Palma: Second Tourmaline (part one)
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
Anton’s lines were all in green, and the censor had allowed it.
He 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 Anton, make him see with clear eyes. If his need was to believe in a strong leader, she would heal him.
Mission. He had not come to understand it.
It was his lamentation and his pride Anton 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. 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.
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 new landlords had doubled the 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 they 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. 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 one 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 crawled the capital; Palma dressed in heeled shoes and velvet frocks. Past midnight the café tables were 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.
(2017, Stephanie Foster)