Tourmaline: Nedforum (part four)
But no, still never, he wanted nothing to do with Vonnie. Next he saw a coexistence between unforgiveness and acquiescence, the one a forever and the other a fleeting-by, conditional.
But also, he thought of Palma. He smudged out Palma, the name appearing at his fingertips by mistake.
The passerby sees the guard. The passerby stares, sidesteps.
Coughs, hums a tune.
One of the other walkers accepts this token. The guard, only standing there, is now a target. One distracts, one fires.
The distracter likely escapes. How do they work that out? They will all die for the revolution…do they fight for this chance, the disappointed and inglorious fidgeting for the next one? Herward…
Might be testing him. Don’t fall for it, at all.
Don’t fall for it at all, he wrote.
The day of Anton’s freedom from servitude, Herward had put his head together with Wrik’s, conferring out loud in a corner of the room. To the subject of their talk was made secret none of Wrik’s disdain, Herward’s amusement. Anton sat alone at the table, abandoned to the soldiers by Mary and the Ftheorde.
“No one will help me now.” He said this.
Wrik glanced vaguely across, disturbed mid-sentence by the invisible. “Tell him to keep quiet,” he told Herward.
In patience, listening, Anton understood he was going to a group home, to be trained as a guard.
“Herward, why do they trust me?”
“Do shut up. Trust is irrelevant. I’ve put down in my report that you have the capability of taking orders. I advised a simple routine for you. But…”
He had drawn Anton by the shoulders then, and looked into his face, in that confiding, tactile way that made Herward able to persuade Anton of anything. “Work at it, and put your back into it. You have nothing else to do in life but try to make your situation better.”
True. He hadn’t seen Herward during his training, but a lot of Mary. Mary case-handled them all at the house, and treated Anton as though he had never lived with her.
“Sex is irrelevant,” he told her.
“In a lot of ways,” she agreed at once, and with a bright nod. As though this outburst were a sign of progress.
“Who is your favorite? Among dysfunctionals?”
“Now, Anton.” Mary leafed her clipboard. “You are meant, during these visits, to make any complaint you want.”
He watched his fellow trainees jealously, to see who counted as more messed-up than himself. Mary escorted him once to visit Palma, and Herward, just before the car arrived, popped in, to place in Anton’s hand Vonnie’s tourmaline. But he knew Herward did errands for Jovie, that she ruled him like a wife.
“What does Jovie want me to do?”
“Not a thing.”
No, she doesn’t want me, he told himself. Best of a bad bargain, no doubt…
In the prison conference room Palma, sarcastic, had prodded him. Go home to your mother. In Mrs. Leonhardt’s house, nothing had emerged of value to the cause. The package Palma said he might carry 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, I’d better manage those for you.” Sulya took the sack. “Oh, you have a ring. How pretty. Did I miss noticing?”
“I never notice what you notice.”
She murmured, sorting pastries, marveling to herself that they all looked fine…
The decision felt to Anton made. Days cycled through periods of inertia, sometimes of energy. Correct requests and polite expressions introduced themselves in small whispers, guiding you to yield, to move as required, to relax into compliance. He met people who spoke to him…the girl at the canteen…in words of normal exchange. He let himself be viewed unskittish, a fellow citizen.
“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. “My God! She asked someone to… 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 greenlighted. 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. Feeling provoked, he had patted the knee of his seatmate, a uniformed guard, and flaunted the ring under her nose.
(2020, Stephanie Foster)