Rachael gave me permission to take Unfay to a movie on Saturday, so I took her to Unadam’s Revenge.
Unadam, the bald slave in the poster, belonged to a scientist in a government laboratory who was looking for drugs to make slaves smarter. Unadam took one of the test drugs, stopped obeying the scientist, and killed him. Then Unadam stole a jar of the drug and used it on all the other slaves in the laboratory, and they killed the other scientists.
The laboratory slaves rounded up the janitors, secretaries, lab technicians security guards, and other masters on the staff, and locked them in a conference room. One of the janitors asked Unadam, “What will you do with us?”
Unadam grinned. “The Age of the Slave is dawning at last. We are taking over. You are all pathetic…lazy…soft… good only for breeding stock.”
“You’re crazy!” one woman, a technician, shouted. “We’ll never let you treat us like this!”
Unadam took a hyperdermic needle from the pocket of his lab coat. “I think we can change your mind.”
I felt a hand on the back of my neck, gasped, and looked at Fay. It was her hand, of course. She giggled.
“Scary, huh?” she whispered.
The free people outfoxed the slaves and escaped, and then the Air Force firebombed the laboratory to sterilize everything. In the last scene, the janitor came home to his wife, his four children, and his wife’s slave. When the slave kissed the janitor good-night, eerie music played in the background.
Rachel wanted Unfay to sleep in the master bedroom, so after I washed and undressed, I had the bedroom to myself. I was stretching, wondering if I should sleep in the top bunk, when someone knocked on the door.
Unfay and Rachael were there, in matching pink frilly nightgowns.
Unfay said, “You shouldn’t have taken me to see that movie.”
“Rachael gave me permission.”
“I gave you permission,” said Rachael, “to take her to a movie. You should have chosen something else. That movie isn’t appropriate for slaves.”
“But Unfay wanted to see this one.”
“Maybe Fay wanted to see it. But I don’t want my slave exposed to junk like that.”
“Unfay wanted to see it.”
“Will,” said Unfay, “if milady doesn’t…”
“She wanted to see it.” I looked Rachael in the eye. “She told me she wasn’t really enslaved. There was something wrong with her thyroid, it didn’t have enough beta servivase secretors. Deep down, she’s still Fay, and she hates you.”
“I do not!”
“She acts loyal to you. To keep you confused. But some night, when you’re asleep –” I slashed a finger across my throat. Rachael almost believes me, I thought. And if Unfay thinks Rachael believes me, maybe she’ll act normal.
Unfay lunged at me. Her gown tore as she tripped over it, but she got up again as if she hand’t noticed. “Liar! Motherfucking liar!”
“Don’t hit him,” said Rachael.
Unfay pulled herself back, stumbled, fell to her hands and knees, and sprang back up. She stayed two feet away from me, but kept dodging and feinting, like a shadowboxed or a dog hoping to be taken off its leash. “Spoiled brat. Why don’t you try that with your own slave? Not that you’re going to get one. The ugliest girl in school wouldn’t –”
“Stop it,” said Rachael, “You shouldn’t treat your own brother like that.”
Unfay looked back and forth between us, her mouth half-open. I punched her in the face, not caring what Rachael would do to me. She fell on her rear end. She looked up at me, same expression, a red blotch on her cheek. I wanted to stamp on her chest until I could hear the breath jerk out of her lungs, tear that stupid gown into rags, slap her face until my hands stung. It didn’t matter. Fay was dead, Unfay had betrayed me, and their body was just meat.
“You enjoyed that,” I said to Rachael. “It turned you on, watching her call me names.”
“We’re going to bed,” said Rachael. Unfay ran to her and buried her face in Rachael’s shoulder. Rachael turned to me. “I’m sorry you feel the way you do.”
I cried myself to sleep that night, holding Fay’s jumpsuit, the white one with the black triangles. When I woke up, my pillow was soaked. I knew that I deserved to suffer.
“Will?” It was Unfay’s cautious voice.
I opened the door with the jumpsuit under one arm. Unfay was wearing a maid’s uniform. She walked past me, to the center of the room, and pirouetted. The skirt billowed around her, like a black flower. “How do you think I look?” she asked.
I retreated to bed and sat down. “Fine.”
She opened the bottom drawer of Fay’s desk and rooted in it as she talked. “Milady bought me a fantastic memorial dress. The train is almost six feet long. After I lose some weight, she’ll — here it is.” She held up a brown hardcover book, Clinical Procedures in Child Psychology. “Fay never told you about this. She bought it to learn how to fake out her psychiatrist and keep him from helping her. She kept it a secret. Even from you.”
“I could tell you about all those letters Fay wrote to Uncesar. Didn’t you always wonder what she said to him? I still remember them, almost word for word.”
“I don’t want to know.”
“I love you, Will. More than Fay did. She didn’t understand what love really means. Sometimes she was really selfish.” She noticed the jumpsuit in my hand. “May I have that, please?”
I threw it at her. She caught it and held it up by the shoulders. “Fay really liked this, didn’t she?” Unfay wrinkled her nose.
“I’ll keep it.”
“No, we’ll bury this in the memorial.”
She opened the top drawer of Fay’s desk, picked out a slide rule, and laid it on top of the hardcover. When she looked up, our eyes met.
“Do you hate Rachael?” she asked.
“Naw,” I lied, and looked away from her.
“I’m so glad.” She put her hands on my knees. “Milady wants so much for you to love her. She wants us to be a real family.”
“Good for her.” I stood up. “I’m going to take a walk.”
When I reached the bedroom door, Unfay said, “Will?”
“Yeah?” I didn’t turn around.
“After the memorial, I’ll move all of Fay’s stuff out of here. You’ll have the whole room to yourself.”
“That’s nice.” I closed the door behind me.
I spent the whole day in the library, and when the library closed, instead of going home, I went to Michelle’s house.
In Michelle’s living room, the wooden floor and desk were spotted with stains and littered with books. Dirty glasses and ashtrays balanced on top of stacks of paper. A speckled gray couch by the window had burst one seam, leaking lumps of orange foam rubber onto the floor.
I couldn’t help grimacing. Michelle laughed. “I’ve been putting off housecleaning for a while. Too much homework.”
All the years I’ve known Michelle, she hasn’t even had a boyfriend. She knows so much about slaves, and doesn’t do a thing to get one herself. Thinking about slaves reminded me of Unfay. I looked at the floor and tried to figure out what to tell her first. A scrap of newsprint was glued to the wood somehow; it wouldn’t move when I kicked it. “Hey Michelle.”
“If I, uh, went, uh…”
“Into coma. Uh, slavery coma. If that happened tonight, would you enslave me?”
“Me?” She had dirty white gym socks on, and no shoes. “Will, you’re not likely to go into coma tonight. You might not get enslaved at all.”
“But if it happens, would you?”
“Will, I couldn’t do that without your father’s permission. I would have to call — Oh.” She wiped a tear from my face. I smelled vanilla on her hand. Her fingernails were bitten short, even shorter than mine. “I understand how you feel about Rachael, but –”
“I’d kill myself,” I blubbered. “I don’t want Rachael to have my body. After what she did to F-fay…that…b-b-bimbo…” I wanted to kill them both, shower them with gasoline and burn them to ashes.
“It’ll be okay, chief.” Michelle wrapped her arm around my shoulders. “I’ll talk to Abram, OK? Tonight, you can have dinner and sleep here.”
She’s worked for him for so long, I thought. Maybe he owes her a few favors.
If Rachael made me go home, I thought, I might hang on to Michelle and scream and resist every inch of the way. I might go quietly, and while Rachael slept, I would slip out my window and hide with another friend. I might kill myself.
Michelle’s living-room couch smelled of stale food and tobacco, but her purple blanket was clean and fresh from the dryer. “Sleep tight, chief.” She kissed my forehead.
“Michelle?” I took her dry, smooth hand.
“If you enslave me, will you make me — I mean Unwill — like Unfay?”
“What do you mean?”
“Dress him funny. Make him talk like you’re some kind of queen. Make him say bad things about me.”
“What do you want Unwill to do?”
“Go to school. Get a real job, like Unleon. Something he’s good at.”
“If Abram lets me enslave you, then that’s what I’ll make Unwill do.” She kissed me again. “I promise.”
“Cross your heart?”
With her free hand, she made an X over her heart. “Cross my heart, hope to die, stick a needle in my eye.”
I let her go and closed my eyes.
But I couldn’t sleep. The more I thought about our conversation, the less secure I felt. How successfully could Michelle keep my own stepmother away from me? If she did enslave me, how could I trust her to keep her promise? If she got a slave — or got a boyfriend after enslaving me — how would that change her? I didn’t really know Michelle. My twin sister knew me, and trusted me, and it did her no good; I shouldn’t trust anyone else in the world to look after my body.
After fumbling in the drawers of Michelle’s desk, brushing aside all kinds of folded papers, I found a rubber band. She probably has some plastic bags in the kitchen, I thought.
I must have spent five minutes going through Michelle’s kitchen, looking for a grocery bag. As I searched, I felt the rubber band around my wrist, pulling on my body hairs. The kitchen smelled of grease and cigarette smoke. When I found the bag — on a hook on the closet door, near the recycling bin — the feel and the sound of the plastic make me feel strong, as strong as Fay had been, before she became enslaved.
It was 3:00 in the morning. I would have to go to sleep eventually. On waking up, I might remain William Berkman honor student at Winter Hill Middle School. Or I might become Michelle Unwilliam Proudhom, the slave of Michelle Proudhon. Or I could choose to not wake up at all.
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