فصل 36کتاب: سرگذشت ندیمه / فصل 36
- زمان مطالعه 12 دقیقه
- سطح خیلی سخت
دانلود اپلیکیشن «زیبوک»
این فصل را میتوانید به بهترین شکل و با امکانات عالی در اپلیکیشن «زیبوک» بخوانید
متن انگلیسی فصل
I knock on his door, hear his voice, adjust my face, go in. He’s standing by the fireplace; in his hand he’s got an almost-empty drink. He usually waits till I get here to start on the hard liquor, though I know they have wine with dinner. His face is a little flushed. I try to estimate how many he’s had.
“Greetings,” he says. “How is the fair little one this evening?”
A few, I can tell by the elaborateness of the smile he composes and aims. He’s in the courtly phase.
“I’m fine,” I say.
“Up for a little excitement?”
“Pardon?” I say. Behind this act of his I sense embarrassment, an uncertainty about how far he can go with me, and in what direction.
“Tonight I have a little surprise for you,” he says. He laughs; it’s more like a snigger. I notice that everything this evening is little. He wishes to diminish things, myself included. “Something you’ll like.”
“What’s that?” I say. “Chinese checkers?” I can take these liberties; he appears to enjoy them, especially after a couple of drinks. He prefers me frivolous.
“Something better,” he says, attempting to be tantalizing.
“I can hardly wait.”
“Good,” he says. He goes to his desk, fumbles with a drawer. Then he comes towards me, one hand behind his back.
“Guess,” he says.
“Animal, vegetable, or mineral?” I say.
“Oh, animal,” he says with mock gravity. “Definitely animal, I’d say.” He brings his hand out from behind his back. He’s holding a handful, it seems, of feathers, mauve and pink. Now he shakes this out. It’s a garment, apparently, and for a woman: there are the cups for the breasts, covered in purple sequins. The sequins are tiny stars. The feathers are around the thigh holes, and along the top. So I wasn’t that wrong about the girdle, after all.
I wonder where he found it. All such clothing was supposed to have been destroyed. I remember seeing that on television, in news clips filmed in one city after another. In New York it was called the Manhattan Cleanup. There were bonfires in Times Square, crowds chanting around them, women throwing their arms up thankfully into the air when they felt the cameras on them, clean-cut stony-faced young men tossing things onto the flames, armfuls of silk and nylon and fake fur, lime-green, red, violet; black satin, gold lame glittering silver; bikini underpants, see-through brassieres with pink satin hearts sewn on to cover the nipples. And the manufacturers and importers and salesmen down on their knees, repenting in public, conical paper hats like dunce hats on their heads, SHAME printed on them in red.
But some items must have survived the burning, they couldn’t possibly have got it all. He must have come by this in the same way he came by the magazines, not honestly: it reeks of black market. And it’s not new, it’s been worn before, the cloth under the arms is crumpled and slightly stained, with some other woman’s sweat.
“I had to guess the size,” he says. “I hope it fits.”
“You expect me to put that on?” I say. I know my voice sounds prudish, disapproving. Still there is something attractive in the idea. I’ve never worn anything remotely like this, so glittering and theatrical, and that’s what it must be, an old theater costume, or something from a vanished nightclub act; the closest I ever came were bathing suits, and a camisole set, peach lace, that Luke bought for me once. Yet there’s an enticement in this thing, it carries with it the childish allure of dressing up. And it would be so flaunting, such a sneer at the Aunts, so sinful, so free. Freedom, like everything else, is relative.
“Well,” I say, not wishing to seem too eager. I want him to feel I’m doing him a favor. Now we may come to it, his deep-down real desire. Does he have a pony whip, hidden behind the door? Will he produce boots, bend himself or me over the desk?
“It’s a disguise,” he says. “You’ll need to paint your face too; I’ve got the stuff for it. You’ll never get in without it.”
“In where?” I ask.
“Tonight I’m taking you out.”
“Out?” It’s an archaic phrase. Surely there is nowhere, anymore, where a man can take a woman, out.
“Out of here,” he says.
I know without being told that what he’s proposing is risky, for him but especially for me; but I want to go anyway. I want anything that breaks the monotony, subverts the perceived respectable order of things.
I tell him I don’t want him to watch me while I put this thing on; I’m still shy in front of him, about my body. He says he will turn his back, and does so, and I take off my shoes and stockings and my cotton underpants and slide the feathers on, under the tent of my dress. Then I take off the dress itself and slip the thin sequined straps over my shoulders. There are shoes, too, mauve ones with absurdly high heels. Nothing quite fits; the shoes are a little too big, the waist on the costume is too tight, but it will do.
“There,” I say, and he turns around. I feel stupid; I want to see myself in a mirror.
“Charming,” he says. “Now for the face.”
All he has is a lipstick, old and runny and smelling of artificial grapes, and some eyeliner and mascara. No eye shadow, no blusher. For a moment I think I won’t remember how to do any of this, and my first try with the eyeliner leaves me with a smudged black lid, as if I’ve been in a fight; but I wipe it off with the vegetable-oil hand lotion and try again. I rub some of the lipstick along my cheekbones, blending it in. While I do all this, he holds a large silver-backed hand mirror for me. I recognize it as Serena Joy’s. He must have borrowed it from her room.
Nothing can be done about my hair.
“Terrific,” he says. By this time he is quite excited; it’s as if we’re dressing for a party.
He goes to the cupboard and gets out a cloak, with a hood. It’s light blue, the color for Wives. This too must be Serena’s.
“Pull the hood down over your face,” he says. “Try not to smear the make-up. It’s for getting through the checkpoints.”
“But what about my pass?” I say.
“Don’t worry about that,” he says. “I’ve got one for you.”
And so we set out.
We glide together through the darkening streets. The Commander has hold of my right hand, as if we’re teenagers at the movies. I clutch the sky-blue cape tightly about me, as a good Wife should. Through the tunnel made by the hood I can see the back of Nick’s head. His hat is on straight, he’s sitting up straight, his neck is straight, he is all very straight. His posture disapproves of me, or am I imagining it? Does he know what I’ve got on under this cloak, did he procure it? And if so, does this make him angry or lustful or envious or anything at all? We do have something in common: both of us are supposed to be invisible, both of us are functionaries. I wonder if he knows this. When he opened the door of the car for the Commander, and, by extension, for me, I tried to catch his eye, make him look at me, but he acted as if he didn’t see me. Why not? It’s a soft job for him, running little errands, doing little favors, and there’s no way he’d want to jeopardize it.
The checkpoints are no problem, everything goes as smoothly as the Commander said it would, despite the heavy pounding, the pressure of blood in my head. Chickenshit, Moira would say.
Past the second checkpoint, Nick says, “Here, sir?” and the Commander says yes.
The car pulls over and the Commander says, “Now I’ll have to ask you to get down onto the floor of the car.”
“Down?” I say.
“We have to go through the gateway,” he says, as if this means something to me. I tried to ask him where we were going, but he said he wanted to surprise me. “Wives aren’t allowed.”
So I flatten myself and the car starts again, and for the next few minutes I see nothing. Under the cloak it’s stifling hot. It’s a winter cloak, not a cotton summer one, and it smells of mothballs. He must have borrowed it from storage, knowing she wouldn’t notice. He has considerately moved his feet to give me room. Nevertheless my forehead is against his shoes. I have never been this close to his shoes before. They feel hard, unwinking, like the shells of beetles: black, polished, inscrutable. They seem to have nothing to do with feet.
We pass through another checkpoint. I hear the voices, impersonal, deferential, and the window rolling electrically down and up for the passes to be shown. This time he won’t show mine, the one that’s supposed to be mine, as I’m no longer in official existence, for now.
Then the car starts and then it stops again, and the Commander is helping me up.
“We’ll have to be fast,” he says. “This is a back entrance. You should leave the cloak with Nick. On the hour, as usual,” he says to Nick. So this too is something he’s done before.
He helps me out of the cloak; the car door is opened. I feel air on my almost-bare skin, and realize I’ve been sweating. As I turn to shut the car door behind me I can see Nick looking at me through the glass. He sees me now. Is it contempt I read, or indifference, is this merely what he expected of me?
We’re in an alleyway behind a building, red brick and fairly modern. A bank of trash cans is set out beside the door, and there’s a smell of fried chicken, going bad. The Commander has a key to the door, which is plain and gray and flush with the wall and, I think, made of steel. Inside it there’s a concrete-block corridor lit with fluorescent overhead lights; some kind of functional tunnel.
“Here,” the Commander says. He slips around my wrist a tag, purple, on an elastic band, like the tags for airport luggage. “If anyone asks you, say you’re an evening rental,” he says. He takes me by the bare upper arm and steers me forward. What I want is a mirror, to see if my lipstick is all right, whether the feathers are too ridiculous, too frowzy. In this light I must look lurid. Though it’s too late now.
Idiot, says Moira.
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