Tourmaline: Nedforum (part two)
“Odd thing about them…you don’t call it nihilism. They hate nihilism. No, they actually want us guilt-ridden, as far as science can determine… They kill their own children, that’s our fault. We’ve failed our Jocs, and force them to it!”
The circle discussed; Anton audited.
But at times, he tapped a shoulder. “Frederick, if someone is arrested, send me.”
“Shut up, Anton.”
“I know Palma…”
“No, you don’t. Knowing and being a bloody nuisance, not the same. If you knew her, you’d keep well away. Poetry! Can’t help yourself scribbling, can you? She feels bad not finding some errand for you, and she feels bad not…you’re a stupid little git, that’s what. Don’t make a woman who has a thousand things to do worry about killing you. Go kill yourself.”
The last not so unfriendly as to feel meant. Frederick, among them, was Anton’s most-admired. He had left the table that day with his coffee paid for and the warm pleasure of Frederick’s knowing his name was Anton.
He felt no shred of grief, today, that Frederick was dead.
Why not have said they were lovers? It would not carry back to him quite the humiliation, his memory of her visit to Cadwilliam, of cavorting, possibly, at Palma’s feet, imagining her…
“I love you, Anton.”
If he’d known. If Frederick had thought of him as a human being, had told him a simple truth.
“Anton. Is this a difficult day for you?”
“What am I doing? Tell me what I’m doing.”
“You’re throttling that soda cup. And you haven’t had so much caffeine your hands ought to shake like that.”
“Ignore me. I’ll go back to work, and work. That’s what they want me to do.”
He got to his feet, hands in pockets, gave an irresolute twist towards the counter, reminded he’d wanted several of the pastries to take back for afternoons, to take home. He was happy to punish Mrs. Leonhardt by not eating what she’d cooked. The mood came and went; this minute it came strongly. At no time did he much like this woman. But the counselling voice reached by telephone, when quieting down felt essential, repeated: “Anger arises when you’re jealous. When you’re afraid she will find some other Anton and you won’t have a mother any longer.”
The voice made him feel it was all true. It did not suggest this was his fault, but that he could bear it…that others bore it. “Sulya, can I buy you anything? Only one of us stand in line.”
“Well. I fool myself, no doubt.” She rose too, patting her waist. “Take ten and we’ll split them. I’ll pay you when you get back.”
Her leaving was another boost to his tranquility. He did stop, toting his sack, to peer into the park’s bushes, while the fact of the lights proved nothing of their permanence.
The man from the café right…dead, also. Thin chance he was in use, like Palma, had been in any way influential. But right. The Jocelynists were not repudiators of authority, not defiers, not martyrs. The term “flaming pit” was now a joking byword for the lunatic who would throw himself in one, refusing to be reasonable.
They had, though. They had locked their families in their vehicles and driven over edges, at varied locales…nothing strictly a pit…
Workers organized by Wainwrights and their ilk had tried barricades; having no guns, they’d tried homemade spikes. They had dragged the innocent children and cowed wives out when they could, let the male Jocelynist beetle off to his doom.
Their grievances were the sort of thing you associated with pettiness, grudging. And yet grudging had grown to a religion, an extreme wing of this party’s dogma. It seemed they could see themselves autoslaughtered (while inflicting a grotesque misery on their fellows, burning trapped, if not landed unconscious), and expect they would hover later in satisfaction, enjoying…
What could be only the G.R.A., the Resistance, the Hidtha, the uncommitted citizenry, feeling bad they had brought this on, hadn’t done enough for the Jocelynists.
Anton started, with that violent rush of rage. A hand had come pawing the sack hooked over his elbow…how he would bash this woman if she spilled his treats onto the dirty pavement! But at once his body chemistry tripped a sensor; a potent wave of mixed frequencies enveloped himself and the Hidtha beggar, or street seller…
In this better mood, he peered down into her face. Nothing, none of the public controls, could make him less bigoted against these people. He had all his life been told his father or mother must have…
And sharing the facial bones, some darkness of skin that said to strangers, to the spiteful, frightening Jocelynist, tell him to go home…tell him to get out…
Palma hadn’t said such things. Mary (possessed of so many freedoms, the only old tie he was allowed to keep) had said he could always confide in her. Mrs. Leonhardt willed herself not to see it. But his Utdrife kidnapper, and the other, his cellmate. They hadn’t let him be one of them. They had told him he was something lower than an outcast.
“You don’t deserve money, and I’ll report you right now.”
He made her laugh.
(2020, Stephanie Foster)