Fourth Tourmaline: Sympathy for the Torturer

Sympathy for the Torturer

Sympathy for the Torturer


After his second arrest, they’d allowed Anton again to patronize the lunchroom within his sector: A, Orange. This was where he’d caused himself trouble. The second punishment, only a week’s confinement, had been gentler than the first; the probation, unprecedented.

He thought because of Herward.

The G.R.A. hadn’t put up gates to block traffic from one quarter to another; merely, your badge would call to the guard station, whether or not you’d checked in, or had tried (in theory, for first you had to know it) evading the rule. He had some idea of how these conversations went. Corporal Herward seemed lax, on the surface, in making stops, performing his duties as the two moved along the street.

“Ma’am, did you cross yesterday into C-Sector, Rouge, at the end of the two hundred block? Your badge registered a timestamp of 15.42.”

Anton didn’t like being party to instilling these panics…followed in almost every case by surmise. So they did these things. So that was how much you had to watch out. And then, of course, Herward’s quarry would eye up Anton, memorizing his pullover or the cut of his hair. Maybe, for being dressed in civilian clothes—and Herward’s oft-seen companion—he seemed a figure of unquantifiable menace…

When he was innocent. He was one of them, born here. He’d wanted to push past Herward and apologize to her. It occurred to Anton that his silence would have her thinking he’d come along as witness; that he’d spotted her using a back street and reported this to Herward.

“Do you think she looked…Hidtha? I couldn’t tell from the name.”

It was the sort of question one shouldn’t ask or think of; not, at least, to go by Palma’s strictures. But the Hidtha were vengeful. His Utdrife cellmate had wanted to take him over the mountains, and sought from their jailers permission to do this. Anton had wrapped up in his blanket, covering his head; he’d sat on the floor in a corner of their cell, day after day. He’d gone on a hunger strike. Finally, they’d let him finish his term by himself.


He waited at the end of the long table, and Herward brought a tray.

Right now the meal was beans and brown bread, but of that, no limit. This was why the lunchroom, Wednesdays, and not the ration ticket…one day of the week to feel discontent with the menu, rather than with deprivation itself. The food trucks’ offerings had proved eccentric, and you had no choice but to take what your points afforded.

Mother that morning had tried stewing raisins for breakfast; she had got boxes of raisins, a whole carton of them. Anton had chosen to go without. From that insistent friendship that pleased Mrs. Leonhardt and puzzled her houseguest (he’d accepted calling her Mother, but this was the way Anton considered relations between them), Herward practiced these little courtesies.

And because Anton sometimes lost his temper, saying things.

Certainly, if hands were laid on his person, he would fight. These delay-making, resentful job-holders, who’d already been given their places; these citizens so fortunate as to be marked trusted and labeled fit…

“Yes, you have been shown your life. All you will ever be.”

That was a worthwhile thing to be reminded of, and Anton wanted to remind them.

Herward thought it best he not talk to the woman guard; or the other woman who handed across trays. This guard, a day and a week ago, had pantomimed at Anton. He’d hated her at once for the show of contempt. He’d looked for Herward, and Herward had vanished, not having waited to be helpful.

“That’s right. Take those off…you get me? You can’t hide your face indoors.”

His dark glasses would be crushed in a trouser pocket, and then he would have to put his name on a list to replace them…leaving the house would become a worry once more, just when he’d found this way of doing it. These thoughts had taken Anton a minute or two. And then she’d touched him, racing around her desk and clamping fingers on his arm.

Herward said, only to keep him from struggling while she took custody of the glasses, and that she would have given them back.





More of this piece on Tourmaline Stories page


(copyright 2017 Stephanie Foster)


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