Sunday, December 20, 2015

Maps from a Dream

The lock on my door was just a hook and eye, but it was fine. I knew I was safe. I thought I was safe. We all did then.
I was waiting for Almonzo. It was dark and I closed the window. My bed was unmade and it was dark inside too except for some dim light coming from somewhere. Our hall was one of the cheaper ones in the compound because it was so close to the road, but the apartments were nicer. At least I thought so. Mine had lots of wood and dark green carpet, wall to wall, and there were pretty little lead glass windows that looked out onto the pasture. There may have been horses out there that night. Almonzo loved the horses. He seemed to understand them somehow, their wildness. He even looked like them a little. That sounds strange, doesn’t it? His hair was corse and curly. It felt wonderful in my hands.
The first time we kissed was at his place down the hall. He had a bigger apartment, big enough for two or more, with an upstairs and a lovely high ceiling in the living room. We were leaning against his long wooden bar and he pulled me near, slowly.  His lips were so soft. I wanted to stay in his arms forever, but then there were footsteps. His door was open and the footsteps stopped at the threshold.
“Clarissa. She’s seen us.” Almonzo ran ahead of me and I snuck out through another door leading into his garden. I paused there behind a wall covered in vines—I could hear them arguing—then scampered down the steps and around to my place. No one saw me.

In those days I liked to keep my hair and makeup neat. I spend as much time as it took to get them both just so. I thought of it all as part of my work. I’d come far in my field and I wanted to look right. I only had to wash my hair a couple of times a week but I wet it everyday in the shower. I shaved everyday too. That was what we all did though, all us girls. The clothing requirements were pretty strict: pencil skirts of light wool in the fall and winter and linen in the warm months, simple cotton blouses, heels. Nothing over two inches. No jewelry except for gold chains with lockets and no hanging earrings.

I added my own touches and no one said anything. All the girls had to keep their hair short or in an updo. I liked to keep my hair in a really full bob. Rollers and plenty of hairspray everyday. Sure, I was vain about my hair. I guess I was vain about a lot of things. I used makeup. Not too much. I didn’t want to look trampy, but I did like a little drama. Dark kohl around the my eyes. Mascara, on the lashes and brows. Pale lipstick. I kept it simple but, well I guess assertive would be the word. I liked an assertive look. And I liked to be able to think and move. The work required both.

When things got more serious with Almonzo and me we began to work together. We were in one of the smaller offices with a row of desks. There were a few other men besides Almonzo and no other girls. Almonzo ran the office of course. He was always one of the smartest men. He had a fire in him, like he really cared. There weren’t many like that in those days. Maybe there aren’t any now. 

I knew I was like that too in my own way. I was important. I guess I got to where it meant a lot to me, working with him. Even before things got bad and we were concerned.

See, there was this video from the old days, from before the current administration. The guy in the video was older and he wore wire glasses. I remember noticing that because nobody wore wire glasses in our time. He had on a suit, like the ones Almonzo wore, with a tie. But he wore a small pin on his lapel. There had been a lot of work done to zoom in on that pin, so see whether it said anything or had an image. We wanted to learn as much as we could from this man, you see. He was our link to the past, to a time that we saw as freer than our own. We could sense it in his voice. His fear, the tremble in his voice and a wetness in his eyes. No one but Almonzo was so free with his feelings in our time. Men like the man in the video were passionate. We had even given him a name for the only detail we had about his identity: that pin. One of the men on our team had come up with an image of what was on the pin.
It looked like this:
None of us knew what it meant, but there was a lot of speculation. Since the man was obviously educated, some thought the E was for Engineers or Engineering. The wings, which were obviously metal with rivets, bolstered this theory. One of the Fs was probably for Foundation or Federation. There were a few who thought he might have been advertising for some deity or other, but since practicing any form of religion was punishable by death in our time, and had been for many years, we didn’t have enough detail to explore that theory.

The letters, for our purposes, would be his initials. We all agreed immediately upon Edward for his first name. Then someone suggested Franklin. We all liked that. No body said anything for a while. I guess no body but me knew any other F names.

“Frazier,” I said. I’d heard it somewhere. Everybody looked at me but when Almonzo smiled that was it.

The man became known as Edward Franklin Frazier. In the video he talked about going out in a boat on the canals near where we lived. He said he felt a terrible pain in his head and heard a low buzzing sound. He felt compelled in a way to continue on. Eventually he found a building rising up out of the water. He said it took him exactly 57 minutes to get there. He looked and sounded very afraid.

Whoever Edward Frazier really was, he made this video for people to see at the time when he made it. It was very important to him that whomever watching remembered that number. 57. He spoke as if he was desperate for help. What was amazing to us was that the tape could hold an hour of video and his part of it was only three minutes long. The rest of the tape wasn’t blank, it was recorded over.

Around that time there was an election in our region. The current administration won reinstatement easily. We were all so very disappointed but it was especially hard on Almonzo. He was so passionate about our work. He wanted things to be better, freer. He had a vision that I honestly don’t think the rest of us understood. We were just there because it was clear that he was leading from his heart. 

I could see it wearing on him. We were still hiding, you see, from his wife. Clarissa refused to to let him go. It would have been madness for her. She would have been disappeared. That was part of it, most likely. We knew it wasn’t because she loved him. She didn’t. She hated him, but she hated his work more. His work with us working against The Program. 

The Program was how we all lived. The administration was part of it, of making The Program and all the Instructions and Helpers, but even before this administration there was another. The Program went back before history. No one knew anything different, except, it seemed, Edward Franklin Frazier. You could tell by the way he looked and sounded. To us it was clear that what he feared was The Program, or something like it that came before.

After we saw the video we began our work. We were building a different Program, one we called Maps. These were meant to be ways for people to connect to each other and to the whole world without Helpers. We were building Maps to be similar to the Program, so that people wouldn’t be afraid of them.

It got to where the only times when I was happy was when I was with Almonzo. I just couldn’t stand that. I didn’t want to be that kind of girl. I didn’t want to feel that hollowed out feeling of being alone even when I was with others. Hollow, dead, that’s how I felt when he wasn’t around. That’s because our group didn’t use Helpers. You see, in order to follow The Program you needed Helpers. The Instructions weren’t enough. Without Helpers everything was gray, dead. The colors, the sounds, and everything inside. We managed without them for a while because we kept each other going. I’m not sure how, maybe because we were doing something important.

I decided to go out in the canals. I’d only been there one other time, with Almonzo. When I got there I realized that I couldn’t remember anything I’d ever done without him around. It was foolish of me maybe but I was desperate. It was getting to be too hard to live the way things were. The Programs that the administration was putting out were getting harder and stronger, harder to refuse.

While I was in the boat I remembered the video. The man talking, the way be became frantic. At that moment a Program shot up out of the water. It shot up on a screen and I hit Decline. After that it got harder. I felt ill at ease and started to feel ill. I was going further than Almonzo and I had gone before. Around a little bend in the canal I saw it, the building. It was glass and very tall. I couldn’t imagine what I’d do when I got to it. 


Another Program rose up out of the water. By now I was vomiting over the edge of the boat. That was the last Program I remember. I Accepted it and the Helpers came out of a window on the screen. I put them in my mouth. The next thing I knew I was here, talking with you.

Where's Almonzo?

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