Tourmaline: Sympathy for the Torturer (conclusion)
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. 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.
And he doubted he would know his grandmother’s apartment house, or even find it. You couldn’t ask someone where the street you remembered had been. It was subversive talk, this raising of nostalgia. He would not find the offices of Palma’s old newspaper, where she’d let him sit watching her at her work…and never would buy any of his poems, or assign him an article.
(2017, Stephanie Foster)