as she pushes her cart down from Room 312 to Room 314. The "Housekeeping
Requested" tab hangs from the knob so she knocks. No response.
She pulls at the keycard tethered to her belt and swipes it through
the lock. The red light above the knob clicks green and she butt-pushes
the door open, pulling her cart halfway in to keep it that way.
"Housekeeping," she says, keeping her gaze modestly downcast.
Answered by silence, she turns. The TV is on but muted, the screen
filled by the familiar face of His Holiness the President speaking
in earnest silence. Casilda considers that par for the course and
looks further around the room.
The place is mussed—the bedsheets rumpled, a bureau drawer hanging
open, some trash in the basket—but easily cleaned within her allotted
time. She sets her timer, grabs her gloves, sanitizing wand, brushes,
and supplies, and steps into the washroom. She flips the switch.
The lights flicker and hum, then bathe the room in sallow light.
She stops, alarms tripping in her head.
A used bar of soap rests on the lip of the sink, another one in
the bathtub's tray, two small orange wafers, washed pale by the
florescence of the overhead brights. A third bar, still in its wrapper,
sits on the shelf above the sink, unused, untouched.
A third bar. Each room gets only two.
She pulls her cart into the room, letting the door hiss and snick
as it locks. Then she places her cart up against the door, refusing
entry. Water runs into the sink, slowly turning hot, as she reaches
for the unused bar of soap. She hesitates in one last moment of
deniability, and then carefully opens the paper.
The bar of soap is orange, like the others, and stamped with the
hotel's logo. She turns it over, and sees the message from Contact
pressed in its plastic flesh.
Text arrives Thurs. Route B. Stays 5 days. Alert Gate. Alert
God's Roses, she swears. Thursday. Two days away. Not much time.
Hands plunge the damning bar into the hot stream, applying a scrubbrush
until Contact's incriminating words are gone. Then, her thoughts
both fuzzed and crystallized by shock and adrenaline, she cleans
and tidies and vacuums the room, spending more time than she needs,
but not more than her schedule will allow.
Casilda leaves behind crisp linens, clean towels, a scent of lemon
disinfectant, two new bars of soap, and a strip around the toilet
seat that reads "By Heaven's Grace, Irradiated for Your Protection."
Then she pushes her cart out into the corridor and down from Room
314 to Room 316.
The springtime sun elbows its way through the clouds and dumps a
bucket of noonday light on Casilda's dark, braided hair. She is
running late, still flustered by Contact's message. A car horn blares
as she steps into the crosswalk against the light.
"Careful, Sister," says a man on the corner next to her,
and she bows her thanks for his indulgence.
Wake up, wake up, she warns herself and risks a look around.
The sidewalk is busy with people, the corner full of lunchgoers,
messengers, and midday workers heading out on errands. The women,
dressed in long sleeves and low hems despite the day's warmth, their
hair long and braided behind as tradition and law require, weave
silently through chatting clusters of dark-suited men. Across the
street a Faithful Watcher is made obvious by his distinctive green
suit, his black fedora, and the way people avoid him in nervous
fear. She sees him entering notes in his datalink, but his attention
is on a youth leaning against a car and not on her; her misstep
at the curb has gone unnoticed. Praise Heaven.
The light changes and she crosses with the throng. Her stomach knots
as she passes by the Watcher. She can feel his attention sweep over
her but she dares not look up, dares not stop, dares not slow down.
She keeps her focus on the concrete at her feet as she passes him,
keeps it there as she continues on to the busstop, keeps it there
as she waits for the crosstown bus to rumble up and slap open its
doors. She boards and takes a seat, still aware of the Watcher's
presence outside the bus window.
He can't know what I know, she tells herself; he's only a man.
But still her heart is a frightened bird, her hands poplar leaves
in the wind, and she feels her treason is written on her forehead.
The bus pulls away, takes her out to the wharves, and deposits her
outside the Heaven's Tower Condominiums for her second job. She
walks down the sidewalk, calmer now, her supply bag heavy on her
shoulder, her thoughts heavy on her mind. It is less crowded down
here where the well-to-do keep homes near the city's heart. The
gulls jeer from streetlamps and the outbound ferry sounds its horn,
three lonely notes on the low-tide breeze.
She enters the tower and wants to go straight up to 12, to the Sponge's
apartment, but forces herself to keep to her schedule and maintain
her routine. The doormen who greet her, the eyes behind the security
cameras, the home-for-the-day neighbors—any one of them could notice
an aberration in her patterns and wonder.
And wonder leads to questions, she intones. Questions lead to inquiries.
Inquiries lead to... She stops herself, punches 5, and goes to work.
The Sponge is a woman named Simone Anderson, a clerk assigned
to a prosecutor in the State Courts. Casilda clamps down on her
envy as she works her way through the apartment—cleaning, washing,
laundering. She knows that Simone's fortunes are not her own; it
is her husband, a theologian at the university, who provides this
home high above the sparkling bay. Her family made a good match
for her, a better match than Casilda's parents could ever have made.
It is not Simone's fault that her husband is well-respected and
that she lives among velvets and lace, with brushed metal fixtures
in the kitchen and marble tile in the bath. It is not Simone's fault
any more than it is Casilda's fault that her husband turned
out to be a man of immorality who brought his sins home into Casilda's
bed, and whose public trial and execution brought his entire family
down in shame. The shame of Casilda's husband still costs her, every
day, marking her and her children with its stain, making her unmarriageable
and nearly unemployable. And it is a shame that cost Casilda her
role as the Sponge.
She had wanted to be the Sponge, she had been ready for it. It had
been her dream to work for the underground as an absorber of content,
a guardian of secrets, a transmitter of knowledge. All the content
forbidden by the State, all the writings deemed "subversive"
or "immoral" or "heretical" by the Office of
Morality, she wanted to know them, hear them, store them, and pass
them on to others. She could have done it. She had trained for it,
had mastered the techniques, and had tolerated the memory-enhancing
drugs Contact provided. But her husband's fornication made her too
visible, her cell had been reordered, and as the disapproving world
had relegated her to the role of drudge, so had the underground
demoted her from Sponge to Keeper.
Her timer emits three warning beeps and she curses. She's let her
thoughts wander and hasn't even done the master bath. She scurries
down the hall with her brushes and bottles and her sanitizing wand.
She cleans quickly and efficiently, her movements trained by years
of repetition. She swabs the floor and wipes down the fixtures and
finally, when there is nothing undone of which Simone's husband
might complain, she takes a bar of soap and writes on the mirror.
Text arrives Thursday. Stays 5 days. Prepare to absorb.
She wipes down the letters, fading them into the mirror's glass.
Invisible now, they will reappear only when Simone returns home
and fills the room with steam from her evening shower.
She takes a bus back across town and follows the tide down the
steps into the humid dank of the Zip-tunnel. The northbound Zip-train
comes in and Casilda squeezes aboard with everyone else. The doors
slide closed with a muffled flump and she stands, one hand
on the greasy overhead rail, one on her heavy bag. As she sways
with the train's starts and stops, she feels something brush her
butt. Closely packed with others, she ignores it until it returns,
not as a brush, but as a stroking hand. She glances over her shoulder,
ready to speak, but chokes on her words as she sees the green suit,
the fedora, the sly smile. The hand squeezes her right cheek. She
searches for help, but all other faces are turned away. The Faithful
Watcher looks right into her eyes, daring her. She can't risk it,
can't risk losing the Text. Slowly, her throat tightening in revulsion
and loathing, she turns away. The hand stays on her buttock, caressing
her until the final in-town stop when the Watcher presses his way
off the Zip.
The Zip starts off again, leaving the city core. It emerges into
the gloaming of the coming night, speeding north toward the outer
boroughs. The sensation of pressure fades. Her eyes sting with shame.
Casilda runs up the street to her house. It is a small house, the
only thing the State Courts left her after her husband's public
sins, but it is a house and not a low-cost project apartment and
she is grateful for it. The lights are on inside, warm and yellow
in the kitchen, flickering blue and green from the television in
the living room. She sees Justice on the porch, waving, beckoning.
"Hurry, Mom! It's on in a minute!"
She hurries up the steps and through the door her son holds open
for her. Her bag hits the floor with a thud and she and Justice
scurry into the living room where Grace is already waiting. They
all sit down on the couch just as the television screen blanks,
then returns with the green background of the State flag and the
seven o'clock news. She sits between her two teenagers, close but
separated so the monitor on top of the television can discern their
individual shapes and record that, yes, the entire family was present
for the required viewing of the official broadcast.
"Where were you?" Justice asks. His tone has more suspicion
in it than worry. At fifteen, he is feeling his manhood and reaching
for his future.
"The train got in late," Casilda tells him. "I had
to wait for another bus."
"You should've called," he says.
Grace squirms. "You're such a Watcher," she tells her
older brother. "What would you have done, anyway, if she'd
Justice scowls, unable to devise an answer. "Shut up,"
"Quiet," Casilda orders. "Watch the news."
They watch the broadcast in silence, Justice sullen, Grace annoyed,
Casilda fretting and having to pee but not daring to absent herself
during the recitation of the State-sponsored and -purified broadcast.
The announcer relates the news cheerfully, even when describing
the spectacle of the day's executions. There is no news of the battles
in the east—no glorious triumphs of the Faithful over the Godless—which
tells Casilda that it is not going well there, but she does not
share this opinion with her children. They are too young to be shown
the reality behind their country's façade, just as they are
too young to be trusted with the truth about their own mother. To
them it is natural that as they watch the television, it watches
them, recording the shows they view and when. To them, it is normal
for their computer to be hardwired to the 'net, and for the State
to record their every keystroke, note their every download, read
their every file. They question neither the absence of certain ideas
in their world, nor the presence of the silent listeners on the
other end of the phone. This is all they have ever known. For twenty
years, it is all Casilda has known.
But Casilda remembers. She remembers Before. She remembers music,
and dance, and art. She remembers science, debate, the miracles
of medicine, and simple things like contraception. As she listens
to the smiling man in the green suit describe the arrest of an entire
family for religious infractions and crimes of speech, she considers
for the thousandth time the irony of her late husband's infidelity.
If he had simply charged her for failing him in her marital duties,
he would be the one here on the sofa, raising their children alone,
and not she.
But her children, born after the Faithful's ascendance to power—born,
in fact, because of it—have known nothing but this life beneath
the Faithful's oversight. Casilda cannot tell them anything of how
the world really is. They must learn it for themselves.
Dinner done, tomorrow's lunches prepared, Casilda reminds her children
about bedtime and leaves for her third job. This one is nearby—Praise
Heaven—and located within a quick ride on the neighborhood bus.
The business complex near the waterfront is quiet and mostly dark.
Only a few lights shine through mirrored windows and none at all
are lit in the building where the third member of her cell is employed.
She uses her key to enter, and turns on the lights. She is grateful
that tonight everyone at the Gate's shipping firm has gone home.
Leaving a message for him will be a simple thing.
She empties the wastepaper baskets, dusts the blinds, and—as
always—cleans the toilets. It is Tuesday so she does not have to
vacuum. She dumps out the burnt coffee and cleans the carafe, wipes
down the countertop. Then she opens the cupboard and takes out a
packet of seltzer tablets. With a thin blade she opens the packet.
The seltzer tablets are wide and thin, and she handles them with
care. Uncapping a fine-tip pen, she writes on the tablets: Text
arrives Thurs. Route B. Carefully she replaces the tablets
in the packet, applies a smear of white glue, and seals them back
up. Back in the office area, she works her way to the Gate's desk.
His name is Nestor Frey, and he is a senior accountant for the shipping
firm, his desk always covered with papers and charts. As she empties
his wastepaper basket, she opens his top desk drawer and puts the
packet in the niche where he dumps his keys each morning. On his
desk she places a tumbler of water in which he can dissolve the
tablets and the message.
She works her way up through the rest of the building, finishing
in a few short hours.
Back at home, she checks on the children. Justice has done as she
asked, and both he and his sister are in bed, asleep. Their day's
homework is on the kitchen table, finished and ready for her signature.
She checks it over, shaking her head at the revisions of history
and the dogma that passes as science, but their answers are all
complete and correct, and so she signs.
Quietly, she goes down into the basement to prepare a place to keep
the Text for five days. She makes room for the Sponge, too. Simone
will have five nights to memorize the content of the Text, after
which the Text will be taken to the next Sponge and Simone will
be able to share the content with other members of the underground.
Memorization of the content is the safest mode of transport as it
leaves no physical evidence of its existence, but in addition to
the contraband medications that raise the mind's memory capacity
to near-eidetic, it also requires long periods of intense concentration.
As Keeper, it is Casilda's responsibility to provide a place of
safety, quiet, and solitude where the Sponge can absorb the content
The basement is not finished and the dank air is thick with the
smells of earth and creosote. There is a concrete floor with waist-high
cinderblock walls that separate the furnace and storage area from
the dirt of the crawlspaces. The furnace kicks on with a clunk and
a whirr and Casilda jumps.
Settle down, she tells herself. After all, it's not like you've
never done this before.
She clears a small area behind the boxes of old photos and baby
clothes. She prepares a small cot, a chair, a covered pot for relief
during the long nights. She brings down some canned food, some drinks,
some crackers, and a jar of preserves. Then with a few blankets,
some candles, and a box of matches, it is ready.
She sneaks back up the stairs and locks the door. The clock in the
kitchen reads nearly one in the morning. She must wake at five AM,
and tries to decide between a shower and an extra half-hour of sleep.
She opts for the sleep.
She realizes soon that she should have opted for the shower, for
sleep never truly comes. It hovers around her bed, tantalizing her
with drowsy eyes. Instead of dreams, worry rules her night and when
the alarm rings, she moans. As she heads to the bus, the sky is
just awakening and she is jealous of the sun's late rising.
At the hotel, Contact has checked out.
At Simone's, the mirror message has been wiped clean, and there
is no reply.
On the evening news, the Faithful warn of subversive activity and
exhort every man, woman, and child to freely act upon their conscience
and report any anomalous behavior to the first Watcher they see.
At Nestor's office, there is a penny placed heads up on his desk,
his sign that the message has been received and accepted.
At home, Casilda feels the fear gnawing at her bones. She wonders
at the risks she is taking, and the value that she hopes to provide.
Of the six Texts that have passed through her home, she has never
heard of any good that they have done. One was a paper on medical
basics, three were works on weaponry and tactics, one a political
treatise, and one an analysis of theocracies throughout history.
What do these do for the people? What good do they do her? How have
they improved her life or the lives of others? Months ago,
she brought her complaint to Contact but there was no reply, and
now she wonders whether all this work, all this fear, and all this
risk are worth it.
She takes a pill, sleeps, and wakes up groggy.
At Simone's she checks the mirror and finds a message.
Need to postpone.
Casilda holds her spray bottle and stares at the words, clean letters
on the misted glass. A wave of black anger washes over her, but
she fights it, calming herself.
Simone is just panicking, she reasons. Sponge and Keeper both know
what the protocols dictate. She wipes the mirror clean, leaving
no response. Simone knows that there can be no postponement.
She finishes her work and is about to leave when the front door
opens. She leaps back with a yelp, but it is only Raymond, Simone's
son, home early from school.
"No practice today?" she asks, trying to keep her voice
Raymond glares at her. "If it's any business of yours, Father
is supposed to take us to the Honoring of the Martyrs parade at
the capitol." He throws his bookbag on the counter. "Only
now suddenly Mother wants to stay home."
"Oh," Casilda says, seeing Simone's predicament. "Well,"
she says. "I hope it works out."
She leaves, worrying.
When she gets home, it is on the news. Normally, the arrest of the
wife of a prominent theologian would have been hushed, but when
the arrest comes as a result of reports made by both her son and
husband, it becomes a story of Faithful Followers of the Word.
With the Sponge in custody, Casilda wonders how long it will be
before the Faithful show up on her doorstep. One hour? Two? And
what of her children? She looks to either side as they sit on the
couch, watching the official news with her. Justice so serious,
and Grace so bitter. Casilda grieves that now she brings to them
this final demise, but what awaits her will be far worse.
At least, she comforts herself, I won't have to suffer the same
anguish as Simone, turned in by my own child.
The news ends and the phone rings. Casilda rises, going into the
kitchen to answer. She picks up the receiver. "Hello?"
There is no response. "Hello?" Just street noise, the
sound of cars, a bus, a distant siren. Her bowels clench as she
listens to the sounds of the distant city. "Hello?" she
says for a third time, praying for someone to answer her, praying
that it is not her signal, but no one speaks, there is no one there,
it is just an empty phone swinging from a phone box. It is her signal
from Contact, requesting a meeting.
Contact has never used the signal before, but nothing like the Sponge's
arrest has happened either. She hangs up the phone.
"Who was it, Mom?" Justice asks.
"No one," she says. "Just some kids playing a prank,
"We should report it," her son says.
"Aw, let it go," Grace says, more out of a desire to disagree
with her elder brother than out of any sense of compassion. Casilda
picks up on the sentiment.
"Yes," she says. "Let it go. Say, do you kids want
some ice cream?"
They do. With the promise of a treat, they willingly head off toward
their homework while Casilda prepares for a run down to the store.
"I'll be back in twenty minutes," she tells them, and
heads out the door.
She walks into the 24x7 and stops at the magazine rack. The store
is busy with locals buying last minute items for an after-news supper
or a late-night treat for the kids. She does not see Contact, but
more importantly, she sees neither Watchers nor Officers. She replaces
the magazine and goes to the freezer, where she chooses a pint of
ice cream, Justice's favorite, at which Grace will complain, but
Casilda wants her son to feel favored right now.
The ice cream frosts up as she waits in line, her fingers growing
painfully cold, leaving dark prints on the misty white sides. When
her turn comes, she puts it down on the counter and takes a newspaper.
The clerk rings up her purchase and she pays. One last look around
the store shows no sign of Contact, so she heads off into the night
with her bag and her tri-folded news.
Halfway down the block, she hears footsteps following her. A quick
glance back and she sees a man, a bag from the 24x7 hanging from
his hand, a folded paper under his arm. He's close behind her, but
not too close.
"Don't slow down," Contact says.
She keeps her pace, still heading toward home.
"I need you to be the Sponge," he says.
She cannot think, cannot form the refusal she wants to speak.
"The Text is en route," he says, "and the Sponge
is in jail. You'll have to be the Sponge."
"I—I think we should abort," she whispers over her shoulder.
"No," he tells her, and she hears the authority in his
voice, the confidence of long leadership. "Not this Text. This
is the content you were asking for. You, and others as well."
"What is the content?"
They are passing by a house where a man sits on his porch, looking
out at the night. She nods to him and he greets her with a wave.
They are only a few blocks from her house.
"You asked for this," Contact says when it was safe again.
"Something to improve people's lives, isn't that what you said?"
"But...I'm not a Sponge. I'm not ready."
"You are ready. You've taken the training. You just
haven't had a chance to implement it."
"But how will I transmit the content to others?"
"We'll worry about that later. For now, I need you to be the
Sponge. We can't let this Text pass us by unabsorbed. Can I count
Her thoughts whirl, disjointed, segmented. I can't, she says to
herself. I know I wanted to, but I can't. But he says this is something
for me, for people like me. But the risk. The kids.
"Can I count on you?" Contact asks again, and she hears
the urgency in his voice.
She takes a breath, using the techniques she has learned, ordering
her mind. "Yes," she says simply.
At the next street he turns. Within a few steps she hears a car
start and drive off.
There is a car at the curb outside her house, black and boxy. She
notes the license plate, the exempt tabs. It didn't take long for
them to get here, and her only question is: was it the Sponge that
told them of her, or was it Contact's signal call that alerted them?
She walks inside. They're at the dining room table. One green suit,
one black. The Watcher and the Officer.
"Casilda Lancaster?" No greetings. No how-do-you-do. Right
"Yes. I'm Casilda Lancaster."
"We have some questions we'd like to ask."
"Mom?" It is Grace, from the kitchen, looking near to
hysteria. Casilda asks for a moment and goes to her. Justice is
there, too, staring out the window, or staring at his own reflection
"What do they want this time?" he asks acidly.
Casilda puts the ice cream down on the table. From the drawer she
takes two spoons, and from the oven's handle, a dishtowel. The spoons
clatter on the table, but Justice doesn't move. She sits down next
to her son, a hand on his neck.
"I'm not sure what they want," she says, speaking the
one grain of truth she can offer him. "Wait in here, Honey.
Have some ice cream. I'm sure this won't take long."
She returns to the dining room and sits down across from the Faithful
Officials. "What can I do for you?" she asks.
"We have some questions," says the Officer. He flips open
the cover of his datalink and begins transmitting notes. "You
used to work for a Dr. Anderson?" The Watcher remains silent.
"Used to? I do work for Dr. Anderson. I'm their
"You used to be. Your position has been terminated. Dr. Anderson
is relocating after his wife's trial."
"I see," she says, not surprised but not sure of exactly
where these questions are leading. "You seem to know more about
my employment situation than I do."
The Watcher sits across from her, arms folded, his eyes hard beads
"Quite possibly," the Officer says. "As you heard
tonight on the news, Mrs. Anderson has been arrested for immoral
activity. Have you noticed anything unusual about Mrs. Anderson
Casilda clutches at a hope. "No," she says. "Mrs.
Anderson and I rarely speak, actually. Most of my business is done
directly with Dr. Anderson."
"You've had no contact with her recently?"
She phrases her answer carefully. "I have not spoken with Mrs.
Anderson in, oh, nearly two months."
"In your cleaning duties, have you ever come across anything
unusual? Such as torn up scraps of paper? Handwritten notes?"
"No," she says. "Never. The Andersons use their computers
"She never leaves you notes?"
"No. Mr. Anderson will leave me a phone message if he wants
anything out of the ordinary. Oh, unless you mean—"
"Yes?" the Watcher says, finally aroused, leaning forward.
"Unless you mean the old-fashioned blackboard slate in the
kitchen. Sometimes Mrs. Anderson will leave me a note there. Something
she wants me to pay especial attention to, or something like that."
The Watcher is not pleased by her answers, but neither can he find
fault with them. The Officer enters a final note in his datalink
and closes the cover.
"Thank you for your time," he says. They rise, and she
walks them to the door. Her knees do not start to shake until she
hears their car purr away down the street.
"Do you have to go?" Grace pleads.
"Yes, Honey. Especially now. The Andersons were good clients
and I can't risk losing others. Now, I want to see your homework
here on the table, and the two of you tucked in tight when I get
home, all right?"
Grace and Justice sigh but accede. She doesn't want to leave them
tonight, but tonight she must. Tonight, and for the next five nights,
she must play two roles, rather than just one.
Her work at Nestor's waterfront office is slow, as she must often
rush to the lavatory to relieve herself. Her guts are rebellious,
and her stomach is knotted around the emptiness of her missed supper.
She drops things, spills, and curses at seditious hands that seem
to act upon their own volition. Her wristwatch appears broken, its
numbers ticking past too slowly. Finally, Casilda takes off her
watch and stuffs it in her pocket. With eyes closed, she stands
in the quiet hum of the empty office and takes four long, deep breaths.
It is the beginning of the absorption preparation technique, but
it helps to clear her mind. She gets back to work, concentrating
on her tasks, blocking from her mind any input that is not within
the room. No worries, no fretting; her world becomes a world of
mops and towels and sponges, sprays and solutions and chemicals.
There is no battle before her but that of cleanliness over dirt,
order over chaos, and by the time the warning note chimes on her
timer, she has won.
On her homeward bus, she pretends to sleep as they pass her stop,
taking surreptitious note of all the cars parked nearby. She recognizes
them all—no boxy sedans in sight—and gets off a few blocks past
her home. The neighborhood is empty at this hour, the residential
streets bathed in the intermittent glow and gloom of streetlamps
that build and dowse their light to save the State's power. Her
path brings her around to the rear of her block, and she takes the
unlit alleyway that leads to her garden gate. There, from within
a fragrant column of flowering clematis vines, emerges a woman.
She is small, stooped, and wiry, her head surrounded by an ill-contained
halo of unruly hair. She wears a simple shirtdress with a lace collar,
and she carries a plastic bag from the 24x7.
"Can I help you?" Casilda asks.
"I'm afraid I'm a little lost," the woman answers, giving
the opening phrase.
"Can I offer you a place to stay?" Casilda responds.
"Yes. That would be a great help."
And so Casilda, now both Keeper and Sponge, brings the Text in through
her garden gate, into the kitchen, and down into the basement.
While the Text is settling in, Casilda checks the homework on the
kitchen table, and then checks on her children. They are asleep,
despite the evening's excitement, and Casilda wishes that she could
do the same.
But her work is not complete, and will not be complete for several
nights to come.
She puts some water on the stove and opens up the tin where she
keeps her flour. Digging deep within its satin coolness, she feels
at the bottom the small plastic vial she has stashed there. With
dusty fingers she opens it, removes the cotton ball that keeps the
capsules from rattling, and takes out a single dose. The vial goes
back into the depths of the flour tin, and the capsule goes with
her to the kitchen table.
She sits in the bare kitchen, light from the one lonely bulb harsh
and cold overhead. As the pot of water heats over the ticking element,
she stares at the glycerin-coated capsule and prays. She prays to
a God that she questions, and prays that she will be forgiven for
those questions. She prays for a world where thought is not dangerous,
where words cannot kill, where art is not profane, and where music
and dance are praised as expressions of joy instead of vilified
as preludes to fornication. She prays that her children will know
such a world, and she prays—most fervently—that what she is about
to do will in some part help that world come into being.
The water begins to mumble in the pot and she pours herself a cup.
The water steams and warms her hands through the plastic of the
mug. She puts the amber-colored pill in her mouth. Moist heat from
the water rises up into her face and, when she takes a sip, it cleanses
her mouth. Swallowing, the warmth slithers down her throat, spreading
outward as it reaches her stomach.
She listens to the quiet of her house. She can sense its memories
as well as its potential, both trapped in this stagnant present,
and she aches to break out of the interminable moment of her life
into a place where she can see beyond the Now and ahead to the What
Will my work tonight bring me closer to that? she wonders. Or will
I be learning more of weapons and strategy and economic subterfuge?
Will I be building, tonight, or destroying? Will this work help
dispel the terror of this life?
She does not know, and cannot until she goes down to the Text and
begins to absorb the content.
She closes her eyes. The warm water has dissolved the glycerin pill
quickly, and the drug has started to take effect. She takes four
deep breaths and sends the world away.
Down in the basement, the Text sits on the bed, a glass and a carafe
of water on the table next to her. Casilda takes a seat in the chair
facing the Text. The flame atop the candle wavers with the breeze
of her movement, then quiets and stiffens into a teardrop of light.
"Are you ready to absorb the content?" the Text asks.
"Yes," Casilda says.
"Very well. Text begins:
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...