To Dream Even of Such Things

But he did know now, know in fact, that grief could not be shared. Joy could be shared. You could give it out among many people. It could multiply. But grief singled people out. There were names in his memory of places where his friends had died but these names meant nothing to people. If he said there was this place, or, this was the place, it would be imagined by other people to be different from the way it really was. So he did not say anything. Consecration. He made other people powerless. He had not chosen to be this way but that was how things were now. People would look at him and know that there was nothing to be done, they could not help.

He went out into the corridor. It was empty. He did not close the door but stood there for some time with his hand on the doorknob. It gradually turned warm from the heat of his hand. He turned and went back in. The room hummed.

In CM he had always paid attention to the Casualty Reports when they came in. There were often long delays. But they always did come and he would look at the names of those who had died. People he knew or barely did. There was a column that indicated the exact time when someone was declared dead.  That was important for him. He tried to think of what he had been doing at those times and he could never really remember. People found the blank spaces in his memory and went into those spaces to die. S—had died in a training accident when he left the safety off the amph-AR and two rounds had gone up through his chin and left socket into his brain. March 20, 1422 hrs. Ary thought about that. What had he been doing then? B—killed in a firefight on Anholt. That was how he thought about but it was wrong. B— had died 18 hours later in TRR. November 1 6003 hrs. But when B—was hit he imagined that she could see everything coming after. And yet he did not know what he had been doing then. How did they do this? He thought vaguely that he might have been pulling up a schedule for his platoon then but he did not know for sure. His mind was filled with anatomies of place and time, with duty and knowledge even, and yet the death of those he knew was set off against absolutely nothing. There was no context. As I walked out onto the parade ground my friend died, or, as John told me about the drop schedule my friend died, or, as I gave them the 72 and they cursed with joy and cheered and pissed in the wind my friend died. Nothing at all like that. It was strange how there was nothing to signal what was happening. Happening far away, yes, but things of such importance would leave some a mark, something faintly fired to land far away. Thump. But there was nothing there. Maybe it was not true that people found a way to be forgotten. Maybe it was simply that he was forgetting everything and it was going away because so much had happened. He thought about everyone else seeing the Reports. All of them spread out across so much space nonetheless feeling the same kind of disgrace. One transgression stoked by another, rolling on. Was he surprised? After all time moved on and they would lapse as people. It was to be expected.

Toha’s End

[TW: rape]

Toha lay in his bunk. Outside he could hear people moving. He could hear people talking. He was relieved at that; after what had happened over the last week he wanted his troops to feel like they could go on. He could see that some of them hated it; and how could he blame them? Things had turned out very different from what they had thought. It was not just the Woodpecker, although that had been a real problem. It was the fact that they were seeing so many dead people, and that when people failed now there were real costs to be borne. Some of the other sergeants thought he was too soft. Lehane had told him that, Scolia too, in the mess. You need to remind them what is at stake, they said. Toha thought that this was very strange. At first he had understood but the more and more he thought about it the more he realised it was wrong to do things this way. How could anyone really understand what was at stake, really? People would fight and die for friends, probably, and maybe not even that. But these soldiers who had chosen to leave Tyne, had chosen to leave all their homes, they were either fools or cowards. Toha did not blame them. If they wanted to come because they thought it was a duty they were fools but all peoples needed fools like that to keep their civilisations running. It was not, he realised sooner or later, a pull of duty that people felt. It was hatred of the enemy. Toha thought of the Everent kid; he was angry, wasn’t he? He was frozen like a spasm of rage. And yet over here the enemy was as unknowable as its methods. How could you properly hate them? And then there were fools. People who were running away. Toha knew he was one of these fools and so he could not bear to think ill of them.

But he was a sergeant and he felt pride in that. He let him admit this to himself. He thought that he was a good sergeant. Dimly he thought that his methods were better than the methods of the other sergeants and that they would come round to seeing his point eventually.

(“If we survive this,” he said to himself, softly, in his bunker, surprising himself. He thought for a while about how strange it had felt to break the small black silence. )

But that was true, wasn’t it? His section performed exceptionally well. His men and women had not slept for fifty hours now but earlier they had gotten their job done. They had all come back from the recon together. It was impossible to deny their performance. And it was not true – now everyone knew this – it was not true that he was always soft, that was a one-tone sergeant. He had humiliated Teller. That one was a bastard. He was like Everent but his hate was indiscriminate. At least Toha knew that it extended with particular vehemence towards his superiors. He was always smirking or glaring and he lazed off all the time. When he lost his rifle Toha had seen a chance and he had taken it. Toha remembered that even while he was speaking to Teller he had felt a strange undercurrent of exultation inside him, how he had felt his hands start to shake inside his pockets, and how his awareness had grown strangely in that moment so that he knew that the rest of the platoon was looking at him, that they were thinking that he was not capable of this and yet there he was doing it. Toha  knew Teller was mad. He knew that seething look. He ignored it because he trusted Teller to grow out of it and because, when it came down to it, he knew that Teller knew that Toha was a better sergeant for him than Lehane or Scolia or Dermid.

Toha could not sleep. There was another thing that was making him think, another thing that gave him a dull thrill that he could not shake off, and that was what had happened to Scolia. He was going to be discharged, after what he did to that guy – what was his name? – that guy who talked back. Toha did not dislike Scolia at all, not at all, but a part of him he was still quite new to thought that what Scolia did reflected the essential correctness of his, Toha’s, method. Toha would never have done something like that. He was too sensitive to his people, too attuned to their inside struggles. Well, no, that was flattering himself. But he knew that his disposition never tended towards cruelty and that he could not have attacked one of his own men or women that way.

But nonetheless. Things were looking good for him. His people looked at him differently now. Was respect the word? Maybe it was respect.

Maybe Toha would actually start fucking someone soon, as a sort of vague self-celebratory gesture. He would get someone to show him. What a stupid thought, he told himself. There was no time to celebrate now. He slept in the darkness.

When Toha awoke it was still completely black and then he realised that his eyes were open and something was over his head. Someone was playing around. But then when he was on his back and someone had pinned his arm above his head and his knee in the crook of an arm he started to realise what this sick mimicry of power was, he started to get confused, he shook off the joke. He tried to open his mouth to say, hey, what’s going on here, and when he realised that he could not open his mouth he tried to shout or scream and then he realised that he could not do that either. Someone said in his ear “You will not make a noise.” The tone and timbre of it put him in a sudden horror. He tried to access Interface and got nothing but buzzing in his head.

Toha was dragged out of his bunk by his ear. He heard someone say, “You are going to like this.” He tried to twist around but when his flailing arms connected with someone a hand grabbed his fingers and did something to them very painful. “Stand,” the voice said. But Toha couldn’t stand and he threw up inside his bag. Then he was bodily dragged down steps, since he did not stand, and he felt the concrete edges bite all over his head and back. He heard the voice ask, “You turned the Watch off, yeah?” and then someone said, “Yes,” and someone else, “Don’t worry.”

Emm was in it, she was in it too. And Kripke. But they were not even in his section. He tried desperately to speak. He thought that if only he could speak to either of them, if they heard his voice, they would call this off, but his mouth could not move. He did not stop kicking until he felt through the fabric the nose of a Botze pressing against a kneecap and a stun round was discharged. He did make a sound them, a high “Heeeeeee….” that was shockingly soft. Someone hit him in the side of his head.

Because the rest of him was numb Toha listened to sounds of boots on metal. It echoed. Why had he not noticed that? It echoed and he could feel the vibrations through this skin.

The floor changed. It was dusty. The thing covering Toha’s head came off and he looked at the behemoths. They towered. The light was a white as the faces and the faces were fixed and eternal. Toha started blubbering when he saw them. “Look at the fucker,” the voice said from on high. “I swear he enjoys crying. Get up.” Toha got up and stared, wild-eyed. “Look at this. This is a sergeant. Take off your clothes.”

They made him lie down and they sat on him so he could not move. “Get the broom over there by the stall,” the voice said. “What?” someone said, and then the voice said, “I’m not going to fuck him.” Toha could not hear the next words clearly but the sentence ended with “…disgusting. Get me the fucking broom.”

“Please,” Toha said. He said it in what he thought was a pleading way but it come out flat, drained of all passion and feeling. And then he knew that it was all over.

He kept coming in and out of consciousness but he heard someone saying, “This is a bit much for a lesson.”

Afterwards Toha went to the bathroom and hid there. He hid there until he could tolerate the panic and the pain. He tried to think thoughts that began with if only but he only cried. Eventually he looked for serious injuries. There were none: blood was a good lubricant. He felt a sick relief. He could hide this.

Invocation

Now and here in this anonymous time a man walks along the street, going to the pharmacy, because there is a pain in his chest, he is coming up to it now just around the corner, wrapped so that his face is nearly invisible in the bitter cold, thick gloves on his hands, hunched, hunched because of his anonymous age, when something turns in his head, the knitting there goes taut or loose, and he topples, a small bundle going over in the street, making no sound or crying out only once, briefly, like he is sinking, and lies there not moving, and strangers startled like timid animals with soft faces come around and say hey, hey, are you okay, even though the man has no time to say what he has to say and loses consciousness before he makes the necessary gestures, and so the strangers call an ambulance which comes eventually like a power with its anonymous noise and anonymous intent, light and hustle a skein or a variation upon essential tragedy, and a card is found in the man’s pocket with a number on it and a woman is called, a message carrying nothing with which to grief it, but not after it is determined that the man is dead, dead and cooling when the woman comes running and takes hands of the body in her own and sits down there in the anonymous street and does not cry but makes a face of true and animate pain, as she takes the gloved hands of the body in her own naked ones where anonymous veins run grey and purple and pulse, and refuses to move, and says that she will wait, she will wait for their son to arrive, I will be fine, and so she sits there as hours pass and the strangers who see that her hands are read come up to her with nothing to say and give her a coat and gloves, anonymous articles to keep her warm, because she will take nothing from the body whose face no-one can see, and the strangers give her also sheets of cardboard to lay under her and separate her from the freezing concrete as she sits there looking out at the tides moving, the lights of streets and buildings and vehicles of a terrible and changed world, a blood of anonymous realisation blooming inside her, but her only with the skin of her pained face to brunt it, the people from the ambulance waiting in their bright colours that sing and sing, talking to each other in soft voices, shaking their heads, gone now to get some food in this harsh cold, gone after having no way to spend their compassion, and because it is now night strangers come and with blind anonymous kindnesses tell her to go home, go home or you will get sick, but she tells them that it is all right, her son is on the way, and curls her anonymous head about the anonymous body, and then after time and snow and a great stillness the son does come in a car and comes out running, himself a man with children young enough to be anonymous, objects of starry intent and no pause who will bound through halls of life, chapters entire, expanding without warrant, without second thought, will and leap and run and fall, will grow up barter their souls to take fixed places as the world flickers and shuttles, will do all this without knowing this man who tottered in the street on the way to the pharmacy where he was familiar with the pharmacist, whose dead hands were held for a long time after death came, became irreversible, and left, and the son now takes the woman who looks up at the man suddenly, she sees the man come down toward her against anonymous light, and takes him in her arms and starts to make a sound, a thing untenanted that goes out and up against the anonymous snow, a vital claim sent out from an anonymous mouth against an anonymous blackness, a thing that asks to be named.