Tourmaline: Cadisk (part three)
“I don’t think, in all this time, you’ve had a visitor.”
“Do I have a visitor?”
If Moody had a point, he would never come to it, she knew.
“Do you want a visitor?”
“In one of the rooms, you mean?”
On rare walks to some other part of the prison, passing the infirmary, the cafeteria for ordinaries (as the non-political prisoners were named), the visitors’ lounges she had never been called to, Palma took note of all she could learn. They met another person now and again, and she drilled eye-contact into this stranger, to see what he or she would communicate…sympathy, fear, warning. One she had known, one of her old soldiers…but he’d kept his eyes low.
Many would not look at her.
“You’re thinking,” Moody said, as they went down the corridor side by side, “I’ll want to make a mystery of all this. As a matter of fact, that woman Mary Wainwright has brought Anton Leonhardt.”
Palma smiled. She’d finished with Anton, hadn’t expected he’d turn up again. If he were able to sail even-keeled these days, at peace, she would be pleased to know it. The smile was for poor Mary. Here was the impression her mission made, the strength of her life’s passion summed up…this tendency for those who’d met her, to preface her name with “that woman”.
This time, for the first time, they got onto an elevator. There was an office complex she hadn’t known of, perched atop the bluff, caged round its glass walls with a lightning-conducting metal grid. She saw two lines of fencing, bracketing the hill where the warden’s suite overlooked Cadisk.
Moody made no ceremony, either, ushering her into a room with a table. Mary stood, and Anton didn’t. All he projected spoke of damage still, though his face was the same, thin and melancholy. He looked at Palma briefly, and without meeting her gaze. He sat angled to the table, leaning elbows on knees. If Moody were to say, “Sorry, the meeting’s canceled,” Palma thought, Anton would lurch up and make for the door at once.
Mary said: “If you want me to take a statement on how you’re being treated, I have the form.” She had a clipboard, of the leather-bound kind that opened like a notebook.
“I will. Give you one.”
Well, it would be worth knowing whether Moody, thinking himself kind, perhaps, would react on any personal basis; whether even, one of the G.R.A.’s policies of standardized repression, one that must be imposed on any complainer, might relieve Moody both of bad feelings and responsibility.
She had no complaints…but she would work with Mary. To Palma this use of herself to obtain what in freedom might be used to strengthen her soldiers, was by-the-book, merely, self-detachment when demanded. She had already been sacrificed, being here at all; it would be unleaderly to shrink at punishment.
Moody, with a smile, backed a few steps, turned and beelined through an office door. The conference table was centered, corners perfect to the middle three of full-length windows, a row of these, three doors on either end, two little hallways cutting executives from staffers, emptying to the elevator this side, the restroom, that. She would have to cite emergency and make for it, just to see what sort of surveillance was in place.
Conversations and laughter came to them, the laughter making Anton flinch.
“First question,” Palma said.
“Do you feel safe?” Mary held her pen ready.
“So long as they let you alone. Or do you feel weighed to the last atom of your worth…should you be killed and the memory of you erased, or should you be slowly brought round and sent to help govern Nedforum, or sickened with drugs, until you will kill yourself for them…”
When he took to rhyming, it was the right moment to shut Anton up, and Mary, finger to her lips, did the honors.
“He’s not entirely wrong. I don’t know how you can feel safe when you know the G.R.A. are so very practical. They’re spending money to keep me here, and they’d rather be investing money. Maybe they do hope to change my mind.”
“Mary, do you feel safe?”
“Please…Palma… You know I don’t care, and I don’t think about it. Since David died.” She stopped. She might have given variations on this speech, by now, a hundred times.
“You can’t go home. And you won’t go home until the work is done.”
“Have you ever been denied food, water, medical treatment?”
“I haven’t. But as to medical treatment, I haven’t needed it.” She put a hand out. “Am I allowed to look over your papers?”
They didn’t, Mary’s group, use any sort of scoring system, or if they did, here secrecy was imposed, and Cadisk’s prison would be ranked in a private meeting, the group’s findings kept from recipients of their charity. For provocation’s sake, Palma flipped through the other papers in Mary’s book. They were instructions for conducting interviews with prisoners, small-printed tissue-thin paper with legal extenuations, the code printed out in a Q and A format.
Mary sat solemn, a blunt instrument against sarcasm. Her causiness, as Frederick termed it. Or, forbearance…she might have saintly tendencies. Palma had never heard this need equate to likeability.
(2018, Stephanie Foster)