by Meredith Bronwen Mallory
'I'm reaching out to keep you from falling farther in'.
-The October Project
They've given me a TypePad, which is a disappointment, and a luxury. I had hoped they'd bring me a few sheets of plasi-paper and a pen-- the space would be limited, but it'd be easier to hide. I could slip them under the mattress, lay over them while I sleep. I've made my bed, now I'll lie in it. Instead, they've brought me a TypePad, a small one, with the keys all scrunched together on the tiny surface. Less limited space, yes, but it's harder to hide, more delicate. This, I will have to leave out in the open, or hide it someplace-- they might find it. If they cared to, they could open this and read all I've put down; they could send it to the Emperor, have it searched for codes and secrets, or bring it out for entertainment.
Maybe I'm reading too much into this. After all, who wants to read the ruminations of a dying woman?
That's what I am, a dying woman. Everyone one on this planet is dying, whether they admit it or not. In the eyes of the Empire, we are already dead.
I take a deep breath, wait several seconds, a let it out. I breathe again, short this time, hurried, as if I'm running. And I am, I am- I'm just not moving. My thoughts chase themselves in circles, shout loudly to each other and threaten to drive me mad. Another breath, I am alive, my heart beats, my lungs flutter like butterflies lacking one wing.
I appreciate this TypePad more now- who am I to complain? I can write, I can push these horrid, multi-circular thoughts out of my head. Why didn't I ask for one before? I wonder. I've been here three years. But then, if I had asked for something to write with early on, perhaps they would have denied it to me. I need this, someone to talk to, even if it's only someone of my imagining. They have gifted this to me, a companion, a pet almost, because of my position.
I suppose I should be grateful.
My fingers are flexing, itching almost painfully, I have so much I want to write down. I am a starving woman at a banquet, I want to gorge myself on words, on expression. I have to go slow though, I need to ration this, like everything else in my life.
What is there to say, after all this time? Who can I address this to? Talking to myself is useless- I need to pretend (because there's little hope this will actually reach the right person) that someone I know, someday, somehow, will read this. I feel light, almost weightless, as if I'm falling. Only, I'm falling upward... rising like a spirit, for what is there to anchor me to my body now?
I need someone to talk to.
Dare I hope that this might somehow reach you? It's like a call, long distance, from one end of the galaxy to another. A weak transmission. Would you even care, to hear what I have to say? I'd like to think you would, I need to believe that you would.
So, Anakin, how are you sleeping these days?
Outside my cell, I can hear the first shift on their way out to the fields. There isn't a window, of course, but the walls are thin enough that the sound carries. I have my own room, four walls I can call my own, and little bed. It's not a cot, like the others- or so they tell me. They like to remind me, occasionally, of who I am supposed to be. As if I'd forget. The bed is made of wood and could be antique, though its too basic for that. They pushed it up in one of the corners-- the shape is rather like a box-- and covered it with cotton sheets. It could be a child's bed, with its little drawers set into the pedestal, and rounded head/footboards. They nailed the drawers shut before they put it in here, but the job was done poorly and if I could somehow pry one open I would have a place to hide this.
I could write more freely, then.
That will be my new project. It's good to have small goals.
I have a glow lamp as well, though I don't turn it on unless I have to. They only recharge it every so often, and I don't want to be stranded in the dark. The lamp is sitting on the floor near my bed, which I have already made for the day. I sleep a great deal, usually; it offers an amazing escape. This planet has turned to its hot season, though, and the cotton sheets cling to me desperately. I become entangled in them, like a fly in a spider's web, and I can't get out. The panic that comes is often more frightening then the original fear, so sometimes I sleep on the cool stone floor. In my gray prisoner's robes, I imagine I look something like a puddle. A heap of humanity, a rag-doll, discarded by a disinterested child. Broken, perhaps?
No, no- I am many things, but I am not broken.
So, this is my room, the fruits of my privilege. This is my room, but it is also a waiting room. Here is where I wait, in a type of suspended purgatory. What is there to dread, or to anticipate?
At least I have something to do-- I need to count my blessings, horde them. I will be miserly; I can afford it. Boredom is one of the best tools for punishment. I used to lay on my back, on the floor, or on the bed in the winter, and do sit ups. One after another, after another, until I thought I might be sick from it. Compulsive exercising. But I could only do so much, or I'd start to bleed, the red fluid soaking into gray, a giant crimson stain, impossible to hide. The Stormtrooper's would spot it-- they looked for that sort of thing-- and march me down to the infirmary. The Medic Droid said I had lost enough blood, told them to make sure I sat still and let it my wounds heal. Sometimes I did it on purpose-- at least it was somewhere to go. A little excitement in life. But, then I'd have to share my meager space for two days, staring at the white-helmeted troopers, who looked like statues, melting sculptures. They stared back, or I thought they did, through their black lenses. Did they look on me with pity? Disgust? ... Fear?
After a while, their blank, unreadable stares, began to remind me of you. The cold would creep up on me, then, along the back of my neck, a phantom caress. I'd close my eyes, go to sleep, or pretend to, in hopes that they would go away.
That was stupid. You're always here when I wake up. Sleep never makes you go away, why should it work with them?
Maybe I don't want you to go away.
I'd be so lonely.
It's cooler now, but still so humid that I feel the air is almost a solid thing, hanging about like a cloak, or a heavy hand on my shoulder. I sit in the corner farthest from my bed, each shoulder touching a cool wall, hunched down like some old woman. I feel ancient, childless.
I need to remember that there are some things I shouldn't say. At least not until I get that drawer open. Suspended confession, then.
I spoke with Courwyn, today. It's hard to imagine now, having a friend, even the most casual of acquaintances, but she is my friend. At least, right now. When the going gets tough, who knows? Or perhaps I should say, when the going becomes unbearable, because the going is already tough. Hard to chew, impossible to swallow.
She reminds me of Obi-Wan, Courwyn does, just a little in the way she holds herself. She is a Baroness, or was, before she committed whatever crime has brought her here. Perhaps she is blameless, and the Emperor simply wanted her out of the way. But it's there, in her eyes, she has done something 'wrong', and she's not sorry. Like Obi-Wan, she likes to pretend that my position doesn't matter. She likes to think I'm on her level, and I like to think that, too. I want to share a bunk with another woman, to have someone above or bellow me, someone who is also alive and can convince me I exist. Sometimes I wonder, I feel so formless. Memories draw me in all directions, to childhood, to adolescence, to happier times. It's like a tug of war. I may come apart at the seams.
The first time they let me out of the infirmary, after... after what happened, I sat next to Courwyn in the mess hall. The Stormtroopers moved me in, or herded me rather, because no officer ever touches me. Sometimes I almost wish they would, their respect makes me feel unclean. They sat me down at one of the nearest tables, pushed a tray in front of me. I was told to eat. Dinner it was, I think, because I was working the evening shift in vineyard. They wanted to keep me out of the sun, so I'd heal. They should have known better than that. I could feel the eyes on me then, in the cafeteria, curious whispers. The touches of tiny, child-like fingers, looking me over. They knew who I was- who I wasn't. I felt like a witch, like a criminal. I felt guilty.
"They call you Lady Vader," Courwyn said, as soon as the troopers moved away. She leaned towards me, just a little; I could see the edges of her dark hair from the corner of my eye. I tucked my feet underneath me, kneeling on the bench, head bent down, hands clasped in front of my tray. I stared down at the food, trying to remember how to make my voice work. To the others, I must have looked like I was praying.
"Do they?" I asked, my voice so soft I was afraid she hadn't heard me. She was the first person who'd chosen to speak to me. The others, the officers, the droids, did so when they were required to. Their words had no value. I could feel this woman's words like gold in my pockets, tiny gems.
"Yes," a whisper, much like my own. She leaned towards me a little, picked up her fork and shoved some food in her mouth. "Eat," she said, a bit harshly, "It will look less suspicious."
Her voice came to me, but it was so far away, something over the horizon. I was farther back, at the beginning of the conversation. 'Lady Vader'. Surely, that had to mean something, it had to be a sign. It was like a phrase I didn't understand, and was trying to assign meaning by taking in the context.
I wasn't sure what to think.
Finally, I managed to grip the fork in my hand, though a bit awkwardly. I don't know how long they fed me through tubes. The food, a mix of grains, was tasteless, but I rolled the texture around in my mouth in appreciation. I was hungry for some sensation other than pain.
"How long have you been here?" I managed in-between bites. I hadn't realized how hungry I was. I couldn't stop eating.
"About a year," clipped tones, but not offended. I turned my face as much as I dared, tried to meet her gaze. "You?"
"I don't know," I replied, feeling lost in the maze of my own gaping memory. It was like something decayed, rusted, eaten away by agony. I realized, suddenly, that I smelled like bacta.
"Why?" she said it casually enough, but she must have been dying to ask it. It was there, in the way she paused, fork in the air. They didn't give us knives. Around me, the dull hum of conversation, like an engine, seemed to have stalled. I wondered what Courwyn would tell the others, later. Surely they would want to know, certainly she would recount our conversation. I can't imagine what they thought of me.
The Stormtroopers had forced us up from our seats and into three lines. Courwyn stood behind me, just slightly taller, leaned over me a little, waiting to hear what I would say. I angled back as much as I could stand, for the position stretched the wound on my abdomen. I brushed my short chopped hair away, aiming voice where I wanted it to go.
"Politics." It seemed banal, but it was true as far as I was concerned. As far as I knew. I could feel her eyes on me then, wondering, and I felt pathetic. The anger came quickly after that.--I was angry at you. It thrust a tint over my world then, crimson, like blood, like a weapon, the color of Naboo Morning Flowers, falling as their blooms are cut with sheers. I continue this anger even now, half-heartedly, because it requires effort, it requires that I suspend disbelief. It always passes quickly, though, replaced by sadness. That wasn't Anakin, my mind argued, argues to this day, you didn't see his eyes, you have no proof.
I know it in my bones, though, and that is the worst part.
There was a slight pressure on my shoulder, so brief I thought I'd imagined it. Then I realized it had been Courwyn, her hand on my shoulder. To what end? When I deposited my tray in the wash bin, I gazed on her in some surprise. She smiled, as much as she remembered how to.
"From one widow to another," she answered, trying to be cocky. I could almost see her as she must have been in that former life- the one before the camp and its all embracing metal walls. She must have had spunk, fire, spirit- she must have been so very pretty. I nodded then, bowing my head, and tried to return her smile. It was harder than I thought. How many women, then, must imagine their husbands dead, lest they be forced to face the truth?
I was very good at it once.
For some time, I did not see Courwyn, but others gave me evidence of her friendship. They nodded to me, or let me stand ahead of them in line for water. An older woman steadied me when I almost fell. During one of my first days in the field, a Nubian girl helped me to fill my basket. I treasure these too, these small kindnesses, to remind myself that I am human. Your shadow has not fallen over me completely, or that shadow of what you are now. Why can't I escape the idea that you are truly dead and there is someone else living in your body? Darth Vader is not real to me.
It's amazing what denial can do.
Lady Vader can not be real either, then. The existence of one proves the existence of the other-- it's a type of co-dependency. In my mind, she is someone else; a dark girl, tall and cold. Made of marble, perhaps. I must share my room, my waiting room, with her. Me, myself and I. She is like a shadow, neither dark nor light, lacking substance. Lady Vader. I've said it, once or twice, when I'm sure no one can hear me. It's like a secret code, an incantation, a spell of sorts. Black magic. I can't use it, though, it's heavy on my tongue, difficult to force past my lips. Too heavy, and hard to move around in.
I can sleep in my bed again. This is how I measure time now, by discomforts, by the amount of pain I must endure. Time is fluid here, running down the walls, the backs of my legs. The freshers for the prisoners don't have real water, it's another thing they hold over us. Water is a privilege, not to be wasted, handed out in tiny cups, to those of us that behave well.
It's a public thing, the trips to the fresher. All of us, in one long room, bodies bared, a communal nudity. We are not alone, of course, they never leave us alone. But the Stormtoopers seem more ridiculous then, standing by the door. In the hazy air, we can become goddesses, the kind engraved on the walls of some of the older buildings on Coruscant. Maybe they are embarrassed, they all seem so young that its almost possible. Perhaps they avert their gazes, beneath their unreadable masks, while their ears burn and burn. They could also very well enjoy it, as much as we do, but for different reasons. For them its cheap, a peep show. For us, it's freedom-- there are no gray prisoner's robes to define us. We are bare, we are real and made of flesh. We do not look at the troopers while we bathe; they can not lessen our power. Instead, we look at each other, an academic study. Portraits in skin.
The air is always charged, with fear, with anticipation-- here is where we can get the most information from one another. A grape-vine, women strung together, like sexless charms on a necklace. I had one of those when I was younger.
You can always tell which ones are mothers, or were mothers. I too, place my hands over the small, remaining bulge. Though it's empty now, if I close my eyes I can recapture that fullness, that sense of being a shelter. My heart beat was thunder to them, way off in the distance. I look at the others, those among them that have carried as I have carried, and I want so desperately to talk to them. Surely they too must feel the pain, must wake at night wondering, hoping there is someone there to tuck their babies in, to keep them warm and tell them a story.
How old are they now?
Whatever power we have, or think we have, in the freshers is dangerous. They shot a woman today, out in the groves. The girl standing under the unit next to mine told me, in that low, aimed whisper we use amongst ourselves. If we're not careful, they begin to think we're in collusion, planning to escape. But where would we go?
I don't even know what planet I'm on.
"What did she do?" I asked, moving my hands through my short hair, trying to shake loose the dirt. I'd already cut it, in the time before, right after you disappeared. Never once did I believe you were dead, I could feel you, your heart beat, in my inner-most self. I took the scissors to my hair, though, because no one would believe me. Or, perhaps, they kept insisting because they had something they wanted me to believe instead. The Jedi Council is not beyond reproach in my mind. Surely Obi-Wan knew something; it was in every move he made, the way he'd stare at me when he thought I couldn't see it. I dressed in black, my hair wild, framing my face. A rounded triangle.
I could have been your shadow. I didn't know it, then.
"She'd been out in the sun too long, I guess," the girl said after a pause. She'd turned around to give her left leg some attention. Her hands scrubbed against the long, red scar twisting up the side, "She pitched forward in line, one of the Stormtoopers was nearby and they thought she had a weapon. Shot her right there, didn't even set it for stun." I shuddered, passing my hand over the bottom of by rib cage, almost without thinking. The girl eyed my scar with an air of approval.
"Did you know her?" I whispered.
"No. No one did. She was new."
It's easy to forget, sometimes, how much danger we walk with daily. This is a political prison, we are political prisoners. We still have, or had, some power left which bargained us into this position. As bad as it is, it could be much worse.
Sometimes I wonder where the fruit we pick goes. The Emperor, probably. It's all very expensive, very exotic. Our hands are covered with sores from the thorns, as nimble as our fingers are, we can never quite navigate past them.
"I'd like to spit on these things," Courwyn said, the one time we had the same shift, "Or take a bite out of it."
"Don't," I said, feeling shame at my lack of bravery. "Besides, it's not like it would actually reach him. He has droids, scanners, the whole bit. Only the best. He's very vain." I snatched another pair of Corellian Lamplights from the tree, handed the ripe red orbs down the ladder to Courwyn. She eyed me strangely as she took them from.
"You sound as if you know him." There was a little accusation in her tone then. Guilt fell around me, heavy, like my funeral shroud, making it hard to see. I scratched my arms on several thorns before I managed to pick any more fruit. What was there that I could say? I should have seen it-- it's my fault, I was too trusting, too childish, too focused on the present, disregarding the future.
"He's the Emperor," I said quietly, as if that explained it. And it did.
And that under-current of suspicion is always there with us, suspended like a wall between myself and Courwyn, or anyone I am talking to. Do they wonder if I will suddenly change, turn on them?
I understand that completely.
|Harvest Day 1|
I try not to write in this too often. It's hard, I feel like a cup of words, filled to the point where all I want to do is let them spill over the side. But I only have so much space on this thing, and I would be afraid to ask for another. Who knows how long my favor will hold out, who knows how far your name will carry me? I don't want to push the limit, for there may come a time when I do need something. How will I feel then, if I have wasted what little power I have?
The shifts are longer now, I'm more tried than usual. It's harvest, the height of the planet, and you can feel it. The air is ripe, heady and waiting. Everyone, even the troopers, seem a little more relaxed, as if the warmth has stolen into their suits and thawed their bones. This is the best time; chances are everywhere. To find, to buy, to trade information. A five day window; far too short, but what else have I got?
I can't get the drawer open. I've spent hours, as much time as I dare, pulling, prying with my fingers. Maybe they did a better job with it than I thought, or I am not as strong as I used to be. Which is true. If I had something, a fork, or maybe even a spoon, I could use it as a lever. A knife would be impossible-- they never give us those. We don't even get sheers to cut the branches with. Everything we do, we do with our hands. The droids working in the west field, the unsafe field, get sheers. I envy them their blades, flashing in the sunlight, coming together, cutting off. A violent union. I want a pair so badly, so much that when we're marched past the droids I can barely breathe. The sheers wouldn't work on the drawer, though.
That's not what I want them for anyway.
Our shifts have been lengthened, consolidated. There are three shifts now, instead of five, and we eat only in the evenings. The portions are bigger, though, and because this is a special season, we are allowed in the larger cafeteria, with the officers. This is a treat for us, held out like a gift, for even we must be a appeased at times. The officers sit on the other side of a barrier-- don't think that they wouldn't segregate us-- but we know that they are there. We don't talk amongst ourselves now, not a one of us can afford it. From behind the partition, we can hear bits and pieces from the holo-broadcast, the news as translated from Coruscant. Translated, of course, because it's not really what is happening. They must change it a little, heighten the victories, lessen the defeats, or else hide them all together. Still, there must be some truth, hidden in the propaganda. A type of code; believe only the third thing you hear, or every other. Of course, it's not as simple as that. Collectively, we strain to hear, cursing the officers, the troopers, who talk amongst themselves. It's like wasting food, the way they disregard information.
We are starved for it.
I listen carefully, with the twin emotions of eagerness and dread. Antithesis has become a way of life. Will I hear something about you, in these holo-casts, or are you something that exists underneath the things they tell us? Undercover, out of sight, something feared but not seen? Out of sight, out of mind.
That's not true.
I'd like to hear something, to know you exist. I would hold it close, that bit of information, take it out and look it over when I'm alone. Turn it over, view it from every angle, ponder it as I once pondered those insane crystal puzzles of my childhood. I could try to translate it, go over every word.
Also, I don't want to hear about you, for fear that there is nothing to decode. That what they say about you is true. It would be hard to ignore, I would have to work at it. Probably, it is all true.
From a certain point of view, Obi-Wan would say.
I wonder what the others listen for. News of a brother, a sister, a son or daughter? Someone in the Imperial ranks, perhaps-- waiting for the next atrocity, the next betrayal? Or in the rebellion, praying that the loved one is still alive, still fighting while they can?
Oh, if they must die, let it be quick.
Do you know, what I did- or helped to do? Helped, yes, because no one can ever do something that large alone. Does it annoy you, when and if the rebels foil the Emperor's plans? Yours too, for you have made yourself an extension of him. Have you thought of me, when the Rebellion undoes what you try to do? I want you think of me, I want the Rebellion to be a thorn in your side.
That is my legacy. Part of it.
The Jedi do not take revenge, but I am not a Jedi. Maybe this isn't a revenge; it's not personal enough. What I want isn't revenge.
I don't know what I want.