Sympathy for the Torturer: Fourth Tourmaline (conclusion)
Down the coast. That must be the expression.
Herward used it, and Herward came from there, called himself a good friend to the Swisshelms. Down the coast they’d sat on the daybed in Anton’s attic room, he with the sisters, talking. Jovie…yes, her name had been Jovie, Swisshelm’s younger daughter. So Anton ought to believe in Vonnie, as well. He had sanctified the mystery of Miss Swisshelm, felt her untold name must ring like that of a deity, that for her acolyte the moment would be telling, crucial…and the answer had been a letdown, that was all.
A shadow fell.
When Anton stared up dumbly, the officer banged her stick against the metal rail. He should not have stopped to rest here, on the concrete steps of a condemned building…a discothèque, this apparent only because the word remained spelled out in bolt holes.
“What is that in your hand?”
He lifted his hand, and tilted the mouth of the jar, to show it empty.
“What were you planning to do with it?”
“Take it home. I’m going home.”
“I want you to put it in that trash bin over there.”
Broken glass. Or maybe they’d think he could make a bomb. Anton obeyed. He stood over the bin, shoulders hunched, waiting. After minutes passed with no instruction, he turned and found the officer gone.
“Oh, poor Anton. You’re so easy. You’ve never had anything, of course.” That had been Jovie, teasing him. Or not teasing…making a joke of him, sharing it in front of him with Vonnie.
Their eyes and their smiles.
“The two things that will matter most to everyone are food and heat. Unless it’s the summer, and then they’ll short us on air-conditioning and water. Toughen up, Anton. When has there not been a surplus of food? Wasted, thrown away, think of it, they always talked about it. Well, where does food come from? The same farmland that hasn’t changed at all, except it’s not private any longer.”
He rounded a corner, and waited for a bus. Not for wanting to, but because there was no getting past the crowd. He was being pressured in among them, and felt that passivity Jovie had seen in him assert itself. He would soon be arrested again, because he could not for another three months leave A, Orange. The destination shown on the screen was D-Sector, SE quadrant, 1-99.
And he doubted he would know his grandmother’s apartment house, or even find it. You couldn’t ask someone where the street you remembered had been. It was subversive talk, this raising of nostalgia. He would not find the offices of Palma’s old newspaper, where she’d let him sit watching her at her work…and never would buy any of his poems, or assign him an article.
For the new people, brought in to make the population of each city quadrant equal, nothing in D had ever been named.
As soon as Anton sank into an upper-tier seat, close to the stairs, he was joined by a uniformed officer. So the precaution was of no use. His badge, traveling on his person, had signaled his violation via the bus’s console.
“But,” he said, “if I don’t get off. If I only ride, and come back to ANE…”
“No, no. You had better show me. We’ll take a walk and then we’ll come back in a car. You have some idea, Leonhardt, that your grandmother lived down in D. You were a reporter, weren’t you, for that woman Palma?”
This Anton would rather not deny, if the officer believed it.
“All those delusions of yours are in your file. Healthier for you seeing for yourself.”
Otherwise lulled by the ride, resigned to his arrest, Anton didn’t like the way the officer peered at him every time he came to a blank between thoughts. He thought of his mother. Again, another night—he had just said it to himself—I won’t come home, and this time she won’t wonder.
“That’s right,” the officer said, and Anton darted a glance, to find him looking up from the screen he’d been writing on.
And why should I feel bad? I don’t. Maybe Anton could have kept himself out of trouble. But how does she play herself this trick?
“Don’t worry about it.”
Annoyed, and equally, stimulated by the argument, Anton said, “You say exactly…you agree with me…Mrs. Leonhardt is a very sane person. Practical-minded, you would think. You do think.” The officer nodded. “It doesn’t make sense. Do you agree there, too? I’m delusional.”
He went on speaking aloud—if the officer were going to sit there knowing things, why not?—“I believe I lived with my grandmother until I was sent away to school; I believe that if I find my old apartment house, I’ll have the proof of it. Mrs. Leonhardt can see proof where she wills to see it. She has given me a picture to look at, and I’m sure it’s wrong. I was not that child…the old woman was her mother. Mrs. Leonhardt discards what’s inconvenient to her today. But…”
“Look, that’s an easy problem to solve.”
“No, what I’m going to say…”
“Look.” The officer pointed to the television at the front of the bus. The clip was playing, a man dragged backwards from the foot of a staircase, holding someone’s hands, and then, forced to, letting go. The hands were Palma’s, and a second later she appeared before the camera herself, disheveled, narrow-eyed, jaw set.
Yes, they had been playing the surrender of the resistance leaders all day; they would go on playing it for days to come. Anton’s jealousy, prodded again, became intolerable. He had to interrupt himself.
“Why? Why does that solve my problem?”
“Well, now, why do you imagine? I’d better not tell you. Work it out, it’ll do you good.”
“You’re wrong if you think Palma matters. There are others.”
Others to lead them. Others also he might love. The officer grinned at this protest, and shook his head. “I don’t call that thinking.”
“Do you know the name of that man?”
“Frederick.” This at once, and cheerful.
Cheerful. He expected Anton to conclude this on his own, and at last…that he’d made an unreality of his place with Palma. And why should one person’s figmentary progress be better than another’s? Anton had thought himself healing and making his way back to her, working at this every day. An assignment. He’d never known the people she surrounded herself with, no better than he knew those in Mrs. Leonhardt’s photo albums. So he had already learned the trick. He slumped in his seat.
“But I was going to say… Ha!”
The bus was slowing to the curb, and through his window, Anton caught sight of the one he’d thought of a moment ago. The third Anton. He’d once supposed him Vonnie’s brother.
He said to the officer, “What is your name?”
They inched forward, each lighting passenger adding his second’s delay. The officer slipped past and jogged down the steps.
Anton wanted to point out…he would point this out, when he could look his companion in the eye…that Mrs. Leonhardt would give it all up, and readily enough, supposing her own son returned. Here was a test of will she couldn’t pass.
She, sane, negated reality, to keep from accepting it, while he (possibly sane, possibly not) had the harder job, trying to prove his doubtful memories were of a reality that had existed.
The officer said, “I haven’t got one. Not for you, Anton. But you know me.” And jaunty, he tapped a finger to his cap, knocking it back. “Utdrife, sir.”
The figure he’d supposed to be Anton, dressed in a jacket and loose corduroy pants, hair short as his own, came across the street, to hook an arm around his waist.
“You’re nabbed,” she said. And it was Jovie.
Sympathy for the Torturer
(2017, Stephanie Foster)