Ignoring, ignorance and the gaps between the stories

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Is that how we lived, then? But we lived as usual. Everyone does, most of the time. Whatever is going on is as usual. Even this is as usual, now.

We lived, as usual, by ignoring. Ignoring isn’t the same as ignorance, you have to work at it. Nothing changes instantaneously: in a gradually heating bathtub you’d be boiled to death before you knew it. There were stories in the newspapers, of course, corpses in ditches or the woods, bludgeoned to death or mutilated, interfered with, as they used to say, but they were about other women, and the men who did such things were other men. None of them were the men we knew. The newspaper stories were like dreams to us, bad dreams dreamt by others. How awful, we would say, and they were, but they were awful without being believable. They were too melodramatic, they had a dimension that was not the dimension of our lives. We were the people who were not in the papers. We lived in the blank white spaces at the edges of print. It gave us more freedom. We lived in the gaps between the stories.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Subversive Singing

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Sometimes I sing to myself, in my head; something lugubrious, mournful, Presbyterian:  

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound

Could save a wretch like me,

Who once was lost, but now am found,

Was bound, but now am free.  

I don’t know if the words are right. I can’t remember. Such songs are not sung anymore in public, especially the ones that use words like free. They are considered too dangerous. They belong to outlawed sects.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Don’t Let the Bastards Grind You Down

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I knelt to examine the floor, and there it was, in tiny writing, quite fresh it seemed, scratched with a pin or maybe just a fingernail, in the corner where the darkest shadow fell: Nolite te bastardes carborundorum.

I didn’t know what it meant, or even what language it was in. I thought it might be Latin, but I didn’t know any Latin. Still, it was a message, and it was in writing, forbidden by that very fact, and it hadn’t yet been discovered. Except by me, for whom it was intended. It was intended for whoever came next.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Be Careful What You Preach For

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She doesn’t make speeches anymore. She has become speechless. She stays in her home, but it doesn’t seem to agree with her. How furious she must be, now that she’s been taken at her word.

She’s looking at the tulips. Her cane is beside her, on the grass. Her profile is towards me, I can see that in the quick sideways look I take at her as I go past. It wouldn’t do to stare. It’s no longer a flawless cut-paper profile, her face is sinking in upon itself, and I think of those towns built on underground rivers, where houses and whole streets disappear overnight, into sudden quagmires, or coal towns collapsing into the mines beneath them. Something like this must have happened to her, once she saw the true shape of things to come.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Stories are Survival

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They showed me a picture of her, standing outside on a lawn, her face a closed oval. Her light hair was pulled back tight behind her head. Holding her hand was a woman I didn’t know. She was only as tall as the woman’s elbow.

You’ve killed her, I said. She looked like an angel, solemn, compact, made of air. She was wearing a dress I’d never seen, white and down to the ground.   I would like to believe this is a story I’m telling. I need to believe it. I must believe it. Those who can believe that such stories are only stories have a better chance. If it’s a story I’m telling, then I have control over the ending. Then there will be an ending, to the story, and real life will come after it. I can pick up where I left off. It isn’t a story I’m telling.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Might Makes Right

He had a point. The Galactic Order wasn’t necessarily fair; it was about establishing rules that benefited the major members of the order. That’s why they didn’t interfere with the slavery on Charoth, and it was probably why they have allowed Despona to be exploited by the Jarks and others. Tamara herself could empathize. After all, she was employed by the mercenary Red before being captured and enslaved. “I supposed might makes right,” she agreed, pausing to think. “But is war the only option?”

He grunted again. “It doesn’t have to be war, but without a strong military and without a powerful financial industry, you are left looking up to the rich rather than staring them in the eyes.”

Doom Sayer by Thane Keller

Girls Know

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They were not pre-chosen to be married to the very best men—to the Sons of Jacob and the other Commanders or their sons—not like us; although they might get to be chosen once they were older if they were pretty enough. Nobody said that. You were not supposed to preen yourself on your good looks, it was not modest, or take any notice of the good looks of other people. Though we girls knew the truth: that it was better to be pretty than ugly. Even the Aunts paid more attention to the pretty ones. But if you were already pre-chosen, pretty didn’t matter so much.

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

Manipulating Fanaticism

“Is everything ready for us inside the city?” Tamara asked, fighting to keep up.

“A team is already there and has secured the home of a zealot named Jaki’el.” He responded, exhaustion far from his voice. “He belongs to a sect of the people who believe a man from beyond the grave is coming to usher in a new era of Jark prosperity.” Canis cut a look at Tamara and scowled. “They are lunatics,” he growled. “But they will serve our purpose and provide the backbone for your proclamations.”

“What do you believe?” Tamara asked, catching a face full of dust and smoke.

He grunted. “I believe in a good death and that neither I nor Brokk has had that opportunity yet.”

Doom Sayer by Thane Keller