When I was a girl, it snowed for a whole summer.
Every day, the sun rose smudgy behind a smoke-gray sky, and hovered behind its haze; in the evenings, it sank, orange and defeated, like the glowing embers of a dying flame.
And the flakes came down and down—not cold to touch, but with their own peculiar burn--as the wind brought smells of burning.
Every night, on TV, my mother and father sat us down to watch the news. All of the pictures were the same: towns neatly evacuated, cities enclosed, grateful citizens waving from the windows of shiny new buses, as they were carted off to a new future, a life of perfect happiness. A life of painlessness.
“See?” my mother would say, smiling at me and my sister Carol in turn. “We live in the greatest country on earth. See how lucky we are?”
And yet the ash continued swirling down, and the smells of death came through the windows, crept under the door, hung in our carpets and curtains, and screamed of her lie.
Is it possible to tell the truth in a society of lies? Or must you always, of necessity, become a liar?
And if you lie to a liar, is the sin somehow negated or reversed?
These are the kinds of questions I ask myself now: in these dark, watery hours, when night and day are interchangeable. No. Not true. During the day the guards come, to deliver food and take the bucket; and at night the others moan, scratch, and scream. They are the lucky ones. They are the ones who still believe that sound, that voice, will do any good. The rest of us know better, and have learned to live in silence.
I wonder what Lena is doing now. I always wonder what Lena is doing. Rachel, too: both my girls, my beautiful, big-eyed girls. But I worry about Rachel less. Rachel was always harder than Lena, somehow. More defiant, more stubborn, less feeling. Even as a little girl, she frightened me a little—fierce and fiery-eyed, with a temper like my father’s once was.
But Lena...little darling Lena, with her wide eyes and her flushed, chubby cheeks: she used to rescue spiders from the pavement to keep them getting squashed; quiet, thoughtful Lena, with the sweetest lisp to break your heart. To break my heart: my wild, uncured, erratic, incomprehensible heart. I wonder whether her front teeth still overlap a little; whether she still confuses the words pretzel and pencil occasionally; whether the wispy brown hair grew straight and long, or began to curl.
I wonder whether she believes the lies they told her.
I, too, am a liar now. I’ve become one, of necessity. I lie when I smile and return an empty tray. I lie when I ask for the Book of Shhh, pretending to have repented.
I lie just by being here, on my cot, in the dark.
Soon, it will be over. Soon, I will escape.
And then the lies will end.