Sympathy for the Torturer: Fourth Tourmaline (part one)
Sympathy for the Torturer
After his second arrest, they 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, though it hadn’t been said, that he was in Herward’s custody.
The G.R.A. didn’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, making his 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 the woman. It occurred to Anton 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 had sought from their jailers permission to do this. Anton had wrapped himself 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 let him finish his term in solitude.
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 proved eccentric, and you had no choice but to take what your points afforded.
Mother, that morning, stewing raisins for breakfast…she’d got boxes of raisins, a whole carton of them. Anton chose 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 already had 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.”
It 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. The guard, a day and a week ago, had pantomimed at Anton. He hated her at once for the show of contempt. He looked for Herward, and Herward had vanished, not waiting 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 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.
“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 your mother.”
“I heard your question. 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 way of pronouncing the sequence of consonants almost irreproducible.
Sympathy for the Torturer
(2017, Stephanie Foster)