The Danger is Greyout

I’d like to have Luke here, in this bedroom while I’m getting dressed, so I could have a fight with him. Absurd, but that’s what I want. An argument, about who should put the dishes in the dishwasher, whose turn it is to sort the laundry, clean the toilet; something daily and unimportant in the big scheme of things. We could even have a fight about that, about unimportant, important. What a luxury it would be. Not that we did it much. These days I script whole fights, in my head, and the reconciliations afterwards too.

I sit in my chair, the wreath on the ceiling floating above my head, like a frozen halo, a zero. A hole in space where a star exploded. A ring, on water, where a stone’s been thrown. All things white and circular. I wait for the day to unroll, for the earth to turn, according to the round face of the implacable clock. The geometrical days, which go around and around, smoothly and oiled. Sweat already on my upper lip, I wait, for the arrival of the inevitable egg, which will be lukewarm like the room and will have a green film on the yolk and will taste faintly of sulphur.

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Today, later, with Ofglen, on our shopping walk:

We go to the church, as usual, and look at the graves. Then to the Wall. Only two hanging on it today: one Catholic, not a priest though, placarded with an upside-down cross, and some other sect I don’t recognize. The body is marked only with a J, in red. It doesn’t mean Jewish, those would be yellow stars. Anyway there haven’t been many of them. Because they were declared Sons of Jacob and therefore special, they were given a choice. They could convert, or emigrate to Israel. A lot of them emigrated, if you can believe the news. I saw a boatload of them, on the TV, leaning over the railings in their black coats and hats and their long beards, trying to look as Jewish as possible, in costumes fished up from the past, the women with shawls over their heads, smiling and waving, a little stiffly it’s true, as if they were posing; and another shot, of the richer ones, lining up for the planes. Ofglen says some other people got out that way, by pretending to be Jewish, but it wasn’t easy because of the tests they gave you and they’ve tightened up on that now.

You don’t get hanged only for being a Jew though. You get hanged for being a noisy Jew who won’t make the choice. Or for pretending to convert. That’s been on the TV too: raids at night, secret hoards of Jewish things dragged out from under beds, Torahs, talliths, Mogen Davids. And the owners of them, sullen-faced, unrepentant, pushed by the Eyes against the walls of their bedrooms, while the sorrowful voice of the announcer tells us voice-over about their perfidy and ungratefulness.

So the J isn’t for Jew. What could it be? Jehovah’s Witness? Jesuit? Whatever it meant, he’s just as dead.

After this ritual viewing we continue on our way, heading as usual for some open space we can cross, so we can talk. If you can call it talking, these clipped whispers, projected through the funnels of our white wings. It’s more like a telegram, a verbal semaphore. Amputated speech.

We can never stand long in any one place. We don’t want to be picked up for loitering.

Today we turn in the opposite direction from Soul Scrolls, to where there’s an open park of sorts, with a large old building on it; ornate late Victorian, with stained glass. It used to be called Memorial Hall, though I never knew what it was a memorial for. Dead people of some kind.

Moira told me once that it used to be where the undergraduates ate, in the earlier days of the university. If a woman went in there, they’d throw buns at her, she said.

Why? I said. Moira became, over the years, increasingly versed in such anecdotes. I didn’t much like it, this grudge-holding against the past.

To make her go out, said Moira.

Maybe it was more like throwing peanuts at elephants, I said.

Moira laughed; she could always do that. Exotic monsters, she said.

We stand looking at this building, which is in shape more or less like a church, a cathedral. Ofglen says, “I hear that’s where the Eyes hold their banquets.”

“Who told you?” I say. There’s no one near, we can speak more freely, but out of habit we keep our voices low.

“The grapevine,” she says. She pauses, looks sideways at me, I can sense the blur of white as her wings move. “There’s a password,” she says.

“A password?” I ask. “What for?”

“So you can tell,” she says. “Who is and who isn’t.”

Although I can’t see what use it is for me to know, I ask, “What is it then?”

“Mayday,” she says. “I tried it on you once.”

“Mayday,” I repeat. I remember that day. M’aidez.

“Don’t use it unless you have to,” say Ofglen. “It isn’t good for us to know about too many of the others, in the network. In case you get caught.”