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The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid's Tale
Published: 4/25/2017
ISBN13: 9781328879943
Page Count: 320

We  slept  in  what  had  once  been  the  gymnasium.  The  floor  was  of varnished wood, with stripes and circles painted on it, for the games that  were  formerly  played  there;  the  hoops  for  the  basketball  nets were still in place, though the nets were gone. A balcony ran around the room, for the spectators, and I thought I could smell, faintly like an  afterimage,  the  pungent  scent  of  sweat,  shot  through  with  the sweet  taint  of  chewing  gum  and  perfume  from  the  watching  girls, felt-skirted  as I knew from pictures, later in miniskirts,  then pants, then  in  one  earring,  spiky  green-streaked  hair.  Dances  would  have been held there; themusic lingered, a palimpsest of unheard sound, style upon style, an undercurrent of drums, a forlorn wail, garlands made  of  tissue-paper  flowers,  cardboard  devils,  a  revolving  ball  of mirrors, powdering the dancers with a snow of light.

There  was  old  sex  in  the  room  and  loneliness,  and  expectation,  of something without a shape or name. I remember that yearning, for something that was always about to happen and was never the same as the hands that were on us there and then, in the small of the back, or  out  back,  in  the  parking  lot,  or  in  the  television  room  with  the sound turned down and only the pictures flickering over lifting flesh. We  yearned  for  the  future.  How  did  we  learn  it,  that  talent  for insatiability?   It   was   in   the   air;   and   it   was   still   in   the   air,   an after-thought, as we tried to sleep, in the army cots that had been set

up  in  rows,  with  spaces  between  so  we  could  not  talk.  We  had flannelette sheets, like children’s, and army-issue blankets, old ones that still said U.S. We folded our clothes neatly and laid them on the stools at the ends of the beds. The lights were turned down but not out. Aunt Sara and Aunt Elizabeth patrolled; they had electric cattle prods slung on thongs from their leather belts.

No guns though, even they could not be trustedwith guns. Guns were for the guards, specially picked from the Angels. The guards weren’t allowed  inside  the  building  except  when  called,  and  we  weren’t allowed out, except for our walks, twice daily, two by two around the football field, which was enclosed now by a chain-link fence topped with barbed wire. The Angels stood outside it with their backs to us. They were objects of fear to us, but of something else as well. If only they would look. If only we could talk to them. Something could be exchanged,we thought, some deal made, some tradeoff, we still had our bodies. That was our fantasy.

We learned to whisper almost without sound. In the semi-darkness we could stretch out our arms, when the Aunts weren’t looking, and touch  each  other’s  hands  across  space.  We  learned  to  lip-read,  our heads  flat  on  the  beds,  turned  sideways,  watching  each  other’s mouths.  In  this  way  we  exchanged  names,  from  bed  to  bed:  Alma. Janine. Dolores. Moira. June.

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