Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Für Offred: A Handmaid's Tale Lost Chapter

The following was originally written in the spring of 2007 as an assignment for Toni Lefton's "Science and Literature" elective class at the Colorado School of Mines. The assignment was to write a "missing chapter" for the book we were reading as a class at the time, Margaret Atwood's novel The Handmaid's Tale. She chose my writing from among the class submissions and read it aloud because she liked it for some reason, an unusual occurrence. Toni also encouraged me to keep writing and just see what happens. I promptly ignored her nice comment thinking, "LOL, I could never make a living writing whatever I want for fun, Ima go to graduate school nao." As you might know, The Handmaid's Tale is a little rambling with a kind of first person stream-of-consciousness style, so that's apparently the style my 21-year-old self tried to emulate.  It's also quite short because I think I wrote it the night before it was due (as undergraduates often tend to do).  I thought it deserved at least to see the light of day somewhere rather than languishing on an old hard drive, dying a slow digital death.

"Such songs are not sung anymore in public
…They are considered too dangerous."
-The Handmaid's Tale (pg. 54)


Für Offred

He got it for me. Nick. They can get things sometimes, from the black market. He knows that I would get in trouble if they found it, knows that it might be traced back to him. I tried to make him keep it. It is a present he says. Present, a gift, I remember those. The now. There is only the now. ‘The here and now,’ they used to say. Is everyone present? I know I’m not. But where do I hide it?

In the folds of my habit, the red curtain covers my virtues as well as my sins. But it’s a small one. I didn’t know they made them that small, really. It fits easily in a pocket. It could hardly contain anything but its own machinery. Maybe a locket, I wonder whose picture it might have held? But I can’t keep it there forever. I creep down the mushroom-carpeted stairs as I have done before. Glide across the grass, always careful, into my room, with its false sense of privacy. I could hide it in the FAITH pillow, no, they would notice the weight. They would take it away, they take things away. The mattress, that is where you hide things, it’s traditional. Young boys and their dirty magazines. Or a stolen half-pack of cigarettes. Parents never check under mattresses, they never think to look there. Of course they do. But that will never do. The princess and the pea, I couldn’t sleep with it under there. I am the princess and my pea is this little wooden box. I used to like those spy movies, Luke watched them all the time, movie marathons, running. They can hide a pistol in the pages of a Bible, I can hide this.

The mattress is stuffed with cheap cotton batting. No springs, springs can be sharpened, they won’t let us escape that way any more. It happened a couple times before they fixed it. They couldn’t think of all the ways it could be done, at the start of it all. Open a little red seam, that’s what some of the girls did. Open a little seam, is what I do, too, backing out the threads with my fingernails. It will take some time, but it’s worth doing if I want to keep my treasure. Dig out some of the batting. It’s like building a robin’s nest, or planting a seed. I’ll dispose of the cottony earth later. Yes, this spot will do nicely.

I used to have one of these before, Luke gave it to me. It, too, was a present. It was made from one of those exotic woods, monogamy? It had a big butterfly inlay, traced in ebony with mother-of-pearl wings. Butter-fly, fly away. There were little silvery swirls in the corners too. It used to tinkle out Beethoven, Für Elise. I wonder who Elise was. I wonder which melody would trickle from my new music box. I can open it without fear because it isn’t wound up. Everything else is so wound up.

This new box is simpler. Pine, lovingly sanded but unstained. Unstained. There are no corners, they have been gently rounded off. Like a cheap six-sided die. Like a wooden cooler that plays music instead of chilling tiny beverages. Like a wedding ring box. The hinges are slightly worn.

If I knew anything about making music, I could guess what it would play. It’s like a little cylindrical puzzle in raised bumps of metal, a player piano for ants. They tickle the metallic teeth of the comb and the room shimmers with music. Tickle teeth and music comes out, does that make sense? Tickle, trickle, tinkle. It is never dancing music anyway. Music from boxes is always slightly haunted.

I’ll never be able to play it. How could I? There is no place far enough from prying ears. The Commander’s office? He’ll wonder where I got it. The time spent with Nick can’t be wasted on such frivolity. You stupid shit, you should have left it with him.

I’ll just have to imagine the lush sonic scenery in my ears. How I miss it, music just for the sake of music. It used to be everywhere, in elevators even. There used to be elevators. If you intend thus to disdain; It does the more enrapture me; And even so, I still remain; A lover in captivity. I wish I could wear her Greensleeves, or Bluesleeves. Anything but Redsleeves.

No comments:

Post a Comment