We wait, the clock in the hall ticks, Serena lights another cigarette, I get into the car. It’s a Saturday morning, it’s a September, we still have a car. Other people have had to sell theirs. My name isn’t Offred, I have another name, which nobody uses now because it’s forbidden. I tell myself it doesn’t matter, your name is like your telephone number, useful only to others; but what I tell myself is wrong, it does matter. I keep the knowledge of this name like something hidden, some treasure I’ll come back to dig up, one day. I think of this name as buried. This name has an aura around it, like an amulet, some charm that’s survived from an unimaginably distant past. I lie in my single bed at night, with my eyes closed, and the name floats there behind my eyes, not quite within reach, shining in the dark.
It’s a Saturday morning in September, I’m wearing my shining name. The little girl who is now dead sits in the back seat, with her two best dolls, her stuffed rabbit, mangy with age and love. I know all the details. They are sentimental details but I can’t help that. I can’t think about the rabbit too much though, I can’t start to cry, here on the Chinese rug, breathing in the smoke that has been inside Serena’s body. Not here, not now, I can do that later.
She thought we were going on a picnic, and in fact there is a picnic basket on the back seat, beside her, with real food in it, hard-boiled eggs, thermos and all. We didn’t want her to know where we were really going, we didn’t want her to tell, by mistake, reveal anything, if we were stopped. We didn’t want to lay upon her the burden of our truth.
I wore my hiking boots, she had on her sneakers. The laces of the sneakers had a design of hearts on them, red, purple, pink, and yellow. It was warm for the time of year, the leaves were turning already, some of them; Luke drove, I sat beside him, the sun shone, the sky was blue, the houses as we passed them looked comforting and ordinary, each house as it was left behind vanishing into past time, crumbling in an instant as if it had never been, because I would never see it again, or so I thought then.
We have almost nothing with us, we don’t want to look as if we’re going anywhere far or permanent. We have the forged passports, guaranteed, worth the price. We couldn’t pay in money, of course, or put it on the Compucount: we used other things, some jewellery that was my grandmother’s, a stamp collection Luke inherited from his uncle. Such things can be exchanged, for money, in other countries. When we get to the border we’ll pretend we’re just going over on a day trip; the fake visas are for a day. Before that I’ll give her a sleeping pill so she’ll be asleep when we cross. That way she won’t betray us. You can’t expect a child to lie convincingly.
And I don’t want her to feel frightened, to feel the fear that is now tightening my muscles, tensing my spine, pulling me so taut that I’m certain I would break if touched. Every stoplight is an ordeal. We’ll spend the night at
a motel, or, better, sleeping in the car on a sideroad so there will be no suspicious questions. We’ll cross in the morning, drive over the bridge, easily, just like driving to the supermarket.
We turn onto the freeway, head north, flowing with not much traffic. Since the war started, gas is expensive and in short supply. Outside the city we pass the first checkpoint. All they want is a look at the licence, Luke does it well. The licence matches the passport: we thought of that.
Back on the road, he squeezes my hand, glances over at me. You’re white as a sheet, he says.
That is how I feel: white, flat, thin. I feel transparent. Surely they will be able to see through me. Worse, how will I be able to hold on to Luke, to her, when I’m so flat, so white? I feel as if there’s not much left of me; they will slip through my arms, as if I’m made of smoke, as if I’m a mirage, fading before their eyes. Don’t think that way, Moira would say. Think that way and you’ll make it happen.
Cheer up, says Luke. He’s driving a little too fast now. The adrenalin’s gone to his head. Now he’s singing. Oh what a beautiful morning, he sings.
Even his singing worries me. We’ve been warned not to look too happy
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