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I sank into the shallow, unfulfilling bath; once a luxury, now the bare minimum of hygiene. The water was tepid, warmed enough to not cause hypothermia. Shampoo wasn't even afforded for lesser status bathrooms. We had to use individually-packaged all-purpose soap bars that made the hair stiff and coarse upon drying. Back in the compound housing, we used to trade grown vegetables and herbs under the table for eggs and honey. We'd make what we called "the poor peasant's conditioner." I thought about how I would sneak eggs and honey away—maybe I wouldn't have to. I heard of Heads of House allowing for vanity items if you were sweet enough. I wasn't sure I wanted to know what that meant. Some kind of illicit sex act? Showing complete subservience for a whole month? The thought of doing that made my stomach gurgle like it wanted to expel last night's dinner.
I washed off quickly, scrubbing off the makeup and sweat from yesterday. There was nothing to be done about the semen—as much I wanted be clean of the Head's secretions, soap in the vagina caused yeast infections. It's ironic how they used to make feminine hygiene washes even though they are actually terrible for genital health. I wouldn't bother with my hair. I didn't want to deal with crusty, unmanageable tangles today. Besides, I could just wear a bonnet.
I rose out of the bath, toweling myself off, pulling the plug out of the drain. I dried myself the best I could and started putting on the clothing. I pulled on the bra and underwear, neither giving adequate support. They were lumpy and shapeless, functional only as covers for my sinful body parts. They also made the dress loose-fitting to dissuade the lusts of men.I remember putting on my favorite jeans, tight around the thighs and greatly accentuating the buttocks. I'd strut unnecessarily around the apartment looking for my boots (which I knew very well were in my closet) to entice the gaze of my husband having his morning bagel and coffee. Back in those days, I was desired for being me, not to inflate a man's ego who didn't deserve affection, didn't even deserve to breathe...
I folded up the dress like I used to with T-shirts. These dresses were loose enough to slip over head and thread the arms into the sleeves. Wouldn't want to embarrass the maids by needing them to see my bare back to zip me up. All that uncovered flesh, too tempting to allow even the sun to caress it. Those lawless times of nearly-naked frivolity near the oceans, how dangerous it was for women to tempt men—they couldn't help it, after all. Strings of bikini bras and the thongs just barely hiding the labia, all wrapped into bows, presents begging to be ripped open and ravaged.
"That's how the whores enticed us, overpowered us. They took our money, our dignity, our masculinity. And we let them because how brainwashed they made us. They treated us like dogs, getting their way as long as they gave us sex. It's over, gentlemen. It's about time to correct the hierarchy."
Who had said that? There were so many "activists" preaching unbelievably vile rhetoric about "male superiority" and "white rights." It wasn't just the skinheads and severe fundamentalist groups either; the Vice President was seen at many KKK rallies, anti-abortion marches, neo-fascists conferences held in more and more areas of the US, places you wouldn't think would allow them. That wasn't the scariest part, though. Soon, the rallies were government-sponsored. A specialized task-force of walking Kevlar guarded each one, but they were protecting the racists from the protesters. One of the rally supporters ran over a protestor, killing them. They only got arrested for stealing the car...
It would get so much worse though.
Noel burst through the front door, throwing his keys into the bowl with such force, it fell off the cabinet. He didn't bother to pick it up, he was so riled. He slammed down his briefcase haphazardly, reaching up to sweep his hands over his wire-brush hair.
I had the day off work, so it was odd that he was already back home at 10 AM. I was still in my pajamas.
"What happened?" I asked.
We were following each news story, but it was like we lapsed into numbness. What could we do? I hadn't even been able to talk with my mom or grandpa to suggest they leave the country. I'd heard rumors of apartment purges, eviction notices being hung on door knobs for no other reason than the tenant having dark skin or having a same sex partner...
"They sent out pink the slips." Noel said. He blew out a long breath and went over to the sink to fill a glass of water. He gulped it down, set down the glass in the sink, and gripped the sides of the sink with both hands.
"Jesus Christ...for what?"
"To... basically anyone who isn't white, male, and straight. I quit out of protest." His voice lifted, like he was on the verge of tears. "What the fuck is happening to this country, Luce? How did this happen? How did we let this happen?"
This was the resounding question that filled the silence between thoughts, reverberating in every injustice, every act of oppression in the Sovereign States of America. We thought that it was being taken care of. We thought we still had the upper hand, once. This was still a democracy, wasn't it? There were women fighting in the Senate, the Congress?
But that's all it took... an assumption that someone else would fight our battles. The Working Class Decree also annihilated people of color, LGBT members, women, and practitioners of unsanctioned religions (AKA, not Christian) from working in government. That's when the riots took place. But the Holy Militia were already ahead of the game, opening fire on whole crowds. Every means of protest through media were censured, outspoken journalists going missing hours after impromptu soapbox speeches.
I left the bathroom fully dressed and into the hall that was now bustling with maids and emerging guests. To my surprise, Isolde was waiting outside the bathroom, leaning against the wall. She was wearing a cashmere robe and hair net over curlers. She did not look happy, but then again, she never looked happy around concubines.
"Did you ask permission to bathe, Lucy?" she asked, her voice like daggers of ice.
"I..." I trailed off, confused. I had to ask to bathe? Did I have to ask to breathe, too? Shit? Piss? Be alive? "I... didn't know I had to. I'm sorry, I'll remember that for next time."
"You'll do well to. Arthur might hold affection toward you, but I can assure you that I don't."
She spoke like a character from a Jane Austen novel, pompous to the point of arrogance. I had to wonder if she thought of herself as regal, belonging to royalty. As far as I understood of her husband's position, he was a middle man for higher ranking bureaucrats, but still recognized as part of the elite. Basically, any white man working for the government in this time of society was the elite.
At the end of her spiel, she stalked away and down the stairs, leaving me baffled.
Arthur. Arthur was the Head's name. Meanings of the name Arthur differ from culture to culture. In English, the Roman name Artorius possibly means "noble, courageous." I'd learned that watching documentaries on Netflix back before the SSoA Revolution.
I thought learning his name would make him human to me. But yet, he just seemed like another monster in this society ran by monsters.