Third Tourmaline: A Friend (final)
A Friend (final)
The corporal’s impulse to friendship had not been blunted by Anton’s discouragement. He called again, and when all the silver had been polished, and the furniture sat adorned with it, winking at envy, Herward made a suggestion.
“Some of the new officials . . . you know, the city is crowded now, and everyone is living in rooms . . . they will have the occasion, in their positions, ma’am, to entertain. There are only one or two shops that sell old things. And you’d get less than you paid for these.”
It was his third visit. He’d shared lunch with them the second time, also; Mrs. Leonhardt less begrudging, feeding him. Herward was bringing Anton out. Playing the gadfly, it might be, but getting answers to his questions. Anton had stopped calling her Mrs. Leonhardt. He now called her by no name at all.
“I ought to advertise?”
“Oh, I don’t think so. I wondered if the idea of bartering would offend you. I can introduce you to a woman.”
Herward’s speech was always so. He came at whatever he wanted; with two or three close passes hemmed it round, waiting for her to guess.
“Tell me,” she said, “what to pick.”
And so, on a later day of that week, Mrs. Leonhardt was donning her black cardigan. This, rather than the berry-colored with the bead buttons . . . not to use her best, to impress a stranger. She had always held back possessions, from the stub of a pencil, to her good lace tablecloth, against the day. And the day had come. She’d been right. This meant, of course, that her husband had been right, too.
It was superstition, like Manfred said, saving. And here she was, selling things she’d never got the use of, still keeping in store a hodge-podge of fancy goods, when there could be now—for the citizen-collaborator—no occasion for them.
They got in the door, the G.R.A. They asked for your help, after you’d let them help you. She would probably lend it all away, as Palma had forecast. “We can’t have things, Mrs. Leonhardt.”
She buttoned, and called out, “Anton, are you ready?”
Anton had likes and dislikes, impassioned . . . and, his mother thought, tied to a strange notion of his, that the properties of objects—faceted gemstones and colored glass, square and round shapes, wool and metal, repoussé grape leaves and peacock-tails, inscribed initials—communicated messages. That he would find there a directive to an act he wouldn’t confide to her.
He had some garments of his father’s that he wore sleeping, others he’d told her, “No! I don’t want to see this again!” And thrust hands back at her, with a terrible tension in the set of his jaw.
The weather that morning was fine, the trees in flower, as they had not been on the day she’d done her shopping, only Monday. Today was Wednesday. She had an address in her pocket. No. 17—BNE, by its G.R.A. designation—that Herward had told her was well within walking distance. He’d nodded at Anton. “Yes, it isn’t winter any longer.”
He was telling her . . . she’d learned to read him . . . that he agreed with her own idea, that Anton wanted sun and fresh air, exercise to stir his appetite. Anton had, as Mrs. Leonhardt discovered, repacked Herward’s box, unwilling to have the Ochiltree woman (Unit Head, Reconciliation Bureau—where database records were retyped onto paper, a vast make-work project), separate him from his favorites. To hide himself, he wore protective things, a thick cabled pullover and dark glasses, making his appearance conspicuous.
“I’m always lost, going places, since they made all the changes. Why can’t streets have names?” She was apologizing, not saying she was sorry, for having got them mixed up; the grievance expressed, one she herself felt a kind of passion over, that stirred her at odd times.
“They don’t want names on things. They don’t want statues in the parks that commemorate things. They don’t want the coast people on the coast and the capital people in the capital. Because, you know, we get attached and sentimental. Attachment and sentiment are divisive. They want us to think obedience costs nothing.”
“Am I allowed to say I don’t care what the G.R.A. wants?”
(copyright 2017 Stephanie Foster)