Palma: Second Tourmaline (conclusion)
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, 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, 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 by a lens that could see them. They were created in color 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 functionaries, 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 laws, 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…”
The Ftheorde spoke, and only to Palma. By Hidtha law, among them he was of 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 still 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, or 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.
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(2017, Stephanie Foster)