‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ has had a recent surge in popularity, especially following the TV series and the parallels one is able to draw with real life. It has been said George Orwell would not know how to even address the state of affairs we find ourselves in in 2018. I imagined a scene from Atwood’s 1985 novel, but from the Commander’s perspective. While we may have many (possibly too many) white, straight male voices in literature and life, I thought it was an interesting exercise. So I hope you like it.
She was taken. They took her, Offred. Two men, a van belonging to the Eye, and she was gone. No trace will be left. Just like before, she will be gone and a new Offred will be delivered to me. But for now, Offred has gone. From me, from this world one way or another. Dead or alive, caught or freed. I don’t know which hand she has been dealt, if she’s won the game. There could be a direct impact on me, maybe that is why I spoke out. Or maybe just because I care. I walk back to my office; I retreat to the only place where I can be me. I asked her there, for company admittedly yes, but so she could be her, the old her too. The way she was before, like I am the way I was before. But she never was. Not how I imagined her to be anyway.
I enter my office. How did she come to view this room? An escape or just another form of penance? The first time she came here, I stood in front of the fireplace. I remember trying to figure out the best way to be seen by her, the best light that I could possibly be exposed in. When she saw me, she just looked sad. I just see an old familiar room, with the familiar leather chair, the familiar fireplace, the familiar board of Scrabble. Familiar. Were we ever familiar? No. She always would close her eyes when she came to kiss me, could never bear to look at me up close, to let me drink her in. She was closed off from me, there, but her body only. Duty-bound.
I sit down, on that familiar leather chair, drained. Exhausted. I try to close my mind down, but I can only close my eyes. It provides a place for hibernation, a place of temporary safety. A darkness. Pain is easier dealt with in darkness. It gives you somewhere to hide.
Lady in red. They all are, the Handmaids. Nothing to distinguish them from one another, covered from head to toe. Funny isn’t it, that red is their chosen colour. Red. Hot, a colour of sexual desire, before. Now, it is a symbol. Of fertility, of life. Or death. The colour of blood, a warning. Blood flows easily in this world, life is fragile. Sacred. The Handmaids symbolise this, fighting hard to conceive to earn safety, often failing miserably. They take risks, like Offred with Nick. And only God knows where that has led her. Blood, will her’s be next to flow?
Offred, the new one, came to us as soon as the old one left. They don’t want to waste any time. The Ceremony comes round every month after all. The Ceremony, repulsive, sickening. I refrained from looking at her, or my Wife. It is easier that way. To think, to take in what is happening, how we now live. I used to be a good man, not perfect, but good enough. Now, I wonder if any of us are good at all. We are all complicit in our silence.
She did open her eyes though, that first time after our, arrangement if you like. Her eyes: big, never trusting. But open. She drew me to her, in that solitary acknowledgment of what had been happening between us. I reached to her, to touch her face. An act of intimacy in a world void of love or even friendship. A mistake. That was all it took to scare her away, back to her inner world where I could never reach. As easy to scare as a bird.
I wanted her to want me, like women wanted men in the old times. How men wanted women. How men want women, that is one thing that can never be changed. But she didn’t. Still she shut herself off, closed herself down, felt nothing. I wanted her to touch, to hold me like she meant it. Like how she touched, held Nick. Going to him to do a job that no-one thinks I can, turning to something more. She used to go to him after she had been with me. Sneak out after dark. My mistress, his mistress. My Wife knowing, me knowing. A game of cat and mouse that no-one can win. Two men’s bit on the side, that what it used to be called. What does that make her, a slut, a whore, or just alive in a world empty of emotion and desire?
Still, she played along, indulging me half-heartedly. That night at Jezebel’s, I thought things could change, away from the house, a further escape than just my office with just a door acting as a blockade. She was disapproving of the outfit for that night, I remember. It was old, worn, slutty. It sparkled, with sequins in the shape of stars. Catching the light. It was a deep purple, I imagined her wearing matching lipstick. Deep purple, sensual and raw. It excited her too. She wore it, and the make-up, not the purple lipstick, just a poor substitute. She did what I wanted, said what I wanted. But she couldn’t feel how I wanted. How I so desperately wanted her to feel. I remember pacing, up and down. She was in the bathroom, the archaic phrase of freshening up. That’s what women used to do, for their lovers and husbands. Maybe we could pretend. It was dark, but not dark enough for me to pretend that this is what she wanted. Not dark enough to hide behind a self-constructed lie.
My eyes open slowly, lethargic. God, I’m so tired. When did I get so tired? So old. The youth has been sucked away, a black hole sucking away the goodness and thirst for life. I am not alive, nor am I dead. I merely exist. One day to the next. Covertly finding little snippets of pleasure, of joy. The Scrabble board lies open, an invitation to be played. I put it away, that time has passed. My playmate has gone. A piece falls to the floor. A letter ‘O’ is carved into it. O for Offred. Offred. Of-Fred. Of me, belonging to me, part of me. Mine. She wasn’t though, she never was. No-one is anyone’s in this world.
I didn’t even know her name. It probably didn’t even begin with an ‘O’.