Tourmaline: Nedforum (part four)
“Who is your favorite?”
“Now, Anton.” She leafed her clipboard. “You have the chance, during these visits, to make any complaint you want.”
He had watched his fellow trainees jealously, to see if any counted as more messed-up than himself. Mary had escorted him once to visit Palma, and Herward, just before the car arrived, popped in, to place in Anton’s hand Jovie’s—but really Vonnie’s—tourmaline.
“What does Jovie want me to do?”
“Not a thing.”
In the prison conference room Palma, sarcastic, had prodded him to rejoin his mother. In Mrs. Leonhardt’s house, nothing so far had emerged of value to the cause. The package Palma spoke of Anton’s carrying for her hadn’t appeared; Herward had, asking for the ring returned.
Anton tore open a screen-wipe and drew out the token, cleaned it, polished it on his shirt; opened another wipe, cleaned again, cleaned his fingers.
He slid the ring on.
“Here, Busy, I’d better manage those for you.” Sulya took the sack, and permission on her own word. “How pretty. Did I miss noticing?”
She murmured, sorting pastries, marveling to herself that they all looked fine…
The decision felt to Anton made…and in G.R.A. society, you never knew. Days cycled through periods of inertia and energy. Correct requests and polite expressions introduced themselves in small whispers, guiding you to yield, to move as required, to relax into it. He met people who spoke to him…the girl at the canteen…in normal words of exchange. He let himself be viewed unskittish, a fellow citizen, a cooperator.
“No, Sulya, this ring…it belongs to a woman who threw me over, and she’s given it back to me. This is what that skag had in her mouth…”
Sulya blew air through her teeth. “That is the rudest thing I’ve ever heard! I hope you didn’t love this woman badly.”
“Have you met me?” He proffered the hand, and she swatted it away, saying…rather pleasingly…
He walked, he climbed to the upper deck of a bus, he passed through sectors his ID tag green-lighted; he ended his ride home with a puddle-jump to the curb, jaunty. He had swung the hand, rested the hand on a seatback, put an elbow on the windowframe and spun the ring, like a daydreamer, to glance tourmaline at a pedestrian audience. Provoked, he had patted the knee of his seatmate, a uniformed guard, and flaunted the ring under her nose.
“Hands off, what’s wrong with you? Is that for your girl?”
“Pretty stone…I don’t know of a name for it. You?”
“If you’re old-fashioned enough to get engaged, you’d better know how much she can sell it for. She’ll ask.”
“I never pinched it, you don’t think?”
The guard pointedly unpocketed her phone, and scanned him. “Don’t set yourself back, love. I don’t know your game, but you’ll be sent on, you know.”
“I apologize. It’s new. A bit of excitement for me.”
For no reason—he had only a block to his mother’s house—he had lodged a foot on a bike-rack, mounted, and balanced along its two meter length. He let himself indoors, fell at last to a brooding slump at his mother’s table.
“Anton, what junk have you brought in that sack? Smell that? I’m roasting a chicken. Chicken and noodles.”
“What if I ate everything?”
“Anton, you have to be careful.” She was warning him, like the guard had. He could not scan himself, but supposed his ratings were spiked sky-high today.
“Phone your service,” his mother said.
Well, a ring was worn on the finger. It was gifted as a pledge. A week going unmolested, a virtual anarchist in full flaunt of subversion, and Anton began to feel light-humored. Unfettered. Above all controls.
“Why don’t you ask me if I’ll go with you?”
“Anton!” His mother, cardigan misbuttoned, too much stage business in the hands-on-hips pose she struck…
No, she didn’t love him; and if insisting she had raised him to be what he was (untrue, because he was not Anton), why be exasperated when he showed it?
“Anton, I have the Wednesday ticket…”
Her eyes went here and there, mannerism again…having known, she snatched it from the silver tray on the doorside table. “Admit one.”
“But I’ll walk with you and buy a ticket at the gate.”
“It’s housewares and decor. You have to put your name on. Only ten shoppers for each one booth. They sell out.”
“They’ll let me in, I promise.”
“Your government job.” Mrs. Leonhardt nodded. His job, he doubted, had anything to do with it. “Get dressed. Don’t take too long.”
“Put your specs on. I am dressed.”
(2020, Stephanie Foster)