The Commander pauses, looking down, scanning the page. He takes his time, as if unconscious of us. He’s like a man toying with a steak, behind a restaurant window, pretending not to see the eyes watching him from hungry darkness not three feet from his elbow. We lean towards him a little, iron filings to his magnet. He has something we don’t have, he has the word. How we squandered it, once.
The Commander, as if reluctantly, begins to read. He isn’t very good at it. Maybe he’s merely bored.
It’s the usual story, the usual stories. God to Adam, God to Noah. Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth. Then comes the mouldy old Rachel and Leah stuff we had drummed into us at the Centre. Give me children, or else I die. Am I in God’s stead, who hath withheld from thee the fruit of the womb? Behold my maid Bilhah. She shall bear upon my knees, that I may also have children by her. And so on and so forth. We had it read to us every breakfast, as we sat in the high-school cafeteria, eating porridge with cream and brown sugar. You’re getting the best, you know, said Aunt Lydia. There’s a war on, things are rationed. You are spoiled girls, she twinkled, as if rebuking a kitten. Naughty puss.
For lunch it was the Beatitudes. Blessed be this, blessed be that. They played it from a disc, the voice was a man’s. Blessed be the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are the merciful. Blessed are the meek. Blessed are the silent. I knew they made that up, I knew it was wrong, and they left things out too, but there was no way of checking. Blessed be those that mourn, for they shall be comforted.