William couldn't fall asleep. He was cold and hungry and the bed he was sleeping in was too small for his 6'5" frame. He knew he should be glad to have a bed, the week before had been spent camping out on cold, hard, ground but the bed wasn't much better really. And the house was only marginally warmer.
He tossed and turned for a while longer before giving up. He reached for his wallet and pulled out a folded picture. She was smiling. Radiant. Happy. He closed his eyes and pulled up some of his most worn memories. The ones that would have fold marks like the picture, fuzzy edges from being held too often, looked at too much. The ones that got him through the cold, uncomfortable nights. The ones that helped him forget the day.
She was cooking breakfast. Eggs. The chickens in the yard were still laying plenty of eggs. And even though he knew they would be either over cooked or underdone he was still looking forward to a warm breakfast to start the day. She was also terrible at making coffee. It was going to be bitter, watered down, burnt or cold. Never could predict how it would be bad, but it was going to be bad.
She was lousy at cooking. But she was great at making conversation. She always gave him something to think about.
"How did you get that scar?" William asked.
Her hand reached up to the side of her head, fingers caressing the raised and puckered skin. "It was a tattoo."
"Did it get infected or something?"
She had laughed. That bitter laugh that he would replay in his head over and over again, trying to hear the joyful laugh inside of it. "No. They cut it out of my skin."
He had looked shocked. He had been shocked. He could still be shocked in those days. "Who cut it out?"
She had turned and looked at him. What he thought of as her "don't be an idiot" look. "When they shaved my head they saw the tattoo so they cut it out."
"Because you can't shame someone who has chosen to be that way."
He didn't understand what she was saying. That was probably why she often gave him that don't be an idiot look.
She sighed, "They shaved my head to shame me. To make me look less than. To make me unattractive. But the tattoo shows that this is not the first time my head has been shaved. That at some point I chose to shave my head. I chose to be bald. I chose to decorate my bare scalp in celebration of my baldness. Shaving my head to shame me doesn't work if it reveals I am not ashamed."
"What was the tattoo?" He wanted to picture her from before. What would she have gotten a tattoo of?
"It was a rose." Her fingers traced the scar again. "My sister and I got them together."
"My mother had cancer."
He started to say he was sorry and she raised her hand to stop him. "Don't do that. Don't tell me how sorry you are for my loss. Just don't."
She turned back to the stove and then kept talking, "When she lost her hair my sister, my aunt, and I all shaved our heads as well. When the doctors told us that the treatment wasn't going to work my sister and I shaved them again and got roses tattooed on our scalps. Her name was Rose."
She kept her back to him. He didn't say anything. But he remembered watching her touch the scar and thought about it a lot. How it must feel. That raised and puckered skin. How it must feel to her, to have lost that piece that connected her to her mother and to her sister. He ate his overcooked eggs and drank his watered down coffee.
Another morning a few weeks later they were talking about movies.
She was cooking again. He was waiting for breakfast. The house was warm and cozy. And she was talking more than normal which made it even better.
"Is it a reflection of society or was society shaped by its reflection?"
"It's just a story."
"It's just a story that is told over and over again. So is it just a story at that point or is it a blueprint?"
He was lost again but he didn't want her to stop talking. "It's not even that common of a story."
She shook her head, "Really? It's not? If you have a strong woman in a movie how do you show her vulnerability? She's raped. Or you say she had been raped and that's what made her tough. If you have a man that you need to spur into action how do you do it? You rape the woman he's closest to. Rape has been used as a plot device since stories have been told. Is it because rape has always been used as a weapon, or is that rape is now used as a weapon because we've seen it so many times in our stories?"
"But the stories show how awful it is, so maybe it's a lesson."
"Does it really show that? If the outcome is that the hero is heroic, that the woman is stronger than she knew, or more vulnerable than she was before, is it really showing that it's awful? Or is it giving permission to use it as needed?"
"I think it's awful."
She nodded then shrugged her shoulders. Placing his plate of runny eggs in front of him he noticed the line of bruises around her wrist. He didn't ask where she got them.
A week or so later she was cracking eggs getting about half of the shells in the mix.
"Are you from here originally?"
"Yeah. Born and raised. I left for college but I came back."
She cut him off, "You are from some quiet suburb someplace. Not quite a city boy, but not really one of the country kids either. In the middle."
"How do you know that?"
"Your accent for one. Your friends all have country accents. You don't."
She always called them his friends. He had corrected her a few times, they weren't his friends, they were part of his regiment, but not really friends. She had just shaken her head and said they weren't hers and yet here they were so they must be his. He had stopped arguing.
"My accent gives me away?"
"And your manners."
He pulled his elbows off the table quickly.
"Not manners like that. Manners like mannerisms I guess. You approach the world a little differently."
"So do you, but you were raised here."
"But I left and came back. I saw other ways to be. I'm from here, but not all here." She laughed her bitter laugh again.
"Why do you talk to me and not anyone else?" His friends as she called them always said it was weird that she never spoke. But they were never here for breakfast.
"Because you listen. Because I want you to hear me."
A few weeks later her jaw had a dark black bruise lining it.
They were talking about the 2nds. They were moving out soon and he was excited.
"It's not going to be fun, you know." She never really talked about what he was going to do. This was new.
"Well, no it's not supposed to be fun. It's important though. We have to make things right."
She laughed, "Right. Sure."
"What are you going to do when we leave?"
"Same as I'm doing now, I guess. Wait for one of you to be smart enough to kill me."
He laughed. She had to be joking. "Why would any of us kill you? We aren't killers."
She nodded. "It's not going to be like you think out there."
He was frustrated. She didn't know anything. She had been a subversive. That's why her head was shaved. To show that she wasn't really one of them. He shouldn't have let himself forget that.
"We are defending The Constitution. We are the 2nds!"
"You should have read it before you decided to defend it. Did you know there are other amendments after the 2nd? The 3rd would be interesting to you I would think."
He was mad and wanted to give her a smart answer about defending all of the amendments, but he knew it had to be a trap. He had no idea what the third amendment even said. But she wouldn't have brought it up if she didn't have a point. She always made him think.
"Why are you waiting for one of us to kill you? Why haven't you just killed yourself?" Even as he said it he regretted it. Kill yourself was not what he wanted to say. He was going to take it back, but then she answered.
"I did. A long time ago."
"When I decided to stay when all of my friends where moving away. When I made the choice to help others get out. I knew the risk. I told myself it was like my mother's cancer. I was going to die anyway but I could help. I sent people to the city. As many as I could. When the fence was electrified and the gate locked I knew it was too late. It was like the cancer had spread. When they shaved my head and cut out my tattoo. When they put in the tracker. When they forced me to open my doors to you and your friends. This will kill me. Eventually. I made that choice."
"You don't have to be like that."
She smiled at him. "I do. You don't though. You have a choice still. You could walk away. Once you are on the other side of that fence, you could just walk away. Your accent would protect you."
He felt the eggs churning in his stomach. She was trying to get him to desert. That was treason. She could be shot. She would be shot. He could shoot her right now and it would be legal.
His commander did.
Going through the house before they left he found the picture. It was of her standing with friends around a table filled with food, she was wearing a chef's hat and an apron with the name of her catering company on the front.
She had been an excellent cook.