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interested in doing this. let me know if so. probably some room for puns in here too.
Clay pot cooking is a cooking method that is as new as tomorrow and as old as time itself
there are no protruding handles, and unlike the conventional two handles on either side design our handles run throughout the rim making it accessible from all sides. Chip & accident resistant design makes the pots so much more durable and longlasting
if I had any advice I wouldn't clay pot to myself
No metals leaching, so no taste of any metals in your food
Can we imagine a mere clay pot complaining to the potter? Does the pot have "rights" of it's own? No, it exists, and finds useful service as an ordinary kitchen pot or a beautiful vase, solely because the potter intended it for such an end.
I really wish you wouldn't read this until you are already a regular "bean freak" and are confident in the your bean cookery. I am very slowly opening a door that you may not be ready to enter!
I have no allegiance to any one method of bean cooking and I use all kinds of pots, a pressure cooker and even a slow cooker. I like them all for different reasons. But if I have the time, onions and a bag of beans handy, my favorite way to cook is in clay, right on the stovetop. Maybe I'm nuts and maybe the beans do taste better. I'm not going to say for sure, but I've never made a bad pot of beans in an earthenware pot
The knob on the lid is too small to be functional and it chips easily, otherwise this is a fine pot and it smells of caramel when cooking. This is the pot I tend to use when cooking European-style beans, Runner Cannellini in particular
Yet, O LORD, thou art our Father; we are the clay, and thou art our potter; we are all the work of thy hand. Be not exceedingly angry, O LORD, and remember not iniquity for ever. Behold, consider, we are all thy people. Thy holy cities have become a wilderness, Zion has become a wilderness, Jerusalem a desolation. Our holy and beautiful house, where our fathers praised thee, has been burned by fire, and all our pleasant places have become ruins. Wilt thou restrain thyself at these things, O LORD? Wilt thou keep silent, and afflict us sorely?
He said to me: “It is done. I am the Clay and the Pot, the Pot and the Clay. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. 7 Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their Clay and they will be my Pot. 8 But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the clay pot.”
No sudden change in temperature. Claypot can withstand relatively high heat both on the stove top and inside the oven. However, they cannot withstand sudden fluctuations in temperature so always increase heat gradually. Do not put the claypot straight away inside a preheated oven; instead put it inside the cold oven and let it heat up gradually. On stove top, heat the claypot starting with a low medium heat and increase the temperature gradually. If you took the claypot out from the fridge, let it rest and return to room temperature before reheating.
So after stumbling around the web and deciding I needed a Romertopf and persuading a friend to get me one for Christmas, I stumbled into eGullet and found some postings by Paula W. on curing clay pots. That led me to her book, and now I'm excited to try some serious clay pot cooking. Till now, I've been a cast iron partisan--I bake all my own naturally leavened bread, for which I use 2 lodge dutch ovens. I also have a lodge skillet, a couple of small le creuset sauce pans, and a big enameled cast iron DO from Costco. I'm curious what all my soups (mostly veg, some fish) & beans will be like in clay. So far I've used the Romertopf once for bread, which came out okay but stuck a bit, and I'm reluctant to use it for fish, lest I never again be able to use it for anything else, so I clearly need at least one more clay pot.
The most famous clay pot cooker is the Römertopf
To prepare the clay pot for use you can rub the inside of it with olive oil and put in the oven on a low heat just to warm the oil and the pot. That's what I did
Years ago, my widowed mother-in-law, who was an accomplished cook, came to our house for Christmas. She arrived a few days early, so several days' worth of meals needed to be faultlessly prepared. One night, I trotted out an easy favorite of mine: clay pot stew. This couldn't be simpler: tenderize the beef using unseasoned tenderizer, cut it into cubes, dredge it as if you are going to fry it, but then don't. Put the beef into the presoaked clay cooker, add cubed potatoes, chopped mild onions, carrots or mixed frozen veggies if you have them. Salt and pepper this, pour white wine over, and bake for slightly more than an hour in a preheated 350 degree oven.
When this usually reliable dish was served, an unexpected thing happened. My daughter, then a teenager, toyed around with a rather large, unidentifiable bit of the stew on her plate, then picked up the offending tidbit on her fork and threw it onto the floor in a bit of a panic. My heart sank -- what was it -- a mouse???? The scene was then exacerbated by the actions of our large, old orange tomcat, who trotted over and began to examine the "offal" interestedly. It was not a Polaroid moment.
Resignedly, I put down my napkin, got up, fetched a paper towel, and grabbed the discarded stew lump. It proved to be a fully-dredged and well-cooked Golden Fleece cloth, the kind you scrub your nonstick pans with. This one was extremely well worn with age, pretty much missing its bumpy surface, and, in short, no thing of beauty. Somehow it had just slipped into the flour and had been included in the feast. This has never been forgotten, and is recalled at length at every Christmas gathering.
It quite tops the time when I was rushing to get my child's birthday cake decorated (she wanted the standard little girl's doll cake) and I stuck a new Barbie in the cooked and presumably, cooled, cake skirt before frosting the whole thing, only to discover later that the cake still had enough residual warmth to permanently cripple Barbie's legs. She looked as if she'd been run over by a train. This memory, naturally, resurfaces every year at that child's birthday.
I'm calling it an urban myth.
First Published in 1985
For Mary Webster and Perry Miller
_And when Rachel saw that she bare Jacob no children, Rachel envied her sister; and said unto Jacob,
Give me children, or else I die.
And Jacob's anger was kindled against Rachel; and he said, Am I in God's stead, who hath withheld from
thee the fruit of the womb?
And she said, Behold my maid Bilhah, go in unto her; and she shall bear upon my knees, that I may also
have children by her.
_But as to myself, having been wearied out for many years with offering vain, idle, visionary thoughts,
and at length utterly despairing of success, I fortunately fell upon this proposal...
--Jonathan Swift,_ A Modest Proposal
_In the desert there is no sign that says, Thou shalt not eat stones.
We slept in what had once been the gymnasium. The floor was of varnished wood, with stripes and
circles painted on it, for the games that were formerly played there; the hoops for the basketball nets were
still in place, though the nets were gone. A balcony ran around the room, for the spectators, and I thought I
could smell, faintly like an afterimage, the pungent scent of sweat, shot through with the sweet taint of
chewing gum and perfume from the watching girls, felt-skirted as I knew from pictures, later in miniskirts,
then pants, then in one earring, spiky green-streaked hair. Dances would have been held there; the music
lingered, a palimpsest of unheard sound, style upon style, an undercurrent of drums, a forlorn wail, garlands
made of tissue-paper flowers, cardboard devils, a revolving ball of mirrors, powdering the dancers with a
snow of light.
There was old sex in the room and loneliness, and expectation, of something without a shape or name. I
remember that yearning, for something that was always about to happen and was never the same as the hands
that were on us there and then, in the small of the back, or out back, in the parking lot, or in the television
room with the sound turned down and only the pictures flickering over lifting flesh.
We yearned for the future. How did we learn it, that talent for insatiability? It was in the air; and it was
still in the air, an after-thought, as we tried to sleep, in the army cots that had been set up in rows, with
spaces between so we could not talk. We had flannelette sheets, like children's, and army-issue blankets, old
ones that still said U.S. We folded our clothes neatly and laid them on the stools at the ends of the beds. The
lights were turned down but not out. Aunt Sara and Aunt Elizabeth patrolled; they had electric cattle prods
slung on thongs from their leather belts.
No guns though, even they could not be trusted with guns. Guns were for the guards, specially picked
from the Angels. The guards weren't allowed inside the building except when called, and we weren't allowed
out, except for our walks, twice daily, two by two around the football field, which was enclosed now by a
chain-link fence topped with barbed wire. The Angels stood outside it with their backs to us. They were
objects of fear to us, but of something else as well. If only they would look. If only we could talk to them.
Something could be exchanged, we thought, some deal made, some tradeoff, we still had our bodies. That
was our fantasy.
We learned to whisper almost without sound. In the semi-darkness we could stretch out our arms, when
the Aunts weren't looking, and touch each other's hands across space. We learned to lip-read, our heads flat
on the beds, turned sideways, watching each other's mouths. In this way we exchanged names, from bed to
Alma. Janine. Dolores. Moira. June.
A chair, a table, a lamp. Above, on the white ceiling, a relief ornament in the shape of a wreath, and in
the center of it a blank space, plastered over, like the place in a face where the eye has been taken out. There
must have been a chandelier, once. They've removed anything you could tie a rope to.
A window, two white curtains. Under the window, a window seat with a little cushion. When the window
is partly open--it only opens partly--the air can come in and make the curtains move. I can sit in the chair, or
on the window seat, hands folded, and watch this. Sunlight comes in through the window too, and falls on
the floor, which is made of wood, in narrow strips, highly polished. I can smell the polish. There's a rug on
the floor, oval, of braided rags. This is the kind of touch they like: folk art, archaic, made by women, in their
spare time, from things that have no further use. A return to traditional values. Waste not want not. I am not
being wasted. Why do I want?
On the wall above the chair, a picture, framed but with no glass: a print of flowers, blue irises,
watercolor. Flowers are still allowed. Does each of us have the same print, the same chair, the same while
curtains, I wonder? Government issue?
Think of it as being in the army, said Aunt Lydia.
A bed. Single, mattress medium-hard, covered with a flocked white spread. Nothing takes place in the
bed but sleep; or no sleep. I try not to think too much. Like other things now, thought must be rationed.
There's a lot that doesn't bear thinking about. Thinking can hurt your chances, and I intend to last. I know
why there is no glass, in front of the watercolor picture of blue irises, and why the window opens only 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 escapes, the ones you can open in yourself, given a cutting edge.
So. Apart from these details, this could be a college guest room, for the less distinguished visitors; or a
room in a rooming house, of former times, for ladies in reduced circumstances. That is what we are now. The
circumstances have been reduced; for those of us who still have circumstances.
But a chair, sunlight, flowers: these are not to be dismissed. I am alive, I live, I breathe, I put my hand
out, unfolded, into the sunlight. Where I am is not a prison but a privilege, as Aunt Lydia said, who was in
love with either/or.
The bell that measures time is ringing. Time here is measured by bells, as once in nunneries. As in a
nunnery too, there are few mirrors.
I get up out of the chair, advance my feet into the sunlight, in their red shoes, flat-heeled to save the spine
and not for dancing. The red gloves are lying on the bed. I pick them up, pull them onto my hands, finger by
finger. Everything except the wings around my face is red: the color of blood, which defines us. The skirt is
ankle-length, full, gathered to a flat yoke that extends over the breasts, the sleeves are full. The white wings
too are prescribed issue; they are to keep us from seeing, but also from being seen. I never looked good in
red, it's not my color. I pick up the shopping basket, put it over my arm.
The door of the room--not _my_ room, I refuse to say my--is not locked. In fact it doesn't shut properly. I
go out into the polished hallway, which has a runner down the center, dusty pink. Like a path through the
forest, like a carpet for royalty, it shows me the way.
The carpet bends and goes down the front staircase and I go with it, one hand on the banister, once a tree,
turned in another century, rubbed to a warm gloss. Late Victorian, the house is, a family house, built for a
large rich family. There's a grandfather clock in the hallway, which doles out time, and then the door to the
motherly front sitting room, with its flesh tones and hints. A sitting room in which I never sit, but stand or
kneel only. At the end of the hallway, above the front door, is a fanlight of colored glass: flowers, red and
There remains a mirror, on the hall wall. If I turn my head so that the white wings framing my face direct
my vision towards it, I can see it as I go down the stairs, round, convex, a pier glass, like the eye of a fish,
and myself in it like a distorted shadow, a parody of something, some fairy-tale figure in a red cloak,
descending towards a moment of carelessness that is the same as danger. A Sister, dipped in blood.
At the bottom of the stairs there's a hat-and-umbrella stand, the bentwood kind, long rounded rungs of
wood curving gently up into hooks shaped like the opening fronds of a fern. There are several umbrellas in it:
black, for the Commander, blue, for the Commander's Wife, and the one assigned to me, which is red. I leave
the red umbrella where it is, because I know from the window that the day is sunny. I wonder whether or not
the Commander's Wife is in the sitting room. She doesn't always sit. Sometimes I can hear her pacing back
and forth, a heavy step and then a light one, and the soft tap of her cane on the dusty-rose carpet.
I walk along the hallway, past the sitting room door and the door that leads into the dining room, and
open the door at the end of the hall and go through into the kitchen. Here the smell is no longer of furniture
polish. Rita is in here, standing at the kitchen table, which has a top of chipped white enamel. She's in her
usual Martha's dress, which is dull green, like a surgeon's gown of the time before. The dress is much like
mine in shape, long and concealing, but with a bib apron over it and without the white wings and the veil.
She puts on the veil to go outside, but nobody much cares who sees the face of a Martha. Her sleeves are
rolled in the elbow, showing her brown arms. She's making bread, thowing the loaves for the final brief
kneading and then the shaping.
Rita sees me and nods, whether in greeting or in simple acknowledgment of my presence it's hard to say,
and wipes her floury hands on her apron and rummages in the kitchen drawer for the token book. Frowning,
she tears out three tokens and hands them to me. Her face might be kindly if she would smile. But the frown
isn't personal: it's the red dress she disapproves of, and what it stands for. She thinks I may be catching, like a
disease or any form of bad luck.
Sometimes I listen outside closed doors, a thing I never would have done in the time before. I don't listen
long, because I don't want to be caught doing it. Once, though, I heard Rita say to Cora that she wouldn't
debase herself like that.
Nobody asking you, Cora said. Anyways, what could you do, supposing?
Go to the Colonies, Rita said. They have the choice.
With the Unwomen, and starve to death and Lord knows what all? said Cora. Catch you.
They were shelling peas; even through the almost-closed door I could hear the light clink of the hard
peas falling into the metal bowl. I heard Rita, a grunt or a sigh, of protest or agreement.
Anyways, they're doing it for us all, said Cora, or so they say. If I hadn't of got my tubes tied, it could of
been me, say I was ten years younger. It's not that bad. It's not what you'd call hard work.
Better her than me, Rita said, and I opened the door. Their faces were the way women's faces are when
they've been talking about you behind your back and they think you've heard: embarrassed, but also a little
defiant, as if it were their right. That day, Cora was more pleasant to me than usual, Rita more surly.
Today, despite Rita's closed face and pressed lips, I would like to stay here, in the kitchen. Cora might
come in, from somewhere else in the house, carrying her bottle of lemon oil and her duster, and Rita would
make coffee--in the houses of the Commanders there is still real coffee--and we would sit at Rita's kitchen
table, which is not Rita's any more than my table is mine, and we would talk, about aches and pains,
illnesses, our feet, our backs, all the different kinds of mischief that our bodies, like unruly children, can get
into. We would nod our heads as punctuation to each other's voices, signaling that yes, we know all about it.
We would exchange remedies and try to outdo each other in the recital of our physical miseries; gently we
would complain, our voices soft and minor key and mournful as pigeons in the eaves troughs. _I know what
you mean,_ we'd say. Or, a quaint expression you sometimes hear, still, from older people: _I hear where
you're coming from,_ as if the voice itself were a traveler, arriving from a distant place. Which it would be,
which it is.
How I used to despise such talk. Now I long for it. At least it was talk. An exchange, of sorts.
Or we would gossip. The Marthas know things, they talk among themselves, passing the unofficial news
from house to house. Like me, they listen at doors, no doubt, and see things even with their eyes averted. I've
heard them at it sometimes, caught whiffs of their private conversations. _Stillborn, it was. Or, Stabbed her
with a knitting needle, right in the belly. Jealousy, it must have been, eating her up._ Or, tantalizingly, _It
was toilet cleaner she used. Worked like a charm, though you'd think he'd of tasted it. Must've been that
drunk; but they found her out all right._
Or I would help Rita make the bread, sinking my hands into that soft resistant warmth which is so much
like flesh. I hunger to touch something, other than cloth or wood. I hunger to commit the act of touch.
But even if I were to ask, even if I were to violate decorum to that extent, Rita would not allow it.
Marthas are not supposed to fraternize with us.
_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 usages. I used to tease him about being
I take the tokens from Rita's outstretched hand. They have pictures on them, of the things they can be
exchanged for: twelve eggs, a piece of cheese, a brown thing that's supposed to be a steak. I place them in the
zippered pocket in my sleeve, where I keep my pass.
"Tell them fresh, for the eggs," she says. "Not like the last time. And a chicken, tell them, not a hen. Tell
them who it's for and then they won't mess around."
"All right," I say. I don't smile. Why tempt her to friendship?
I go out by the back door, into the garden, which is large and tidy: a lawn in the middle, a willow,
weeping catkins; around the edges, the flower borders, in which the daffodils are now fading and the tulips
are opening their cups, spilling out color. The tulips are red, a darker crimson towards the stem, as if they
have been cut and are beginning to heal there.
This garden is the domain of the Commander's Wife. Looking out through my shatterproof window I've
often seen her in it, her knees on a cushion, a light blue veil thrown over her wide gardening hat, a basket at
her side with shears in it and pieces of string for tying the flowers into place. A Guardian detailed to the
Commander does the heavy digging; the Commander's Wife directs, pointing with her stick. Many of the
Wives have such gardens, it's something for them to order and maintain and care for.
I once had a garden. I can remember the smell of the turned earth, the plump shapes of bulbs held in the
hands, fullness, the dry rustle of seeds through the fingers. Time could pass more swiftly that way.
Sometimes the Commander's Wife has a chair brought out, and just sits in it, in her garden. From a distance
it looks like peace.
She isn't here now, and I start to wonder where she is: I don't like to come upon the Commander's Wife
unexpectedly. Perhaps she's sewing, in the sitting room, with her left foot on the footstool, because of her
arthritis. Or knitting scarves, for the Angels at the front lines. I can hardly believe the Angels have a need for
such scarves; anyway, the ones made by the Commander's Wife are too elaborate. She doesn't bother with
the cross-and-star pattern used by many of the other Wives, it's not a challenge. Fir trees march across the
ends of her scarves, or eagles, or stiff humanoid figures, boy and girl, boy and girl. They aren't scarves for
grown men but for children.
Sometimes I think these scarves aren't sent to the Angels at all, but unraveled and turned back into balls
of yarn, to be knitted again in their turn. Maybe it's just something to keep the Wives busy, to give them a
sense of purpose. But I envy the Commander's Wife her knitting. It's good to have small goals that can be
What does she envy me?
She doesn't speak to me, unless she can't avoid it. I am a reproach to her; and a necessity.
We stood face to face for the first time five weeks ago, when I arrived at this posting. The Guardian from
the previous posting brought me to the front door. On first days we are permitted front doors, but after that
we're supposed to use the back. Things haven't settled down, it's too soon, everyone is unsure about our exact
status. After a while it will be either all front doors or all back.
Aunt Lydia said she was lobbying for the front. You’re in a position of honor, she said.
The Guardian rang the doorbell for me, but before there was time for someone to hear and walk quickly
to answer, the door opened inward. She must have been waiting behind it, I was expecting a Martha, but it
was her instead, in her long powder-blue robe, unmistakable.
So, you're the new one, she said. She didn't step aside to let me in, she just stood there in the doorway,
blocking the entrance. She wanted me to feel that I could not come into the house unless she said so. There is
push and shove, these days, over such toeholds.
Yes, I said.
Leave it on the porch. She said this to the Guardian, who was carrying my bag. The bag was red vinyl
and not large. There was another bag, with the winter cloak and heavier dresses, but that would be coming
The Guardian set down the bag and saluted her. Then I could hear his footsteps behind me, going back
down the walk, and the click of the front gate, and I felt as if a protective arm were being withdrawn. The
threshold of a new house is a lonely place.
She waited until the car started up and pulled away. I wasn't looking at her face, but at the part of her I
could see with my head lowered: her blue waist, thickened, her left hand on the ivory head of her cane, the
large diamonds on the ring finger, which must once have been fine and was still finely kept, the fingernail at
the end of the knuckly finger filed to a gentle curving point. It was like an ironic smile, on that finger; like
something mocking her.
You might as well come in, she said. She turned her back on me and limped down the hall. Shut the door
I lifted my red bag inside, as she'd no doubt intended, then closed the door. I didn't say anything to her.
Aunt Lydia said it was best not to speak unless they asked you a direct question. Try to think of it from their
point of view, she said, her hands clasped and wrung together, her nervous pleading smile. It isn't easy for
In here, said the Commander's Wife. When I went into the sitting room she was already in her chair, her
left foot on the footstool, with its petit point cushion, roses in a basket. Her knitting was on the floor beside
the chair, the needles stuck through it.
I stood in front of her, hands folded. So, she said. She had a cigarette, and she put it between her lips and
gripped it there while she lit it. Her lips were thin, held that way, with the small vertical lines around them
you used to see in advertisements for lip cosmetics. The lighter was ivory-colored. The cigarettes must have
come from the black market, I thought, and this gave me hope. Even now that there is no real money
anymore, there's still a black market. There's always a black market, there's always something that can be
exchanged. She then was a woman who might bend the rules. But what did I have, to trade?
I looked at the cigarette with longing. For me, like liquor and coffee, they are forbidden.
So old what's-his-face didn't work out, she said.
No, ma'am, I said.
She gave what might have been a laugh, then coughed. Tough luck on him, she said. This is your second,
Third, ma'am, I said.
Not so good for you either, she said. There was another coughing laugh. You can sit down. I don't make
a practice of it, but just this time.
I did sit, on the edge of one of the stiff-backed chairs. I didn't want to stare around the room, I didn't want
to appear inattentive to her; so the marble mantelpiece to my right and the mirror over it and the bunches of
flowers were just shadows, then, at the edges of my eyes. Later I would have more than enough time to take
Now her face was on a level with mine. I thought I recognized her; or at least there was something
familiar about her. A little of her hair was showing, from under her veil. It was still blond. I thought then that
maybe she bleached it, that hair dye was something else she could get through the black market, but I know
now that it really is blond. Her eyebrows were plucked into thin arched lines, which gave her a permanent
look of surprise, or outrage, or inquisitiveness, such as you might see on a startled child, but below them her
eyelids were tired-looking. Not so her eyes, which were the flat hostile blue of a midsummer sky in bright
sunlight, a blue that shuts you out. Her nose must once have been what was called cute but now was too
small for her face. Her face was not fat but it was large. Two lines led downward from the corners of her
mouth; between them was her chin, clenched like a fist.
I want to see as little of you as possible, she said. I expect you feel the same way about me.
I didn't answer, as a yes would have been insulting, a no contradictory.
I know you aren't stupid, she went on. She inhaled, blew out the smoke. I've read your file. As far as I'm
concerned, this is like a business transaction. But if I get trouble, I'll give trouble back. You understand?
Yes, ma'am, I said.
Don't call me ma'am, she said irritably. You're not a Martha.
I didn't ask what I was supposed to call her, because I could see that she hoped I would never have the
occasion to call her anything at all. I was disappointed. I wanted, then, to turn her into an older sister, a
motherly figure, someone who would understand and protect me. The Wife in my posting before this had
spent most of her time in her bedroom; the Marthas said she drank. I wanted this one to be different. I wanted
to think I would have liked her, in another time and place, another life. But I could see already that I wouldn't
have liked her, nor she me.
She put her cigarette out, half smoked, in a little scrolled ashtray on the lamp table beside her. She did
this decisively, one jab and one grind, not the series of genteel taps favored by many of the Wives.
As for my husband, she said, he's just that. My husband. I want that to be perfectly clear. Till death do us
part. It's final.
Yes, ma'am, I said again, forgetting. They used to have dolls, for little girls, that would talk if you pulled
a string at the back; I thought I was sounding like that, voice of a monotone, voice of a doll. She probably
longed to slap my face. They can hit us, there's Scriptural precedent. But not with any implement. Only with
It's one of the things we fought for, said the Commander's Wife, and suddenly she wasn't looking at me,
she was looking down at her knuckled, diamond-studded hands, and I knew where I'd seen her before.
The first time was on television, when I was eight or nine. It was when my mother was sleeping in, on
Sunday mornings, and I would get up early and go to the television set in my mother's study and flip through
the channels, looking for cartoons. Sometimes when I couldn't find any I would watch the Growing Souls
Gospel Hour, where they would tell Bible stories for children and sing hymns. One of the women was called
Serena Joy. She was the lead soprano. She was ash blond, petite, with a snub nose and huge blue eyes which
she'd turn upwards during hymns. She could smile and cry at the same time, one tear or two sliding
gracefully down her cheek, as if on cue, as her voice lifted through its highest notes, tremulous, effortless. It
was after that she went on to other things.
The woman sitting in front of me was Serena Joy. Or had been, once. So it was worse than I thought.
I walk along the gravel path that divides the back lawn, neatly, like a hair parting. It has rained during the
night; the grass to either side is damp, the air humid. Here and there are worms, evidence of the fertility of
the soil, caught by the sun, half dead; flexible and pink, like lips.
I open the white picket gate and continue, past the front lawn and towards the front gate. In the driveway,
one of the Guardians assigned to our household is washing the car. That must mean the Commander is in the
house, in his own quarters, past the dining room and beyond, where he seems to stay most of the time.
The car is a very expensive one, a Whirlwind; better than the Chariot, much better than the chunky,
practical Behemoth. It's black, of course, the color of prestige or a hearse, and long and sleek. The driver is
going over it with a chamois, lovingly. This at least hasn't changed, the way men caress good cars.
He's wearing the uniform of the Guardians, but his cap is tilted at a jaunty angle and his sleeves are rolled
to the elbow, showing his forearms, tanned but with a stipple of dark hairs, He has a cigarette stuck in the
corner of his mouth, which shows that he too has something he can trade on the black market.
I know this man's name: _Nick._ I know this because I've heard Rita and Cora talking about him, and
once I heard the Commander speaking to him: Nick, I won't be needing the car.
He lives here, in the household, over the garage. Low status: he hasn't been issued a woman, not even
one. He doesn't rate: some defect, lack of connections. But he acts as if he doesn't know this, or care. He's too
casual, he's not servile enough. It may be stupidity, but I don't think so. Smells fishy, they used to say; or, I
smell a rat Misfit as odor. Despite myself, I think of how he might smell. Not fish or decaying rat; tanned
skin, moist in the sun, filmed with smoke. I sigh, inhaling.
He looks at me, and sees me looking. He has a French face, lean, whimsical, all planes and angles, with
creases around the mouth where he smiles. He takes a final puff of the cigarette, lets it drop to the driveway,
and steps on it. He begins to whistle. Then he winks.
I drop my head and turn so that the white wings hide my face, and keep walking. He's just taken a risk,
but for what? What if I were to report him?
Perhaps he was merely being friendly. Perhaps he saw the look on my face and mistook it for something
else. Really what I wanted was the cigarette.
Perhaps it was a test, to see what I would do. Perhaps he is an Eye.
I open the front gate and close it behind me, looking down but not back. The sidewalk is red brick. That
is the landscape I focus on, a field of oblongs, gently undulating where the earth beneath has buckled, from
decade after decade of winter frost. The color of the bricks is old, yet fresh and clear. Sidewalks are kept
much cleaner tan they used to be.
I walk to the corner and wait. I used to be bad at waiting. They also serve who only stand and wait, said
Aunt Lydia. She made us memorize it. She also said, Not all of you will make it through. Some of you will
fall on dry ground or thorns. Some of you are shallow-rooted. She had a mole on her chin that went up and
down while she talked. She said, Think of yourselves as seeds, and right then her voice was wheedling,
conspiratorial, like the voices of those women who used to teach ballet classes to children, and who would
say, Arms up in the air now; let's pretend we're trees. I stand on the corner, pretending I am a tree.
A shape, red with white wings around the face, a shape like mine, a nondescript woman in red carrying a
basket, comes along the brick sidewalk towards me. She reaches me and we peer at each other's faces,
looking down the white tunnels of cloth that enclose us. She is the right one.
"Blessed be the fruit," she says to me, the accepted greeting among us.
"May the Lord open," I answer, the accepted response. We turn and walk together past the large houses,
towards the central part of town. We aren't allowed to go there except in twos. This is supposed to be for our
protection, though the notion is absurd: we are well protected already. The truth is that she is my spy, as I am
hers. If either of us slips through the net because of something that happens on one of our daily walks, the
other will be accountable.
This woman has been my partner for two weeks. I don't know what happened to the one before. On a
certain day she simply wasn't there anymore, and this one was there in her place. It isn't the sort of thing you
ask questions about, because the answers are not usually answers you want to know. Anyway there wouldn't
be an answer.
This one is a little plumper than I am. Her eyes are brown. Her name is Ofglen, and that's about all I
know about her. She walks demurely, head down, red-gloved hands clasped in front, with short little steps
like a trained pig's, on its hind legs. During these walks she has never said anything that was not strictly
orthodox, but then, neither have I. She may be a real believer, a Handmaid in more than name. I can't take
"The war is going well, I hear," she says.
"Praise be," I reply.
"We've been sent good weather."
"Which I receive with joy."
"They've defeated more of the rebels, since yesterday."
"Praise be," I say. I don't ask her how she knows, "What were they?"
"Baptists. They had a stronghold in the Blue Hills. They smoked them out."
Sometimes I wish she would just shut up and let me walk in peace. But I'm ravenous for news, any kind
of news; even if it's false news, it must mean something.
We reach the first barrier, which is like the barriers blocking off roadworks, or dug-up sewers: a wooden
crisscross painted in yellow and black stripes, a red hexagon which means Stop. Near the gateway there are
some lanterns, not lit because it isn't night. Above us, I know, there are floodlights, attached to the telephone
poles, for use in emergencies, and there are men with machine guns in the pillboxes on either side of the
road. I don't see the floodlights and the pillboxes, because of the wings around my face. I just know they are
Behind the barrier, waiting for us at the narrow gateway, there are two men, in the green uniforms of the
Guardians of the Faith, with the crests on their shoulders and berets: two swords, crossed, above a white
triangle. The Guardians aren't real soldiers. They're used for routine policing and other menial functions,
digging up the Commander's Wife's garden, for instance, and they're either stupid or older or disabled or very
young, apart from the ones that are Eyes incognito.
These two are very young: one mustache is still sparse, one face is still blotchy. Their youth is touching,
but I know I can't be deceived by it. 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
Last week they shot a woman, right about here. She was a Martha. She was fumbling in her robe, for her
pass, and they thought she was hunting for a bomb. They thought she was a man in disguise. There have
been such incidents.
Rita and Cora knew the woman. I heard them talking about it, in the kitchen.
Doing their job, said Cora. Keeping us safe.
Nothing safer than dead, said Rita, angrily. She was minding her own business. No call to shoot her. It
was an accident, said Cora.
No such thing, said Rita. Everything is meant.
I could hear her thumping the pots around, in the sink.
Well, someone'll think twice before blowing up this house, any ways, said Cora.
All the same, said Rita. She worked hard. That was a bad death.
I can think of worse, said Cora. At least it was quick.
You can say that, said Rita. I'd choose to have some time, before, like. To set things right.
The two young Guardians salute us, raising three fingers to the rims of their berets. Such tokens are
accorded to us. They are supposed to show respect, because of the nature of our service.
We produce our passes, from the zippered pockets in our wide sleeves, and they are inspected and
stamped. One man goes into the right-hand pillbox, to punch our numbers into the Compuchek.
In returning my pass, the one with the peach-colored mustache bends his head to try to get a look at my
face. I raise my head a little, to help him, and he sees my eyes and I see his, and he blushes. His face is long
and mournful, like a sheep's, but with the large full eyes of a dog, spaniel not terrier. His skin is pale and
looks unwholesomely tender, like the skin under a scab. Nevertheless, I think of placing my hand on it, this
exposed face. He is the one who turns away.
It's an event, a small defiance of rule, so small as to be undetectable, but such moments are the rewards I
hold out for myself, like the candy I hoarded, as a child, at the back of a drawer. Such moments are
possibilities, tiny peepholes.
What if I were to come at night, when he's on duty alone--though he would never be allowed such
solitude--and permit him beyond my white wings? What if I were to peel off my red shroud and show myself
to him, to them, by the uncertain light of the lanterns? This is what they must think about sometimes, as they
stand endlessly beside this barrier, past which nobody ever comes except the Commanders of the Faithful in
their long black murmurous cars, or their blue Wives and white-veiled daughters on their dutiful way to
Salvagings or Prayvaganzas, or their dumpy green Marthas, or the occasional Birthmobile, or their red
Handmaids, on foot. Or sometimes a black-painted van, with the winged Eye in white on the side. The
windows of the vans are dark-tinted, and the men in the front seats wear dark glasses: a double obscurity.
The vans are surely more silent than the other cars. When they pass, we avert our eyes. If there are
sounds coming from inside, we try not to hear them. Nobody's heart is perfect.
When the black vans reach a checkpoint, they're waved through without a pause. The Guardians would
not want to take the risk of looking inside, searching, doubting their authority. Whatever they think.
If they do think; you can't tell by looking at them.
But more likely they don't think in terms of clothing discarded on the lawn. If they think of a kiss, they
must then think immediately of the floodlights going on, the rifle shots. They think instead of doing their
duty and of promotion to the Angels, and of being allowed possibly to marry, and then, if they are able to
gain enough power and live to be old enough, of being allotted a Handmaid of their own.
The one with the mustache opens the small pedestrian gate for us and stands back, well out of the way,
and we pass through. As we walk away I know they're watching, these two men who aren't yet permitted to
touch women. They touch with their eyes instead and I move my hips a little, feeling the full red skirt sway
around me. It's like thumbing your nose from behind a fence or teasing a dog with a bone held out of reach,
and I'm ashamed of myself for doing it, because none of this is the fault of these men, they're too young.
Then I find I'm not ashamed after all. I enjoy the power; power of a dog bone, passive but there. I hope they
get hard at the sight of us and have to rub themselves against the painted barriers, surreptitiously. They will
suffer, later, at night, in their regimented beds. They have no outlets now except themselves, and that's a
sacrilege. There are no more magazines, no more films, no more substitutes; only me and my shadow,
walking away from the two men, who stand at attention, stiffly, by a roadblock, watching our retreating
Doubled, I walk the street. Though we are no longer in the Commanders' compound, there are large
houses here also. In front of one of them a Guardian is mowing the lawn. The lawns are tidy, the facades are
gracious, in good repair; they're like the beautiful pictures they used to print in the magazines about homes
and gardens and interior decoration. There is the same absence of people, the same air of being asleep. The
street is almost like a museum, or a street in a model town constructed to show the way people used to live.
As in those pictures, those museums, those model towns, there are no children.
This is the heart of Gilead, where the war cannot intrude except on television. Where the edges are we
aren't sure, they vary, according to the attacks and counterattacks; but this is the center, where nothing
moves. The Republic of Gilead, said Aunt Lydia, knows no bounds. Gilead is within you.
Doctors lived here once, lawyers, university professors. There are no lawyers anymore, and the
university is closed.
Luke and I used to walk together, sometimes, along these streets. We used to talk about buying a house
like one of these, an old big house, fixing it up. We would have a garden, swings for the Children. We would
have children. Although we knew it wasn't too likely we could ever afford it, it was something to talk about,
a game for Sundays. Such freedom now seems almost weightless.
We turn the corner onto a main street, where there's more traffic. Cars go by, black most of them, some
gray and brown. There are other women with baskets, some in red, some in the dull green of the Marthas,
some in the striped dresses, red and blue and green and cheap and skimpy, that mark the women of the
poorer men. Econowives, they're called. These women are not divided into functions. They have to do
everything; if they can. Sometimes there is a woman all in black, a widow. There used to be more of them,
but they seem to be diminishing. You don't see the Commanders' Wives on the sidewalks. Only in cars.
The sidewalks here are cement. Like a child, I avoid stepping on the cracks. I'm remembering my feet on
these sidewalks, in the time before, and what I used to wear on them. Sometimes it was shoes for running,
with cushioned soles and breathing holes, and stars of fluorescent fabric that reflected light in the darkness.
Though I never ran at night; and in the daytime, only beside well-frequented roads.
Women were not protected then.
I remember the rules, rules that were never spelled out but 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.
I think about laundromats. What I wore to them: shorts, jeans, jogging pants. What I put into them: my
own clothes, my own soap, my own money, money I had earned myself. I think about having such control.
Now we walk along the same street, in red pairs, and no man shouts obscenities at us, speaks to us,
touches us. No one whistles.
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.
In front of us, to the right, is the store where we order dresses. Some people call them _habits,_ a good
word for them. Habits are hard to break. The store has a huge wooden sign outside it, in the shape of a
golden lily; Lilies of the Field, it's called. You can see the place, under the lily, where the lettering was
painted out, when they decided that even the names of shops were too much temptation for us. Now places
are known by their signs alone.
Lilies used to be a movie theater, before. Students went there a lot; every spring they had a Humphrey
Bogart festival, with Lauren Bacall or Katharine Hepburn, women on their own, making up their minds.
They wore blouses with buttons down the front that suggested the possibilities of the word _undone._ These
women could be undone; or not. They seemed to be able to choose. We seemed to be able to choose, then.
We were a society dying, said Aunt Lydia, of too much choice.
I don't know when they stopped having the festival. I must have been grown up. So I didn't notice.
We don't go into Lilies, but across the road and along a side street. Our first stop is at a store with another
wooden sign: three eggs, a bee, a cow. Milk and Honey. There's a line, and we wait our turn, two by two. I
see they have oranges today. Ever since Central America was lost to the Libertheos, oranges have been hard
to get: sometimes they are there, sometimes not. The war interferes with the oranges from California, and
even Florida isn't dependable, when there are roadblocks or when the train tracks have been blown up. I look
at the oranges, longing for one. But I haven't brought any coupons for oranges. I'll go back and tell Rita about
them, I think. She'll be pleased. It will be something, a small achievement, to have made oranges happen.
Those who've reached the counter hand their tokens across it, to the two men in Guardian uniforms who
stand on the other side. Nobody talks much, though there is a rustling, and the women's heads move furtively
from side to side: here, shopping, is where you might see someone you know, someone you've known in the
time before, or at the Red Centre. Just to catch sight of a face like that is an encouragement. If I could see
Moira, just see her, know she still exists. It's hard to imagine now, having a friend.
But Ofglen, beside me, isn't looking, Maybe she doesn’t know anyone anymore. Maybe they have all
vanished, the women she knew. Or maybe she doesn't want to be seen. She stands in silence head down.
As we wait in our double line, the door opens and two more women come in, both in the red dresses and
white wings of the Handmaids. One of them is vastly pregnant; her belly, under her loose garment, swells
triumphantly. There is a shifting in the room, a murmur, an escape of breath; despite ourselves we turn our
heads, blatantly, to see better; our fingers itch to touch her. She's a magic presence to us, an object of envy
and desire, we covet her. She's a flag on a hilltop, showing us what can still be done: we too can be saved.
The women in the room are whispering, almost talking, so great is their excitement.
"Who is it?" I hear behind me.
"Ofwayne. No. Ofwarren."
"Showoff," a voice hisses, and this is true. A woman that pregnant doesn't have to go out, doesn't have to
go shopping. The daily walk is no longer prescribed, to keep her abdominal muscles in working order. She
needs only the floor exercises, the breathing drill. She could stay at her house. And it's dangerous for her to
be out, there must be a Guardian standing outside the door, waiting for her. Now that she's the carrier of life,
she is closer to death, and needs special security. Jealousy could get her, it's happened before. All children
are wanted now, but not by everyone.
But the walk may be a whim of hers, and they humor whims, when something has gone this far and
there's been no miscarriage. Or perhaps she's one of those, _Pile it on, I can take it,_ a martyr. I catch a
glimpse of her face, as she raises it to look around. The voice behind me was right. She's come here to
display herself. She's glowing, rosy, she's enjoying every minute of this.
"Quiet," says one of the Guardians behind the counter, and we hush like schoolgirls.
Ofglen and I have reached the counter. We hand over our tokens, and one Guardian enters the numbers
on them into the Compubite while the other gives us our purchases, the milk, the eggs. We put them into our
baskets and go out again, past the pregnant woman and her partner, who beside her looks spindly, shrunken;
as we all do. The pregnant woman's belly is like a huge fruit. _Humungous,_ word of my childhood. Her
hands rest on it as if to defend it, or as if they're gathering something from it, warmth and strength.
As I pass she looks full at me, into my eyes, and I know who she is. She was at the Red Centre with me,
one of Aunt Lydia's pets. I never liked her. Her name, in the time before, was Janine.
Janine looks at me, then, and around the corners of her mouth there is the trace of a smirk. She glances
down to where my own belly lies flat under my red robe, and the wings cover her face. I can see only a little
of her forehead, and the pinkish tip of her nose.
Next we go into All Flesh, which is marked by a large wooden pork chop hanging from two chains.
There isn't so much of a line here: meat is expensive, and even the Commanders don't have it every day.
Ofglen gets steak, though, and that's the second time this week. I'll tell that to the Marthas: it's the kind of
thing they enjoy hearing about. They are very interested in how other households are run; such bits of petty
gossip give them an opportunity for pride or discontent.
I take the chicken, wrapped in butcher's paper and trussed with string. Not many things are plastic,
anymore. I remember those endless white plastic shopping bags, from the supermarket; I hated to waste them
and would stuff them in under the sink, until the day would come when there would be too many and I would
open the cupboard door and they would bulge out, sliding over the floor. Luke used to complain about it.
Periodically he would take all the bags and throw them out.
She could get one of those over her head, he'd say. You know how kids like to play. She never would, I'd
say. She's too old. (Or too smart, or too lucky.) But I would feel a chill of fear, and then guilt for having been
so careless. It was true, I took too much for granted; I trusted fate, back then. I'll keep them in a higher
cupboard, I'd say. Don't keep them at all, he'd say. We never use them for anything. Garbage bags, I'd say.
Not here and now. Not where people are looking. I turn, see my silhouette in the plate glass window. We
have come outside, then, we are on the street.
A group of people is coming towards us. They're tourists, from Japan it looks like, a trade delegation
perhaps, on a tour of the historic landmarks or out for local color. They're diminutive and neatly turned out;
each has his or her camera, his or her smile. They look around, bright-eyed, cocking their heads to one side
like robins, their very cheerfulness aggressive, and I can't help staring. It's been a long time since I've seen
skirts that short on women. The skirts reach just below the knee and the legs come out from beneath them,
nearly naked in their thin stockings, blatant, the high-heeled shoes with their straps attached to the feet like
delicate instruments of torture. The women teeter on their spiked feet as if on stilts, but off balance; their
backs arch at the waist, thrusting the buttocks out. Their heads are uncovered and their hair too is exposed, in
all its darkness and sexuality. They wear lipstick, red, outlining the damp cavities of their mouths, like
scrawls on a washroom wall, of the time before.
I stop walking. Ofglen stops beside me and I know that she too cannot take her eyes off these women.
We are fascinated, but also repelled. They seem undressed. It has taken so little time to change our minds,
about things like this.
Then I think: I used to dress like that. That was freedom.
_Westernized,_ they used to call it.
The Japanese tourists come towards us, twittering, and we turn our heads away too late: our faces have
There's an interpreter, in the standard blue suit and red-patterned tie, with the winged-eye tie pin. He's the
one who steps forward, out of the group, in front of us, blocking our way. The tourists bunch behind him;
one of them raises a camera.
"Excuse me," he says to both of us, politely enough. "They're asking if they can take your picture."
I look down at the sidewalk, shake my head for no. What they must see is the white wings only, a scrap
of face, my chin and part of my mouth. Not the eyes. I know better than to look the interpreter in the face.
Most of the interpreters are Eyes, or so it's said.
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
Beside me, Ofglen is also silent. She's tucked her red-gloved hands up into her sleeves, to hide them.
The interpreter turns back to the group, chatters at them in staccato. I know what he'll be saying, I know
the line. He'll be telling them that the women here have different customs, that to stare at them through the
lens of a camera is, for them, an experience of violation.
I'm looking down, at the sidewalk, mesmerized by the women's feet. One of them is wearing open-toed
sandals, the toenails painted pink. I remember the smell of nail polish, the way it wrinkled if you put the
second coat on too soon, the satiny brushing of sheer pantyhose against the skin, the way the toes felt, pushed
towards the opening in the shoe by the whole weight of the body. The woman with painted toes shifts from
one foot to the other. I can feel her shoes, on my own feet. The smell of nail polish has made me hungry.
"Excuse me," says the interpreter again, to catch our attention. I nod, to show I've heard him.
"He asks, are you happy," says the interpreter. I can imagine it, their curiosity: _Are they happy? How
can they be happy?_ I can feel their bright black eyes on us, the way they lean a little forward to catch our
answers, the women especially, but the men too: we are secret, forbidden, we excite them.
Ofglen says nothing. There is a silence. But sometimes it's as dangerous not to speak.
"Yes, we are very happy," I murmur. I have to say something. What else can I say?
A block past All Flesh, Ofglen pauses, as if hesitant about which way to go. We have a choice. We could
go straight back, or we could walk the long way around. We already know which way we will take, because
we always take it.
"I'd like to pass by the church," says Ofglen, as if piously.
"All right," I say, though I know as well as she does what she's really after.
We walk, sedately. The sun is out, in the sky there are white fluffy clouds, the kind that look like
headless sheep. Given our wings, our blinkers, it's hard to look up, hard to get the full view, of the sky, of
anything. But we can do it, a little at a time, a quick move of the head, up and down, to the side and back.
We have learned to see the world in gasps.
To the right, if you could walk along, there's a street that would take you down towards the river. There's
a boathouse, where they kept the sculls once, and some bridges; trees, green banks, where you could sit and
watch the water, and the young men with their naked arms, their oars lifting into the sunlight as they played
at winning. On the way to the river are the old dormitories, used for something else now, with their fairy-tale
turrets, painted white and gold and blue. When we think of the past it's the beautiful things we pick out. We
want to believe it was all like that.
The football stadium is that way too, where they hold the Men's Salvagings. As well as the football
games. They still have those.
I don't go to the river anymore, or over bridges. Or on the subway, although there's a station right there.
We're not allowed on, there are Guardians now, there's no official reason for us to go down those steps, ride
on the trains under the river, into the main city. Why would we want to go from here to there? We would be
up to no good and they would know it.
The church is a small one, one of the first erected here, hundreds of years ago. It isn't used anymore,
except as a museum. Inside it you can see paintings, of women in long somber dresses, their hair covered by
white caps, and of upright men, darkly clothed and unsmiling. Our ancestors. Admission is free.
We don't go in, though, but stand on the path, looking at the churchyard. The old gravestones are still
there, weathered, eroding, with their skulls and crossed bones, _memento mori,_ their dough-faced angels,
their winged hourglasses to remind us of the passing of mortal time, and, from a later century, their urns and
willow trees, for mourning.
They haven't fiddled with the gravestones, or the church either. It's only the more recent history that
Ofglen's head is bowed, as if she's praying. She does this every time. Maybe, I think, there's someone,
someone in particular gone, for her too; a man, a child. But I can't entirely believe it. I think of her as a
woman for whom every act is done for show, is acting rather than a real act. She does such things to look
good, I think. She's out to make the best of it.
But that is what I must look like to her, as well. How can it be otherwise?
Now we turn our backs on the church and there is the thing we've in truth come to see: the Wall.
The Wall is hundreds of years old too; or over a hundred, at least. Like the sidewalks, it's red brick, and
must once have been plain but handsome. Now the gates have sentries and there are ugly new floodlights
mounted on metal posts above it, and barbed wire along the bottom and broken glass set in concrete along
No one goes through those gates willingly. The precautions are for those trying to get out, though to
make it even as far as the Wall, from the inside, past the electronic alarm system, would be next to
Beside the main gateway there are six more bodies hanging, by the necks, their hands tied in front of
them, their heads in white bags tipped sideways onto their shoulders. There must have been a Men's
Salvaging early this morning. I didn't hear the bells. Perhaps I've become used to them.
We stop, together as if on signal, and stand and look at the bodies. It doesn't matter if we look. We're
supposed to look: this is what they are there for, hanging on the Wall. Sometimes they'll be there for days,
until there's a new batch, so as many people as possible will have the chance to see them.
What they are hanging from is hooks. The hooks have been set into the brickwork of the Wall, for this
purpose. Not all of them are occupied. The hooks look like appliances for the armless. Or steel question
marks, upside-down and sideways.
It's the bags over the heads that are the worst, worse than the faces themselves would be. It makes the
men like dolls on which the faces have not yet been painted; like scarecrows, which in a way is what they
are, since they are meant to scare. Or as if their heads are sacks, stuffed with some undifferentiated material,
like flour or dough. It's the obvious heaviness of the heads, their vacancy, the way gravity pulls them down
and there's no life anymore to hold them up. The heads are zeros.
Though if you look and look, as we are doing, you can see the outlines of the features under the white
cloth, like gray shadows. The heads are the heads of snowmen, with the coal eyes and the carrot noses fallen
out. The heads are melting.
But on one bag there's blood, which has seeped through the white cloth, where the mouth must have
been. It makes another mouth, a small red one, like the mouths painted with thick brushes by kindergarten
children. A child's idea of a smile. This smile of blood is what fixes the attention, finally. These are not
snowmen after all.
The men wear white coats, like those worn by doctors or scientists. Doctors and scientists aren't the only
ones, there are others, but they must have had a run on them this morning. Each has a placard hung around
his neck to show why he has been executed: a drawing of a human fetus. They were doctors, then, in the time
before, when such things were legal. Angel makers, they used to call them; or was that something else?
They've been turned up now by searches through hospital records, or, or--more likely, since most hospitals
destroyed such records once it became clear what was going to happen--by informants: ex-nurses perhaps, or
a pair of them, since evidence from a single woman is no longer admissible; or another doctor, hoping to
save his own skin; or someone already accused, lashing out at an enemy, or at random, in some desperate bid
for safety. Though informants are not always pardoned.
These men, we've been told, are like war criminals. It's no excuse that what they did was legal at the
time: their crimes are retroactive. They have committed atrocities and must be made into examples, for the
rest. Though this is hardly needed. No woman in her right mind, these days, would seek to prevent a birth,
should she be so lucky as to conceive.
What we are supposed to feel towards these bodies is hatred and scorn. This isn't what I feel. These
bodies hanging on the Wall are time travelers, anachronisms. They've come here from the past.
What I feel towards them is blankness. What I feel is that I must not feel. What I feel is partly relief,
because none of these men is Luke. Luke wasn't a doctor. Isn't.
I look at the one red smile. The red of the smile is the same as the red of the tulips in Serena Joy's garden,
towards the base of the flowers where they are beginning to heal. The red is the same but there is no
connection. The tulips are not tulips of blood, the red smiles are not flowers, neither thing makes a comment
on the other. The tulip is not a reason for disbelief in the hanged man, or vice versa. Each thing is valid and
really there. It is through a field of such valid objects that I must pick my way, every day and in every way. I
put a lot of effort into making such distinctions. I need to make them. I need to be very clear, in my own
I feel a tremor in the woman beside me. Is she crying? In what way could it make her look good? I can't
afford to know, My own hands are clenched, I note, tight around the handle of my basket, I won't give
Ordinary, said Aunt Lydia, is what you are used to.This may not seem ordinary to you now, but alter a
time it will, It will become ordinary.
The night is mine, my own time, to do with as I will, as long as I am quiet. As long as I don't move. As
long as I lie still. The difference between _lie_ and _lay._ Lay is always passive. Even men used to say, I'd
like to get laid. Though sometimes they said, I'd like to lay her. All this is pure speculation. I don't really
know what men used to say. I had only their words for it.
I lie, then, inside the room, under the plaster eye in the ceiling, behind the white curtains, between the
sheets, neatly as they, and step sideways out of my own time. Out of time. Though this is time, nor am I out
But the night is my time out. Where should I go?
Moira, sitting on the edge of my bed, legs crossed, in her purple overalls, one dangly earring,