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The Blind Assassin

Margaret Atwood

One
The bridge
The Toronto Star, May 26, 1945
The Blind Assassin.
Two
The Blind Assassin:
The Globe and Mail, June 4, 1947
The Blind Assassin:
The Toronto Star, August 25, 1975
The Blind Assassin:
The Globe and Mail, February 19, 1998
The Blind Assassin:
The Colonel Henry Parkman High School Home and School and Alumni Association Bulletin, Port Ticonderoga, May 1998
Three
The presentation
The silver box
The Button Factory
Avilion
The trousseau
The gramophone
Bread day
Black ribbons
The soda
Four
The Blind Assassin:
The Port Ticonderoga Herald and Banner, March 16, 1933
The Blind Assassin:
The Mail and Empire, December 5, 1934
The Blind Assassin:
The Mail and Empire, December 15, 1934
The Blind Assassin:
Mayfair, May 1935
The Blind Assassin:
Five
The fur coat
The Weary Soldier
Miss Violence
Ovid’s Metamorphoses
The button factory picnic
Loaf givers
Hand-tinting
The cold cellar
The attic
The Imperial Room
The Arcadian Court
The tango
Six
The Blind Assassin:
The Blind Assassin:
The Toronto Star, August 28, 1935
The Blind Assassin:
The Blind Assassin:
Mayfair, February 1936
The Blind Assassin:
Seven
The steamer trunk
The Fire Pit
Postcards from Europe
The eggshell hat
Besotted
Sunnyside
Xanadu
Eight
The Blind Assassin:
Mayfair, July 1936
The Blind Assassin:
The Mail and Empire, September 19, 1936
The Blind Assassin:
Nine
The laundry
The ashtray
The man with his head on fire
The Water Nixie
The chestnut tree
Ten
The Blind Assassin:
Mayfair, May 1937
Letter from Bella Vista
The Blind Assassin:
The Globe and Mail, May 26, 1937
The Blind Assassin:
Eleven
The cubicle
The kitten
Beautiful view
Brightly shone the moon
Betty’s Luncheonette
The message
Twelve
The Globe and Mail, October 7, 1938
Mayfair, June 1939
The Blind Assassin:
The Blind Assassin:
The Blind Assassin:
The Blind Assassin:
Thirteen
Gloves
Home fires
Diana Sweets
Escarpment
Fourteen
The golden lock
Victory comes and goes
The heap of rubble
Fifteen
The Blind Assassin Epilogue:
The Port Ticonderoga Herald and Banner, May 29, 1999
The threshold
Acknowledgments
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Margaret Atwood
The Blind Assassin

   Imagine the monarch Agha Mohammed Khan, who orders the entire population of the city of Kerman murdered or blinded—no exceptions. His praetorians set energetically to work. They line up the inhabitants, slice off the heads of the adults, gouge out the eyes of the children… Later, processions of blinded children leave the city. Some, wandering around in the countryside, lose their way in the desert and die of thirst. Other groups reach inhabited settlements…singing songs about the extermination of the citizens of Kerman…

Ryszard Kapuscinski


   I swam, the sea was boundless, I saw no shore.
   Tanit was merciless, my prayers were answered.
   O you who drown in love, remember me.

Inscription on a Carthaginian funerary urn


   The word is a flame burning in a dark glass.

Sheila Watson
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One

The bridge

   Ten days after the war ended, my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge. The bridge was being repaired: she went right through the Danger sign. The car fell a hundred feet into the ravine, smashing through the treetops feathery with new leaves, then burst into flames and rolled down into the shallow creek at the bottom. Chunks of the bridge fell on top of it. Nothing much was left of her but charred smithereens.
   I was informed of the accident by a policeman: the car was mine, and they’d traced the licence. His tone was respectful: no doubt he recognized Richard’s name. He said the tires may have caught on a streetcar track or the brakes may have failed, but he also felt bound to inform me that two witnesses—a retired lawyer and a bank teller, dependable people—had claimed to have seen the whole thing. They’d said Laura had turned the car sharply and deliberately, and had plunged off the bridge with no more fuss than stepping off a curb. They’d noticed her hands on the wheel because of the white gloves she’d been wearing.
   It wasn’t the brakes, I thought. She had her reasons. Not that they were ever the same as anybody else’s reasons. She was completely ruthless in that way.
   “I suppose you want someone to identify her,” I said. “I’ll come down as soon as I can.” I could hear the calmness of my own voice, as if from a distance. In reality I could barely get the words out; my mouth was numb, my entire face was rigid with pain. I felt as if I’d been to the dentist. I was furious with Laura for what she’d done, but also with the policeman for implying that she’d done it. A hot wind was blowing around my head, the strands of my hair lifting and swirling in it, like ink spilled in water.
   “I’m afraid there will be an inquest, Mrs. Griffen,” he said.
   “Naturally,” I said. “But it was an accident. My sister was never a good driver.”
   I could picture the smooth oval of Laura’s face, her neatly pinned chignon, the dress she would have been wearing: a shirtwaist with a small rounded collar, in a sober colour—navy blue or steel grey or hospital-corridor green. Penitential colours—less like something she’d chosen to put on than like something she’d been locked up in. Her solemn half-smile; the amazed lift of her eyebrows, as if she were admiring the view.
   The white gloves: a Pontius Pilate gesture. She was washing her hands of me. Of all of us.
   What had she been thinking of as the car sailed off the bridge, theft hung suspended in the afternoon sunlight, glinting like a dragonfly for that one instant of held breath before the plummet? Of Alex, of Richard, of bad faith, of our father and his wreckage; of God, perhaps, and her fatal, triangular bargain. Or of the stack of cheap school exercise books that she must have hidden that very morning, in the bureau drawer where I kept my stockings, knowing I would be the one to find them.
   When the policeman had gone I went upstairs to change. To visit the morgue I would need gloves, and a hat with a veil. Something to cover the eyes. There might be reporters. I would have to call a taxi. Also I ought to warn Richard, at his office: he would wish to have a statement of grief prepared. I went into my dressing room: I would need black, and a handkerchief.
   I opened the drawer, I saw the notebooks. I undid the crisscross of kitchen string that tied them together. I noticed that my teeth were chattering, and that I was cold all over. I must be in shock, I decided.
   What I remembered then was Reenie, from when we were little. It was Reenie who’d done the bandaging, of scrapes and cuts and minor injuries: Mother might be resting, or doing good deeds elsewhere, but Reenie was always there. She’d scoop us up and sit us on the white enamel kitchen table, alongside the pie dough she was rolling out or the chicken she was cutting up or the fish she was gutting, and give us a lump of brown sugar to get us to close our mouths. Tell me where it hurts, she’d say. Stop howling. Just calm down and show me where.
   But some people can’t tell where it hurts. They can’t calm down. They can’t ever stop howling.
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The Toronto Star, May 26, 1945

Questions Raised in City Death
Special to the Star


   A coroner’s inquest has returned a verdict of accidental death in last week’s St. Clair Ave. fatality. Miss Laura Chase, 25, was travelling west on the afternoon of May 18 when her car swerved through the barriers protecting a repair site on the bridge and crashed into the ravine below, catching fire. Miss Chase was killed instantly. Her sister, Mrs. Richard E. Griffen, wife of the prominent manufacturer, gave evidence that Miss Chase suffered from severe headaches affecting her vision. In reply to questioning, she denied any possibility of intoxication as Miss Chase did not drink.
   It was the police view that a tire caught in an exposed streetcar track was a contributing factor. Questions were raised as to the adequacy of safety precautions taken by the City, but after expert testimony by City engineer Gordon Perkins these were dismissed.
   The accident has occasioned renewed protests over the state of the streetcar tracks on this stretch of roadway. Mr. Herb T. Jolliffe, representing local ratepayers, told Star reporters that this was not the first mishap caused by neglected tracks. City Council should take note.
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The Blind Assassin.
By Laura Chase.
Reingold, Jaynes Moreau, New York, 1947
Prologue:
Perennials for the Rock Garden

   She has a single photograph of him. She tucked it into a brown envelope on which she’d written clippings, and hid the envelope between the pages of Perennials for the Rock Garden, where no one else would ever look.
   She’s preserved this photo carefully, because it’s almost all she has left of him. It’s black and white, taken by one of those boxy, cumbersome flash cameras from before the war, with their accordion-pleat nozzles and their well-made leather cases that looked like muzzles, with straps and intricate buckles. The photo is of the two of them together, her and this man, on a picnic. Picnic is written on the back, in pencil—not his name or hers, just picnic. She knows the names, she doesn’t need to write them down.
   They’re sitting under a tree; it might have been an apple tree; she didn’t notice the tree much at the time. She’s wearing a white blouse with the sleeves rolled to the elbow and a wide skirt tucked around her knees. There must have been a breeze, because of the way the shirt is blowing up against her; or perhaps it wasn’t blowing, perhaps it was clinging; perhaps it was hot. It was hot. Holding her hand over the picture, she can still feel the heat coming up from it, like the heat from a sun-warmed stone at midnight.
   The man is wearing a light-coloured hat, angled down on his head and partially shading his face. His face appears to be more darkly tanned than hers. She’s turned half towards him, and smiling, in a way she can’t remember smiling at anyone since. She seems very young in the picture, too young, though she hadn’t considered herself too young at the time. He’s smiling too—the whiteness of his teeth shows up like a scratched match flaring—but he’s holding up his hand, as if to fend her off in play, or else to protect himself from the camera, from the person who must be there, taking the picture; or else to protect himself from those in the future who might be looking at him, who might be looking in at him through this square, lighted window of glazed paper. As if to protect himself from her. As if to protect her. In his outstretched, protecting hand there’s the stub end of a cigarette.
   She retrieves the brown envelope when she’s alone, and slides the photo out from among the newspaper clippings. She lays it flat on the table and stares down into it, as if she’s peering into a well or pool—searching beyond her own reflection for something else, something she must have dropped or lost, out of reach but still visible, shimmering like a jewel on sand. She examines every detail. His fingers bleached by the flash or the sun’s glare; the folds of their clothing; the leaves of the tree, and the small round shapes hanging there—were they apples, after all? The coarse grass in the foreground. The grass was yellow then because the weather had been dry.
   Over to one side—you wouldn’t see it at first—there’s a hand, cut by the margin, scissored off at the wrist, resting on the grass as if discarded. Left to its own devices.
   The trace of blown cloud in the brilliant sky, like ice cream smudged on chrome. His smoke-stained fingers. The distant glint of water. All drowned now.
   Drowned, but shining.
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Two

The Blind Assassin:
The hard-boiled egg

   What will it be, then? he says. Dinner jackets and romance, or shipwrecks on a barren coast? You can have your pick: jungles, tropical islands, mountains. Or another dimension of space—that’s what I’m best at.
   Another dimension of space? Oh really!
   Don’t scoff, it’s a useful address. Anything you like can happen there. Spaceships and skin-tight uniforms, ray guns, Martians with the bodies of giant squids, that sort of thing.
   You choose, she says. You’re the professional. How about a desert? I’ve always wanted to visit one. With an oasis, of course. Some date palms might be nice. She’s tearing the crust off her sandwich. She doesn’t like the crusts.
   Not much scope, with deserts. Not many features, unless you add some tombs. Then you could have a pack of nude women who’ve been dead for three thousand years, with lithe, curvaceous figures, ruby-red lips, azure hair in a foam of tumbled curls, and eyes like snake-filled pits. But I don’t think I could fob those off on you. Lurid isn’t your style.
   You never know. I might like them.
   I doubt it. They’re for the huddled masses. Popular on the covers though—they’ll writhe all over a fellow, they have to be beaten off with rifle butts.
   Could I have another dimension of space, and also the tombs and the dead women, please?
   That’s a tall order, but I’ll see what I can do. I could throw in some sacrificial virgins as well, with metal breastplates and silver ankle chains and diaphanous vestments. And a pack of ravening wolves, extra.
   I can see you’ll stop at nothing.
   You want the dinner jackets instead? Cruise ships, white linen, wrist-kissing and hypocritical slop?
   No. All right. Do what you think is best.
   Cigarette?
   She shakes her head for no. He lights his own, striking the match on his thumbnail.
   You’ll set fire to yourself, she says.
   I never have yet.
   She looks at his rolled-up shirt sleeve, white or a pale blue, then his wrist, the browner skin of his hand. He throws out radiance, it must be reflected sun. Why isn’t everyone staring? Still, he’s too noticeable to be out here—out in the open. There are other people around, sitting on the grass or lying on it, propped on one elbow—other picnickers, in their pale summer clothing. It’s all very proper. Nevertheless she feels that the two of them are alone; as if the apple tree they’re sitting under is not a tree but a tent; as if there’s a line drawn around them with chalk. Inside this line, they’re invisible.
   Space it is, then, he says. With tombs and virgins and wolves—but on the instalment plan. Agreed?
   The instalment plan?
   You know, like furniture.
   She laughs.
   No, I’m serious. You can’t skimp, it might take days. We’ll have to meet again.
   She hesitates. All right, she says. If I can. If I can arrange it.
   Good, he says. Now I have to think. He keeps his voice casual. Too much urgency might put her off.

   On the Planet of—let’s see. Not Saturn, it’s too close. On the Planet Zycron, located in another dimension of space, there’s a rubble-strewn plain. To the north is the ocean, which is violet in colour. To the west is a range of mountains, said to be roamed after sunset by the voracious undead female inhabitants of the crumbling tombs located there. You see, I’ve put the tombs in right off the bat.
   That’s very conscientious of you, she says.
   I stick to my bargains. To the south is a burning waste of sand, and to the east are several steep valleys that might once have been rivers.
   I suppose there are canals, like Mars?
   Oh, canals, and all sorts of things. Abundant traces of an ancient and once highly developed civilization, though this region is now only sparsely inhabited by roaming bands of primitive nomads. In the middle of the plain is a large mound of stones. The land around is arid, with a few scrubby bushes. Not exactly a desert, but close enough. Is there a cheese sandwich left?
   She rummages in the paper bag. No, she says, but there’s a hard-boiled egg. She’s never been this happy before. Everything is fresh again, still to be enacted.
   Just what the doctor ordered, he says. A bottle of lemonade, a hard-boiled egg, and Thou. He rolls the egg between his palms, cracking the shell, then peeling it away. She watches his mouth, the jaw, the teeth.
   Beside me singing in the public park, she says. Here’s the salt for it.
   Thanks. You remembered everything.

   This arid plain isn’t claimed by anyone, he continues. Or rather it’s claimed by five different tribes, none strong enough to annihilate the others. All of them wander past this stone heap from time to time, herding their thulks —blue sheep-like creatures with vicious tempers—or transporting merchandise of little value on their pack animals, a sort of three-eyed camel.
   The pile of stones is called, in their various languages, The Haunt of Flying Snakes, The Heap of Rubble, The Abode of Howling Mothers, The Door of Oblivion, and The Pit of Gnawed Bones. Each tribe tells a similar story about it. Underneath the rocks, they say, a king is buried—a king without a name. Not only the king, but the remains of the magnificent city this king once ruled. The city was destroyed in a battle, and the king was captured and hanged from a date palm as a sign of triumph. At moonrise he was cut down and buried, and the stones were piled up to mark the spot. As for the other inhabitants of the city, they were all killed. Butchered—men, women, children, babies, even the animals. Put to the sword, hacked to pieces. No living thing was spared.
   That’s horrible.
   Stick a shovel into the ground almost anywhere and some horrible thing or other will come to light. Good for the trade, we thrive on bones; without them there’d be no stories. Any more lemonade?
   No, she says. We’ve drunk it all up. Go on.
   The real name of the city was erased from memory by the conquerors, and this is why—say the taletellers—the place is now known only by the name of its own destruction. The pile of stones thus marks both an act of deliberate remembrance, and an act of deliberate forgetting. They’re fond of paradox in that region. Each of the five tribes claims to have been the victorious attacker. Each recalls the slaughter with relish. Each believes it was ordained by their own god as righteous vengeance, because of the unholy practices carried on in the city. Evil must be cleansed with blood, they say. On that day the blood ran like water, so afterwards it must have been very clean.
   Every herdsman or merchant who passes adds a stone to the heap. It’s an old custom—you do it in remembrance of the dead, your own dead—but since no one knows who the dead under the pile of stones really were, they all leave their stones on the off chance. They’ll get around it by telling you that what happened there must have been the will of their god, and thus by leaving a stone they are honouring this will.
   There’s also a story that claims the city wasn’t really destroyed at all. Instead, through a charm known only to the King, the city and its inhabitants were whisked away and replaced by phantoms of themselves, and it was only these phantoms that were burnt and slaughtered. The real city was shrunk very small and placed in a cave beneath the great heap of stones. Everything that was once there is there still, including the palaces and the gardens filled with trees and flowers; including the people, no bigger than ants, but going about their lives as before—wearing their tiny clothes, giving their tiny banquets, telling their tiny stories, singing their tiny songs.
   The King knows what’s happened and it gives him nightmares, but the rest of them don’t know. They don’t know they’ve become so small. They don’t know they’re supposed to be dead. They don’t even know they’ve been saved. To them the ceiling of rock looks like a sky: light comes in through a pinhole between the stones, and they think it’s the sun.

   The leaves of the apple tree rustle. She looks up at the sky, then at her watch. I’m cold, she says. I’m also late. Could you dispose of the evidence? She gathers eggshells, twists up wax paper.
   No hurry, surely? It’s not cold here.
   There’s a breeze coming through from the water, she says. The wind must have changed. She leans forward, moving to stand up.
   Don’t go yet, he says, too quickly.
   I have to. They’ll be looking for me. If I’m overdue, they’ll want to know where I’ve been.
   She smoothes her skirt down, wraps her arms around herself, turns away, the small green apples watching her like eyes.
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The Globe and Mail, June 4, 1947

Griffen Found in Sailboat
Special to the Globe and Mail


   After an unexplained absence of several days, the body of industrialist Richard E. Griffen, forty-seven, said to have been favoured for the Progressive Conservative candidacy in the Toronto riding of St. David’s, was discovered near his summer residence of “Avilion” in Port Ticonderoga, where he was vacationing. Mr. Griffen was found in his sailboat, the Water Nixie, which was tied up at his private jetty on the Jogues River. He had apparently suffered a cerebral hemorrhage. Police report that no foul play is suspected.
   Mr. Griffen had a distinguished career as the head of a commercial empire that embraced many areas including textiles, garments and light manufacturing, and was commended for his efforts in supplying Allied troops with uniform parts and weapons components during the war. He was a frequent guest at the influential gatherings held at the Pugwash home of industrialist Cyrus Eaton and a leading figure of both the Empire Club and the Granite Club. He was a keen golfer and a well-known figure at the Royal Canadian Yacht Club. The Prime Minister, reached by telephone at his private estate of “Kingsmere,” commented, “Mr. Griffen was one of this country’s most able men. His loss will be deeply felt.”
   Mr. Griffen was the brother-in-law of the late Laura Chase, who made her posthumous début as a novelist this spring, and is survived by his sister Mrs. Winifred (Griffen) Prior, the noted socialite, and by his wife, Mrs. Iris (Chase) Griffen, as well as by his ten-year-old daughter Aimee. The funeral will be held in Toronto at the Church of St. Simon the Apostle on Wednesday.
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Pol Muškarac
Poruke Odustao od brojanja
Zastava 44°49′N - 20°29′E
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The Blind Assassin:
The park bench

   Why were there people, on Zycron? I mean human beings like us. If it’s another dimension of space, shouldn’t the inhabitants have been talking lizards or something?
   Only in the pulps, he says. That’s all made up. In reality it was like this: Earth was colonized by the Zycronites, who developed the ability to travel from one space dimension to another at a period several millennia after the epoch of which we speak. They arrived here eight thousand years ago. They brought a lot of plant seeds with them, which is why we have apples and oranges, not to mention bananas—one look at a banana and you can tell it came from outer space. They also brought animals—horses and dogs and goats and so on. They were the builders of Atlantis. Then they blew themselves up through being too clever. We’re descended from the stragglers.
   Oh, she says. So that explains it. How very convenient for you.
   It’ll do in a pinch. As for the other peculiarities of Zycron, it has seven seas, five moons, and three suns, of varying strengths and colours.
   What colours? Chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry?
   You aren’t taking me seriously.
   I’m sorry. She tilts her head towards him. Now I’m listening. See?

   He says: Before its destruction, the city—let’s call it by its former name, Sakiel-Norn, roughly translatable as The Pearl of Destiny—was said to have been the wonder of the world. Even those who claim their ancestors obliterated it take great pleasure in describing its beauty. Natural springs had been made to flow through the carved fountains in the tiled courtyards and gardens of its numerous palaces. Flowers abounded, and the air was filled with singing birds. There were lush plains nearby where herds of fat gnarr grazed, and orchards and groves and forests of tall trees that had not yet been cut down by merchants or burned by spiteful enemies. The dry ravines were rivers then; canals leading from them irrigated the fields around the city, and the soil was so rich the heads of grain were said to have measured three inches across.
   The aristocrats of Sakiel-Norn were called the Snilfards. They were skilled metalworkers and inventors of ingenious mechanical devices, the secrets of which they carefully guarded. By this period they had invented the clock, the crossbow, and the hand pump, though they had not yet got so far as the internal combustion engine and still used animals for transport.
   The male Snilfards wore masks of woven platinum, which moved as the skin of their faces moved, but which served to hide their true emotions. The women veiled their faces in a silk-like cloth made from the cocoon of the chaz moth. It was punishable by death to cover your face if you were not a Snilfard, since imperviousness and subterfuge were reserved for the nobility. The Snilfards dressed luxuriously and were connoisseurs of music, and played on various instruments to display their taste and skill. They indulged in court intrigues, held magnificent feasts, and fell elaborately in love with one another’s wives. Duels were fought over these affairs, though it was more acceptable in a husband to pretend not to know.
   The smallholders, serfs, and slaves were called the Ygnirods. They wore shabby grey tunics with one shoulder bare, and one breast as well for the women, who were—needless to say—fair game for the Snilfard men. The Ygnirods were resentful of their lot in life, but concealed this with a pretense of stupidity. Once in a while they would stage a revolt, which would then be ruthlessly suppressed. The lowest among them were slaves, who could be bought and traded and also killed at will. They were prohibited by law from reading, but had secret codes that they scratched in the dirt with stones. The Snilfards harnessed them to ploughs.
   If a Snilfard should become bankrupt, he might be demoted to an Ygnirod. Or he might avoid such a fate by selling his wife or children in order to redeem his debt. It was much rarer for an Ygnirod to achieve the status of Snilfard, since the way up is usually more arduous than the way down: even if he were able to amass the necessary cash and acquire a Snilfard bride for himself or his son, a certain amount of bribery was involved, and it might be some time before he was accepted by Snilfard society.
   I suppose this is your Bolshevism coming out, she says. I knew you’d get around to that, sooner or later.
   On the contrary. The culture I describe is based on ancient Mesopotamia. It’s in the Code of Hammurabi, the laws of the Hittites and so forth. Or some of it is. The part about the veils is, anyway, and selling your wife. 1 could give you chapter and verse.
   Don’t give me chapter and verse today, please, she says. 1 don’t have the strength for it, I’m too limp. I’m wilting.

   It’s August, far too hot. Humidity drifts over them in an invisible mist. Four in the afternoon, the light like melted butter. They’re sitting on a park bench, not too close together; a maple tree with exhausted leaves above them, cracked dirt under their feet, sere grass around. A bread crust pecked by sparrows, crumpled papers. Not the best area. A drinking fountain dribbling; three grubby children, a girl in a sunsuit and two boys in shorts, are conspiring beside it.
   Her dress is primrose yellow; her arms bare below the elbow, fine pale hairs on them. She’s taken off her cotton gloves, wadded them into a ball, her hands nervous. He doesn’t mind her nervousness: he likes to think he’s already costing her something. She’s wearing a straw hat, round like a schoolgirl’s; her hair pinned back; a damp strand escaping. People used to cut off strands of hair, save them, wear them in lockets; or if men, next to the heart. He’s never understood why, before.
   Where are you supposed to be? he says.
   Shopping. Look at my shopping bag. I bought some stockings; they’re very good—the best silk. They’re like wearing nothing. She smiles a little. I’ve only got fifteen minutes.
   She’s dropped a glove, it’s by her foot. He’s keeping an eye on it. If she walks away forgetting it, he’ll claim it. Inhale her, in her absence.
   When can I see you? he says. The hot breeze stirs the leaves, light falls through, there’s pollen all around her, a golden cloud. Dust, really.
   You’re seeing me now, she says.
   Don’t be like that, he says. Tell me when. The skin in the V of her dress glistens, a film of sweat.
   I don’t know yet, she says. She looks over her shoulder, scans the park.
   There’s nobody around, he says. Nobody you know.
   You never know when there will be, she says. You never know who you know.
   You should get a dog, he says.
   She laughs. A dog? Why?
   Then you’d have an excuse. You could take it for walks. Me and the dog.
   The dog would be jealous of you, she says. And you’d think I liked the dog better.
   But you wouldn’t like the dog better, he says. Would you?
   She opens her eyes wider. Why wouldn’t I?
   He says, Dogs can’t talk.
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Pol Muškarac
Poruke Odustao od brojanja
Zastava 44°49′N - 20°29′E
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The Toronto Star, August 25, 1975

Novelist’s Niece Victim of Fall
Special to the Star


   Aimee Griffen, thirty-eight, daughter of the late Richard E. Griffen, the eminent industrialist, and niece of noted authoress Laura Chase, was found dead in her Church St. basement apartment on Wednesday, having suffered a broken neck as a result of a fall. She had apparently been dead for at least a day. Neighbours Jos and Beatrice Kelley were alerted by Miss Griffen’s four-year-old daughter Sabrina, who often came to them for food when her mother could not be located.
   Miss Griffen is rumoured to have undergone a lengthy struggle with drug and alcohol addiction, having been hospitalized on several occasions. Her daughter has been placed in the care of Mrs. Winifred Prior, her great-aunt, pending an investigation. Neither Mrs. Prior nor Aimee Griffen’s mother, Mrs. Iris Griffen of Port Ticonderoga, was available for comment.
   This unfortunate event is yet another example of the laxity of our present social services, and the need for improved legislation to increase protection for children at risk
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Zodijak Gemini
Pol Muškarac
Poruke Odustao od brojanja
Zastava 44°49′N - 20°29′E
mob
Apple iPhone 6s
The Blind Assassin:
The carpets

   The line buzzes and crackles. There’s thunder, or is it someone listening in? But it’s a public phone, they can’t trace him.
   Where are you? she says. You shouldn’t phone here.
   He can’t hear her breathing, her breath. He wants her to put the receiver against her throat, but he won’t ask for that, not yet. I’m around the block, he says. A couple of blocks. I can be in the park, the small one, the one with the sundial.
   Oh, I don’t think…
   Just slip out. Say you need some air. He waits.
   I’ll try.

   At the entrance to the park there are two stone gateposts, four-sided, bevelled at the top, Egyptian-looking. No triumphal inscriptions however, no bas-reliefs of chained enemies kneeling. Only No Loitering and Keep Dogs on Leash.
   Come in here, he says. Away from the street light.
   I can’t stay long.
   I know. Come in behind here. He takes hold of her arm, guiding her; she’s trembling like a wire in a high wind.
   There, he says. Nobody can see us. No old ladies out walking their poodles.
   No policemen with nightsticks, she says. She laughs briefly. The lamplight filters through the leaves; in it, the whites of her eyes gleam. I shouldn’t be here, she says. It’s too much of a risk.
   There’s a stone bench tucked up against some bushes. He puts his jacket around her shoulders. Old tweed, old tobacco, a singed odour. An undertone of salt. His skin’s been there, next to the cloth, and now hers is.
   There, you’ll be warmer. Now we’ll defy the law. We’ll loiter.
   What about Keep Dogs on Leash?
   We’ll defy that too. He doesn’t put his arm around her. He knows she wants him to. She expects it; she feels the touch in advance, as birds feel shadow. He’s got his cigarette going. He offers her one; this time she takes it. Brief match-flare inside their cupped hands. Red finger-ends.
   She thinks, Any more flame and we’d see the bones. It’s like X-rays. We’re just a kind of haze, just coloured water. Water does what it likes. It always goes downhill. Her throat fills with smoke.
   He says, Now I’ll tell you about the children.
   The children? What children?
   The next instalment. About Zycron, about Sakiel-Norn.
   Oh. Yes.
   There are children in it.
   We didn’t say anything about children.
   They’re slave children. They’re required. I can’t get along without them.
   I don’t think I want any children in it, she says.
   You can always tell me to stop. Nobody’s forcing you. You’re free to go, as the police say when you’re lucky. He keeps his voice level. She doesn’t move away.

   He says: Sakiel-Norn is now a heap of stones, but once it was a flourishing centre of trade and exchange. It was at a crossroads where three overland routes came together—one from the east, one from the west, one from the south. To the north it was connected by means of a broad canal to the sea itself, where it possessed a well-fortified harbour. No trace of these diggings and defensive walls remains: after its destruction, the hewn stone blocks were carried off by enemies or strangers for use in their animal pens, their water troughs, and their crude forts, or buried by waves and wind under the drifting sand.
   The canal and the harbour were built by slaves, which isn’t surprising: slaves were how Sakiel-Norn had achieved its magnificence and power. But it was also renowned for its handicrafts, especially its weaving. The secrets of the dyes used by its artisans were carefully guarded: its cloth shone like liquid honey, like crushed purple grapes, like a cup of bull’s blood poured out in the sun. Its delicate veils were as light as spiderwebs, and its carpets were so soft and fine you would think you were walking on air, an air made to resemble flowers and flowing water.
   That’s very poetic, she says. I’m surprised.
   Think of it as a department store, he says. These were luxury trade goods, when you come right down to it. It’s less poetic then.
   The carpets were woven by slaves who were invariably children, because only the fingers of children were small enough for such intricate work. But the incessant close labour demanded of these children caused them to go blind by the age of eight or nine, and their blindness was the measure by which the carpet-sellers valued and extolled their merchandise: This carpet blinded ten children, they would say. This blinded fifteen, this twenty. Since the price rose accordingly, they always exaggerated. It was the custom for the buyer to scoff at their claims. Surely only seven, only twelve, only sixteen, they would say, fingering the carpet. It’s coarse as a dishcloth. It’s nothing but a beggar’s blanket. It was made by a gnarr.
   Once they were blind, the children would be sold off to brothel-keepers, the girls and the boys alike. The services of children blinded in this way fetched high sums; their touch was so suave and deft, it was said, that under their fingers you could feel the flowers blossoming and the water flowing out of your own skin.
   They were also skilled at picking locks. Those of them who escaped took up the profession of cutting throats in the dark, and were greatly in demand as hired assassins. Their sense of hearing was acute; they could walk without sound, and squeeze through the smallest of openings; they could smell the difference between a deep sleeper and one who was restlessly dreaming. They killed as softly as a moth brushing against your neck. They were considered to be without pity. They were much feared.
   The stories the children whispered to one another—while they sat weaving their endless carpets, while they could still see—was about this possible future life. It was a saying among them that only the blind are free.

   This is too sad, she whispers. Why are you telling me such a sad story?
   They’re deeper into the shadows now. His arms around her finally. Go easy, he thinks. No sudden moves. He concentrates on his breathing.
   I tell you the stories I’m good at, he says. Also the ones you’ll believe. You wouldn’t believe sweet nothings, would you?
   No. I wouldn’t believe them.
   Besides, it’s not a sad story, completely—some of them got away.
   But they became throat-cutters.
   They didn’t have much choice, did they? They couldn’t become the carpet-merchants themselves, or the brothel-owners. They didn’t have the capital. So they had to take the dirty work. Tough luck for them.
   Don’t, she says. It’s not my fault.
   Nor mine either. Let’s say we’re stuck with the sins of the fathers.
   That’s unnecessarily cruel, she says coldly.
   When is cruelty necessary? he says. And how much of it? Read the newspapers, I didn’t invent the world. Anyway, I’m on the side of the throat-cutters. If you had to cut throats or starve, which would you do? Or screw for a living, there’s always that.
   Now he’s gone too far. He’s let his anger show. She draws away from him. Here it comes, she says. I need to get back. The leaves around them stir fitfully. She holds out her hand, palm up: there are a few drops of rain. The thunder’s nearer now. She slides his jacket off her shoulders. He hasn’t kissed her; he won’t, not tonight. She senses it as a reprieve.
   Stand at your window, he says. Your bedroom window. Leave the light on. Just stand there.
   He’s startled her. Why? Why on earth?
   I want you to. I want to make sure you’re safe, he adds, though safety has nothing to do with it.
   I’ll try, she says. Only for a minute. Where will you be?
   Under the tree. The chestnut. You won’t see me, but I’ll be there.
   She thinks, He knows where the window is. He knows what kind of tree. He must have been prowling. Watching her. She shivers a little.
   It’s raining, she says. It’s going to pour. You’ll get wet.
   It’s not cold, he says. I’ll be waiting.
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