Stories in the series:
Promoted to Exile
Anton nearly smiled. The glass kept steaming up, over and over. Because in a downstairs chamber something, and he did not know what, boiled. Had it been sour cabbage, he would have felt envious, hungry as he’d always been. But he never smelled anything cook in this house. On an early winter day, he’d arrived; it had been frigid like this every day since. He’d been forced, given orders, to keep to his room. He had no idea what went on below.
This huddling figure he saw, dressed in black wool, ought to be Palma, coming in at the door, at the foot of the fire escape. She would give him something to do, and a reason for going out. An identity, as had been her promise…under the cover of which, he could go out. This stretching of his legs was at the moment all in all to Anton, and he strained to catch the sound of her heels, clattering up the last flight
These were not proper stairs, but salvage from a breakers’ yard; the steps were metal, open to the shaft of the stairwell, and induced in Anton a nervous fear. Minutes went past. He knew this from the ticking of this watch, without taking his eyes from the beading condensation. He supposed she’d been able to enter. Since he did not make arrangements with Palma—Palma made arrangements with him—it occurred to Anton that particular door might be kept locked. Next it occurred to him that Palma, having told him to record traffic on the causeway, note insignias and colors in his diary, might have guessed him to have more sense. He decided he would go out without specific permission, just to creep down as far as the last attic step. Listen there. Descend to the ground floor, if it seemed safe to do so.
Palma was standing in the cold brick lane, her coat in anticipation folded over her arm, her beret still cocked over her chopped hair, scarf hanging loose.
“That’s a warm-looking sweater,” he said.
She shoved at the power closet door, and Anton scuttled backwards. The buzz of electricity made him nervous as well. His bare wrist touched something that seemed to coil away, and he started. The closet affected Palma in no way at all—she had left him, not caring for his remark, not answering. There was only Anton, bathed there in a red glow from the rows of monitoring lights.
He found her in his room. She’d taken his rush-seated chair, and was reading his diary. But anything he’d written there was for her.
“No,” she said. “This won’t be good enough…not by any means. Will you think?”
“Tell me how I’ve gone wrong.”
“This sketch…what does it say underneath?”
He was confident, at first, that he could mollify her. He knew of no reason, other than the cold, other than that she’d had to walk here, why her mood must be so tetchy.
“Green,” he said, taking the book from her and reading off his notations. “Yellow.”
He’d been about to say, “black”; but Palma reached across and tugged the diary from his fingers. She did this as though having lost all patience. It dropped to the floor, between his shoes and hers.
She then tapped it from sight under the daybed, and drew a deep breath. “If you are going to bother making pictures, you must please make your figures large enough… ” She broke off. “I don’t think you’ve got it.”
Anton interrupted her in turn, feeling, for the first time with Palma, unconciliatory. She knew she’d left him here, with only the tinned meat and biscuits to feed on. He’d been getting his water in a cup, tipping in the window and breaking the ends from icicles, letting them melt…sucking them when they wouldn’t melt. It was not so much, he thought, to have said, “I have brought you your name.” Palma might have done this small kindness for him at once.
“I’ve done a poor job, I suppose. But let me tell you who they were. I can. Why you wouldn’t know it yourself, when I’ve given you the colors…”
“Tell me! I may never see you again.”
Continued from Tourmaline (part one)
He opened his mouth…and then thought, she doesn’t mean it like that. Her voice had sounded scornful. The scorn had been shaded, not overt. His director seemed moved most often by irritation, otherwise by the pity one might feel for an imbecile.
“I’ve done a poor job,” he said again. “Who will I be?”
The card had his photograph printed on it, a seal in red stamped over this, a signature, his own, mysteriously. Another signature—the name of an official (one of theirs), safe to be checked. Yes, he eyed it all carefully once more—the name on his identity card was given as A. Leonhardt.
“Why…” But what was the reasonable question?
“They’ve decided on this,” he said.
And in accord with habit, Palma answered by skipping to the next topic. “I have your instructions. I hope you’re paying attention. The word is a very easy one. Tourmaline.”
“You say easy.” And as it was useless with Palma, he would not go further. She might not find it so, if she were the one having to work it into conversation.
The other thing had been to have supper at one of the kitchens, to walk out into the town, to find a place at a common table. if any supper were being served that day. But, she’d said, to be finished by sunset…and to keep clear of the illegal cabarets.
They were touching, all of them, packed that tightly, twisting shoulders to avoid intimacy, effaced and invisible to one another. They were queued so far along the street, he doubted he could respect Palma’s curfew. He doubted he would be fed at all. Here were three who’d given it up, and had seated themselves in an entry alcove, bundling under a shared blanket. This business, like all he knew of along the waterfront, was shuttered, its windows filled by tidy sheets of something black, that might be cardboard, or might be steel.
By snipers hidden, the looters had been shot so relentlessly…a mile overhead, the invaders might have lain on their bellies, in their slow-moving balloons. They were painted in a pattern of clouds. There was not a scrap of glass on the street. There was no ash, no paper. No painted symbol of defiance, no unlocked door.
To bide the time he began a story. The character fashions false news. I have tourmaline to sell, sir. I have had tourmaline stolen from me, ma’am. I remember tourmaline from the old days, child. The character has learned to compensate at such times he must do without tourmaline, the thing wanted and not wanted. Today, the character would rather eat.
That anyone would speak or shout, that any of these colorless bodies clad in dark olive, their ears wrapped in scarves, would uncouple from the train and lose his place…meant of course, that they had all lost their places. Someone, meters ahead, out of sight but screaming, had missed…not next, but first. Under her nose, the kitchen door had been bolted for the night. They were a mob now. The snaking line compressed and throbbed. Something flew; Anton flung a hand to catch it, or deflect it. He was struck across the diaphragm He felt the heel of a shoe ram the back of his knee, and sank, but could not come to rest, the crowd so dense, that he was jostled from one collision to the next. The voices fell away.
Palma had given him (the character to be called A. Leonhardt, he amended to himself) her explanation for what the G.R.A. did. Were now doing. The sound was in fact loud, but sub-audible; the tiny hairs that transmitted sense to the nerves inside the ear, told the target he was being yelled at, rebuked by a stern father. The effect was a terrible unease.
“My advice, Anton, is the same as always. You are not you. You have a friend who writes under a name. I could accept your false politics if I were willing to publish lies in my own paper.”
He had tried for two years—that had been in the capital—to win her respect. But Palma had not said all of these things. Anton had no friends, had never claimed to. He had no politics, but she had accused him of it. This pedantic speaker, then, this old man, was signaling him, covering Palma’s well-remembered dismissal. The added bit…Anton wondered if he had forgotten it already.
Some other Anton grunted a reply. A woman danced in front of Anton, laying a hand on his sleeve. On the four fingers were rings, silver rings stacked, and set with green stones. I am being mocked, he told himself.
The sound cannon seemed to have left off. The rings glinted. A tin of metal glinted.
“You deserve it, don’t you?” she said. “They didn’t have any business, shoving you.”
He found himself nodding, silently dropping the tinned meat in a pocket of his coat, and taking too long to say the polite thing.
“Come on, Dad.” She started to turn off, down the way that led to the wharfside. She’d crooked an elbow, and taken the old man’s arm. They might be wrong, and he ought not trust them.
“No,” he said. “Wait.”
The other Anton, a thin young man with dark-circled eyes, sheared off, speaking no word; he had not bothered, even, to peer face to face with his doppelgänger. But Anton found there was a second girl. She came out from behind the old man’s raincoat.
“I have biscuits in my room. We might make a meal of it.” He patted the tin in his pocket. ” All of you.”
He added, “I don’t mind.”
Continued from Tourmaline (part two)
He minded intensely. Being cleaned out of store…just to learn if they would rob him properly, once he’d shut the door and was alone with them. Or they might not rob him, but he would starve for obligation anyway, and could not send the distress signal to Palma. Her scorn would be blistering. Why he would not fend for himself, if it were only food he needed…fend for himself! Like the others did.
The woman was telling him their names, chattering on the way up the hill (the man and his younger daughter had got ahead, and seemed to be leading Anton to his own house). She had some story as well—he couldn’t listen for agitation—one in which the old man figured. Her father had once taught the difficult grammar of the peninsula’s tribal language. A private tutor in a private home. The doctor had fled on one of the last boats leaving.
“So we’re out of employment, all of us.”
“I’m sorry… “
And she said it too. He was embarrassed at this inadvertent comedy. She was not. He had been going to ask her, again, what was her name.
She asked, “What is your name?”
“Anton,” he told her. And then felt he might be rude. He was sure he couldn’t be…but let it drop. In that way, he had not learned hers.
“Where the adjectival phrase takes the place of a noun; where we grammarians employ the hyphenated construction…which is, of course, a bit of shorthand for us; I mean for us alone…they, while officially, the nomads use our own alphabet…” Professor Swisshelm had lost himself. He removed his plug of tobacco and placed it, to be used again, on a glass saucer, the sealing cap of a canning jar. Where had he got tobacco? His daughter had served a surprising omelet, made from real egg. She had given her guest a cup of cocoa, thin and watery…and rather shame-making, as they’d all sat watching Anton drink it.
“In fact, generally they use no written means of communication at all, the Hidtha. Most are illiterate. Ah! I was going to say…it is all in the context. The curious aspect is that the noun, rather than the adjective, changes case depending upon the actor.”
“So, they are natural philosophers. A thing has only those properties it takes from its observer. Please, professor, will you write some of these phrases down, that you think I ought to know?”
The approach was blatant. Anton had been suffering through this lecture, weighing the possibilities. The obvious…that Swisshelm was nattering, because today he had an audience, and that, bound in duty—in all cases of tourmaline, Anton must listen with the closest attention. It was a luxury to have anything on paper, and Swisshelm might refuse.
“I will do you one better,” he said.
Some lightening in the lowering damp of the coastland suggested spring. Anton’s mood was not lifted. It made sense, he was telling himself, to study the book in-depth. Peculiarities in the Hidtha: the Autochthonous Speech of the Eastern Peninsula.
“Yes, keep that. I have three or four.”
These interactions with the Swisshelms had continued spoiled by a mordant undercurrent of humor.
The Hidtha, when one saw them, seemed all to have become militarized and modern. They wore green fatigues, black berets with the yellow insignia. But Anton had nothing to do in the evenings. He might learn one or two phrases.
They were frightening people. And nominally, the Hidtha were allies.
She caught him up, trotting to the top of the hill, with a face so familial that he knew, however humiliating, the foolishness must end. No, this was not humiliation. It was another thing, and deeper. Palma had never liked him. In a moment, he would insult this woman, asking her to tell him who she was…and that welcoming he saw in her eyes would fade.
“I have never managed to get your name.” He tried a bit of a smile.
She laughed. And then said, “That book of Dad’s. Since the G.R.A. have come here, you know, they’ve never lost a battle. It’s true. I say it on the street.” She made a performer’s gesture, sweeping an open hand in a half-circle. The humor, he thought.
“The glossary might be helpful to you. Just to get started. A lot of the book is taken up with interviews Dad conducted. With some of the old herdsmen who are dead now.”
This spotty chit-chat had got him to the door of his building.
He tried to get at it early in the morning, this task of tedious reading, after she’d gone home. Anton found himself distracted by a number of worries, by a ringing in the ears, by the fresh-air smell that pulsed with the wind through the closed window. He opened this. The day was not warm. He lay on the bed, let a hand drop to the floor. Some object moved as his finger struck it, and he heard the dismaying sound of a tiny thing tinkling off to a dark corner. The corners of this house had been gnawed by rats, their holes an oblivion between walls. He’d managed, groping after his camera’s focusing knob—that he’d tightened the wrong direction…it had arced away suddenly—to lose a needed thing, an irreplaceable thing. He could guess what she’d left him. And why she had.
On his stomach he hovered a reaching hand just above the fringe where the rug ended. At the second pass he got it…and got with it a tangle of hempen string, and a clot of greasy dust.
He would walk out to look at the sea. Unless he found there was a patrol today, blocking the causeway. From time to time, for reasons of their own, they did. The ring fit his third finger; and so for safety, he wore it.
Three or four vocabulary words, used in a sentence, enough to go on with. Dd was the sound of a rolled r. Feidda. Ei: ay. Feidda. I am going on a journey.
ehca bei feidda djoui-acht
At present, should he encounter one of the Hidtha, he would make a ponderous speaker—and they would be patient men if they bothered listening. But one saw them at dawn, moving under cover of the seaside’s climbing fogs.
This morning’s had yet to burn off.
Anton found it difficult to dress for the weather. Having so little heat in the house, he wore his coat and cap most of the time; and feeling chilled to begin with, could detect, coming outdoors, not much difference…other than an increase in damp. But when he had walked to the shore, then along it, the sun began to penetrate, and he thought he would carry his coat.
Continued from Tourmaline (conclusion)
Nearing an outcrop of rock that formed a cove with a brutal undertow, Anton saw the usual small craft, those that rowed out to the anchored boats. His ear was attuned, for the first time, to snatches of the peninsular speech, the patois of the fishmongers. He was able to make out “today” and “goodbye”, no more.
Someone came to walk at his side, and kept pace with him, a man with a metal box for carrying ice.
Anton spoke first, these motions too deliberate for him to suppose this acquired companion did not bring a message.
“You were saying something just now.”
“Oh, well, I was talking to myself.” He laughed, in a way he would not have found convincing. He had just recognized this messenger as the other Anton. And realized, that in taking off his coat, he’d taken his hand out of his pocket, flashing tourmaline.
“Say that again.”
Anton cleared his throat. “Ehca bei feidda djoui-acht.”
Sarcasm. Goodbye, the other Anton had said, and ground the shape of a turning foot in the soft pebbles of the beach.
“Do you have two sisters, Anton?”
If he had named the family, called out Swisshelm within earshot of the three-wheeled motorbike and the officer on patrol who had ridden it to the causeway’s end, he would not much more greatly have breached the rules.
The officer’s face was an expressionless mouth between dark lenses and chin strap.
This Anton, a better agent than A. Leonhardt, for he’d made note, without staring, of tourmaline—also was resolute in keeping his face forward, and his gait steady. Only he had twitched a shoulder slightly at the words. But the officer might notice even that.
These days the invaders used the university’s auditorium and its larger lecture halls to show films; this present round to explain the new rationing scheme. Gaining his ticket had demanded a long walk of many blocks.
Anton came to a table, one of six placed in a hexagon skirting the naked base of a statue. He’d never seen it, and didn’t know what it had once commemorated. He shuffled at last to a place across from a Helper, and was sent to a different table. Here, he was classed in some way he thought designated him a outsider.
“Nedforum,” the woman had written in her binder. The name was beginning to stick. It was a way of pronouncing NED4M, that designation for the capital; its location and rough population. Northeast Department; four million.
The invaders’ plan called for each population center to be also a center of industry; to move the people into quadrants and to balance their numbers. This second Helper handed him a clip-on badge, and told him he might wear it at the waist, or at the collar.
And because they were finally being given enough to eat, the people were now gentle as lambs; they walked miles and waited hours…they even laughed and sang in the queues.
The Swisshelms were at home.
He knew it. He’d followed them from the kitchen to their door. He’d atoned for the emotional impulse, for having called out to Anton. He had kept clear of their house for a month. He saw the family, bunched together, ahead by a few dozen ration-seekers, coatless, the daughters bright in their spring dress.
He hadn’t spoken. That was taking care…and they ought to appreciate it. He hadn’t come close enough to their heels to look as though he were walking with them. He would not have expected her to leave the door standing open. That might not have been wise.
But he found she’d locked it. She had smiled at him once, bending to turn the knob, lifting her eyes and brushing away a strand of hair. She had locked him out.
Emotion caught Anton again. This treatment was the reason he had spoken out of turn. The only reason. Yes, the aloof smile. The phrase embodied how they’d cultivated and rejected him. He banged at the Swisshelms’ door.
They had wasted his time…he’d forgotten tourmaline, thinking he’d found it. He ought to have been out making contacts.
But he was not making a troublesome scene. He had only shouted something crude; and then, feeling so much a fool…being one in such an exposed way, had gone on with it, pounding the door with his fist, ready to kick in its glass, calling her bitch, bitch, bitch.
I am not going to tell you that you ought to have made certain of it. That won’t do you any good.
She wrote in resolute black, and drew arrows; her comments in the margin, full sentences and apropos.
POORLY DO YOU KNOW HIM,
BURIED IN A MASS GRAVE;
SOME RECORD-KEEPER MUST AT LEAST
PUT A FALSE NAME ON A PLAQUE
The lines were all in green, and the censor had allowed it.
Anton Leonhardt could set down volumes of complaint, mad complaint. He could post a faithful stream in verse; address her on the envelope by the name he knew.
Palma understood that he was blaming her, but found self-reproach immaterial, beside the point. She wanted to force the truth from him, make him see with clear eyes. If his need was to believe in a strong leader, she would heal Anton.
Mission. He had not come to understand it.
It was his lamentation and his pride he spilled to her, in colored ink he imagined to be code. Theirs, between them. No—she wrote it—you ought to have taken your pride from obeying orders and having faith in me. I can only hem you round with mechanisms. The mechanisms are in themselves sound.
And when they had decided he was harmless to them, unstable, and could not be given work, he might be released. Mrs. Leonhardt would take Anton to her bosom. She wanted only the return of a son…he need not be the one she’d lost.
Frederick came in, making with his grenade belt and the rifle slung over his back, the usual jangling noise. The G.R.A. had never taken anyone’s guns, finding it handier, more demoralizing during this truce, to make the resisters police their own neighborhoods. They could be starved for supplies, encircled, blamed and agitated against, while the line between prosperity and poverty grew more distinct. They would fail one day, and the G.R.A. would rescue them.
Continued from Palma (part one)
Palma, like the others, kept her door stoppered open. She had pretty clothes and never wore them. She had keepsakes of her mother’s and would let the rent-man smash all to the street below. No one would pay the new rates, to hold their rights to their own expropriated property.
At somewhere near the three-months’ mark, on schedule, after the food shortage had been ended, the invaders had doubled rents. You see, she wanted to write to Anton, will you see, how this cheeseparing efficiency informs their process. They would like not to work too hard, so break us in cycles. You say heart to me, and I say, there is no such thing.
However, the capital had a heart.
And when the G.R.A. wanted to clear this district of squatters, having made these of its inheritors; when they wanted to knock down the houses for their new apartment blocks, they would begin by making everyone ill.
“Do you have much to complain of today?” she asked Frederick.
“Nothing,” he said. “How is it with you, Palma?”
Through the door came Mary Wainwright. She was with the Hidtha Ftheorde.
“Ah, now you’re here, will you help move the sofa?”
Palma, for her own sake, found it best setting Mary to work at once. Mary’s companion, in silence, hoisted his end; Frederick crouched and raised the other. Mary fluttered alongside.
“Oh, but,” she said. “You’re not going to put that across the door?”
Then: “I guess, why not, if you think so.”
Palma went to the window, a figure in black. She made her back straight, and stared. They could measure that stare; they would learn she looked only at the line of snow-capped mountains separating the peninsula from the mainland. She yielded her place to Frederick. He chose rather, hearing a horn sound from the pavement, to follow this car, shifting his glower in a slow and deliberate way, up the street.
The Wainwrights had come when the invasion had been expected. Only expected, like an inundation, a volcanic winter, a thing that must be horrible in its encroaching effects. The sky had remained blue. Taxis had crawled the capital. Palma had dressed in heeled shoes and velvet frocks. Past midnight the café tables had been crowded.
The Wainwrights had come to write this story. They were stuck here now, both convinced David was dying. Palma wanted Mary to believe it, that he was not. She told herself she must not hate Mary. The impulse was weaponry…any state of emotion mere chemistry, an electromagnetic transaction between neural cells. One could feel the tap on the bone behind the ear. A stimulation to spark defensive wrath, to make enemies of allies.
And these pains, depressions, madnesses, that waved across the city, were the reason her people, quarantined within a color-wheel of central sectors, had not by force been disarmed. The pills given at the health clinic would finish David, not his back and his weakened sinews. He had gained so much weight. If he only would allow his wife to walk him to these gatherings, that his mettle might be awakened, his adamancy exhorted.
“What has David been able to do today?”
It was a speech-form she demanded of her fighters. Everything a refutation, a chance to show under the camera and the microphone, their undying will…to rise on a new morning, do the next new thing. Palma asked Mary this, and at once, hearing the prefacing sigh, turned her mind to her own thoughts.
No, Mary was courageous…her views not at all realistic. Her misfortune. She would martyr herself over this romantic dream—she thought Palma and Frederick so brave and so good.
She’d aspired, finding out there were natives here, to make a great study of the Hidtha. And of course it was wrong, coming at the herdsmen with curiosity and foreign diction. For many weeks, she hadn’t known the Ftheorde had given her his title; she had spoken to him with an off-kilter familiarity. The Hidtha did not tell their names. Mothers called sons and daughters differently from fathers. Only the titles, which were immutable, and had the neutral ending, could be used by non-Hidtha.
When they met, they began in this way.
Palma, their general, had stated these things to her fighters in the plainest terms. “They will like to watch us every moment. They will use radar or thermal imaging, come through the walls. And then of course, software to make the images real to their eyes. As in the days when everyone had information and could try things, you recall one sometimes saw pictures of galaxies. The galaxies had not been photographed. They were created from energy profiles.
“They don’t know if what we do matters or not. They have to pay attention. They have to file away their data and find it again. We will give them volumes of data.” The resistance had found that shared knowledge was language. There were dates on which things of significance had happened. Eyes, on the twenty-seventh or the fourteenth of particular months, would meet.
And of course, anyone might act at any moment. If he were a suicide fighter; if he had chosen this for himself.
“What will you read, Frederick?”
He grinned. “No other God before me. Friends—”
Yes, it posed something of a hazard to the G.R.A., but why would Palma’s fighters not rally themselves, preach sermons if they liked, lift one another’s spirits? Those forced to monitor these words (they must be rather lowly soldiers, tasked with such dull work) might find themselves tempted, counter-indoctrinated. The sentiments expressed were universal.
“Friends, long ago, among the sects who in those days practiced, and who accepted guidance according to those laws they called Commandments, there came to a northern state a wise man. His name was Moody. Moody said, of the first of these, a good thing: ‘That which you think about most often is your God.’
“Friends, we are an oppressed people. We long for consolation. The invaders, before they came—yes, even then—campaigned against our consolation. Our Brother David is left embarrassed and bereft of consolation. Our Brother Anton…”
Continued from Palma (conclusion)
The Ftheorde spoke, and only to Palma. By Hidtha law, among them he was of the highest rank, and the topic had been broached.
“General, your Leonhardt, this one called Anton, shares his room with Utdrife, one of those. What does he write to you? The Utdrife says…he has said it to his jailers…that he has made a very fair offer. And for that he has opened his hand, so, your Leonhardt expects to be murdered.” The Ftheorde’s hand, twice, grasped after the letter, and Palma, seeing opportunity, told him, “Here, I will let you have it. Take it when you go, and let Mary read it to you.”
“Oh, let me now. Because I’ve only brought one of my own.” She added, and trailed off to a murmur, “I write to my sister…just to please myself. Just as though I really could. I think I might like making a book of them…all my letters.”
“I suppose you were going to take him over the mountains, and make him do work for your family, since the Utdrife will no longer work.”
“No. Myself, no. On my name, this is what I mean, I forbid it. Because your Leonhardt supposes, he has told the Utdrife, we are able to make explosives in our caves and that we force prisoners to carry them. You see why he would be killed at once.”
Yes, Anton kept nothing to himself.
Even could he be controlled, made a conscientious helper, he would not be loved by his captor. He, Palma, Frederick, Mary and David, all of them, were at length enemies to the Hidtha. The Utdrife were the heart…there again, the heart…of the Hidtha’s grief. Young men had once found new grazing land on which to spend their inheritance. After the Hidtha had been driven to the peninsula, the young could take nothing more for themselves. These Utdrife had become mercenary soldiers in green and black. They were nameless to their fathers and mothers. The Hidtha wanted not to trade one would-be arbiter for another; they were not stupid or primitive, that they could be played by the invaders against the resisters for tinned meat and pills. They wanted the past restored. They knew they would get only the past.
This entente between herself and the Ftheorde rested poised, thus, at the knife’s edge. The recollection of Anton’s paranoid excursions, his verse-making, made Palma give attention to Mary. The flush on Mary’s face had receded, but she sat angry or abashed.
“You next,” Palma told her. “I was only intending to speak to you all of the anniversary. To remind you, Ftheorde; you, Frederick…you, Mary—of those things we must not do. How careful, in a week’s time, we must be. Surely,” she added, “we are gods to our auditors, who watch so closely, and listen so passionately, and our Will shall be obeyed.”
In fact the monitoring could function at times as a power of wishing. If Palma named an enemy, the G.R.A. might place him in her hands, through their own machinations. If they too wanted him removed from office.
“Don’t read it all.”
She was prompting Mary, who’d gone silent, and whose eyes spilled tears. Without blotting these, and in a soft voice, unreflective of Anton’s capitals, Mary began to speak.
Now have you shown yourself faithful
I had supposed myself a named thing
In this conceit perhaps I am mistaken
I may be the drop of blood that dyes the stream
And you are strong in ways I am unable
Your rooted hold on solid earth I see
But only as a drowning man forsaken
In memory knows the shore he cannot reach
Palma had earlier sat cross-legged by herself where the door stood open and where anyone might have heard, and read aloud Anton’s six pages. She knew him to speak, in these lines, to another woman. He did this often, scribbling out his lengthening jeremiad, hating her, loving her.
Yes, coastal people are like dandelions gone to seed. Pluck one from the field and the head scatters. It was an old proverb…and it might be no more than that had damaged Anton—that he spoke, and his adored one misunderstood, could not understand.
Yet Mary, the foreigner, wept over these words. She wept for being alone, and soon. She need not be. Anton called it love, Palma’s mission, and wept too, in his ignorance. She would never leave him—even now in her thoughts she planned his escape, the words that would make it seem to the G.R.A. that they must follow this soldier back to his general. And though she would give him Mary Wainwright for a lover, and Mrs. Leonhardt for a mother, Palma would never be tender towards him.
Mrs. Leonhardt had taken out all the old silver. Her mother’s silver, her own, the sugars and the salt cellars that she for a time had always been buying, always poking through the second-hand markets, offering half the asking price for anything blackened, anything with the handle or feet off.
“That’s good silver. You could polish it up.”
If a vendor gave her that, she gave back: “Well, so could you, then.”
She’d had foresight, that way.
She’d had Anton now past the weekend. Their first days, Mrs. Leonhardt had found him easy to manage, in the way he’d crawled under the covers and stayed there; and she hadn’t known then if he was free as he claimed…if an officer would come pounding the door…so it was as well.
In his suffering, his face had changed. Her son had had all along, so she accounted for it in her mind, the brow and chin and the dark hair of her maternal grandfather. Only his pallor and thinness showed it now. To prove this to herself, that Anton was alive and not dead; that though he could not in memory place himself, how he’d lived for ten years, been imprisoned…some guardian angel had done her this kindness. Of taking him to her doorstep and ringing the bell. Economy profited one in mourning, as in all things.
This reserve, this heart-burning restored to the ledger (for of course, in old age, one could always grieve) had been yet another instance of her born wisdom. There were mothers like herself, many of them now. They had spent it all and not been given this reward.
Mrs. Leonhardt had got behind the mirror and brought out all her boxes. She had first nailed the mirror up—she had done this on her own—to hide the linen cupboard, those things she treasured, and things to barter. Of carpenter’s tools, she had generations’ worth. Anton’s father had not done very much fixing. But he’d been good about not giving things away.
“If you hear anything…don’t be afraid.”
She’d brandished the hammer in her left hand, tapping Anton on the shoulder with her right.
“What, what?” He’d twisted towards her, fighting the comforter.
“I have a chore to do. I’m saying.”
She raised the hammer. To explain. His face altered, lost its unconscious animation. He’d awakened almost keen, eyes engaged for the least second; at once, he’d seemed to remember himself. He’d met Mrs. Leonhardt’s, and gone guarded. She would not tell him again that she was his mother, that he was her Anton, and safe here at home. Today, she would tell him to go to the kitchen and get his own breakfast.
Carefully, carefully, Mrs. Leonhardt wiggled the pulling end—the claw, was it?—and when she’d got six labored nails loosened, knew she had two times as many remaining. Thinking now of the chore’s nature, she could see trouble, a single nail holding the heavy mirror by one upper corner.
The bell rang. And in that same way.
If Anton had gone downstairs, he could not have got to the door before the caller began leaning on the bell, letting a long, continuous summons rattle the front hall. Nothing, she found, after running with the hammer in her hand pell-mell to the landing, had been abandoned on the stoop. This time a soldier, shaved scalp under a yellow beret, brass-buttoned lapel fastened at the neck, waited smiling. But of course, if he were the same one, the angel, she wouldn’t know it.
“Ma’am.” He raised a gloved hand to his forehead. “Mrs. Leonhardt?”
“Corporal Herward. Do you live in this house alone, ma’am?”
The correct answer would be that she did. Or that she might. If Anton were well, he would want to take up with his friends, follow that woman—if he could find her now—as he’d gone off doing to begin with.
She had come to say it to Mrs. Leonhardt in person (this Palma thinking it honorable…that with this sort of news, an approach mattered). Anton had been killed. Mrs. Leonhardt lifted her chin, remembering. Liar. He hadn’t been. Why trust the resistance, then, their general?
The corporal, his tone of voice no different, repeated, “Do you live here alone, ma’am?”
“Are you asking,” she replied to him at last, “to come in?”
“Only if I can help you with anything. We’re checking the neighborhood, that’s all. Have you got enough to eat?”
“Never mind food,” she said. “Can you hold something for me?” For a moment, she’d weighed this plea. She thought it wasn’t much to ask. She doubted Anton could do it…she would not be able to get his attention.
In that way, the G.R.A. corporal had taken an inventory—Mrs. Leonhardt knew he had—of her silver, her picture albums, the radio and batteries, the flour and sugar in their canisters, taped up against moths. But all along, while prying the nails for her, strong enough to hold the mirror with one hand, he’d been polite as at the front door, and hadn’t shown a sign of noticing.
“My son,” she told him, “has just come home. I can’t say what he plans to do.”
“I think I know Anton.” He’d surprised her with this.
Anton had not put the kettle on for his cocoa, or put his plate in the oven to warm. He stared at Corporal Herward, head lowered, squinting up; then he crossed his arms and thrust his hands in the opposite sleeves. Mrs. Leonhardt’s son now sat mute at the kitchen table, blank in the eyes, rubbing his handkerchief on a silver card tray. He’d absorbed himself with the task, as soon as Herward had set two or three things in front of him.
“I have chocolate bars.” She told her guest this; and also, “You can drink my coffee. There’s nothing wrong with it.”
“Thank you, ma’am. Yes,” Herward seated himself on a vinyl-cushioned stool that wheezed, expelling air…he chuckled at the noise, and spun towards Anton, speaking for his benefit, but to his mother. “My first assignment was down the coast. I grew up in Cadwilliam. So I’m native. You could tell that.” He gave her an agreeable bob of the head. He had called the capital of the new Central District by its colloquial new name.
“Yes,” he said again, and this time rested fingers on Anton’s forearm. “Vonnie and I are good friends. I saw her with you.”
“I don’t think Miss Swisshelm could be called Vonnie.”
“Oh, well. I call her that. Because of knowing her. She may have told you to call her something else.”
Continued from A Friend (part two)
“Hmm. What is telling? I tell the truth. I give my name as Anton. I was given the name of Anton. I tell you I am Anton Leonhardt. She will not give me her name. She gives me a ring. She gives me over to the enemy. I am given paper to write a confession. But I am given no light…her green stone not meant for seeing…it may be aventurine or tsavorite. I was told I would know when I had got it right. Herok, unterceddhore.”
“Now, I don’t know what that means.” Mrs. Leonhardt had not heard Anton make such a speech, and her face flushed at his doing so before company. She poured coffee, and turned from the burner to the table, holding the cup on its saucer in one hand; on a salad plate in the other, the chocolate bar. This she had not unwrapped, because if the corporal shook his head, she would put it away again.
His half-smile remained sociable. “The herok is a sort of bird, a tattle-bird. It’s a saying of the Hidtha. The Swisshelms had you studying the language.” The corporal said these things, the first to Mrs. Leonhardt; the last, with another touch on the arm, to Anton…for Anton had not stopped speaking, but mumbled more of the strange words, working an agitated hand over his polishing.
When she lifted the pot again, Herward lifted his cup, understanding her, and so Mrs. Leonhardt poured him a second. Rather than have one herself, she took Anton’s. That saved the waste, and Anton would protest if he’d wanted it after all. He must for himself do that, at least.
Yes, she would start a sterner policy with him…else, he might get worse…she thought he was getting worse, and would have to be seen by a doctor. Was that a question, then, for the corporal, a kind of help she needed?
Herward was helping himself to her box of photo albums, and had accepted the chocolate bar, chewing while he fingered her things, not even paying this treat full attention. He had his soldier’s pay, and didn’t care what food cost. He didn’t care that the G.R.A. had closed all the banks, seized all the land deeds, placed her on a monthly stipend—one she’d had to ask them for. She was paying rent on her own house. The woman behind the desk, that she’d had to apply to, had suggested she might be healthy enough to work.
“That’s not your business,” Mrs. Leonhardt said to her.
She could say the same now.
“That’s your husband…?”
“With Anton. He was six.”
She didn’t like this, the stranger’s pointing to the blond child. She hadn’t remembered it as clearly as she’d supposed, what her son had looked like. But then Herward said, “Sure, of course. I knew that.”
He looked across at Anton bent over his work, shaking salt into Mrs. Leonhardt’s dregs of cocoa, tamping in his handkerchief, heedless of the stain, and rubbing this on the silver—nodding to himself at this better success, no longer mumbling.
“Anton hasn’t changed so much, has he?”
She looked again, both at the picture, and at Anton. “He had blond hair when he was small, but it went dark.”
This seemed to her possible…and having said the words aloud, Mrs. Leonhardt came partway to believing them.
“And this is Anton with his grandmother.”
“No. That’s the older boy.”
A minute ticked by. “A shame,” Herward said.
That was a way of putting it. A number of things might be a shame, and she had given not much thought, for many years, to the child who had died so early.
“You talked to your roommate about your grandmother.” Herward said this to Anton and gave him the photo, slipping it onto the cloth under his hand. Anton took it up at once between two fingers and held it over his head, while with his other hand, he polished. Herward gave up, caught the photo, and tucked it back into its plastic.
Anton said, “Yes, I think she may be living, still in her old apartment. My grandmother.”
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.
Continued from A Friend (final)
“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?”
“But, Mother.” He let this linger, his way of calling her, the dry emphasis and offensive pause. It was the first time. Mrs. Leonhardt had thought she’d waited for this day.
“I suppose a dandelion doesn’t care what the sun wants. But it can’t choose.”
All the houses were numbered, numbers without serifs, black on white, the sign a size measured for visibility from a particular distance. It wasn’t that that had lost Mrs. Leonhardt. There could be only one seventeen in any lettered section of any quarter. Houses that hadn’t conformed to a grid, those built at the ends of odd lanes, were by now mostly razed, all condemned, and the lanes themselves closed to traffic. But whole rows of houses would be torn down in time.
Her own had gabling, a pretty sort of rose window at the peak, shingles painted yellow. These might be covered in uniform white, but the G.R.A. would decide after all, Mrs. Leonhardt thought, that she was proud…she and her neighbor who shared all this. Someone looking for a home would find one splash of architecture more appealing than another, and these attachments, as Anton called them, might induce the taking of a stand.
“You look lost.”
The woman wore a non-resident’s badge, austere in type, again the irritating black on white, BNE17, WAINWRIGHT, M. Her clothes were black, and her face weak-chinned, exposed in its own whiteness by brown hair pulled severely, the uncaught strand hanging by her eye.
The words, though, had been given a bright inflection. Mrs. Leonhardt gave the woman silence, and study, and thought that if she returned the compliment, the eye of this Wainwright, M., would shed a tear. Anton answered her.
“We’ve come to the place expected.” He nodded at her chest. “Your house. They make you live there.”
“Ma’am,” Mrs. Leonhardt said, to clarify. “Are you Mrs. Ochiltree’s boarder?” It was possible they were not expected. She reviewed Herward’s actual words, and concluded he’d guaranteed nothing. “I…” she told the woman, and wanted, for being made to stand on a nameless street holding an awkward box (not counting it much that she’d taken this from Anton, believing its contents, out of his own control, would keep him at her side) to rattle the punchbowl, the cups and the ladle, to make a startling noise, stop the woman’s staring at Anton, as though behind his glasses, he did not stare back.
“…am Mrs. Leonhardt. This is Anton.”
Matters became worse.
The woman put her two hands around Anton’s arm, let go, spun and rushed ahead, stopped, turned towards them again, said, “I’m Mary Wainwright…David’s wife.” She whispered the name. “Oh, come in!”
And, of course, they could not come in…where were they?
“Palma,” she said, having led them around one of the barriers, weaving through piles of broken stone and brick, empty window frames, doors unhinged; then past the next barrier, and directly around the corner, into the foyer of number seventeen, “…she might have told you, if you’ve come back Anton…that.”
The latch to their left clicked, responding to Mary’s badge. Now, as Mrs. Leonhardt had anticipated, she did spill tears, her eyes all at once gone red. She fell onto her sofa, and snatched at a tissue box.
“Yes, I’m alone.”
“Palma,” Anton said.
“She let me have your letters.”
Anton whirled a fixed gaze on Mrs. Leonhardt, eyes unreadable…but dark lenses always conveyed, did they not, a sort of hollow anger? He stood in rigid compression, his chin dimpled, his jaw quivering as it had before. Why, she thought, is my son angry with me…what have I done? Incongruously, she thought also that when Anton had been younger, she would in fondness…doting, as a mother did, even on his rages…have noticed these things about his face.
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.
Continued from Sympathy for the Torturer (one)
There’s a treat,” he said now. The bread was buttered today, and Corporal Herward—because of his uniform, Anton thought—had been given a jar of jam.
“They’ll let us keep that?”
“Sure, take it home to you mother.”
“I heard your question, Anton. Yes, it’s possible. None of them have names they’ll tell to an incomer…that’s what they call us, in their own language. You know better than I.” He paused. Anton felt a compulsion to say it.
The word was not much different; and so, there hadn’t been much point in translating. He did not feel flattered that Herward deferred to him in this. Anton barely knew Hidtha…which designation he, a stranger, might use, but was not what their language was called. Professor Swisshelm, who’d lived among them, thought the word was Erdroddtha; their was of pronouncing the sequence of consonants almost irreproducible.
Herward said, “Is that enough? I’ll go back.” Herward touched often, and did so now, tapping Anton on the wrist and pointing to show the queue empty.
Then: “Now, listen. How would it be…how would you personally like it—because I try to do what I can for you, after all—if someone…” Herward paused, and the implication of it, his next words confirming this, was that Anton must care; the corporal adding flesh to his straw man, attributing to Anton this sympathizer’s stance, the opposite of what he felt for the Hidtha.
“…who might not be”—a conciliatory tone, and a euphemism—“from the peninsula…if Mrs. Smithrow did, let’s say, happen to have hostile associates? Suppose, Anton, she’d been warned we were coming up? Because you know I’m not conjecturing…I was telling your mother about that incident with the grenade in the stairwell. You heard me. That was in B-Sector. I trained under one of the men killed.”
Herward seemed to think that, for having come home; for having been released and given several classifications—a color-coded strip at the bottom of his badge that signaled danger to every G.R.A. soldier he passed on the street, each reacting as though drilled to it, resting a hand on the butt of his pistol—Anton no longer belonged to Palma. Herward had made this friendship, and now he presumed on it.
“Next time, I won’t come with you.”
“I hope you will.” He sounded wounded. Then Corporal Herward scratched his chin. “Ah. I see what you mean. Well, Anton, that’s not bad for a joke. You don’t mind my looking after you, though?”
Since he had to fill Herward’s blank with an answer, Anton said, “No.” He added, “Thank you.”
“But,” Herward went on, “if we were to bring a confederate of Mrs. Smithrow’s into custody…if some resister knew where the grenade had come from—you wouldn’t expect us to be nice about letting him conceal that information?” His inflection on nice implied: mincing, delicate.
And Herward had forced this argument before, on every occasion that suggested it. Anton was hearing it now for the third time. He had not yet given in (yet…he repeated the word in his thoughts), offering Herward the prompt he was seeking. The torturers had said the same thing…their victims were supposed to forget they had. This persuasion would fee so true, then, so fresh and familiar all at once.
“Why,” he asked, “would that woman have friends in the resistance? I don’t think she meant doing wrong.”
“If you say so, Anton, I’ll believe it. I’m not from the capital.” Herward shrugged. “So, you don’t tell me she didn’t like answering my questions?”
He saw the pitfall not in whether this, though it was hard to tell, required a “yes” or “no”. He had no reason to come to Mrs. Smithrow’s defense. He wouldn’t do it, to find himself challenged on this point at some later date. Which was too bad, another way Anton’s occupied country was being divided by the G.R.A., in that one must quell the impulse to be fair to a stranger.
“You would like to say we aren’t allowed to save lives. That’s what it comes down to, Anton.”
He had been walking, fingering out the remaining jam from the jar. He would have to go on carrying this glued, more or less, to his sticky hand. He’d darted away from washing in a public fountain, seeing an officer ride up on her motorbike.
As the gossip had it, the shortages were engineered fraud. Anton knew he thought, through the hours of his days, about food more than anything else. He knew Herward could make great strides meting out privilege; that to spurn comfort called for Palma’s sort of pride…and if he’d had that, she would have loved him better. Both their secret, shared nature, and the treats themselves induced in Anton willingness to yield. He had not been psychologically overmastered, shrunken to a state of docile stupidity, though he crawled for the G.R.A. He supposed it true of the others…they were all grown tired, downhearted.
But at the pit of its deadened spirit, the capital smoldered. Revolt still could spark. And Anton willed, now and again, to do a great act…to show his general up, make her sorry to have thought so little of him.
This depth of sadness had inspired his verses, made him write in anger, too, in grinding capitals. He felt the same fog encroach now, and had, ever since he’d resolved to finish the jam and not share it with her, Mrs. Leonhardt…and that had made him dwell again, on food.
And that was the ache.
He’d written none of his poetry, once coming under her roof. Why it troubled him, the ebbing of this gift that was not a gift, empty signals flashed at a blackened window…
He supposed his mother (she was not) would sneak, just as much as any prison guard, but thought she would not mock. He believed this of her. She liked him to be an artist…as though he were Anton. She would look at his private things, and that was a transgression. But she would not look probingly, for clues that he hadn’t given up resisting, as he knew the guards had done.
Continued from Sympathy for the Torturer (part two)
Down the coast. That must be the expression.
Herward used it, and Herward came from there, called himself a good friend to the Swisshelms. Down the coast they’d sat on the daybed in Anton’s attic room, he with the sisters, talking. Jovie…yes, her name had been Jovie, Swisshelm’s younger daughter. So Anton ought to believe in Vonnie, as well. He had sanctified the mystery of Miss Swisshelm, felt her untold name must ring like that of a deity, that for her acolyte the moment would be telling, crucial…and the answer had been a letdown, that was all.
A shadow fell.
When Anton stared up dumbly, the officer banged her stick against the metal rail. He should not have stopped to rest here, on the concrete steps of a condemned building…a discothèque; this, apparent only because the word remained spelled out in bolt holes.
“What is that in your hand?”
He lifted his hand, and tilted the mouth of the jar, to show it empty.
“What were you planning to do with it?”
“Take it home. I’m going home.”
“I want you to put it in that trash bin over there.”
Broken glass. Or maybe they’d think he could make a bomb with it. Anton obeyed. He stood over the bin, shoulders hunched, waiting. After minutes passed with no instruction, he turned and found the officer gone.
“Oh, poor Anton. You’re so easy. You’ve never had anything, of course.” That had been Jovie, teasing him. Or not teasing…making a joke of him, sharing it in front of him with Vonnie.
Their eyes and their smiles.
“The two things that will matter most to everyone are food and heat. Unless it’s the summer, and then they’ll short us on air-conditioning and water. Toughen up, Anton. When has there not been a surplus of food? Wasted, thrown away, think of it, they always talked about it. Well, where does food come from? The same farmland that hasn’t changed at all, except it’s not private any longer.”
He rounded a corner, and waited for a bus. Not for wanting to, but because there was no getting past the crowd. He was being pressured in among them, and felt that passivity Jovie had seen in him assert itself. He would soon be arrested again, because he could not for another three months leave A, Orange. The destination shown on the screen was D-Sector, SE quadrant, 1-99.