Science Fiction Theater Magazine
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R. G. Currell
CAROLYN THE SWEET, The Widow
© 1998, Science Fiction Theater, R. G. Currell
THE VEGA COLONIES.
SIXTH PLANET, FORTUNA.
ORBITAL BASE, FORTUNIAN I.
NEW CALENDER YEAR, 2185 A.A.
Until now, my life-changes have been a series of affirmations: Do you understand...? "I do," and suddenly I was a Confirmand; Do you accept...? "I do," and directly I was a Communicand; Do you profess...? "I do," and abruptly I was a member; Do you take this man...? "I do," and instantaneously I was a wife; but nobody asked me if I would accept this widowhood.
Life changes in a moment. Until now, life-changes have always given. But now they have taken away.
Now the pain is deeper than any words can console. And the loneliness is most complete in company. And the consolations that others give me just take away what little solace I have. Their words of understanding prove only that they don't. Their words of empathy show only that they won't. And their words of endearment announce only that I'm not. Their hugs repel me, when they take me in their arms. And their kisses on my cheeks leave cuts that burn until they walk away. Even their slightest touch invades me. Invades me like an army. And the offers that they make, to do anything for me are but empty gestures to assuage their own consciences. And the look in their eyes is the same look that told me he was gone. They are too horrible to bear. That's why I want to turn away. And I see the eyes that told me even now.
They told me, before he even spoke. For the eyes tell, so that the words don't have to. The words were merely mumbles echoing in the empty wells of my ears. Words are for the teller. Words said that he wasn't coming home again. Unspoken words are for me. They said we would never embrace again. We would never touch again. We would never make love again. Words said he was a hero. And heroes never die. But he was dead. But he is dead. Words said he was just gone. But he is dead. And I wanted him to be here with me. To hold me, even for just one more time. Nothing else. Just to hold me safe in his arms again. To hold me secure in his heart again. To feel his heart beating rhythms supplemental to my own again. I wanted him to be with me again. But he was dead. That's when the teller of this news took me in his arms and held me, and I felt my breasts pressed against a stranger, breasts that would never suckle children or my lover again. And I felt violated. And it was awful to feel. And the stink of his cheap cologne became a symbol of trembling, of an out-crying heart ache, of unbelievable pain, of loneliness, of emptiness. And I felt invalid. Everything close to me was torn away and I was raw flesh, burning everywhere. More than merely naked. I was skinned.
And when he touched me, it was as though he felt through clothes to violate me again, down and under fabric, down and under skin, to squeeze and rub away the nerves that shrieked in pain. He couldn't be doing it. He couldn't be doing this to me. But I felt him do it, anyway. And my legs were weak and my face was burning. And I was killed to every pleasure life gave to others. Pleasure was for others. Pain was for me. Joy was for others. Sorrow was for me. Love was for others. Nothing was for me. He told me and I died. I was a field of brown, dried grass of California in the summertime. His hands were sparks that held me and his words were flames that torched me. Ignited me in sorrow's flames. Unquenchable. Blazing life with pain. And it begins, this widowhood.
Now I wake with forest fires in my mind, kindled by the brush fires of burning dreams. The dreams always end. But this flaming life does not. I awake to realize that the nightmares are the better part of life. That the nightmares are the faint echoes of the travesties of life. There was a time when I woke from worried dreams, to the soothing knowledge that life was good. Now, I bid the worried dreams to come to rest in their unreality for a time. Fretful, but never wholly devastated as I am with open eyes that burn lava flows into my cheeks. And now, the empty day begins. At least while he was away, the days were filled with the anticipation of waiting. Now the hours are filled with the voids of wanting. Needing. breathing. And all the sweetened faces I encounter throughout the Orbital Base that smile with the uncomfortable knowledge that death has come. And their eyes behold what they might have been if it had come to them instead.
I want them to ignore me, but none of them do. I want them to keep their silence, but none of them are incline to do so. I want them to keep their distance, but none of them will. I want them to keep their daggers of reminder sheathed. But all of them stab me with their blades of recollection. I want them to stay aloof and to keep away, but they all come too close. I want them to remain untouching, but they all hack me with their karate blows of kindness. And unwanted concern. And I feel violated.
I don't want them to tell me they understand, because they don't. I don't want for them to say they're in this with me, because they aren't. And I don't want all the advice they give me that they'd never take.
Oh, the wounds have cut deeper than any sutures can bind. I'm cut wide open to this heart of mine. I've bled more blood than replacement can find. And I'm immune to their solace of every kind.
The pain has cut deeper than words can console. I'm sliced to the quick, too far to cajole. I'm a cup on its side, unable to refill. I'm empty of life and I'm empty of will.
Time heals all wounds, they tell me. Those who do not heal die, I tell them. I think I already have. This will pass, they say. In time, you will heal. You'll forget.
But I don't want to heal. I don't want to forget. But I can't tell them that. They'll think I'm crazy. I don't want this to pass. If it passes, I'll be untrue to his memory. And if I forget, I'll be untrue to him.
I want to remember everything. I want to recall all the things we shared together. But it is harder.
Guilt comes calling, knocking on my door. Guilt has come to point accusing fingers in my soul. Guilt has come with a brandished crow bar, to pry heart from mind. Guilt has come to resurrect the dying things that threaten healing. Guilt has come to point accusing fingers in my empty places. And I hear its arguments echo like voices shouted under cathedral domes. I could have made it better for him when I had the chance. But now the chance is gone and I can't do anything for him anymore. All opportunity is lost. All the days are spend. All the time is gone. Used up. Wasted. There were many things left undone. He had many wants left wanting. Because I didn't want with him, I suppose.
Perhaps I could have done something. Perhaps I had overlooked it. Perhaps I could have kept him at home. Safe. Still alive. Guilt was there, pointing accusing fingers at my past. Perhaps his blood is stains on my hands. Perhaps if I had been more of what he wanted me to be, instead of what I wanted to be, then he might not have needed to go.
erhaps they would not have had to bury but a symbol in his place. Perhaps they may not have had to bury anything. If I'd been different. I remember how short the Memorial Service was.
The Chaplain stood and I think he made eight pronouncements. I think he said:
In the beginning was God.
God created us.
We sinned and became God's problem;
How was God going to solve this problem?
God made a Covenant with us and we broke it.
God sent His prophets to us and we killed them.
God sent His only Son and we crucified Him;
And in the blackest hour, God raised Him from the dead.
And the Church verifies this secures our salvation.
And the Commodore stood and said that the Lord gives and the Lord takes. Blessed be the Name of the Lord.
That's all I remember. Pitifully little to remember of a Memorial Service.
The Lord gives and the Lord takes. Blessed be the Name of the Lord -- easy words for them. Not for me.
Why did I let him go? He had saved the lives of others at the cost of his own. But I don't care about the lives of others. I just care about him.
our face. I have to remember every line. Every expression. So I can tell our daughter back home and her children at the proper time. But Guilt is pointing accusing fingers at my mind.
Your face. I can't remember every detail. Not any more. It's getting harder by the hour it seems. I can't remember every mood. Or every act. Or every event. The small things that pleased you. The small things that please me. The erotic things that pleased us both. I can't remember every detail. Any more. And Guilt points accusing fingers at who I am. What kind of wife am I? What kind of wife could I have been. I've lost you. And good wives don't loose their lovers. And now I'm loosing more of you. Little by little, you're fading from me. Like a fog in the dawn. Like a ghost in the sun. Like the stars in the morning. Like a pain in the stream of time. I'm loosing you and I don't want to. I want you to stay right in here in me forever -- right on the surface of my heart so I can hold you -- even if it causes this unquenchable pain. I can bear the pain; I cannot bear your parting. Not a second time. I just can't allow that to happen. It happens to others. Not to me.
Why did I let you go? I should have known! Any descent wife would have known.
aybe you're still out there. Yes? Yes! That's it! Maybe you ejected in some kind of escape pod or something. Maybe right now you're somewhere out there, cold, lonely, afraid?, waiting for someone to come along. Maybe. Maybe you're still alive, after all. Yes? Didn't I dream something like that? Could it be true? Was that your mind somehow reaching out to touch me? Through space? Cold, unforgiving space. And what if I had let you down?
What if I just didn't realize it in time. What if I just let you grow cold and suffocate slowly in the drifts of empty space? Guilt jabs its accusing jagged fingers in my heart. What if I just let you down? What if?
Why did I let you go? If I had been stronger for you, would you still be here with me? Maybe.
Maybe I just wasn't good enough for you. Maybe I let you down.
Maybe if you'd just found someone better, you'd still be alive.
And I wouldn't have this pain.
Why am I feeling sorry for myself, when it's you I've let down?
But I do feel so lonely without you. I do.
I'm a leaf that's been torn from the vine and is withering on the ground. I'm an empty bottle, lying in shattered fragments so sharp I cut myself. I feel a vacuum right here in the center of my chest where organs should be. I fear they're not there any more. My tears are too cried to be wet and my nose is too red from wiping. I'm an oxymoron of opposing things. And you're gone.
Maybe if I weren't here, you wouldn't be gone.
And I hate them. For what they did to you. And for what they did to me. For what they have made of me. I am burned beyond my own recognition. Fires of acid eat me from inside. Purgatories hold no hope for me. For cinders are unredeemable. I am cinder alive. I hate them for what they did to you. And I hate them for what they've done to me. They targeted my life and they hit it. And they applauded when I died. They watched as the flames encompassed me. And they joyed in my sorrow. I hate them for what they did to you. The enemy. Your killers. Your murderers. And I hate what they're doing to me.
Well. "Turn about is fair play", isn't it? Karma. Thanitose. The Providence of God. I hope the traps they set will spring on them. I hope what they've done will return upon them. "We still reap what we sow."
Oh, the pain is sharper than dull knife wounds. And deeper than ache. And it will not go away. For the sword is still in me. And it turns round slowly. I'm pierced through the body. I'm pierced through the heart. And Cupid's arrow is still ever there, snap-shafted by your enemies' blade. The two in conflict are. Ever burning torment in me. Cupid's arrow still bleeds me, my blood mingled with its love.
And I hate them who caused me this death-defying death.
So, let their victory celebration be turned into defeat. Crushing defeat. And let those who celebrate their victory with them be turned into those who will survive them. And mourn them. And be emptied of their lives, as I am emptied of mine.
Let them know that their loved ones just aren't coming back. Let them know their loved ones died at the hands of hate. Let them know that others rejoice in their defeat and are consoled by their bitter weeping. Let happy javelins pierce them. And let the jaws of loneliness chew them into pulp, until they are swallowed into the galaxy's hungry and empty stomach. And let them be digested over half a century by the acids of mourning. Half a century of pain un-abating and desire unattainable. Only remembered.
Yes. Let them burn inside like the smell of the incense of funeral parlors and the overly sweet small of plants lined up stinking, trying to cover the foul stench of death. Let them receive their thousand conversations that sting like slaps across the face. And let their rooms fill up with potted plants by the dozen, to remind them of life so they can think only of death. And let them listen to words poured out like libations and offerings that accomplish only the opposite of their intent.
Let them become in a moment what I have become unexpectedly.
Let them be what I now am, a vessel tipped over unfillable, except by the gasses of pain called emptiness. Like the atmosphere, it's all around. This emptiness. It's everywhere. It's around all. It's in all. It's breathed with every breath. It's inhaled. It's exhaled. It's swallowed with every meal. It's tasted, as the seasoning of everything. It's felt, as the heat and the cold of every room. It's touched on the surface of all things. It permeates them through and through. Yes. Let them live as I live. Let them become what they have made of me.
The bell was ringing in my room and I looked up. I really didn't want to answer the door -- again. But it might be Nat. And her visit was the only one that had any comfort in it.
I remember. She came in and sat in silence. She didn't say anything. Not a word, and I respected her for that. She must have known. At first, we both sat in silence.
, she must have listened to me for about an hour. Like Job's three friends, she was silent. But I was glad she didn't stay for three days. I suppose it was good to get it out. Out of my system. At least some of the exploding emotion.
But now, it wasn't until I heard the bell ring that I even smelled the coffee I wasn't even tasting. I was just drinking it down like doses of scalding remorse. "Come in," I said, so the computer unlocked and opened the door for me. Framed in the doorway stood the Commodore, much like a form from a scene from an old second-rate movie, the flat-screen kind before holographics.
May I come in, Carolyn?" he asked, as he stood there with some paperback book tucked under one arm and a flat, black case held in a hand.
I honestly couldn't think of one good reason he should, but I nodded anyway.
I watched him slowly cross the room and stand stiffly at the table side, where I was sitting. The door closed on the other side of the room by itself and I knew he meant to stay for a while. I motioned to the second chair -- Frank's chair -- and I sipped more coffee.
"Captain Vox wanted a ceremony. A whole formal thing: Dress Uniforms, Formals, full crew complement, vidcom, you know. But I know you wouldn't want all that," he said without preamble.
Already I was feeling a little better about whatever all of this was going to be about.
The Commodore set the black box on the table and the book on his lap, where I couldn't see it.
"That was -- sensitive -- Commodore. Thank you," I heard my voice saying to him, as I looked into his face and into his eyes. It was still there. That look that told me that Frank was gone. Before he had said anything. It was still there. Perhaps it was more than what I had thought it was at the time, cowardice of telling me. Perhaps he was feeling deeply, too. Perhaps he had really lost something, too.
"I've known Frank for a long time, Carolyn," he said. You know, I lost my son in the Moon Conflicts. That was just about ten years ago. And nothing's filled that void. Nothing ever will. Nothing can. Loosing Frank really wasn't that much different for me. Now, I'm not saying this just because you're his wife and you're here and it might be the right thing to say. No. But I wanted you to know.
"This metal," he said as he opened up the black case and slid it over to me, is The Legion of Honor Decoration." It was a big, gold medallion hung on a long red, white, and blue ribbon designed to be worn over the neck. It sparkled with death.
"Frank has been inducted into The Legion of Honor. This is the decoration. Giving it to you is like presenting it to a daughter-in-law. I'm proud." The Commodore's eyes were cups of sincerity.
"Thank you, Commodore. I don't quite know what else to say." I am proud, too. But I still feel numb, like a hand struck too hard.
The Commodore smiled in a way I've never seen before. Perhaps I just never looked before. "You know Carolyn, I've never read one of your books before. Just reviews," he was saying as he lifted the book on his lap and placed it gently on the table between us. The cover said, THE FORTUNIAN ALTERNATIVE, by Evelyn Wind.
I didn't know he knew.
"Just words, Commodore. Just words," I told him in the voice of discouragement. "My last book, I suppose. There are no more happy endings. Just endings."
The Commodore shook his head. "Oh, it's more than just words, Evelyn Wind. Now especially. It caused quite a stir back on Earth, you know. What with all that's going on out here in the Vega Colonies. When its place of origin was traced back here to Fortunian I, it had all the more authority to it. Well, it started gears moving in the political machinery. That can't be stopped."
I couldn't imagine just where the hell his line of thought was leading. "So they're going to shoot me at dawn for writing about classified information or what?"
"No. They're not going to shoot you at dawn. The alternative in your book leads to the cessation of all hostilities and the establishment of lasting peace in the Vega Colonies. Is that a fair synopsis, Evelyn Wind?" His eye brows rose.
"The cessation of all hostilities, yes. And the establishment of a mutual and reasonable peace. That's the point. No Versailles! The establishment of unreasonable peace is temporary at best and destructive in the long run, Commodore." I told him.
"Thank you," he commented, as he nodded his head. In respect? I remember catching a whiff of his cheap cologne and it reminded me of a night not too long ago when we were all seated around a table together. And we all were alive. Then, I heard him speaking again, "Each side has a long document of demands printed out and we are at an impasse. No one will compromise. The details are bigger than the peace. Yet, both sides want peace desperately."
Why are you telling me this, Commodore? Isn't this need-to-know kind of information, or something?" I asked.
"Yes it is. And the reason you need to know -- Evelyn Wind -- is that both sides want Evelyn Wind to chair and jump-start the negotiations. Both sides see you as a neutral party wanting peace."
"That's absurd! Commodore. I'm certainly not neutral. Not any more." I remember pounding my fist so hard on the table that the computer monitor jumped on its base and some cold coffee spilled on the desk top. "My husband was killed out there, remember! My husband was killed because of these people. And I want them to pay the price I have paid."
The Commodore shook his head. And I somehow knew he understood. What convinced me the most is that he didn't tell me words. His eyes just said, I understand. He understood. And I respected him for that.
"Evelyn Wind," he said in a low, calm voice, the kind that you have to strain to hear. The kind you do strain to hear, because you know it's going to say something important. "Think about what you're saying. Evelyn Wind is not about that. Is she? Of course not. And I can't believe you are, either. The whole professional life of Evelyn Wind is about alternatives to force. Alternatives to suffering. It is about peace and the alleviation of suffering. You are standing at a crossroad in life. You have a unique opportunity. You have the chance to lift all these words off mere pages and to breathe life into them, and to allow them to breathe life into men who will otherwise die. Men who will surely otherwise die. You can bring the words off the page and give them life. You have a choice before you. You have a choice between death and life. Choose life."
I was impressed by his impassioned words. "Why Commodore," I said, "I didn't know you quoted the Bible."
I remember his elusive grin, as he said, "There are a lot of things you don't know about me, Evelyn Wind. Just as there were many things about which I was ignorant concerning Carolyn the Sweet. All right! Let's go." He stood abruptly, took my elbow firmly, and hoisted me to my feet quickly.
"To Conference Room Alpha, Evelyn Wind." He shoved the black box that was on the table into my hands and guided me straight to the door, which opened by itself on our approach.
I didn't want to go. I really didn't believe in it. But I remember I didn't protest.
As we entered into the conference room, all the men stood. I noticed they were all men. I noticed too that none of them looked at me that way -- that "poor-woman" look. And it felt good. I don't know why. But it did.
Commodore Paterson escorted me silently to the empty chair at the head of the table on the far side of the room and he said for all to hear, "Seat of Honor, Ms. Wind." He stepped down to the place immediately to my right. To his right stood Captain Vox. "Ms. Wind, I believe you know the Captain. Allow me to introduce the others," He motioned with an arm to the two strange men sitting opposite them and to my left. I merely gave a silent nod.
Meanwhile, I was placing the flat, black box down in front of me and noticed that the men standing around the table were looking at it. With expectation. Like the readers of a story, when an interesting box is mentioned -- just off hand. The reader knows that the writer has placed it there for a reason. And it will be surfacing soon. That's how the men were looking at it. I looked at the expectancy in their faces. And for a moment, I felt sorry I was going to disappoint them: I hadn't brought it for a reason. It was just in my hands.
"This," the Commodore was saying, as he gestured toward the man immediately to my left, "is Ambassador Cornish. Ambassador Cornish, this is Evelyn Wind."
"Hello, Ms. Wind," he said in very good English. The accent was there, but I couldn't place its origin.
"Hello, Ambassador," I answered formally. I used as much civility as I could. He was a short and pudgy man, graying at the temples and balding on the top. 'An expensive suit,' I thought.
"Evelyn Wind," the Commodore said again," this is Ambassador Neal. Ambassador Neal, this is Evelyn Wind."
"Good afternoon. I have been looking forward to meeting the Harlequin Queen."
"Thank you, Ambassador. I hope I prove to be no disappointment to you?" I heard myself saying. I was gracious. I am surprised. And I wondered why I had made that statement into a question. I didn't know. I didn't need any more complements. Didn't want any.
The Ambassador said, "Surprising. Not disappointing. I had perhaps expected an older woman, who had worked in a library all her life while she perfected her craft. And now, I am greeted by a woman of an intelligence as sterling as silver, as wild as wind, and as comely as beauty."
I nodded and let my flushing face speak for me. "Shall we get down to business," I addressed the assembly. As the men took their seats, I remained standing and tried to collect my thoughts like trying to pluck fragrant rose peddles from a lazy summer breeze. "To begin with, I'm not a diplomat. I hope you will all forgive me that." They all nodded and I thought it was a good sign. Off to a good start, then. "I understand that you are in a deadlock. I do not mean to sound presumptuous, but the reason I am here is to change that."
"Evelyn Wind," said Ambassador Cornish to my left, as he picked up and held two thick, Print-out manuscripts, "at the risk of being rude, both our positions are clearly stated here. Your side will not compromise. My side will not compromise. So tell me, what does your Government allow you to give up -- to us -- to show your sincerity for the Peace Process?"
"Ambassador," I said, as I turned to look him squarely in the eye, "I am not the least bit interested in the Peace Process. I'll tell you why. History has shown time and time again that the Peace Process often outlives the delegates attending it. The Peace Process becomes a business like any other. The Peace Process becomes a job like any other. Delegates know they will be processing peace tomorrow. And so they do. I do not intend to do that, Gentlemen. I am a busy woman. Before we sleep again, we will have peace and the Process will be over."
I remember how all the men were in shock. That was good. I had them on the run and the two sides were joining in spirit to fend off this new thing that had come upon them. Already. But I needed something to keep the momentum. I saw the flat black box in front of me and opened it. I had all their attention now.
It had been sitting there like a promise, to them, anyway. It had just been sitting there for me. I had no plans for it. It had been just something in my hands when I walked in. Now, I could see its potential. And its application. "This," I said as I took out the large medallion on the ribbon, "is The Legion of Honor Decoration my late husband received for giving his life to save the lives of his comrads-in-arms." I tossed it so that it landed with a clatter in the center of the table. And it had certainly arrested their attention.
"At first, I felt pain and loneliness and loss. Then I felt a guilt that said I could have done something so that he would still be with me. Then I felt hatred. Of you. Now, I give up that hate. That is my bond that says I want peace, so that no one else will have to give such things again. Now, will you follow suite and give up War?"
There were moments of stunned silence, as the men thought. Then, Ambassador Cornish spoke again. "We honor your sacrifices, Evelyn Wind. No one would challenge that. But it is naive. There are details to be worked out before peace can come. Surely you understand this?"
"No. I do not understand that, Ambassador. I disagree," I told him as I picked up each of the manuscripts and ripped them in half and threw them into a pile on Frank's Legion of Honor Decoration.
Everyone was appalled and the Commodore leaned forward and lowered his face into his hands.
"War is fanned by the winds of details, Ambassador. Only peace can extinguish the flames. Then I pointed a finger straight at him. "It is written, 'Peace be still'. And then the storm subsided. What happened? Peace was called into existence, which calmed the details that made the storm. So, Peace puts the details into order. That is the truth," I said, as they began to reason among themselves. "Now, Gentlemen," I said in a voice with more authority than I have ever had, "this is how we will proceed: we will vote now. We will vote on immediate Peace, now. That will cause immediate peace to happen. That will cause immediate cessation of all hostilities to happen, now. And that will cause us to agree that the details for that Peace will come tomorrow. An equitable Agreement.
"I put it to a vote, now. All in favor of Peace, stand. All who want War, remain seated."
They all stood.
Ambassador Cornish said, "I never believed that Peace could be so easy."
"I agree," said Commodore Paterson. He finally smiled.