For What?

For what? somebody said.

I have to let you go, he said. It’s the law, I have to. I have to let you all go. He said this almost gently, as if we were wild animals, frogs he’d caught, in a jar, as if he were being humane.

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We’re being fired? I said. I stood up. But why?

Not fired, he said. Let go. You can’t work here any more, it’s the law. He ran his hands through his hair and I thought, he’s gone crazy. The strain has been too much for him and he’s blown his wiring.

You can’t just do that, said the woman who sat next to me. This sounded false, improbable, like something you would say on television.

It isn’t me, he said. You don’t understand. Please go, now. His voice was rising. I don’t want any trouble. If there’s trouble the books might be lost, things will get broken… He looked over his shoulder. They’re outside, he said, in my office. If you don’t go now they’ll come in themselves. They gave me ten minutes. By now he sounded crazier than ever.

He’s loopy, someone said out loud; which we must all have thought.

But I could see out into the corridor, and there were two men standing there, in uniforms, with machine guns. This was too theatrical to be true, yet there they were: sudden apparitions, like Martians. There was a dreamlike

quality to them; they were too vivid, too at odds with their surroundings.

Just leave the machines, he said while we were getting our things together, filing out. As if we could have taken them.

We stood in a cluster, on the steps outside the library. We didn’t know what to say to one another. Since none of us understood what had happened, there was nothing much we could say. We looked at one another’s faces and saw dismay, and a certain shame, as if we’d been caught doing something we shouldn’t.

It’s outrageous, one woman said, but without belief. What was it about this that made us feel we deserved it?

When I got back to the house nobody was there. Luke was still at work, my daughter was at school. I felt tired, bone-tired, but when I sat down I got up again, I couldn’t seem to sit still. I wandered through the house, from room to room. I remember touching things, not even that consciously, just placing my fingers on them; things like the toaster, the sugar bowl, the ashtray in the living room. After a while I picked up the cat and carried her around with me. I wanted Luke to come home. I thought I should do something, take steps; but I didn’t know what steps I could take.

I tried phoning the bank again, but I only got the same recording. I poured myself a glass of milk – I told myself I was too jittery for another coffee – and went into the living room and sat down on the sofa and put the glass of milk on the coffee table, carefully, without drinking any of it. I held the cat up against my chest so I could feel her purring against my throat.

After a while I phoned my mother at her apartment, but there was no answer. She’d settled down more by then, she’d stopped moving every few years; she lived across the river, in Boston. I waited a while and phoned Moira. She wasn’t there either, but when I tried half an hour later she was in. In between those phone calls I just sat on the sofa. What I thought about was my daughter’s school lunches. I thought maybe I’d been giving her too many peanut-butter sandwiches.

I’ve been fired, I told Moira when I got her on the phone. She said she would come over. By that time she was working for a women’s collective, the publishing division. They put out books on birth control and rape and things like that, though there wasn’t as much demand for those things as there used to be.

I’ll come over, she said. She must have been able to tell from my voice that this was what I wanted.

She got there after some time. So, she said. She threw off her jacket, sprawled into the oversized chair. Tell me. First we’ll have a drink.

She got up and went to the kitchen and poured us a couple of Scotches, and came back and sat down and I tried to tell her what had happened to me. When I’d finished, she said, Tried getting anything on your Compucard today?

Yes, I said. I told her about that too.

They’ve frozen them, she said. Mine too. The collective’s too. Any account with an F on it instead of an M. All they needed to do is push a few buttons. We’re cut off.

But I’ve got over two thousand dollars in the bank, I said, as if my own account was the only one that mattered.

Women can’t hold property any more, she said. It’s a new law. Turned on the TV today?

No, I said.

It’s on there, she said. All over the place. She was not stunned, the way I was. In some strange way she was gleeful, as if this was what she’d been expecting for some time and now she’d been proven right. She even looked more energetic, more determined. Luke can use your Compucount for you, she said. They’ll transfer your number to him, or that’s what they say. Husband or male next of kin.

But what about you? I said. She didn’t have anyone.

I’ll go underground, she said. Some of the gays can take over our numbers and buy us things we need.

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