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wing siu
2018-02-02 16:03:48
Does each of us have the same print, the same chair, the same white curtains, I wonder? Government issue?

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I know why there is no glass, in front of the water colour picture of blue irises, and why the window only opens partly and why the glass in it is shatterproof. It isn’t running away they’re afraid of. We wouldn’t get far. It’s those other escape, the ones you can open in yourself, given a cutting edge.

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Fraternize means to behave like a brother. Luke told me that. He said there was no corresponding word that meant to behave like a sister. Sororize, it would have to be, he said. From the Latin. He liked knowing about such details. The derivations of words, curious usage. I used to tease him about being pedantic.

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The young ones are often the most dangerous, the most fanatical, the jumpiest with their guns. They haven’t yet learned about existence through time. You have to go











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Does each of us have the same print, the same chair, the same white curtains, I wonder? Government issue?

--------------------

I know why there is no glass, in front of the water colour picture of blue irises, and why the window only opens partly and why the glass in it is shatterproof. It isn’t running away they’re afraid of. We wouldn’t get far. It’s those other escape, the ones you can open in yourself, given a cutting edge.

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Fraternize means to behave like a brother. Luke told me that. He said there was no corresponding word that meant to behave like a sister. Sororize, it would have to be, he said. From the Latin. He liked knowing about such details. The derivations of words, curious usage. I used to tease him about being pedantic.

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The young ones are often the most dangerous, the most fanatical, the jumpiest with their guns. They haven’t yet learned about existence through time. You have to go slowly with them.

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I remember the rules, rules that were never spelled out that every woman knew: don’t open your door to a stranger, even if he says he is the police. Make him slide his ID under the door. Don’t stop on the road to help a motorist pretending to be in trouble. Keep the locks on and keep going. If anyone whistles, don’t turn to look. Don’t go into a Laundromat, by yourself, at night.

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There is more than one kind of freedom, said Aunt Lydia. Freedom to and freedom from. In the days of anarchy, it was freedom to. Now you are being given freedom from. Don’t underrate it.

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I also know better than to say Yes. Modesty is invisibility, said Aunt Lydia. Never forget it. To be seen –to be seen-is to be- her voice trembled-penetrated. What you must be, girls, is impenetrable. She called us girls.

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I am like a child here, there are some things I must not be told. What you don’t know won’t hurt you, it was all she would say.

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“Thank you,” I say. I must leave the impression that I’m not offended, that I’m open to suggestion. He takes his hand away, lazily almost, lingeringly, this is not the last word as far as he’s concerned. He could fake the test, report me for cancer, for in fertility, have me shipped off to the Colonies, with the Unwomen. None of this has been said, but the knowledge of his power hangs nevertheless in the air as he pats my thigh, withdraws himself behind the hanging sheet.

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The announcer is saying something, but I don’t hear it: I look into this man’s eyes, trying to decide what he’s thinking. He knows the camera is on him: is the grin a show of defiance, or is it submission? Is he embarrassed, at having been caught?

Possibly he’s an actor.

The anchorman comes on now. His manner is kindly, fatherly; he gazes out at us from the screen, looking, with his tan and his white hair and candid eyes, wise wrinkles around them, like everybody’s ideal grandfather. What he’s telling us, his level smile implies, is for our own good. Everything will be all right soon. I promise. There will be peace. You must trust. You must go to sleep, like good children.

He tells us what we belong to believe. He’s very convincing.

I struggle against him. He’s like an old movie star, I tell myself with false teeth and a face job. At the same time I sway towards him, like one hypnotized. If only it were true. If only I could believe.

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There’s no longer any hand lotion or face cream, not for us. Such things are considered vanities. We are containers, it’s only the inside of our bodies that are important. The outside can become hard and wrinkled, for all they care, like the shell of a nut. This was a decree of the Wives, this absence of hand lotion. They don’t want us to look attractive. For them, things are bad enough as it is.

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Of course, some women believed there would be no future, they thought the world would explode. That was the excuse they used, says Aunt Lydia. They said there was no sense in breeding. Aunt Lydia’s nostrils narrow: such wickedness. They were lazy women, she says. They were sluts.

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They made mistakes, says Aunt Lydia. We don’t intend to repeat them. Her voice is pious, condescending, the voice of those whose duty it is to tell us unpleasant things for our own good. I would like to strangle her. I shove this thought away almost as soon as I think it.

A thing is value, she says, only if it is rare and hard to get. We want you to be valued, girls. She is rich in pauses, which she savours in her mouth. Think of yourselves as pearls. We, sitting in our rows, eyes down, we make herslivate morally. We are hers to define, we must suffer her adjectives.

I think about pearls. Pearls are congealed oyster spit. This is what I will tell Moira, later, if I can.

All of us here will lick you into shape, says Aunt Lydia, with satisfied good cheer.

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You are a transitional generation, said Aunt Lydia. It is the hardest for you. We know the sacrifices you are being expected to make. It is hard when men revile you. For the ones who come after you, it will be easier. They will accept their duties with willing hearts.

She did not say: Because they will have no memories, of any other way.

She said: Because they won’t want things they can’t have.

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Those movies were comforting and faintly boring, they made me feel sleepy, even when men came onto the screen, with naked muscles, hacking away at hard dirt with primitive hoes and shovels, hauling rocks. I preferred movies with dancing in them, singing, ceremonial masks, carved artifacts for making music: feathers, brass buttons, conch shells, drum. I liked watching these people when they were happy, not when they were miserable, starving, emaciated, straining themselves to death over some simple thing, the digging of a well, the irrigation of land, problems the civilized nations had long ago solved.

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Consider the alternative, said Aunt Lydia. You see what things used to be like? That was what they thought of women, then. Her voice trembled with indignation.

Moira said later that it wasn’t real, it was done with models; but it was hard to tell.

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Back then, the Unwomen were always wasting time. They were encouraged to do it. The government gave them money to do that very thing. Mind you, some of their ideas were sound enough, she went on with the smug authority in her voice of one who is in a position to judge. We would have to condone some of their ideas, even today. Only some, mind you, she said coyly, raising her index finger, waggling it at us. But they were Godless, and that can make all the different, don’t you agree?

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FREEDOM TO CHOOSE. EVERY BABY A WANTED BABY. RECAPTURE OUR BODIES. DO YOU BELIEVE A WOMAN’S PLACE IS ON THE KITCHEN TABLE?

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Her hair grey by that time, of course. She wouldn’t dye it. Why pretend, she’d say. Anyway what do I need it for, I don’t want a man around, what use are they except for ten seconds’ worth of half babies. A man is just a woman’s strategy for making other women. Not that your father wasn’t a nice guy and all, but he wasn’t up to fatherhood. Not that I expected it of him. Just do the job, then you can bugger off, I said, I make a decent salary, I can afford daycare. So he went to the coast and sent Christmas cards. He had beautiful blue eyes though. But there’s something missing in them, even the nice ones. It’s like they’re permanently absent-minded, like they can’t quite remember who they are. They look at the sky too much. They lose touch with their feet. They aren’t a patch on a woman except they’re better a fixing cars and playing football, just what we need for the improvement of the human race, right?

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I’m entitle, she’d say. I’m old enough, I’ve paid my dues, it’s time for me to be quaint. You’re still wet behind the ears. Piglet, I should have said.

As for you, she’d say to me, you’re just a back lash. Flash in the pan. History will absolve me.

But she wouldn’t say things like that until after the third drink.

You young people don’t appreciate things, she’d say. You don’t know what we had to go through, just to get you where you are. Look at him, slicing up the carrots. Don’t you know how many women’s lives, how many women’s bodies, the tanks had to roll over just to get that far?

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Now mother, I would say. Let’s not get into an argument about nothing.

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Sometimes she would cry. I was so lonely, she’d say. You have no idea how lonely I was. And I had friends, I was a lucky one, but I was lonely anyway.

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But who can remember pain, once it’s over? All that remains of it is a shadow, not in the mind even, in the flesh. Pain marks you, but too deep to see. Out of sight, out of mind.

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She’ll be allowed to nurse the baby, for a few months, they believe in mother’s milk. After that she’ll be transferred, to see if she can do it again, with someone else who needs a turn. But she’ll never be sent to the Colonies, she’ll never be declared Unwomen. That is her reward.

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Moira was like an elevator with open sides. She made us dizzy. Already we were losing the taste for freedom, already we were finding these walls secure. In the upper reaches of the atmosphere you'd come apart, you' d vaporize, there would be no pressure holding you together.

Nevertheless Moira was our fantasy. We hugged her to us, she was with us in secret, a giggle; she was lava beneath the crust of daily life. In the light of Moira, the Aunts were less fearsome and more absurd. Their power had a flaw to it. They could be shanghaied in toilets. The audacity was what we liked.

We expected her to be dragged in at any minute, as she had been before. We could not imagine what they might do to here this time. It would be very bad, whatever it was.

But nothing happened. Moira didn't reappear. She hasn't yet.

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But if you happen to be a man, sometime in the future, and you've made it this far, please remember: you will never be subjected to the temptation of feeling you must forgive, a man, as a woman. It’s difficult to resist, believe me. But remember that forgiveness too is a power. To beg tor it is a power, and to withhold or bestow it is a power, perhaps the greatest.

Maybe none of this is about control. Maybe it isn’t really about who can own whom, who can do what to whom and get away with it, even as far as death. Maybe it isn't about who can sit and who has to kneel or stand or lie down, legs spread open. Maybe it’s about who can do to whom and be forgiven for it. Never tell me it amounts to the same thing.

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“Maybe we have one soon,” she says, shyly. By we she means me. It’s up to me to repay the team, justify my food and keep, like a queen ant with eggs. Rita may disapprove of me, but Cora does not. Instead she depends on me she hopes, and I am the vehicle for her hope.


We are for breeding purposes. We aren't concubines, geisha girls, courtesans. On the contrary: everything possible has been done to remove us from the category. There is supposed to be nothing entertaining about us, no special favours are to be wheedled, by them or us, there are to be no toeholds for love. We are two-legged wombs, that's all sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices.

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He smiles. The smile is not sinister or predatory. it's merely a smile, a formal kind of smile, friendly but a little distant, as if I’m a kitten in a window. One he's looking at but doesn’t intend to buy.

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I try not to lean forward. Yes? Yes yes? What, then? What, then? What does he want? But I won’t give it away, this eagerness of mine. it's a bargaining session, things are about to be exchanged. She who does not hesitate is lost. I’m not giving anything away: Selling only.

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Men are sex machines, said Aunt Lydia, and not much more. They only want one thing. You must learn to manipulate them for your own good. Lead the m around by the nose that is a metaphor. It’s nature’s way, it's Gods device. It’s the way things are.

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I must have been seven or eight, too young to understand it. It was the sort of thing my mother liked to watch: historical, educational. She tried to explain it to me afterwards, to tell me that the things in it had really happened, but to me it was only a story. I thought someone had made it up. I suppose all children think that, about any history before their own. If it’s only a story, it becomes less frightening.

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What could she have been thinking about? Not much, I guess; not back then, not at the time. She was thinking about how not to think. The times were abnormal. She took pride in her appearance. She did not believe he was a monster. He was not a monster, to her. Probably he had some endearing trait: he whistled, off key, in the shower, he had a yen for truffles, he called his dog Liebchen and made it sit up for little pieces of raw steak. How easy it is to invent a humanity, for anyone at all. What an available temptation. A big child, she would have said to herself. Her heart would have melted, she’d have smoothed the hair back from forehead, kissed him on the eat, and not just to get something out of him either. The instinct to soothe, to make it better. There there, she'd say, as he woke from a nightmare. Things are so hard for you. All this she would have believed, because otherwise how could she have kept on living? She was very ordinary, under that beauty. She believed in decency, she was nice to the Jewish maid, or nice enough, nicer than she needed to be.

Several days after this interview with her was filmed, she killed herself. It said that, right on television.

Nobody asked her whether or not she had loved him.

What I remember now, most of all, is the makeup

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I stand up, in the dark, start to unbutton. Then I hear something, inside my body, I’ve broken, something has cracked, that must be it. Noise is coming up, coming out, of the broken place, in my face. Without warning: I wasn't thinking about here or there or anything. If I let the noise get out into the air it will be laughter, too loud, too much of it, someone is bound to hear, and then there will be hurrying footsteps and commands and who knows? Judgement: emotion inappropriate to the occasion. The wandering womb, they used to think. Hysteria. And then a needle, a pill. It could be fatal

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Why did she write it, why did she bother? There’s no way out of here.

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So when I left the room, it still wasn't clear to me what he wanted, or why, or whether I could fulfil any of it for him. If there's to be a bargain, the terms of exchange must be set forth. This was something he certainly had not done. I thought he might be toying, some cat-and-a-mouse routine but now I think that his motives and desires weren't obvious even to him. They had not yet reached the level of words.

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Is that how we lived then? But we lived as usual. Everyone does, most of the time. Whatever is going on is as usual. Even this is as usual, now.

We lived, as usual, by ignoring. Ignoring isn’t the same as ignorance, you have to work at it.

Nothing changes instantaneously: in a gradually heating bathtub you’d be boiled to death before you knew it. There were stories in the newspapers, of course, corpses in ditches or the woods, bludgeoned to death or mutilated, interfered with as they used to say, but they were about women, and the men who did such things were other men. None of them were the men we knew. The newspaper stories were like dreams to us, bad dreams dreamt by others. How awful, we would say and they were, but they were awful without being believable. They were too melodramatic, they had a dimension that was not the dimension of our lives.

We were the people who were not in the papers. We lived in the blank white space at the edges of print. It gave us more freedom.

We lived in the gaps between the stories.
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