The Handmaid’s Tale
– The Really Veiled Version –
Back to part 1.
Part two – Transition
A month has passed with the only new things happening being the first signs of my pregnancy such as short periods of sickness and occasionally vomiting, and my having ordering sweets for dessert for both lunch and dinner. The new Ceremony passes with everybody seemingly in a good mood, and me praying wholly and sincerely to have a healthy child and to be able to live with it and in close contact with its half-sister – and with Nick too if it pleases God. As usual the Commander leaves right after having ended the period of silent prayer by clearing his throat. Nick almost treads on his heels. I think all we women keep saying a few more lines to ourselves in case our wishes are overpowered by the men’s prayers. I notice Rita and Cora, as always, leave together, but having so many wishes I go on a little longer. Despite this Serena, as usual, remains in her chair almost unmoving. While having the bedroom part of the Ceremony I assumed it was to postpone the preparations for that for as long as possible, but now I have got the idea that she is ending the Ceremony by singing to herself one of the gospel hymns that she used to sing on television, but her veil is opaque and low humming is attenuated completely by the voice modesty scarf. It would be nice if she could be singing it out loud I say to myself and turn towards the door.
Outside Nick is waiting. He immediately shows me a piece of paper but doesn’t let me read it. He takes me to the bathroom, closes the door, flips up my veil and pulls down my voice modesty scarf to hold me in a tight grip and kiss me. It is of course nice, but it’s breaking our agreement and I feel there is something else wrong as well. It takes perhaps three minutes before I find out. Then Serena opens the door. After the new Ceremony she and the Commander go to the bedroom early to enjoy each other, and Serena has come to prepare herself for that. Serena stares. After some seconds it becomes completely clear as she almost absentmindedly flips up her veil to reveal the upper half of her face that I have never seen. She looks like all she has just been praying for has fallen apart. She has lived on an illusion since I became pregnant and now Nick has shown her the reality. She is deeply shocked and slowly turns around. It is then as if her mind has made a decision and with firm steps, her veil still flipped up, she goes to the Commander’s office and knocks the door hard. Nick follows her with me being pulled by his hand to stop where we can’t be seen from the doorway. As the Commander opens the door he is probably shocked to see Serena, but we can’t see him, and the shock makes it easy for her to push him back inside, her following and pushing the door closed, but it doesn’t close completely. We can hear Serena so loud that it’s clear her voice modesty scarf no longer covers her mouth, but her words don’t reach through the crack, and certainly not through the thick door designed to allow the Commander to have confidential phone calls. The Commander is not to be heard. After a minute of listening to Serena shouting the sound of a gunshot gives us a shock.
No further sound comes out from the office and after some ten seconds Nick cautiously pushes the door further open. The Commander is lying on his back, his head towards the door, between the desk and the bookshelf.
His shirt at the left side of his chest is dark red from blood, and the carpet below is saturated in blood as well. It looks like he has died instantly. Behind the desk in the Commander’s chair Serena sits relaxed as if the job is accomplished satisfactorily, but her expression, clearly showing as her hat is gone and thus the head completely uncovered, shows a mix of surprise and rage not totally extinguished – and in her hand she holds the gun uncomfortably nonchalant.
“Don’t worry I won’t shoot either of you. I certainly won’t risk killing a child,” she says little reassuringly when noticing the door being opened. “You are there Offred, aren’t you?” Serena asks.
I slowly show a little more of my head through the door opening while saying clearly, as my voice modesty scarf is still down, “I am here Serena.”
Serena says “I don’t blame you for doing what was necessary to prolong the, despite all, good life we have here. But until seeing you and Nick I believed that all these rumours about men being infertile, and especially Fred, had been proved wrong by you. He knew, and arranged for you two to meet, right?” Serena goes on.
Nick says “That’s true Ma’am.”
Still looking and sounding angry Serena continues “Despite all his military achievements and current success in fighting the insurgents he wasn’t a man after all. I have always wanted a child of my own, and knowing I couldn’t physically contribute myself I married a man with all the characteristics of fertility, to through the holy marriage be religiously bonded to the child that my husband had physically contributed to. Rachel said to Jacob: Behold my maid Bilhah, go in unto her; and she shall bear upon my knees, that I may also have children by her. A child from his sperm carried by our maid is allowed in the Bible. A widow cannot remarry in Gilead. I can never have a religiously legal child. What I have longed for all my life is unattainable, and worse, has in reality been so since I married Fred. In my view the child can only grow up with Nick. Kate, I hope you find a way to live with your child and Nick, and that means get married by no matter what kind of Christian clergyman. Tell Rita and Cora that they have done well. I sang my favourite song to myself at the end of the Ceremony, so I can’t think of anymore to do.”
During her last lines her voice has turned sad, and at the last words she takes a firmer grip on the gun, making Nick move back with a jerk along the wall, pushing me rather hard, but I know it’s for protection. A few seconds later a second shot sounds. Nick cautiously looks into the office, but after a few seconds he steps to the side to let me look as well. Serena lies face down on the desk top on top of her right arm and the gun, and a pool of blood is forming to her left. She has shot herself in the heart. After taking in the sight I sense someone behind me and turn to see Rita and Cora. I say, hearing my own voice a little shaky as the voice modesty scarf still is down, “Were both of you here to hear Serena’s last words?”
I can hear Rita is crying despite her strong muffling as she says “We heard them. This was the best place I’ve ever worked. If we just stayed away from as much as tasting a pinch of the items on the list exclusive to Wives, and of course keep them away from the Handmaids as well, we could decide on almost anything in the kitchen ourselves. Isn’t that right Cora?”
Cora, also sounding in tears, says “Yes, but what will become of us now? I’m not that young anymore. Perhaps I would rather do as Serena than work myself slowly to death while suffering in the Colonies.”
Nick says “I couldn’t perceive all of it, but CEO Burns finds that at least one of you is right fearing for her future. K . . . Offred and I haven’t discussed you. What do you think?”
With a clear but low voice, because I suddenly somehow find it wrong hearing my own non-muffled voice I say “I agree with Serena. You are good Martha’s Rita and Cora. Am I right that CEO Burns has some plan for transferring everyone left in this household to his empty place to make it complete in residents right from the beginning?”
Nick says “That is how I understand the paper I briefly showed you just after the Ceremony.”
I understand he wishes me to decide if I would like Rita and Cora as my future Martha’s if CEO Burns plan succeeds, because it’s me having to associate with them and in reality being their boss, so it’s also me to tell them what their choices are, and I say
“You know CEO Burns is the husband of my daughter Wifeethan. We all want to live close of course to give my child a secure upbringing with his parents and other family. CEO Burns is a rich powerful man and has put up an entire team of experts to find out how we can be united, which means Nick and I are to become husband and Wife. A couple with the female being a Wife has to have Martha’s and I would like both of you to become our Martha’s. But the solution his team have come up with is not entirely legal. This means by choosing to go with us you may risk a fate worse than the Colonies. On the other hand I’m sure CEO Burns has done everything in his power to minimise the risk. If you both want to come with us we must all go to the kitchen to hear Nick explain the plan. If only one of you want to go we’ll have to lock the other one up in her chamber for a while. No that goes for both of you if you don’t want to go because the kitchen is the only room down here not reminding me of what is in the office.”
Cora immediately throws her hands around my neck and says as loud as a Martha can speak “I’m the one your prosperous son-in-law sends to the Colonies so I’ll take any risk. Working for you and Master Nick promises to be even better than working for the Commander. Please take me with you Master Nick.”
Rita bows deeply first to Nick and then to me and says also so loud that Nick can hear her “I think it’s in my file that I’m allergic to latex and always have to wear cloth gloves beneath the rubber ones, and with this handicap I can’t get a new position so it’s me who is off to the Colonies. I deeply apologise if I have ever done you wrong or offended you Wifenick. Please forgive me and take me with you.”
Nick starts walking towards the kitchen and while we women follow right behind him I smile at for the first time hearing my future new first name. I hated having to have a new name for each new Handmaid assignment, but this is more like getting married in the old days with the bride taking the groom’s family name. In Gilead the woman are just so inferior that she takes over both the husband’s names. Wifenick Mason. Perhaps that’s God’s punishment for never getting the family name of Luke.
With us all seated at the small kitchen table, but with both Rita and Cora a little out from the table I start asking “Do we have time for a cup of tea Nick?”
“Yes,” he says, “and some sandwiches too. It might be a long night.”
Rita and Cora both immediately jump up to make Nick say loud “Rita and Cora while you work I’ll start telling K.. Offred …”
I interrupt saying “It’s okay to use Kate. I don’t mind Rita and Cora knowing what I think of as my real name, and it might be hubris using my name after marrying you before it has been accomplished. But please keep my daughter’s name as Wifeethan Nick. I’m sure she’d like to keep her Christian name within the family.”
Nick starts again “I’ll start telling Kate more about the paper from CEO Burns containing the plan that you needn’t hear nor understand but it’s okay that you listen.”
He directly faces me and lowers his voice showing the paper again as he says “Four days ago, just after dropping the Commander at the security headquarters as usual, another driver approached me for what I at first thought was a chat, and it was, but it was the driver of CEO Burns, and just before he drove off again I got this paper. It says a psychological analysis based on Serena Joys past and file, combined with knowing how the lifestyle of Wives in general affects women would with great likelihood lead to what we have just experienced if she was to learn the truth about the Commander the way we showed her. Now, the plan is quite simple, so I’ll wait until we’re all seated again.”
I say, in a low voice directed to Nick “It’s frightening that he is so powerful that he is able to plan a murder and a suicide that he can’t even be linked with unless this plan falls into the wrong hands. On the other hand this taking place just as his team has predicted makes me have great confidence in the rest of the plan.”
Loudly I continue “Rita and Cora, I have one more condition for you coming with us. No straws for you, and you’ll have sandwiches at the table as well. Now that you have seen my face I want to see yours.”
Cora was just about to lay the table but has to put the tray down again to put on more plates. A couple of minutes later Cora has brought the dish with sliced sandwiches and seated herself, but she apparently won’t unveil until Rita is present as well. In a minute Rita brings the teapot and sits down. While Nick and I take a sandwich they both untie and remove their headscarf, which only uncovers the neck, showing they both have pale skin, like all women never getting any sun. They look at each other so as to remove their masks simultaneously. Two pairs of lips appear, both showing a shy smile, and Cora showing an irregular discoloured set of teeth. Cora pulls off her balaclava to show she has very short black hair which she has probably cut herself, a French looking face and is in her mid-fifties. With this age her fear of the Colonies is justified. Despite her age her face shows a shy childish expression indicating it’s very long since she has done anything like this. She first looks at me, then at Nick and finally at Rita motioning she has to uncover now. Seeing Cora has made Rita’s smile more self assured and she calmly removes her balaclava as if alone for the night. Rita is probably a brunette but it’s hard to judge as she is shaven bald. Her face suggests British ancestry and she is about my age, perhaps forty. I say “Eat and drink please. Tonight you are not employees or servants but our accomplices and travel companions on the road to a new life. Have you ever seen each other?”
Cora says “I remember Serena, about a week after Rita had arrived, between eight and nine years ago, saying that Rita worked all right, which meant she had of course worked as a horse to be approved to stay, but she had to see her face to let her stay in the position permanently. It was the same with me five years earlier, as if we were horses. You do it more elegantly by inviting us for tea and sandwiches. But her seeing Rita did not mean she was to uncover here in the kitchen while I was present. After that I had an urge to see who I was working with, and when it showed that we worked well together and Serena was so content that she didn’t interfere much I realised we could spend our lives together in this kitchen for years. So about three months after Rita came, while we were alone in the house during a Wife gathering, I suggested we should drink tea uncovered, and we did, but then we had both spent some time in the bathroom in advance to look our best.”
Rita says “I remember it as well, because I was afraid all the time and some days after that either we were not alone or that the kitchen was monitored and a van with Angels would come to put us on trial.”
I say “Our promise to take you with us stands no matter how you look. It’s hard to say if it’s good or bad, but the faces we now link with your names in some days fade to be replaced by a standard Martha masking and your names linked with your different height and build. I feel like Cora. I like to see the women I live with day in and day out once in a while. We could commemorate this day by doing it on this date every year from now on and perhaps once or twice in between. Nick please, you have access to a calendar, so you have to note it. Having seen your faces makes me want to know your life and family histories, but if you would just tell me your ages that will have to do for now. I’m thirty eight to reciprocate.”
Rita says “I turned thirty five two weeks ago.”
Cora says “I turn forty eight in nearly a month.”
Unfortunately I’m not surprised that I guessed them both too old. Gilead is hard on working women and with no skin care products available and my age assessment made in a society of styled faces I had to fail.
Nick says “Tell us a few days in advance and we’ll have a small celebration Cora. I’d like to go on right away. In principle we have all night because this evening has also been chosen because the Commander, due to his early bedroom session with Serena, has requested no telephone calls and as such will not be missed until he doesn’t arrive at the headquarters tomorrow morning, but we have appointments and I’m not sure if they are on night duty or only waiting for us.”
I say “I’d like to end this unveiling session and complete what I’ve learned about the strange personality of Serena Joy by asking you Rita and Cora: Have you ever seen her face or any part of her skin until tonight?”
As they both pick up their balaclava they both slowly shake the head. My impression from the first day was wrong. It was me who wished she would be a small hidden rebel, but events had shown that Serena in most ways was in accordance with the Gilead view on women. I veil myself as well.
Nick explains “The plan is simple. Kate being pregnant it is natural that she can feel so bad that she has to see a doctor. We leave here with that purpose and legally get into the centre of the city. But we go to see Dr. James to get a new identity. Our new story is that since his marriage, CEO Burns has tried to learn the fate of his wife’s biological parents and recently has succeeded in finding her mother just south of the Gilean border in the former Virginia to be a widow, who had six months ago remarried to a young man and has just become pregnant with him. They have accepted a move into a house offered to them in Gilead City, Nick Taylor to become transport manager, his wife to become Wifenick and a Leah and them both to live according to Gilean laws and customs adopting the lifestyle of Wifenick’s daughter and son-in-law – their benefactors. We can all keep our Christian names as they are common, and no one has a reason to link that CEO Burns has found his wife’s biological mother and that she has attempted to market his products by visiting the Commander’s wife. All the papers and files have been fixed so it appears that we have entered Gilead and travelled north to enter Gilead City tomorrow. We just have to be transported about three hours truck ride south to be outside all the major guard systems and checkpoints that protect the city. From there the control is so tight and sophisticated that actually passing through is much easier and safer than manipulating the systems.
Kate you only need to pack a small bag if you have anything personal you’d like to take and then dress for public. In between you might go and help Rita and Cora. I’d like you to make all the sandwiches possible and fill some bottles with water so we have something in case anything goes wrong and we have to hide for some time. Further I’d like Cora to pack a bag with an extra set of her clothing that should fit Kate, because she is to travel south dressed as a Martha because they are much less noticeable than a Handmaid, both in colour and in the attention paid by Guardians and Angels. I think I’m ready when you are. Help each other and come out to the car together soon.”
I go up to my room and look around. I have spend so many hours here just passing the time; thinking about the past, what was just up and the future; spending many hours looking out the window to see whether Serena was in the garden or not; or just dozing for hours, more recently fantasising about the perfect love life with Nick. Despite all the idleness and boredom it now feels a little sad to leave a room that has become my private corner of the world. But looking around I have nothing to take with me except the picture of Jill in her early teens. There are no pockets in my attire but it doesn’t matter as it’s better hidden when I put it inside my left glove.
I go downstairs to see Rita making sandwiches. She asks me to fetch the shopping basket. I pass their chambers where Cora is filling a brown paper bag with clothes. Back in the kitchen Rita points to a low closet. I take four bottles with screw lids and fill them from the tap. Cora comes into the kitchen carrying the bag. “It’s well filled when starting with a pair of rubber boots, but as the public clothing to be taken from the wardrobe is only a shawl and a pair of gauntlets it will all fit in this bag,” she says. “Let’s go to the wardrobe,” I say to Cora. “If you haven’t done so Rita, take your personal belongings and come to us when you are through with the sandwiches. Don’t clean anything. Having taken all the bread and filling may make those coming here think we are headed for Canada.”
While Cora puts a shawl and gauntlets in the bag I start putting on my leather boots. When I have finished Cora has placed my cloak on the floor for me to step into. Having placed the boots in the openings of the cloak I’m handed the mask to be followed by the white bonnet, and as I take my hands down I get my gauntlets. She helps me with the left gauntlet, and then very wisely in this situation she grabs at the rim of my right gauntlet to pull it out as much as possible and then drops the key to the padlock in the opening. I shake my hand to get it to slide down and when I can feel it in my palm I nod to her and my cloak is lifted up, zipped and locked. Meanwhile Rita has arrived with the basket. I watch them covering their heads with a shawl and put on gauntlets, and then we are ready to leave the Commander’s house. Forever.
As I look into the open back door about to get in I see the large seat is tilted forward to reveal a large storage space. Directed more to Rita and Cora Nick tells them “This is just a trip to the doctor with Offred. On such a trip she wouldn’t be accompanied by more than one Martha, do you agree?” They both nod, making Nick continue “This unfortunately means one of you has to make the trip under the seat, and as the shortest has to crouch the least it has to be you Rita. I’m sorry, but you’ll get fresh air and the ride is only about fifteen to twenty minutes this late in the evening. Hold your right arm out please. He winds aluminium foil around it to be sure the scanners won’t pick up an extra signal.” Rita climbs in to lie down as flat as possible but can’t avoid having to be crouched. It’s probably good we can’t see her face as Nick carefully lowers the seat over her. Then Cora and I enter the back seat, but we are extremely careful to sit down gently, feeling we are squeezing poor Rita, which is of course wrong.
All three of us are scanned at each checkpoint making it a completely normal drive with no complications. Leaving a checkpoint after some fifteen minutes Nick confirms it by saying “We’re now registered to be inside the central city zone from where our current identities, if all goes well, vanish never to be found again. Rita is still registered as being in the Commander’s compound but that really doesn’t matter as her identity is destroyed as well.”
A minute later he stops outside a door with a doctor’s sign next to it. He opens the back door for Cora and me to get out and then rings the bell. Cora and I stand on each side of the door heads down and when I hear it being opened Nick says
“The pregnant Handmaid of my Commander is feeling rather ill. I have been told her stomach hurts possibly because of eating a can of Grandmother Burns’ Mashed Potatoes.”
A male voice says “Please come inside. I’m running the clinic alone tonight, but there are no other patients at the moment, so I have time to find out how to best help her.”
As the door closes behind us he continues “I’m Dr. James and part of CEO Burns’ team to unite his wife’s biological mother with his family. You are to stay here all night but we might as well get the identity fixed right away while there are no real patients. If a terrorist attack happens close to here during the night I might be completely occupied long into the day.”
With Dr. James having revealed we have come to the right man, I lift my head and see that he is a Central European type around thirty with hair cut short but long at the back and whiskers. He wears a white medical coat on top of a blue shirt that shows its collar and cuffs and he wears khaki trousers.
Nick says “You probably know that I’m Nick Mason. You can start with one of the women here. The Handmaid is of course Wifeethan’s mother, until now known as Offred, and we both hope soon to be Wifenick. First there’s one more Martha that I have to retrieve from under the seat of the car, and then I have to leave for about ten minutes to park the car in a garage where it hopefully won’t be found for some time.”
Dr. James says “Can I help you Nick?”
Nick says “No, thank you, I think it’s going to look more suspicious if there is more than the driver around the car. I’ll be very careful ensuring no one is in sight before allowing Rita to move from the car to the door. It stays unlocked until I’m back I assume?”
Dr. James nods as he starts speaking to Cora and I making Nick go out. “As the sign shows there is a female waiting room over there, but as you are not officially here – the Commander has always used another clinic – you are going to spend the night in my second examination room. This also means Nick can be with you, but despite your identities soon show you are one household, this is not your home and CEO Burns, on behalf of his wife I think, wants you to stay in your public clothing. It doesn’t mean Wifenick has to be confined in her Handmaid cloak or a Wife cloak to sweat all night, because until you are down south to start your official ride into Gilead City the team has decided it is best that you are dressed as a Martha so as not to attract attention if someone sees you. According to the plan you should have brought a set of Martha clothes for Wifenick?”
Cora nods and holds up the bag she is carrying. We wait a minute and are a little relieved when Rita enters carrying the basket. Dr. James says “Follow me please.”
We enter a door with a stethoscope as symbol leading to a small corridor with several doors. Dr. James shows us into one of the rooms which by being dominated by a couch and a desk and having a sink clearly is an examination room. Dr. James says “This is where you are going to stay for the night. I’m sorry it’s a little cramped for four, but you can take turns in using the couch. Tell Nick it’s my medical recommendation that the comfortable chair behind the desk is reserved for those pregnant, but I have brought in additional chairs to have a seat for you all. Further please ignore there are books and papers which are not locked up.” Pointing at Cora he continues “Clearly it’s you who is going to lend your clothes to Wifenick. If you change right away Wifenick, then only the one who is lending the clothes needs to go outside in the corridor while Wifenick is immodest, because I’ll take you with me into the adjoining room to be the first to have her identity changed.”
He has pointed at Rita who follows Dr. James. I pull my right gauntlet off, holding it downwards so as not to drop the key. Then I turn the gauntlet over above my upturned palm and push my right hand out through the slit in the cloak to hand the key to Cora. It showed to be an unnecessary precaution, but it was little trouble, and if such things are not done you always run into trouble. She helps me out of the public clothing and empties the bag on the couch. When she goes outside and I undress.
It feels strange to put on boots for indoors. The body covering of a Martha doesn’t feel any different from that of a Handmaid apart from the tighter strap of the apron. The thin rubber gloves are warm but almost let you feel things as without gloves. Being elastic I can place the photo of Jill under the wrist not to crumple it if I have to use the hand. I carefully check that the glove is sufficiently opaque for the photo not to be seen. Then I put on the head covering which feels very different. I’m used to a snood covering my hair and a loose veil covering the rest of the head. Now the head is almost completely enclosed in two layers, and the mask makes the lower face very warm and restricts breathing considerably with its thick padding to ensure that Martha’s don’t contaminate the food and are discouraged from speaking, but vision is better with a larger field of view and a thinner mesh that is almost invisible. Martha’s have to use their hands and they have to be able to see what they are doing. I guess Handmaids wear a thin loose veil first of all to ensure the child gets enough oxygen through its mother’s intake, and then because pregnancy occasionally causes vomiting. But apart from that all Handmaid’s remember Aunt Lydia for saying that a Handmaid could do without arms and legs because only her womb matters. Finally I add the two items that Martha’s wear in public. The gauntlets are thinner and more flexible than those of a Handmaid. The shawl changes the appearance of the head completely, but doesn’t change much to the wearer. Only my vision is slightly worse, but it only makes the view somewhat darker and with more blurring, maintaining the field of view. Also the blur is green where I’m used to a red one.
I let Cora in again and after inspecting me she says “I think you look exactly like me which means nobody is going to notice if it’s me changing to the Wife costume tomorrow.”
I say “Cora, despite I’m now dressed like you I’m about to become your Mistress. It’s okay though as tonight we are outside the law and normal ranking and can talk more freely, and I did say I would like to learn more about you and Rita. Do you want to become a wife? Do you know what unemployment means? If you had insurance the worst would often be that you wanted to work and use your qualifications, but no job for your qualifications was to be found, and you would have nothing to do, or your brain would be idle while you did some trivial work. For someone like me that maybe the worst of what I’m going into, but hopefully I will have a child to fill my time. As a Handmaid I have often envied you. But of course Wives have a very secure life as long as their husband is alive, and may have good sex or at least get satisfied. Do you get your sexual desire fulfilled Cora?”
Cora says almost incomprehensibly “I’m sorry Mistress, but I’m just so happy that you and Master Nick want me to work for you. You have felt the fear for the Colonies yourself and I feel you won’t ever send me there.”
I take Cora’s hand and say “You’re right Cora. I would feel very bad about it. Shouldn’t Nick be back about now? And Rita as well, I had the impression it was a minor five minute thing for a qualified doctor.”
Cora has no answer to this and takes to folding the empty paper bag but without knowing what to do with it she just puts it down on the couch again. I think about going back to the entry room because Nick might have come back but doesn’t want to go anywhere he is not permitted to.
The door to the adjacent examination room is opened and Rita walks through the doorway. Dr. James stands in the doorway and asks “Who’s next? Would one of you others go and check if Nick is back and just doesn’t know where to go?”
I nod and open the door to the corridor to walk through and open the door to the entry room, immediately being relieved at seeing Nick waiting. I go and hug him and ask “Did everything go well?”
He pulls away from me with a puzzled expression and asks “Is that you Kate?”
“Yes,” I say directly into his ear, “you have told us yourself that I have to wear Martha clothing.”
Nick thinks for a moment before saying “Well yes, the plan says tomorrow you have to ride south dressed as a Martha. How is it to get a new identity?”
“I don’t mind being a Martha,” I say, “but if you’re referring to what the doctor has to do I haven’t experienced it yet. Cora is with him now and he started with Rita. Let’s go and ask her what we have to fear.”
Rita is standing leaning against the desk as if in doubt as to whether she is allowed to sit, but when Nick and I both walk up close in front of her she starts speaking
“Hello, I’m Rita Jones now. It feels strange that just a little cut and the replacement of a metallic grain of rice with an identically looking one has changed who I am.”
“Fortunately for us, if ones identity is questioned in Gilead, that grain is the truth to the authorities rather than our looks or other characteristics,” Nick says. “But does it hurt?”
Rita says “He started giving a local anaesthetic so it might hurt when its effect fades. The area is a little swollen as well. I can feel the fabric of my sleeve brushing it.”
We sit down and just relax for some minutes. The others probably feel like me, relieved that we apparently are well on the way to the life that we had hoped to achieve, and tired after a shocking and uncertain beginning of this venture. The door to the adjoining examination room opens and Dr. James says “I would like Wifenick next. In case something happens Nick is much better able to manage with his current identity. There is work for the rest of you as I would like the discarded Handmaid clothing cut into small pieces that can easily be burnt so that we will have no sign of a Handmaid having been here. You have to do with this tray of medical tools.”
I follow Dr. James into the other room. “Please lie down on your back on the couch and remove your right gauntlet and glove. Just hold them in your left hand or put them down in your lap. I’m only going to touch and work on your right forearm,” he says. I let the photo drop into the rubber glove as I pull it off. Dr. James rolls my right sleeve up above the elbow. Then he takes a pen in his right hand and a scanner in his left to move the scanner from my elbow down the forearm while saying “This scanner shows the strength of the signal it receives from an id-tag to let me locate its exact placement. It also tells me you are the Handmaid currently staying at the Commander’s.” From that he marks a ‘+’ on top of my forearm a little below the elbow telling me as he puts the scanner and the pen down on the trolley and picks up a syringe “Your tag is at the normal position two to three inches from the elbow bend. Now you get two small pinpricks and then there is no pain from this procedure, but you may feel a little sore when the effect of the anaesthetic fades in an hour or so. It’s up to you if you just want to relax looking at the ceiling or keep your head lifted if you are up to watching.”
I have just seen a great deal of blood, although it wasn’t my own, so I assume this doesn’t compare and keep looking at my forearm, although the scalpel he now holds in his right hand looks a little frightening. He makes a cut along the lengthwise line of the mark and as blood start to trickle out he pushes a pair of tweezers into the cut to pulls a small piece of metal a little longer than one tenth of an inch out. I feel nothing. Immediately he presses a pad in his left hand down on the cut before putting the tweezers with my old id-tag down on the trolley. He hands me a small metalled paper bag and says “Hold it vertical and tear the top off please.” Once I have opened the bag he takes it again and turns it over on the trolley top to produce another small metal grain. Then he scans it to say “This is Wifenick married to Nick Taylor, do you want to assume that identity?”
“Yes please,” I say. He then picks up the tag with the tweezers and takes it to my arm where he retracts the pad from the cut just before pushing the tweezers into it again. As the tweezers come up the pad comes onto the cut again. He then takes hold of another syringe with his right hand that he squeezes a little to produce a drop of thick liquid at its tip just before applying it to my skin next to the pad. Next he pulls the pad away along the cut while he lets the syringe follow to place a strip of the thick liquid on top of the cut. While it slowly spreads out he says “The cut has just been glued and the procedure is over. In a minute I’ll cover the wound with a piece of plaster which you can remove in twenty four hours, that is the morning after tomorrow effectively.” While the glue hardens he takes a paper napkin and folds it several times around my old id-tag of Handmaid Offred and places it in the middle of the floor. Then he applies the plaster and rolls my sleeve down saying “Put your glove and gauntlet on again please and get up from the couch.” Then he attends to the trolley to prepare it for Nick, allowing me to retrieve the photo and place it as before without curious looks or questions. Seeing me next to him he takes the scanner and holds it about five inches from my forearm to say “A last check to ensure a normal scan is now going to show you are Wifenick Taylor. Then we have to hope he comes into existence in a few minutes. I think its best if you extinguish your previous identity yourself. Take this hammer in your left hand please so as not to stress the wound right away, and smash the tag on the floor to dust. Then unfold the napkin at the bottom of the sink and flush the fragments.”
And so I bang the hammer down on the napkin a dozen times. It feels good to end my uncertain life as a Handmaid going from one undependable guardian to another, having forced intercourse, and just living to postpone the Colonies as long as possible, to a life with my daughter, soon a baby, and a good husband; but very likely the day to day life isn’t going to be that much different until I give birth at least.
Dr. James opens the door to the other examination room and seeing us Nick gets up to pass me. Dr. James says “Just a minute Nick. I see the Handmaid outfit has been cut to pieces. Across the corridor is a washroom with a concrete floor where you can burn the clothes. There are matches in the closet, but just burn one piece at a time like if it would be done in an ashtray to avoid staining the ceiling. Remember there is plenty of time. I don’t expect anyone to come tonight, but with such a small fire it won’t even be noticed through a closed door if a patient should turn up.”
With three in the room while I got my new identity there are three piles of cloth pieces and with nothing else to do we pick up one each and find the washroom. Rita finds the matches and lights the first piece. The three watch while it turns to ashes, and then I light the next piece with the last embers. In this way we take turns in continuing the fire. As with the smashing of the id-tag looking at the piles of red cloth slowly being consumed by the flames, for us all I think it symbolises the end of an unpleasant phase of our lives and the promise of a new better one. When Nick and Dr. James show in the doorway about one third of the cloth has been burned. Nick watches for a little while and then turns to Dr. James to ask “What do we do with all the leather; the pieces of the boots, the gauntlets and the mask? They weren’t that hard to cut up but I doubt they will burn.” Dr. James says “I suppose you’re right. I hadn’t thought about that. The drain in the floor in here is pretty wide and we have to flush the floor down anyway. Nick I think you’re the right one to get the grating removed. One of you should remain in here and keep burning the cloth while the other three take the leather back to the examination room to be cut into smaller pieces that can be flushed.”
As we leave the washroom I hear Nick asking the question “Is it Kate or Cora with me?” In five minutes he is with us in the examination room. That might have been fifteen if it was me staying in the washroom. Now we are four to cut leather but it takes around half an hour to get it done. When we get back to the washroom there are just six pieces of cloth left. Dr. James turns on the hose, puts it just inside the drain and gestures Rita to slowly drop handful after handful of leather into it. After a quarter of an hour the leather is flushed, the clothes burned and the floor flushed down.
Back in the examination room Dr. James says “I see you have brought a basket full of sandwiches. Are there enough so we can have one now after all this work, and besides its good to have a full stomach to better doze through the night? But of course there has to be at least for breakfast for you as well.”
Cora and I close in on Rita to make Nick and Dr. James move closer as well to be able to hear her say “There are eighteen or nineteen. I think Dr. James deserves one for what he has done for us, and I’d rather have one now and then do without tomorrow if there’s one short at some point.”
Nick says “We’ll all have one, because as Dr. James said, we’ll make it better through the night if not hungry. Perhaps he has some glasses or cups so we can have some water as well without drinking from the bottles we brought?”
Dr. James says “Just a minute,” and leaves.
Cora looks at Nick and says “Martha’s normally only drink in the company of others, and considering Wifeethan wants us to wear public dress I think we need your permission to eat together, although with the public shawl we can make our headscarf hang loose and untie the lower ties of the mask without it showing much.”
Nick says “Please untie and take your hand to your lips for me to judge if you show too much.”
After Cora has been fiddling for a little while all there is to see are two snips of the headscarf showing beneath the shawl and that her hand and arm hold the shawl out from the chest, but if not looking from below there is no more to see than when mask and scarf are tied. Nick of course allows us to eat. Dr. James returns with five glasses.
After eating for some minutes Nick asks Dr. James “I assume that CEO Burns pays you for your work and especially the great risk you take?”
Dr. James says “CEO Burns thinks of everything, and I’m not being paid a large sum in cash that could be found during a search here or stolen, or having a large sum of unexplainable origin deposited in my account. Instead I get a very high pay per hour, and many more hours written down than I actually have used as consultant in the team to find and unite his wife with her biological parents. Actually I would like to know if the scenario in the plan went as predicted as it was based on the psychological analysis of Serena Joy made by me and a colleague?”
Nick tells how he took me to the bathroom and what then happened when Serena saw us.
Dr. James comments “It makes me professionally proud and better justifies my salary, but unfortunately as this has to be kept secret I can’t use this case to show I’m good at making a psychological profile of people if others want to hire me.”
Nick says “It went like you could read her mind, and the small surgery you performed on us was first class as well. We are of course going to take you as our general practitioner, and with Wifenick in the ‘family way’ there will be frequent visits for some years ahead. Then what I have to offer right now is fortunately not significant to you, but I took the Commander’s supply of tokens, so if there is something you would like as a little extra for your stomach, then I might have the right type of token.”
From both of his jackets inner pockets Nick pulls a brown paper bag that had filled the pocket.
Dr. James says “It’s kind of you to offer what you have, but keep it for now as I think it’s going to be much more appreciated tomorrow by the truck driver and the clergyman. The truck driver is going to be here at around half past six because the trucks start driving south early. CEO Burns has arranged for a clergyman to be here at the same time for you two to get the blessing of the church that means so much to Wifeethan and him. The clergyman also brings you the official fake papers from CEO Burns that will say you were married six months ago in Virginia, a residence permit and Nicks passport, saying you have crossed the border this evening, although all this and your entry of course is registered in your files as well.”
I say “I’m also longing to be religiously married to Nick by a clergyman. With Wifeethan very keen about us living in sin for as short a time as possible why haven’t they arranged for the clergyman to come tonight? Wouldn’t it be the same to him if it’s rather late or rather early?”
Dr. James says “I think here CEO Burns has given priority to security and secrecy. To do it tonight would have required another man to be involved in this illegal affair we have been doing as a marriage has to be witnessed by two men without counting the groom and the clergyman, and tonight there is only me. Tomorrow morning the truck driver can be the second witness who of course knows you are an illegal cargo. – – It certainly is a large number of tokens the Commander had. I’m very fond of cod, so if you have some tokens for cod I’ll have a few after all.”
Nick hands the bags to me and I empty them onto the desk and say to Rita “You can find out quicker than me if there are tokens for cod here. With your back to the men I think it’s all right to remove your gauntlets while handling the tokens.”
I estimate there are close to a hundred tokens and it takes about two minutes before Rita places three tokens in my upturned gauntlet which I then hold in front of Dr. James who says
“Thank you, and thank you for the sandwich. Although you are supported by CEO Burns the bread and the tokens are all that you actually own right now so it’s generous of you to share it. As I just told you,the day is going to start early, and there is always a small chance that a patient spoils part of my night, so I would like to retire to my private rooms now, and then perhaps you can get some sleep as well. But with this whole affair being outside the law and Nick and Wifenick having had an illegal, and until tomorrow morning religiously sinful, relationship, I don’t feel out of place by asking Rita and Cora if one of you would be so kind to help me release the tension of not having a woman for many months. However there is no obligation whatsoever.”
Both immediately jump up close to each side of Dr. James where they are sure their low muffled voices are heard and say, almost as with one voice, and so loud that Nick and I catch it as well “Please let me help you Dr. James.”
Dr. James says “You both have beautiful forearms, and we can’t toss a token as both sides are identical, so I think you both have to follow me and then we’ll just have to let nature take its course.”
Just as Dr. James has opened the door to the corridor Rita says something that makes him turn his head towards Nick and me and say “Rita rightly said that now the two of you can both get yourself a good night’s sleep with a couch in each examination room. Sleep well.”
After a minute of silence Nick says “It may have been a while since Dr. James had a woman, but only God knows how long it is since they’ve had a man. They have both been adults before Gilead was founded, but that’s a very long time ago in this regard. I’m not a woman but when you came to me it was more than a year since I last was with a woman. No matter that it’s a sin and that Jill and her family are against it, I think we shall find a way for Rita and Cora to have sexual intercourse at least once a year – no every six months. Don’t you agree?”
I say “They can’t have lived without sex since becoming Martha’s. They may have been without a man, but not without sex. There are toys or cucumbers or they could play, even sleep, with each other. With them being infertile it wouldn’t cause any problems if you helped them, but as there are so many men without a woman it would be better to help one of them at the same time. If I’m going to come here to have Dr. James check my health and that the pregnancy going right, and later to have the child checked, I could bring one of them. We also have to have a driver, isn’t that in CEO Burns’ papers?”
Nick says “Not explicitly. As my qualifications are driving and cars I think he is going to make me head of his drivers or some part of the company garage or something like that, and then I can choose myself one of my subordinates to drive for us. Are we going to sleep here or next door?”
I say “I think I’m going to sleep next door and you here. We are still sinning, even just by speaking to each other. Until having a double bed that is our own, hopefully tomorrow, I think we should stay with our agreement of only being close the day after the Ceremony every two weeks. Coincidentally that is tomorrow as well. Goodnight.”
I’m being shaken and open my eyes to see that it’s Cora who is waking me wake. Despite the narrow and not very soft couch I have slept like a log since putting my head down. Seeing Cora reminds me of something, and noticing the slightly green blur in front of my eyes I immediately become aware of that I’m dressed in an identical manner to her.
“We are to gather in the adjacent room as last night,” she tells me “You have something like five minutes to uncover your hands and head and freshen up at the sink before the clergyman is expected. The truck driver is already here. When covering again you’d better check your shawl sits nice and wrinkle free as it is now going to double as wedding veil.”
Opening the door a few minutes later I see I make last night’s group complete and in addition there is a stout but strong man about thirty with short red hair and a moustache. He wears jeans and a brown check shirt. It immediately catches the eye that it’s torn along the left upper arm and there is a fresh white bandage beneath, otherwise the shirt is used but clean. Nick smiles at me, clearly in anticipation of what is about to happen, and says “This is Joe our driver. Don’t worry about his arm. We’ve all seen it was fine and healthy before Dr. James applied the bandage, but he had to have a reason to come here.” “Yes, it was one of those nasty iron door corners I forgot was right next to me when I turned,” Joe says with a big smile.
Such a comment is good to open a conversation and I would like to thank him in advance for helping us, but the thickly padded Martha mask doesn’t allow for being heard in a group as large as this, and then, although Joe is into our plot, with me just about to be married I’d better start again behaving like a Gilead woman should do by being subservient to men. The doorbell sounds making everybody await Dr. James bringing the clergyman. The man entering with Dr. James is close to fifty with short grey hair, a bald forehead and wears glasses. His body down to his knees is covered in a long brown coat which he immediately removes to show black trousers, a black jacket on top of a white shirt and a white ‘dog collar’. He looks around the room and says
“I’m Father McKenzie, and I’m delighted to be sent here to stop the sinful life of two people and unite them in holy marriage to make their love and their child religiously legal and blessed by God. I’ll take my stand behind the desk and then I would like the bride and groom to stand at the opposite corners, the other women to stand along the wall on the bride’s side and the other men, who are to be witnesses as well, to stand in the centre of the room. If there are no objections I’ll get on right away.”
I walk over to the right corner of the desk fronting Father McKenzie but facing the desktop. A few moments later he says
“I call upon all of you gathered here to be fellow witnesses with me in the marriage of Nicholas Taylor and the only daughter of the late Steven Parker.
I ask the woman standing to my left to confirm by a deep bow that she is the only daughter of the late Steven Parker and, until this ceremony changes it, under the guardianship of Mr. Philip Parker.”
I bow to almost touch the desktop, thinking that Parker is a nice family name, not in any way worse than the real one of Brooks which I had to smash last night because a Handmaid can’t marry. Father McKenzie continues
“Nicholas Taylor, have you come here freely and without reservation to give yourself to the only daughter of the late Steven Parker in marriage?”
Nick says “I have.”
Father McKenzie then takes a piece of paper from an inner pocket and places it on the desktop to say
“I have here a signed statement from the guardian of the bride, Mr. Philip Parker, that he freely and without reservation gives the only daughter of the late Steven Parker in marriage to Nicholas Taylor. Nicholas Taylor please repeat after me: I Nicholas Taylor, take the only daughter of the late Steven Parker to be my lawful wedded wife, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health as long as we both shall live.
Mr. Philip Parker has signed the same oath regarding the only daughter of the late Steven Parker whom he is in charge of.”
There is a short pause before Father McKenzie continues
“Now I ask that God bless these rings that the bride and groom will exchange as a symbol of their fidelity and love. The sheet please”
Dr. James is right behind me and I lift my head but keep my eyes lowered and move towards Nick, who remains standing in the same place until Dr. James has unfolded a bed sheet and covered both of our heads and upper bodies beneath it. It’s of course dark under it but there is no doubt Nick now shows a happy expression with a big smile as he lifts my shawl to fold it so the front hangs down the back of my head. He then reaches for the back of my neck and after some fiddling manages to untie the headscarf and unwind it until it just hangs loose from the top of my head. He then takes my right hand to hold it up between our faces, showing he is holding our rings in his palm. They are both plain and of low carat gold but that doesn’t degrade their meaning. With difficulty I succeed in taking his small finger ring between the thumb and index finger of my gauntlet. Then he opens the lock of my large ring, fits it around my neck and closes it again to finally turn it until the lock is at the back. Then I take his ring to his ring finger, but he has to help me with his left hand to turn and hold it before I’m able to push it onto his finger with my gauntlet covered hand. He takes a step back to leave the bed sheet hanging from my head alone and Father McKenzie says
“By the authority vested in me as a Minister of Gilead City, I now pronounce you to be husband and wife. – The groom may kiss the bride.”
Nick comes under the bed sheet again to reach behind the back of my neck to untie the lower tie of my mask, and moments later the mask is lifted and I feel the well known touch of his lips. It’s a long deep wonderful kiss that makes me gasp for breath. For a moment I forget where I am and expect it to continue as I have been accustomed to from his small apartment, but soon I feel the mask being pressed against my lower face as he tries to tie a bow again, but it ends being a knot I think. The headscarf isn’t fitted right either, but its wound to cover my neck and the details don’t matter as they are all hidden by the shawl. Then Nick pulls out from the bed sheet again, this time to pull it off my head next and hold it towards Rita and Cora. As we then both face Father McKenzie he gestures for us to turn around and then he says
“May I have the pleasure of presenting to you, for the first time as husband and wife, Nicholas Taylor and Wifenick.”
Joe and Dr. James clap their hands and then stretch their right hand forward to greet Nick and at the same time saying their congratulations. I am pulled towards the wall and hugged by Rita and Cora. After Father McKenzie has congratulated Nick as well, Nick says with an ironic smile
“It’s a pleasure for me and my Wife to invite everybody present for a superb wedding meal and breakfast consisting of a sandwich with a choice of several fillings, served with eau de clinic ad libitum.”
I think we all laugh but it’s only the men who are heard of course. Then Dr. James says “Please take your time to get seated because I’ve just noticed I forgot to bring the glasses.” He takes the now neatly folded bed sheet and quickly leaves. Nick opens the door to the adjacent examination room and leads me into it almost whispering in my ear “With the Father present and being so many I think we’d better practice to a certain extent the customary sex segregation. It also fits nicely with you three women around this desk and us men around the other. From the desks we can’t see each other. I think it will be okay to leave the door open for you to follow our conversation, as there’ll be no talking between you anyway because I don’t think Martha’s speak with their mouth’s uncovered.”
I seat myself in the comfortable chair behind the desk. Everybody has understood Nick’s table arrangement and in a minute Rita comes to put three filled glasses on the tabletop and seat herself before Cora arrives with the basket after having served the men. We all take a sandwich and, after Cora has counted the remainder, which is six. She holds up two fingers and points into the other room, and then holds up four fingers and counts down while pointing at the three of us and ends up pointing with the one remaining finger down into the basket and nodding her head repeatedly. We have lunch for all including Joe, if needed.
In the other room Father McKenzie entertains by recounting that weddings out of the church are not that rare, and then he gives some examples. By the end of his account I guess that the men, like us, have finished eating, although we have not hurried. The voice of Nick sounds to say
“I’m happy that you have entertained us at this simple breakfast as if we were at a proper wedding reception Father. I’m sure we could have spent an entire enjoyable day together, but we have a truck to catch. Just as the meal we had to offer was simple we only have a small gift to present to you for coming here this morning so early. But you can literally keep it as a token of the unusual ceremony you have just performed. I have here two bags of food tokens. You can choose which one to take with you, and then our truck driver, Joe here, is going to be given the other.”
Father McKenzie tells Nick “It’s a very welcome gift because a lot of poor people come to me for consolation and hoping that if I express their problems in a prayer it has a better chance of being heard. To have them leaving with a small material improvement in form of a token or two is going to make them feel much better.”
Joe says “You don’t need to choose a bag Father. I live in a small town where we grow and breed most of our food ourselves. However I have a wonderful wife that loves one thing we can’t produce: Chocolate. If I get some chocolate tokens the rest is yours for the needy.”
Father McKenzie says “Thank you, now twice as many are going to be cheered up, and perhaps have a full stomach for the first time in many days.”
Nick enters our room and while emptying the bags on the desktop he says to Rita “You heard what to look for?” Rita nods and starts pulling her gauntlets off as soon as Nick has turned his back to us. Chocolate tokens are brown and easy to find and in a minute she has found ten and half a minute later puts the majority of the tokens back into the bags again. She puts the chocolate tokens in my upturned gauntlet and Cora gets up taking the bags. As I hold my gauntlet in front of Joe he takes five in one hand and five in the other, to hold his right hand towards Father McKenzie, saying “My wife is going to be more than happy getting five. Then you can have a little treat for yourself or give it to those who are more down mentally than physically.”
Father McKenzie replies “With five I can do both. These days, understandably, births are celebrated more than marriages, but when I was young marriage was the most important event in the life of most people, so uniting a man and a woman will always be special to me. Especially when it’s a couple that is able to continue mankind, it’s even more important that the child gets the right conditions both spiritually and socially for a good upbringing. I wish all the best for Nick and Wifenick and then I won’t be the cause of you getting late for your transport. Good morning.”
The men all get up and shake hands with Father McKenzie, and Dr. James sees him out. Meanwhile Nick says “Having nothing but the basket to carry we are ready to leave any minute Joe, or is the City closed until a certain time?”
Joe says “In all practicality it is because the night shift at the checkpoints have so little to do that they check far more thoroughly in hope of not handing in a blank report. But the nightshift ends at six so I think we should leave when everybody has been to the bathroom, because you’ll be out of contact with me and not let out of the back of the truck until at our goal, which is my home by the way. The drive is three to three and a half hours. The truck is backed into a blind alley where you can climb into the back with little risk of being seen, and the women all being dressed as Martha’s it’s no problem with the three minute walk to get there, and one of them carrying a basket they look even better.”
A few minutes later at the entrance Joe says “Nick walks with me and you women walk behind as if you do not know us. On seeing me at the truck, if I wave quickly get into the alley, if I don’t pass, and then turn around where you cannot be seen or if there are people about walk around the block.” Rita, Cora and I nod, and then Nick and Joe shake hands with Dr. James and we women bow deeply to him. Dr. James opens the door and looks out to see if there is someone outside to see us leave his clinic. He waves his hands and Joe and Nick walk out. Ten seconds later he waves again and we leave.
We are in the side streets, and in this street there is no one but us this early. We see Joe and Nick turn left, and when turning ourselves we bow our heads as a man walking his dog is approaching us in the opposite direction. When we look up again Joe and Nick are standing at a corner about three hundred feet ahead and look like they are chatting. As we approach they walk down the street on the right. This street is only about five hundred feet long but quite wide. About halfway down on the left the front of a truck can be seen and Joe and Nick are close to it. It seems there are only offices and small enterprises in the street and no people in the direction we walk. Apparently there is no one behind us either because Joe waves us to come.
It’s a large truck with a closed body. When we come around to its back the tailgate lift is down to show its interior seems to be filled with two rows of pallets, all containing a stack of large cardboard boxes with a height of about eight feet that almost completely fill the space of the body except for three feet at the top. We all step up on the tailgate and are lifted up to the floor of the truck. There are about three feet to the first pallets and Joe gestures us to step into this small area, turns on the light inside and makes the tailgate tilt up to close the back. Then he points to a narrow iron ladder hooked to the left wall and says “Everybody up and climb forward on top of the pallets until reaching the cage. Nick should go first to be ready to give the women a helping hand.”
The thin gauntlets are just right for getting a good grip on the ladder and the soles of the boots are good for standing on the steps, but are a little heavy and inflexible for climbing. The last step from the ladder to the top of the pallet is so long that we have to hike our dresses up to make it. Of course Joe is not standing down on the floor following us closely to enjoy looking up between our legs, but to intervene in case of a slip, but it probably is deliberate that Nick was told to help at the top. With a free height of three feet we have to crawl on our knees towards the front of the truck. Soon we can see that there is a cage at the front as Joe said. It’s the size of two pallets, about five feet high and made of a grid of rather thick metal rods. The inside of this grid is ‘lined’ with a fine grating, like the fence around a tennis court, on the sides and bottom. The cage is clearly prepared for us with eight cushions, four on the bottom and four up against the end grates as seat backs. A narrow ladder at the centre back gives access to the cage. Joe is now just behind us to say “Being thirty-six inches by ninety-two it’s a little cramped for four, but I made it just for one – my wife. She hates to have to stay at home while I am on the road. We have stayed in the small town where we’re heading just for her to have a little more freedom in a small house with a garden instead of an apartment, and where there are unofficial gates between the gardens that allow neighbouring wives to meet without entering the street. But still she can’t live without a trip away from the house now and then so I built this cage to be able to bring her with me some six to eight times a year and when I don’t have a full cargo. On about half of the trips she comes here to the centre of Gilead City to shop and just enjoy the bustle and street life of a city. Not passing from one sector to another Econowives are almost never addressed or scanned, and of course she is careful to stay away from Angels and Guardians. We also go to secluded scenic mountain sites or deserted beaches. I like scenic places but with my wife they become romantic as well. The cage can easily withstand the cargo sliding or a pallet tilting and it’s designed to hold if the truck crashes and rolls over, but of course I haven’t tested this. Nick climbs down to be ready if one of the ladies gets into trouble. I’ll stay right here until you’re all down, because the tailgate doesn’t cover the full height of the back so the light has to be turned out, but it won’t get completely dark. Enjoy the ride.”
We seat ourselves Rita and Cora next to each other and opposite them Nick and I, and our basket in the centre where all our feet meet. The width is just enough that we don’t have to let our shoulders touch, but of course Nick and I do, and we have a hand in each other’s laps as well, and Rita and Cora lean against each other. The electric light wasn’t much but not long after being seated it becomes almost completely dark. But after the eyes have got used to it I’m able to see the three others as dark slightly moving objects against the silver grating. At the same time the engine starts and it’s as if a dark soundscape complements the light. A third kind of deafening sensory inputs, namely vibrations, is soon added to discourage any communication. I try to recall everything that has happened since the Ceremony yesterday ended normally like the previous weeks. After a while, it could have been twenty minutes, my mind reaches the point of how last night ended to make me observe Rita and Cora a little closer. At the same time it’s the second time we stand still for more than a minute, probably passing a checkpoint, to make the sound and vibrations decrease so much that I lean forward to learn if Rita or Cora is willing to reveal something about their night with Dr. James but they are both sound asleep, which is a sort of answer anyway. When I lean back again Nick pulls me down to rest my head on his chest. I start imagining we are in our own double bed, being able to spend so much time there that we can sit like now without the need to get immediate satisfaction. Nick may very well have the same dream, although resting his head against the metal grating is far from a soft pillow.
I’m still resting on Nick but clearly I have slept. My aching body tells me I’ve been in this position too long. Perhaps it’s the silence that has awoken me. I feel Nick is awake as well and I pull my upper body upright and turn my head to ask into Nick’s ear “Have we reached our goal?” “I don’t know, or it could be that Joe needs a rest, I have been sleeping as well.” It looks like Rita and Cora are still sleeping. Nick kisses me on my covered forehead and gives me a hug. Then the light is turned on and a few moments later the voice of Joe almost shouts across the pallets “I’m home. You are close to a life as legal citizens of Gilead. You can get out here without me having to climb up and crawl, can’t you?”
Nick shouts “We can. It was a nice ride. Wifenick and I have been sleeping all the way and Rita and Cora still are.”
Joe shouts “Then be aware Nick and stay behind as they may climb the ladder half asleep.”
Meanwhile I have got up to shake Rita and Cora saying right between their heads as loud as the strong muffling permits “Rita! Cora! Wake up! We have reached Joe’s home.” Both Nick and I gesture them to climb up. Cora reaches for the basket but I grab it before her. Despite none of us being on our toes we all safely make it to the tailgate to be lifted down to the ground.
We are in a walled yard with room for three or four trucks. On one side is a building where the half opposite the entrance gate is a small garage, only large enough for one truck while the other half appears to be Joe’s home. He leads us to the front door and directly inside into a small hall. Crossing the hall he starts guiding Nick and says “Welcome to my simple home. I expect the car of CEO Burns to be here in about an hour. Meanwhile we’ll have tea. Please go and meet Wifejoe in the kitchen over there, but everybody still calls her Rossana.”
I go and knock the kitchen door and in a few seconds it’s opened by an Econowife, of course fully covered, and as such only characterised by being between Rita and me or Cora in height. But being right in front of me I can see her eye region quite clearly through the white lace to see that her skin is dark, making me think of a Caribbean beauty. “Welcome, I’m Rossana – Wifejoe officially of course. You are Wifenick, until recently assumed a lost relative of CEO Burns and now for some reason having trouble getting legally accepted, I’ve been told, and with you are two new Martha’s from the south. The kitchen is small but has a table for chatting as neighbours can visit out here. Please take a seat while I serve tea for the men.”
I’m glad my face is covered or it would show a mix of shock and joy not easy to explain. It shouldn’t be such a surprise, but I’ve never been in private with an Econowife before, and with her wearing the authorised dress but still speaking with her own clear voice, only slightly muffled by the hood, is totally different from the other groups of women in Gilead. She also speaks with her own words without any official phrases. And then it smells of fresh homemade bread. Were it not for Jill I feel like I would settle here where Nick could work in Joe’s garage or drive a truck. There are four chairs but the table better fits two people. Coming from the cage here is ample space though. I seat myself up against the wall and then Rita and Cora sit down on either side of me so that Rossana can sit opposite me when she comes to sit. Rita gestures it smells good and Cora points to the oven. Looking at the work top it’s clear we are going to be served fresh bread as well and I start getting access to my mouth, indicating to Rita and Cora they may do the same.
Coming back Rossana directly seats herself to look around at the three of us and say “This is a kitchen where men never come while having guests, and Joe has said they are going to stay in the living room, so may I suggest you remove the public clothing or perhaps just the gauntlets and flip back the shawl.”
As I do it Rita and Cora copy me. Then Rossana directly faces me and asks “It’s you who are Wifenick?” I nod and she continues “I know Martha’s can’t eat in the company of others but as you can all smell and see I have freshly made bread and there’s homemade jam and honey to put on so it would be a shame if you would only have tea. Besides I have received from Joe a box containing an interesting magenta set of clothing for you. I would very much like to have tea and bread with a magenta Wife. I’ve never seen or heard of that before. While I go to the bedroom with you I’m sure you real Martha’s can find some way of eating by sitting with your backs to each other or one of you going into the utility room over there, and then when we come back we can at least all drink tea together at the table. When arriving Joe was only in here for two minutes before going out again to get you out so I didn’t have time to arrange the tea for us women, but you Martha’s are used to kitchens so please serve yourselves and don’t hesitate to open any drawer or door. There’s more jam in other flavours in that closet. I promise we will knock the door when we return.”
We all get up, and I follow Rossana out the door to pass one door and then enter the bedroom. As she has closed the door behind us I’m about to lift at the mask so as to be able to speak with an almost clear voice to explain the magenta colour, but she beats me to it by saying “If you have worried about how to avoid being seen while you change there is no need to. Although Joe and I don’t mind kissing we are very shy about seeing each other’s naked bodies, so he has put up a full height curtain to separate the bed from the closets and thus allowing one, normally me, to dress while he is still in bed.”
While saying this she has drawn the curtain so I lift my mask and say “This is nice, as I don’t mind speaking with you in a clear voice and we can have a conversation while I change. Just bring or show me the box and then, if you don’t mind, I can distribute its content on the bed and you can stand at the closets.”
Rossana says “The box was made for a batch of some Burns’ food cans and Joe has got it back for reuse. I’ve cleared the left closet to hang what should hang and placed the other items neatly folded as they were in the box, so it’s me to sit on the bed and you in front of the left closet.”
I say, looking into the closet “It was nice of you to handle the clothes right, but I’m in for a several hour long drive back to the city. I’m afraid that is going to spoil the neat wrinkle free look.”
I have started to remove my Martha outfit. This time there is no problem with the photo of Jill which I simply place on top of the magenta gloves as they will be the last items I put on. As I undress Rossana says “I had to do a little ironing, check that everything looked right and fold it neatly after trying some of the items – well most of them in fact. I’ve never worn any other form of Gilead clothing than that of an Econowife. It was simply too tempting. I know it’s principally forbidden but I haven’t left the bedroom in it or shown myself to others; and you arriving in the cage you don’t cling to the right side of the law.”
I say “I don’t mind, and I won’t tell my daughter whose clothes they are because she would mind. Tell me how it feels because I’ve never worn a Wife’s outfit before either, but I’ve seen my daughter wearing them. By the way it’s magenta because we’re both Leah’s. You know Leah was Jacob’s second wife who, contrary to Rachel, gave him many children, and like her my daughter and I are fertile Wives. The reason you have never seen a magenta Wife or heard of one is that we are so rare that, so I’m reliably informed, there are only ten Leah’s in all of Gilead.”
I’m down to my white chemise and underdrawers which I have to keep on as there are only magenta items in the closet. I start putting on long magenta stockings as Rossana says “It’s all much thicker and warmer than I’m used to. Then it’s very impractical with the floor length skirt without a slit, the cape having to be lifted at every hand movement, and although the veil of fine cotton is not that thick it felt very weird with just a tiny field of vision and what is left looking dark and blurred. And the public clothing? You are mute and almost blind even before putting on the cloak, which practically removes the sight and greatly reduces your hearing as well. And it feels so hot that I understand the reason Wives never walk the streets are that they would all be down in the dirt from fainting after a five a minute walk. The mask or public veil as it is officially called does much of this on its own, preventing sweat from evaporating from the face, makes you gasp for air, blocks your voice and removes ninety percent of the already dark blurred sight. I thank God that I have a husband that loves me so much that he has abstained from a career that would have ‘promoted’ me to a Wife and a life looking at four walls and a rose occasionally exchanged with short public walks in a dark damp basement.”
I say, now a little fearful of the veiled hat that I’m ready to put on in a minute and trying to calm myself in answering Rossana “Are you sure you’ve just worn some of the clothing for a few minutes in here only? But it’s good that you have now actually tried what you have feared so much that you have chosen to stay with your current lower social position. Despite Wives only showing for short periods in the streets I’m sure you’re aware of that what you have tried is much stricter than the officially prescribed Wife attire that a large majority wear. The strict style has nothing to do with that we are Leah’s by the way, this is only signified by the magenta colour. It’s my daughter and her adoptive mother that so fiercely believe in the Gilean religious principles which they express by covering more than required.”
I have put on everything but the hat with the attached veil and I’m glad Rossana lets me do this in silence, although she can’t see what I’m doing of course. I pull the hat pin out and fold the back of the veil up to hold it with the same hand that mainly holds the hat and then with both hands lift the hat above my head so that the front of the veil lies against my face. Then I carefully adjust the hat on my head until I have the best possible vision permitted by the small eye meshes of the veil. I have to admit that Rossana is right that the view is very limited and in addition dark and blurred. The clear sunlight has become overcast and the patterned curtain almost appears as one colour. It is of course worse than how I remember the Handmaid veil and also worse than the combination of the Martha hood and shawl.
I pull the curtain back to make Rossana get up from the bed and stare at me from head to toe. I notice that now her grey hood and shirt appear almost black to me. I have put all the items of the home attire on, but am still able to speak with a clear voice to Rossana as I have only tied the voice modesty scarf loosely around my neck. Being much thicker than what I wore as a Handmaid or what Serena wore, it seems to be identical to the one Wifeethan was wearing when we met in the Commander’s bathroom. If rightly fitting this scarf across my mouth I wouldn’t be able to speak to Rossana across her small kitchen table and I would have to pull it up and down constantly to eat and drink at the same time as well. I can certainly wait before muting myself like this until leaving Rossana’s kitchen.
I say “You are right about the veiled view, and as you can hear I’m not speaking through the voice modesty scarf or I would have to put my mouth to your ear for you to hear my voice. I know that from having tried to hear my daughter speaking. With the box for this clothing gone I’ll have to ask you for another box or a paper bag to have something for Cora’s clothes but that can wait until we’re about to leave, I still have an unaffected sense of smell I’m reminded by the bread apparently filling the house. Leaving the Martha clothing I’ll leave my public clothing here as well.”
Just before opening the door Rossana says “I’ve noticed the smell of bread as well, but I think it means Joe has come to the kitchen door for more.”
We go to the kitchen door and Rossana knocks it. It is opened just a little to show a stripe of a green head with an eye that when seeing us opens the door fully and it shows it’s Rita who says “It could have been the men wanting more bread again, but we have just given them corresponding to an extraordinary lunch, so then it would have been their dinner; but it certainly tastes heavenly with homemade jam or honey. Just take a seat Rossana and experience how it is to have Martha’s in return for this superb meal.”
We sit down to see that the table has been laid at our seats and with bread, butter, jam and honey filling the centre. Cora sits with a mug of tea with a straw, but isn’t drinking, to instead follow up on Rita’s offer to be served “Perhaps you should let me spread some jam or honey on your bread Mistress so as not to stain the clothes of Wifeethan if you are going to meet her in a few hours. Would you like to be served likewise Wifejoe?”
I only half heard what Cora said because Rossana had pulled her hood completely off for her head only to be covered by the piece of white lace. From ten feet away it blurs all her features, but close up it hides very little. Rita, Cora and I just stare for some moments. She is beautiful, but it’s more because none of us are used to see the skin of a woman this clearly.
The spell is broken by Rossana nodding repeatedly to Cora’s offer, and I respond as well by saying “Yes thank you Cora, strawberry please. There is a great risk as I’m not used to this cape close to my hands all the time. I have left the Martha outfit I borrowed from you in the bedroom. I don’t think we’ll forget it as it means I’m going to leave without being covered for public. But I left it because we have nothing to carry it in.”
Cora says while both she and Rita are spreading the bread with jam “Technically the clothes are not mine as it’s you, or rather Master Nick, who provides us with clothes from now on and as such also owns what we wear. Rita only has what she is wearing unless CEO Burns knows so much about us that we don’t come to an empty closet. In any case I can just be on equal terms with Rita if we leave ‘my’ outfit here.” Cora turns her head to face Rossana and speaks clearly and louder. “Wifejoe, Rossana, we have learnt that Joe has made the cage for you to sometimes venture outside the house and now and then you visit Gilead City for shopping and enjoying watching city life. On such trips being a Martha would perhaps be even less conspicuous than being an Econowife. If you would like my outfit and Mistress Wifenick permits I suggest that in exchange we get some jam and honey. Even if we would get it for free or had plenty of tokens, what we get from Milk and Honey is almost tasteless compared to your home made produce.”
I nod to accept if Rossana wants to make a deal. She says “It’s true that Martha’s are considered even lower than Econowives, and if being scanned perhaps being both the wrong type of woman and at the wrong place would just been seen as a clear error not to be looked into for a Martha. You can understand that I’m an adventurous type who would love to see life from a Martha’s point of view and that would perhaps allow me to see the better parts of the city where Econowives rarely go. I would never like to wear the thick mask at home but I won’t mind the extra discomfort for learning new sides of Gilead. I’d like to give you three flavours of jam and two jars of honey. Is that okay?”
I say “It’s far too much. We have this wonderful meal and Joe has taken a great risk in helping us. You should have had the outfit for free, but as I know you won’t accept this we’ll take one jar of honey and one of jam and Cora may choose the flavour for presenting the idea.”
Rossana says “No, I would very likely have given you this anyway. I know the industrial quality is crap. First I have at least two dozen jars of each, secondly Joe has got a very favourable contract of servicing the trucks of the Burns Enterprises that go south for helping you. He can work only as much as he wants, we can do as we like, and he is able to hire four more men and perhaps expand the garage, increasing our esteem in town.”
Cora says “I agree with my Mistress that it’s a most generous offer. I would have been content with just a small jar of strawberry jam. It is just as I remember the jam of my childhood, perhaps a little better to be honest, and thus it reminds me of my dear long gone mother. But now we need a box or bag again.”
Rita says “We’ll put them in the shopping basket. After this meal no one wants the sandwiches. They are just for the birds or hens or pigs or whatever you’ve got here. And Rossana can have the bottles as well. I guess she makes her own juice as well with all the fruit growing around here.”
Rossana gets up saying “I’ll fill your basket to the top, and there will be at least one jar of strawberry jam. The deal is closed and is non-negotiable.”
I have just finished my second slice of bread and am considering if I can eat one more when the doorbell sounds. Rossana says “I’ll take a peek at the door to see if it’s your car or a customer for the garage.”
A minute later we can all hear Joe introduce a man named Gerry to Nick, and it’s clear our car has arrived. Joe comes to the kitchen door and says “CEO Burns’ limo is here. However take your time saying goodbye and getting ready to leave. We’ll have another pot of tea and three slices of bread for him please.”
Rita and Cora have started executing the order the moment it was spoken. I take Rossana to the table and urge her to sit down for a moment letting Rita and Cora spoil her, but she remains standing as I say
“It is their way to say thank you for what Joe has done for us and what you have served to us. I can only say that if transporting us down here has solved the material problems of the life of Joe and you it’s fully deserved, as he has contributed substantially to me going into a secure life with my long lost daughter, my love Nick and our child to come. Joe was also one of the witnesses of our wedding. I trust you don’t pass it on so just ask him about it. I have to say I admire very much that Joe and you have chosen to live a simple life here in what seems to give you the freest lifestyle possible for a woman in Gilead. Were it not for my daughter I would not have hesitated in settling here living’ where we can grow and perhaps Nick working for Joe at the garage or driving a truck. If it is in any way possible I would like to come here again for a visit. Likewise if it is possible you are of course always welcome in our new home. As a Wife I can’t receive an Econowife, but with your Martha outfit perhaps you can visit Rita and Cora, and then I’ll hear their account of your visit, or perhaps bend the customs for some minutes and chat with you in the kitchen.”
Rossana has come closer and seated herself on the edge of a chair to be face to face with me as she feels she has got a new friendship, but just as I finish speaking the tea is ready and she jumps up to stop Cora from taking the tray to the men. Instead she puts on her hood and takes the tray herself and motions Cora to open the door for her. Despite her free spirit, her disrespect of the laws and her dislike of heavy covering I’m amazed she will only show her public face to male guests in her own home. She returns quickly, removing the hood as she enters. Immediately I have to ask her “You have just complained about my outfit being too much and even said that you wouldn’t wear a Martha mask at home and yet you cover fully to serve men in your own home.”
Rossana says “Perhaps it wasn’t necessary with Nick and this Gerry who are from the far away City and part of CEO Burns’ plot, but occasionally going on illegal trips it’s important I have a good reputation in town and keep up appearances so that no one suspects I’m not always that well-behaved. Any deviation would make me the subject of talk that may reach the Guardians or even worse the Angels. We’d better say goodbye now for you to go to the bedroom and dress for the ride. But from what I overheard of the men’s talk it isn’t that unlikely that we can meet again. Gerry said that he had the impression that the position Nick would be offered would see him regularly meeting Joe professionally. I’m optimistic and will just say: I’ll be seeing you!”
I say “I’ll be seeing you!” We give each other a tight hug.
As we separate Cora is at my side saying “I should assist you Mistress. I have dressed Wifeethan remember.” I nod making Rossana give Cora a short embrace and turn to say “Then you can help me filling your basket Rita.”
Rossana sees us to the bedroom door where she leans towards me to press her almost uncovered lips against my veiled cheek. I grab her hand and squeeze it.
Inside the bedroom I take my hands up under my veil to first complete my home attire by tying the voice modesty scarf across my mouth. Lifting at my veil makes Cora turn her back to me and when the scarf is fitted I lean towards her speaking loud, but as expected what comes out is barely audible “Did you think I was about to unveil Cora?”
Cora says “No, I remembered you had omitted the scarf, I guess because Rossana had already heard your non-muffled voice, but the veil is no longer than there is a risk of you showing skin if not taking care, and we have to go back to the right relationship between a Wife and a Martha. One of us unveiling to the other requires an explicit permission from Master Nick, and what I do now is wrong as well as a Martha should only speak to non-Martha’s in her own kitchen and if permitted by the other party. Considering our extraordinary experiences together is not completely over I took your question as permission, but we are not even in a kitchen. I would like this to be my last words until normality has been restored.”
While speaking she has placed herself in front of the closet and now hands me the mask. I hold it to my face, thinking at first that I have placed it wrongly because I see nothing. But being moulded to a face it slides into the correct position when pressed against the face. I’m not blind but the pinholes of the mask combined with the dense mesh of the veil leaves only a small oval field of vision almost without colour, and when first looking into the closet it was pitch dark. While I buckle the two sets of straps behind my head I notice I have instinctively changed my breathing to long slow breaths to adapt to the restriction of the mask and getting more evenly heated when exhaling just like with the Handmaid mask. But with this mask covering the entire face it feels much warmer and it also affects my mind to make me feel a distance to the surroundings I have never felt before. It feels logical just to stretch the hands forward to have the gauntlets put on, making me unable to do much more myself. When Cora grabs my wrists to make me fold my hands across my chest I recall that Wifeethan had wanted her hands fixed like that and force my own hands down. I drift into myself again and although my eyes follow Cora bending down to place the cloak on the floor, it’s when I get a pat on my back it occurs to me that I have to step forward as it’s me who is going to have the cloak on. I move my feet when Cora takes hold of an ankle to get the foot into the strap that enables movement of the cloak bottom. Then I register that the cloak is lifted up around my shoulders and the hood pulled over my head. I am blind until looking down to see out through the hood opening. There I see a green gauntlet holding a key. Cora is showing me I’m locked into the cloak and ready to go in public. The key is handed over to Nick no doubt. Although I’m now dressed to be in a busy street the cloak removes me even further from the surroundings than the mask alone. Cora doesn’t directly guide me out and I notice the sounds of the house have faded. Although the cloak is made of thick wool it has to be lined or padded around the ears to reduce sound this much, and much more than the bonnet of the Handmaid dress. The unexpected waiting makes me think of the surroundings again and I realise that Cora is tidying the Martha outfit I discarded to probably place it neatly in the closet where the Leah dress I’m now wearing was. Having found an explanation I drift into my own thoughts again where a mix of images from the last twelve hours, my time as Handmaid, my life before Gilead and my vision of my future mix in strange sequences, like I am in bed dreaming.
Expecting to be guided out of the bedroom I walk without hardly thinking about it, despite I’ve never walked like this before, twisting a surface of leather at the bottom of my cloak. It is only like it slows or freezes my strange inner movie for a short while from time to time. After some waiting I’m guided to walk again. In two breaks in my inner movie I register that I’m outside, and that my head is forced down as I’m guided into a car and strapped with a seat belt. Not long after the movie ceases because I perceive Nick almost shouting my name “Wifenick! Are you okay?” I nod a couple of times sort of backwards, because my head is constantly fully down so I nod by lifting it. Nick continues “Gerry has been told that we should be very observant about you. First your attire is much hotter than that of a Handmaid and the public clothing more confining, and you are not used to it. Second, being so confined in thick clothing inside a car without air-conditioning on a sunny day there is a risk of dehydration and fainting, even though we minimise this by having the windows open as much as we can. The public clothing of a Wife is not meant to be worn for more than half an hour. We are going to stop about every twenty minutes to check on you, but if you feel bad just move clearly in any way.”
I nod a couple of times more. Then the engine starts, and soon after a new movie in my mind, but in the same style and with overlapping contents.
I just register the car has stopped and the engine turned off when I hear the voice of Nick “Wifenick! Are you still okay?” I’m sweating all over and especially my veil is just a damp cloth between the skin of my face and the mask, but I’m able to perceive this means my mind is okay and I lift my head three times. Then the engine starts again, the car starts moving and a third version of my life starts running in my mind.
It goes on like this with four more stops. I keep having a clear head, and also sufficiently aware to notice two things. First the reason I don’t feel faint is that after the large build up of heat at the beginning, the increase in heating keeps getting smaller, meaning I can cope with it although my veil and my underwear feel like they are dripping wet. I guess we sit as if in an open car and the draft coming through my hood opening saves my head from cooking. Second the movies in my mind are predominantly cut down to switch between scenes from Nick’s apartment at the Commander’s and how I envision the bedroom of the house we are about to move into. Between the last stops I think my head was leaning back against the headrest than down on my chest, and my hands were at the top of my thighs, but with a thick skirt and thick leather gauntlets it all happened in my mind.
Next time we stop completely I nod continuously before Nick speaks. Even though I assume they are all looking at me he asks if I’m still feeling alright and a few seconds after the question he adds “Maybe Gerry and I are going to catch a cold, but we’re just happy you seem to have survived the journey and Gerry has just told me we now only have about fifteen minutes left.”
Recently there have been glimpses of another room in the movie in my mind. I look fifteen minutes forward and am guided into our new house. As soon as the cloak is unlocked and opened to where I can manage myself I start walking still cloaked. I know where the bathroom is and directly climb into the tub and open the taps. First when the tub is filled I start undressing. When completely naked I leave the tub and towel lightly. Then, fresh and moist all over, I walk to the bedroom and throw myself down on Nick’s already naked body.
The story is continued with part three on a new page.