the smell of the checkered blanket on the bed, when the cat calved once before being paid.
"Breathe, breathe," we sang as we were taught. "Wait wait. Evict, evict, evict." We sing until five. Inhale five, hold five, exhale five. With her eyes closed, Janine tries to calm her breathing. Aunt Elizabeth feels the labor pains.
Now Janine is restless, she wants to run. The two women help her out of bed and support her on both sides as she walks.
Marta arrives with a tray: a pitcher of fruit juice, which is made from powder that looks like grapes, and a stack of paper cups.
They hand me a cup, I lean to the side to hand it to me and the lady next to me, barely a year old, says, "Are you looking for someone?".
"Moira," I say very slowly. "Dark hair, freckles."
"No," says the woman. I don't know this lady, she wasn't in the center with me, although I saw her shopping. "But I'll take care of you."
"You are?" I say.
"Soul," she says. "What's your real name?"
I want to tell you that in the center there was a soul with flesh.
The singing continues, it begins to catch me. It's hard work, you have to concentrate. Identify yourself with your body, said Aunt Isabel, I already feel a slight pain in my stomach and my breasts are heavy. Janine screams, a faint scream, halfway between a scream and a howl.
"She's in transition," says Aunt Elizabeth.
One of the helpers wipes Janine's forehead with a damp cloth. Janine is sweating now, her hair is sticking out of the rubber band in tufts, it's sticking to her forehead and neck. Your skin is dewy, saturated, shiny.
"Pants! pant! Gasp!” we sang.
"I want out," says Janine. "I want to go for a walk. I'm fine. I have to go to the can."
We all know he's in transition, he doesn't know what he's doing. Which of these statements is true? Probably the last. Aunt Elizabeth gives a sign, two women stand next to the Porta potty, Janine gently lets herself in.
Janine is on her feet and walking. Had another child once, I know him from
the center when she cried about it at night, like the others, only louder. So you should be able to remember what it's like, what's to come. But who can remember pain after it's gone?
Someone mixed up the grape juice. Someone stole a bottle downstairs. It will not be the first time a meeting of this nature has been held; but they will close their eyes. We need our orgies.
"Turn out the light," says Aunt Elizabeth. Tell him the time.
Someone gets up, moves to the wall, the light in the room fades in the twilight, our voices fade away in a chorus of crackling, hoarse whispers, like locusts in a field of night. It's coming, it's coming, like a bugle, a call to arms, like a collapsing wall, we can feel it like a heavy stone falling inside us, we think we're going to explode.
The commandant's wife enters, in her ridiculous white cotton nightgown, her skinny legs sticking out from under it. Two wives in their blue dresses and veils hold her by the arms as if she were about to sit down; side, like the armrests of an eccentric chair. Curiously, he wears white cotton socks and blue slippers made from a fluffy material like toilet seat covers. But we don't pay attention to the woman, as soon as we see her our eyes are on Janine.
She's grunting with the effort now. "Push, push, push," we whisper. "Relax. Gasp. Push, push, push." Aunt Elizabeth kneels, a towel spread out to catch the baby, here's the crown, the glory, the head, purple and smeared with yogurt, another puff loose, slick with liquid and blood, awaiting us. Oh praise.
We hold our breath as Aunt Elizabeth looks at her: a girl, poor thing, but like that
okay, at least there's nothing wrong with that, what's visible, hands, feet, eyes, we count in silence, everything is in place. Aunt Elizabeth, who is holding the baby, looks at us and smiles.
Our happiness is part of the memory. What I remember is Luke, with me in the hospital, next to my head, holding my hand, in the green gown and white mask they gave him. Oh, he said, oh Jesus, breathing in amazement. He couldn't sleep that night, he said, he was so high.
Aunt Elizabeth gently washes the baby, she doesn't cry much, she stops. As quietly as possible, so as not to startle him, we got up, crowded around Janine, hugged her, stroked her. She is crying too. The two wives in blue help the third wife, the housewife, from the birthing chair to the bed, where they lay her down and cuddle with her. The baby, now washed and calm, is solemnly placed in her arms. they're still chewing, they're crowding around the bed, mother and child, cooing and congratulating. Envy radiates from them, I can smell it, faint traces of acid mixed with their perfume. The commander's wife looks at the baby as if it were a bouquet of flowers: something earned, an attribute.
The wives are here to witness the nomination. It's the wives around here who make the appointment.
"Angela," says the commander's wife.
"Angela, Angela," the wives repeat, tweeting. "What a sweet name! Oh, she's perfect! Oh, she's wonderful!'
We stand between Janine and the bed so she doesn't have to see it. But we're happy, it's a win for all of us.
The baby can be breastfed, for a few months they believe in breast milk.
The birthing mobile is waiting outside to take us back to our own homes. The doctors are still in the van; their faces peer out of the window, white blisters, like the faces of sick children who are housebound. One of them opens the door and comes towards us.
"Everything okay?" he asks anxiously.
"Yes, I say it. Now I'm exhausted, exhausted. Now we are without emotions, almost without feelings, we could be bundles of red cloth.
When the birth mobile arrives in front of the house, it is already late. The sun breaks weakly through the clouds, the smell of wet grass warms the air. I was on the day of birth; you lose track of time. My muscles cramp like I don't have any sugar. For the first time, I embrace solitude.
I wanted to rest, I wanted to sleep, but I'm very tired and at the same time very excited, my eyes don't close. Hats like an idea of paradise hovering just overhead, a solidified thought.
In a minute the crown will start coloring and I'll start seeing things.
I'm too tired to continue with this story. I'm too tired to think about where I am. Here's a different and better story. This is the story of what happened to Moira.
Some I can add myself, some I heard from Alma, who heard it from Dolores, who heard it from Janine. Janine heard it from Aunt Lydia. There can be covenants in these places, even under such circumstances.
You can trust that there will always be alliances of one kind or another.
Aunt Lydia called Janine into her office.
Bless the fruit, Janine, Aunt Lydia would have said without looking up from her desk where she was writing.
May the gentleman open the door, Janine would have answered, without intonation, in her transparent voice, her white voice.
If I feel like I can trust you, Janine, Aunt Lydia would have said, finally looking up sideways and fixing Janine through her glasses with that look, a look that could be both menacing and pleading at the same time.
She thought all of Janine's crying and regrets meant something, she thought Janine was heartbroken, she thought Janine was a true believer.
So Janine should have said I hope so, Aunt Lydia. I hope I've made myself worthy of your trust. Or something similar.
Janine, said Aunt Lydia, something terrible has happened.
Janine looked down. Whatever it was, she knew she wouldn't be held responsible, she was innocent.
Do you know, Janine? said Aunt Lydia softly.
No, Aunt Lydia, said Janine. She knew she had to look up to meet Aunt Lydia's eyes.
Because if you do, I'll be very disappointed in you, said Aunt Lydia.
As the Lord my witness, Janine said with an offer.
Aunt Lydia took one of her breaks. He played with the pen.
Moira is no longer with us, he finally said.
Oh, said Janine. She was neutral about it. Moira wasn't her friend. She is dead?
Então tia Lydia contou sua história. Moira levantou a mão para ir ao banheiro, durante os Exercícios. After a moment Moira called to Aunt Elizabeth: the toilet wasoverflowing,couldAuntElizabethcomeandfixit?Itwastruethatthetoiletssometimesoverflowed.Unknownpersonsstuffedwadsof toiletpaperdownthemtomakethemdothisverything.TheAuntshadbeenworkingonsomefoolproofwayofpreventingthis,butfundswereshortandrightnowtheyhadto make do with what was at hand, and they hadn’t figured out a way oflockingupthetoiletpaper.Possiblytheyshouldkeepitoutsidethedooronatableandhandeachpersonasheetorseveralsheetsasshewentin.Butthatwasforthefuture.Ittakesawhiletogetthewrinklesout,ofanythingnew.
Aunt Elizabeth, not suspecting anything, went into the bathroom. Aunt Lydia had to admit that was a bit silly of her.
Moira didn't lie, water ran over the floor and various faeces dissolved. It wasn't pretty and Aunt Elizabeth was upset. Moira politely stepped aside and Aunt Elizabeth hurried to the stall Moira had pointed to and leaned over the back of the toilet.
It was later revealed that he disassembled the inside of one of the toilets and removed the long, pointed lever, the part that attaches to the handle at one end, and the chain at the other. We had several floods there.
Aunt Elizabeth couldn't see what was stabbing her in the back, said Aunt Lydia. She was a brave woman...
Oh yes, said Janine.
...but not recklessly, said Aunt Lydia, frowning a little. Janine had been overzealous, which sometimes has the strength to deny. He did what Moira said, Aunt Lydia continued. Then she hurried Aunt Elizabeth down the stairs to the basement. They were on the second floor, not the third, so there were only two flights of stairs to climb. Aunt Elizabeth could have screamed at this point, but she knew Moira meant what she said; Moira had a bad reputation.
Oh yes, said Janine.
Moira led Aunt Elizabeth down the hallway with the empty closets, past the gym door, and into the boiler room. He told Aunt Elizabeth to undress...
Oh, said Janine weakly, as if to protest this crime.
...and Moira took off her clothes and Aunt Elizabeth's, which didn't exactly fit her, but they fit quite well. She was not too cruel to Aunt Elizabeth and allowed her to wear her own red dress.
Janine said can I sit down? As if everything was too much for her.
Yes, Janine, said Aunt Lydia, surprised, but knowing that this time she couldn't say no. He asked for Janine's attention, her cooperation. He pointed to the chair in the corner. Janined rewitforward.
I could kill him, you know, Moira said when Aunt Elizabeth was safely behind the stove. It could hurt you so badly that you'll never feel comfortable in your body again. I could shoot you with it or poke that thing in your eye.
Aunt Lydia didn't repeat any of these parts to Janine, but I hope Moira said something similar.
It was not thrown away, neither by the aunts nor by anyone else, it started working again in the center.
Moira straightened and faced ahead. She pulled her shoulders back, straightened her spine, and pursed her lips. because Moiram walked right out the front door with the attitude of who knows where he's going;
Oh, said Janine. Who can tell what she felt? Maybe she wanted to cheer up.
Well, Janine, said Aunt Lydia. I want you to do that.
Janine's eyes widened and she tried to appear innocent and attentive.
I want to keep your ears open. Maybe one of the others is involved.
Yes, Aunt Lydia, said Janine.
And come tell me, yes, darling? If you hear anything
Yes, Aunt Lydia, said Janine. She knew she no longer had to kneel in front of the classroom and listen to all of us say it was her fault. Now he would be someone else for a while. She was temporarily out of danger.
The fact that he had told Dolores all about that encounter in Aunt Lydia's office meant nothing. That didn't mean he wouldn't testify against us, any of us, if given the opportunity. We knew that.
Dolores probably patted him on the back and said it was a good sport to count. Where did this exchange take place? At the gym while we were getting ready for bed.
The story passed quietly from bed to bed between us in the dark that night.
Somewhere out there was Moira. She was free or dead. What would she do?
I think we found that frightening.
Moira was like an open-sided elevator. We got dizzy. We've already lost our taste for freedom, we've already found these walls safe. In the upper parts of the atmosphere you would dissolve, you would vaporize, there would be no pressure holding you together.
However, Moira was our fantasy. We hugged her, she was secretly with us and laughed; she was a slave beneath the scabs of everyday life. In Moira's light, the aunts were less scary and more absurd. His power had a flaw. They could be hung in the bathrooms. Boldness was what we liked.
We expected him to go to bed any moment, just like before. We couldn't imagine what they could do with her this time.
But nothing happened. Moira did not appear. Not yet.
This is a remodel. It's all a reconstruction. It's now a reconstruction in my head as I lie on my single bed rehearsing what I should or shouldn't have said, what I should or shouldn't have done, how I should have played.
let's stop there I intend to get out of here. It can't last forever. Others thought those things, in hard times before, and they were always right, they did it one way or the other, and it didn't last forever. Though it could have lasted for them all the eternity they had.
If I leave here, if I may say so, in a way, even if it's from one voice to another, it will also be a construction, at a different distance. too many gestures that can mean this or that, too many shapes that can never be fully described, too many flavors, in the air or on the tongue, half colors, too many. But if at some point in the future you become a man and have made it this far, please remember: you will never be tempted to believe that you must forgive, man like woman. It's hard to resist, believe me. But remember, forgiveness is also a power.
Maybe this has nothing to do with control.
I want to kiss, said the Commander.
Before that, of course, there was something else. Such requests never come.
fly out of nowhere
Anyway, I went to sleep and dreamed that I was wearing earrings and one of them was broken;
"Is he a good baby?" says Cora, putting the tray on the table. She ought to know now, they have some sort of word of mouth telegraph, word goes from house to house;
"Okay," I say. "A guard. A girl."
Cora smiles at me, an inclusive smile. Those are the moments that should make her worth what she does.
"That's good," she says. His voice is almost melancholic and I think: Sure. She wished she had been there. It's like a party he couldn't go to.
"Maybe we'll have one soon," he says, embarrassed. Instead, she depends on me. She waits and I am the vehicle of her hope.
His hope is of the simplest kind.
Dinner is beef goulash. I'm having some trouble finishing because halfway through I remember what the day erased from my mind. It's true what they say, it's a trance state, a birth or being there, you lose track of the rest of your life, you just focus on this moment. But now it's coming back to me and I know I'm not ready yet.
The clock down in the hall reads nine. I press my hands to the sides of my thighs, take a deep breath, stretch down the hallway and gently down the stairs. Serena Joy can still call the house where Christ's birth took place; Lucky for him, he couldn't foresee it. I'm outside feeling like a kid called from school to the principal's office.
What I have done wrong?
My presence here is illegal. It is forbidden to be alone with the commanders. We are for the purpose of procreation: we are not concubines, geishas, courtesans. On the contrary: Everything was done to get us out of this category. We're not meant to be joking, there's no room for secret desires to flourish; Special favors are not favoured, for the More they are there so that there are supports for love. We are two-legged wombs, that's all: sacred vessels, walking chalices.
So why do you want to see me alone at night?
If caught, I'll be at Serena's tender mercy.
But refusing to see him could be worse. There is no question who has the real power.
But there must be something he wants from me. Wanting is having a weakness. It's that weakness, whatever it is, that attracts me. If I press my eye to this weakness of theirs, I could see my path clearly.
i want to know what you want
I raise my hand, I knock on the door of this forbidden space where I've never been, where women can't go. Note that even Serena Joy comes here and the guards do the cleaning.
They told me to come in. I open the door, I enter.
What is on the other side is normal life. I have to say: What's on the other side looks like normal life. On the table is a pot, a set of pencil holders, papers. There is an oriental rug on the floor and a fireplace with no fire.
But there are shelves on every wall. They are full of books. Books and books and books, openly visible, without locks, without boxes.
The commander stands in front of the unlit fireplace, his back to it, one elbow on the carved wood chimney, other hand in pocket. It's such a rehearsed pose, something from the country gentleman, an old revelation from a glossy men's magazine. He had probably decided beforehand that he would be standing like this when he entered.
It's very nice to think about these things, as fast as a staccato, a burst of the brain. An inner mockery. But it's panic. The fact is I'm scared.
I did not say anything.
"Close the door behind you," he says, rather quietly. Do that and come back.
"Hello," he says.
It's the old greeting. I haven't heard that for a long, long time. Given the circumstances, going back in time seems atypical, even comical, a gimmick. I can't think of anything appropriate to say in return.
i think i will cry
Hemusthavenoticedthis,becausehelooksatme,puzzled,givesalittlefrown I choose to interpret as concern, though itmaymerely be irritation.“Here,”hesays.“Youcansitdown.”Hepullsachairout forme, sets it infrontofhisdesk.Thenhegoesaroundbehindthedeskandsitsdown,slowlyanditseemstomeelaborately.Whatthisacttellsmeisthathehasn'tbroughtmeheretotouchmeinanyway,againstmywill.Hesmiles.Thesmileisnotsinisterorpredatory. It's just a smile, a formal smile, friendly but a little distant, like a kitten in a window. One that you're looking at but have no intention of buying.
I sit up straight in my chair, hands clasped in my lap. I feel like my feet don't touch the ground in her red ballet flats.
"You must find that strange," he says.
I'm just looking at it. The understatement of the year was a phrase my mother used. Needed.
I feel like cotton candy: sugar and air. Squeeze me and I'll turn into a sick little pink-red crying swamp.
"I find it a bit odd," he says, as if he's answered.
I think you should tie a hat under your chin.
"I want..." he says.
I try not to lean forward. Yes? Yes / Yes? so what? What does he want? It's a trading session, things are traded equally. He who does not doubt is lost. I'm not giving anything away, I'm just selling.
"I'd like-" he says. "That's going to sound silly." And he looks embarrassed, embarrassed was the word for how men used to look. The little ones don't know these tricks. You never had to use them.
"I wish you would play Scrabble with me," he says.
Iholdmyselfabsolutelyrigid.Ikeepmyfaceunmoving.Sothat’swhat’sintheforbiddenroom!Scrabble!Iwanttolaugh,shriekwithlaughter,falloffmychair.Thiswasoncethegameofoldwomen,oldmen,inthesummersorinretirementvillas,tobeplayedwhentherewasnothinggoodontelevision.Orofadolescents,once,longlongago.Mymotherhadaset,keptatthebackof thehall cupboard,with theChristmas-treedecorations in their cardboardboxes.Onceshetriedtointerestmeinit,whenIwasthirteenandmiserableandatlooseends.
Of course it's different now. Now we are forbidden. It's dangerous now. Now it's naughty. Now it's something he can't do with his wife. Now it is desirable. Now he is engaged. It's like being offered medicine.
"Okay," I tell him casually. Actually, I can hardly speak.
He doesn't say why he wants to play Scrabble with me.
"Do you know how to play?" he says.
We played two games: Larynx, Ispell, Valance, Quince, Zygote. I hold the shiny tiles with their smooth edges, touch the letters. The feeling is lush. That's freedom, a blink of an eye. limp, spell. Throat. What a luxury, the counters are like mints, made of mint, so fresh. Nonsense, they said. I would like to put them in my mouth. The letter C. Crunchy, slightly tart on the tongue, delicious.
I win the first game, he wins the second: I still haven't figured out what the terms are, what I can charge for it.
Finally he tells me it's time to go home. Those are the words he uses: go home. It means my room. He asks me if I'm alright like the stairs are a dark street.
It's like a date. It's like sneaking into the bedroom late at night.
This is conspiracy.
"Thank you," he says. "For the game." Then he says, "I want to kiss myself."
I'm thinking how I could get the bottom of the toilet, the toilet in my own bathroom, out quickly and quietly during a night shower so Cora in the chair wouldn't hear me. I could take the sharp crowbar and hide it up my sleeve and smuggle it into the commander's office next time, because there's always a next time after a request like that, whether you say yes or no. an approximation of true love, and I put my arms around him and pull the crowbar out of my sleeve and suddenly thrust the sharp one into him, between his ribs. I think of the blood pouring out of him, hot, sexual soup on my hands.
Actually, I don't think about it. I just asked it later. Maybe I should have thought about it then, but I didn't. As I said, this is a build.
"Okay," I say. I move closer to him and place my lips closed on his. It's the smell of aftershave, the regular kind, with hints of mothballs that's pretty familiar to me. But it's like someone I just met.
He pulls away, looks at me. There's that smile again, the shy one
one. So open. "Not like that," he says.
I was so sad.
That too is construction.
I turn, walk down the dark hallway and up the laden staircase, stealthily to my room.
WhatIneedisperspective.Theillusionofdepth,createdbyaframe,thearrangementofshapesonaflatsurface.Perspective isnecessary.Otherwisethereareonly twodimensions.Otherwiseyou livewithyour face squashedagainstawall,everythingahugeforeground,ofdetails,close-ups,hairs,theweaveofthebedsheet,themoleculesoftheface.Yourownskinlikeamap,adiagramoffutility,crisscrossedwithtinyroadsthatleadnowhere.Otherwiseyouliveinthemoment.WhichisnotwhereIwanttobe.
But this is where I am, there's no escape. Time is a trap, I'm caught in it. I have to forget my secret name and I keep coming back.
Live in the present, make the best of it, it's all you've got.
It's time to take stock.
I am thirty three years old. I have brown hair, I'm five and seven with no shoes. I have trouble remembering what I looked like. I have viable ovaries. I have one more chance.
But tonight something changed. Circumstances have changed.
I can order anything. Possibly not much; but something.
Men are sex machines, said Aunt Lydia, and not much else. that's a metaphor. It is nature's way. It's God's device. That's how things are.
Aunt Lydia didn't actually say that, but it was implied in everything she said.
He says. It hung over his head like the golden spells on the saint of the darkest ages. Like her, she was angular and stern.
But how does the Commander as she exists in her study, with her puns and her desire for what, fit in?
I know that I have to take this wish of yours seriously. It could be important, it could be a pass, it could be my downfall.
He wanted her to play Scrabble with him and kiss him the way he meant it.
This is one of the strangest things that has ever happened to me.
I remember a TV show I saw once; a repeat, made years ago. I was probably still too sure, too young, to understand it. My mother liked to see things like that: historical, instructive.
The program was a documentary about one of those wars. They interviewed people and showed excerpts from films from the time in black and white and photos. I don't remember much, but I do remember the quality of the photos, how everything in them seemed to be covered in a mixture of sunlight and dust, and how dark the shadows were under people's eyebrows and along their cheekbones. . .
Interviews with people still alive were colorful. What I remember most is a woman who was the lover of a man who oversaw one of the camps where the Jews were taken before they killed them. In the ovens, said my mother; I thought these people would have done it
ate what by far I assume they were.
From what they said the man had been cruel and brutal. There was a black-and-white photo of her and another woman in two-piece swimsuits, platform shoes, and period hats; The pool was next to his house, which was near the camp with the ovens. The woman said she didn't notice much that she found unusual. She denied knowing about the ovens.
At the time of the interview, forty or fifty years later, he was dying of pulmonary emphysema. She coughed a lot and was very thin, almost emaciated; but he was still proud of his looks. (Look at that, my mother said, half reluctantly, half admiringly. She's still proud of her looks.) She was carefully made up, heavy mascara on her lashes, blush on her cheekbones, skin stretched over them like rubber love. tight She wore pearls.
He's not a monster, she said. People say it was a monster, but it wasn't anything.
What could he be thinking? Not much I think; Not then, not then. I thought about how not to think. Times were abnormal. He was proud of his looks. She didn't think he was a monster. What temptation present. A big boy, she would have said to herself. His heart would have melted, he would have smoothed his forehead hair, kissed his month-old ear, and not just to get something out of him. The instinct to calm down, to do better. There, he said, waking from a nightmare. Things are so difficult for you. He would have believed all that, because how else could he have lived? Under this beauty she was very ordinary. She believed in indecency, she was good to the Jewish girl, or good enough, nicer than she had to be.
A few days after this interview with her was filmed, she committed suicide.
Nobody asked if she loved him or not.
What I remember now more than anything else is the makeup.
I get up, in the dark I start to unbutton myself. Then I hear something in my body. I broke, something broke, this has to be it. The noise rises, coming from the broken place, into my face. Without warning: I wasn't thinking here or there or anything. The wandering womb, they used to think. Hysteria. And then a needle, a pill. It could be deadly.
I walk in, both hands over my mouth like I'm about to throw up, falling to my knees, laughter boiling like lava in my throat.
I smother him in the folds of the hanging tunic, I close my eyes from which tears flow. I try to compose.
After a while it passes like an epileptic seizure. Here I am in the closet. Nolitete bastardes carborundorum. I can't see it in the dark, but I follow the small scratched writing with my fingertips, like a braille code. Now it sounds less like a sentence in my head and more like an order;
I lie on the floor, breathe very quickly, then slower, breathe evenly, as with exercises, forgive childbirth. All I can hear now is the sound of my own heart, opening and closing, opening and closing, opening.
The first thing I heard the next morning was a scream and a crash. Cora leaves the breakfast tray. I woke up. He was still half in the closet, his head wrapped in his cloak. I must have taken it off the hanger and fallen asleep there; For a moment I couldn't remember where I was. Cora knelt beside me and her hand touched my back. He screamed again as I moved.
What is wrong?
Ah, she said. I thought.
What was she thinking?
How... she said.
There were broken eggs, orange juice, and broken glass on the floor.
I have to get another one, he said. What a waste. What were you doing on the ground?
I didn't want to tell him that I had never slept with him. There would be no way to explain it. I told him I must have passed out.
That's one of the first signs, she said happily. That and vomit. I should have known I didn't have enough time;
No, that's not it, I said. He was sitting on the chair. I'm sure it isn't. I was dizzy. I stood here and it was getting dark.
It must have been the stress, he said, from yesterday and all.
He was referring to Nacimiento and I said yes. At that moment I was sitting in the chair and she was kneeling on the floor, picking up the shards and the egg and collecting them on the tray. She dabbed some of the orange juice with the paper napkin.
I have to bring a towel, he said. You'll want to know why the extra eggs. If she said she found me lying on the floor, there would be many questions. She would have to explain the broken glass anyway;
I'm running, I said. i'm not that hungry That was good, that goes with dizziness. I didn't want to leave without breakfast.
It's on the floor, he said.
I don't care, I said. He eats the whole wheat toast while she goes to the bathroom and flushes the handful of eggs down the toilet. So she comes back.
I'll say I dropped the tray on the way out, he said.
I was pleased that she was willing to lie for me, even for such a small matter, even for her own benefit. It was a bond between us.
I smile. I hope nobody heard you, I said.
He turned around, he said as he stood in the doorway with the tray. At first I thought it was just her clothes. So I said to myself, what are they doing down there on the floor?
Get out, I said.
Well, yes, she said. But it was you
Yes, I said.
It did, and she left with the tray and came back with a rag for the rest of the orange juice, and Rita made a surly remark that afternoon about some people being just thumbs. True to their spirit, don't look where they're going, he said, and we just walked on from there like nothing happened.
That was in May. Spring has passed. The tulips had theirs
Wait a minute and voila, its petals are shed one at a time like teeth. One day I met Serena Joy kneeling on a cushion in the garden, her cane on the grass by her side. Or a blitzkrieg, a kamikaze committed on the swollen genitals of flowers?
Santa Serena, unrecognizable, repent.
I have often amused myself in this way with mean and bitter jokes about her; But not for long.
What he desired was the scissors.
Then we had her irises, rising beautifully and coolly on their tall stems, like blown glass, like pastel colored water momentarily frozen in splashes, light blue, light purple, and the darker velvety purple, sun-black cat ears, indigo hue . , and bleeding hearts so feminine it's surprising they weren't eradicated long ago, there's something subversive about this garden, like Serena's leaping. without words, in the light, as if to show, to say: everything that is silenced will cry out to be heard, even if it is in silence. A Tennyson garden heavy with perfume, languid; the return of words swoons. The sunlight does fall on her, but the warmth rises too, from the flowers themselves, you can feel it: like her hand reaching for an arm, over an arm, a shoulder. Breathe, in the heat, breathe yourself.
The willow is in full plumage and doesn't help with her flirtatious whispering. gatherings, he says, terraces; The summer dress whispers in the flesh of my thighs, the grass grows under my feet, there are movements in the corners of my eyes, in the branches; Feathers, flapping, funny sounds, tree into bird, unbridled transformation. Goddesses are now possible and the air is full of desire. If I leaned against them, they would get hot and sink. It's amazing what denial can do.
I dropped my passport and let him get it for me? No scarf, no fan, I use whatever is at hand.
Winter is not so dangerous. I need hardness, cold, rigidity; not that weight like it's a watermelon, that liquid.
The commander and I have an agreement. It is not the first such arrangement in history, although the form it has taken is not the usual.
I visit the Commander two or three nights a week, always after dinner, but only when I get the signal. The sign is Nick.
The difficulty, as always, lies in the wife. After dinner he goes to his room where he can hear me walking down the hall, although I'm careful to be very quiet. “I received the signal, but I could not, I went down the stairs or through the corridor, went through the room, the commander understands. He knows my situation, nothing better. Know all the rules.
However, sometimes Serena Joy feels nauseous about visiting another commander's wife; that's the only place she could go alone at night. The Marthas don't want to be forced into retirement because who knows where the journey will take them? You don't see that many old ladies here anymore. And as for us, any real disease, anything permanent, wasting, loss of flesh or appetite, loss of hair, glandular insufficiency, would be incurable. I remember in early spring Cora staggering despite having the flu, clinging to door frames when she thought no one was looking and being careful not to cough.
Serena herself sometimes takes a few days off and lies in bed. So she's the one who gets company, the wives come up the stairs laughing.
and happy; take the cakes and pastries, the jams, the bouquets of flowers from their gardens.
They take turns. There is a kind of list, invisible, silent. Everyone is careful not to overdo the attention.
On the nights that Serena has to go out, I'm sure they'll call me.
I was confused the first time. Their needs were unclear to me, and what I could perceive of them seemed ridiculous, ridiculous, like a fetish for tying their shoelaces.
There was a certain disappointment. What did you expect behind that closed door for the first time? Something indescribable, maybe on all fours, perversions, flogging, mutilation?
When I left the room, I still wasn't sure what he wanted or why, or if there was anything I could do for him.
The second night started just like the first. I went to the door which was closed shouted they told me to come in. Then followed the same two games with the plain beige tiles. Prolix, quartz, dilemma, sylph, rhythm, every old consonant trick he could think of or remember. His tongue felt thick from the exertion of spelling. It was like using a language I already knew but had almost forgotten, a language related to customs long gone from the world: Aulaitam alfresco cafe with brioche, absinthe in a tall Jar or shrimp in a cornucopia of newspapers. ; Things I've read but never seen. It was like trying to walk without crutches, like those fake scenes in old TV movies. i know you can So my mind wavered and stumbled between the capital r and t, sliding like pebbles across the egg-shaped vowels.
The commander was patient when I hesitated or asked him to spell correctly. We can always look it up in the dictionary, he said.
The first time I realized he was going to let me win.
That night she hoped everything would be the same, including the kiss goodnight. But when we finished the second game, he sat back in his chair.
I have a little gift for you, he said.
He smiled a little. Then he opened the top drawer of his desk and took something out. He held it casually between his thumb and forefinger for a moment, as if deciding whether or not to give it to me. Even though he was face down from where I was sitting, I recognized him. They used to be quite common. It was a magazine, a women's magazine, as the photo seemed to show, a shiny paper model, tousled hair, a scarf around his neck, lipstick on his mouth; like this. He looked at the model, who had raised her head; he was still smiling, that longing smile of his. It was the look you would give an almost inactive animal at the zoo.
He stared at the magazine and laid it in front of me like fishing bait, I wanted it. I read them in dentist's offices and sometimes on the plane;
Although now he remembered. What was in them was a promise. They dealt with transformations; they suggested an infinite series of possibilities that spread out like the reflections in two mirrors placed in front of each other, shot by shot, expanding to the vanishing point. They proposed one adventure after another, one wardrobe at a time, one improvement at a time, one man at a time. They suggested rejuvenation, overcome and transcended pain, love without end. The true promise within them was immortality.
That's what I kept, unknowingly. He turned the pages. I felt leaned forward.
It's old, he said, sort of a curiosity. I'm guessing from the seventies. Fashion. It's like a wine connoisseur making a name for himself. I thought you could
similar tracking devices.
He could test me to see how deep my indoctrination really went. That's not allowed, I said.
Here it is, he said softly. I saw the point. Having broken the main taboo, why hesitate about another, something lesser? Or another or another; Who could say where this might end?
I took themagazine fromhim and turned it the rightway round.Theretheywereagain,theimagesofmychildhood:bold,striding,confident,theirarmsflungoutasiftoclaimspace,theirlegsapart,feetplantedsquarelyontheearth.TherewassomethingRenaissanceaboutthepose,butitwasprincesIthoughtof,notcoiffedandringletedmaidens.Thosecandideyes,shadowedwithmakeup,yes,butliketheeyesofcats,fixedforthepounce.Noquailing,noclingingthere,notinthosecapesandroughtweeds,thosebootsthatcameto o joelho. Piratas, essas mulheres, com suas pastas femininas para o saque y seus dentes cavalares e gananciosos.
I felt the commander watching me as he turned the pages. I knew I was doing something I shouldn't be doing and he liked seeing me doing it. Instead, I felt like an old Edwardian coastal postcard: cheeky.
Why did you do that? I asked.
Some of us, he said, retain an appreciation for old things.
But they should have been burned, I said. There were house searches, campfires...
What is dangerous in the hands of the mob, he said with irony or not, is safe enough for those whose motives...
Perfect, I said.
He nodded seriously. Impossible to say if that was meant or not.
But why show me? I said, and then I felt stupid. what could i say That he was enjoying himself at my expense?
I wasn't prepared for what he actually said. Who else could I show?
Should I go further? I thought. She didn't want to push him too far, too fast. He knew he was expendable. However, I said very quietly: What about your wife?
He seemed to think about it. Didn't say. She wouldn't understand. Anyway, she won't say much anymore. It seems we don't have much in common these days.
That's how it was outside: His wife didn't understand him.
That's what I was there for back then. As usual. It was too mundane to be true.
On the third night I asked for hand lotion. She didn't want to sound pleading, but she wanted what she could get.
A little? he said, polite as ever. He stood across from me at the table. He didn't touch me much other than that obligatory kiss.
hand cream, I said. Or face lotion. Our skin becomes very dry. For some reason I said ours instead of mine. I would also like to ask you for some bath oil, in those colored beads that were given to you and that were so magical to me, sitting in the round glass bowl in my mother's bathroom at home. But I didn't think they would know what they were.
Dry? said the commander as if he had never thought of it before.
We'll take butter, I said. When we got it. Or margarine. It's often margarine.
Butter, he said thoughtfully. That's very clever. Butter. He laughed.
I could have hit him.
I think I could get some of that, he said, as if satisfying a child's craving for gum. But she can smell you.
I wondered if her fear stemmed from past experiences. A long time ago: lipstick on the neck, perfume on the cuffs, a scene late at night, in some kitchen or bedroom. A man without such experience would not think of it.
I would be careful, I said. Besides, she's never that close to me.
Sometimes yes, he said.
I looked down. I had forgotten. I could feel myself blushing. I won't wear it on those nights, I said.
At four he gave me the hand lotion in an unlabeled plastic bottle. It wasn't of very good quality; It might have been something they invented to use in hospitals on bed sores. But I thanked him anyway.
The problem, I said, is that I have nowhere to keep it.
In his room, he said as if it were obvious.
You would find it, I said. Someone would find it.
Why? he asked, as if he really didn't know.
You look, I said. You can see them in all our rooms.
I think I lost control a bit. Razor blades, I said. Books, writing, black market stuff. Jesus Christ, you should know. My voice was angrier than intended, but he didn't even flinch.
So you'll have to stay there, he said.
So that's what I did.
He saw me smooth my hands and then my face with the same look through the bars. I wanted to turn my back on him, it was like he was in the bathroom with me, but I didn't dare.
For him, I have to remember, I'm only for him.
When he came back two or three weeks later on the night of the ceremony, I found that things had changed. I never really thought about what the term meant, but it had something to do with metal, with armor, and that's what I would do, steel myself. I would pretend I wasn't there, not in person.
This state of absence, of being apart from the body, also applied to the commander, he knew that now. He probably thought of other things the whole time he was with me; with us, because of course Serena Joy was also there on those nights.
But that night, the first night since we began this new agreement (I didn't have a name for it), I felt sorry for him. On the one hand, I had the feeling that he was really looking at me, and I didn't like that. The lights were on as usual, for Serena Joy had always avoided anything that might create even the slightest aura of dance or eroticism: high beam, bright despite the canopy. It was like being on an operating table, in full light; as on stage I noticed my legs were hairy, the irregular shape of legs that were once shaved but grew back; I was also aware of my armpits, although of course he couldn't see them.
It wasn't for me anymore. That was the problem. It dawned on me that night and the realization stayed with me. It gets complicated.
Serena Joy também mudou para mim. Uma vez eu simplemente a odiava, por sua parte no que estava sendo feito para mim; and because she hated me too andresentedmypresence, andbecause shewouldbe theone to raisemychild,shouldIbeabletohaveoneafterall.Butnow,althoughIstillhatedher,nomoresothanwhenshewasgrippingmyhandssohardthatherringsbitmyflesh,pullingmyhandsbackaswell,whichshemusthavedoneonpurposetomakemeasuncomfortableasshecould, thehatredwasno longerpureandsimple.PartlyIwasjealousofher;buthowcouldIbejealousofawomansoobviouslydried-upandunhappy?Youcanonlybe jealousof someonewhohas something you think you ought to have yourself. No entanto, eu estava com ciúmes.
But I also felt guilty towards her. He took something from her, although she didn't know it. I stole, I wasn't in love with myself, I refused to believe that he felt anything so extreme - what would she have left?
Por que eu deveria que me importe? I toldmyself.She’snothing tome,shedislikesme,she’dhavemeoutof thehouseinaminute,orworse, ifshecouldthinkupanyexcuseatall.Ifsheweretofindout,forinstance.Hewouldn’tbeabletointervene,tosaveme;thetransgressionsofwomeninthehousehold,whetherMarthaorHandmaid,aresupposedtobeunderthejurisdictionoftheWivesalone.Shewasamaliciousandvengefulwoman,Iknewthat.NeverthelessIcouldn’tshakeit,thatsmallcompunctiontowardsher.
Besides, he had no power over her, although she didn't know it. And I like. Why fake?
But the commander could give me away so easily, by a look, by age, by a little slip that would tell anyone who looked that something was between us now. He almost did it on the night of the ceremony. He stretched out his hand as if to touch my face; I cocked my head to warn him, hoping Serena Joy hadn't noticed, and he withdrew his hand again.
he retreated to himself and his unruly journey.
Don't do it again, I told him the next time we were alone.
What to do? he said.
Try to touch me like that when we... when she's there.
me? he said.
Could you transfer me? I said. For the colonies.
I'm sorry, he said. It was not my intention. But if I find...
What? I said when he didn't continue.
Impersonal, he said.
How long did it take you to realize that? I said. You could tell by the way he spoke to her that we were already making up.
For generations to come, said Aunt Lydia, things will be much better. The women will live together in harmony, all in one family; In such circumstances there can be genuine affection, she said with a condescending wink. Women united for acommonend!Helpingoneanotherintheirdailychoresastheywalkthepathoflifetogether,eachperformingherappointedtask.Whyexpectonewomantocarryoutallthefunctionsnecessarytotheserenerunningofahousehold?Itisn’treasonableorhumane.Yourdaughterswillhavegreaterfreedom.Weareworkingtowardsthegoalofalittlegardenforeachone,eachoneofyou–theclaspedhandsagain,thebreathyvoice–andthat’sjustonefor instance.Theraisedfinger,waggingatus.Butwecan’tbegreedypigsanddemandtoomuchbeforeit’sready,nowcanwe?
ThefactisthatI’mhismistress.Menatthetophavealwayshadmistresses,why should thingsbe anydifferentnow?Thearrangements aren’tquite thesame,granted.Themistressusedtobekeptinaminorhouseorapartmentofherown,andnowthey’veamalgamatedthings.Butunderneathit’sthesame.Moreorless.Outsidewoman,theyusedtobecalled,insomecountries.Iamtheoutsidewoman.It’smyjobtoprovidewhatisotherwiselacking.EventheScrabble.It’sanabsurdaswellasanignominiousposition.
Sometimes I think she knows. Sometimes I think they made collusions. Sometimes I think she made him do it and he laughs at me; how I laugh ironically at myself from time to time.
But still, and stupidly, I'm happier than before. It's something to do, for starters. Something to pass the time at night instead of sitting alone in my room.
and I for him I am no longer just a useful body for him.
I walk down the summer road with Ofglen. It's hot, humid; that would have been the weather in a sundress and sandals, once upon a time. In each of our baskets are strawberries (strawberries are in season now, so let's eat until we're fed up) and some wrapped fish. We have the fish in Panes y Pescados, with its wooden board, a fish with a smile and eyelashes. .Pan y Pescado is almost never open.Why bother when there is nothing for sale?This sea fishing died out a few years ago, the small fish they have now are farmed and taste like mud. News reports say the coastal areas are being "rested". halibut, I remember, and haddock, swordfish, scallops, tuna; Lobster stuffed and baked, salmon pink and greasy, grilled steaks. Could they all die out like whales? I've heard this rumor before, it was conveyed to me in silent words, lips barely moving as if we were standing in line outside waiting for the shop to open, drawn in by the image of juicy white steaks in the window.
OfglenandIwalkslowlytoday;wearehotinourlongdresses,wetunderthearms,tired.Atleastinthisheatwedon'tweargloves.Thereusedtobeanice-creamstore,somewhereinthisblock.Ican'trememberthename.Thingscanchangesoquickly,buildingscanbetorndownorturnedintosomethingelse,it'shardtokeepthemstraightinyourmindthewaytheyusedtobe.Youcould get double scoops, and if you wanted they would put chocolatesprinklesonthetop.Thesehadthenameofaman.Johnnies?Jackies? Nein, ich lembro.
We used to go there when she was little, and I held her so she could see through the glass side of the counter where the sundaes were on display, so delicately colored, pale orange, pale green, pale pink, and I was scared. .
Names for her so she could choose. However, I would not choose by name, but by color. Their dresses and overalls were also of those colors.
Jimmies, that was the name.
Of course we feel more comfortable with each other now, we are used to each other. Siamese twins. We no longer bother with the formalities of greeting; We smile and set off together to make our daily journey run smoothly. From time to time we vary the route; There's nothing wrong with that, as long as we stay within the bounds.
We've been to the shops and to the church; Now we're on the wall. Nothing today, they don't leave the bodies hanging in summer or winter because of the flies and the smell. especially the commanders who preach purity in all things.
"Have you got everything on your list?" Ofglen is telling me now, even though she knows I did it. Our lists are never long. Lately he has shed a bit of his passivity, a bit of his melancholy. He often speaks to me first.
"Let's go for a walk," she says. She means to the river. We haven't been like that for a long time.
"Okay," I say. I don't turn around right away, but stop and take a last look at the wall. There are the red bricks, there are these lanterns, there is the barbed wire, there are the hooks. Somehow the wall is even scarier when it's so empty.
I don't know why I'm expecting it to appear on this wall. There are hundreds of other places he could have been killed.
I'm trying to imagine what building it's in. I remember where the buildings are, inside the wall; we roamed freely there when it was a university. We still go there from time to time for the women
rescues. Most of the buildings are also made of red brick; some have 19th-century Romanesque-effect arched doors. We can no longer enter the buildings; but who wants in there? These buildings belong to the eyes.
Maybe he's in the library. Somewhere in the vaults.
The library is like a temple. There is a long white staircase leading to the rows of doors. Then in, another white staircase leading up. On either side of her, on the wall, are angels. Victory is on one side of the inner entrance, guiding them, and death is on the other side. The men on Death's side still live. You go to heaven. Death, that beautiful woman with wings and an almost bare breast; or is that victory?
You will not have destroyed it.
We turn our backs to the wall, we go to the left. There are several empty storefronts here, stained with soap. I try to remember what was once sold there. cosmetic products? Jewelry? Most men's shops are still open; they are only the ones engaged in what they call closed vanities.
On the corner is the store called Soul Scrolls.
The Soul Scrolls window is unbreakable. Behind him are the printing presses, row upon row; These machines are known as Holy Rollers, but between us, that's a disrespectful moniker. What the machines print are sentences, scroll by scroll, sentences that keep coming out. They are ordered by Compuphone, I heard the commander's wife do so. Ordering prayers from the soul scroll is said to be a sign of piety and loyalty to the regime, so of course the commanders' wives often do this. It helps their husbands' careers.
There are five different prayers: for health, wealth, death, birth, etc.
The machines talk as they print the sentences; If you want you can go inside and listen to them, the toneless metallic voices repeating the same thing over and over again. Once the prayers are printed and said, the paper goes through another batch and is recycled back into new paper. There are no people in the building: the machines work by themselves.
Try to remember what this place sold when it was a store before it became Soul Scrolls. I think it was underwear. Pink and silver boxes, colored stockings, lacy bras, silk scarves? something lost
Ofglen and I stand outside the soul scrolls, looking through the unbreakable windows, watching the prayers emerge from the machines and back through the slit, back into the realm of the unsaid. Now I change my appearance. What I see is not the machines but Ofglen reflected in the window pane. She looks straight at me.
We can see it in each other's eyes. This is the first time I've seen Ofglen's eyes, direct, steady, unbiased.
She catches my gaze in the mirror, straight, imperturbable. Now it's hard to look away. It's a shock to see; It's like seeing someone naked for the first time. There's suddenly a risk in the air between us where there wasn't before.
Finally Ofglen speaks. "Do you think God is listening," she says, "to these machines?" She whispers: our living space in the center.
In the past, that would have been a rather trivial observation, a kind of academic speculation. Now it's a betrayal.
I could scream. i could run I could walk away from her to show her that I don't tolerate such conversations in my presence. Subversion, sedition, blasphemy, heresy, all rolled into one.
I'm getting stronger "I do not say.
She exhales in a long sigh of relief. Together we cross the invisible line. "Neither do I," she says.
Though I think it's a kind of belief, I say. “Like the Tibetan prayer
"What are these?" she asks.
"I just read about it," I say. “They were moved by the wind.
"Like everything else," she says. Only now let's stop looking at each other.
"Is it safe here?" I whisper
"I think it's the safest place," she says. "Looks like we're praying, that's all."
"You?" she says, still whispering. “They are always safer outdoors, nobikes, and why would they put one up here? You would think nobody would dare. But we stayed long enough.
As always, we left with our heads down. I'm so excited I can hardly breathe, but I keep a steady pace. Now more than ever I need to avoid drawing attention to myself.
"I thought you were a true believer," says Ofglen.
"I thought it was you," I tell him.
"You were always so pious."
"You too," I reply. I want to laugh, cry, hug more.
"You can join us," she says.
"Us?" I say.
"You didn't think I was the only one," she says.
I do not believe it. It occurs to me that she could be a spy, a trap designed to catch me; this is the ground on which we grow. But I can't believe it; Hope grows inside me like a pine tree. blood in a wound. We made an opening.
I want to ask him if he's seen Moira, if anyone can find out what happened to Luke, my son, even my mother, but I don't have much time;
"Don't say a word," Ofglen warns me, although she doesn't have to. "Anyway."
"Of course not," I say. Who could tell?
We walked down Main Street in silence, past Lilies, past All Flesh. There are more people on the sidewalks than usual this afternoon, the heat must have driven them away. females, in green, blue, red, stripes; The sun is free, it's still here to enjoy. Although nobody showers anymore, not in public.
There are also more cars, whirlwinds with their padded drivers and passengers, smaller cars driven by smaller men.
Something is happening: there is an uproar, an uproar among the auto schools. Some pull to the side as if to get out of the way. It doesn't have a siren, but the other cars avoid it anyway. He's slowly navigating the street as if looking for something: a lurking shark.
I'm freezing, the cold travels through me to my feet. There must have been bugs, after all they heard us.
Ofglen, disguised by his sleeve, grabs my elbow. "Go on," he whispers.
ButIcan’thelpseeing.Rightinfrontofusthevanpullsup.TwoEyes,ingreysuits,leapfromtheopeningdoubledoorsattheback.Theygrabamanwhoiswalkingalong,amanwithabriefcase,anordinary-lookingman,slamhimbackagainsttheblacksideofthevan.He’sthereamoment,splayedoutagainstthemetalasifstucktoit;thenoneoftheEyesmovesinonhim,doessomethingsharpandbrutal thatdoubleshimover, intoa limpclothbundle.Theypickhimupandheavehimintothebackofthevanlikeasackofmail.Thentheyareinsidealsoandthedoorsareclosedandthevanmoveson.
It's over in seconds and the traffic on the road resumes as if nothing happened.
What I feel is relief. It was not me.
Chapter twenty eight
I don't feel sleepy this afternoon, there's still a lot of adrenaline. The window is wide open, there's a breeze, warm in the sun, and the white cloth blows in my face. Outwardly I have to look like a cocoon, a ghost, my face so veiled, only the outline visible, the nose, the bandaged mouth, the blind eyes. But I like how it feels, the soft cloth brushing against my skin.
They gave me a small electric fan to help with this humidity. It spins on the floor in the corner, its blades locked in poles. If I were Moira I would know how to disassemble it, reduce it as much as possible. I don't have a screwdriver, but if I were Moira I could do without a screwdriver.
What would you tell me about the Commander if you were here? I would probably decline. At the time, she disapproved of Luke. Not by Luke, but by the fact that he was married. He said he was poaching on another woman's land. He said that was no excuse. Moira was always more logical than me.
I said that she herself doesn't have that problem anymore since she has decided to prefer women and as I can see she has no qualms about stealing or borrowing them whenever she feels like it. She said it's different because the balance of power between the women is equal since sex is a transaction by Steven himself. She said she's trivialized the issue and feels outdated that she lives with her head in the sand.
We said all of this in my kitchen, over coffee, sitting at my table, in those low, intense voices we used for arguments like this when we were in our early twenties; a university legacy. The kitchen was in a ramshackle apartment in a half-timbered house by the river, of the three-story type with a rickety outside staircase at the back. I had the second floor,whichmeant I gotnoisefrombothaboveandbelow,twounwantedstereodiscplayersthumpinglateintothenight.Students,Iknew.Iwasstillonmyfirstjob,whichdidn’tpaymuch:Iworkedacomputerinaninsurancecompany.Sothehotels,withLuke,didn’tmeanonlyloveorevenonlysextome.Theyalsomeanttimeofffromthecockroaches,thedrippingsink,thelinoleumthatwaspeelingoffthefloorinpatches,evenfrommyownattemptstobrightenthingsupbystickingposters on the wall and hanging prisms in the windows. it also had plants; although they always got spiders or died from not watering them. I would date Luke and neglect her.
I said there was more than one way to live with your head in the sand, and if Moira thought she could create a utopia by locking herself in a women-only enclave, unfortunately she was wrong.
"It's like saying you should go out and get syphilis just because it's there," Moira said.
Do you call Luke a social disease?
Moira laughed. Listen, she said. Crap. We sound like your mother.
We both laughed then and when she left we hugged like we always do. There was a time when we didn't fight after she told me she was gay;
After that I got a better apartment where I lived for two years and took Luke to free me. I paid for it myself with my new job.
I worked by transferring books to computer hard drives to reduce storage space and replacement costs, they said. We call ourselves Discers. We called the library a disco which was a joke to us. After handing over the books, they should go to the shredder, but sometimes
I took her home with me.
Now it's weird to think about having a job. Work. It's a funny word. It's a one man job. Do a job, they told the kids when they were potty training. Or dogs: I worked on carpets.
The Book of Job.
Todas aquellas mujeres tendo empregos: difícil imaginar agora, mas milhares delas tinham empregos, milhões. Für normal. Now it's likerememberingthepapermoney,whentheystillhadthat.Mymotherkeptsomeofit,pastedintoherscrapbookalongwiththeearlyphotos.Itwasobsoletebythen,youcouldn'tbuyanythingwith it.Piecesofpaper, thickish,greasy tothetouch,green-coloured,withpicturesoneachside,someoldmaninawigandontheothersideapyramidwithaneyeaboveit.ItsaidInGodWeTrust.Mymother saidpeopleused tohave signsbeside their cash registers, for ajoke:InGodWeTrust,AllOthersPayCash.Thatwouldbeblasphemynow .
You had to take these papers with you when you went shopping, although when I was nine or ten years old most people used plastic cards. Not for shopping, that came later. It looks so primitive, even totemic, like snail shells. I must have used that kind of money myself, quite a bit before it all went to Compu-Bank.
I think it's a show that they could do it all at once, like they did without anyone knowing beforehand. If there was still portable money, it would have been more difficult.
It was after the disaster, when they shot the president and machine-gunned Congress, and the army declared a state of emergency. They blame the Islamic fanatics of the time.
Keep calm, it said on TV. It's all under control.
I was shocked. Everyone was, I know. It was hard to believe. The whole government went like that. How did they get there, how did that happen?
At that time they suspended the constitution. They said it would be temporary.
Guard, said Moiratome into the phone. Here it comes.
Here what comes?
Wait, she said. you build it. You and me standing by the wall baby I quoted my mother's facial expression, but I didn't mean to be funny.
Things went on in this suspended animation state for weeks, though a few things did happen. Newspapers have been censored and some have been closed for security reasons, they said. Padlocks and ID cards appeared. Everyone agreed, because it was obvious that you couldn't be too careful. They said that new elections would be held but that it would take time to prepare.
However, the porn marts were closed and there were no more Feelson Wheels vans or Bun-Dle Buggies driving around the square.
It's about time someone did something, said the woman behind the counter at the store where I usually get my cigarettes. On the corner stood a chain of kiosks: newspapers, sweets, cigarettes. The woman was older and had gray hair;
Did they just turn them off or what? I asked.
She shrugged her shoulders. Who knows, who cares, he said. Maybe they just moved her to another place. He dialed my Compu number at the cash register without paying attention: he was a regular at the time. People have complained, he said.
The next morning, on my way to the library for the day, I stop at the same store to get another package because I'm out of stock. I smoked more lately, it was the tension, you could feel it, like a subterranean buzz, even though everything seemed so calm. I also drank more coffee and had trouble sleeping. They were all a little nervous. There was a lot more music on the radio than usual and fewer words.
It was after we were married, apparently for years; she was three or four years old, she was in kindergarten.
We all got up as usual and had breakfast, muesli I remember,
and Luke walked her to school in the little outfit he'd bought her a few weeks ago, a striped jumpsuit and a blue t-shirt. It must have been September. There was a school pool that was supposed to pick them up but for some reason I wanted Luke to do that, I was even worried about the school pool. Children were no longer walking to school, and many were missing.
When I got to the corner store, the usual woman wasn't there. Instead it was a man, a young man, no more than twenty.
She's sick? Isaidas I gave him my card.
he said, aggressively I thought.
The woman who is usually here, I said.
He punched in my number, studied each number, typed with one finger. Obviously he had never done this before. I drummed my fingers on the counter, impatient for a cigarette, and wondered if anyone had told him about those pimples on his neck. I'm sorry he clearly reminded me of him for telling me to move on.
I'm sorry, he said. This number is invalid.
That's ridiculous, I said. It must be, I have thousands in my account. I just got the message two days ago. Try it again.
Not valid, he stubbornly repeated. Do you see the red light? It means it is invalid.
You must have made a mistake, I said. Try it again.
He shrugged and forced a smile, but tried the number again. This time I watched her fingers at each number and checked the numbers that appeared in the window.
See? he said again, still smiling like he knew an inside joke he wasn't about to tell me.
I'll call her from the office, I said. The system had crashed before, but a few phone calls usually fixed it. Still, I was angry, as if I had been wrongly accused of something I didn't even know about. As if I did
I was wrong myself.
Do it yourself, he said differently. I left the cigarettes on the counter because I hadn't paid for them. I thought I could borrow it at work.
I called from the office but only got a recording. The lines were overloaded, the recording said. Can I call you back?
From what I could see, the lines had been busy all morning. Iphonedback several times but no luck. That wasn't unusual either.
About two o'clock after lunch the director entered the consulting room.
I have to tell you something, he said. It looked terrible; Her hair was tousled, her eyes were pink and shaking as if she had been drinking.
We all look up, turn off our machines. There must be eight or ten of us in the room.
I'm sorry, he said, but that's the law.
I have to let you go, he said. It's the law, I must. I have to let them all go.
Are we getting fired? I said, standing up, but why?
Not fired, he said. release. You can't work here anymore, that's the law. He ran his hands through his hair and I thought he'd gone mad.
It's not easy, said the woman next to me. It sounded wrong, unlikely, like something you would say on TV.
It's not me, he said. You do not understand. please go now I don't want any problems. If there are problems, books may be lost, things will break... He looked over his shoulder. They're out there, he said, in my office. If you don't go now, they will come by themselves. They gave me ten minutes.
He's crazy, someone said aloud; what we must have thought.
But I could see down the hall and there were two men in uniform with machine guns. It was too theatrical to be true, but there they were: sudden apparitions, like Martians. there was a dream
quality for her; they were too lively, too inharmonious with their surroundings.
Just leave the machines, he said as we gathered and filled our stuff. As if we could have taken her.
We cuddle up together on the steps in front of the library.
It's outrageous, said one woman, but incredulous. What made us feel like we deserved it?
When I got home, nobody was there. Luke was still working, my daughter was at school. Things like the toaster, the sugar bowl, the ashtray in the living room. After a while I picked up the cat and took her with me.
I tried calling the bank again but all I got was the same record. I poured myself a glass of milk - telling myself I was too nervous for another coffee - and went into the living room, sat on the sofa and carefully placed the glass of milk on the coffee table without drinking anything. I hugged the cat to my chest so I could feel its purr against my throat.
After a while I called my mother's apartment but no one answered. She lived across the river in Boston. I waited a bit and called Moira. She wasn't there either, but when I tried half an hour later, she was there.
I got fired, I told Moira when I called her. She said she would come.
I will, she said. She must be able to tell from my voice that she wanted this.
She got there after a while. So she said. He took off his jacket and stretched out in the huge chair. Tell me. Let's drink first.
He got up and went into the kitchen and poured himself some whiskey, came back and sat down and tried to tell me what had happened to me.
Yes, I said. I also told him about it.
They froze them, he said. My also. The collective too. Each account has a foni instead of the M fan. All they have to do is push a few buttons. we are cut
But I have more than two thousand dollars in the bank, I said, as if only my own account mattered.
Women can no longer own property, she said. It's a new law. Did you turn on the TV today?
I did not say
It's there, she said. Overall. She wasn't as dazed as I was. In a strange way he was light-hearted, like he'd been waiting for this for a while and now he was right. She seemed even more energetic, more determined. Luke can use his compucount for you, she said. They'll give him your number, or so they say. Maridormale, next of kin.
But and you? I said. She didn't have anyone.
I'm going underground, he said. Some of the gays can take our numbers and buy whatever we need.
But why? I said. Because they?
It's not our place to think about it, Moira said. They had to do it like this, the compucounts and the jobs at the same time. Can you imagine airports differently? You're not going anywhere, you bet.
I wanted to pick up my daughter from school. I drove with excessive caution. When Luke got home I was sitting at the kitchen table.
taped to the side of the fridge.
Luke knelt down next to me and hugged me. I heard it, he said, on the car radio as I was driving home. Don't worry, I'm sure it's only temporary.
Did you say why?
He did not answer. We're getting out of here, he said and hugged me.
You don't know what it is, I said. I feel like someone cut off my feet.
It's just a job, he said, trying to alleviate the problem.
I guess you get all my money, I said. And I'm not even dead.
Keep calm, he said. He was still kneeling on the floor. You know that I will always take care of you.
I thought he was already beginning to patronize me. So I thought you were starting to get paranoid.
I know, I said. I love you.
Later, after she was in bed and we had dinner and I wasn't feeling so shaky, I told her about the afternoon. I described the director's arrival and blurted out his announcement. It would have been fun if it wasn't so awful, I said.
Then I remembered something I had seen and not noticed at the time. It wasn't the army. It was a different army.
Of course there were marches, many women and few men. But they were smaller than you think. I think people were scared. But you couldn't even be sure who did it. It could be the military to justify the computer searches and the other home searches.
I didn't go to any of the marches. Luke said it was pointless and I had to think about her, my family, him and her. I thought of my family. I started doing more housework, cooking more. I tried not to cry while eating. At this point, without warning, I began to cry and sat on the side of the room.
window looking out. I didn't know many of the neighbors, and when we met on the street we carefully exchanged only the usual greetings. No one wanted to be denounced for infidelity.
If I remember this, I also remember my mother years ago. She must have been fourteen, fifteen, the age when mothers embarrass their daughters. I remember her returning to one of our many homes with a group of other women who were part of her ever-changing circle of friends. They were on the march that day;
My mother had a bruise on her face and some blood.
Bloody shit, said one of his friends. Those on the other side were called bleeders because of the signs they bore: let them bleed. That must have been the miscarriages.
I went to my room to avoid him. They talked too much and too loud. They ignored me and I got angry with them.
You're a prude, he told me in a generally satisfied tone. She liked being more scandalous than me, more rebellious.
Part of my disapproval was safe: superficial, routine. But he also wanted a more formal life from her, less prone to improvisation and escapism.
You were a wanted child, God knows, he would say sometimes as he lingered over the photo albums in which he framed me; those albums were full of babies, but my replicas dwindled as I got older, as if a plague had struck my duplicate population.
I wish you were here so I could tell you that I finally know.
Someone has left the house. In the distance I hear a door closing, footsteps on the sidewalk to one side. He is in shirtsleeves, his bare arms cheekily protruding from the rolled-up cloth. He's just my flag, my traffic light. body language.
Now his hat is on its side. That's why I'm sent.
What's in it for him, his role as a page? .
But it depends, there is something for him. Everyone gets in the way in one way or another. Extra cigarettes? Additional freedoms not allowed for general operations? Anyway, what can you prove? It's your word against the commander's unless you choose to lead the charge. Break down the door and what did I tell you?
Maybe he just likes the satisfaction of knowing something mysterious. To have something in me, as they used to say. It's the kind of power you can only use once.
I want to think better.
That night after I lost my job, Luke wanted me to make love.
What's the matter? he said.
I don't know, I said.
We still have... he said. But he didn't say what we had left. It occurred to me that he shouldn't tell us since nothing he knew had been taken from him.
We still have each other, I said. That was true. So why did I sound so indifferent to myself?
He then kissed me as if things could go back to normal now that I said that. But something had changed, something in balance. I felt myself shrinking so that when he put his arms around me and pulled me together, I was a little doll. I felt that love went on without me.
He doesn't care, I thought.
Unworthy, unfair, wrong. But that's exactly what happened.
So Luke: What I want to ask you now, what I need to know is, was he right? Because we never talk about it.
CHAPTER TWENTY NINE
I'm sitting in theCommander's office, across fromhimat his desk, in theclientposition,asifI'mabankcustomernegotiatingaheftyloan.Butapartfrommyplacementintheroom,littleofthatformalityremainsbetweenus.Inolongersitstiff-necked,straight-backed,feetregimentedsidebysideonthefloor,eyesatthesalute.Insteadmybody'slax,cosyeven.Myredshoesareoff,mylegstuckedupunderneathmeonthechair,surroundedbyabuttressofredskirt,true, but still hidden, like a campfire, from past picnic days and more. If there were a fire in the hearth, its light would flicker across polished surfaces and glow warmly on flesh.
As for the commander, he's being too casual tonight. Jacket off, elbows on the table.
The spaces on the board in front of me are filling up: I'm making my penultimate move of the night. Zilch, I spell it, a convenient word with a vowel and an expensive one.
"Is that a word?" says the commander.
"We could see," Isaiah. "It's sarcastic."
"I'll give it to you," he says. I don't feel any of the animosity from him that I used to feel from men, sometimes even Luke.
He deftly beat our final scores on his pocket computer.
kind of candy? There must be something.
He's lying on his back, fingertips together, an age I'm now familiar with. We build up a repertoire of such gestures, such familiarities. He looks at me, not without benevolence, but curiously, as if I were a riddle to be solved.
"What do you want to read tonight?" he says. That too has become routine. He still has novels. I read a Raymond Chandler and now I'm halfway through Charles Dickens' Hard Times. On such occasions I read fast, voraciously, almost skimmed, trying to get as much into my head as possible before the next long hunger strike. If it were food it would be the gluttony of the hungry, if it were sex it would be a quick and furtive discussion somewhere.
While I'm reading, the Commander sits and watches me, he doesn't speak, but he doesn't take his eyes off me either. This comment is a strangely sexual act and it makes me feel naked. I wish he would turn his back on her, walk around the room, read something himself. So maybe I could relax more, take my time.
"I think I'd rather talk," I tell him. I'm surprised to hear myself say that.
He smiles again. He doesn't seem surprised. Maybe this was expected or something like that. "Oh?" he says. "What would you like to talk about?"
If you hesitate. "Everything, I guess. Well, you for example.
"Yeah?" He keeps smiling. "Oh, there's not much to say about me. I'm just a regular guy."
The falsity of that, and even the falsity of phrasing—"friend"? - makes me short. Ordinary guys don't become commanders. "You have to be good at something," I tell him. It's been so long since I've spoken to anyone. but it was a provocation
provisionally. After feeling the relief of having said so much, I want more.
And when I talk to him, I tell him something bad, I reveal something. I can feel it coming, a betrayal of myself.
"Oh, I was in market research for starters," she says sheepishly. "After that, I branched out."
It seems to me that while I know he's a commander, I don't know what he's a commander for. What controls what is the field as they said? They have no specific titles.
"Oh," I say, trying to sound like I understand.
"You could say I'm somewhat of a scientist," he says. "Within limits, of course."
After that he doesn't say anything else for a while and neither do I. We are waiting for each other.
I'm the first to break "Well, maybe you can tell me something I've been thinking about."
Show interest. "What can be?"
I'm heading towards danger, but I can't stop myself. "That's a phrase I remember somewhere." Better not say where.
"Tell me," he says. Distant but more awake, or am I imagining it?
"Don't be afraid of carborundum," I tell him.
"What did he say.
I didn't pronounce it correctly. I do not know how. "I could spell it," I say. "Note."
Doubts about this new idea. He may not remember that I can.
What are you getting? I said, expecting five or three.
Just one and one and one, he said.
But now he says "okay" and pushes the end of the rolling pin onto the table.
almost defiantly, as if accepting a challenge. I'm looking for something to write and he gives me his notebook, a desktop notebook with a smiley face button at the top of the page. They still do these things.
I carefully copy the sentence, copying it from my head, from my closet. Nolitte bastardes carborundorum. Here, in this context, it is not prayer and not order, but graffiti, once scrawled, abandoned. The pen between my fingers is sensual, almost alive, I feel its power, the power of the words it contains. A pen is envy, Aunt Lydia used to say, citing another motto of the center to warn us to stay away from such objects. And they were right, it's envy.
The commander takes the smile button page from me and looks at it. So he starts laughing and blushes?
"A joke?" I mean confused now. It can't just be a joke. Did I risk that for a joke? "What a joke?"
"You know how the boys are in school," he says. His laugh is wistful, I see it now, the laugh finds indulgence in its old self. He gets up, goes to the shelf, pulls out a book with difficulty; then: "Here," he says and puts it openly in front of me on the table.
What I see first is a photograph: the Venus de Milo, black and white, with a mustache, black bra, and awkwardly drawn armpit hair. On the opposite page is the Colosseum in Rome, inscribed in English, and below is a conjugation: sum es est, sumus estis sunt. "There," he says, pointing and I see it in the margin, written in the same ink as Venus' hair. Nolitetebastardescarborundorum.
“It's kind of hard to explain why it's funny unless you know Latin,” he says. “We used to write all kinds of stuff like that. Forgetting me and himself, he is turning the pages. “Look at this,” he says. The painting is called Las Sabinas, and in the margin he says: pimpispit, pimuspistispants. this time you could call it a smile. I imagine freckles on it, a toupee. Now I almost like it.
"But what does that mean?" I say.
"Which?" he says.
I force a smile, but it's all in front of me now. I can see why he wrote it, on the closet wall, but I can also see that he must have learned it here in this room. Where else?
What happened to him? I ask.
He hardly misses the beat. "Did you meet her somehow?"
"In a way", eh.
"She hanged herself," he says; thoughtful, not sad. So we removed the lamp. In your bedroom He pauses. "Serena figured it out," he says, as if that explains everything.
If your dog dies, get another one.
With what? I ask.
You don't want to give me ideas. "That counts?" he says. Torn sheet, figure. I considered the possibilities.
I guess it was Cora who found her, I say. That's why he screamed.
"Yes", it is said. "Armes Thing." I mean Cora.
"Maybe I shouldn't come here anymore," I tell him.
"I thought you'd enjoy it," he says lightly, still looking at me with bright, intense eyes. If I didn't know better, I would think it was fear. "I wish you would do that."
You want my life to be bearable for me, I say. It doesn't come out as a question, but as a simple statement; flat and dimensionless. If my life is bearable, maybe what they're doing is the right thing after all.
"Yes," he says. "I prefer.
"Well then," I say. things have changed. Now I have something against him. What I have on him is the possibility of my own death. What I have in him is guilt. Finally.
"What do you want?" he says, still with that ease, as if it were just a money transaction, and just like that: candy, cigarettes.
"Besides hand cream, you mean," I say.
"And the hand lotion," she nods.
"I wish..." I say. "I would like to know." He seems indecisive, even stupid, I say without thinking.
"You know what?" he says.
"Whatever," I say; But that's too much. "What's up."
Night falls. Like the smoke of an invisible fire, a line of fire just below the horizon, a forest fire, or a burning city. Maybe the night falls because it's heavy, a thick curtain covers your eyes.
A noite caiu, então. Eu sinto isso me pressionando como uma pedra. Nobreeze.Isitbythepartlyopenwindow,curtainstuckedbackbecausethere'snooneoutthere,noneedformodesty,inmynightgown,long-sleevedeveninsummer, tokeepus fromthe temptationsofourownflesh, tokeepus fromhuggingourselves,bare-armed.Nothingmovesinthesearchlightmoonlight.Thescent from thegarden rises likeheat fromabody, theremustbenight-bloomingflowers, it'ssostrong.Icanalmostsee it, redradiation,waveringupwardsliketheshimmerabovehighwaytarmacatnoon .
On the lawn below, someone emerges from the darkness beneath the willow tree, walking through the light, her long shadow at her heels. Is it Nick or someone else, someone unimportant? He stops, looks at that window and I can see the elongated white of his face. Nick.
I pull the curtain to the left so it falls between us, in my face, and after a moment it moves on, into invisibility around the corner.
What the commander said is true. One and one and one and one doesn't equal four.
NickforLukeorLukeforNick. Becomes applicable.
It's not your fault how you feel, Moira once said, but how you act can help.
That's good and fabulous.
Context is everything or one or the other?
The night before I left home for the last time, I walked through the rooms. I had the idea that afterwards I could remember what it was like.
Luke was in the living room. He put his arms around me. We both felt miserable.
The cat, that's what he said.
Cat? I said against the wool of her sweater.
We can't leave her here.
I hadn't thought of the cat. We neither. Our decision was sudden, and then there was the planning that needed to be made. I must have thought you were coming with us. But he couldn't, you don't take a cat on a day trip across the border.
Why not outside? I said. We could leave it.
She would stay and knock on my door. Someone would notice we were gone.
We could deliver it, I said. One of the neighbors.
I'll take care of that, Luke said. And since he said it for her, I knew he meant kill. You must do this before you kill, I thought.
Luke found the cat hiding under our bed. You always know. He went into the garage with her. I don't know what he did and I never asked him.
He. He's sitting in the living room, hands folded in his lap. I should have gone out with him and taken on that little responsibility. He should have at least asked him about it later so he didn't have to carry it himself; for this small sacrifice, this effacement of love, was also made for me.
That's one of the things they do. They force you to kill within yourself.
Useless as it turned out. I wonder who told them. It could have been a neighbor watching our car drive away in the morning, following a hunch and giving them a gold star on someone's list.
Because they were ready for us and waiting. The moment of betrayal is the worst, the moment when you know without a doubt that you have been betrayed: that another person wanted you so much.
It was like being at the top of a loose elevator. Fall, fall and not knowing when you're going to fall.
I try to summon my own spirits wherever they are. I need to remember what they are like. I try to keep them still behind my eyes, their faces like photos in an album. then another face, faces. But they disappear even though I stretch out my arms for them, they run away from me, ghosts at dawn. Go back to where you are. stay with me i mean But they won't.
It's my fault. I forget a lot
Tonight I will say my prayers.
Nolongerkneelingatthefootofthebed,kneesonthehardwoodofthegymfloor,AuntElizabethstandingby thedoubledoors,arms folded,cattleprodhungonherbelt,whileAuntLydia stridesalong the rowsofkneelingnightgownedwomen,hittingourbacksorfeetorbumsorarmslightly,justaflick,atap,withherwoodenpointerifweslouchorslacken.Shewantedourheads bowed just right, our toes together and pointed, our elbows at theproperangle.Partofher interest in thiswasaesthetic: she liked the lookofthe coisa. Ela queria que parecêssemos com algo anglo-saxão, esculpido em um
Dig; or Christmas card angels uniformed in our robes of purity. But he also knew the spiritual value of body rigidity, of muscle tension: A little pain clears the mind, he said.
What we prayed for was the void worth filling: with grace, with love, with selflessness, sperm and babies.
Oh god, king of the universe, thank you for not creating man.
Oh God destroy me. mortify my flesh so that I may multiply. let me fulfill...
Some of them would get upset about that. The ecstasy of the descent. Some of them moaned and cried.
It's no use making a show, Janine, said Aunt Lydia.
I pray where I am, sitting by the window looking through the curtain at the empty garden. I don't even close my eyes. Outside or inside my head it's the same darkness. Or light.
My God. That you are in the kingdom of heaven that is within.
I want you to tell me your name, that's what I want to say. But you will do just about anything.
I would like to know what you did. But whatever it is, please help me get through this.
I have a lot of bread every day, so I won't waste time on it. It's not the main problem. The problem is swallowing without gagging.
Now let's move on to forgiveness. Don't worry about forgiving me now. There are more important things. For example: Protect others when they are safe. If they must die, let it be quick. You can even provide them with a shelter. For that we need you.
I guess I should say I forgive whoever did this and whatever they're doing now. I'll try, but it's not easy.
The temptation comes later. At the center, temptation was much more than eating and sleeping. Knowledge was a temptation.
Maybe I really don't want to know what's going on. Maybe I prefer not to know. Maybe he couldn't take it. The fall was a fall from innocence to knowledge.
I think about the chandelier a lot even though it's gone. But you can use a hook in the closet. I considered the possibilities. All you would have to do after locking yourself in would be to throw your weight forward and not fight.
Deliver us from evil.
Then there is the kingdom, power and glory. It's hard to believe now. But I'll try anyway.
You must feel very betrayed. I think it's not the first time.
If I were you, I'd be fed up. I would be really sick of it. I think that's the difference between us.
I feel very unreal talking to you like that. I feel like I'm speaking to a wall. I want you to reply.
Only on the phone. I just can't make calls. And if you could, who would you call?
Oh God. It's not a game. Oh god, my god. How can I keep living?
XII DIE JESABLE
Every night when I go to bed I think: In the morning I'll wake up in my own house and everything will go back to how it was.
It didn't happen this morning either.
I put on my clothes, sundresses, it's still summer; Summer seems to have stopped. July, her breathless days and sauna nights, hard to sleep. I make a follow up point. You should cross out the walls, one for each day of the week, and cross out when you have seven. But what's the use, that's not a prison sentence;
But I say the time of the moon. moon, not sun.
Eu me curvo para arrumar meus sapatos vermelhos; lighterweight thesedays,withdiscreetslitscutinthem,thoughnothingsodaringassandals.It'sanefforttostoop;despitetheexercises,Icanfeelmybodygraduallyseizingup,refusing.BeingawomanthiswayishowIusedtoimagineitwouldbetobeveryold.IfeelIevenwalklikethat:crouchedover,myspineconstrictingtoaquestionmark,mybonesleachedofcalciumandporousaslimestone.WhenIwasyounger,imaginingage, Iwould think,Maybeyouappreciate thingsmorewhenyoudon'thavemuchtimeleft.Iforgottoincludethelossofenergy.SomedaysIdoappreciatethingsmore,eggs,flowers,butthenIdecideI'monlyhavinganattackofsentimentality , mybrainggoingpastelTechnicolor,comoosbeloscartõesdefelizpôr-do-solqueelesusaramparacriarmuitosdaCalifórnia.Coraçõesbrilhantes.
The danger is grey.
I wish I had Luke in this room while I get dressed so I can train with him. Absurd, but that's what I want. We might even argue about it because we are not important, important.
I lean back in my chair, the crown on the ceiling hovering over my head like a zenhalo, zero. A hole in space where a star exploded. A ring in the water where a stone was thrown. All things are white and round. The geometric days that spin in circles, soft and starchy. My upper lip is already sweating, waiting for the inevitable egg, which will be as hot as the room with a green film of oil and a faint sulfur taste.
Later today with Ofglen on our shopping spree:
As always, we go to church and look at the graves. and therefore especially, they had a choice. They could convert or emigrate to Israel. Many of them have emigrated, if the news is to be believed. There are many of them on TV, leaning over the railings in their black coats and hats and long beards, trying to look as Jewish as possible, in dresses from the past, the women with scarves over their heads, smiling and waving. . . , a little stiff, though as if posing; the richest, queuing for planes. Ofglen says a few other people came out that way and pretended to be Jews, but it wasn't easy because of the tests they were doing and they're more strict about it now.
However, one is not hanged just because one is Jewish. They hang you because you're a loud Jew who doesn't make up his mind. , pressed against the walls of their rooms by their eyes, while the announcer's sad voice loudly tells us of his betrayal and ingratitude.
So J doesn't stand for Jew. What could it be? Jehovah's Witnesses? Jesuit? Whatever that means, it's dead.
After this visualization ritual, we continue our path and, as usual, we go to an open space that we can cross so that we can have a conversation. If you can call it speech, this truncated whisper is projected through the four white-winged funnels. It's more like a telegram, a verbal semaphore. Say amputated.
Today we turn in the opposite direction to Soul Scrolls, where there is some kind of open park with a big old building; Ornate stained glass from the late Victorian period. It used to be called Memorial Hall, although I never knew what a memorial was for. Dead people of any kind.
Moira once told me that in the early days of college, college students ate there.
Because? I said. Moira became more and more familiar with such anecdotes over the years. I didn't particularly like it, this grudge against the past.
To make him go away, said Moira.
Maybe it was more like throwing peanuts at elephants, I said.
Moira laughed; she always could. Alien monsters, he said.
We looked at this building, which is more or less in the shape of a church, a cathedral. Ofglen says, "I hear the eyes feast there."
"Who told you?" I say. There is no one around, we can speak more freely, but out of habit we keep our voices low.
"The vine," she says. He pauses, looks sideways at me, I can feel the white speck in the movement of his wings. "There's a password," she says.
A password? I ask. "So that?"
"So you can say it," she says. "Who is and who is not".
Though I cannot see what the use of knowledge is, I ask, "Then what is it?"
"Mayday," she says. "I tried you once."
"Mayday," I repeat. I remember that day. maid.
"Only use it if you have to," says Ofglen. "It's not good for us to know about many of the others on the network.
I have a hard time believing those whispers, those revelations, even though I always did at the time. Then, though they seem unlikely, even childish, like something you would do for fun; like a girls club, like secrets at school.
and hammock nets, one of my mother's old phrases, yesterday's slang. Even in her sixties, she was still doing what she called it, although as far as I could tell it meant everything having lunch with another woman.
I leave Ofglen in the corner. "See you later," she says.
I walk on the gravel between the flagstones of an evergreen lawn. Serena Joy is sitting in her chair under the willow tree, her cane resting on her elbows. How can you stand touching wool in this heat? But maybe your skin is numb; may not feel anything like someone who has already been scalded.
I lower my eyes to the path, gliding along it hoping to be invisible, knowing I'll be ignored. But not this time.
"Offers," she says.
I turn to her, my vision flickering.
"Come here. I love you."
I walk across the grass and stand in front of her and look down.
"You can sit down," she says. "Here, take the pillow. You have to hold this yarn. He has a cigarette, the ashtray is on the grass next to him and a cup of something, tea or coffee. - networked, that's closer. The wool is gray and has absorbed moisture from the air, it's like a wet baby blanket and it smells faintly of wet sheep.
Serena takes a puff, the cigarette smoldering in the corner of her mouth, enticing smoke. He takes a hit slowly and with difficulty due to his gradually incapacitating hands, but with determination. Perhaps for them knitting involves a kind of willpower;
My mother didn't knit any of these. But every time she brought things from the dry cleaners, her nice sweaters, winter coats, she kept the safety pins and made a necklace out of them. Then he put the chain somewhere: the bed, the pillow, the back of the chair, the stove so he wouldn't lose it. Traces of his presence, remnants of a lost purpose, like signs on a path that leads nowhere.
"Well then," says Serena. He stops rolling, leaving me with my hands still adorned with animal hair, and pulls the cigarette out of his mouth to put it out. "Nothing yet?"
I know what you're talking about. There are not many subjects that can be discussed between us; there's not much in common other than this risky, mysterious thing.
"I'm not saying. 'Anything.'
"Too bad," she says. It's hard to imagine her with a baby. But Martha would mainly take care of that.
no and out of the way, no more humiliating balls of sweat, no more triangles of flesh under its starry canopy of silver flowers. peace and quiet. I can't imagine you wishing me so much luck for any other reason.
"You're running out of time," she says. That's not a question, that's a fact.
"Yes," I say neutrally.
He lights another cigarette and fumbles with the lighter. Your hands are definitely getting worse.
"Maybe he can't," she says.
I don't know who you mean. Are you referring to the Commander or to God? If it's God, it should say no. Anyway, it's heresy. Only women who stubbornly remain closed, damaged, defective cannot do that.
"I'm not saying. 'Maybe I can't.'
looked up. She looks down. It's the first time we've looked into each other's eyes in a long time. Ever since we met
"Maybe," she says, holding up the cigarette she couldn't light. "Maybe you should try something else."
Do you mean on all fours? "How else?" I say. I have to be serious.
"Another man," she says.
"You know I can't do this," I say, careful not to show my irritation. "It's against the law. You know the penalty."
"Yes," she says. She's ready for this, she thought to herself. "I know you can't officially do that. But it's done. women often do. The whole time."
"By the doctors you mean?" I say, remembering the cute brown eyes, the bare hand. The last time I saw a different doctor. Maybe someone spotted the other, or a woman denounced him.
"Some do," she says, her tone now almost mild, if distant; It's like we're contemplating a choice of nail polish. "It's a war show. Of course the woman knew about it."
I think, it. "Not with a doctor," I tell him.
"No," he agrees, and at least they're using buddies, that might be the kitchen table, that might be before we argue, a feminine ruse of deception and flirtation. “Sometimes they blackmail. But it doesn't have to be a doctor. It could be someone we trust.”
"I was thinking about Nick," he says, his voice almost soft. "He's been with us for a long time. he is loyal I could work that out with him.”
So he does his little black market errands for her. Do you always get that back?
"And the commander?" Asked.
"Well," she says firmly; no, more than that, squinting, like a purse clasp.
This idea hovers between us, almost visible, almost tangible: heavy, shapeless, dark;
"It's a risk," I say. "More than that." It's my life at stake; but sooner or later it will be one way or another whether it's me or not. we both know
"You can do that too," she says. Which I think too.
"Okay," I say, "yes."
She leans forward. "Maybe I can get you something," she says. 'Cause I was good "Anything you want," he adds almost flatteringly.
"What is that?" I say. I can't think of anything I really want that she can or can give me.
"A photo," he says, as if offering me a youthful gift, an ice cream cone, a trip to the zoo. I look at her confused again.
"You," she says. "Your little girl. But just maybe."
He knows where they put it, where they keep it. She always knew. Something chokes in my throat. The bitch, don't tell me, bring me news, any news. note ventoleton.
anything. I can't give up this hope. I can not speak.
In fact, he even smiles flirtatious; there's a hint of the allure of her old little screen puppet flickering across her face like a momentary rush. "It's too hot for that, don't you think?" She says. Take the yarn with both hands where I have been holding it all along. "We don't want to ruin your health!"
Rita is sitting at the kitchen table. A glass container with ice cubes is floating on the table in front of you. Radishes transformed into flowers, roses or tulips sway in it. The rest of his body doesn't move, neither does his face. It's like he's doing that knife trick in his sleep. On the white enamel surface is a stack of radishes, washed but uncut. Small Aztec Hearts.
He hardly bothers to look up when I walk in. "You got everything, huh," he says as I take the packages for inspection.
"Can I have a party?" I ask him, it's amazing how much he makes me feel like a begging little boy just because of his scowl, his indifference; how important and tearful.
Matches? she says. "What do you want matches for?"
"He said I could have one," I say, not wanting to admit the cigarette.
"Who said that?" He continues with the radishes, with a broken rhythm.
"You can go and ask if you want," I tell him. "She's off the grass."
Rita rolls her eyes at the ceiling as if she is silently questioning a deity there. Then she sighs and struggles to her feet, demonstratively wiping her hands on her apron to show me the trouble I'm in. "I remember in April it's Cora lighting the fires in the living room and dining room when it's cooler.
The matches are made of wood, in a cardboard box with a sliding lid, of the sort
used to making doll drawers out of it. "There's no way you can tell her anything." He dips his big hand in, selects a match, puts his hand on me. "Now don't light anything," she says.
"I won't," I say. "It's not for that."
He doesn't dare ask me what it's for.
He moves away from me and sits back down at the table. Then he takes a sweet cube from the bowl and puts it in his mouth. I never saw her nibble while she worked. "You can have one too," she says. "Too bad you're wearing all those pillowcases on your head in this weather."
It surprises me: he doesn't usually offer me anything.
"Thank you," I say. I put the match in the closed case where the cigarette is, careful not to get it wet, and take an ice cube. "These radishes are beautiful," I tell her in exchange for the gift she volunteered for me.
"I like doing things right, that's all," she says, grumpy again. "Otherwise it makes no sense."
I hurry down the hall, up the stairs. In the curved mirror in the hallway when it's on, a red shape at the edge of my own vision, a ghost of red smoke.
After all this time I might get sick. It wouldn't surprise me, but even that thought is welcome.
I'm walking down the hall, where should I do that? Turn on the water in the bathroom to clean the air, splash out of the open window in the bedroom? Who gets meat? Who knows?
Even as I wallow in the future, anticipation rolling in my mouth, I'm thinking of something else.
I don't have to smoke this cigarette.
I could grind and rinse.
That's how he kept the game going. I could poke a small hole in the mattress, gently push it.
I could burn down the house. A thought so good it makes me shudder.
An escape, quick and tight.
I lay on my bed and pretended to take a nap.
The commander last night, fingers together, looked at me as he rubbed oily lotion on my hands. Strange, I thought about asking him for a cigarette but decided against it. I know enough not to ask too many questions at once. I don't want him to think I'm messing with him. I don't want to interrupt you either.
Last night he had whiskey and water.
Sometimes after a few drinks she gets silly and cheats on Scrabble.
Sometimes after games he sits on the floor next to my chair and holds my hand.
It's upstairs, says Ofglen. It's at the top, and I mean at the top.
It's hard to imagine at the moment.
From time to time I try to put myself in his shoes. I do it as a tactic to guess in advance how he might be tricked into behaving towards me. It's hard to believe I have any kind of power over him, but I do;
grant, the service you wish to render, the tenderness you wish to inspire.
He wants it, good. Especially after a few drinks.
Sometimes he becomes tearful, sometimes philosophical; or want to explain or justify things. Like ___________ last night.
The problem isn't just with women, he says. The main problem was the men. They were left with nothing.
Nothing? I mean, but they had...
They have nothing to do, he says.
You could make money, I mean pretty nasty. I'm not afraid of him at the moment. It's hard to be afraid of a man sitting there watching you apply hand cream.
That's not enough, he says. It's very abstract. I mean, they had nothing to do with women.
What do you think? I say. And as for every corner of Porny, it was everywhere, they even had it motorized.
I'm not talking about sex, he says. That was part of it, the sex was so easy. Anyone could buy it. There was nothing to work for, nothing to fight for. We have the statistics from back then. Do you know what they complained about the most? inability to feel. Men even gave up sex.
are you feeling now I say,
Yes, he says and looks at me. do they. He gets up, walks around the table to the chair I'm sitting on. He puts his hands on my shoulders from behind. I can not see it.
I want to know what you're thinking, his voice behind me says.
I don't think much, I say lightly. What he wants is privacy, but I can't give it to him.
It almost makes no sense for me to think, does it? I say. What I think doesn't matter.
That's the only reason he can tell me things.
Come on, he says and squeezes a little with his hands. I care about your opinion, you're smart enough, you should have an opinion.
What we did, he says. how things worked.
I stay very calm. I'm trying to clear my mind. I think of the night sky when there is no moon. I have no opinion, I say.
He sighs, relaxing his hands but resting his shoulders on mine. He knows what I'm thinking, it's okay.
You can't make an omelette without breaking the eggs, he says. We thought we could do better.
Better? I say quietly. How can you think this is better?
Better never means better for everyone, he says. For some, it always means worse.
Eu me deito, a umidade acima de mim como uma tampa. Como a terra. I wish it would rain. Better still, a thunderstorm, black clouds, lightning, deafening noises. The power could go out. Cor diria. Oh, senor, salve-nos.
After that, the air would be clearer and lighter.
I look at the ceiling, the round circle of plaster flowers. Draw a circle, enter it, it will protect you. how you were hanging by your hands from a branch as a child. She was safe, fully protected, when Cora opened the door.
i feel buried
Late afternoon, overcast sky, sunlight diffuse but heavy and like bronze dust everywhere. I slide down the sidewalk with Ofglena; Soothing for the eyes, for the eyes, for the eyes because that's what this show is for.
There are no dandelions here, the lawn is clean. I long for one, just one, trashy and outrageously random and hard to get rid of and forever yellow as the sun. Cheerful and bourgeois, equally radiant for everyone. Rings we made, and crowns and necklaces, stains of sour milk on our fingers. Or I would put one under my chin: do you like butter? (Or was it buttercups?) I lost the seed: I can see it walking across the grass, that grass right in front of me, two, three years old, waving like a little star, a staff of white fire, the the air with small parachutes. . But they were daisies for love, and so were we.
We line up to go through the checkpoint, two by two, like a private school of girls who have gone for a walk and been gone too long. Years and years too many, so everything has grown too much, legs, body, clothes, all together. As if he were delighted. A fairy tale, I would like to believe. Instead, we are examined in pairs and move on.
After a while we turn right past Lilies and down to the river.
lying in the sun where the bridges arch. If you went long down the river, through its tortuous bends, you would reach the sea;
But we're not going to the other side, we won't see the domes of the buildings below, white with accents of blue and gold, what a chaste delight. We returned to a more modern building with a large banner hanging over the door: WOMEN ON LOAM SPRAY TODAY. The banner obscures the building's old name, some dead president who was shot. On either side of the door are the inevitable Wardens, two pairs, four in all, with their arms at their sides and their eyes looking straight ahead.
Prayvaganza is held in the covered courtyard, where there is an oblong room, a skylight roof. It is not a city-wide prayervaganza that would take place on the soccer field; The upper galleries with their concrete railings are for the lowly women, the Marthas, the Econowies with their colorful stripes. Participation in Prayvaganza is not compulsory for them, especially if they are on call or have young children, but the galleries still seem to be packed. I think it's a form of entertainment, like a show or a circus.
Several wives are already seated in their best embroidered blue dresses.
There are no chairs here. Our area is surrounded by a silky twisted scarlet rope like they had in movie theaters to educate customers. This rope delimits us, marks us, prevents others from contaminating us, turns us into a pen or a prison; So we go, queuing, we know very well how to do it, kneeling on the concrete floor.
"Go back", Ofglenmurmursat: myside. "We can talk better."
And when we're on our knees, with our heads slightly bowed, I hear whispers from everyone around us, like the rustling of insects in tall, dry grass: a cloud of whispers. This is one of the places where we can exchange messages more freely and pass them from one place to another.
From where we kneel we have a good view of the entrance to the yard where people are constantly entering. someone I don't recognize. Janine should have been transferred back then, to a new house, to a new position. Is it too early for that, has something gone wrong with breast milk? That would be the only reason she would move unless there was an argument about the baby; what happens more than you think. Once she had it, she might have resisted giving it up.
"It wasn't good, you know," Ofglen says next to my head. "After all, it was a shredder."
She means Janine's baby, the baby that Janine passed on her way to another place. "My God," I say. Go through all this for free. Worse than nothing.
"It's the second," says Ofglen. "Not counting yours before. She miscarried at eight months, didn't you know that?"
We watch as Janine enters the secluded compound in her veil of untouchability, bad luck. She sees me, she needs to see me, but she sees through me.
"She thinks it's her fault," Ofglen whispers. "Two in a row. Being indecent. They used a doctor, they say, it wasn't all from the commander.
I can't say I know, or Ofglen will know how. As far as she knows, she is the only source for this kind of information; How had he found out about Janine? EITHER
Marten? Janine's shopping buddy? Behind closed doors the wives listen, drink tea and wine and weave their nets. Is this how Serena Joy will talk about me if I do what she wants? They are not picky, they do not have the same feelings as we do.
As they had no doubts about Janine. "It's terrible," I say.
One morning as we were getting dressed, I noticed that Janine was still wearing her white cotton nightgown.
I looked at the double doors of the gym Auntie had been in to see if she noticed, but Auntie wasn't there. Sometimes we were left alone in the classroom and even in the cafeteria for a few minutes. He was probably out for a cigarette or coffee.
Look, I said to Alma, who had the bed next to me.
Alma sah Janine an.
At that moment, Moira had also arrived. It was before she freed herself the second time. He was still limping from what had been done to his feet.
Come here, he said to Alma and me. The others also began to gather, there was a small crowd. Go back, Moira told them.
I looked at Janine. Their eyes were open, but they saw nothing. They were round, wide and he showed his teeth with a fixed smile. Through the smile, through her teeth, she whispered to herself.
Hello, he said, but not to me. My name is Janine. I'm your backup for this morning. May I bring you a coffee to start?
Jesus, said Moira, by my side.
Don't swear, said Alma.
Moira grabbed Janine by the shoulders and shook her. Snapoutofit, Janine, said gruffly. And don't use that word.
Janine smiled. Now have a nice day, she said.
Moira slapped her twice in the face, back and forth. Come back, she said. Come back here soon!
Janine's smile faltered. She put her hand on her cheek. why did you hit me
Don't know what to do? said Moira.
Janine's eyes began to focus. she said. I don't know any Moira.
They're not going to send you to the infirmary, so don't even think about it, said Moira. They won't waste time healing you. They don't even want to send you to the colonies. You went too far and they just take you to the chemistry lab and shoot you. Then they burn you as a non-woman with the garbage. Forget it.
I want to go home, said Janine. She started to cry.
Good God, said Moira. It's enough. He'll be here in a minute, I promise. So put your damn clothes on and shut up.
Janine continued to moan, but also got up and began to dress.
He does it again and I'm not there, Moira said to me, you just have to play like that.
So she must have already planned how she would become.
The patio seat is now occupied; let's wait Finally, the commander in charge of this service arrives. He wears his uniform, sober black with rows of insignia and decorations. It's hard not to be impressed, but I try: I try to picture him in bed with his wife and her maid, getting pregnant madly, like a salmon in heat pretending not to enjoy.
This commander climbs the steps to the dais, draped in a flared fabric embroidered with a large eye with white wings. He looks around the room and our soft voices fall silent.
"Today is Thanksgiving," he begins, "prize day."
I separate myself by talking about victory and sacrifice. Then there is a long prayer on unworthy vessels, then a hymn: "There is balm in Gilead."
"Thereisa Bombin Gilead" Moira always called it.
Now comes the main topic. The twenty angels enter, just returned from the front, freshly adorned, accompanied by their honor guard, and march one-two-one-two into the central open space. It is mothers, not fathers, who today bear daughters and help arrange marriages.
How many years have we been doing this?
Are they old enough to remember the days before, playing baseball, wearing jeans and sneakers, riding bikes? read books alone? Even if some of them are as young as fourteen (starting early is the policy, there's no time to waste), they'll still remember it. And those who follow them for three or four or five years; They will always have been silent.
We gave them more than we took, the Commander said. Think about the problems they had before. Don't you remember singles bars, the humiliation of blind dates in high school? Think human misery.
He gestured to his pile of old magazines. They always complained. Or if they had a job, the children in the day care center, or if they were left to a brutal ignoramus and had to pay for it themselves with their meager salaries. Money was the only measure of value, as mothers they had no respect for everyone. Tell me now. You are an intelligent person, I like to hear what you think.
love, I said.
Love? said the commander, what kind of love?
In love, I said.
The Commander looked at me with the eyes of an innocent child. Oh yes, he said. I read the magazines, that's what you were looking for, right? But look at the stats, dear. Was falling in love really worth it?
Love, said Aunt Lydia in disgust. Love isn't the point.
Those years were historically just an anomaly, the commander said.
Female vacancies are usually for group weddings like this one. They also have that look: weak eyes, blinded by too much light. The old are immediately sent to the colonies, but the fertile young are tempted to convert, and when they do, we all come here to see them perform the ceremony, abandon celibacy, and sacrifice themselves for the common good . They are still considered too dangerous for such positions of power. There is a certain witchcraft in them, something mysterious and exotic; He remains in solitary confinement despite the scrapes and marks on his feet and his time.
The mothers seated the white-veiled girls and returned to their chairs. The commander continues with the service:
“I want women to adorn themselves in modest dress,” he says, “with modesty and sobriety; not with ostentatious coiffure, not with gold, not with pearls, not with expensive arrangements;
“But (who are made women professing godliness) with good works.
"Let the woman learn in all submission in silence." Here he is looking at us. "Everything," repeat here.
“But I do not permit woman to teach nor to rule over man, but to be silent.
“Because Adam was formed first, then Eve.
“And Adam was not deceived, but the woman who was deceived was in transgression.
"She is saved, however, by bearing children if they remain in sobriety in faith, charity, and holiness."
Saved by birth I think.
"You should tell your wives that," Ofglen murmurs, "when they drink sherry." He means the part about sobriety. To reiterate, the commander has finished the main ritual and they make the rings and lift the veils. You are expected to love it. You will find out very soon. Just do your duty in silence.
Is something wrong, honey?
Just don't move.
Our goal, says Aunt Lydia, is fellowship among women.
Camaraderie, shit, says Moira through the gap in the toilet stall. That's right, Aunt Lydia, as they used to say. How much do you want to bet he brought Janine to her knees?
Moira what? she whispers. You know you thought that.
There's no point in talking like that, I say, feeling the urge to laugh despite everything.
You were always such a coward, Moira says, but loving.
And he's right, I know that now I was kneeling on that undeniably hard floor listening to the murmur of the ceremony. There's something powerful about whispering obscenities about those in power. There is something delicious, something mischievous, mysterious, forbidden, exciting about it. A stranger had scrawled on the painting in the toilet stall: Aunt Lydia stinks. It was like a rebellious flag waving from the top of a hill. Just the thought of Aunt Lydia doing such a thing was encouraging.
So now I imagine transcendental grunts and sweaty, hairy encounters between these angels and their weary white brides; or, better yet, ignominious failures, roosters like three-week-old carrots, agonized murmurs about meat as cold and indifferent as raw fish.
When we finally leave, Ofglen tells me in her clear, piercing whisper, "We know you see it alone."
"WHO?" I say, resisting the urge to look at her. i know who
"Your commander," she says. "We know it was you."
ask him how
"We just know," she says. "What do you want? Bizarre sex?"
It would be hard to explain to him what he wants because I don't have a name for it yet. How can I describe what really happens between us? For one, she would laugh. It's easier to say "out". At least that has the dignity of compulsion.
She thinks so. "You'd be surprised," she says, "how many of them do."
"It's not my fault," I tell him. "I can not go." She should know that.
We're on the sidewalk now and it's not safe to talk, we're close and the protective whispers of the crowd are gone. We walk in silence, falling behind until finally she thinks she can say, "Of course you can't.
Find out what? I say.
I feel his head turn slightly rather than see it. "All you can".
Now there is a space to fill, in the too hot air of my room, and also a time; a space-time, between here and now and there and then, punctuated by dinner. The arrival of the tray, carried upstairs as if for a sick person.
That's what happened when we tried to cross the border, with our new passports, saying we weren't who we were: that Lucas, for example, had never been divorced, so we were legal under the new law.
The man came in with our passports after we explained the picnic and he looked in the car and saw our daughter sleeping in his menagerie of mangy animals. Luke patted my arm and climbed out of the Carasi to stretch his legs, watching the man through the immigration building window. I stayed in the car. I lit a cigarette to calm myself and inhaled the smoke, taking deep breaths feigning relaxation. I noticed two soldiers in strange uniforms who now looked familiar; they were standing at the yellow and black striped elevator barrier. They didn't do much. One of them watched a flock of birds, seagulls, fly and circle and land on the railing of the bridge beyond. As I watched him, I watched her too. Everything was the color it normally is, only lighter.
Everything will be fine, I said, praying in my mind.
So Luke got back in the car too quickly, turned the key and put it in reverse. He answered the phone, he said. And then he started driving very fast, and after that came the dirt road and the forest, and we jumped out of the car and started running. A country house to hide out, a boat, I don't know what we were thinking.
time to plan
I don't want to tell this story.
I don't have to say it. I don't have to say anything, neither to myself nor to anyone else.
Do not bastardescarborundorum. Fatlotofgoodither.
That will never happen.
Love? said the commander.
That's better. That's something I know. we can talk about it
In love, I said. We fell in love one way or another. How could he make so much light out of it? He even scoffed. As if it were trivial to us assholes, he. On the contrary, it was difficult.
Fall in love, we said; i fell in love with him We were falling women. That's what we believed in, that descent: as beautiful as flying, but so terrible, so extreme, so improbable. Love, abstract and total. We have always waited for the incarnation. That Word made flesh.
And sometimes it did for a while.
There is much comfort now in remembering it.
Or sometimes, even when you were still in love, still in love, you wake up in the middle of the night, moonlight streaming through the window onto your sleeping face, casting shadows in your eye sockets.
darker and more cavernous than during the day, and you'd think: Who knows what they're doing, alone or with other men? Who knows what they're saying or where they're likely to go? Who can tell what they really are?
Most likely, in those moments you thought: what if he doesn't love me?
Or you remembered stories you read in the newspapers about women (often women, but sometimes men or children, that was the worst) in ditches or forests or refrigerators in abandoned rented premises, with their clothes .or undressed, being sexually abused or murdered. você fez isso e esperava que les o salvassem.
But all of that was only relevant at night and, at least in daylight, had nothing to do with the man you loved. With this man you wanted it to work, to make it work. If you trained enough, maybe the man would too. Perhaps they could work together as if the two were a puzzle that could be solved; otherwise one of you, probably the man, would go your own way, taking your addicted body with you and leaving it with an intense lust that could be met with practice.
If you don't like it, change it, we said, between us and between us. And so we would exchange the man for another.
It's strange to remember how we thought like everything was within our reach, like there were no contingencies, no limits; as if we were free to forever shape and reshape the ever-expanding scope of our four lives. If only he weren't so frozen. Standing, dead in time, in the air, between the trees back there, in the act of falling.
Before that, they sent you a small package of belongings: the ones he had with him when he died. That's what they would do in time of war
my mother said. How long should they have become and what did they say? Make your life a tribute to the person you love. And he was, the beloved. One.
When I say. Yes yes, just two letters, you stupid piece of shit, can't you even remember a word that short?
I wipe my face with my sleeve. I wouldn't have done it before for fear of stains, but nothing comes out now. Any expression that is there, invisible to me, is real.
you will have to forgive me I'm a refugee from the past and like other refugees I'm reexamining the customs and ways of life I left or had to leave behind and it all feels so strange from here and I'm so obsessed with it. I became the audience, I lost myself. Cry. Crying is what it is, not crying.
wait more. Lady Waiting: That was the name of the stores where maternity clothes were bought. Waiting woman sounds more like someone at a train station.
The blow is knocking on my door. Cora, with the tray.
But it's not Cora. "I brought it to you," says Serena Joy.
And then I look up and around and get up from my chair and walk over to her. She's holding a polaroid, square and shiny. although there are no maids. From the standpoint of future history of this kind, we will be invisible.
"You can only have this for a minute," Serena Joy says in a low and conspiratorial voice. "I have to return it before they realize it's missing."
It must have been a Marta who got him. There's a Martens hammock, well, there's something in there. It's good to know.
I take it from her, turning it over so I can see the right side. Is she, is that so? My darling.
Sototalland has changed, she's smiling a little now, so early, and with her white dress like it's a first communion from the old days.
Time has not stood still. It washed over me, washed over me like I was nothing more than a woman made of sand left at the water's edge by a carefree child. I was deleted by her. Now I'm just a shadow far beyond the shiny, shiny surface of this photo. A shadow of a shadow, as dead mothers become.
But she exists, in her white dress. She grows and lives. Isn't that a good thing? A blessing?
Still, I can't stand being erased like this. Better if he hadn't brought anything.
I sit at the small table and eat corn porridge with a fork. I have a spoon fork but never a knife. If there is meat, they cut it open for me ahead of time as if I had no manual skills or teeth. Although I have both. That's why I can't use a knife.
I knock on your door, I hear your voice, I adjust my face, come in. He is standing by the fireplace; in his hand he has an almost empty drink.
"Greetings," he says. "How is the little fairy tonight?"
Some I can recognize from the elaboration of the smile that composes and shows. He is on the court stage.
"I'm fine", hmm.
"For a little excitement?"
"Forgiveness?" I say. Behind this action of his I sense an uneasiness, an insecurity about how far and in which direction he can go with me.
"I have a little surprise for you tonight," he says.
"What is that?" I say. "Chinese ladies?" I can take these liberties; seems to be enjoying her, especially after a few drinks. He prefers the frivolous.
"Something better," he says, trying to be enticing.
"I can not wait."
"Great," he says. He goes to his desk, rummages in a drawer. Then he comes towards me, one hand behind his back.
"You know what," he says.
"Animal, vegetable or mineral?" I say.
"Oh, animal," he says with mock seriousness. "Definitely animal, I would say." finally, that's wrong with the strap.
I wonder where he found it. All those clothes should have been destroyed. I remember seeing it on TV, in news clips filmed in city after city. In New York it was called the Manhattan Cleanup. Bonfires burned in Times Square, crowds chanted around them, women raised their arms in gratitude as they felt the cameras on them, handsome young men with blank faces throwing things into the flames, arms covered in silk, nylon and faux leather, light green. . , crimson; black satin, gold lamé, shiny silver; Bikini bottoms, sheer bras with pink satin hearts sewn on to cover her nipples. And manufacturers and importers and sellers on their knees, publicly remorseful, paper caps conical like donkey hats on their heads, SHAME printed in red.
But some pieces must have survived the fire, it's not possible that everything was taken away.
"I had to guess the size," he says. "I hope it works."
"You expect me to wear that?" I say. I know my voice sounds prudish, disapproving. There is still something appealing about the idea. I've never worn anything quite like it, so bright and theatrical, and this should be it, an old stage costume or something from a long-lost nightclub; The closest thing I could get was bathing suits and a peach lace nightgown that Luke bought me once.
"Good," I say, not wanting to sound too eager. I want you to feel like I'm doing you a favor. Now we can get to it, your true deep desire. Will he bring out boots, will he lean across the table for me?
"It's a costume," he says. “You will have to paint your face too;
stuff for it. You will never make it without.
Where? I ask.
"I'm taking you out tonight."
"Outside?" It's an archaic phrase. There is certainly no other place where a man can date a woman.
"Get out of here," he says.
I know, without anyone telling me, that what he is proposing is risky, for him, but above all for me; but I still want to go. I want anything that breaks the monotony, undermines the supposedly respectable order of things.
"There," I say and he turns around. I feel stupid; I want to see myself in the mirror.
"Nice," he says. Now the face.
All she's got is lipstick, old and runny and smelling like fake grapes, and some eyeliner and mascara. I dab some lipstick on my cheeks and blend it in. As I do all this, he shows me a large silver hand mirror. I'm guessing it's from Serena Joy. He must have borrowed it from his room.
You can't do anything with my hair.
"Great," he says. He's pretty excited at the moment; It's like we're dressing up for a party.
He goes to the closet and pulls out a hooded robe. It is light blue, the color of wives. That must be Serenas too.
"Put the hood over your face," he says. "Try not to stain that
form. It's forgetting the checkpoints.
"But what about my passport?" I ask.
"Don't worry," he says. "I have one for you."
And so we left.
We slip through the dark streets together. The commander holds my right hand like we're teenagers in a movie. Through the tunnelmade by thehoodIcanseethebackofNick'shead.Hishatisonstraight,he'ssittingupstraight,hisneckisstraight,heisallverystraight.Hisposturedisapprovesofme,oramI imagining it?Doesheknowwhat I'vegotonunder thiscloak,didheprocureit?Andifso,doesthismakehimangryorlustfulorenviousoranythingatall?Wedohavesomethingincommon:bothofusaresupposedtobeinvisible,bothofusarefunctionaries.Iwonderifheknowsthis.Whenheopenedthedoorof thecarfor theCommander,and, As an extension, I tried to get his attention, to get him to look at me, but I pretended he didn't look like me. Why not? It's an easy task for him to run small errands, do small favors, and he doesn't want to take any chances at all.
Checkpoints are not a problem, everything is going as the commander said, despite heart palpitations, blood pressure in the head. Coward, Moira would say.
After the second checkpoint, Nick says, "Here, sir?" And the commander says "yes".
The car stops and the commander says: "Now I must ask you to sit on the floor of the car."
"We have to go through the gate," he says, as if that means something to me. I tried to ask him where we were going but he said he wanted to surprise me. "No wives allowed."
So if I stop and the car starts again, I don't see anything for the next few minutes. It's scorching hot below deck. He must have borrowed it from the store because he knew she wouldn't notice. He moved his feet carefully to make room for me. I've never been so close to your shoes. They look hard without blinking, like clams.
of bugs: black, polished, unfathomable. It seems that they have nothing to do with the feet.
We pass another control. I hear the voices, impersonal, respectful, and the window powers up and down to display the IDs.
Then the car starts and stops again and the commander helps me up.
"We have to be quick," he says. "It's a back entrance. You should leave the cloak to Nick. On time, as always,” she says to Nick. So he's done that before.
He helps me take off my cloak; the car door opens. I feel air on my almost bare skin and realize that I've been sweating. As I turn to close the car door behind me, I see Nick looking at me through the window. he sees me now
We are in an alley behind a building, red brick and very modern. There are a couple of trash cans by the door and there is a smell of rotten fried chicken. Inside is a cinder block corridor lit by fluorescent overhead lights; a kind of functional tunnel.
"Here," says the commander. It slips on an elastic band around my purple bracelet, like airport luggage tags. "If anyone asks you, just say you're a night renter," he says. He takes my bare arm and leads me forward.
Idiot, said Moira.
We walked down the hallway and down through another flat gray door and another hallway, softly lit and this time carpeted in a mushroom colored rose brown carpet. ' and also by a woman. I haven't heard that for a long time.
We walked out into a central courtyard. It is wide and tall too: it rises several stories to a skylight at the top. In the center of the building is a fountain that sprays water in the shape of a seedless dandelion. Potted plants and trees sprout here and there, vines hang from balconies. Oval glass elevators slide up and down the walls like giant clams.
i know where i am I've been here before: with Luke, this afternoon, a long time ago. So it was a hotel. Now it's full of women.
I can stare here, look around, there are no white wings to stop me from doing it.
The women sit, rest, walk, lean against each other. There are men among them, many men, but with their dark uniforms or suits that look so alike, they are just a kind of background. The women, on the other hand, are tropical and wear all sorts of colorful holiday outfits. Some of them have dresses like mine, feathers and glitter, cuts high on the thighs, low on the breasts. Some wear vintage lingerie, skimpy nightgowns, babydoll pajamas, and the occasional see-through nightgown. Some wear bathing suits, one-piece suits, or bikinis; one I see wearing a crocheted suit with large scallops covering her breasts.
TV show, close-fitting, with pastel colored knitted leggings. There are even some cheerleading outfits, pleated skirts, huge lettering on the chest. or on the contrary very clownish.
At first glance there is joy in this scene. It's like a costume party;
There are a lot of buttocks in this room. I'm not used to them anymore.
"It's like time travel," says the commander. His voice sounds satisfied, even pleased. "Do not you think?"
I'm trying to remember if the past was like that. I'm not sure now. I know those things were in there, but somehow the mix is different. A film about the past is not the same as the past.
"Yes, I'm saying it. What I'm feeling isn't an easy thing. I'm certainly not shocked by these women, I'm not surprised by them.
"Don't stare," says the commander. "You will give yourself away. Act natural.” Once again, it leads me forward. Another man saw him, greeted him and moved towards us. The commander's grip on my arm tightens. "Stable," he whispers. "Don't lose your courage."
All you have to do, I tell myself, is shut up and look stupid. That shouldn't be that difficult.
The commander speaks to me, to this man and to the others who follow him. He doesn't talk much about me, he doesn't have to.
He takes my arm and as he speaks his spine straightens imperceptibly, his chest expands, his voice takes on more and more of the liveliness and playfulness of youth.
They show me, they, and they understand, they're decent enough, they keep their hands to themselves, but they examine my breasts, my legs, like there's no reason not to. But it shows for me too. He shows me his mastery of the world. Perhaps you have reached the state of intoxication that is said to give power, the state where you believe you are indispensable and therefore can do anything, absolutely anything you want, anything. Twice when he thinks no one is looking, he winks at me.
It's a youthful performance, the whole plot and pathetic; but it's something i understand.
When he's done with that, he takes me back to a floral sofa like they used to have in living rooms; There is actually a floral design in this lobby that I remember, dark blue background, pink Art Nouveau flowers. "I thought your feet might get tired," he says, "in those shoes." You're right, and I thank you for that. He sits me down and sits next to me. He puts an arm around my shoulders.
"Good?" he says. "What do you think of our little club?"
I look around again.
"Is it a club?" say.
"Well, that's what we call ourselves. The Club."
"I thought something like that was strictly forbidden," I say.
"Well, officially," he says. "But they're all human, after all."
I wait for him to elaborate, but he doesn't, so I ask, "What does that mean?"
"That means you can't fool nature," he says. “Nature needs variety, for men. Of course it is part of the reproductive strategy. It's nature's plan." I say nothing, so carry on. "Women know that instinctively.
He says it like he believes it, but he says a lot of things that way. You may believe it, you may not, or you may do both at the same time. Impossible to say what you think.
"Now that we don't have different clothes," I say, "you just have different wives." It's ironic, but he doesn't see it.
“It solves a lot of problems,” he says without hesitation.
I'm not answering that. I get tired of him.
Which I would like to talk to women about, but I don't see an opportunity to do so.
"Who are these people?" Asked.
"For officers only," he says. "Of all branches;
"No," he said, "I mean women."
"Oh," he says. "Well, some of them are real professionals. Working girls" -she laughs- "from the old days. They couldn't record themselves anyway, most prefer it that way."
"What do you prefer?" I say.
"To the alternatives," he says. "Maybe you even prefer what you have." He says it shyly, he's fishing, he wants praise, and I know the serious part of the conversation is over.
"I don't know," I say, as if thinking about it. "It can be tedious."
"You definitely have to watch your weight," he says. "They are
strict with it. Gain a few pounds and they'll put you in solitary confinement."
"Well," he says, "to get into the vibe of the place, how about a drink?"
"I shouldn't," I tell him. "As you know."
"Once doesn't hurt," he says. "It wouldn't feel good if you didn't anyway. There is no alcohol or nicotine here! You see, they have some advantages here.”
"Okay," I say. I secretly like the idea, I haven't had a drink in years.
"What will it be then?" he says. "Here they have everything. Imported."
"Aginand Tonic," I say. But weak please. I don't want to embarrass you.
"You won't do that," he says, smiling. He gets up; then, surprisingly, he takes my hand and kisses it on the palm. Then he walks away and goes to the bar.
Then I see her. moira She is standing near the well with two other women. I have to double check to make sure it's her;
She's dressed absurdly, an old-fashioned black outfit: shiny satin that looks worse for clothes. It's strapless, underwired inside and lifts her breasts, but it doesn't fit Moira well, it's too big so one breast is full and the other isn't. He absentmindedly pulls at the top, pulls up. it popped like a piece of popcorn. I realize it's supposed to be a dick. He has two ears on his head, like a rabbit, it's not easy to tell; She always hated high heels.
The whole costume, old and strange, reminds me of something from the past, but I can't think what. A play, a musical comedy? Girls dressed for Easter, with rabbit costumes.
should be sexually attractive to men? How can this dirty costume appeal?
Moirais smokes a cigarette. She takes a punch, passes it to the woman on her left, dressed in red sequins, has a long, spiky tail, and silver horns; devil costume. She now has her arms crossed in front under her swollen breasts.
I want him to look at me, to see me, but his eyes travel over me like I'm another palm tree, another chair. Sure he needs to turn around I'm so scared he needs to look at me before any of the men come towards him before he disappears. was out of sight. Moira turns her head again, perhaps looking for perspective.
We look at each other, our faces remain blank, listless. Then he makes a little head movement, a slight movement to the right. She takes the cigarette from the woman in red, keeps her mouth closed, rests her hand in the air for a moment, all five fingers spread. Then she turns her back to me.
Our old sign. I have five minutes to get to the powder room, which should be somewhere to your right.
One minute, two. Moira walks off without looking back. She can only hope that he understands her and follows her.
The commander returns with two drinks. He smiles at me, places the drinks on the long black coffee table in front of the sofa, and sits down. "Are you having fun?" he says.
ismileathim. Is there a bathroom? I ask.
"Of course," he says. He takes a sip of his drink. It doesn't provide instructions.
"I have to go." I'm counting in my head right now, seconds not minutes.
"It is there." He agrees.
"What if someone stops me?"
"Just show them your label," he says. "It will be alright. They'll know they took you."
I get up and stumble across the room. I lean a little, near the fountain, I almost fell. It's the heels. Without the commander's arm to support me, I'm off balance. Some of the men look at me, I think more surprised than lustful.
When you find the entrance to the ladies' room. It still says Ladies in gold letters. There is a corridor leading to the door and a woman sits at a table next to it, monitoring the entrances and exits. She's an older woman, wears a purple kaftan and gold eyeshadow, but I can tell she's still a chick. The drover lies on the table with a strap around his wrist. It doesn't make sense here.
"Fifteen minutes," he tells me. He hands me a purple square of cardboard from a pile on the table. It's like a dressing room in the department store of the old days. To the woman behind me, I hear her say, "You were here."
"I have to go again," says the woman.
"Once an hour's break," says the aunt. "You know the rules."
The woman begins to protest, her voice weeping and desperate. I push the door.
I remember it. There is a lounge area, dimly lit in shades of pink, with several armchairs and a sofa, light green with a bamboo shoot print, with a wall clock in a gold filigree frame. Here they haven't removed the mirror, one is standing next to the other in front of the sofa.
Several women sit barefoot on the chairs and the sofa and smoke. They look at the food when I come in.
"Are you new?" says one of them.
"Yes," I say, looking around for Moira, who is nowhere in sight.
Women don't smile. You start smoking again like it's serious business. In the back room, a woman in a catsuit with an orange faux fur tail is touching up her makeup. It's like behind the scenes: grease paint, smoke, the stuff of illusion.
I falter, don't know what to do. I don't want to ask about Moira, I don't know if it's safe.
"Okay," she says to me and the other women. "I know you." The others are smiling now and Moira hugs me. My arms encircle her, the threads supporting her breasts go to my chest. We kissed on one cheek, then the other.
"Great," she says. she smiles at me You look like the whore of Babylon.
"Shouldn't I look like this?" I say. "You look like something the cat dragged."
"Yeah," she says, preferring, "that's not my style and this is about to fall apart. I wish they would dig up someone who still knows how to make them. Then I could get something halfway decent.
"Did you choose that?" I say. I wonder if maybe he chose it over the others because it was less extravagant. At least it's just black and white.
"Of course not," she says. "Government business. I think they thought it was me."
I still can't believe it's her. I'm picking up your gun again. Then I start to cry.
"Don't do it," she says. "Your eyes will water. Anyway, there is no time. He says so to the two women on the sofa in his usual imperious and rude tone and always gets away with it.
"My break is over anyway," says a woman wearing a baby blue Merry Widow dress and white tights. He gets up and squeezes my hand.
The other woman moves gently, and Moira and Istdown. First we take off our shoes.
"What the hell are you doing here?" says Moira then. "It's not that it isn't nice to see you. But it's not so good for you. what did you do wrong
I look up at the ceiling. "Is it punctured?" I say. I gently cleanse the eye area with my fingertips.
"Probably," says Moira. "Would you like a cigarette?"
"I'd like one," I tell him.
"Here," he says to the woman next to him. lend me one
The woman reluctantly delivers. Moira continues to be an experienced borrower. Smile about it.
"On the other hand, maybe it's not," says Moira. "I can't imagine they don't care what we have to say. You've heard most of it by now, and anyway nobody drives away here except in a black van. But you should know that when you are here.
I pull your head to the side and can whisper in your ear.
"WHO?" she whispers back. "The shit are you?
"He's my commander," I say.
she nods. “Some of them do it, they enjoy it. It's like messing up the altar or something: their bonds should be such chaste vessels. They like to see you all painted.
This interpretation did not occur to me. I turn to the commander, but it seems too easy, rude to me. Surely your motives are more delicate than that. But maybe it's just vanity that makes me think that.
"We don't have much time," I say. "Tell me everything."
Moira shrugged. "What's the point?" She says. But she knows there's a point, so she knows.
That's what he says, more or less whispers. I can't remember exactly because I couldn't write it down. I did everything I could for her - we didn't have much time so she just gave the sketches. He also told me that we got a second break together in two sessions.
"I left that old Aunt Elizabeth tied up behind the stove like a Christmas turkey. I wanted to kill her, I really did, but now I'm so glad I didn't, otherwise it would have been a lot worse for me.
had to leave the center. I just ironed with this brown outfit. I kept walking like I knew where I was going until I was out of sight. I didn't have big plans; It wasn't an organized thing as they thought, although I made up a lot of things when they tried to catch me. That's what you do when they use the electrodes and stuff.
"Keeping my shoulders back and my chin up, I walked forward while trying to think about what to do next. When they arrested the press, they took away a lot of women I knew, and I figured they'd probably rest now.” I was sure they had a list. It made us dizzy to think that we could go on like this, even in the basement, even as we cleared everything out of the office to try and build a better house than everyone else.
“I had a kind of idea of where I was in relation to the city, even though I was walking down a street I didn't remember seeing before. But if you knew from the sun where north is. After all, the Girl Scouts came in handy. I figured I'd better go down there and see if I could find the Yar or the Square or whatever out there. Then he would know for sure where he was.
"They put up more roadblocks while we were in the center, they were all lovers of the place, the first ones scared the shit out of me and came back, so I bragged about closing it the same thing I did at the door keep. frown and stiffen and purse your lips and look through them like you know the wounds. It worked like a charm and it worked at the other checkpoints as well.
"But my head was spinning like crazy. I didn't have much time before they found the old bat and sounded the alarm. Soon they would be looking for me: fake aunt, on foot. I tried to think of someone, ran over people I knew. Finally I tried to remember our address book what I could. We destroyed it from the start, of course, or we didn't destroy it, we divided it between us and each of us remembered the section and then destroyed the problem. We illustrated emails back then, but we didn't bring our logo more on the envelopes.
"So I tried to remember my section on the list. I won't reveal the name I chose because I don't want them to get in trouble if they haven't already. I might have spilled it all, it's hard to remember what to say when they do.
"I chose them because they were a couple and they were safer than any single person and especially any gay person. I also remembered the label next to his name. Q, he said, which stood for Quaker. Not that we've done that much lately. I also remembered his address. We misheard these addresses, it was important to remember exactly, the zip code and all.
“By that point, I had already reached MassAve. and I knew where it was. And he also knew where they were. Now I was worried about something else: if these people saw a tia coming up the sidewalk, wouldn't they lock the door and pretend they weren't home? But I had to try anyway, it was my only chance.
“What I didn't know, of course, was that in those early days the aunts and even the center were hardly common knowledge. Everything was secret at first, behind barbed wire. Perhaps even then there were objections to what they were doing. Although people had seen a strange aunt nearby, they didn't really know what they were for. They must have thought they were some kind of army nurse. They had already stopped asking questions unless they had to.
„Entonces esta gente me dejó entrar de inmediato. Era la mujer que llamó a la puerta. Le dije que estaba haciendo un cuestionario. Idid thatsoshewouldn’t looksurprised,incaseanyonewaswatching.ButassoonasIwasinsidethedoor,ItookofftheheadgearandtoldthemwhoIwas.Theycouldhavephonedthepoliceorwhatever,IknowIwastakingachance,butlikeIsaytherewasn’tanychoice.Anywaytheydidn’t.Theygavemesomeclothes,adressofhers,andburnedtheAunt’soutfitandthepassintheirfurnace;theyknewthathadtobedonerightaway.Theydidn’tlikehavingmethere,thatmuchwasclear,itmadethemverynervous.Theyhadtwolittlekids,bothunderseven.Icouldseetheirpoint.
"I went to the can, what a relief. Bathtub full of plastic fish and then. So I sat upstairs in the children's room and played with them and their plastic blocks while their parents stayed downstairs and thought about what to do with me. ".
“The other house was a Quaker too, and they were paid well for being a station on the Underground Female Way. After the first couple left they said they would try to get me out of the country. I won't say how as some of the stations may still be operational. Everyone only had contact with the other, always with the next. However, they were more organized than you might think. They've infiltrated some useful locations; One of them was the post office. They had a driver there with one of those handy little trucks. I crossed the bridge and entered the city proper in a mailbag. I can tell you now because he was caught right after. He landed on the wall. You hear about these things; You hear a lot here, you will be surprised.
“I make it so easy, but it wasn't. One of the hardest things was knowing that these other people wereriskingtheirlivesforyouwhentheydidn'thaveto.Buttheysaidtheyweredoing it for religious reasonsand I shouldn't take itpersonally.Thathelpedsome.Theyhadsilentprayerseveryevening.Ifoundthathardtogetusedtoatfirst,because it remindedmetoomuchof thatshitat theCentre.Itmademefeelsicktomystomach,totellyouthetruth.Ihadtomakeaneffort,tellmyselfthatthiswasawholeotherthing.Ihateditatfirst.ButIfigureitwaswhatkeptthemgoing . They more or less knew what would happen to them if they got caught. Not in detail, but they knew. At that time, they started doing a bit of TV acting, auditioning, etc.
“That was before the sectarian arrests started in earnest. As long as you said you were some kind of Christian and married, your first time, they left you alone. They focused on others first. They more or less had her under control.
before everyone else started.
"I hid, it must have been eight or nine months. They took me from one hiding place to another, there were more of those back then. They weren't big Quakers, some of them weren't even religious. They were only human. who didn't like the way things were.
“Ialmostmadeitout.TheygotmeupasfarasSalem,theninatruckfullofchickensintoMaine.Ialmostpukedfromthesmell;youeverthoughtwhatitwouldbeliketobeshatonbyatruckloadofchickens,allofthemcarsick?Theywereplanningtogetmeacrosstheborderthere;notbycarortruck,thatwasalreadytoodifficult,butbyboat,upthecoast.Ididn’tknowthatuntiltheactual night, they never told you the next step until right before it washappening.Theywerecarefulthatway.
"So I don't know what happened. Maybe someone freaked out or someone out there got suspicious. Or maybe it was the boat, maybe they thought the guy spent a lot of time on the boat at night. Back then it must have been "I was full of eyes up there and all around the border. Whatever it was, they just caught us as we were going out the back door to go down to the docks. Me and the Dude and his wife too, they were an elderly couple, he had been in the lobster business for about fifty years before anything happened to the inshore fishery.
"I thought this could be the end for me. Or back to the center and attentions of Aunt Lydia and her steel cable. She liked that, you know.
“However, we didn't go to the center, we went somewhere else. I won't go into what happened after that. I'd rather not talk about it. All I can say is they didn't leave any markings." .
"When it was over, they showed me a movie. Do you know what it was about? It was about life in the colonies. In the colonies they spend their time cleaning. You're very clear-headed these days. Sometimes it's just dead bodies after a fight. Those from the urban ghettos are the worst, they endure more, they rot. This group doesn't like lying corpses.
around, they're afraid of a plague or something. So the women in the colonies are cremated there. The other colonies are worse though, the toxic dumps and the spilled radiation. You think you've got tops for three years before your nose falls off and your skin peels off like rubber gloves. They don't bother giving him lots of food or protective gear or anything, it's cheaper not to. It's mostly people who want to get rid of them anyway.
You're old, I bet you're wondering why you haven't seen so many more, and maids who missed their three chances, and incorrigible like me. Descartes, all of us. They are of course sterile. If they aren't like that from the start, they are after they've been there for a while. If you are not sure, do a small operation so that there are no mistakes. They say it's also a barracks in the colonies.
“They all wear long dresses, like the ones in the centre, only grey. The women and the mentors, judging by the group photos. I think it's demoralizing men to have to wear a dress. Shit, that would pretty much demoralize me. how do you stand it Overall I like this set better.
"After that, they said I was too dangerous to have the privilege of returning to the Red Center. They said it was a corrupting influence. I had my choice, they said, this or the colonies. Shit, nobody but one would choose the colonies. Nobody here with viable ovaries, you can see what kind of problems that would cause.
"So here I am. They even give you face cream. You should find yourself in here. You'd have three or four good years before your kidnapping is over and you're sent to the graveyard. The food isn't bad and there's alcohol and drugs, so to speak, and we only work nights.
"Moira," I say. "You didn't mean it like that."
I don't want to be like me. Give in, move on, save your skin. That is
what is it reduced to? I want your courage, your bravery, your heroism, your one-handed combat. Something is missing.
"Don't worry about me," she says. She must know a little of what I'm thinking. "I'm still here, you can see it's me.
Now she's playing, showing some energy and I feel better. Do you allow that? I ask.
"Come on, heck, they're encouraging it. Do you know what they call this place below? from Jezebel. The aunts think we're all lost anyway, they gave us up so it doesn't matter what our vices are and the commanders don't give a shit what we do in our free time.
And the others? I ask.
"Let's put it this way," she says, "they don't particularly like men." She shrugs again. That can be resignation.
I want to tell you. I want to tell the story of how Moira escaped, this time forever. Or, if I couldn't say, I'd like to say that she blew up Jezebel's with fifty commanders in it.
CHAPTER THIRTY NINE
The commander has a room key. He picked it up at reception while I waited on the floral sofa.
We climbed the elevator's glass half-egg past the vine-covered balconies.
Open the bedroom door. The lamps; the pictures on the walls: fruits in a bowl, stylized apples, flowers in a vase, buttercups and devil's brushes let into the curtains.
I'll tell the commander a moment and go to the bathroom. My years are over, the gin has filled me with weariness. I wet a towel and put it on my forehead. After a while I look to see if there are small bars of soap in individual packages. There are. The guy with the gypsy from Spain.
I inhale the smell of soap, the smell of disinfectant, and stand in the white bathroom, listening to the distant sounds of running water, the toilet flushing. In a strange way, I feel comfortable, at home. There is something soothing about baths. Bodily functions remain at least democratic. Everybody shit, as Moira would say.
I sit on the edge of the tub and stare at the empty towels. They used to turn me on. They would have meant the result of love.
I saw your mother, said Moira.
Not personally, in this film we were shown the colonies.
Thank god, I said.
Why, thank God? said Moira.
I thought she was dead.
That could be her, said Moira. You should wish her that.
I can't remember the last time I saw her. It blends in with everyone else; it was a meritorious occasion. She must have come through here; Sometimes when I was between apartments, moving into an apartment, or relocating, I would use my washer and dryer.
He didn't know it would be the last time, otherwise he would have remembered better. I can't even remember what we said.
A week later, two weeks, three weeks when it suddenly got worse I tried to call her. But there was no response, and there was no response when I tried again.
She hadn't told me she was going anywhere, but maybe she wasn't;
I finally got in touch with the caretaker of the apartment. He said he hasn't seen her lately.
I was worried. I thought she might have had a heart attack or stroke, which wasn't out of the question, although as far as I knew she wasn't ill. She was always so healthy.
Luke and I drove across town and Luke urged the caretaker to unlock the apartment. She could be dead and lying on the ground, Luke said. The longer you hesitate, the worse it gets. Did you think about the smell? The superintendent said something about the need for a permit, but Luke could be persuasive. He made it clear that we would not wait or leave. I started to cry.
When the man opened the door, we found chaos. Overturned furniture, torn mattresses, dresser drawers upside down on the floor, their contents scattered and piled high. But my mother wasn't there.
I'll call the police, I said. stop mourning; I was cold from head to toe, my teeth were chattering.
No, Lucas said.
Why not? I said. I looked at him, he was angry now.
Just no, that's what he said.
Your mom was great, Moira said when we were in college.
Later: She has pizza. Later still: She is cute.
She's not pretty, I'd say. She is my mother.
Damn it, said Moira, you should look like me.
I think of my mother sweeping up deadly toxins; how they used old women in Russia to sweep the earth. Only this dirt will kill them. I can not believe that. Surely that's where your arrogance comes from, your optimism and your energy, your enthusiasm. She will come up with something.
But I know that's not true. It's just about passing the responsibility onto mothers, like children do.
I already felt sorry for her. But I'll do it again, again.
He takes me back to the hotel. I have to be here. Now, in that big mirror under the white light, I look at myself.
It's attractive, slow and level. I'm a mess, mascara has re-smudged despite Moira's repairs, purple lipstick has bled, hair hangs aimlessly. I'm a faker, bad makeup and someone else's clothes, used glitter.
I would like a toothbrush.
I could sit here and think about it, but time is ticking.
I have to be home before midnight; if not, do I turn into a pumpkin, or was it the carriage?
And the commander is exceptionally waiting; I can hear him walking in the main room. Now he stops in front of the bathroom door, clears his throat like a Tagyahem. I turn on the hot water faucet to signal that I'm ready or that something is coming.
When I come out, I notice he's lying on the king-size bed without shoes. I'm lying next to her, you don't have to tell me that.
Finally alone, I think. The thing is, I don't want to be alone with him, even in bed. I'd rather have Serena there too. I prefer to play Scrabble.
But my silence doesn't stop him. "Tomorrow, right?" he says softly.
"Why did you bring me here?" I say coldly.
He's stroking my body now, from rump to stern, as they say, along my left flank, down my left leg. He stops at the foot, fingers around the ankle, short as a bracelet, where the tattoo is, a Braille he can read, a cattle brand. It means property.
I remember that he is not a cruel man; which I even like under other circumstances.
His hand stops. "I thought you might enjoy it for a change." You know this is not enough. "I think it was kind of an experiment." Even that is not enough. "You said you wanted to know."
He sits down and starts unbuttoning. then unfortunately a bit belly underneath. Strands of hair.
He tugs at one of my lines, grabs the feathers with his other hand, but it's no use, I just lie there like a dead bird. It's not a monster I guess.
"Maybe I should turn off the light," says the commander, shocked and no doubt disappointed. I watch him for a moment before he does.
Pretend I'm screaming in my head You have to remember how. Let's get this over with or you're gonna stay here all night.
Theheatatnight isworse than theheat indaytime.Evenwith thefanon,nothingmoves,and thewallsstoreupwarmth,give itout likeausedoven.Surelyitwillrainsoon.WhydoIwantit?Itwillonlymeanmoredampness.There’slightningfarawaybutnothunder.LookingoutthewindowIcanseeit,aglimmer,likethephosphorescenceyougetinstirredseawater,behindthesky,whichisovercastandtoolowandadullgreyinfra-red.Thesearchlightsareoff,whichisnotusual.Apowerfailure.OrelseSerenaJoyhasarrangedit.
I sit in the dark; I hope nothing shows up, I hope I don't smell him or him.
She'll be here at midnight like she said. I can hear it, a light tapping, a light scraping on the deep hallway carpet, before his soft tapping comes. I don't say anything, but I follow her down the hall and up the stairs. suffers
We walked through the kitchen. It's empty, a night light on; The knives are stored on his wooden shelf.
"I'm not going out with you," he whispers. Strange to hear her whisper like she's one of us. There's another door, it's open. get on
Stairs and call, he's waiting for you. If Cora and Rita wake up, no one knows why, they will come out of their room behind the kitchen. What are you going to tell them? That she couldn't sleep. That she wanted some warm milk.
"The Commander is upstairs in his room," she says. He doesn't come that late, he never does. She thinks so.
I open the kitchen door, walk out, wait a moment for the vision. It's been so long since I've been out alone at night. Now it's thundering, the storm is coming. What happened to the guards?
The garage door is just a few steps away. I walk, feet in silence on the grass, and quickly open them, slip inside. The stairs are dark, darker than I can see. It must have been an apartment once, for a student, a single young man with a job. A lot of the big houses around here did. Single, studio, these were the terms for this type of apartment. .
I reach the top of the stairs, knock on the door there. It opens, who else did you expect? I look past him, not wanting to meet his eyes. It is a single room with a made up pull out bed and a kitchen counter to the rear and another door which should lead to the bathroom. This space is minimalist, military, minimalist. There are no pictures on the walls, there are no plants. he is camping The blanket on the bed is gray and says U.S.
He steps back and aside to let me pass. He is in his shirt sleeves and holding a lit cigarette. I can smell smoke on it, in the warm air of the room, everywhere.
No foreplay, he knows why I'm here.
Mouth is on me, his hands, I can't wait and he's moving, already baby, it's been so long, I'm living in my skin again, arms around him, falling and gently watering everywhere, endlessly.
I invented. It was not like that. That's what happened.
I reach the top of the stairs, knock on the door. He opens it himself. There is a lantern; Flicker.
"Here," he tells me, "take a train." No foreplay, he knows why I'm here. Getting pregnant, getting in trouble, climbing a pole were all names at once. I take his cigarette, take a long drag and hand it back to him. Our fingers hardly touch.
He doesn't say anything, he just looks at me without smiling. It would be better, kinder if he touched me. I feel stupid and ugly even though I know I'm not. Still, what is he thinking, why isn't he saying anything?
"I don't have much time," I tell him. It's weird and embarrassing, I don't mean it.
"I could squirt it in a bottle and you could pour it out," he says. He doesn't smile.
"There's no need to be brutal," I tell him. You can feel used. Maybe he wants something from me, some emotion, some recognition that he's human too, he's more than a pod. "I know it's hard for you," I try.
He shrugs. "I get paid," he says, punky rudeness. But he still doesn't move.
I get it, you screw it up, I rhyme in my head. That is how we will do it.
"You come here often?"
"And what is a nice girl like me doing in a place like this?" I reply. Webbotsmile: That's better.
"Abstinence makes the heart more loving." We quote current films from an earlier time. And the films back then were from an earlier time
What: This kind of speeches predates ours by an era. Note: Even my mother spoke that way, not when I met her. Probably no one spoke like that in real life, it was all made up from the very beginning. Still, it's amazing how easily this hackneyed fake gay sex joke comes to mind.
Now I'm sad, the way we speak is infinitely sad: faded music, faded paper flowers, worn satin, echo echo. Everything is gone, it doesn't work anymore. Without warning, I start crying.
Finally he steps forward, hugs me, rubs my back, holds me so tight to comfort me.
"Come on," he says. "We do not have much time." He begins to unbutton, then caress, kiss next to a year. "Noromance," he says. "Everything's ok?"
In the past it would have meant something else. It would have meant: non-binding. Now it says: without heroism. It means don't risk it for me if that happens.
And so it continues. It is so.
I knew it could only be once. Bye, I thought, just in time, bye.
But no thunder, I added that. To drown out the noise I'm ashamed of
It wasn't like that. I'm not sure how that happened; not quite. I can only hope for a reconstruction: Love always feels only approximate.
In the middle I thought about Serena Joy sitting in the kitchen. Think: cheap. They spread their legs for everyone. All you need is give them a cigarette.
And then I thought: This is a betrayal. Not the thing itself, but my own reaction. If he was sure he was dead, would it make a difference?
I want to be shameless. I want to be shameless. I want to be ignorant. Then I wouldn't have known how ignorant he was.
I wish this story was different. I wish it was more civilized. I wish I could show myself better, if not happier, at least more active, less hesitant, less distracted by trivia. I wish it had more shape. I want it to be about love, or a sudden revelation that matters in someone's life, or even sunsets, birds, storms, or snow.
Maybe in that sense it's about these things;
I am sorry that this story contains so much pain. I'm sorry it lies in fragments, like a corpse caught in the crossfire or forcibly separated. But there is nothing that can change.
I've tried to fit some of the good stuff in there too. Flowers for example, because what would we be without them?
However, it pains me to say it again. Once was enough: wasn't that enough to eat? But I keep this story sad and hungry and dirty, limp and mangled, because finally I want you to listen to it, as I will listen to yours, if I have the opportunity, if I find you or if you escape, in the future or in heaven or in prison or underground somewhere else. What they have in common is that they are nothing here. I believe in you, I believe that you are there, I believe that you exist. Because I am telling this story, I will tell its existence.
I will then. I will then. I'm going to a party.
I don't like everything because I didn't behave well there, but I'll try not to leave anything out anyway. After everything you've been through, you deserve all I have left, which isn't much but contains the truth.
So that's the story.
I went back to Nick. Over and over again, alone, unbeknownst to Serena. It wasn't necessary, there was no apology. I didn't do it for him, I did it for me.
To do this, I became reckless, I took a foolish risk. After he was with the Commander he would go up the stairs as usual but then he would go down the hall and down the Martha's stairs in the back and through the kitchen. Iwouldhurryacross the few feetof illuminatedlawn, thesearchlightswerebackonagain,expectingatanymoment to feelthebulletsripthroughmeeveninadvanceoftheirsound.Iwouldmakemywaybytouchupthedarkstaircaseandcometorestagainstthedoor,thethudofbloodinmyears.Fearisapowerfulstimulant.ThenIwouldknocksoftly,abeggar’sknock.EachtimeIwouldexpecthimtobegone;orworse,IwouldexpecthimtosayIcouldnotcomein.Hemightsayhewasn’tgoingtobreakanymorerules,puthisneckinthenoose,formysake.Orevenworse,tellmehe was no longer interested. I experienced his inability to do any of these things as the most incredible benevolence and happiness.
I said it was wrong.
Here it is.
He opens the door. He wears shirt sleeves, the shirt is open and hanging loose; he's holding a toothbrush or a cigarette or a glass with something in it. He's got his own little stash here, black market stuff I guess. .
"It is too late?" I say.
he denies with his head. It goes without saying between us that it's never too late, but I follow the polite ritual of asking. it makes me
You have more control, as if there were a choice, a decision to be made one way or another. He steps aside and I walk past him and close the door. There aren't many conversations between us anymore, not at this stage. I'm already half done with my clothes. We'll postpone the conversation until later.
I look the Commander in the eye, even if I'm just kissing him goodnight. I don't want to see it up close. But now, here, I always keep my eyes open. So I have to be content with the spotlight, its glow from below, filtered through your white curtains just like mine. after doing that with Luke, paying more attention to the details, the blemishes and scars, the unique wrinkles; I didn't and it goes away.
For this one I would use pink feathers and purple stars if I wanted; or anything else, even a bunny tail.
Being here with him is security; It's a cave we huddle in while the storm rages outside. This is of course an illusion. If I get caught, there'll be no pardon, but I don't care now. And how did I come to trust him so much, a fool himself?
I reject this restless whisper. I talk too much, I tell him things I shouldn't say. I speak of Moira, of Ofglen; but not about Luke. I want to tell him about the woman in my room who was there before me, but I don't. i'm jealous of her If you've been here before, in this bed, I don't want to hear about it.
I tell him my real name and I feel like I'm known for it. I'm acting like an idiot. You should know better.
He, on the other hand, says little: no more bullshit or jokes.
He seems indifferent to most of what I have to say, just paying attention to my body's possibilities, but watching me as I speak. He looks me in the face.
It's inconceivable that someone for whom I feel so grateful could betray me.
None of us say the word love, not once. It would tempt fate; it would be romance, bad luck.
Today there are other flowers, drier, more defined, the flowers of midsummer: daisies, black-eyed susanas that begin us on the long slope to autumn. I see them in the gardens as I walk up and down with Ofglen. The things he whispers seem unreal. What use are they to me now?
You could go to her room at night, she says. Look over your desk. Papers and notes must be available.
The door is closed, Imurmur.
We can get you a key, she says. Don't you want to know who he is, what he does?
But the Commander doesn't immediately interest me anymore. I have to make an effort not to show my indifference towards him.
Do everything the same as before, says Nick. change nothing If not, they will know. He kisses me and looks at me the whole time.
I put this hand on my stomach. It happened I say.
What I know is an illusion.
He will love you to death, he says. They also.
But it's yours, I say. It will really be yours. want to be
I can't, I tell Ofglen. I am very anxious.
I hardly bother to look regretful and lonely that I've become.
We can get you out, she says. We can get people out if we really have to.
when they are in danger. immediate danger.
The fact is that I no longer want to go out, flee, cross the border to freedom. I want to be here with Nick where I can find him.
Saying this, I am ashamed of myself. But there's more than that. Even now, I can recognize this admission as something of a boast.
So sincerity in a man hadn't been possible before.
Some days I was more rational. I didn't express it with love for myself. I said I sort of built a life here. This is how the wives of the settlers and the women who survived the wars must have thought if they still had a husband. Humans are so adaptable, my mother would say.
It doesn't fit me right now, says Cora, handing out my month's stack of sanitary napkins. Not for long, smiled at me in embarrassment, but also knowingly. She knows? Do you and Rita know what I do coming downstairs at night?
Ofglen gives up on me. She whispers less, talks more about the weather. I do not regret it
The bell rings; we can hear it from afar. It's morning and we didn't have breakfast today. When we got to the front door, we walked through it, two at a time.
This is a rescue district for women only. Savings deposits are always separate. It was announced yesterday. You say the day before. There isn't enough time to get used to it.
At the sound of the bell, we walked the student trails, past buildings that were party rooms and dormitories. It's very strange to be back here. You can't see anything from the outside, except that the blinds on most of the windows are closed. These buildings now belong to the eyes.
We lined up on the wide meadow in front of the former library. The white steps up remain the same, the main entrance is unchanged. I think of hats, pastel colored hats that some of the mothers are wearing and the black dresses that the students are wearing and so on.
There is a microphone at the front of the stage; the TV camera stands discreetly to one side.
I was in one of these just two years ago. Female rescues are rare. They are needed less. We behave very well these days.
I don't want to tell this story.
We take our places in the usual order: wives and daughters on the wooden folding chairs in the back, Econoves and Marthas on the shelves and on the library steps, and girls in the front where everyone can keep an eye on us.
Luckily the weather is good: not too hot, cloudy and clear. It would be miserable to kneel here in the rain.
I kneel on my red velvet pillow. I try to think of tonight, of making love, in the dark, in the light reflecting off the white walls.
There is a long length of rope that snakes its way like a snake in front of the first row of pillows, over the second row and back through the rows of chairs, winding like a very old and very slow river when viewed from the air. to the floor.
On the left of the stage are those who need to be rescued: two servants, a woman. Wives are rare, and despite everything, I look at these with interest. I want to know what she did.
They were placed here before the gates opened. Everyone sits on wooden folding chairs like graduate students who are about to receive their awards. .
Now the official procession approaches the stage, up the steps to the right: three women, one Tia in front, two Salvagers in their black hoods and cloaks a step behind her. Behind them are the other aunts.
It's Aunt Lydia. How many years have I not seen her?
I can see the deepening lines on either side of his nose, the etched frown.
I started shaking. Hatred fills my mouth like saliva.
The sun rises and the stage and its inhabitants are illuminated like a nativity scene. I see the wrinkles under Aunt Lydia's eyes, the pallor of the women sitting, the hair on the rope in front of me in the grass, the blades of grass.
Aunt Lydia gets up, smooths down her skirt with both hands and goes to the microphone. "Hello, ladies," he says, and the sound system immediately gives heartbreaking feedback. There is so much to laugh about between us. It's hard not to laugh, it's the tension and annoyed look on Aunt Lydia's face as she adjusts the tone. That should be worthy.
"Hello, ladies," he says again, his voice now tinny and flat. Because of the wives, they are ladies instead of girls. "I'm sure we are aware of the unfortunate circumstances that unite us all on this beautiful morning, although I'm sure we would rather be doing something else, at least I speak for myself, but duty is a difficult one Teacher.” , or I can say that on this occasion we are here in the name of the task, and it is the duty that we are here for today, and ”.
She goes on like this for a few minutes, but I don't hear her. I've heard this or similar speeches many times: same buzzwords, same slogans, same phrases: the torch of the future, the cradle of the race, the task ahead.
I think that was the prologue. Now she will understand.
Aunt Lydia fumbles in her bag and pulls out a crumpled piece of paper. Deploying and scanning takes an inordinate amount of time.
“In the old days,” says Aunt Lydia, “it was customary to precede it
real ransoms with a detailed account of the crimes for which the prisoners are convicted. We find, however, that such public reporting, particularly when televised, is invariably followed by an eruption, if I may call it that, an eruption of, should I say, exactly similar crimes. Therefore, in the best interests of everyone, we have decided to end this practice. Redemptions will be made without further delay.
A collective murmur rises from us. The crimes of others are a secret language between us. Through them we show ourselves what we could be capable of. This is not a popular ad. But you'd never know that with Aunt Lydia, who's smiling and winking like she's clapping her hands. Now we are left to our own devices, to our own speculations. Or rather the commander's wife. We think so. As for women, there is really only one thing they are being saved for.
The escape attempt.
"Ofcharles," announces Aunt Lydia. Nobody I know. The woman steps forward; She walks like she's really focused, one foot, the other foot, she's definitely high.
I hear a choking sound behind me.
That's why we didn't have breakfast.
"Probably Janine," Ofglen whispers.
hairy rope sticky with tar under the scorching sun, so I put my hand to my heart to show my unity with the Salvagers and my approval and complicity in this woman's death. I saw the kicking feet and the two in black grabbing her now and pulling her down with all their weight. I don't want to see anymore Instead I look at the grass. I describe the rope.
The three corpses are hung there, though the white sacks seem strangely stretched over their heads, like chickens hanging by their necks in a butcher's window; like birds with their wings cut off, like birds that don't fly, broken angels. You look like show business. It must have been Aunt Lydia who put the blue in the middle.
"Today's rescue is complete," announces Aunt Lydia into the microphone. "But..."
We talk to him, we listen to him, we watch him. She always knew how to schedule her breaks. A wave rushes over us, a gust. Maybe something else is happening.
"But you can stand up and form a circle." She smiles at us, generously, generously. He's about to give us something. Grant.
He speaks to us maids. Some of the women are leaving now, some of the daughters. Most of them stay, but they stay back, stepping out of the way, just watching. You don't belong to the circle.
Two guards have stepped forward and are coiling the thick rope to pull them away. It's a mistake to be too obvious in a group like this;
I don't want to win either front or back. I'm not sure what's to come, although I have a feeling it won't be something I want to see up close. But Ofglen took my arm and pulled me with him, and now we're in the second line, just a thin barrier of bodies in front of us. I don't want to see him, but I'm not going away either. I've heard rumors that I only partly believed. Despite what I already know, I tell myself: They wouldn't go that far.
"You know the rules for an engagement," says Aunt Lydia. You will wait until I whistle.
The noise comes from the center, an informal assent.
"Well then," says Aunt Lydia. she nods. Two guards, not the ones who took the rope, now come out from behind the stage. Between them they half carry, half drag a third man. the flesh is swollen and knotty, with stubble. This doesn't look like a face, but some unfamiliar vegetable, a messy tuber, something that has grown poorly. Even from where I'm standing I can smell it: it smells like shit and vomit.
I look at her in disgust. He seems drunk. It looks like a drunk fighting. Why did they bring a drunk here?
"This man," says Aunt Lydia, "was convicted of rape." His voice trembles with anger and a kind of triumph. "He was once a Warden. He dishonored his uniform. He abused his position of trust. Your partner's meanness has already been shot. The penalty for rape, as you know, is death. Deuteronomy 22:23-29. I should add that this crime involved two of you and was committed at gunpoint. It was brutal too. I won't offend your ears with any details other than saying that a woman was pregnant and the baby died.
Despite everything, I can feel my hands clench.
We move forward, our heads turn from side to side, our nostrils flare, we smell death, we look at each other and see hate. Shooting was too good. The man's head spins dazedly: Did you hear him?
Aunt Lydia waits a moment; then he gives her a small smile and puts his pipe to his lips. We heard it, shrill and silvery, echoing an old volleyball game.
The two guards let go of the third man's arms and stepped back. He staggers, is he drugged? - and falls to his knees.
Nobody advances. The women look at him in horror; He looks at us, the circle of red women. A corner of the mouth pulls up, unbelievable, a smile?
I try to look inside him, at his shattered face, to see what he must really be like. I think he's about thirty. It's not Luke.
But it could have been, I know. It could be Nick. I know no matter what I've done, I can't touch it.
he says something It comes out thick, like his throat hurts, his tongue huge in his mouth, but I listen to him anyway. He says, "I don't know..."
There's a forward thrust, like a Data Rock concert in the past, when the doors open, that urgency washes over us like a wave. , sideways, then violently kicked in the head, once, twice, three times, sharp and painful kicks with the foot, precise. Now there's noise, gasping, a faint sound like grunts, screams and the red bodies are tumbling and I can't see a thing, it's covered by arms, fists, feet.
I'm lagging behind, I'm trying to stop. Something hits me from behind. I sway As I regain my balance and look around, I see the wives and daughters leaning forward in their chairs, the aunts on the platform looking down with interest. They must have a better view from up there.
It became one.
Ofgle has his back to me. His face is tense, expressionless.
"I saw what you did," I tell him. Now I can feel it again: shock, indignation, nausea. Barbarism. "Why did you do that? You! I thought of you …"
"Don't look at me," she says. "They look."
"I don't care," I tell him. My voice rises, I can't help it.
"Pull yourself together," she says. He tries to push me away, my arm and shoulder, bringing his face closer to a year. I knocked him out. Put him out of his misery. Don't you know what they're doing to him?
One of us I think. A guard. It seems impossible.
Aunt Lydia blows her whistle again, but they don't stop right away. The two guardians approach and pull her out of what's left. Some fainted. They disperse, in pairs and in trios, alone. You look stunned.
"You will find your partners and redesign your lineage," says Aunt Lydia into the microphone. Few pay attention. A woman comes towards us, she walks as if she were feeling her way with her feet in the dark: Janine.
"Hello," she says. "How are you doing?" She's holding something tight in her right hand. It's a blond lock of hair. She laughs.
"Janine," I say. But it's let loose, right now, it's in free fall, it's withdrawn.
"Have a nice day," he says and walks past us to the door.
I take care of you. Easy I think. I don't even feel sorry for her, even though I should.
My hands smell of hot tar. I want to go home and to the bathroom and scrub and scrub, with the harsh soap and pumice stone, to get all traces of that smell off my skin. The smell makes me nauseous.
But I'm also hungry. That's outrageous, but it's still true. Death makes me hungry. Maybe it's because I was emptied; or maybe it's the body's way of seeing that I'm still alive, I keep repeating its principle: I am, I am. I'm still.
I want to go to bed now, make love.
I think of the word taste.
I could eat a horse.
Things are back to normal.
How can I call this normal? But compared to this morning, it's normal.
At noon there was a cheese roll, wholemeal bread, a glass of milk, celery, canned pears. Student lunch. I ate it all, not quickly, but savoring the taste, the aromas on my tongue. Now I go shopping as usual. I'm even excited.
I go out the back door, down the driveway. Nick washes the car, hat to the side. He doesn't look at me. Nowadays we avoid looking at each other.
I'll wait for Ofglen on the corner. I see her and at first I don't notice anything. So when she gets closer, I think something is wrong with her. she looks bad It is changed in an indefinable way;
Then when it's even closer, I see what it is. She is not Ofglen. She's the same height but slimmer, and her face is beige, not pink.
“Blessed be the fruit,” she says. Clear face, clear.
"May the Lord open," I reply. I try not to show surprise.
"You must be offended," she says.
And now I think. My head is spinning this is not good news what happened to her how can I find out without showing too much concern?
they should not form friendships and loyalties among themselves. I'm trying to remember how long Ofgle takes to the current post.
"They told us the weather was nice," I say.
"Which I receive with joy." The quiet, flat and not very revealing voice.
Without another word we passed the first checkpoint. She's a Citurna, but so am I. Are you waiting to start something, to reveal it to me, or are you a believer deep in inner meditation?
"Ofglen transferred so early?" I ask, but I know he doesn't. It's here this morning. she would have said.
"I'm Ofglen," says the woman. perfect word. And of course it's the new one, and Ofglen, wherever it is, isn't Ofglen anymore.
We go to Milk and Honey and All Flesh, where I buy chicken and the new Ofgle gets eight pounds of hamburgers. maybe a way to test his reaction. I need to know if she's one of us or not. If so, if I can find that out, maybe you can tell me what really happened to Ofglen.
"As you wish," she says. Is that indifference or caution?
The three women from this morning are hanging on the wall, still in their clothes, still in their shoes, still with their white bags on their heads. Blue is in the center, both renewed on each side, although the colors are no longer as bright; The shine is gone. We stand and watch them in silence.
"Let's keep that in mind," says the new Ofglen finally.
I don't say anything at first because I'm trying to understand what he means. She might think that this is a reminder of the regime's injustice and brutality. In this case I have to say yes.
because if we do that, we will be rightly punished. If he meant it, I have to say give him praise.
I risk it. "When I say.
She doesn't respond to that, though I feel a flash of white at the edge of my vision as if she's looking at me.
After a moment we turn away and begin the long walk back, pairing our steps in a tried and tested way so that we appear to be in unison.
I think maybe you should wait before trying something else. It's too early to rush to check. I should wait a week, two weeks, maybe longer, watching her closely, noting the tone of her voice, the careless words, the way Ofglen was listening to me. Now that Ofglen is gone I'm alert again, my slowness gone, my body no longer just for pleasure but for sensing danger.
"I didn't know Ofglen very well," I say. I mean the first.
"Oh?" She says. The fact that he said something, albeit cautiously, gives me courage.
"I've only known her since May," I tell her. I can feel my king paddling hot, my heart is racing. It's complicated. On the one hand, it's a lie. “Around the first of May I think it was. As they used to call MayDay.”
"They did?" she says, lightly, indifferently, menacingly. "It's not a term I remember. I'm surprised you do. You should make an effort…” He pauses. "To free you from such thoughts..." He pauses again. "echoes".
Now I'm cold, it runs like water over my skin. What you are doing is warning me.
She's not one of us. But she knows.
I walk the last block of the Interr
But I didn't do anything, I tell myself, not really. All I knew was All I did was not say.
You know where my son is. And if they bring her in, threaten her with something, in front of me? I couldn't take it, I know; Moira was right about me. I'll say what you want, I'll fool everyone. Wall. Head down, I always told myself, and go all the way.
This is how I talk to myself on the way home.
At the corner we turn towards each other as usual.
"Under their eyes," says the treacherous new Ofglen.
"Under his eye," I say, trying to sound fervent. As if such an act could help now that we've come this far.
Then she does something strange. She leans forward so that the stiff white blinders on our heads are almost touching, so I can get a good look at her light beige eyes and the delicate weave of lines on her cheeks, and she whispers very quickly, her voice thin as dry leaves.
So he walks down the street away from me.
I stand still for a moment, out of breath like I've been kicked. So she's dead and I'm safe after all.
Big relief. I am grateful to you He died so I could live. I'll regret it later.
Unless this woman is lying. there is always.
I take a deep breath, breathe out, give myself oxygen. The room in front of me gets darker, then lighter.
I turn around, open the door, grab my hand to steady myself, and step inside. Nick is there, washing the car, whistling a bit. It seems very far away.
Dear God, I think I'll do what you want. Now that you let me go I'll destroy myself if that's what you really want; I'll give up on Nick, I'll forget about the others, I'll stop complaining. I will accept my luck. I will sacrifice I will repent, I will abdicate. I will quit
I feel its true power for the first time.
I walk past the flower beds, past the pasture, to the back door. I'm going in, I'm sure. I'll fall to my knees in my room and gratefully breathe in the stale air that smells of furniture polish.
Serena Joy went out the front door; she is standing on the steps. she calls me what does she want But I go to her anyway as I have no other choice.
On the top step she towers over me. His eyes are shining, hot blue against the wrinkled white of his skin. I look away from his face at the floor;
"I trusted you," she says. "I tried to help you."
I'm still not looking for my father. I feel guilty, they discovered me, but for what? Apologizing for this or that would be a mistake.
It could be nothing. It could be the match hidden in my bed.
"Good?" She asks. "Nothing to say for yourself?"
i am looking for my father "About what?" I can stutter
"Look," she says. She brings her free hand from behind. It's the cloak that lasts, the winter. "It had lipstick on it," she says. "How can you be so vulgar? I told him…” She drops the cloak, holding something else, her hand bone. She throws that away too. "Behind my back," she says. "You could have left me something." Does she love him? She raises the stick. I think he's going to hit me, but he doesn't.
Thisop, assemble. Behind me, Nick stopped whistling.
I want to turn around, run to him, hug him. That would be stupid. I can't do anything to help. He too would drown.
I go to the back door, go to the kitchen, put my basket down, go upstairs.
I sit in my room by the window and wait. On my lap a handful of crumpled stars.
This could be the last time you have to wait. But I don't know what I'm waiting for. What are you waiting for? They used to say. That meant hurry up. No answer expected.
I still wasn't exactly expecting it. It's more of a suspension type. No suspension. Finally no time.
I have fallen from grace, which is the opposite of grace. I should feel worse about it.
But I feel serene, at peace, overwhelmed by indifference. Don't let the bastards overwhelm you. I repeat that to myself, but it conveys nothing. One can also say: don't let the air out;
I think you could say that.
There is nobody in the garden.
I wonder if it will rain.
The light is fading outside. It's already red. It will be dark soon. It's darker now. It did not last long.
There are several things you could do. For example, he could set the house on fire. I could pack up some of my clothes and sheets and light my hidden match. If not, that would be it. But if I did, there would at least be an event, some sort of signal, that would mark my departure. Some flames, easy to extinguish. In the meantime, I could blow out clouds of smoke and suffocate.
I could rip my sheet into strips and turn it into some kind of rope and tie it together.
a thorn in the leg of my bed and try to break the window. what is unbreakable
I could go to the commander, throw myself on the ground, with my hair tousled, as they say, grab him by the knees, confess, cry, beg. Nolite tebastardes carborundorum, I would say. No sentence. I imagine your shoes, black, well polished, impenetrable, following your own advice.
Instead, I could tie the sheet around my neck, lock myself in the closet, throw my weight forward, and suffocate.
I could hide behind the door, wait for her arrival, hobble down the hall, endure any punishment, penance, punishment, jump out of her, punch her, kick her hard and hard in the head. To put them out of their misery, and me too. To end our misery.
It would save time.
She could walk steadily down the stairs and out the front door and down the street trying to look like she knew where she was going and how far she could go.
I could go to Nick's room above the garage like we did before. He could ask me if he would let me in or not, if he would give me shelter. Now that need is real.
I take these things for granted. Each of them seems to me the same size as all the others. Neither seems preferable to me.
I look into the twilight and think it's winter. The falling snow, soft, effortless, covering everything with soft glass, the haze of moonlight before the rain that blurs the outlines, erases the color. Freezing is painless, they say after the first cold. You lie down in the snow like an angel made by children and fall asleep.
Behind me I feel his presence, my ancestor, my doppelganger spinning in the air in his costume of stars and feathers under the chandelier, a bird stopping in mid-flight, a woman transforming into an angel and waiting to be found. Your life is of no value to anyone. I want it to end
When I get up, I hear the black van. I hear it before I see it; mixed with the twilight, it emerges from its own sound as a solidification, an agglomeration of the night. Drive into the driveway, stop. The color must be phosphorescent. Two men stand out from the attack form, go up the front steps, ring the doorbell. I hear the doorbell, ding-dong, like the ghost of cosmetics, in the hallway.
Then comes the worst.
I wasted time I should have taken matters into my own hands while I had the chance. I should have stolen a knife from the kitchen and figured a way around those sewing scissors. There were the pruning shears, the knitting needles;
But it's too late to think about it now, feet on the dusty pink carpet of the stairs; a heavy, silent, throbbing step in the forehead. I stand with my back to the window.
I'm waiting for a stranger, but it's Nick who opens the door and turns on the light. I can't place that unless he's one of them. There was always this possibility. Nick the private investigator. Dirty work is done by dirty people.
You suck I think I open my mouth to say it but he comes next to me, whispering. "OK. It's Mayday.
- She? "You are totally crazy." My suspicion hangs in the air above him, a dark angel warning me. I can almost see it. Why shouldn't you know about Mayday? All eyes must know this; they will have squeezed it, crushed it, twisted it into enough bodies, enough mouths.
"Trust me," he says; what was never natalist in itself offers no guarantee.
But it's an offer, this offer. That's all I have left.
One in front, one in back, they escort me down the stairs. The pace is leisurely, the lights are on. Despite the fear of how unbearable it is. I can see the clock from here.
Nick is no longer with us. He could have gone downstairs because he didn't want to be seen.
Serena Joy stands in the hallway under the mirror and stares at her in disbelief. The commander stands behind her, the door to the room is open. Your hair is very grey. He looks worried and helpless, but he's already moving away from me, moving away. Whatever I am to him, I am a mess at this point too. no doubt she gives him hell. I still feel sorry for him.
"What did she do?" says Serena Joy. So it wasn't her who called. What he had in store for me was more private.
"We can't say that, ma'am," says the one in front of me. "Forgiveness."
"I need to see your approval," says the commander. "Do you have a search warrant?"
I could scream now, hold on to the railing, give up my dignity. It might stop her, at least for a moment.
"We don't have to, sir, but everything is fine," says the first again. "Breach of State Secrets".
The Commander raises his hand to his head. What did I say and to whom, and which of your enemies found out? Possibly a security risk now. I'm on top of him looking down;
"Bitch," she says. After all, he did it for you.
Cora and Rita come out of the kitchen. Cora started crying. I have hope, I let him down. Now she will have no children forever.
The van waits in the driveway, its gullwing doors open. The two, now one on each side, take my elbows to help me in.
And so I rise to the inner darkness; or the light.
HISTORICAL NOTES ABOUT
THE SERVER STATUS
This is a partial transcript of the Proceedings of the Twelfth Symposium on Gilead Studies, held as part of the International Historical Association Convention on June 25, 2195 at Denay University, Nunavit.
Chair: Professor Maryann Crescent Moon, Department of Caucasian Anthropology, Denay University, Nunavit.
Keynote speaker: Professor James Darcy Pieixoto, Director of the Archives of the 20th and 21st Centuries, University of Cambridge, England.
I am pleased to welcome you here this morning and to see that many of you attended what I am sure was a fascinating and valuable lecture by Professor Pieixoto.
But before we continue, some announcements. The fishing expedition will continue as planned tomorrow and for those of you who did not bring insect repellent and suitable hearing protection, these are available at the registration desk for a small fee. The nature walk and outdoor costume sing-song have been postponed to the day after tomorrow as we've promised your spotty teacher, Johnny Running Dog, a mood break for that time.
Let me remind you of the other Gilead Research Association-sponsored events available at this meeting as part of our twelfth symposium. Tomorrow afternoon, Professor Gopal Chatterjee from
The Department of Western Philosophy at the University of Baroda, India, will speak on "Elements of Krishna and Kali in the State Religion of the Early Gilead Period," and on Thursday morning Professor Sieglinda Van Buren of the Department of Military History will give a presentation at the university of San Antonio, Republic of Texas. on "The Warsaw Tactics: Politics of Encircling the City Core in the Civil Wars of Gilead".
I must also remind our keynote speaker that he must meet his deadline, although I am sure it is not necessary as we want to leave room for questions and I hope none of us will want to miss lunch like we did yesterday have done. (Laugh).
Professor Pieixoto needs no introduction as we all know him well, if not personally, at least through his extensive publications. These include "Sumptuary Laws Through the Ages: A Documentary Analysis" and the well-known study "Iran and Gilead: Two Late Twentieth-Century Monotheocracies, Seen Through Magazines". the manuscript under consideration today and was instrumental in its transcription, annotation and publication. The title of his lecture is "Authentication problems in reference to the Magd's Tale".
Thank you very much. I am sure we enjoyed our beautiful Arctic Charl over dinner last night and now we are enjoying an equally beautiful Arctic Chair.
But let me be serious. As the title of my little talk suggests, I wish to consider some of the problems associated with the soi-disant manuscript with which you are all familiar, entitled The Handmaid's Tale.
Chaucer; but those of you who know Professor Wade informally, like me, will understand when I say that I'm sure all puns are intentional, particularly those involving the archaic vulgar meaning of the word cola; this is something of a bone of contention in that phase of Gileadian society of which our saga is concerned. (Laughter, applause.)
This item - I hesitate to use the word document - was excavated from what was once the city of Bangor, in what would have been the state of Maine at the time before the beginning of the Gilead regime. For this reason, our association has a special interest in it.
The item, in its pristine condition, consisted of a free-standing metal cabinet, US Army issue, circa 1955. This fact in itself need not be significant as these free-standing cabinets were known to have often been sold as "army surplus". and must therefore have been widespread. Inside that case, locked to the type used to send packages, were about thirty cassette tapes, the type that became obsolete sometime in the 1980s or 1990s with the advent of the compact disc.
For example, you are probably familiar with the article “The A.B. Memoirs" is set in a garage in suburban Seattle and features "The Journal of P.", which was accidentally unearthed during the construction of a new meeting house near what was formerly Syracuse, New York.
Professor Wade and I were very excited about this new discovery. Fortunately, a few years earlier, with the help of four brilliant old-time technicians, we had recreated a machine that could play these tapes, and we immediately began the arduous task of transcribing them.
There were about thirty tapes in the collection with varying ratios of music to spoken word. Each tape usually begins with two or three songs, no doubt for camouflage: then the music stops and the spoken voice takes over. The voice is a woman's, and according to our voiceprint experts, it's always the same.
Years", three from "Folk Songs of Lithuania", three from "Boy George Takes It Off" and two from "Mantovani's MellowStrings", as well as some tracks that only contained one tape each: "Twisted Sisterat Carnegie Hall" is one of the I particularly like it.
The labels, while authentic, were not always affixed with the corresponding songs on the tape. Also, the ribbons were arranged in no particular order and lay loose on the back of the box; they weren't even numbered. So it fell to Professor Wade and I to arrange the speech blocks in the order in which they appeared to appear; but, as I have said elsewhere, all such agreements are based on some assumptions and should be considered approximate pending further investigation.
Oncewehadthetranscriptioninhand–andwehadtogooveritseveraltimes, owing to the difficulties posed by accent, obscure referents, andarchaisms–wehadtomakesomedecisionastothenatureofthematerialwehadthussolaboriouslyacquired.Severalpossibilitiesconfrontedus.First,thetapesmightbeaforgery.Asyouknow,therehavebeenseveralinstancesofsuchforgeries,forwhichpublishershavepaidlargesums,wishingtotradenodoubtonthesensationalismofsuchstories.Itappearsthatcertainperiodsofhistory quickly become, both for other societies and for those that followthem,thestuffofnotespeciallyedifyinglegendandtheoccasionforagooddeal of hypocritical self-congratulation. If you will allow me a separate editorial, let me say that I think we need to be careful when making moral judgments about Gileadians. We have certainly already learned that such judgments are inevitably culture-specific. In addition, Gilead society has been under severe demographic and other pressures and exposed to factors about which we are happiest. Our task is not to censor, but to understand. (Applause).
Coming back to my digression, however, tapes like this are very difficult to convincingly fake, and experts who have examined them have assured us that the physical objects themselves are genuine. Surely the recording itself, i.e. the superimposition of the voice on the music tape, could not have been made in the last hundred and fifty years.
Assuming the tape is real, then what about the nature of the story itself? Obviously it could not have been recorded during the time that matters, since the author, if she is telling the truth, would have had neither machines nor tapes available, nor a place to hide them.
for my mind to rule out synchronicity.
We believe that if we could establish an identity for the narrator, we would be well on our way to explaining how this document, let me call it that for brevity, came about. To do this, we tried two lines of research.
First we tried to identify the occupants of the house who must have lived at the site at that time, using plans of Bangor's old town and other surviving documents. Possibly, wereasoned, this house may have been a “safe house” on the UndergroundFemaleroadduringourperiod,andourauthormayhavebeenkepthiddenin,forinstance,theatticorcellarthereforsomeweeksormonths,duringwhichshewouldhavehadtheopportunitytomaketherecordings.Ofcourse,therewasnothing to ruleout thepossibility that the tapeshadbeenmoved to thesite inquestionafter theyhadbeenmade.Wehoped tobeable to traceandlocatethedescendantsofthehypotheticaloccupants,whomwehopedmightlead us to othermaterial: Diaries maybe, or even family anecdotes passed down through the generations.
Unfortunately, that trail led nowhere. Possibly, if these individuals were really a link in the secret chain, they would have been discovered and arrested, in which case all records relating to them would have been destroyed. Surviving records from this period are patchy due to the Gilead regime's habit of wiping its own computers and wiping out traces after various purges and internal disturbances, but some traces remain. In fact, some were smuggled into England for propaganda use by the various Save the Women societies, of which there were many in the British Isles at the time.
We had no hope of locating the narrator directly. Internal evidence showed that she was among the first wave of women recruited for reproductive purposes and assigned to those who needed such services and could claim them through their elite position. the children they once had, adopted by childless parents
high-ranking couples who were keen to have offspring. (In the meantime, this regulation has been extended to all marriages not entered into by the state church.) characteristic of a period of declining Caucasian birth rates, a phenomenon observed not only in Gilead but in most North Caucasian societies of the period.
The reasons for this decline are not entirely clear to us. No doubt some of the lack of procreation can be attributed to the wide availability of contraceptive methods of various kinds, including abortion, in the immediate pre-Gilead period. So some infertility was desired, which might explain the different statistics between Caucasians and non-Caucasians; But not the rest. Plantation accidents, walkouts and sabotage that marked this period, as well as stockpile spills of chemical and biological weapons and toxic waste dumps, of which there were many thousands, legal and illegal, in some cases these materials were simply dumped in the sewers and the uncontrolled use of chemical insecticides, herbicides and other sprays.
But whatever the causes, the effects were felt, and the Gilead regime was not the only one responding at the time. Romania, for example, pre-empted Gilead in the 1980s by banning all forms of birth control, making compulsory pregnancy testing for the female population, and linking promotions and wage increases to fertility.
The need for midwifery, so to speak, was recognized in the pre-Gilead era when it was not adequately met by "artificial insemination," "fertility clinics," and the use of hired "surrogate mothers" for that purpose. they have biblical precedents; Thus they replaced the pre-Gilead serial polygamy with the older form of simultaneous polygamy practiced both in the early Old Testament and in the ancient state of Uta in the 19th century.
As we know from studying history, no new system can be imposed on the first without incorporating many of the elements found in the second, as evidenced by the pagan elements in medieval Christianity and the development of the “KGB”. Russian from the previous tsarist secret service; and Gilead was no exception to this rule. Its racial policies, for example, were entrenched in the pre-Gilead era, and racial fears provided some of the emotional fuel that enabled the Gilead acquisition to be so successful.
Our author, then, was one among many and must be seen within the general lines of the historical moment of which she was a part. (laughter, some grunts) But the forest, as you say, was full of it, so it doesn't help. "Offred" is clueless as like "Ofglen" and "Ofwarren" it was a patronymic composed of the possessive preposition and the given name of the gentleman concerned.
The other names in the document are equally useless for identification and authentication purposes. "Luke" and "Nick" have been left blank, as have "Moira" and "Janine".
Eliminating the above possibilities left us with one remaining. If we could identify the elusive "Commander," we'd think at least some progress would have been made. We argue that such an accomplished person likely participated in the first top-secret think tank of the Sons of Jacob, where Gilead's philosophy and social structure were worked out. These were organized shortly after the superpower's truce was recognized and the Classified Spheres of Influence Accord signed, leaving the superpowers free to deal with it without interference
increasing number of rebellions within their own empires. but we have access to some information through the diary encrypted by Wilfred Limpkin, one of the sociobiologists present.
We know from Limpkin's material that there are two possible candidates, that is, two whose names contain the element "Fred": Frederick R. Waterford and B. Frederick Judd. No photographs survive of either, although Limp Kind describes the latter as having a fluffy shirt and, I quote, "someone for whom foreplay is what you do on the golf course."
WaterfordandJuddbothhavecharacteristicsthatrecommendthemtous.Waterfordpossessedabackgroundinmarketresearch,andwas,accordingtoLimpkin, responsible for the design of the female costumes and for thesuggestion that theHandmaidswear red,whichhe seems tohaveborrowedfromtheuniformsofGermanprisonersofwarinCanadian“P.O.W.”campsoftheSecondWorldWarera.Heseemstohavebeentheoriginatoroftheterm“Particicution,”whichhe liftedfromanexerciseprogrampopularsometimein the last thirdof the century; However, the collective rope ceremony was suggested by a 17th-century English village custom. "Save" may have been his, too, although by the time Gilead was founded it had spread from its Philippine origins to a catch-all term for the elimination of political enemies.
Judd, on the other hand, seemed less interested in packaging and more concerned with tactics. It was he who suggested the use of an obscure pamphlet "C.I.A." about the destabilization of foreign governments as a strategy manual for the Sons of Jacob and also compiled the first hit lists of prominent "Americans" of the time.
without which the Constitution could never have been suspended. The national homeland and the Jewish people ship plan were both, as was the idea of privatizing the Jewish repatriation program, with the result that more than a boatload of Jews were simply dumped in the Atlantic to maximize profits. From what we know about Judd, it wouldn't have bothered him too much. ”
ItisJuddwhoiscreditedwithdevisingtheform,asopposedtothename,of the Particicution ceremony, arguing that it was not only a particularlyhorrifyingandeffectivewayof riddingyourselfofsubversiveelements,butthat it would also act as a steam valve for the female elements in Gilead.Scapegoatshavebeennotoriouslyusefulthroughouthistory,anditmusthavebeenmostgratifyingfortheseHandmaids,sorigidlycontrolledatothertimes,tobeabletotearamanapartwiththeirbarehandseveryonceinawhile.Sopopularandeffectivedid thispracticebecome that itwas regularized in themiddle period, when it took place four times a year, on solstices andequinoxes.ThereareechoeshereofthefertilityritesofearlyEarth-goddesscults.Asweheard at thepaneldiscussionyesterdayafternoon,Gileadwas,althoughundoubtedlypatriarchalinform,occasionallymatriarchalincontent,likesomesectorsofthesocialfabricthatgaverisetoit.AsthearchitectsofGileadknew,toinstituteaneffectivetotalitariansystemorindeedanysystematallyoumustoffersomebenefitsandfreedoms,atleasttoaprivilegedfew,inreturnforthoseyouremove.
In this context, some comments about the female crack enforcement agency known as "Aunts" may be in order. From the start, according to the Limpkin material, Judd believed that the best and most profitable way to control women for reproductive and other purposes was through the women themselves. In the case of Gilead, there were many women who were willing to serve as aunts, either because of their sincere belief in what they called "traditional values" or because of the benefits they could derive from them. When electricity is scarce, a little bit of it is tempting. toxic clean-up squads, although hopefully he can be reassigned to less dangerous tasks like
Cotton picking and fruit picking.
The idea, then, was Judd's, but the implementation has the mark ofWaterforduponit.WhoelseamongtheSonsofJacobThink-TankerswouldhavecomeupwiththenotionthattheAuntsshouldtakenamesderivedfromcommercialproductsavailabletowomenintheimmediatepre-Gileadperiod,andthusfamiliarandreassuringtothem–thenamesofcosmeticlines,cakemixes,frozendesserts,andevenmedicinalremedies?Itwasabrilliantstroke,and confirms us in our opinion thatWaterfordwas, in his prime, aman ofconsiderableingenuity.So , à sua maneira, Ära Judd.
Both knights were childless and therefore suitable for a maiden succession. Professor Wade and I, in our joint article "The Notion of 'Seed' at the Beginning of Gilead," speculate that both, like many of the commanders, came into contact with a sterility-causing virus carried by pre-Gilead's mysteries. . genes with mumps and which was planned for inclusion in the Scow supply. The experiment was canceled after the Spheres of Influence Agreement because the virus was considered by many to be uncontrollable and therefore too dangerous, although some wanted to spread it across India).
However, neither Judd nor Waterford were ever married to a woman always known as "Pam" or "Serena Joy". The latter seems to have been a rather malicious invention of our author. Judd's wife's name was Bambi Mae and Waterford's was Thelma.
The evidence generally favors Waterford. We know, for example, that this term occurred in one of the first purges, probably shortly after the events described by our author; He was charged with liberal leanings, possession of a substantial and unauthorized collection of heretical pictorial and literary material, and harboring a subverter. This was before the government began keeping their trials secret and still televising them, so the events in England were recorded by satellite and are on video and in our archives.
As for the subversive Waterford, who was accused of harboring, she herself could have been "offended" as her escape would have put her in that category. Most likely, it was "Nick" who, based on the evidence of the tapes' mere existence, must have helped "Offred" escape. The way inwhichhewasabletodothismarkshimasamemberoftheshadowyMaydayunderground,whichwasnotidenticalwiththeUndergroundFemaleroadbuthadconnectionswithit.Thelatterwaspurelyarescueoperation,theformerquasi-military.AnumberofMaydayoperativesareknowntohaveinfiltratedtheGileadeanpowerstructureatthehighestlevels,andtheplacementofoneoftheirmembersaschauffeurtoWaterfordwouldcertainlyhavebeenacoup;adoublecoup,as“Nick”musthavebeenat thesametimeamemberoftheEyes,assuchchauffeursandpersonalservantsoftenwere.Waterfordwould,of course, havebeen awareof this, but as all high-levelCommanderswereautomaticallydirectors of theEyes, hewouldnot havepaid agreat deal ofattentiontoitandwouldnothaveletitinterferewithhisinfractionofwhatheconsideredtobeminorrules . Like the later purged commanders of Gilead, he viewed his position as unassailable. Middle Gilead's style was more cautious.
Assuming this is correct, that is, assuming that Waterford was in fact the "Commander", many loopholes remain. However, we must be thankful for all the crumbs designed by the goddess of history to ensure us.
As for the ultimate fate of our narrator, it remains unclear. Was she smuggled from Gilead across the border into what was then Canada to England? This would have made sense since Canada didn't want to upset its powerful neighbor at the time and such fugitives were arrested and extradited. If so, why didn't she take her recorded narration with her? Perhaps your trip was sudden; Maybe she's afraid of being caught. On the other hand, it could also have been recaptured. If he did make it to England, why didn't he go public with his story as many did when it reached the outside world? It is possible that he feared retaliation against "Luke", assuming he was still alive (which is unlikely), or even against his daughter; because the Gilead regime was not above such measures and used them to prevent negative publicity abroad.
More than one unsuspecting refuge has been known to receive a hand, ear, or foot vacuum-packed, hidden in, say, a coffee can.
Wecanonlydeduce,also,themotivationsfor“Nick’s”engineeringofherescape.We can assume that once her companionOfglen’s associationwithMaydayhadbeendiscovered,hehimselfwasinsomejeopardy,forashewellknew,asamemberoftheEyes,Offredherselfwascertaintobeinterrogated.ThepenaltiesforunauthorizedsexualactivitywithaHandmaidweresevere,norwould his status as anEye necessarily protect him.Gilead societywasByzantineintheextreme,andanytransgressionmightbeusedagainstonebyone’s undeclared enemies within the regime. He could of course have murdered her, which would have been wise, but the human heart still matters and as we know they both thought she might have been conceived by him. All cases were under his command. It is possible that he thereby brought about his own downfall. He'll never know either.
Did our narrator make it safely to the outside world and start a new life for herself? As all historians know, the past is a great darkness and full of echoes.
Is there a question?
- The Servant's Story
- I - night
- Chapter one
- II - shopping
- Chapter Two
- chapter three
- Chapter Four
- chapter five
- Sixth Chapter
- III - night
- chapter seven
- IV - waiting room
- chapter eight
- Chapter Nine
- chapter ten
- chapter eleven
- Twelfth Chapter
- Rings Rings
- Chapter Thirteen
- 6 - Address
- chapter fourteen
- chapter fifteen
- Chapter Sixteen
- Chapter Seventeen
- VII - night
- chapter eighteen
- VIII - day of birth
- Chapter Nineteen
- chapter twenty
- Chapter twenty one
- Chapter twenty-two
- Chapter twenty three
- IX - night
- Chapter twenty-four
- X - Soul rolls
- Chapter twenty-five
- Chapter twenty-six
- Chapter twenty-seven
- Chapter twenty eight
- Chapter twenty-nine
- XI - night
- chapter thirty
- 12 - Jezebel
- Chapter thirty-one
- Chapter thirty-two
- Chapter thirty three
- Chapter thirty-four
- Chapter thirty-five
- Chapter thirty-six
- Chapter thirty-seven
- Chapter thirty-eight
- Chapter thirty-nine
- XIII - night
- chapter forty
- XIV - Salvage
- Chapter forty one
- Chapter forty-two
- Chapter forty three
- Chapter forty four
- Chapter forty-five
- XV - night
- Chapter forty-six
- Historical Notes