This is a piece of fiction I have always wanted to write. I have written bits
of it as plots in other stories and bits of interactive fiction. I want the whole
story from beginning to end (???) in one place. That is why
I am setting up this blog. This blog now has an archives. It is
here, but please use the navigation table. Blogs
aren't all that well suited for fiction. Live and learn.
Then get ready to for a wild ride. The place is Columbus, Georgia on the border
of Alabama and along the banks of the Chattahoochee. The time is approximately
a hundred years in the future, but it is possible to lose your way through history,
and history after all is just stories told in a way to help the teller of the tale make
whole the circle of what is happeing to them. So it is with this tale. Scroll
down and read on....
Eileen H. Kramer
To return to
Unfettered Soul's main page pleease click on the link. To return
to the main page at Tacheiru.us please click
on the link.
Chapter 20 -- Thursday
I awake long after the sun has risen, well maybe not too long. I smell something coming from the kitchen, the rank bitter scent of coffee and something sweet. The open box of oversized sticky white iced cinamon buns sits on the stove where I normally heat up tea. Frederick is nibbling on one of the buns without the aid of a plate and with a napkin that can't catch the crumbs.
"Where did you get those?" I ask him.
"Just had them delivered," he says through a mouthful of commercial pastry. I don't want to ask what they cost. I did not buy them. I do not want them.
"There was nothing in the house to eat," Frederick complains. I thrust open the refridgerator door. "There's wheat bread and peanut butter, cheese, jam, butter too...Two peaches left. Tea....If you want other stuff I can buy it. I'm not that poor."
"I'm in a Level A Human Resources Program," Frederick reminds me.
"You're not in anything yet until Monday!"
"I got an advance on my first paycheck. They give us all advances."
"So you're going into debt for cinamon rolls?"
"This is how people eat," he says.
"This is how people waste money....Frederick, don't you want your money to buy something worthwhile. I mean you're just keeping up appearances."
"I was hungry."
"Bullshit! There's food in the house and if you really disliked what was here you could get something to eat at your mother's or the supermarkets are open and you have a car."
Frederick takes a big bite of his cinamon roll and stares past me. "OK," I tell him. "Frederick, can we do it my way for the next few days...at least until after the taking?"
"What do you mean?"
"I mean no more food ordered in on impulse. You know what I did with my salary and if you want to spend your money...there's better ways. Will you give it a try?"
Frederick takes another bite of his roll and looks me over. "This means a lot to you doesn't it?" he asks. His voice is gentle and I think just a hint condescending.
"You're damn right it does!"
"OK, OK, you don't have to make such a big deal over it."
"But it's a very big deal to me." Frederick swallows the last of his roll, picks up the box with the remaining three and carries it out to the trash. "There," he says "better?"
"Not yet," I answer. I glance at my watch. It is about 7:30am. It is the Thursday before a taking and after a stick fight that has left the neighborhood reeling. "I have to go on patrol," I tell him. "After that we're going to Inner Mall Two. We'll stock up on food to eat during the taking. You'll pick out what you need so you don't just go ordering in...."
"I thought you had office hours," Frederick protests.
I get the 'We are Out and Will Be Back Soon' sign from the pantry where someone, probably Frederick, has cut down the piece of rope I tied to the pipe. I do notice. I run back upstairs, wash my face, put on a navy blue shirt with a light blue collar that used to be Peter's. I slide Peter's ring around my neck on a chain. I put on my sneakers and run down the stairs. "Ready!" I call to Frederick who likes to stick to me like glue.
We are off. The day is trying to start like normal. I see the Education Branch Bus picking up the handful of River Academy kids who have summer program. Another van takes kids to a dance academy. Several early rising mothers and initiate girls are washing laundry and hanging it on lines when it comes out of the machine. White and pastel sheets and tired looking nighties flap in the breeze. An old man works his vegetable garden. Only a few people walk along the plastic fence by the park. They walk and stop staring dazedly at the amusement park with pennoned pavillions growing before their eyes.
The park landscape is even altered. There are small beds of flowers and a fountain shoots crystal streams of water into a clear and cool morning. "That's something...." sighs Frederick. "I'm being tested," I think.
I am glad to get back to the house. The interior of my orange car feels womby and smells like lots of driving butt sititng weariness. I open a window and don't deal with the air conditioning. Frederick pushes his passenger seat way back. We pass through the car gate at the Beaurocratic Building on Macon Road and take the service road to Inner Mall Two. I remember doing informal shopping chits here. The supermarket makes Publix look small and puny, but that's not where we are going first.
The book store takes up an entire upper level, main level, and cool brick basement of building two. I ask a man behind the counter who wears a light blue apron where to find the hobby books and he tells me they are in the basement. The book I want is in a stand up bin with lots of others on model trains, planes, toy soldiers. I retrieve a copy of the stock car catalog and take it to pay for. Frederick is looking at the magazines thumbing through the latest one that deals with celebrities but still has informative articles.
"Is this what you dragged me out here for?" he asks. I say nothing about the book. A discount department store furnishes a coffee machine. In the supermarket, I send Frederick to have some coffee beans of his choice ground his favorite way. I also walk through the aisles with him as we stock up. At the fish counter I buy tilapia for Friday night's dinner and Saturday's lunch. I used to cook for takings in Peter's day. He said he was too busy to eat out and since I had been apprenticed in the kitchen in my high school days, why not use me as an alternative to take out. I think of Peter now as we ride back.
Frederick has shown no curiosity about the big bundle in its flat waxy paper bag that sits on the seat between us like a bomb. I give it to him while I put away the food. "Whole Slot Car Catalog," Frederick reads aloud. "What kind of garbage is this?"
"It's what one buys when one knows nothing about slot cars but when one knows someone special likes them and remembers them."
"Koie, that was years ago...."
"Why not now as a hobby, with that salary in that Level A Human Resources Program?"
"Because this stuff is for kids."
"Then do it as community service. When the lease runs out on the Inconvenience Store we're taking it over as a community center. You could put up a track in the back and teach children about racing cars..."
"Koie, that was years ago. I just owned a few slot cars and raced them on tracks in Florida. I....I never put up a track. I don't know thing one about it."
"Then why not learn."
"I'm going to be working full time."
"You'll still have your evenings. Besides we can get you help to put up your track. There are adults and initiates who are good with their hands. They can teach you."
"Whatever...." sighs Frederick. He slumps down in a kitchen chair and sets the book on the table. He sets it down open though and thumbs through the pages. I do not know what he is looking for, but he is looking for something. I let him be while I finish putting away the groceries. It is nearing lunch time so I unwrap the fresh roast beef, Frederick asked for and the cheese with hot peppers I bought and make us each our own sandwiches. I slice up tomato and some prunes and brew tea. There is orange juice in a carton for Frederick.
Frederick keeps the slot car book with him on the table while we eat. "A lot of the boys who were into these things when they were young got into stock cars when they were older. Big toys for big boys." He smiles and shakes his head. He thanks me for the book. "Have you talked to the Parents Association about the community center?" he asks.
I say I haven't yet but I will. It will take six months at least before we have such a center. "You've got a ton of lead time." Frederick laughs. I can't tell if the laugh is sad or happy and before I can figure it out, the door bell rings.
A very polite man in a white polo shirt and a burgundy cardigan sweater stands in the frame of the screen door. He has reddish hair cut in a very trim beard that leaves a lot of his chin bare and brings his sideburns around in a ring. His hair is otherwise short and his eyes are brown and restless. He introduces himself to me as Ezra Larkin. His business card says he does stick and computer work for Mentoring Services.
"Were you behind the stick fight last night?" I can't help but ask. He shakes his head. "That was just chit work from Atlanta. I do the heavy technical stuff, the taking, the set up, the atmospherics...subtle stuff." Ezra smiles.
He does not sound apologetic, and for that I'm vaguely glad. I think I would throw him out if he tried to apologize. "So what can I do for you today?" I ask. I too can smile.
"I know you are very busy," he says "but could you find time to go see my daughter. She is going to do Nationals this weekend and she would like to talk to another adult who did Nationals when she was her age." I feel my face flush.
"You don't mean education branch Nationals?" I ask.
Ezra nods. He explains how his father released him to be taken when he was twelve because the network of private tutors his parents had hired was too easy on boys. "I ended up in a house in Michigan....The Upper Peninsula yet.....Got to go to college at eighteen though....make something of myself. I want the same for Germaine. Fortunately, Ed Branch likes her so things just take their course from here on out."
Ezra's words give me a pang of sweet jealous sadness. I think of my own parents and wish they had stood behind me. I have office hours this afternoon but promise to be by at 4pm. Ezra gives me the address of his house and then heads back to work. It takes me several seconds to realize he is working only a few blocks away inside the plastic fence in the park.
I have parents to talk to this afternoon. Several come by concerned about placements and marks and encouragements. Most of this is routine stuff except one mother wants to get her daughter into Taffie's house. Taffie has refused her. I suggest alternate houses. "Isn't there anything you can do?" the mother pleads. She does not offer me a price or mention one that I should pay. I tell her I can find alternate houses and we let it stay there except she leaves with tears on her face. I have a feeling that stories of my hard heartedness will circulate all over the neighborhood. Oh well....they all think I'm crazy anyway.
It is 4:30pm when I arrive at Ezra's house on Hilton. Where there should be rolling grass, there are big riotous flower beds and flowers in pots decorating a walk and marking a lawn. There is a swing with striped cushions and matching canopy on the porch and a woman with black hair and a pink skirt at the front screen door. She looks over Frederick and me; for this mission is not confidential. Frederick stares at his shoes. We get let in.
Germaine comes into the living room to meet us. She is attractive, self posessed, and shown off to advantage in this colorful and well stuck living room. She has a lot of poise for a ten year old. Frederick seats himself on one of the easy chairs while Germaine and I take the couch. Germaine wants to be a writer and shows me several of her school essays, poems, and short stories. For a ten year old, even one who goes to prestigious River Academy, her grasp of the written word is excellent.
We talk about different types of writing and that she'll probably have to work to tight deadlines at Nationals but that she will learn a lot. I say I'm not sure where the humanities/writing/Enlgish Nationals are. They may not be at the main meeting place. I let Germaine know I can look this up and call back with the answer. Our meeting ends after that.
"It doesn't bother you does it?" asks Frederick when we are out in the late afternoon sunshine again.
&quuot;What doesn't bother me?"
"The whole thing. You know what Ezra does, don't you?"
"Set up for takings."
"Yeah and his house is even set up for a taking....All those pretty flowers." I don't point out to Frederick that Ezra has wife and two daughters and the women may like flowers the way that his own mother, Roxanne, likes big pretty beads. "He makes all the beautiful stuff and then he puts the scarey stuff inside it so no one can ever trust beauty again. Haven't you noticed or yeah...you stopped with the regular takings after you were six."
Frederick's face is red, and flushed with more than the heat. I put an arm over his shoulder. He is right. Ezra sleeps at night because Ezra lets the beauty lull him to sleep. He has a daughter who is in the system rather than with private tutors so maybe that eases his conscience as well, but as Frederick points out her takings are in the school parking lot with the vans already in place. Magic frightens and perverts beauty and the fact that there is technology behind it still doesn't keep it from being magic.
I wonder if Ezra is seduced by the beauty of what he creates. I ask Frederick. "Are you saying he fucks himself over along with the rest of us?" is Frederick's reply.
"Yeah, he deceives himself...part of the game," I answer.
"Some game," groans Frederick. "Do you ever wonder what it is going to be like when you have children of your own?" Frederick asks.
"I don't ever want children," I answer.
Frederick shakes his head and laughs. "I don't want them either...not with the way things are here...." Frederick puts his big hand around my upper arm to squeeze me and steady himself. I slide my hand over his shoulder as he lets go of me. I think of all the parents and would be parents in the houses in the neighborhood around Weyracoba Park. I wonder if they too are scaird. If they are it is a very old fear. I haven't done a very good job of taking away the fear this time around, yet I can't get angry at Ezra. He is too good to his daughter for that.
written by ZOIDRubashov
Monday, September 29, 2003.
Chapter 19 -- Just Before Sunrise
I can not sleep because the bottom has dropped out of the world. I know the bottom has dropped out of the world because the world is my stomach. I sit up on the bed. Frederick still snores but he grunts sensing something is up. My first thought is that I might have my period, but that is not it. I go to the bathroom to test. Through the bathroom window the sky glows like dried blood as if something has ignited it. I can see no starts.
I race back to the bedroom and start digging out yesterday's shirt, a bra, some panties and a pair of shorts. Frederick sits up on the bed now. He asks what is going on. I tell him what we already both know. Sticking disrupts reality. The change in perception is something the brain feels. The brain does not know what to do. The brain comes knocking on the body's door. Then the sufferer goes about in search of relief, food, a hot bath, anything.
"I want to see what it is," I explain.
Frederick shakes his head. He lets me turn on the light since we are both sitting up by now. The light is golden and safe. Out there.....Frederick will not come with me. He says he knows what is down there and doesn't have the patience for it. I don't have the patience to stay inside.
I slip out the screen door and as soon as I get to the road by the park, I see it. I can't NOT see it. Over my head is a great pink jeweled pegasus with a horn like a unicorn. It seems almost three dimensional. No it is three dimensional. I wonder what kind of a stick produces such a thing. Lights are on in the houses all around the park and people stand in the streets, awed, frightened, dislocated. I wish most of the park were not fenced off due to the taking.
I go left past the Inconvenience store that is never open the right hours and toward the corner of the park makes with Cherokee Avenue. They have the stick balanced on the hood of their car and Taffie sits out in a beach chair enjoying the whole show while her assistants and initiates control their creation which dances and prances and flies in great circles. Taffie checks her watch absently and then looks at me.
I feel my stomach twist and tighten in anger. "Do you have any idea what this costs!" I bellow.
"Relax," she counters. "Atlanta gave me the money."
"Who in Atlanta?" I scream. I can feel my hands curl into fists though beating up on a stupid mentor is not my fault, and Taffie is stupid. This kind of outrageous display before a taking only frightens the entire neighborhood.
"You didn't have to spend the chit tonight," I protest.
"Yes, I did. Those were orders. The chit came from State."
"Fuck!" I scream. I blink back tears. All the week or two of work, all the reforms, laid waste whenever State feels like it. State who wanted to bring Peter low and did not reckon he would take his own life rather than be taken. State who had probably killed Peter because he was more or less too well liked in this neighborhood as I will never be well liked.
I stumble away from Taffie determined not to watch the show in the sky, but my head bobs up involuntarily. A great black five headed dragon that is nothing but shadow, a greater darkness, a subtle and sublime special effect, probably custom made floats into view to do battle. This show is going to hit every emotional button in the brain and heart and soul. In my eyes which are starting to flood with greasy tears, multiple dragons and pegasii dance around.
I break into a run. Only the master and her disciples could put this show together, but the master sees reason at least some of the time. Silla and her group are down on the steps of T-Ac. They are making a picnic out of it, eating potato chips to keep up their strength while their home made rig sends their masterpiece roaring and diving at the pegasus. The pegasus is agile but Tiamat can move better in three dimensions.
"How do you like it?" Silla asks me bluntly. I tell her I don't and I know why. "Parents won't relinquish their hold unless they are put on edge," Silla reminds me. "It's one of the perks of being a Goth that you get to do the art. Art with a purpose, huh?"
"More like art at cross purposes."
"Atlanta is paying for it. You didn't expect me to turn up my nose at that kind of thing."
And how does it feel to know that Atlanta can upset your well laid plans with a couple of chits to hungry mentors? I think Peter knew though in his case it was beaurocratic threats. Yes, Peter's killer is not in this neighborhood. My problem is those whom Peter worked for. My problem will always be with me.
Now I don't have to watch the cosmic battles, as I stagger up 17th Street shaking with rage, sweaty, tear stained. Tomrrow I am out of here. Alright, not tomorrow but once the taking is over. Monday. Atlanta can use me but they used me only once. They can undermine me but this time it will be only once.
"Koahana, I need you!" a male voice breaks through the seething mixture of ugly thoughts. I see Allan, the widower whose wife, Melinda, died in childbirth when I was twenty.
"What's happening?" I ask.
"It's about Bree. She doesn't handle stick stuff well and she's out wandering around the neighborhood. You haven't seen her, have you?" I shake my head. "I need help finding her. I need to know she's OK."
Allan and I take opposite sides of the park. He searches around T-Ac and in the northern streets while I start on my side of the park and work south. I don't have to go far. Sonnie's porch light is on and Sonnie and Bree are sitting on the porch. Bree's eyes are closed and Sonnie is putting Bree's auburn hair into some kind of complicated French braid. She has just started styling. It is fascinating to see Sonnie's black eyes and the rest of her face for that matter not having anything to do with her hands.
Sonnie is not a joke like Mara. Sonnie is someone whose house gets mentioned in whispers if at all. Sonnie does not run a house of last resort for hard to place kids. She runs a house for the handicapped, the ones who would never show up at takings because they would otherwise be stuck in attics. Sonnie also takes placement from older kids who want to work as nurses or who have a missionary zeal to help the suffering. The assistants and initiates are inside with the suffering who must be suffering badly tonight but who cares or at least Atlanta does not care and what Atlanta can do dwarfs what I can do.
"Bree," I say gently. "Your husband is looking for you."
Bree does not open her eyes but she answers: "I'll come back when it gets quiet."
"I'm sorry about the sticking," I apologize. I hope that at least Sonnie understands. She nods. Suddenly something diverts her attention. A skinny college age man in light blue scrubs appears on the front porch. "Carl is having a seizure," he announces. Sonnie let's Bree's hair gently drop from her long thin fingers. "Koie, sit with Bree," she orders. I push up on to the complicated wheelchair ramp that separates Sonnie's porch from the street and heave myself over the porch rails. I take up Sonnie's seat still warm from her rear end.
Bree begins to undo the braids Sonnie put in her hair. Slowly she opens her eyes to look at me. They are light colored eyes though in the yellow bug light of the porch, I can't tell if they are green, grey, or blue. Bree sighs. We say nothing because Bree has nothing to say. I hope Allan will come quickly, that Sonnie will come back out, or that the show will end. Suddenly the air show ends with two great flashes of light and a boom that reaches to the pit of the stomach and the marrow of the bones in the way that no fireworks explosion can. The sky flashes red and then yellow.
Bree makes a small scream and bolts over the porch railing and the wheel chair ramp railings and runs out into the street. I know I have to chase her but she is larger than I am with longer legs. She has a head start. The best I can do is keep her in sight. She is heading into the park, through the trees, toward the fence. Not the fence! I taste sour metal in my mouth and I see a bright afternoon, children sitting on a stone watching adults approach a small plastic barrier around a control trailer. Inside the robed men and women carried lightening bolts and Michael the engineer was killed and his body left to rot in the park for thirty-six hours.
I feel sick and my lungs hurt. I haven't lost Bree in the trees but I can't get close enough to stop her before she leaps the fence. I reach the fence and pull myself over. The park sways around me. Bree is standing still, looking in several directions. I throw up my hands. Surrender. Don't shoot. I don't see any robed figures but I don't have to see them. "Bree we have to get out of here," I plead.
"Are you afraid?" she asks.
"Yes, for both of us." I get my arms around Bree. The hug seems to soften her. I manage to escort her back to the fence where a blond robed official has appeared. She does not look sleepy probably because the sticking awakened us all to a place so far beyond sleep. "There's a gate further down," the figure says and we follow her with the plastic fence between us.
The gate has a combination lock. It swings open and out we walk. The night above us is coal black. That is a very reassuring color. I still feel sick. I bring Bree back up 17th Street. With luck, Allan is close to the park. I am very lucky. He is on 17th Street and he greets Bree with a hand shake and a kiss. He puts his arm around her and we walk home as far as our routes go together.
Then I stagger back to the barn boss house. It is still a couple of hours until sunrise. I think of the sheets made warm by Frederick's body, but Frederick is not in bed. He is in the kitchen helping himself to sausage pizza he has just ordered. I'm surprised they delivered it. I do not feel like eating. I do not even want tea. The sight of the food delivered in a neighborhood that is screaming revolts me. I need air.
"Where are you going?" asks Frederick as I slip out the screen door. The answer is apparent a few seconds later as waves of nausea engulf me and I surrender to the desire to vomit up what is left of last night's dinner and some bitter bile besides. I hunch over on all fours, the violence in my stomach mimicking the illusion of violence in the sky. Each retch is painful. I blink back tears. When it is daylight I will need to assess the damage.
written by ZOIDRubashov
Friday, September 19, 2003.
Chapter 18 -- A Walk in the Park
"Stay in the kitchen, Frederick!" I shout. The door between the study and kitchen has been shut all morning and with good reason. My work has been confidential. I threw my jacket over the computer when Frederick traveled from the bedroom to the kitchen. He was still sleeping when I crawled out of his arms and came down here to work.
Tova, is working out well. Her specialty placement branch which operates out of New York and San Fransisco is willing to agree to work with the Muscogee and Harris County taking schedules so I've been able to get the takings tamed and Tova's mother likes Tova's mentor. Score one.... though it took a lot of phone calls.
Jesse, the boy who nearly got stuck with the unfortunate house in Pascagula, Mississippi was not so lucky. I broke his mark and then sent his mother out to meet mentors in Alabama and even a few in Georgia. Nothing has come of the meetings. The taking is three days away. I stare at Jesse's profile. He has no bad marks against him. He is even a fairly decent student and a passable athlete, something that is said to be nice to see in a boy, but he is basicly utterly ordinary, a member of the herd who got unlucky. Without something to make his placement special, he has no hope of a local placement.
Yesterday afternoon, Frederick and I visited The Store. It has no name and it is about a quarter mile from the Suie, Aubie, and Varnie courtyard. We came late enough in the day that mentors were gathered there before going home to eat. Ophira, who runs Aurora Borealis fingered Jesse's profile and snorted. "The kid wouldn't last a week in my house," was her verdict. Sebastien said his house was for kids who liked school. I asked Ophira, Sebastien and other mentors for a recommendation of a good internal house, one where the boy could get a reasonable education and be well looked after.
Jesse' profile circled round like a hot potato and someone suggested Utopia Ranch two districts over. The woman who runs the Ranch is named Ribys so the Utopia Ranch become Ribiranch. It's a working farm as well as a house. Ribys insisted that Jesse would have to do chores. I had a look around and checked for labor complaints. Ribys' record is as clean as a freshly scrubbed floor so I wrote the recommendation letter, and listen to Jesse' mother through the head set as Frederick makes unhappy restless noises in the kitchen.
"It's a class A house," I say. "Perfect record, good edcational opportunities." Lady, I think if you can't afford a bribe and bribes are obsolete but that's only been the past week since I took over, this is what you get. "Ribys is coming into town to meet you and your son around noon. Can the two of you make it." I wait for a sad yes of an answer.
The dirty deed is done. I power down the computer and ease out of communication mode. I open the door between the kitchen and the pantry. I am just in time to see Frederick paying off the delivery man who has brought half a fried chicken, mashed potatoes with brown gravy and nondescript rolls that are called biscuits.
I give the study door an angry slam that keeps it open. "We have food in the house! Why did you have to order lunch?"
"I was hungry," Frederick answers.
I go to get some peanut butter and bread to make a sandwich. "Well aren't you going to have any?" he inquires. "It's not what I like to eat," I say and put up water for tea. Frederick stares at me as if trying to put a bead on me. "We have company at noon. Ribys and Jesse and Jesse' mom. Remember Ribys from yesterday."
"You sure know how to spoil a meal," groans Frederick. He pushes away most of the chicken. The gravy is already getting cold and congealing on the potatoes. We end up wrapping most of it up and putting it in the refridgerator. The meeting will be confidential so we have half an hour together.
"I don't get you sometimes," Frederick tells me. I don't answer. I wipe down the table and go upstairs to dress. Frederick follows me. I find a navy blue shirt that was Peter's and go to sponge bathe in the master bathroom. "What are you trying to prove. Two days you've been sweating over Jesse and all you could come up with is that farm.&quuot; Fredrick watches me via the mirror as I scrub my armpits.
I run a comb through my hair and bound back down the stairs again, just as the doorbell rings. I close the study door and let in Jesse, Carla, and Ribys. Ribys is a stout woman with long curly brown hair and overalls that have faded and which have some permanent grass stains. She has brought a photo album of her ranch. She explains to Carla that if Jesse does not like it or refuses to work, she will send him to the taking. If he just plain does not work out over a period of weeks to months, he will be in the NEXT taking, but with a full profile. "The ranch has a way of helping kids find thmeslves. That's what I like about it." Carla is impassive as a stone. She signs the paperwork. She and Ribys make arrangements to transfer Jesse and his stuff to the interior.
Score two, I think as I yell up to Fredrick that the coast is clear. "Can I take you out ot lunch now?" he asks. "I thought you ordered lunch," I answer. "I can eat again. You haven't had much." I tell Fredrick, I've had enough.
We need to take the cards to be laminated and have holes punched in them. We don't own a laminating machine so we are going to the office supply place with them. The cards were filled out by parents. They have each child's name and address on one side and my name and address on the other. They'll go around each kid's neck like a credential on taking day. This will mean I'll get the kids' wherabouts sooner than otherwise. It's an old trick but a good one.
We put the cards into boxes and use Fredrick's big rig to ride to the office store which is near the interior gate and the beauroctatic building and the library. I drop off the cards and then having nothing else to do we head back. Fredrick looks tired and says nothing. "It will be better next week when you're working," I tell him.
Fredrick pretends not to have heard. "It will be better next week when you are working," I try it again. Still no answer. Fredrick parks. We climb down. "Koie, you need a walk," he announces.
We head for the park. Three days before a taking, the preparations are already in evidence. The amusement park rides are off to one corner and there are piles of decorative banners in another corner and what look like they may be tents in a third corner and the corners and their center are roped off with plastic fencing and signs that warn the unwary and curious to stay away.
Fredrick and I walk along the edge of the plastic fence. "Do you remember the first taking we had?" he asks.
"I'll never forget it," I answer.
"I ended up going to this place outside of Disneyworld where they had slot cars. I remember learning to put them in the track. I went slot car racing every time I got taken for the first year or so. Do you remember my collection...." Frederick leans against a tree. He is looking out into the park and seeing the rides, banners, and tents already set up.
I remember Frederick's slot car. It was green and had this incredible metalic irridescent paint on it. He let me turn it so it caught the sun. "that green car was beautiful..." I say.
"You really remember.... "
"Of course I do. Do you remember what I got?"
"It was a book wasn't it...." Fredrick of course has seen my coffee table Galapagos Island book, but his slot car must be back at his parents' house. I imagine still living with my parents at age twenty-four.
"What happened to your collection?" I ask.
"I gave it away," he says. "My little brothers enjoyed the cars but they trashed them. They didn't know how to race them."
"You let them trash your gift?" I want to put my arms around the little boy inside of Fredrick. Do all men have little boys inside them?
"It was a good idea," he tells me earnestly. "Mom and dad had a long talk with me. They said I had to focus on something other than slot cars if I wanted a future so I gave the cars away after I joined White Star House."
I can't remember Fredrick joining White Star. I ask how old he was then. "I was eight. You were already mixed up with River Academy and all that bullshit."
"It wasn't bullshit," I protest. We are at the end of the plastic fence, the corner where it turns by the convenience store that is never open convenient hours. Long ago, those in charge of takings set up offices in the convenience store. Mrs. VanEllan told me that. I pause at the corner. "Do you remember two days before the taking?" I start out. The stone is still there, where Lisa, several other girls, and I sat. We were just watching the grownups do something stupid, Michael sneaking under the electrified fence. I think. I know...I figured they would just kick him out. I had no idea. There was a funny acrid smell in the air after Michael was killed. I remember his body lying sprawled face down on the pavement. The spot is inside the fence today but I glance over the fence.
"That shit was a long time ago," Fredrick offers. "Maybe that's why Peter's death did such a number on you. Hey....shit....you were one of the ones that saw it....weren't you."
"Yes," I tell Fredrick. "I saw Michael the engineer killed by a bolt of lightening." Saying it makes it less scary and less sad.
"You know Lisa got taken like the rest of us two days later," Fredrick continues the tale. "That Una was such a bitch. I mean she could have stopped it for Lisa."
"And Lisa would have had a hole in her profile a mile wide."
"Fuck, you are a real barn boss."
"I'm just telling you how it works." I keep staring at the spot. "They [Mentoring Serivices] keep moving the control office around each taking so no one remembers."
"Do you think you'd be different if you hadn't seen?" Fredrick asks.
"Maybe," I answer. "I think it made me sensitive in some ways."
"It made you weird," Fredrick answers.
"If you mean the toys, it would have happened anyway."
"I mean the other shit. The carrying on. The running away. All that to be with a third rate interior mentor."
"You know who."
"I didn't have a mark."
"For real. Want to see my profile."
"Then why did you do it?"
"I didn't want to be stuck in Mara's the rest of my life. I wanted to go to River Academy and T-Acc. That's why...."
"No....Remember the shell..."
"That was just a toy."
"No, Fredrick. The toys are symbols of who we can be. I knew where I wanted to go."
"So you ran out of the park like a crazy girl....all the way to the Greyhound station."
"And then on to Atlanta to the dorm house. I knocked on the door and begged them to take me in. I said I wanted to be initiated into a house that would send me to T-Acc....I trusted them."
"You were a damn fool, Koie!"
"No," I answer thinking of my two alphabet initiation certificate and of my good high school years with Sebastien. "Suie is a good house."
"But you could have done better if you had listened."
"Parents and the Parenting Committee. At a certain point you have to play by the rules. My parents loved me and I knew they were right. I gave up the slot cars and went to White Star. I hated it at first. I used to cry myself to sleep at night, but I did it quietly so no one would hear. Then as I got older, I knew it was the right house. I'd always be a White Star alum and that would be good at college and in business. That is why I'm in the A-Level Human Resources program." Fredrick smiles. "It's a beginning of something big."
"Bullshit," I reply.
"You've nearly lived with me for a week and I've watched you. I've seen people who are enthusiastic about what they are doing. You forget, I went to Dartmouth and I was at T-Acc and River Academy before that. I saw people who are into what they do. You aren't into this new job. It's just the job you are supposed to have. It's not what you really want."
"So I should have ended up like that Jesse kid!"
"What?" What does Jesse have to do with all of this anyway?
"Yeah, that boy was me at eleven. I don't have to see fucking profiles. Most people are like Jesse. We just go along. There's nothing wrong with that. My parents looked out for me and I respected them unlike you."
"And what will Jesse be like at twenty-four?" I ask.
"Who knows....some little guy on the shop floor wondering how he got cheated out of the good stuff in life, wondering why the other guy is always promoted ahead of him."
"What makes you so sure...." I ask.
"It's the way life is."
"It's the way parents have told you life is and the way White Star told you life is...."
"I think it's the truth."
"I think it's a story that your parents have a reason to keep telling and White Star too. If they want you to do what they say, you have to be too scared to do what you want. The story is set up to scare you."
"You're talking like that crazy Francoise. Look where she is now."
"It's not her fault her department was defunded. Anyway, she landed on her feet."
"And how did you land Koie?" Fredrick asks me.
"I didn't land. I flew," I answer."Fredrick," I ask. "What did you think about Michael being killed?"
"There wasn't anything to think," he says. He shoves his hands in his pockets. "Let's get back."
"You must have thought something?"
"Why do you care. It was eighteen years ago."
"Because I think it was important. Michael was Lisa's father. We went to school with her."
"For six months afterward, until her mother remarried and left town."
"Yes, but kids saw it."
"The body sat out in the park for two days. You must have seen that."
"Koie, it was a long time ago. It doesn't matter any more."
written by ZOIDRubashov
Monday, September 08, 2003.
Chapter 17 -- History Lesson
"Let's talk about what we fear," I begin addressing a room full of restless parents. There is an uneasy silence. Eyes cast
about toward the floor and ceiling. Finally a mother talks about polio. Another talks about her fear that she would die in childbirth.
A father complains about the schools. Finally a burly man stands up. "We don't want our children taken away from us!"
No, I did not expect this. "There is nothing I can do about the mentoring system," I answer. "It went into place two
generations before I was born. If you wanted to escape, you should have done that before your wife and you settled down.... Now you are stuck. What can we do to make it better?"
"Everything's gone to shit around here since you took over!" a woman responds. "Even your house is shit."
"My house is unstuck because the community needs the funds. Look, you've been cheated, lied to, dealt badly with. I know you
won't believe a word I say....not for a while."
"Things were better with Peter," the woman continues.
"He listened to parents."
"He didn't stop your children from being placed."
"Look," a wary Roxanne interjects. "This arguing is getting us nowhere."
"I disagree," Damn, I want Roxanne to butt out. "I want to hear it. That way we can talk about making it better,
and that is better for everybody, not just for those who have status or who can slip a house manager a little quid pro quo."
"You are obsessed with bribes," says a weary Roxanne.
"No more bribes," I snarl back. "Now how do we improve the mentoring system....." I get out chalk. We have a black board. I stare at an auidence once again silent. I begin to explain how mentoring and placement are black boxes. Parents have a right to be fearful because they don't know. Parents want basic things for their children, a chance to succeed, school, health, and protection from abuse. "We are on the same side with this. If I feel your child is not getting the basic things through a prospective or current placement, then I will intervene. It's that simple.
"If your child is to be taken more than two hundred and fifty miles from Columbus or to an inside house that does not provide access to Columbus or magnet Atlanta or Athens schools. (There are good schools in Mobile and a few other places but I leave those out.) I will do what I can to block the mark. If there is a house with allegations of abuse against it, I will block the mark whether you ask me to or not. If you have a complaint about abuse or lack of education, I will listen and I will act. I will also act if your child doesn't like the placement.
"Outside of that, I'm going to ask all of you to work with the system. If your child is placed outside the neighborhood or outside Columbus or if it's an internal placement, I am going to ask you to meet with the prospective mentor. All of you tonight will receive copies of your child's profile. This is what mentors, Mentoring Services, all the special and branch services, and barn bosses like me have. One or two of you have children who are marked. Some of you with younger children have branch level encouragements. I had one when I was growing up. These are not necessarily bad things.
"If you consider your child placed too far from home, I will try to exchange the mark for a nearby house that is similar. We can also work with delayed initiation which will keep your child at home longer. We can set up tamed takings that don't involve the razzle dazzle of the mall or the park." I draw a breath. I realize I have next to nothing to offer. I close my eyes and for a second I see the flames again. They are imaginary flames. The Bartlow burned down days before I traveled north into the snow to comfort Francoise.
It will be a long time before these parents become less afraid. After the meeting two parents accost me. One has an eleven year old marked by a house in Pascagoula, Mississippi and the other has a twelve year old marked by a house in Connecticut. I suggest mentor meetings for both parents. I also suggest we head home to the barn boss house. I watch the first parent drag a rickety kitchen chair into the study. I close the door; for we are again confidential. The Pascagoula house doesn't send near initiates to school as a matter of course and does not educate nonintiates at all. Half a day of schooling doesn't cut it. I promise to get the mark exchanged. There are rural houses in Harris County that in theory might be interested but with a mark....the placement will have to be out of state. That means Alabama. I get up a list of comparable houses and explain that we'll all need to keep in contact.
The daughter who is marked for Connecticut is a much tougher case. She is a sweeter but she is also Jewish. I am Jewish myself and sometimes sensitive to the Christian bias many sweeter houses have. The house in Connecticut is one of a handful of Jewish sweeter houses. "You have a good house and a unique one. I want you to talk to the mentor there before I do anything to trash this mark." The mother shakes her head. "We tried getting Tova into Mara's house but you stopped her from taking new members."
"Your daughter's too good for Mara," I protest.
"You might like the mentor. I give the mentor's profile and the house profile and phone numbers to Tova's mom. She stares
at the stuff. She doesn't feel I'm helping her. &qout;Please talk to Alise. I'll even find funds for you to make a visit there."
"And then what...."
"Initiation delayed until age fourteen. Enrollment at Hardaway Academy if your daughter's grades warrant it or Carver Magnet which is open entrance but still has a full program. Schools in the Northeast are excellent. A tame independent schedule of takings that phases in to initiation."
"I see," says the unhappy and noncommittal mother. I let her go home. I think it is going to rain tonight. I am drinking tea in the kitchen when Frederick pokes in his face. "Rough night?" he asks. I nod. "My mother's worried about you."
"That's to be expected."
"I'm teaching parents to take as much control over their lives and their children's lives as they can."
"It doesn't sound like that to me."
"Not every parent can afford a bribe."
"You ought to stop using that ugly word."
"What word should I use instead?" We say nothing for several seconds. "Is Roxanne afraid someone will go to Atlanta on trumped up charges?"
"Koie you are paranoid."
"Someone killed Peter," I answer.
"Koie, this is not a prison and you are not the warden," Frederick begins. "Everyone who is here, is here by
choice. No one has to work for the company."
"Who told you that story?"
"It's not a story. It's the truth!"
"What makes you so sure?"
"It's the truth. Haven't you ever studied history!"'
"History is just a collection of stories. Different people tell different stories and it tells as much about them as what really happened. The company is the only one offering jobs that pay enough to support a large family. By the time parents have two or three
children, they and their kids are trapped in the system. If they wanted to flee, the time to do it would be before the children are
ever conceived. Otherwise, they are trapped.
"The company system arose from the ashes of the First Five [depressions] and the Mideast and South Asian wars at the
beginning of the twenty-first century. It restored the old job security and the living wage but at a price." I draw a deep breath. I remember the fantastic tales Francoise Walker tells about the United States before the First Five and by contrast what is missing
now. I'm not sure I believe those tales any more than I believe the story of personal freedom told by Roxanne, Frederick, and also my Leadership Training Seminar. The history and sociology professors I had at Dartmouth did not tell these tales. They called them "oversimplifications."
"Participation in the mentoring system is part of the price. It's not that different from the moral rules Henry Ford had for paying
his factory workers two hundred years ago. Company towns are not really that bad an idea." Francoise Walker might tell me otherwise, but I am not Francoise.
"So you are going to make things better for everybody by trashing everything first."
"Yes," I answer Frederick. "Unless someone gets angry and goes to Atlanta."
"No one's going to go to Atlanta," Frederick answers. "You're too fucking conscientious for any one to get." He laughs. Then he puts his arms around me. I like the way he smells. I am more tired then I was even the week that Peter died. Was that oonly last week. "I'll miss you when you go to work," I tell Frederick. "We can still see each other in the evening." he reminds me. "My job is only nine to five."
written by ZOIDRubashov
Wednesday, September 03, 2003.