The Party headquarters dominate the skyline
of the city, the spike of glass outshining all the surrounding towers. The
building takes root deep underground, the interior as vast and complex as the
laws shaped by millennia. And though the clock has yet to strike nine, people
with agendas swarm in.
One of them is Mrs. Dunnoway, a widow and
mother of one. Yesterday she quit her job at the diner. Today, she has an
appointment with the Politician.
Mrs. Dunnoway halts in the lobby and, despite
herself, cranes her neck. Perhaps the proud steel arches and elaborate
stuccowork remind her of the railway stations of the olden times. Perhaps it's
the brightness slanting through the hall's windows. Or perhaps it's something
as mundane as the mosaic tiles that still glitter after the morning wash.
Stacey, dressed in a floral silk blouse and
pencil skirt, spots Mrs. Dunnoway and sails to greet her. The strap of her
eyepatch dents her carefully arranged red curls. The campaign button pinned to
her chest states Sharing Is Caring.
"I'm so happy you have decided to join
the Party." Stacey beams, always ready to become everyone's best friend.
Mrs. Dunnoway flinches ever so slightly. She
swipes her sweaty palms in the hem of her best dress before she shakes hands
with Stacey. "I'm here for the Audience."
"I know, and I'm so excited about
that." Stacey claps her hands. "But before I can take you to see the
Politician, we'll need to pay a quick visit to Legal."
"Paperwork." Mrs. Dunnoway nods, a
gesture of a woman who's fought against the system longer than she cares to
recall. "I wouldn't expect anything less."
"I like you already," Stacey
replies and turns to lead the way. Her silk blouse shifts, revealing a vertical
slit at the back. And underneath, an old scar curving from below her ribs under
the waistline of her skirt.
Even years later, we could remember the day
Mrs. Dunnoway first saw a cosmetic scar, and even though our mind is crowded
with information and knowledge, we hold onto her memories.
The ache on her lower back as she hauled the
last moving box into the rented van. Dylan running across the yard, shouting
for Mama to look at him. Mrs. Dunnoway turning to see her son, all knees and
thin limbs and bruises, sprawl on the over-grown grass.
"My careless foal." Mrs. Dunnoway
wiping the tears off his cheek. Blowing gently at his scraped knee. "You
have to be careful."
Dylan nodding, though he would never heed her
Then, a taxi halting by the row of red
mailboxes. Mrs. Cunning, the lady next door, stepping out, smiling and
grimacing simultaneously. Calling at them in her high-pitched voice.
"Moving out, are you?"
Mrs. Dunnoway tousling Dylan's blond hair,
proud he'd stopped crying, ashamed of other things. She'd thought they could be
on their way sooner, without anyone noticing. "The Party will provide us
temporary housing. I've heard there's a park just two blocks away."
"I see." Mrs. Cunning grimacing
again, brushing her shirt's hem aside, as if by an accident.
Mrs. Dunnoway realizing the hint without
further prompting, knowing the truth, but not wanting to cause her neighbor to
lose face. "How was the Donation?"
"One must give one's all to the
cause." Mrs. Cunning beaming, though she had gone under the knife to boost
her position in the social circles, not to keep the wheels that held the nation
together rolling. "Half of my liver, to be exact."
Mrs. Dunnoway nodding as if she agreed. The
healing wound curled down Mrs. Cunning's right side. Too narrow, too short for
her words to be true.
Dear Bobby… Mrs. Dunnoway trying not to think
of her husband, thinking of him anyway. He'd sworn he was fine, returned behind
his truck's wheel too soon after his operation. He'd sworn he was fine…
We offer Mrs. Dunnoway our deepest
condolences. She accepts them now, though she might have declined them earlier.
The Legal department occupies every square
foot of the seventy-fifth floor. The paneled corridors echo with jargon, the
tables bend under the burden of paperwork. Stacey points out the library, the
bookshelves that stretch on infinitely. Centuries of legal accumulation have
transformed laws to labyrinths, clauses to corners better avoided.
"You couldn't trust a computer to bring
villains to justice or protect the unfairly accused," Stacey says.
"It has to be a man that makes the decisions!"
They pass many people, but Mrs. Dunnoway
ignores them as she listens to Stacey talk about judges and juries, loopholes
and differences in interpretation.
"The Party employs an army of lawyers
that crafts suggestions for the Politician," Stacey says.
"He approves all changes and, when
needed, pulls the right strings."
They reach the south end of the building, an
elegant black door. Stacey raps with her knuckles at the lacquered wood.
"Just a moment." The thin voice
bears curious strength. Certainty.
Mrs. Dunnoway buries the toes of her right shoe
into the carpeting. She's never owned anything as soft and luxurious. Though,
what she owns or doesn't own no longer matters.
Stacey says in a hushed voice, "Eric has
recently Donated bone marrow."
Mrs. Dunnoway keeps her gaze riveted on the
carpet. She's done her research. Eric comes from Old Money. He can afford to be
noble. He could Donate anything he wanted.
Eric opens the door and beckons them to
enter. His pinstripe suit, a half size too large, bags on his skeletal frame.
He, too, wears a campaign button. A
Thousand Eyes See Better Than Two.
"Oh, Eric!" Stacey pokes at the
button, giggles. "You're incurable!"
Eric spreads his arms wide, palms tilted up.
A drop of sweat trickles down his pallid forehead. But the comforting woodland
scent of his cologne covers all bodily odors. "Anything for you, Stacey.
Anything." He notices Mrs. Dunnoway. "Ah, but I haven't met this
charming young lady before."
Mrs. Dunnoway ignores the flattery and lets
Stacey introduce her.
As Eric flirts with Stacey, Mrs. Dunnoway
drifts past the executive desk to the window covering the entire back wall. She
blinks in the harsh sunlight as she stares into the distance. Perhaps she
searches for the diner where she worked for twenty-two years.
"Mrs. Dunnoway is here to sign the
papers," Stacey says after they've settled on the black leather seats;
Eric behind his desk, Stacey and Mrs. Dunnoway on the other side.
Eric flips open his sleek, silvery laptop.
"A standard Donation, right?"
Mrs. Dunnoway glances sideways at Stacey. Her
fingers curl around her hem.
"No, Eric," Stacey hurries to
reply. Her tone is apologetic, as if she's ready to accept blame for anything
to save Eric from humiliation. "I sent you a memo last night. Though,
maybe it got lost on the way."
"Yes, that must have been it," Eric
agrees enthusiastically. The circles around his eyes seem darker with every
passing heartbeat. It is no wonder he's made a mistake. "Now tell me, how
can I be of assistance to you?"
Stacey clears her throat before she speaks in
a borderline reverent tone. "Mrs. Dunnoway has an Audience with the
Eric's chair rolls three inches to right as
his back twitches straight. Behind him, the view over the city stretches on
forever, and he suddenly looks so very small and weak. "An Audience?"
Mrs. Dunnoway's nods once and only once.
"Please excuse my surprise - I'm still a
tad dizzy from my Donation." Eric hunches back over his laptop. His
fingers rattle against the keyboard as he searches for the memo, the right
documents. "Audiences are very rare. You did know that, Mrs.
Mrs. Dunnoway uncurls her fingers slowly,
crosses her hands on her lap.
"I have given her a full briefing,"
Stacey replies, meeting Eric's eyes. There's a coquettish tilt to her head.
After Eric has printed the papers, Stacey
staples them into neat stacks. She lingers closer to him than necessary. Eric
grins in a smug, self-satisfied way. They are both so happy here, working for
"Please don't take this wrong, but I
envy you," Eric says as he hands the first stack over to Mrs. Dunnoway.
"I'm the Politician's greatest admirer, but I have never met him. I serve
as I may, but I know that the greatest privilege will be forever denied from
Mrs. Dunnoway picks up a gold-trimmed pen from
the desk and signs the first stack. Eric might have the money, the opportunity
to Donate and recover. But for an Audience, the price is high. The blood and
tissue type match must be perfect.
"We don't see a Donation of this
magnitude very often," Eric continues.
"Your dedication to the cause is
admirable," Stacey adds.
As Eric and Stacey cherish the Party agenda
and the blooming office romance, Mrs. Dunnoway flicks through page after page.
She signs one stack after another. Her wrist aches from writing, but she
Pain means nothing to her.
We can hear the baby crying through the thin
wall, the couple next door fighting about money.
We cannot ignore these sounds, but Mrs.
Dunnoway has learned to live with what she has.
Dylan bending over the game board, moving his
red piece two squares up. Grinning expectantly at his mother.
Mrs. Dunnoway glancing at the board, at him.
She could make a winning move. She won't.
"Dylan! I believe you've won your poor
"I have?" His brown eyes gleaming
with joy, the boy looking too much like his father. "I won!"
Swear words of the vilest kind. A thump of a
body pressed against the wall. Plates shattering.
Dylan asking: "What's that?"
The baby downstairs crying louder. The young
mother telling him to be quiet.
"Bed time now." Mrs. Dunnoway
collecting the pieces from the board.
Dylan placing his hand on hers, preventing
her from picking up the last piece. "One more game?"
Mrs. Dunnoway closing her eyes, ignoring the
fight next door, the exhausted mother downstairs. How could she say no to her
son when they were alone, two people in a rented room?
"One more game."
The two of them playing the night through,
forgetting all else.
But the next day at work she dropped a coffee
pot, and the waves of dark liquid spread shards all over the floor.
Now that the deal is officially sealed,
Stacey escorts Mrs. Dunnoway back to the elevators. Mrs. Dunnoway averts her
eyes from the people sporting scars like trophies. None of the scars are cosmetic.
Each one of the men and women has sealed their party membership with blood.
By the elevator, a gaunt blond woman in a short-cropped top and beige khakis
jabs the summon button. Repeatedly, nail clicking against plastic, as if she
were in haste.
"Dolly!" Stacey's face lights up,
but a hint of deference shadows her cheer. "I thought you were on
The two women embrace, the movement awkward
as both parties treat the other as if she were made of glass.
"Time is too precious to waste when you
know you can contribute more," Dolly says as she breaks the embrace. Her
cropped top reveals the peace-sign scar on her belly, the angry red edges
touching her sternum, angling toward her hipbones. The button attached to her
shoulder states in bold black cursive Give
Your All To The Cause.
Mrs. Dunnoway shudders a step back, but then
the elevator doors open. The hollow ping is akin to a sign. The three of them
Dolly eyes Mrs. Dunnoway from head to toe,
puzzlement written across her face. "Which floor?"
"We go all the way down," Stacey
replies. "Mrs. Dunnoway here has an Audience."
Dolly inhales raggedly. She brushes the scar
on her stomach, fingers lingering on the embossed lines. "Mrs. Dunnoway, I
admire your courage and dedication!"
Mrs. Dunnoway closes her eyes. The elevator
hisses past a floor after floor.
We know Mrs. Dunnoway doesn't want pity, but
that is what we feel when the memories flicker past our thousand eyes.
Dylan growing up to a too honest fool. Always
ready to borrow, just a buck or two. Twenty. One hundred. Never learning to
call off a bet.
Dylan working in a car factory, the monotony
dulling his soul. Mrs. Dunnoway getting through her own shifts only by thinking
of him. Pouring a cup after cup of coffee, serving slices of cheesecake,
playing the part that had befallen on her.
Then, one Sunday, Dylan returning home late,
sparkling with indecipherable joy.
Mrs. Dunnoway muting the TV. Not angry, but
concerned. "Where have you been?"
"The races." Dylan grinning, tossing
his leather coat on the sofa. "Mama, the horses, you won't believe this!
So magnificent, so fast!"
"And how was the race?" Mrs.
Dunnoway asking, each word formed with care, to mask her growing dread.
"When I shouted in the crowd, when I
shook my fist, Mama, I became something more."
Mrs. Dunnoway knowing without having to ask
that he'd bet on the losing horse.
Mrs. Dunnoway hugging him nevertheless
We admire her.
"I know it's a bit dark here,"
Stacey says as she leads Mrs. Dunnoway down the winding corridor. "But
your eyes will soon get accustomed."
Mrs. Dunnoway glances at the ceiling. The led
lights stare back at her, steady as distant stars, too high above to touch. She
reaches out for them anyway.
"You must wonder how deep underground we
are." The wave of Stacey's hand encompasses the granite archway in its
entirety. She cherishes secrets like old scars. "Of course I can't tell
you the exact numbers, but I can say that he
is safe from any possible harm. We take care of our own."
Mrs. Dunnoway grinds her teeth together to
refrain from pointing out that that's not always the case. Sometimes people get
lost in the system. Sometimes whole families get lost.
The corridor turns right. A massive gate bars
the view further. Three stone-faced men stir at their post.
"The security checkpoint," Stacey
says, ever so excited. "But don't worry, Mrs. Dunnoway, I'll make sure
that you get through in time for the Audience."
Mrs. Dunnoway merely nods. She has signed the
papers. Even if she wanted, she can't turn back now.
"Hi there," Stacey chirps at the
The men nod back at Stacey. No hugs are
exchanged, only information. This close, it's evident that the black suits
Mrs. Dunnoway clutches the contract against
her heart. The guards are men in their prime. No scars crisscross their bodies.
No patches cover their eyes. But all of them bear badges. A Man Alone Is Nothing. Together
We Are More. You Decide What You Do
With Your Body.
"Mrs. Dunnoway," the guard with a
very square jaw says. "You may go through the gates now. The vault is at
the end of the corridor."
Mrs. Dunnoway's lips twitch to a customer
service smile before she can stop herself. She's about to step through the
gates, but a loud gulp makes her glance over her shoulder.
Stacey's façade of calm crumbles. She
trembles ever so slightly. "Goodbye, Mrs. Dunnoway."
Mrs. Dunnoway tilts her head, incomprehension
creasing her forehead. "Will you not come and show me the way?"
"This is as far as I'm allowed."
Mrs. Dunnoway hugs the younger woman like she
once hugged her son. Devotion fuels Stacey, but she serves the Party better
alive. "Take care, Stacey. Take care of yourself."
We feel her pain as she recalls the day she
visited her son in the prison.
Dylan sitting on the other side of the glass,
head buried in his hands. Pale curls spilling from between his fingers. Voice
laced with regret and grief.
"Just a mile or two over the limit. No
matter what the newspapers say. Don't read the articles, Mama. The dreadful
lies they write."
Mrs. Dunnoway thinking how they'd both lost
more that they had. That she couldn't afford to bail him out. And even if she
could, there would be no bringing back the two lives lost.
"I cried, Mama, I cried. And as drove
through the forest I asked a sign from God."
Mrs. Dunnoway shaking her head. A sign. Had
her son truly received a sign or was it all just an ugly coincidence?
We know it to have been a coincidence. The
horse, worth a million bucks, escaped from the pasture. Appearing out of nowhere.
Dylan saying in a shaky voice: "I
noticed the horse too late, didn't realize there was a car behind mine."
We know the truth. We saw it all, out of the
corner of our eyes. One more story unraveled. Not significant enough to wager
But we have changed since then. And hence we
gather all that we know, to console her who has lost so much.
It wasn't her son that decided whether to
brake or crash. It was a reflex. There was no time to think of the potential
The tires screeching the road black. The car
jarring to a halt. His chest crushing against the wheel.
The car behind crashing into his. Shattered
glass and bent metal. Screams shortened to whimpers. Then nothing, nothing at
The horse, standing still all this time,
trotting to greet Dylan. Staring through the glass. As if to judge his soul.
The vault is smaller than most people think,
only thirty by thirty feet. A flat screen covers the back wall. Otherwise the
room is unfurnished.
As the vault's door clicks shut behind Mrs.
Dunnoway, she walks to the screen. There's no hesitation. The favor she needs
has a price.
"My name is Mrs. Dunnoway, and I am here
for the Audience."
The screen flickers to life. A male face
forms. Mrs. Dunnoway recognizes it immediately.
The Politician has a dimpled chin. His crest
of black hair gleams. His eyes glimmer with wisdom. He asks, "How may I be
of assistance to you?"
His voice comes from a speaker, caresses Mrs.
Dunnoway with promises to be made. Yet, she knows that the man thinking for
many can spare only a moment to her.
Mrs. Dunnoway clears her throat. "My son
was unfairly judged. It was an accident, you see. There was no malice or
The Politician nods. He knows everything, or
that's what the propaganda says. Yet Stacey did ensure that the memo has been
passed to him.
"Two people lost their lives," the
Politician says. "The mother and daughter in the car behind. They deserve
Mrs. Dunnoway licks her lips. She has read
the legal books, but the words hid their meaning from her. The cheap lawyer she
consulted suggested one last straw.
"My son is a fool, not a bad man,"
she says. "He is…a little simple, though. Perhaps there could be a medical
"Perhaps." The Politician's brows
furrow. "Please wait, while I query the precedences and re-analyze this
The Politician's forehead creases as he posts
queries to his distributed brains. No man alone could connect all clauses, comb
through the tangle of information. But the Politician is not alone.
With him are the thousands who've donated a
part of themselves. Eyes that take in the data for the hundreds of brains to
process. Lungs that turn oxygen to fuel for the multitudes of hearts. Kidneys
and livers that handle the toxins from the network of organs. Blood and bone
and bone marrow to hold his behemothic body together.
"Ah…" The Politician locks gazes
with Mrs. Dunnoway. His eyes glaze over as if he's someplace else, living a
dual…living a thousand lives. "Yes. There is a precedent."
She clutches her hands against her chest,
holding one fist in the other. "Will my son have a fair trial? Is it
likely that his sentence is shortened?"
"Yes," the Politician replies, and
that is all even he can promise.
Mrs. Dunnoway inhales deep, exhales an ocean
of relief. She glances at the contract, then at the Politician.
The Politician asks, "Are you
"I am," Mrs. Dunnoway replies.
The face on the screen flickers, disappears
altogether. The screen disperses, revealing the vast hall behind.
Sharp, white lights spread above the hall, on
and on for miles. Below, the thousands of pods containing Donations form neat,
rectangular patterns. Countless nurses and doctors scuttle in the aisles,
administering drugs and nutrients. And looming above, at the center of the
hall, the Politician stands propped on a podium, tubes and cables spreading out
of him like a spider's web.
"Come now, Mrs. Dunnoway."
Mrs. Dunnoway drifts toward the voice, but
halts where the screen used to be. A full dozen of surgeons in pale green gowns
with masks covering their faces march up the center aisle, toward her. And at
their wake follows a horde of nurses, ready for the Donation, to dismember her.
"Will it hurt?" Mrs. Dunnoway asks,
as if she were merely curious, not at all afraid.
The Politician replies in a voice like velvet
and dreams, "Your life will flash past our eyes. After that there will be
only the future."
Mrs. Dunnoway steps into the hall to join the
man consisting of many.
We can see everything. We can see everywhere.
For a thousand eyes see better than two.
It's the first race day after his pardon. The
hippodrome is crowded. She knows, and we know, he will be there.
The horses gallop, round and round. Hooves
pounding the lush grass to dust. So noble, so fast, from beyond this world.
And there, we can see him now, his right fist
raised in the air. He cheers, and the crowd is just one creature, living and
breathing the same air. For that fleeing moment, he is happy. And that is all
he'll ever be.
We are not sure if our hearts ache out of joy