Anton, anchorless, eager to attach, is adrift in a country newly occupied by the ultra-socialist mid-continent regime, the G.R.A.
The coalition employs its theories to do more than redistribute the nation’s plundered wealth, following the ouster of the Jocelynists. The G.R.A. means to eliminate all divisions, all loyalties, all shared objects, neighborhoods, dialects, faiths, and replace them with dispassionate numbering schemes, assigned housing, distributed food, make-work for the majority. The Hidtha, driven from their old lands to the peninsula, form a ubiquitous underclass, with no desire to conform, but a willingness to seize from equally despised oppressors, opportunity.
And all those Anton find himself befriended by, the resistance general Palma, the G.R.A. soldier Herward, the detained aid worker Mary Wainwright, and the pedigreed Swisshelm sisters, have a use for him.
Anton nearly smiled.
The glass kept steaming up, over and over. Because in a downstairs chamber something, and he did not know what, boiled. Had it been sour cabbage, he would have felt envious, hungry as he’d always been. But he never smelled anything cook in this house. On an early winter day, he’d arrived; it had been frigid like this every day since. He’d been forced, given orders, to keep to his room. He had no idea what went on below.
This huddling figure he saw, dressed in black wool, ought to be Palma, coming in at the door, at the foot of the fire escape. She would give him something to do, and a reason for going out. An identity, as had been her promise…under the cover of which, he could go out. This stretching of his legs was at the moment all in all to Anton, and he strained to catch the sound of her heels, clattering up the last flight.
These were not proper stairs, but salvage from a breakers’ yard; the steps were metal, open to the shaft of the stairwell, and induced in Anton a nervous fear. Minutes went past. He knew this from the ticking of his watch, without taking his eyes from the beading condensation. He supposed she’d been able to enter.
Since he did not make arrangements with Palma—Palma made arrangements with him—it occurred to Anton that particular door might be kept locked. Next it occurred to him that Palma, having told him to record traffic on the causeway, note insignia and colors in his diary, might have guessed him to have more sense. He decided he would go out without specific permission, just to creep as far as the last attic step. Listen there. Descend to the ground floor, if it seemed safe to do so.
Palma was standing in the cold brick lane, her coat in anticipation folded over her arm, her beret still cocked over her chopped hair, scarf hanging loose.
“That’s a warm-looking sweater,” he said.
She shoved at the power closet’s door, and Anton scuttled backwards. The buzz of electricity made him nervous as well. His bare wrist touched something that seemed to coil away, and he started. The closet affected Palma in no way at all—she had left him, not caring for his remark, not answering. There was only Anton, bathed there in a red glow from the rows of monitoring lights.
He found her in his room. She’d taken his rush-seated chair, and was reading his diary. But anything he’d written there was for her.
“No,” she said. “This won’t be good enough…not by any means. Will you think?”
“Tell me how I’ve gone wrong.”
“This sketch…what does it say underneath?”
He was confident, at first, that he could mollify her. He knew of no reason, other than the cold, other than that she’d had to walk here, why her mood must be so tetchy.
“Green,” he said, taking the book from her and reading off his notations. “Yellow.”
He’d been about to say, “black”; but Palma reached across and tugged the diary from his fingers. She did this as though having lost all patience. It dropped to the floor, between his shoes and hers.
She then tapped it from sight under the daybed, and drew a deep breath. “If you are going to bother making pictures, you must please make your figures large enough…” She broke off. “I don’t think you’ve got it.”
Anton interrupted her in turn, feeling, for the first time with Palma, unconciliatory. She knew she’d left him here, with only the tinned meat and biscuits to feed on. He’d been getting his water in a cup, tipping in the window and breaking the ends from icicles, letting them melt…sucking them when they wouldn’t melt. It was not so much, he thought, to have said, “I have brought you your name.” Palma might have done this small kindness for him at once.
“I’ve done a poor job, I suppose. But let me tell you who they were. I can. Why you wouldn’t know it yourself, when I’ve given you the colors…”
“Tell me! I may never see you again.”
He opened his mouth…and then thought, she doesn’t mean it like that. Her voice had sounded scornful. The scorn had been shaded, not overt. His director seemed moved most often by irritation, otherwise by the pity one might feel for an imbecile.
“I’ve done a poor job,” he said again. “Who will I be?”
The card had his photograph printed on it, a seal in red stamped over this, a signature, his own, mysteriously. Another signature—the name of an official (one of theirs), safe to be checked. Yes, he eyed it all carefully once more—the name on his identity card was given as A. Leonhardt.
“Why…” But what was the reasonable question?
“They’ve decided on this,” he said.
And in accord with habit, Palma answered by skipping to the next topic. “I have your instructions. I hope you’re paying attention. The word is a very easy one. Tourmaline.”
“You say easy.” And as it was useless with Palma, he would not go further. She might not find it so, if she were the one having to work it into conversation.
The other thing had been to have supper at one of the kitchens, to walk out into the town, to find a place at a common table, if any supper were being served that day. But, she’d said, to be finished by sunset…and to keep clear of the illegal cabarets.
They were touching, all of them, packed that tightly, twisting shoulders to avoid intimacy, effaced and invisible to one another. They were queued so far along the street, he doubted he could respect Palma’s curfew. He doubted he would be fed at all. Here were three who’d given it up, and had seated themselves in an entry alcove, bundling under a shared blanket. This business, like all he knew of along the waterfront, was shuttered, its windows filled by tidy sheets of something black, that might be cardboard, or might be steel.
By snipers hidden, the looters had been shot so relentlessly…a mile overhead, the invaders might have lain on their bellies, in their slow-moving balloons. They were painted in a pattern of clouds. There was not a scrap of glass on the street. There was no ash, no paper. No graffitied symbol of defiance, no unlocked door.
To bide the time he began a story: The character fashions false news. I have tourmaline to sell, sir. I have had tourmaline stolen from me, ma’am. I remember tourmaline from the old days, child. The character has learned to compensate at such times he must do without tourmaline, the thing wanted and not wanted. Today, the character would rather eat.
That anyone would speak or shout, that any of these colorless bodies clad in dark olive, their ears wrapped in scarves, would uncouple from the train, and lose his place…meant, of course, that they had all lost their places. Someone, meters ahead, out of sight but screaming, had missed…finding herself not next, but first. Her foot on the doorstone, the kitchen shut, bolted for the night. They were a mob now. The snaking line compressed and throbbed. Something flew; Anton flung a hand to catch it, or deflect it. He was stuck across the diaphragm. He felt the heel of a shoe ram the back of his knee, and sank, but could not come to rest, the crowd so dense that he was jostled from one collision to the next. The voices fell away.
Palma had given him (rather, the character to be called A. Leonhardt, he amended to himself) her explanation for what the G.R.A. did. Were now doing. The sound was in fact loud, but sub-audible; the tiny hairs that transmitted sense to the nerves inside the ear told the target he was being yelled at, rebuked by a stern father. The effect was a terrible unease.
“My advice, Anton, is the same as always. You are not you. You have a friend who writes under a name. I could accept your politics if I were willing to publish lies in my own paper.”
He had tried for two years—that had been in the capital—to win her respect. But Palma had not said all of these things. Anton had no friends and had never claimed to. He had no politics, but she had accused him of it. This pedantic speaker, then, this old man, was signaling him, covering Palma’s well-remembered dismissal. The added bit…Anton wondered if he had forgotten it already.
Some other Anton grunted in reply. A woman danced in front of Anton, laying a hand on his sleeve. On the four fingers of her hand were rings, silver rings stacked, and set with green stones. I am being mocked, he told himself.
The sound cannon seemed to have left off. The rings glinted. A tin of metal glinted.
“You deserve it, don’t you?” she said. “They didn’t have any business, shoving you.”
He found himself nodding, silently dropping the tinned meat in a pocket of his coat, and taking too long to say the polite thing.
“Come on, Dad.” She started to turn off, down the way that led to the wharfside. She’d crooked an elbow, and taken the old man’s arm. They might be wrong, and he ought not to trust them.
“No,” he said. “Wait.”
The other Anton, a thin young man with dark-circled eyes, sheared off, speaking no word; he had not bothered, even, to peer face to face at his doppelgänger. But Anton found there was a second girl. She came out from behind the old man’s raincoat.
“I have biscuits in my room. We might make a meal of it.” He patted the tin in his pocket. “All of you.”
He added, “I don’t mind.”
He minded intensely. Being cleaned out of store…just to learn if they would rob him properly, once he’d shut the door and was alone with them. Or they might not rob him, but he would starve for obligation anyway, and could not send the distress signal to Palma. Her scorn would be blistering. Why he would not fend for himself, if it were only food he needed…fend for himself! Like the others did.
The woman was telling him their names, chattering on the way up the hill (the man, and his younger daughter had got ahead, and seemed to be leading Anton to his own house). She had some story as well—he couldn’t listen for agitation—one in which the old man figured. Her father had once taught the difficult grammar of the peninsula’s tribal language. A private tutor in a private home. The doctor had fled on one of the last boats leaving.
“So we’re out of employment, all of us.”
And she said it too. He was embarrassed at this inadvertent comedy. She was not. He had been going to ask her, again, what was her name.
She asked, “What is your name?”
“Anton,” he told her. And then felt he might be rude. He was sure he couldn’t be…but let it drop. In that way, he had not learned her name.
“Where the adjectival phrase takes the place of a noun; where we grammarians employ the hyphenated construction…which is, of course, a bit of shorthand for us; I mean for us alone…they, while officially, the nomads use our own alphabet…” Professor Swisshelm had lost himself. He removed his plug of tobacco and placed it, to be used again, on a glass saucer, this the sealing cap of a canning jar. Where had he got tobacco? His daughter had served a surprising omelet, made from real egg. She had given her guest a cup of cocoa, thin and watery…and rather shame-making, as they’d all sat watching Anton drink it.
“In fact, generally they use no written means of communication at all, the Hidtha. Most are illiterate. Ah! I was going to say…it is all in the context. The curious aspect is that the noun, rather than the adjective, changes case depending upon the actor.”
“So, they are natural philosophers. A thing has only those properties it takes from its observer. Please, professor, will you write some of these phrases down, that you think I ought to know?”
The approach was blatant. Anton had been suffering through this lecture, weighing the possibilities. The obvious, that Swisshelm was nattering, because today he had an audience…and that, bound in duty. In all cases of tourmaline, Anton must listen with the closest attention. It was a luxury to have anything on paper, and Swisshelm might refuse.
“I will do you one better,” he said.
Some lightening in the lowering damp of the coastland suggested spring. Anton’s mood was not lifted. It made sense, he was telling himself, to study the book in depth. Peculiarities in the Hidtha: the Autochthonous Speech of the Eastern Peninsula.
“Yes, keep that. I have three or four.” These interactions with the Swisshelms had continued spoiled by a mordant undercurrent of humor.
The Hidtha, when one saw them, seemed all to have become militarized and modern. They wore green fatigues, black berets with the yellow insignia. But Anton had nothing to do in the evenings. He might learn one or two phrases.
They were frightening people. And nominally, the Hidtha were allies.
She caught him up, trotting to the top of the hill, with a face so familial that he knew, however humiliating, the foolishness must end. No, this was not humiliation. It was another thing, and deeper. Palma had never liked him. In a moment, he would insult this woman, asking her to tell him who she was, and that welcoming he saw in her eyes would fade.
“I have never managed to get your name.” He tried a bit of a smile.
She laughed. And then said, “That book of Dad’s. Since the G.R.A. have come here, you know, they’ve never lost a battle. It’s true. I say it on the street.” She made a performer’s gesture, sweeping an open hand in a half-circle. The humor, he thought.
“The glossary might be helpful to you. Just to get started. A lot of the book is taken up with interviews Dad conducted. With some of the old herdsmen who are dead now.”
This spotty chit-chat had got him to the door of his building.
He tried to get at it early in the morning, this task of tedious reading, after she’d gone home. Anton found himself distracted by a number of worries, by a ringing in the ears, by the fresh-air smell that pulsed with the wind through the closed window. He opened this. The day was not warm. He lay on the bed, let a hand drop to the floor. Some object moved as his finger struck it, and he heard the dismaying sound of a tiny thing tinkling off to a dark corner. The corners of this house had been gnawed by rats, their holes an oblivion between walls. He’d managed, groping after his camera’s focusing knob, that he’d tightened the wrong direction—it had arced away suddenly—to lose a needed thing, an irreplaceable thing. He could guess what she’d left him. And why she had.
On his stomach he hovered a reaching hand just above the fringe where the rug ended. At the second pass he got it…and got with it a tangle of hempen string, and a clot of greasy dust.
He would walk out to look at the sea. Unless he found there was a patrol today, blocking the causeway. From time to time, for reasons of their own, they did. The ring fit his third finger; and so for safety, he wore it.
Three or four vocabulary words, used in a sentence, enough to go on with. Dd was the sound of a rolled r. Feidda. Ei: ay. Feidda. I am going on a journey.
ehca bei feidda djoui-acht
At present, should he encounter one of the Hidtha, he would make a ponderous speaker—and they would be patient men if they bothered listening. But one saw them at dawn, moving under cover of the seaside’s climbing fogs.
This morning’s had yet to burn off.
Anton found it difficult to dress for the weather. Having so little heat in the house, he wore his coat and cap most of the time; and feeling chilled to begin with, could detect, coming outdoors, not much difference…other than an increase in damp. But when he had walked to the shore, then along it, the sun began to penetrate, and he thought he would carry his coat over his arm.
Nearing an outcrop of rock that formed a cove with a brutal undertow, Anton saw the usual small craft, those that rowed out to the anchored boats. His ear was attuned, for the first time, to snatches of the peninsular speech, the patois of the fishmongers. He was able to make out “today” and “goodbye”, no more.
Someone came to walk at his side, and kept pace with him, a man with a metal box for carrying ice.
Anton spoke first, these motions too deliberate for him to suppose this acquired companion did not bring a message.
“You were saying something just now.”
“Oh, well, I was talking to myself.” He laughed, in a way he would not have found convincing. He had just recognized this messenger as the other Anton. And realized, that in taking off his coat, he’d taken his hand out of his pocket, flashing tourmaline.
“Say that again.”
Anton cleared his throat. “Ehca bei feidda djoui-acht.”
Sarcasm. Goodbye, the other Anton had said, and ground the shape of a turning foot in the soft pebbles of the beach.
“Do you have two sisters, Anton?”
If he had named the family, called out Swisshelm within earshot of the three-wheeled motorbike and the officer on patrol who had ridden it to the causeway’s end, he would not much more greatly have breached the rules.
The officer’s face was an expressionless mouth between dark lenses and chin-strap.
This Anton, a better agent than A. Leonhardt, for he’d made note, without staring, of tourmaline—also was resolute in keeping his face forward, and his gait steady. Only he had twitched a shoulder slightly at the words. But the officer might notice even that.
These days the invaders used the university’s auditorium and its larger lecture halls to show films; this present round to explain the new rationing scheme. Gaining his ticket had demanded a long walk of many blocks.
Anton came to a table, one of six placed in a hexagon skirting the naked base of a statue. He’d never seen it, and didn’t know what it had once commemorated. He shuffled at last to a place across from a Helper, and was sent to a different table. Here, he was classed in some way he thought designated him an outsider.
“Nedforum,” the woman had written in her binder. The name was beginning to stick. It was a way of pronouncing NED4M, that designation for the capital; its location and rough population. Northeast Department; four million.
The invaders’ plan called for each population center to be also a center of industry; to move the people into quadrants and to balance their numbers. This second Helper handed him a clip-on badge, and told him he might wear it at the waist, or at the collar.
And because they were finally being given enough to eat, the people were now gentle as lambs; they walked miles and waited hours…they even laughed and sang in the queues.
The Swisshelms were at home.
He knew it. He’d followed them from the kitchen to their door. He’d atoned for the emotional impulse, for having called out to Anton. He had kept clear of their house for a month. He saw the family, bunched together, ahead by a few dozen ration-seekers, coatless, the daughters bright in their spring dress.
He hadn’t spoken. That was taking care…and they ought to appreciate it. He hadn’t come close enough to their heels to look as though he were walking with them. He would not have expected her to leave the door standing open. That might not have been wise.
But he found she’d locked it. She had smiled at him once, bending to turn the knob, lifting her eyes and brushing away a strand of hair. She had locked him out.
Emotion caught Anton again. This treatment was the reason he had spoken out of turn. The only reason. Yes, the aloof smile. The phrase embodied how they’d cultivated and rejected him. He banged at the Swisshelms’ door.
They had wasted his time…he’d forgotten tourmaline, thinking he’d found it. He ought to have been out making contacts.
But he was not making a troublesome scene. He had only shouted something crude; and then, feeling so much a fool…being one in such an exposed way, had gone on with it, pounding the door with his fist, ready to kick in its glass, calling her bitch, bitch, bitch.
I am not going to tell you that you ought to have made certain of it. That won’t do you any good.
She wrote in resolute black, and drew arrows; her comments in the margin, full sentences and apropos.
POORLY DO YOU KNOW HIM,
BURIED IN A MASS GRAVE;
SOME RECORD-KEEPER MUST AT LEAST
PUT A FALSE NAME ON A PLAQUE
The lines were all in green, and the censor had allowed it.
Anton Leonhardt could set down volumes of complaint, mad complaint. He could post a faithful stream in verse; address her on the envelope by the name he knew.
Palma understood that he was blaming her, but found self-reproach immaterial, beside the point. She wanted to force the truth from him, make him see with clear eyes. If his need was to believe in a strong leader, she would heal Anton.
Mission. He had not come to understand it.
It was his lamentation and his pride he spilled to her, in colored ink he imagined to be code. Theirs, between them. No—she wrote it—you ought to have taken your pride from obeying orders and having faith in me. I can only hem you round with mechanisms. The mechanisms are in themselves sound.
And when they had decided he was harmless to them, unstable, and could not be given work, he might be released. Mrs. Leonhardt would take Anton to her bosom. She wanted only the return of a son…he need not be the one she’d lost.
Frederick came in, making with his grenade belt and the rifle slung over his back, the usual jangling noise. The G.R.A. had never taken anyone’s guns, finding it handier, more demoralizing during this truce, to make the resisters police their own neighborhoods. They could be starved for supplies, encircled, blamed and agitated against, while the line between prosperity and poverty grew more distinct. They would fail one day, and the G.R.A. would rescue them.
Palma, like the others, kept her door stoppered open. She had pretty clothes and never wore them. She had keepsakes of her mother’s and would let the rent-man, if he threatened, smash all to the street below. No one would pay the new rates, to hold their rights to their own expropriated property.
At somewhere near the three-months’ mark, on schedule, after the food shortage had been ended, the invaders had doubled rents. You see, she wanted to write to Anton, will you see, how this cheeseparing efficiency informs their process. They would like not to work too hard, so break us in cycles. You say heart to me, and I say, there is no such thing.
However, the capital had a heart.
And when the G.R.A. wanted to clear this district of squatters, having made these of its inheritors; when they wanted to knock down the houses for their new apartment blocks, they would begin by making everyone ill.
“Do you have much to complain of today?” she asked Frederick.
“Nothing,” he said. “How is it with you, Palma?”
Through the door came Mary Wainwright. She was with the Hidtha Ftheorde.
“Ah, now you’re here, will you help move the sofa?”
Palma, for her own sake, found it best setting Mary to work at once. Mary’s companion, in silence, hoisted his end; Frederick crouched and raised the other. Mary fluttered alongside.
“Oh, but,” she said. “You’re not going to put that across the door?”
Then: “I guess, why not, if you think so.”
Palma went to the window, a figure in black. She made her back straight, and stared. They could measure that stare; they would learn she looked only at the line of snow-capped mountains separating the peninsula from the mainland. She yielded her place to Frederick. He chose rather, hearing a horn sound from the pavement, to follow this car, shifting his glower in a slow and deliberate way, up the street.
The Wainwrights had come when the invasion had been expected. Only expected, like an inundation, a volcanic winter, a thing that must be horrible in its encroaching effects. The sky had remained blue. Taxis had crawled the capital. Palma had dressed in heeled shoes and velvet frocks. Past midnight the café tables had been crowded.
The Wainwrights had come to write this story. They were stuck here now, both convinced David was dying. Palma wanted Mary to believe it, that he was not. She told herself she must not hate Mary. The impulse was weaponry…any state of emotion mere chemistry, an electromagnetic transaction between neural cells. One could feel the tap on the bone behind the ear. A stimulation to spark defensive wrath, to make enemies of allies.
And these pains, depressions, madnesses, that waved across the city, were the reason her people, quarantined within a color-wheel of central sectors, had not by force been disarmed. The pills given at the health clinic would finish David, not his back and his weakened sinews. He had gained so much weight. If he only would allow his wife to walk him to these gatherings, that his mettle might be awakened, his adamancy exhorted.
“What has David been able to do today?”
It was a speech-form she demanded of her fighters. Everything a refutation, a chance to show under the camera and the microphone, their undying will…to rise on a new morning, do the next new thing. Palma asked Mary this, and at once, hearing the prefacing sigh, turned her mind to her own thoughts.
No, Mary was courageous…her views not at all realistic. Her misfortune. She would martyr herself over this romantic dream—she thought Palma and Frederick so brave and so good.
She’d aspired, finding out there were natives here, to make a great study of the Hidtha. And of course it was wrong, coming at the herdsmen with curiosity and foreign diction. For many weeks, she hadn’t known the Ftheorde had given her his title; she had spoken to him with an off-kilter familiarity. The Hidtha did not tell their names. Mothers called sons and daughters differently from fathers. Only the titles, which were immutable, and had the neutral ending, could be used by non-Hidtha.
When they met, they began in this way.
Palma, their general, had stated these things to her fighters in the plainest terms. “They will like to watch us every moment. They will use radar or thermal imaging, come through the walls. And then of course, software to make the images real to their eyes. As in the days when everyone had information and could try things, you recall one sometimes saw pictures of galaxies. The galaxies had not been photographed. They were created from energy profiles.
“They don’t know if what we do matters or not. They have to pay attention. They have to file away their data and find it again. We will give them volumes of data.” The resistance had found that shared knowledge was language. There were dates on which things of significance had happened. Eyes, on the twenty-seventh or the fourteenth of particular months, would meet.
And of course, anyone might act at any moment. If he were a suicide fighter; if he had chosen this for himself.
“What will you read, Frederick?”
He grinned. “No other God before me. Friends—”
Yes, it posed something of a hazard to the G.R.A., but why would Palma’s fighters not rally themselves, preach sermons if they liked, lift one another’s spirits? Those forced to monitor these words (they must be rather lowly soldiers, tasked with such dull work) might find themselves tempted, counter-indoctrinated. The sentiments expressed were universal.
“Friends, long ago, among the sects who in those days practiced, and who accepted guidance according to those laws they called Commandments, there came to a northern state a wise man. His name was Moody. Moody said, of the first of these, a good thing: ‘That which you think about most often is your God.’
“Friends, we are an oppressed people. We long for consolation. The invaders, before they came—yes, even then—campaigned against our consolation. Our Brother David is left embarrassed and bereft of consolation. Our Brother Anton…”
The Ftheorde spoke, and only to Palma. By Hidtha law, among them he was of the highest rank, and the topic had been broached.
“General, your Leonhardt, this one called Anton, shares his room with Utdrife, one of those. What does he write to you? The Utdrife says…he has said it to his jailers…that he has made a very fair offer. And for that he has opened his hand, so, your Leonhardt expects to be murdered.” The Ftheorde’s hand, twice, grasped after the letter, and Palma, seeing opportunity, told him, “Here, I will let you have it. Take it when you go, and let Mary read it to you.”
“Oh, let me now. Because I’ve only brought one of my own.” She added, and trailed off to a murmur, “I write to my sister…just to please myself. Just as though I really could. I think I might like making a book of them…all my letters.”
“I suppose you were going to take him over the mountains, and make him do work for your family, since the Utdrife will no longer work.”
“No. Myself, no. On my name, this is what I mean, I forbid it. Because your Leonhardt supposes, he has told the Utdrife, we are able to make explosives in our caves and that we force prisoners to carry them. You see why he would be killed at once.”
Yes, Anton kept nothing to himself.
Even could he be controlled, made a conscientious helper, he would not be loved by his captor. He, Palma, Frederick, Mary and David, all of them, were at length enemies to the Hidtha. The Utdrife were the heart…there again, the heart…of the Hidtha’s grief. Young men had once found new grazing land on which to spend their inheritance. After the Hidtha had been driven to the peninsula, the young could take nothing more for themselves. These Utdrife had become mercenary soldiers in green and black. They were nameless to their fathers and mothers. The Hidtha wanted not to trade one would-be arbiter for another; they were not stupid or primitive, that they could be played by the invaders against the resisters for tinned meat and pills. They wanted the past restored. They knew they would get only the past.
This entente between herself and the Ftheorde rested poised, thus, at the knife’s edge. The recollection of Anton’s paranoid excursions, his verse-making, made Palma give attention to Mary. The flush on Mary’s face had receded, but she sat angry or abashed.
“You next,” Palma told her. “I was only intending to speak to you all of the anniversary. To remind you, Ftheorde; you, Frederick…you, Mary—of those things we must not do. How careful, in a week’s time, we must be. Surely,” she added, “we are gods to our auditors, who watch so closely, and listen so passionately, and our Will shall be obeyed.”
In fact the monitoring could function at times as a power of wishing. If Palma named an enemy, the G.R.A. might place him in her hands, through their own machinations. If they too wanted him removed from office.
“Don’t read it all.”
She was prompting Mary, who’d gone silent, and whose eyes spilled tears. Without blotting these, and in a soft voice, unreflective of Anton’s capitals, Mary began to speak.
Now have you shown yourself faithful
I had supposed myself a named thing
In this conceit perhaps I am mistaken
I may be the drop of blood that dyes the stream
And you are strong in ways I am unable
Your rooted hold on solid earth I see
But only as a drowning man forsaken
In memory knows the shore he cannot reach
Palma had earlier sat cross-legged by herself where the door stood open and where anyone might have heard, and read aloud Anton’s six pages. She knew him to speak, in these lines, to another woman. He did this often, scribbling out his lengthening jeremiad, hating her, loving her.
Yes, coastal people are like dandelions gone to seed. Pluck one from the field and the head scatters. It was an old proverb…and it might be no more than that had damaged Anton—that he spoke, and his adored one misunderstood, could not understand.
Yet Mary, the foreigner, wept over these words. She wept for being alone, and soon. She need not be. Anton called it love, Palma’s mission, and wept too, in his ignorance. She would never leave him—even now in her thoughts she planned his escape, the words that would make it seem to the G.R.A. that they must follow this soldier back to his general. And though she would give him Mary Wainwright for a lover, and Mrs. Leonhardt for a mother, Palma would never be tender towards him.
Mrs. Leonhardt had taken out all the old silver. Her mother’s silver, her own, the sugars and the salt cellars that she for a time had always been buying, always poking through the second-hand markets, offering half the asking price for anything blackened, anything with the handle or feet off.
“That’s good silver. You could polish it up.”
If a vendor gave her that, she gave back: “Well, so could you, then.”
She’d had foresight, that way.
She’d had Anton, now, past the weekend. Their first days, Mrs. Leonhardt had found him easy to manage, the way he’d crawled under the covers and stayed there; and she hadn’t known then if he was free as he claimed…if an officer would come pounding at the door…so it was as well.
In his suffering, his face had changed. Her son had had all along, so she accounted for it in her mind, the brow and chin and the dark hair of her maternal grandfather. Only his pallor and thinness showed it now. She was bringing out the things she’d coffered, to prove this to herself, that Anton was alive and not dead; that though he could not in memory place himself, how he’d lived away for ten years, been imprisoned…
Some guardian angel had done her this kindness. Of taking him to her doorstep and ringing the bell.
So, economy profited one in mourning, as in all things. This reserve, this heart-burning restored to the ledger, of debts to be paid in future (for of course, in old age, one could always grieve), had been yet another instance of her born wisdom. There were mothers like herself, bereaved, many of them now. They had spent it all and not been given this reward.
She had first nailed the mirror up—she had done this on her own—to hide the linen cupboard, those things she treasured, and things to barter. Of carpenter’s tools, she had generations’ worth. Anton’s father had not done very much fixing. But he’d been good about not giving things away.
“If you hear anything…don’t be afraid.”
She’d carried the hammer in her left hand, tapping Anton on the shoulder with her right.
“What, what?” He twisted towards her, fighting the comforter.
“I have a chore to do, I’m saying.”
To explain, she happened to raise the hammer. His face altered, lost its unconscious animation. He’d awakened almost keen, eyes engaged for the least second; at once, he seemed to remember himself. He met Mrs. Leonhardt’s eyes, and went guarded. She would not tell him again that she was his mother, that he was her Anton, and safe here at home. Today, she would tell him to go to the kitchen and get his own breakfast.
Carefully, carefully, Mrs. Leonhardt wiggled the pulling end—the claw, was it?—and when she’d got six labored nails loosened, knew she had two times as many remaining. Thinking now of the chore’s nature, she could see trouble, a single nail precarious, holding the heavy mirror by one upper corner.
The bell rang. And in that same way.
If Anton had gone downstairs, he could not have got to the door before the caller began leaning on the bell, letting a long, continuous summons rattle the front hall. Nothing, she found, after running with the hammer in her hand pell-mell to the landing, had been abandoned on the stoop. This time a soldier, shaved scalp under a yellow beret, brass-buttoned lapel fastened at the neck, waited smiling. But of course, if he were the same one, the angel, she wouldn’t know it.
“Ma’am.” He raised a gloved hand to his forehead. “Mrs. Leonhardt?”
“Corporal Herward. Do you live in this house alone, ma’am?”
The correct answer would be that she did. Or that she might. If Anton were well, he would want to take up with his friends, follow that woman—if he could find her now—as he’d gone off doing to begin with.
She had come to say it to Mrs. Leonhardt in person (this Palma thinking it honorable…that with this sort of news, an approach mattered). Anton had been killed. Mrs. Leonhardt lifted her chin, remembering. Liar. He hadn’t been. Why trust the resistance, then, their general?
The corporal, his tone of voice no different, repeated, “Do you live here alone, ma’am?”
“Are you asking,” she replied to him at last, “to come in?”
“Only if I can help you with anything. We’re checking the neighborhood, that’s all. Have you got enough to eat?”
“Never mind food,” she said. “Can you hold something for me?” For a moment, she’d weighed this plea. She thought it wasn’t much to ask. She doubted Anton could do it…she would not be able to get his attention.
In that way, the G.R.A. corporal had taken an inventory—Mrs. Leonhardt knew he had—of her silver, her picture albums, the radio and batteries, the flour and sugar in their canisters, taped up against moths. But all along, while prying the nails for her, strong enough to hold the mirror with one hand, he’d been polite as at the front door, and hadn’t shown a sign of noticing.
“My son,” she told him, “has just come home. I can’t say what he plans to do.”
“I think I know Anton.” He’d surprised her with this.
Anton had not put the kettle on for his cocoa, or put his plate in the oven to warm. He stared at Corporal Herward, head lowered, squinting up; then he crossed his arms and thrust his hands in the opposite sleeves. Mrs. Leonhardt’s son now sat mute at the kitchen table, blank in the eyes, rubbing his handkerchief on a silver card tray. He’d absorbed himself with the task, as soon as Herward had set two or three things in front of him.
“I have chocolate bars.” She told her guest this; and also, “You can drink my coffee. There’s nothing wrong with it.”
“Thank you, ma’am. Yes,” Herward seated himself on a vinyl-cushioned stool that wheezed, expelling air…he chuckled at the noise, and spun towards Anton, speaking for his benefit, but to his mother. “My first assignment was down the coast. I grew up in Cadwilliam. So I’m native. You could tell that.” He gave her an agreeable bob of the head. He had called the capital of the new Central District by its colloquial new name.
“Yes,” he said again, and this time rested fingers on Anton’s forearm. “Vonnie and I are good friends. I saw her with you.”
“I don’t think Miss Swisshelm could be called Vonnie.”
“Oh, well. I call her that. Because of knowing her. She may have told you to call her something else.”
“Hmm. What is telling? I tell the truth. I give my name as Anton. I was given the name of Anton. I tell you I am Anton Leonhardt. She will not give me her name. She gives me a ring. She gives me over to the enemy. I am given paper to write a confession. But I am given no light…her green stone not meant for seeing…it may be aventurine or tsavorite. I was told I would know when I had got it right. Herok, unterceddhore.”
“Now, I don’t know what that means.” Mrs. Leonhardt had not heard Anton make such a speech, and her face flushed at his doing so before company. She poured coffee, and turned from the burner to the table, holding the cup on its saucer in one hand; on a salad plate in the other, the chocolate bar. This she had not unwrapped, because if the corporal shook his head, she would put it away again.
His half-smile remained sociable. “The herok is a sort of bird, a tattle-bird. It’s a saying of the Hidtha. The Swisshelms had you studying the language.” The corporal said these things, the first to Mrs. Leonhardt; the last, with another touch on the arm, to Anton…for Anton had not stopped speaking, but mumbled more of the strange words, working an agitated hand over his polishing.
When she lifted the pot again, Herward lifted his cup, understanding her, and so Mrs. Leonhardt poured him a second. Rather than have one herself, she took Anton’s. That saved the waste, and Anton would protest if he’d wanted it after all. He must for himself do that, at least.
Yes, she would start a sterner policy with him…else, he might get worse…
She thought he was getting worse, and would have to be seen by a doctor. Was that a question, then, for the corporal, a kind of help she needed?
Herward was helping himself to her box of photo albums, and had accepted the chocolate bar, chewing while he fingered her things, not even paying this treat full attention. He had his soldier’s pay, and didn’t care what food cost. He didn’t care that the G.R.A. had closed all the banks, seized all the land deeds, placed her on a monthly stipend. One she’d had to go ask them for. She was paying rent on her own house. The woman behind the desk, that she’d had to apply to, had suggested she might be healthy enough to work.
“That’s not your business,” Mrs. Leonhardt said to her.
She could say the same now.
“That’s your husband…?”
“With Anton. He was six.”
She didn’t like this, the stranger’s pointing to the blond child. She hadn’t remembered it as clearly as she’d supposed, what her son had looked like. But then Herward said, “Sure, of course. I knew that.”
He looked across at Anton bent over his work, shaking salt into Mrs. Leonhardt’s dregs of cocoa, tamping in his handkerchief, heedless of the stain, and rubbing this on the silver—nodding to himself at this better success, no longer mumbling.
“Anton hasn’t changed so much, has he?”
She looked again, both at the picture, and at Anton. “He had blond hair when he was small, but it went dark.”
This seemed to her possible…and having said the words aloud, Mrs. Leonhardt came partway to believing them.
“And this is Anton with his grandmother.”
“No. That’s the older boy.”
A minute ticked by. “A shame,” Herward said.
That was a way of putting it. A number of things might be a shame, and she had given not much thought, for many years, to the child who had died so early.
“You talked to your roommate about your grandmother.” Herward said this to Anton and gave him the photo, slipping it onto the cloth under his hand. Anton took it up at once between two fingers and held it over his head, while with his other hand, he polished. Herward gave up, caught the photo, and tucked it back into its plastic.
Anton said, “Yes, I think she may be living, still in her old apartment. My grandmother.”
The corporal’s impulse to friendship had not been blunted by Anton’s discouragement. He called again, and when all the silver had been polished, and the furniture sat adorned with it, winking at envy, Herward made a suggestion.
“Some of the new officials…you know, the city is crowded now, and everyone is living in rooms…they will have the occasion, in their positions, ma’am, to entertain. There are only one or two shops that sell old things. And you’d get less than you paid for these.”
It was his third visit. He’d shared lunch with them the second time, also, Mrs. Leonhardt less begrudging, feeding him. Herward was bringing Anton out. Playing the gadfly, it might be, but getting answers to his questions. Anton had stopped calling her Mrs. Leonhardt. He now called her by no name at all.
“I ought to advertise?”
“Oh, I don’t think so. I wondered if the idea of bartering would offend you. I can introduce you to a woman.”
Herward’s speech was always so. He came at whatever he wanted; with two or three close passes hemmed it round, waiting for her to guess.
“Tell me,” she said, “what to pick.”
And so, on a later day of that week, Mrs. Leonhardt was donning her black cardigan. This, rather than the berry-colored with the bead buttons…not to use her best, to impress a stranger. She had always held back possessions, from the stub of a pencil, to her good lace tablecloth, against the day. And the day had come. She’d been right. This meant, of course, that her husband had been right, too.
It was superstition, like Manfred said, saving. And here she was, selling things she’d never got the use of, still keeping in store a hodge-podge of fancy goods, when there could be now—for the citizen-collaborator—no occasion for them.
They got in the door, the G.R.A. They asked for your help, after you’d let them help you. She would probably lend it all away, as Palma had forecast. “We can’t have things, Mrs. Leonhardt.”
She buttoned, and called out, “Anton, are you ready?”
Anton had likes and dislikes, impassioned…and, his mother thought, tied to a strange notion of his, that the properties of objects—faceted gemstones and colored glass, square and round shapes, wool and metal, repoussé grape leaves and peacock-tails, inscribed initials—communicated messages. That he would find there a directive to an act he wouldn’t confide to her.
He had some garments of his father’s that he wore sleeping, others he’d told her, “No! I don’t want to see this again!” And thrust hands back at her, with a terrible tension in the set of his jaw.
The weather that morning was fine, the trees in flower, as they had not been on the day she’d done her shopping, only Monday. Today was Wednesday. She had an address in her pocket. No. 17—BNE, by its G.R.A. designation—that Herward had told her was well within walking distance. He’d nodded at Anton. “Yes, it isn’t winter any longer.”
He was telling her…she’d learned to read him…that he agreed with her own idea, that Anton wanted sun and fresh air, exercise to stir his appetite. Anton had, as Mrs. Leonhardt discovered, repacked Herward’s box, unwilling to have the Ochiltree woman (Unit Head, Reconciliation Bureau—where database records were retyped onto paper, a vast make-work project), separate him from his favorites. To hide himself, he wore protective things, a thick cabled pullover and dark glasses, making his appearance conspicuous.
“I’m always lost, going places, since they made all the changes. Why can’t streets have names?” She was apologizing, not saying she was sorry, for having got them mixed up; the grievance expressed, one she herself felt a kind of passion over, that stirred her at odd times.
“They don’t want names on things. They don’t want statues in the parks that commemorate things. They don’t want the coast people on the coast and the capital people in the capital. Because, you know, we get attached and sentimental. Attachment and sentiment are divisive. They want us to think obedience costs nothing.”
“Am I allowed to say I don’t care what the G.R.A. wants?”
“But, Mother.” He let this linger, his way of calling her, the dry emphasis and offensive pause. It was the first time. Mrs. Leonhardt had thought she’d waited for this day.
“I suppose a dandelion doesn’t care what the sun wants. But it can’t choose.”
All the houses were numbered, numbers without serifs, black on white, the sign a size measured for visibility from a particular distance. It wasn’t that that had lost Mrs. Leonhardt. There could be only one seventeen in any lettered section of any quarter. Houses that hadn’t conformed to a grid, those built at the ends of odd lanes, were by now mostly razed, all condemned, and the lanes themselves closed to traffic. But whole rows of houses would be torn down in time.
Her own had gabling, a pretty sort of rose window at the peak, shingles painted yellow. These might be covered in uniform white, but the G.R.A. would decide after all, Mrs. Leonhardt thought, that she was proud…she and her neighbor who shared all this. Someone looking for a home would find one splash of architecture more appealing than another, and these attachments, as Anton called them, might induce the taking of a stand.
“You look lost.”
The woman wore a non-resident’s badge, austere in type, again the irritating black on white, BNE17, WAINWRIGHT, M. Her clothes were black, and her face weak-chinned, exposed in its own whiteness by brown hair pulled severely, the uncaught strand hanging by her eye.
The words, though, had been given a bright inflection. Mrs. Leonhardt gave the woman silence, and study, and thought that if she returned the compliment, the eye of this Wainwright, M., would shed a tear. Anton answered her.
“We’ve come to the place expected.” He nodded at her chest. “Your house. They make you live there.”
“Ma’am,” Mrs. Leonhardt said, to clarify. “Are you Mrs. Ochiltree’s boarder?” It was possible they were not expected. She reviewed Herward’s actual words, and concluded he’d guaranteed nothing. “I…” she told the woman, and wanted, for being made to stand on a nameless street holding an awkward box (not counting it much that she’d taken this from Anton, believing its contents, out of his own control, would keep him at her side) to rattle the punchbowl, the cups and the ladle, to make a startling noise, stop the woman’s staring at Anton, as though behind his glasses, he did not stare back.
“…am Mrs. Leonhardt. This is Anton.”
Matters became worse.
The woman put her two hands around Anton’s arm, let go, spun and rushed ahead, stopped, turned towards them again, said, “I’m Mary Wainwright…David’s wife.” She whispered the name. “Oh, come in!”
And, of course, they could not come in…where were they?
“Palma,” she said, having led them around one of the barriers, weaving through piles of broken stone and brick, empty window frames, doors unhinged; then past the next barrier, and directly around the corner, into the foyer of number seventeen, “…she might have told you, if you’ve come back Anton…that.”
The latch to their left clicked, responding to Mary’s badge. Now, as Mrs. Leonhardt had anticipated, she did spill tears, her eyes all at once gone red. She fell onto her sofa, and snatched at a tissue box.
“Yes, I’m alone.”
“Palma,” Anton said.
“She let me have your letters.”
Anton whirled a fixed gaze on Mrs. Leonhardt, eyes unreadable…but dark lenses always conveyed, did they not, a sort of hollow anger? He stood in rigid compression, his chin dimpled, his jaw quivering as it had before. Why, she thought, is my son angry with me…what have I done? Incongruously, she thought also that when Anton had been younger, she would in fondness…doting, as a mother did, even on his rages…have noticed these things about his face.
Sympathy for the Torturer
After his second arrest, they allowed Anton again to patronize the lunchroom within his sector: A, Orange. This was where he’d caused himself trouble. The second punishment, only a week’s confinement, had been gentler than the first; the probation, unprecedented.
He thought, though it hadn’t been said, that he was in Herward’s custody.
The G.R.A. didn’t put up gates to block traffic from one quarter to another; merely, your badge would call to the guard station, whether or not you’d checked in, or had tried (in theory, for first you had to know it) evading the rule. He had some idea of how these conversations went. Corporal Herward seemed lax, on the surface, in making stops, performing his duties as the two moved along the street.
“Ma’am, did you cross yesterday into C-Sector, Rouge, at the end of the two hundred block? Your badge registered a timestamp of 15.42.”
Anton didn’t like being party to instilling these panics…followed in almost every case by surmise. So they did these things. So that was how much you had to watch out. And then, of course, Herward’s quarry would eye up Anton, memorizing his pullover or the cut of his hair. Maybe, for being dressed in civilian clothes, and Herward’s oft-seen companion, he seemed a figure of unquantifiable menace…
When he was innocent. He was one of them, born here. He’d wanted to push past Herward and apologize to the woman. It occurred to Anton his silence would have her thinking he’d come along as witness; that he’d spotted her using a back street and reported this to Herward.
“Do you think she looked…Hidtha? I couldn’t tell from the name.”
It was the sort of question one shouldn’t ask or think of; not, at least, to go by Palma’s strictures. But the Hidtha were vengeful. His Utdrife cellmate had wanted to take him over the mountains, and had sought from their jailers permission to do this. Anton had wrapped in his blanket, covering his head; he’d sat on the floor in a corner of their cell, day after day. He’d gone on a hunger strike. Finally, they had let him finish his term by himself.
He waited at the end of the long table, and Herward brought a tray. Right now the meal was beans and brown bread, but of that, no limit. This was why the lunchroom, Wednesdays, and not the ration ticket…one day of the week to feel discontent with the menu, rather than with deprivation itself. The food trucks’ offerings had proved eccentric…and you had no choice but to take what your points afforded.
Mother that morning had tried stewing raisins for breakfast; she’d got boxes of raisins, a whole carton of them. Anton chose to go without. From that insistent friendship that pleased Mrs. Leonhardt and puzzled her houseguest (he’d accepted calling her Mother, but this was the way Anton considered relations between them), Herward practiced these little courtesies.
And, because Anton sometimes lost his temper, saying things.
Certainly, if hands were laid on his person, he would fight. These delay-making, resentful job holders, who already had been given their places; these citizens so fortunate as to be marked trusted and labeled fit…
“Yes, you have been shown your life. All you will ever be.”
That was a worthwhile thing to be reminded of, and Anton wanted to remind them.
Herward thought it best he not talk to the woman guard; or the other woman who handed across trays. This guard, a day and a week ago, had pantomimed at Anton. He’d hated her at once for the show of contempt. He’d looked for Herward, and Herward had vanished, not waiting to be helpful.
“That’s right. Take those off…you get me? You can’t hide your face indoors.”
His dark glasses would be crushed in a trouser pocket, and he would have to put his name on a list to replace them…leaving the house would become a worry once more, just when he’d found this way of doing it. These thoughts had taken Anton a minute or two. And then she’d touched him, racing around her desk and clamping fingers on his arm.
Herward said only to keep him from struggling while she took custody of the glasses, and that she would have given them back.
“There’s a treat,” he said now. The bread was buttered today, and Corporal Herward—because of his uniform, Anton thought—had been given a jar of jam.
“They’ll let us keep that?”
“Sure, take it home to your mother.”
“I heard your question. Yes, it’s possible. None of them have names they’ll tell to an incomer…that’s what they call us, in their own language. You know better than I.”
He paused. Anton felt a compulsion to say it.
The word was not much different; and so, there hadn’t been much point in translating. He did not feel flattered that Herward deferred to him in this. Anton barely knew Hidtha…which designation he, a stranger, might use, but was not what their language was called. Professor Swisshelm, who’d lived among them, thought the word was Erdroddtha; their way of pronouncing the sequence of consonants almost irreproducible.
Herward said, “Is that enough? I’ll go back.”
Herward touched often, and did so now, tapping Anton on the wrist and pointing to show the queue empty.
Then: “Now, listen. How would it be…how would you personally like it…? Because I try to do what I can for you, after all. If someone…”
Again Herward stopped himself, and the implication of it, his next words confirming this, was that Anton must care; the corporal adding flesh to his straw man, attributing to Anton this sympathizer’s stance, the opposite of what he felt for the Hidtha.
“…who might not be…”
A conciliatory tone, and a euphemism.
“…from the peninsula…if Mrs. Smithrow did, let’s say, happen to have hostile associates? Suppose, Anton, she’d been warned we were coming up? Because you know I’m not conjecturing…I was telling your mother about that incident with the grenade in the stairwell. You heard me. That was in B-Sector. I trained under one of the men killed.”
Herward seemed to think that, for having come home; for having been released and given several classifications—a color-coded strip at the bottom of his badge that signaled danger to every G.R.A. soldier he passed on the street, each reacting as though drilled to it, resting a hand on the butt of his pistol—Anton no longer belonged to Palma.
Herward had fabricated this friendship, and now he presumed on it.
“Next time, I won’t come with you.”
“I hope you will.”
He sounded wounded. Then Herward scratched his chin. “Ah. I see what you mean. Well, Anton, that’s not bad for a joke. You don’t mind my looking after you, though?”
And since he had to fill this blank with an answer, Anton said, “No.” He added, “Thank you.”
“But,” Herward went on, “if we were to bring a confederate of Mrs. Smithrow’s into custody…if some resister knew where the grenade had come from—you wouldn’t expect us to be nice about letting him conceal that information?”
His inflection on nice implied: mincing, delicate.
Herward had forced this argument before, on every occasion that suggested it. Anton was hearing it now for the third time. He had not yet given in (yet…he repeated the word in his thoughts), offering Herward the prompt he was seeking. The torturers had said the same thing…their victims were supposed to forget they had. This persuasion would feel so true, then, so fresh and familiar all at once.
“Why would that woman have friends in the resistance? I don’t think she meant doing wrong.”
“If you say so, Anton, I’ll believe it. I’m not from the capital.” Herward shrugged. “So, you don’t tell me she didn’t like answering my questions?”
He saw the pitfall not in whether this, though it was hard to tell, required a “yes” or “no”. He had no reason to come to Mrs. Smithrow’s defense. He wouldn’t do it, to find himself challenged on this point at some later date. Which was too bad, another way Anton’s occupied country was being divided by the G.R.A., in that one must quell the impulse to be fair to a stranger.
“You would like to say we aren’t allowed to save lives. That’s what it comes down to, Anton.”
He had been walking, fingering out the remaining jam from the jar. He would have to go on carrying this glued, more or less, to his sticky hand. He’d darted away from washing in a public fountain, seeing an officer ride up on her motorbike.
As the gossip had it, the shortages were engineered fraud. Anton knew he thought, through the hours of his days, about food more than anything else. He knew Herward could make great strides meting out privilege; that to spurn comfort called for Palma’s sort of pride…and if he’d had that, she would have loved him better. Both their secret, shared nature, and the treats themselves induced in Anton a willingness to yield. He had not been psychologically overmastered, shrunken to a state of docile stupidity, though he crawled for the G.R.A. He supposed it true of the others…they were all grown tired, downhearted.
But at the pit of its deadened spirit, the capital smoldered. Revolt still could spark. And Anton willed, now and again, to do a great act…to show his general up, make her sorry to have thought so little of him.
This depth of sadness had inspired his verses, made him write in anger, in grinding capitals. He felt the same fog encroach now, and had, ever since he’d resolved to finish the jam and not share it with her, Mrs. Leonhardt…and that had made him dwell again, on food.
And that was the ache.
He’d written none of his poetry, once coming under her roof. Why it troubled him, the ebbing of this gift that was not a gift, empty signals flashed at a blackened window…
He supposed his mother (she was not) would sneak, just as much as any prison guard, but thought she would not mock. He believed this of her. She liked him to be an artist…as though he were Anton. She would look at his private things, and that was a transgression. But she would not look probingly, for clues that he hadn’t given up resisting, as he knew the guards had done.
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.”
Anton 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 said, pointing 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”—Anton, in agitation, switched the subject—“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.
“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?”
The officer took him by the arm. They inched forward, Anton nudging in front; before them, the exiting passengers making off in a hurry. The officer slipped past him, letting go, and jogged down the steps.
Anton had 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.
Promoted to Exile
His advocate had told him to make the most of his new station.
The advice was free, benefit of a passing encounter on Herward’s way out. The promotion had come too close on the heels of the charges’ dismissal, for him to suppose the whole thing had not been brokered. Having transgressed, he must now be exemplary in obedience. Obedience, the signal virtue of a soldier.
But the advocate seemed to think he could risk some act of bravado.
“What would you consider the most I can make, then, sir?”
“Sergeant, you’ve got the wrong attitude. You have to resign yourself to what you get, and you ought to have known it…just because you like the capital, or just because you’d be happier if they’d chosen the coast. You’ve been given an assignment. Take it as punishment, you’ve failed already. Keep your eyes open.”
Every day Herward could fail a dozen times more. And yes, he did take it as punishment. His own eyes were little use. The cameras that fed the monitors might pick something up, a moving shape in white against a dead-white field. The border offered, along with boredom…along with blizzard conditions (a visual deprivation, the misery of which he would not have guessed), the perfect chance for the stooge-in-command’s being fooled twice. The Hidtha were here within their element.
He hadn’t been ordered to watch Anton every minute.
The first scuttlebutt to reach his ears, was that Sergeant Herward, brought in from the outside, had effectively blocked the promotion of a subordinate officer. Corporals Byrnes and Hyde were his go-betweens, and his coaches, until he’d got the personalities down, and a sense of how often and by what gambits the Hidtha stressed this particular outpost. He had to drill the enlisted men, sharp questions every day, making his rounds, so as not to make a fingered informer of any one of them.
“You have to resign yourself to what you get.”
He tried the axiom on Byrnes.
“Yeah, I think so,” Byrnes said.
Among Herward’s duties was the finding of tasks to keep his men and women from idleness. Major Wrik, who sometimes came up and sometimes didn’t—a pointless surprise element to his inspections—gave no counsel.
“I trust you to do your job, sergeant.” He’d said this as though offended by the request.
Herward saw that they could take him all the way down, whenever they wanted to. He was bound to have a crisis. When it came, someone would be away from his or her post. He was doing a lieutenant’s job, his hours over-loaded—the G.R.A. kept as many officers as they could at the sergeant’s rank and pay grade.
So he’d sat down, taking the only advice he half-respected and thought might be of use, and written out a letter on paper, his language intimate. Vonnie, who was not his lover, would know by this…
He was asking her help, and it was urgent. You might remember Anton Leonhardt. You knew him, I think you said so, for a while in Cadwilliam. He was my case. But you probably spent more time with him than I did. Someone told me the Hidtha Utdrife took Anton over the mountains.
Herward sketched in a smile and a wink.
Did Jovie bring you the tea set and the chocolate bars?
This wasn’t code. It could be code. But there had been a tea set, and there had been chocolate bars. Jovie might have passed through seven or eight checkpoints, going home.
The Swisshelms were chaotists…he supposed he might have invented the word. Anarchy, conceived as its utopian idyll, was a passive condition…a let-down no doubt, in practice, beginning the day it bloomed. Tempting to label government a tick. Pull it off, the blood flows back into the vein. The untaxed poor gain nothing…but the theorists will claim unfettered commerce makes jobs for everyone.
The Hidtha were paternalistic, and lived, in their own way, without government. Their admirers the Swisshelms wanted, Herward thought, to spectate on the crash, goggle at their nation’s wholesale disintegration…and then witness a sort of tribal rebirth. Or maybe witness only excitement, a constant churning to stir their cold, clinical hearts.
At any rate, he’d defected; he’d joined the occupying army. (And knew neither Vonnie nor Jovie to be cold. But the sisters had played him the same trick they’d played Anton.) He’d joined, in a fire of outrage, that might, now and then, have flared to hate—
Or do I have it wrong, Herward asked himself. Is outrage passion, and hate…the flip side of love’s coin, well known to be. Enduring, then. He hadn’t loved Vonnie. Mr. Jocelyn’s government (Jocelyn today probably living high, on his pariah’s island), had agitated for what he’d called justice. He’d wanted the three nations bordering their own, and with whom they’d long allied themselves—for trade, for peace (defense), for the sharing of intelligence—to subordinate theirs to his regime, allow his zealots, his gang of relics, to call the shots. All that was war-mongering, and Herward, a graduate student then, had loathed it.
The war had been short and humiliating. The G.R.A., with their social science, now systematically were dissolving every tie, unnaming everything, relocating everyone, rooting and branching all rebellion. Many rebels remained Jocelynists. The Hidtha would treat only with the Palmists. But General Palma and the Ftheorde had stirred them, their old wish for independence. The Utdrife had been crossing back to the peninsula, to the rumored training camps.
Today, he’d given Byrnes an order to assemble her squadron, in snow fatigues, with their gear: radios, transponder belts, grenades and button bombs. Herward had it in mind to patrol a mile or so down the mountain, this the Hidtha named Meorsbicht’er, otherwise Miner’s Peak—otherwise, under the G.R.A., 27*A. The soldiers would fan out and reassemble at the observation post. What he wanted, and it was necessary to share this plan with Byrnes, was a prisoner to interrogate. He hoped the Hidtha would be drawn. He could see nothing in the future preventing a daily repetition of the exercise.
“When you see them, are they usually alone…or do they go in pairs?”
“We don’t see them,” she said. “The camera picks them up. Didn’t anyone ever tell you how they tunnel? If the snow is fresh we might radio for a Vortice to blow it off with the rotor wash. I never saw it do much good. They thin out the crust from underneath…and you know, it’s really easy to dig snow. It’s like they watch, to see when you’re just about to step on top of a tunnel.”
“And what are they using? Field glasses?”
She shrugged. He hadn’t got the culture of this outpost yet. They might feel, as often small units left to fend for themselves did, that they’d earned the right to dispense with courtesy. That they were a wolf pack, up here, in their ice cave.
But he said it, anyway, voice mild. “I didn’t hear you, corporal.”
“We don’t know, Sergeant Herward.”
“I want you to think,” he told the soldiers, when they stood in formation outside their Quonset hut barracks. “We’re going to turn their tactic around on them, if we can. You figure within twenty meters, going forwards and backwards from the…hole, we’ll call it…there will be a tunnel. We want to cut that off. Think about what kind of equipment will facilitate getting in and out fast. No one’s tried this.”
“We going down the tunnel?”
This again wanted correction, but Herward wasn’t giving them a line to mimic, when at night in their bunks they talked about him.
“Someone wants to know if we’re going down the tunnel.”
In fact, this was a chance to keep a straight face and let them work it through. Commit or fall apart. Herward had thought of it, that these tunnel yarns, growing in elaboration—Byrnes’s scary picture of snowpack caving under your feet, the warren of passages and shelters, that no one could give proof of—might be his hazing. It could be a number the Hidtha were doing on the unit. And he knew of no reason it might not be true.
But he would do this thing, bag a prisoner…if it meant knocking one of them, the Hidtha scouts, over with a grappling hook. The G.R.A. general staff liked full circles, things brought to a fitting conclusion, a kind of Brothers Grimm, or biblical, apt punishment for error. They would like it—he hoped they would—if he found Anton and brought him back. Herward would deem it apt, himself, if they were then stuck deciding what to do with Anton.
“A sledge. You could do more than one thing with a sledge…good in case you had wounded. Or if you caught one, you could tie him on. And then it could work like a ladder…”
These sentences faded, to a meeker and quieter conclusion. The soldier had thought, as he’d asked her to, and was afraid now of having broken with the others.
“Good,” he said.
“A flame thrower.” A sporting edge to this voice.
“Private Kent, I’ll let you requisition one.”
They used snowshoes. The terrain up here could be thin where rocks jutted, and then in pockets, meters deep. You couldn’t tell where the field of white was divided by a drop, bowls of soft snow could strangely invert themselves in the way they reflected light without shadow. So no one ought to be skimming along on a pair of skis. Herward had them stay in visual contact, spacing out in a line, the two outflanking members going to a distance of 100 meters, then maintaining it, as the next two advanced. He put himself in the center of four expanding south; Byrnes, four going north.
For hours they prodded along with their poles. They reassembled and returned to base.
Under the Jocelynist regime…well…
Herward considered that first of all, such an outpost would not have existed. They had not been at odds with their minority. Some Hidtha Utdrife launched commuter train bombings, attacked churches; but the Ftheorde had kept the old entente between their nation and his within it, disavowing the extremists. This zone that separated the mainland from the peninsula was a product of the G.R.A. occupation.
And the phenomenon of soldiers, stationed before monitors, looking at pornography, had got worse in those days when Jocelyn’s experts had shouted down the discomfited. The premier had liked his uniform and medals, thus had let his army carry on without scrutiny.
“This is real life. This is the way it is. Sex is natural,” they would say, making a point beside the point. Jocelyn’s naturalism, his state-sponsored strip culture, had lent gravitas to the ponderous socialism of the alliance.
The G.R.A. did only one thing, really. In imposing its ideology, the alliance severed ties, and severed them all. Pride in the least thing…in a well-tied shoe, one might say…would not be permitted, because you’d care for the shoe, and not for the one who’d ordered you to tie it. Herward guessed then that he might be taking things too hard. He was behaving like Anton.
If he liked looking at it as his advocate would have him do, Herward could say the affair had served to call attention to his availability. They wouldn’t like him entrenched in his work, proprietary in mood, growing secretive because he liked his reputation, lying, at length, to protect it. He wondered then, whether he could make Major Wrik appreciate his sergeant…if he could say these things to Byrnes, and she repeat them.
She was not the offender, but Kent and Hyde needed it.
They were all, therefore, digging holes in shifts—her squadron and Hyde’s. Whoever could get deepest in thirty seconds set the bar for the next exercise. He let them control that, the punishment they laid on their rivals. He’d give them a couple of weeks; then have them do some night tunneling.
They would have to violate the border. This was exactly Herward’s calculation…and keeping boldness in mind, he was giving the order without Wrik’s okay. It would teach a couple of things. If he saw his people sly or reluctant, he’d feel confirmed, in that the tunneling stories were malarkey. He thought their sergeant’s wholehearted gullibility confounded expectations, at the least. They could laugh if they liked. Herward credited the Hidtha with drawing the obvious conclusion from all this digging. If tunnels of their own were in danger, or they were affronted, merely, by an aggression they could not understand, he would see them act.
Even that act, he meant to choose for them. It must be the taking of a prisoner, Herward’s plan refined to a reversal. He was confident he could escape.
His orderly brought a stack of letters. The G.R.A. had established paper mail as the official communication. This put eyes on the streets and took the unemployed off them. The G.R.A. slowed society down, enacting short shifts and telephone switchboards, so that again people depended on what they could not personally control. Their minds dwelt on their place in the queue, the amount of time they’d spent there; decimeters of space being the possession that ordered the new hierarchy.
One letter that was not official, but had been stamped over three times to pass this channel, asked to be returned if it had not reached his desk. To Mary Wainwright. The woman got currency from the interest the Hidtha Ftheorde took in her. She’d been a nuisance to Anton. He’d gone to live in her room because of her persistence…because she romanticized his scratchpads of verse, extravagantly.
A knock at the open door. “Sergeant Herward, you have a visitor.”
Her habit—Mary herself ushered in by the orderly—had been to talk as though others must be party to her projects, or to her tragedy. Herward knew of no reason it ought not to be so, that half a year after her husband’s death (Anton, fittingly, notwithstanding) she would with her fragility and strength, push on. He could feel a little sorry for her. Only, it was a thing everyone who knew Mary had to know about her: that she did push on, that what she insisted on doing for herself, she made apparent she could not do alone. The Ftheorde was not used to a talkative woman…or he regarded all the fair-skinned inept in this light.
“I haven’t opened your letter,” Herward told her. “I only got it a moment ago.”
“I’m working again,” she answered, as he would have been surprised if she had not, pushing on, as though he’d know the contents. “I’ve been to the coast. I had to interview Dr. Swisshelm…mainly, I was trying to get his advice. He doesn’t like it, me going to the peninsula.”
Herward tinkered on his keyboard for a minute. She might think he was making notes. Had to, he thought. And interview. But she’d said she was working again…and her work had been writing books. Always with her husband. Now alone.
He’d been saying to Vonnie, I need your help.
It was landed in his own lap, this ingenuous self-sufficiency of Mary’s that would make it necessary for Herward to intervene.
“You have your visa in order. Wrik would like me to organize an escort.” He guessed.
“The major told me I have to speak to you.” She thrust a paper at Herward. He expected to see (though visas were not sheets of paper) an authorization, something from higher up, for him to have the orderly file.
He saw canted scribbling, written in what he knew to be Mary’s hand. Anton had always invited him to laugh at her.
“She wants a poem. She wants to pretend she’s only interested in editing me.”
“Let her. There’s such a thing as found poetry. Why not?”
The pretense is the same, Herward had said to himself then, giving Anton this attention. Mary’s Hidtha was dictation she’d taken from the Ftheorde. He believed this true, could not suspect one so well-armed in reckless self-negation, of guile…but her note was not—as she might simply have composed it—a document at all.
“Are you strong enough,” Herward asked, “to camp outdoors for two or three nights? We’ll be climbing down. We may need to use ropes. Maybe not.”
He thought not. She nodded, pale, but not more so, and asked him nothing about the checkpoint. He would only have passed her across, if he’d taken her there. He would put Mary in a tent, take Byrnes, and the two of them would appear to the sentinels a forward patrol.
Authority Weighs In
They needed to sit here, tented, wrapped in white skins.
The skins had landed with a laugh, a bundle susurrating into freshly fallen snow, breaking the ice crust just after, hurled from some unsuspected place overhead. The Hidtha fleered at them for getting caught this way. The reflective wraps, the fluorescent orange pop-up shelter, at least met the G.R.A. army handbook’s recommendation for surviving a squall, for being found by rescuers.
To Herward’s eyes, no distance mediated itself between flakes, so much casting of light from one to another, such busyness in the air, that he saw only grey, pale grey. But the Hidtha, as Mary said (and Mary knew more than he), could read this light, its finenesses. They were having an ordinary hunting afternoon, and the squall to them was no squall at all.
She was talking about voting rights; voting rights the mission that had brought the Wainwrights here…to whom the Council of Four would restore these, the injustice of their assessment that few deserved them. Delegate status must make a difference between one person and another…the Council was silent, thus far, on this corrupting question. Influence in the Jocelyn era had been everything, and rife.
“David was so funny.”
She’d said this, and wanted to go rummaging to prove it, and Herward had stopped her. He would have stopped her talking at all—he cared very little for Mary Wainwright’s preoccupations—but couldn’t let her sit, holding an open notebook (journal, she would call it), eyes filling. Gloved hands, in this cold, belonged under the layers of blanket and pelt. His own eyes, and Byrnes’s, watered in any case.
“I go over in my mind how we did the rounds in those days. Frederick would always take us…escort us…to all the meeting houses in the district the resistance controlled. We’d tiptoe around the floor…the papers they would have, all laid out in stacks. You know, not to flutter them up.”
You, Herward thought. Mary, even here, over fur boots was wearing one of her long skirts.
“The Ftheorde came.”
“Good thing,” Byrnes muttered.
“They let him through as he liked…he was brokering a role for the Utdrife. He wanted Palma to not recruit them, you know. The G.R.A. would have crossed the mountains, and taken the Peninsula, too, if they’d had that excuse. Poor man. So I try to think, was Anton ever there? I wouldn’t have known he was Anton, so would I have noticed him? When David…”
At this, her voice caught.
Corporal Byrnes, whose back was against Herward’s, the three of them conserving body heat, gave a nudge with her shoulder. He could make a vivid enough picture of her face. She’d whispered it to him already.
“David…” Small cough. Pious eye-roll.
Well, what was grief? Did it discount anything real Mary felt, that she had mannerisms…that anyone forced into her company could act them? Anton might be dead. Herward searched his heart for something that could stir at this news. And what if Byrnes were killed…or what might she feel if he were killed?
Voices rose outside the tent flap. Someone, with the toe of a boot, or with a fist, punched two or three times at this, then seemed to try a knife on the fabric. They spoke to each other, a gang of them growing, all antic, excited as if they’d run some wild animal to the ground. They might be tribesmen, not Utdrife, in which case Herward might gain from Mary’s slight celebrity. She knew the Ftheorde, had with him some intimate rapport. But Palma said this was true.
Byrnes had drawn her pistol. Herward motioned to her not to show it.
Her rival Hyde, the only friend who shared her rank, went around the base saying, “Just take as many of the bastards out, going down, as you got bullets.”
Herward had never heard that the Hidtha culture, the loose clan of Utdrife in particular, sentimentalized death. They behaved as though they did not understand it, that there was such a thing.
They would die, and kill too, in a frenzy.
“Hrithar getoht-acht eart Ceöld?”
He understood this was an insult—that, he ought to say, they meant it so; that he was being counted in with the two women. A double insult, indeed, if to the Hidtha only a woman would find it cold. Otherwise the hunters spoke too quickly…always the difficulty in following their language, when your acquaintance with it had been only training. Vonnie had an ear tuned by her father’s teaching, and playful, had abused Herward’s trust in this way, when he hadn’t known, and couldn’t have discerned, hitha and hithar.
Mary answered. “Than getoht-acht?”
She’d asked only, in the short grammar a fluent speaker could feel at ease with, do you think so? But women, among the Hidtha, did not answer, even to joke, if the answer challenged in some way. And so the men, for this minor prompt, roared laughter, delighted with Mary.
“Utkom than?” One said it, then others, perhaps four or five.
But you know, she told them, it’s too cold, for me, an overlander. Is there a word you are able to carry to the Ftheorde?
A type of horn the herdsmen used to signal each other could be heard from three directions. The tightly stretched tent-cloth vibrated with it, a low melancholy menace. The Utdrife did not feel themselves menaced. Utdrife these visitors would be, then, and the scornful vocalisms they exchanged showed their regard for this instrument of their fathers.
“What is it called, that horn?” he whispered to Mary.
“Well, Swisshelm calls it a type of haikhorne…traditionally, any mountain ram that has passed its fifth breeding season…” She gave him this in a fair echo of Swisshelm’s lecturing tone. She meant to launch on, through the burgeoning melée outside the tent’s membrane, and Herward couldn’t much blame Byrnes, when:
“Oh, shut up!”
But Mary, who’d come here sacrificing so much, only to help and to teach, forgave resistance. She let her voice drop to a whisper. “This is one of those things they do not name to outsiders…”
A lot of carry-on, involving a degree of weapons-clashing. Now, after repeated salvos of horn blasts, and one or two rifle shots that found no audible marks, had simmered down into mumbling, orders were given sharply. Then came a multi-voiced hail.
“There! He’s with them!” Mary said.
A leader must show himself at such a moment, and so Herward ripped the velcroed flap. Because awkwardness here was unavoidable, he dug out with expedience, not grace, and tottered onto his feet. He had seen the Ftheorde on televised news, never in person. There was no great ceremony to mark him. Faces were bare, ringed alike in fleece, costumes unmarked by color or trim, to distinguish the Father herdsman from his lieutenants.
He had, to prove his power, only that mien of power-holders…and Herward understood that if he had this himself, he would not have glanced at the women, climbing from the tent; he would not have signaled to Byrnes to keep her seat, and Mary to hold her tongue, and offered byplay with an eyebrow, when respectively his companions grimaced.
A strong man of authority moves alone.
They had, even when their territory had extended all along the lowlands skirting the mountains, been herdsmen, making no other living; the homes the Hidtha erected for themselves encampments, houses whose frames oftentimes were bone fitted together by carved joints, intricately counterpoised, their patient construction a sort of genius, as Swisshelm said…skins used for walls, for blankets, rugs, clothing, more often than the cloth Hidtha women wove from marsh grasses.
Swisshelm had it that these primativisms were the pragmatic concession to a nomadic culture; that the Hidtha were not, by some racial inferiority, an unlettered people—singers, but rarely musicians; storytellers, but rarely poets—rather that, for every waking moment, Hidtha life was unforgiving labor.
“And were we to go back two millennia, we would find all of Europe in this state. Only when the Roman roads permitted trade; when one tribe’s commonplace was another’s marvel; when one might have a thing, thus, without making it oneself, did the leisure to make additional things become possible.”
Swisshelm was probably right. That the Hidtha were not cherishable, as in Mary’s view; that they were groping towards ordinariness, and had been, as long as Herward had been alive.
It was well back, in the royalist period, when the Aae-Ftheorde, grandfather, or great-grandfather, of this present one, had yielded, allowed that his people had only blood to spill for machine guns and landmines, and withdrawn their remnants to the peninsula.
A law among the Hidtha required every father have three sons. This was a sort of minimal citizenship, and those who did not, had no say in counsels, their wives disgraced. There was a sort of death by retreat into the mountains, and slow starvation, that—to Palma’s scorn, and Mary’s pitying wonder—Hidtha women inflicted on themselves.
The phenomenon began with this suffering, the tribe hemmed in, without the marshlands they’d driven their herds to for winter grazing; younger sons now forced to servitude under elder brothers, unable to marry. At first there’d been a series of fratricides, then defiant guerilla fighting conducted from mountain caves. Some young Hidtha had gone away on their own, taking work under the Jocelyn regime on road crews, on his projects to drain the marshes. Their language barrier had been immaterial.
And these new workers had money. Small wages Mary’s social justice group would deplore, but to the Utdrife unprecedented freedom. Officially, only those banished by the Ftheorde were so designated, given this name for a lost sheep. But traffic among voluntary and involuntary exiles took away the distinction.
Under Jocelyn, the Utdrife had discovered their strange calling.
Many became mercenary soldiers. The wartime use Jocelyn’s army had for Utdrife fighters was that professional soldiers would not be spared for—sentry duty in the occupied towns, guarding of prisoners.
Prisoners, thousands as the war progressed, had presented the usual problem. No one among Jocelyn’s general staff nor his governors found it fair, once feeling the G.R.A.’s noose tighten, to feed and house them, provide doctors for them. Many were allowed to die.
The largest prison complex, converted by the G.R.A., was still in use. It had acquired the name Sedtok: from Southeast Department, target population 20,000. The harsh sound resembled a Hidtha epithet. The Utdrife guardsmen had learned to use it with a smirk, as a verb or a noun. But they had been permitted, bargaining back a corner of the marshlands, to build a settlement of their own here. Canal-lands, now.
And this was how they’d come to purchase prisoners…to indenture laborers, in official parlance. Here in Sedtok were block buildings with metal roofs, arranged in courts, fitted with new insulated windows, chain link fencing, HVAC units on concrete patios at the back. Inside were refrigerators and microwave ovens, televisions, shower stalls. Planted between sidewalks and streets were hedges of ilex, trimmed flat across the top, kept that way.
And through haze across lowland hilltops, wire cages bumped, protecting from birds espaliered grapevines; another industry, new and burgeoning.
Sedtok was a city, the life easy, the language English, the population Utdrife. Not all the wives were Hidtha. But the young women of the tribe had found possibility here too.
The Ftheorde had set the two soldiers at the center; his own men, about thirty in number, treading the path ahead, the Utdrife company trailing. He’d glanced with a faint smile at Byrnes, making to tuck her pistol away more snugly under her arm, inside her parka. Byrnes had looked up into his face…and her boldness proved something other than the usual bigotry, ingrained among the soldiers by minds like Hyde’s. She’d looked at the Ftheorde, then over her shoulder at Mary.
Why is she different to you?
Herward was sure this was his corporal’s thought.
The Ftheorde placed Mary in front of himself; at once she said, warm-voiced, “You see, there was no bargain.”
As though a conversation between them continued: You know, and I know.
They’d walked, an hour or two, got down below the storm, into sun and onto a road. The road surprised Herward, its being leveled at this place. Some other herdsmen met the Ftheorde’s men, and more surprising, rode half-track snow buggies, wore goggles to shade their eyes. An innovation—or further erosion of the cultural lines between traditional Hidtha and Utdrife.
And this was how they’d come down to the foot of the mountain, perched behind Hidtha Vrahc’eorde (a class of border watchmen), boarding there a truck that carried them into Sedtok. The Ftheorde’s entourage was reduced to about half a dozen.
For Mary’s sake, Anton had been found, or someone the Ftheorde knew of, who could tell what had become of him.
They came to the sentry box, and the gate.
“Is Herward there?”
He woke, in a way, hearing this, his name shouted. He had fallen under the spell of the Ftheorde’s power; for an afternoon had let the Father herdsman order things, and when they’d approached the checkpoint, Herward still sat, playing passenger.
He dragged himself up by a rib supporting the truck’s canvas top; and as the driver had leapt out, Herward eased at speed between the two seats, limboed under the steering wheel, and landed on gravel. He put his heels together and straightened his back. He was outranked.
But not caught napping, finding Major Wrik at the rendezvous. He’d come to learn why his sergeant had given license over duty to Mary Wainwright’s mission. SEDCampA sat above the prison complex, where Anton’s Utdrife cellmate had supposed himself to have made a purchase.
“Let Byrnes go with Mrs. Wainwright.”
His day’s education in mind, Herward this time waited his own orders, keeping his eyes ahead. He knew Byrnes would find this infuriating.
Wrik swung a hand, index finger rigid. “Get inside!”
The driver jumped back behind the wheel. The truck, and his clothes, cap pulled to a low angle, were civilian…but the face seemed not Utdrife. And here, at these close quarters, Herward lost his cool, scrabbling round the passenger seat to the place he’d left a moment ago.
He’d had no reason to notice at all, on the way down.
Wrik bounced in beside her, his body language angry. Herward knew he’d made a poor choice, gone wrong with this assignment, the Ftheorde bringing Mary back to Wrik’s doorstep, when Wrik’s notion had been to dispose of her. Not—he would find out why—what the major had in mind.
Wrik’s grievances were ongoing.
He would stall here at the camp for life; stall (by the G.R.A.’s psychologically parsed mechanisms) at the rank of major, forced to administer, to worry over, things he despised. He despised low-ranking officers who could bollocks orders up without paying dearly for it. He despised escorting the latest in ad hoc committees to the prison’s gate, despised seeing the Utdrife prosper. They, too, were lazy, getting undeserved breaks. Wrik was a Jocelynist. The G.R.A. knew his sympathies.
Herward contrived to touch the tattoo at the nape of Jovie’s neck. She grinned, but didn’t look at him. And the question of whether she was meant to be Jovie, or someone else, Herward left alone.
They were waved past a second gate, one at the top of an incline Jovie bumped the truck along, cheerful and reckless as any Utdrife mercenary prowling the coast. The camp was row on row of Quonset hut barracks, an airfield, hangars and maintenance buildings, small houses exactly like those of Sedtok, a central complex: gym, cafeteria, theater, offices and meeting rooms. Wrik ignored the private who waited to direct them.
Herward on this excuse hung back, returned the salute, and spoke to Jovie.
“Have you been introduced to the major?”
“Are you bucking for general in charge of Miners’ Peak Tunnel?”
Herward meant, could Wrik have hired a Swisshelm for a reason—or did he know he’d done it? Jovie meant, if you mess up one more time, you’ll score the highest command at the ghastliest of outposts. Jocelyn’s radioactive and chemical arsenals were barreled and concreted away there, under the mountain.
“Tell me what Vonnie is up to.”
“Oh,” she flapped a hand at him. “We’re in one of our enemy phases. I told her she could have been nicer to Anton.”
Herward’s radio buzzed at his belt.
“Run me down if you see me,” he said to Jovie, and told the private, “C’mon show me where I’m going.”
Anton’s chair was at the foot of the conference table, under the red Exit sign, far opposite Major Wrik. Wrik had placed the Ftheorde at his right hand.
When the others arrived, the major stood and drained his coffee mug. Gesturing with this, Wrik positioned them, then retook his seat. Herward took his own seat, and smiled across at Mary. She smiled, too; and so he let himself appear to have anticipated her warmth…be only returning it.
He let the smile fall on Anton, expecting less than he got. Not that Anton could show pleasure at seeing a friend; he had not been capable of it, in their days roaming Orange together. But his stiffening and looking irritably away, encouraged Herward. This unsociable blank was pride of its kind. Anton hadn’t lapsed, for hard use, into a fugue; he was strong enough to snub the one he blamed for his enslavement.
What had amused Herward was certainty Wrik insulted the Ftheorde without understanding Hidtha protocols well enough to enjoy this. He doubted Wrik knew it, that the Ftheorde outranked him here, and deserved the table’s head.
One other—aside from the private, who stood guard inside the door—was in the room. He would not take the seat Wrik pointed to, jabbed at for a second time, his thought illustrated on the table with an arc of coffee droplets.
“Sir, are we waiting for Byrnes?”
“Byrnes has a report to write, doesn’t she?”
Yes. And she’d been sent to write it, while separated from her sergeant, before Herward could write his own.
Mary, with a bright pupil’s show of comprehension, swung her gaze to the man standing.
“Ftheorde,” he answered, and said another rapid thing. The Ftheorde was silent. Mary put a hand over Anton’s, his that rested near hers.
“But he hasn’t. He couldn’t. And remember that Anton is not a normal state’s prisoner.”
The Ftheorde put a question to Anton’s purchaser. The Utdrife stepped back from the table, hooking thumbs in his gunbelt, shaking his head.
“There. There is no resolution, none I see. I have told you that if Anton agrees, we have no saying a part of his mind did not.”
He spoke this to Mary, negotiating with her, getting his own back, and with such subtlety, Wrik might believe the Ftheorde merely addressed whom he trusted, that it was a matter of language. The Hidtha had no psychology; the given word was to them the given word…and so the major would be forced to accept this as well, that the Ftheorde could not grasp the occupying army’s order of precedence.
Mary’s eagerness to help was equally obtuse. “But if it can’t be money…and you understand a substitute prisoner is out of the question…can it be…?”
She bent her head to Anton’s. “This was your cellmate. But you were taken by one with good English, a different Utdrife…you saw him with Jovie Swisshelm.”
“No. We would like to be precise. I saw Jovie Swisshelm. Jovie Swisshelm spoke to me. The G.R.A. guard spoke to me, and told me that he was Utdrife. They were both with me. I won’t say they were together, because I don’t know it.”
It was Anton’s usual mode, when expressing himself; another sign of his resilience.
“Can it be?” Herward prompted.
“I was thinking that whoever the guard was…” She gave Anton a look, somewhat motherly, and ignored what he’d said.
“…he’d got Jovie’s help. I suppose she can go around as she likes, her father having that post.”
It was the sort of thankless functionary’s role that went in such times to venerable scholars. Each of the four departments had a diplomat, a Secretary of Extra-National Affairs; the four together were tasked with resolving the G.R.A.’s withdrawal, estimated to need five years, and reparations—and whether one must come before the other. The nation had little in its treasury, was jealous of what it had; the wealth not so thoroughly redistributed the four departments were equal in it.
Must each neighbor in the alliance assume a special relationship with one department? Must the capital zone in particular, out of a fairness none would perceive, pledge its future against a loan? Would hardship there, where pockets of Palmists held firm, end rebellion or enflame it? Professor Swisshelm, so methodical a linguist and chart-maker he was in danger of being given real authority, made a natural vehicle of prestige for his daughters.
“I doubt Jovie has access to the kind of power that could rule against the Hidtha.”
He’d answered this, in order to say her name to Mary.
Mary gave a one-shouldered shrug, but absent, her face not lighting with either guilt or interest. Herward thought she didn’t know, then, that Jovie was outside somewhere.
“No, my idea was that if they’ve built a kind of network of advocacy, some interface between Utdrife and…people like the Swisshelms, who they don’t find insulting.” She smiled. “We might at least schedule a hearing.”
She might have discussed some of this with the Ftheorde. His interest was in nothing of white affairs, only what he’d come to this table to gain. He spoke to Anton’s captor. The Utdrife gave a sullen face, a sharp objection, then lowered his chin, thoughtful for a moment. He then crossed the room and pressed a hand on the back of Anton’s head. Anton adopted his silent, contained habit, his lips compressing, but his body unresisting as he let his forehead be touched to the tabletop.
The Utdrife left the room, shoving past the private. Anton sat up.
“So,” Herward said, speaking to him, “you’re free.”
Nothing netted any longer from the ocean, the harbor and all its traffic suborned to a use, the district peopled only with transients, intractable Jocelynists, the never-seen detainees…Cadisk was a coastal town with a prison economy.
Residents were less happy than inmates. They could never leave this place—they understood it. Their landscape, free to them if they cared to walk its paths, was flat, hot, devoid of wildlife. Their hero had seemed to advocate for such a world; and if they could not renounce their hero, they must be relegated to his legacy.
The G.R.A. took their measurements and deemed the punishees, as the Jocelynists called themselves, those they would not have mixing with others. The Hidtha Utdrife mixed, to the Cadiskers’ ire, and seemed set to thrive. They proliferated, birthed soldiers for the resistance army, were forgiven (if not lionized) by these doltish social architects who occupied the nation; had no rights, in the minds of the punishees, to be enriched so by confiscations.
Rights, rights…the word rang with potency. The minority privilege of the Hidtha engendered a bitter line of obscene joking, though these hints and phrases were swallowed and muttered. The punishees knew their words recorded. They knew they might be uprooted and sent to another home, south, where the Hidtha flourished.
The only work in Cadisk was serving. Cadiskers tended and offered food, rooms. The spit had miles of flat asphalt for stretching legs, hundreds of empty lanes striped out, for napping truckers. Shimmering mirages floated in the heat, over the false ocean of paved earth, when there were no troop movements, no convoys to fill the space. Ekers used the fringe to pitch tents, sat in camp chairs, ran electric fans and radios off long blue cords.
The military presence remained thick in Cadisk, from the gate in to the gate out, but hidden, boxed inside monolithic windowless vehicles. These bulked alive and humming, painted over with a suede-like coat of dense, tactile particles, that by proximity seemed mutating the clans of hawkers, making them deaf, crooking their backs, lasering red burns on their skin, causing kidneys and livers to fail under a burgeoning mantle of flab. The vehicles sat behind razor-wired fences at the back of the great staging area.
Above all this was the prison tunnel-complex, lit by tubal skylights, made efficient for heating and cooling—a model prison, of the G.R.A. type. Cell blocks were bored into the cliffs. Low-ranking inmates lived dawn to dusk, moving like players in a game towards the natural-light richness of the end-cells, cliffside; political prisoners of some prestige were privileged to be isolated here in narrow chambers, with cot and toilet and video screen. One wall of each cell, thick glass.
It interested the prison medical staff, that with this vista of vacant rolling waves, often of somber clouded skies, flickering with the deadly electricity that made the dying sea a danger, prisoners in these cells would stare all day at the screen.
The screen showed soundless movies, technicolored American musicals of the 1950s and 60s. At varying minutes, before and after 17:30; the sound came on, the prisoners started from their cots. The news of Cadisk came heralded by a bar of music masking a wave blast, that shocked the vagus nerve, and stories took place in some neighborhood of the city unknown to the viewer. So she would envy them or condemn them, their license to reopen the liquor stores, their new employment in a warehouse, their murder-suicides, those Cadiskers in theory close to her.
The national news always spoke of gloomy Jocelynist depredations…
As this void on the north coast, where within a year all fish had vanished. How could its spread be stopped, when the voltage was unapproachable, when no measuring instrument, no circuitry, no motor, could survive, no unshielded human venture there, to study its source?
There were others: the drought in the south; massive avalanches in the mountains. A criticality at Miners’ Peak. There were talks underway, for the G.R.A.’s withdrawal. The occupiers were hated, and no one could feel safe abandoned by them.
Palma, versed in these mind-control forays, had only time on her hands—time, in every case, to ask herself, what am I feeling? What came first?
They wanted her intellect starved…the treatment began that way. They wanted her gratitude for their favors, her sense of flattery at being trusted, to wreak alteration on her brain. Which was not to overdramatize. The brain could saturate itself in its own chemical stew. The balance people thought of as rationality, the responses they called emotion, could be shunted by cue-training onto a new set of rails. Then everything became waiting for reward, worrying at the lack of it, finding it plausible someone was to blame for this. Readily accepting any offered someone as one’s enemy.
That was why the warden came at mealtimes while the news played—so that apropos of this or that, he might make his inconsequential remarks. And Palma knew she did look forward to it.
She looked forward to the game screen popping up. At times, there was a writing window where, accustomed to no privacy, you might—standing and with your finger—scribble a journal.
Today, a bird landed on the water, and vanished.
Vanished in a flash of blue.
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, you could open it and 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 only 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; 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, 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 easily 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?”
If 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…but he’d kept his eyes low.
Many would not look at her.
“You’re thinking,” Moody said, as they went down the corridor side by side, “I’ll want to make a mystery of all this. As a matter of fact, that woman Mary Wainwright has brought Anton Leonhardt.”
Palma smiled. She’d finished with Anton, hadn’t expected he’d turn up again. If he were able to sail even-keeled these days, at peace, she would be pleased to know it. The smile was for poor Mary. Here was the impression her mission made, the strength of her life’s passion summed up…this tendency for 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, and without meeting her gaze. He sat angled to the table, leaning elbows on knees. If Moody were to say, “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, of 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, merely, self-detachment when demanded. She had already been sacrificed, being here at all; it would be unleaderly to shrink at punishment.
Moody, with a smile, backed a few steps, turned and beelined through an office door. The conference table was centered, corners perfect to the middle three of full-length windows, a row of these, three doors on either end, two little hallways cutting executives from staffers, emptying to the elevator this side, the restroom, that. She would have to cite emergency and make for it, just to see what sort of surveillance was in place.
Conversations and laughter came to them, the laughter making Anton flinch.
“First question,” Palma said.
“Do you feel safe?” Mary held her pen ready.
“So long as they let you alone. Or do you feel weighed to the last atom of your worth…should you be killed and the memory of you erased, or should you be slowly brought round and sent to help govern Nedforum, or sickened with drugs, until you will kill yourself for them…”
When he took to rhyming, it was the right moment to shut Anton up, and Mary, finger to her lips, did the honors.
“He’s not entirely wrong. I don’t know how you can feel safe when you know the G.R.A. are so very practical. They’re spending money to keep me here, and they’d rather be investing money. Maybe they do hope to change my mind.”
“Mary, do you feel safe?”
“Please…Palma… You know I don’t care, and I don’t think about it. Since David died.” She stopped. She might have given variations on this speech, by now, a hundred times.
“You can’t go home. And you won’t go home until the work is done.”
“Have you ever been denied food, water, medical treatment?”
“I haven’t. But as to medical treatment, I haven’t needed it.” She put a hand out. “Am I allowed to look over your papers?”
They didn’t, Mary’s group, use any sort of scoring system, or if they did, here secrecy was imposed, and Cadisk’s prison would be ranked in a private meeting, the group’s findings kept from recipients of their charity. For provocation’s sake, Palma flipped through the other papers in Mary’s book. They were instructions for conducting interviews with prisoners, small-printed tissue-thin paper with legal extenuations, the code printed out in a Q and A format.
Mary sat solemn, a blunt instrument against sarcasm. Her causiness, as Frederick termed it. Or, forbearance…she might have saintly tendencies. Palma had never heard this need equate to likeability.
“You can write on the blank sheet yourself, if you don’t want me taking it down. That’s where we fill in specific complaints, and you can see you’ll be asked to rate yourself on a number of things. Hours of sleep, how much energy you feel you have, are you happy.”
“Do you have more opportunities to respond to things than the average person,” Anton said. “That’s what happiness is. Happenstance, mayhap.”
“How is your mother, Anton?”
“We were talking about being happy. I don’t see the connection.”
Palma, withdrawing from him with a sigh and crossed arms, thought he could be, even Anton, if he hadn’t got this habit; if he would stop digging heels in at every well-meant overture. Yes, it was all too little, too late, no doubt, all of life…
Of facile comments, she hated this one most.
But why argue good counsel to Anton, when he’d become a pet of Mary’s; and Mary had, at least, an arsenal of this? She could not find Anton’s friendship rewarding. She could not find him to resemble David.
David had been a dark comedian…resigned to death and pain, able, slipping away, to find irony in it. Anton saw no counterpoint to all he’d suffered. He saw a nemesis, a fateful ill-will that picked on the weakest first; that saddled him, when he’d hoped to retreat from the world, with improving Mary Wainwrights. Palma didn’t disagree. Or, rather, she didn’t expect an Anton to see merit in parsing superstition. How would his life change, if he demystified predestination?
“I haven’t seen Anton for over a year. I thought we’d got him settled in with Mrs. Leonhardt.” She spoke to Mary.
“Did you not know,” Mary said, “he was taken to Sedtok? Sergeant Herward and I went over the border…it was his idea.” She stopped. “My idea. Since there isn’t really any way…the Ftheorde doesn’t keep a house. I was going to…”
“Force a diplomatic occasion. But luckily he has a sense of humor.”
Anton was fuming by this. “Yes, it was funny enough, what the Ftheorde said. Consider all Anton is worth to you as a laborer, Utdrife, and consider that for even so little these whites will make themselves busy. Consider the woman wants to raise a tribunal—which done once, they will do again, and forever. So then, you will show your face among the others, and you will have to think on that, for they will think on it. That is what he said.”
Anton looked at Mary. The Ftheorde disliked using her name when speaking of her, the only painful revelation he could offer, and Mary sat unmoved. Of course, she understood Hidtha as well.
“And so you’ve found another place to live?”
He took a hand out of the pocket of his windbreaker, shifted upright from the slump he’d affected, and slid this arm with wristwatch onto the table between them. The message might have been, “I’m bored with you.” Except he was wearing the tourmaline ring.
“With Jovie. Maybe you don’t know Jovie? I can’t keep track.”
“Jovie Swisshelm. Is that her father’s house you’re moving into?”
“Well, I don’t know, do I? She’s got a permit, or Herward did. So I can stay for the time being.”
“I hope you’re not on the outs with your mother, and that’s what this is all about. Have you been to visit her?”
“No. Because I have to put it down in a letter, to keep it sorted. Mrs. Leonhardt would go off with her talking…and then I’d get confused. I can’t be upset about anything, if I’m away in Nedforum.”
Palma fell silent. He’d sat tapping his fingers, the green stone winking, and so she knew within these words was a progress report. She made a list for herself, mentally.
“But that’s good, Anton,” Mary said. “When you were having trouble, last time in Nedforum, you hadn’t learned that. You’re understanding how to protect yourself…you have a will to protect yourself.”
Moody came out of his office. Palma guessed a monitor he’d been watching had shown them lean over the table together. The G.R.A. would typically assign a watcher and a listener, because one doing both might miss the way nuance fit like a puzzle piece. The listener would mark a hesitation; the watcher note a facial expression, and the convergence of two separate analyses would eliminate bias, improve the rate of “catches”.
“Herward is still a friend,” Palma said. She smiled up at Moody. Moody pulled a chair to the table.
“No, no problem.” He smiled himself, round at them all. “You have time.”
“Herward follows me. Now they’ve sent him back to Cadwilliam.”
“If he would ride along with you, and if Mary went, would you go to Nedforum?”
For one thing, Palma wanted to gauge Anton’s awareness. He knew he was doing an errand. At one time he’d sentimentalized both Palma and Vonnie Swisshelm; fallen in love and longed for mythicism, longed to burn brightly in some sacrificial act. He’d hardened himself against Mary. That was the foolish way of the world.
But, did he only take Jovie’s words and pass them along…or had he gained that genuine discipline Mary alluded to?
“I don’t know if Moody will be obligated to report it…”
Moody’s attitude was of being party to the conversation he’d joined, with an appropriate condescension; his hand controlled their freedom…but this was a helpful and professional hand. He said nothing.
“Anton, you know Frederick was my partner, and that they’ve killed him.”
The phrase was unsparing, and the only one Palma would use. Moody shifted.
“When you visit the city, I wish you would carry something for me.”