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ATWOOD, Margaret

The Handmaid’s Tale

Now there’s a space to be filled, in the too-warm air of my room, and a time also; a space-time, between here and now and there and then, punctuated by dinner. The arrival of the tray, carried up the stairs as if for an invalid. An invalid, one who has been invalidated. No valid passport. No exit.

That was what happened, the day we tried to cross at the border, with our fresh passports that said we were not who we were: that Luke, for instance, had never been divorced, that we were therefore lawful, under the law.

The man went inside with our passports, after we’d explained about the picnic and he’d glanced into the car and seen our daughter asleep, in her zoo of mangy animals. Luke patted my arm and got out of the car as if to stretch his legs and watched the man through the window of the immigration building. I stayed in the car. I lit a cigarette, to steady myself, and drew the smoke in, a long breath of counterfeit relaxation. I was watching two soldiers in the unfamiliar uniforms that were beginning, by then, to be familiar; they were standing idly beside the yellow-and-black-striped lift-up barrier. They weren’t doing much. One of them was watching a flock of birds, gulls, lifting and eddying and landing on the bridge railing beyond. Watching him, I watched them too. Everything was the color it usually is, only brighter.

It’s going to be all right, I said, prayed in my head. Oh let it. Let us cross, let us across. Just this once and I’ll do anything. What I thought I could do for whoever was listening that would be of the least use or even interest I’ll never know.

Then Luke got back into the car, too fast, and turned the key and reversed. He was picking up the phone, he said. And then he began to drive very quickly, and after that there was the dirt road and the woods and we jumped out of the car and began to run. A cottage, to hide in, a boat, I don’t know what we thought. He said the passports were foolproof, and we had so little time to plan. Maybe he had a plan, a map of some kind in his head. As for me, I was only running: away, away.