Sympathy for the Torturer: Fourth Tourmaline (part two)
Herward said, “Is that enough? I’ll go back.”
He touched often, and did so now, tapping Anton on the wrist and pointing to show the queue empty.
Then: “Now, listen. How would it be…how would you personally like it…? Because I try to do what I can for you, after all. If someone…”
He stopped himself, and the implication of it, his next words confirming this, was that Anton must care, Herward adding flesh to his straw man, attributing to Anton this sympathizer’s stance, the opposite of what he felt for the Hidtha.
“Who might not be…from the peninsula… If Mrs. Smithrow did, let’s say, have hostile associates? Suppose she’d been warned we were coming up? Because you know I’m not conjecturing. I was telling your mother about that incident with the grenade in the stairwell. You heard me. That was in B-Sector. I trained under one of the men killed.”
Herward seemed to think that, for having come home; for having been released and given several classifications, a color-coded strip at the bottom of his badge that signaled danger to every G.R.A. soldier he passed on the street (each reacting as though drilled to it, resting a hand on his pistol), Anton no longer belonged to Palma. Herward had fabricated this friendship, and now he presumed on it.
“Next time, I won’t come with you.”
“I hope you will.”
Play-acting, Anton thought. Making himself sound wounded.
Then Herward scratched his chin. “Ah. I see what you mean. Well, that’s not bad for a joke. You don’t mind my looking after you, though?”
And since he had to fill this blank with an answer, Anton said, “No.” He added, “Thank you.”
“But. If we were to bring a confederate of Mrs. Smithrow’s into custody…if some resister knew where the grenade had come from… You wouldn’t expect us to be nice about letting him conceal that information?”
His inflection on nice implied: mincing, delicate.
Herward had forced this argument before, on every occasion that suggested it. Anton was hearing it now for the third time. He had not yet given in (yet…he repeated the word in his mind), offering Herward the prompt he was seeking. The torturers had said the same thing…their victims were supposed to forget they had. This persuasion would feel so true, then, so fresh and familiar all at once.
“Why would that woman have friends in the resistance? I don’t think she meant doing wrong.”
“If you say so, Anton, I’ll believe it. I’m not from the capital.” Herward shrugged. “So, you don’t tell me she didn’t like answering my questions?”
He saw the pitfall not in whether this, though it was hard to tell, required a yes or no. Anton had no reason to come to Mrs. Smithrow’s defense. He wouldn’t do it, to find himself challenged on this point at some later date. Which was too bad, another way his occupied country was being divided by the G.R.A., in that one must quell the impulse to be fair to a stranger.
“You would like to say we aren’t allowed to save lives. That’s what it comes down to, Anton.”
He had been walking, fingering out the remaining jam from the jar. He would have to go on carrying this glued, more or less, to his sticky hand. He’d darted away from washing in a public fountain, seeing an officer ride up on her motorbike.
As the gossip had it, the shortages were engineered fraud. Anton knew he thought, through the hours of his days, about food more than anything else. He knew Herward could make great strides meting out privilege; that to spurn comfort called for Palma’s sort of pride…and if he’d had that, she would have loved him better. Both their secret, shared nature, and the treats themselves induced in Anton a willingness to yield. He had not been psychologically overmastered, shrunken to a state of docile stupidity, though he crawled for the G.R.A. He supposed it true of the others…they were all grown tired, tired, of their country’s long death and rebirth.
But at the pit of its deadened heart, the city smoldered. Revolt still could spark. And Anton willed, now and again, to do a great act…to show his general up, make her sorry to have thought so little of him. This depth of sadness had inspired his verses, made him write in anger, in grinding capitals. He felt the same fog encroach now, and had, ever since he’d resolved to finish the jam and not share it with her, Mrs. Leonhardt…and that had made him dwell again, on food.
And that was the ache.
He’d written none of his poetry, once coming under her roof. Why it troubled him, the ebbing of this gift that was not a gift, empty signals flashed at a blackened window…
He supposed his mother (she was not) would sneak, just as much as any prison guard, but thought she would not mock. He believed this of her. She liked him to be an artist…as though he were Anton. She would look at his private things, and that was a transgression. But she would not look probingly, for clues that he hadn’t given up resisting, as he knew the guards had done.
Sympathy for the Torturer
(2017, Stephanie Foster)