Cadisk: Seventh Tourmaline (part two)
Or poetry, as Anton had. A last testament, as Frederick. If you were busy matching colored squares, you might ignore permission to write. As you liked.
The other person she saw was the Hidtha woman who came to take up sheets and towels, replace them. It was Palma’s job to make her bed. Her meals came without ceremony, or human contact, as in a discreet hotel. But, as in a G.R.A. prison, meals came variably, lunch on that eccentric swing between noon, 11.59, 11.58, 12.01, 12.02—so closely timed, the off-timing looked purposeful. It might not be.
Breakfast near six; dinner near eighteen. Dinner a conflict with your movies or games. No doubt they measured, eager to learn at what point you became so absorbed in visual stimulation, you missed your cue and your late meal.
The door would click, and you could open it, then, to slide your tray inside. On the wall, beside the door, was a disposal bin, just wide enough to eject the tray, when you’d eaten your bars of vegetable, grain, and protein. The water fountain was just outside the toilet/shower cubical.
Could you run away, down the hall? Its appearance, when she put her head out, was dark and empty. But she would waste no time weighing such questions. The surveillance was there. The escape attempt would give those passionless scrutinizers of human behavior one more gleaning to preen themselves with. How many days before the prisoner/patient tries it? What new routine can we impose, in ambiguity between punishment and mercy? How and when will it pressure her into the next act?
She exercised when the instructor came on to lead stretches. Then the screen pixelated off to a woodland path, sometimes a boardwalk along the beach, the voice fading into slow, soothing repetitions. You walked in place to this vision, barefoot on a foam pillow. It was a nuisance. She could even believe their advising, though, that the intermittence of aerobics was healthier…not to always walk at ten in the morning, but afternoons, or just before bedtime.
Just after bedtime, the screen blinking on, waking you in the dark.
It was her thought of the day, as she tossed the pillow back onto her cot—that they would draw fine distinctions of privilege from such absurdities, force her to play along with them. For three days, her routine had been fixed. She hadn’t been able to decide if she preferred this; if they were giving a gift to her, on the celebration of her one-year anniversary. Was pride allowable? Would they punish her at once, if she showed a face that struck them smug, the next time the game screen popped?
The door whooshed, and Moody came in.
(He might not be Moody. The name had been part of Frederick’s mockery, the coincidence odd but possible…and again, Palma saw no reason the G.R.A. could not be so cruel as to taunt her with the death of her partner, under the guise of innocent friendliness.)
“I don’t think, in all this time, you’ve had a visitor.”
“Do I have a visitor?”
When Moody had a point, he would never come to it, she knew.
“Do you want a visitor?”
“In one of the rooms, you mean?”
On rare walks to some other part of the prison, passing the infirmary, the cafeteria for ordinaries (as the non-political prisoners were named), the visitors’ lounges she had never been called to, Palma took note of all she could learn. They met another person now and again, and she drilled eye-contact into this stranger, to see what he or she would communicate…sympathy, fear, warning…
One she had known, one of her old soldiers. He had kept his eyes low.
“You’re thinking,” Moody said, “I want to make a mystery of all this. As a matter of fact, that woman Mary Wainwright has brought Anton Leonhardt.”
Palma gave him a smile. She was finished with Anton, had not expected he’d turn up again. But if he were at peace, able to sail these days even-keeled, she would be pleased to know it. The smile was for poor Mary. The impression her mission made, the strength of her life’s passion summed up…in this tendency of those who’d met her to preface her name with “that woman”.
This time, for the first time, they got onto an elevator. There was an office complex she hadn’t known of, perched atop the bluff, caged round its glass walls with a lightning-conducting metal grid. She saw two lines of fencing, bracketing the hill where the warden’s suite overlooked Cadisk.
Moody made no ceremony, either, ushering her into a room with a table. Mary stood and Anton didn’t. All he projected spoke of damage still, though his face was the same, thin and melancholy. He looked at Palma briefly, sat angled to the table, elbows hunched on knees. If Moody said, “Sorry, the meeting’s canceled,” Palma thought, Anton would lurch up and make for the door at once.
Mary said: “If you want me to take a statement on how you’re being treated, I have the form.”
She had a clipboard, the leather-bound kind that opened like a notebook.
“I will. Give you one.”
Well, it would be worth knowing whether Moody, thinking himself kind, perhaps, would react on any personal basis; whether, even, one of the G.R.A.’s policies of standardized repression, one that must be imposed on any complainer, might relieve Moody both of bad feelings and responsibility.
She had no complaints, but she would work with Mary. To Palma this use of herself to obtain what in freedom might be used to strengthen her soldiers, was by-the-book; self-detachment demanded. She was already sacrificed, being here at all; it would be unleaderly to shrink at punishment.
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(2017, Stephanie Foster)