Cadisk: seventh Tourmaline (part two)
Or poetry, as Anton had. A last testament, as Frederick. If you were busy matching colored squares, you might ignore permission to write. As you liked.
The other person she saw was the Hidtha woman who came to take up sheets and towels, replace them. It was Palma’s own job to make her bed. Her meals came without ceremony, or human contact, as in a discreet hotel. But, as in a G.R.A. prison, meals came variably, lunch on that eccentric swing between noon, 11:59, 11:58, 12:01, 12:02—so closely timed, the off-timing looked purposeful. It might not be.
Breakfast near six; dinner near eighteen. Dinner a conflict with your movies or games. No doubt they measured, eager to learn at what point you became so absorbed in visual stimulation, you missed your cue and your late meal.
The door would click, you could open it and slide your tray inside. On the wall, beside the door, was a disposal bin, just wide enough to eject the tray, when you’d eaten your bars of vegetable, grain, and protein. The water fountain was just outside the toilet/shower cubical.
Could you run away, down the hall? Its appearance, when she put her head out, was dark and empty. But she would waste no time weighing such questions. The surveillance was there; the escape attempt would only give those passionless scrutinizers of human behavior one more gleaning to preen themselves with. How many days before the prisoner/patient tries it? What new routine can we impose; how and when will it pressure her into the next act?
She exercised when the instructor came on to lead stretches. Then the screen pixelated off to a woodland path, sometimes a boardwalk along the beach, the voice fading into slow, soothing repetitions. You walked in place to this vision, barefoot on a foam pillow. It was a nuisance. She could even believe their advising, though, that the intermittence of aerobics was healthier…not to always walk at ten in the morning, but afternoons, just before bedtime.
Just after bedtime, the screen blinking on, waking you in the dark.
It was her thought of the day, as she tossed the pillow back onto her cot—that they would draw fine distinctions of privilege from such absurdities, force her to play along with them. For three days, her routine had been fixed. She hadn’t been able to decide if she preferred this; if they were giving a gift to her, on the celebration of her one-year anniversary. Was pride allowable? Would they punish her at once, if she showed a face that struck them smug, the next time the game screen popped?
The door whooshed, and Moody came in.
(He might easily not be Moody. The name had been part of Frederick’s mockery, the coincidence odd but possible—and again, Palma saw no reason the G.R.A. could not be so cruel as to taunt her with the death of her partner, under the guise of innocent friendliness.)
(copyright 2018 Stephanie Foster)