Friday, January 06, 2006
the child, part 3, chapter 12 - 'ginger'
***i didn't do something i should have done before writing this chapter; i didn't go back and read chapter 6, 'first report' where i last left Lucy and Linda. Oh, did this chapter not match up with that one! did some rewriting today therefore - rewriting at that chapter as well.***
As the door closed behind Mac, Lucy planted her fists on her hips and scowled. 'He really has a lot of nerve!' she whispered.
'Uh huh,' replied Linda. A glance at her companion told Lucy that Linda was nigh on falling asleep right then and there. This would never do. Taking Linda's arm, Lucy steered her companion towards the nearest corridor. Mac's 'small favor' would just have to wait, she decided; right now, what the two of them needed most was to reach the broom closet safely so that they could get some deeply needed sleep.
But as they reached the end of the long corridor, with the closet already in sight, Linda gave herself a little shake and looked around. 'Oh,' she said. 'Did we stop at Ginger's already?'
'No,' said Lucy shortly.
Linda peered at her through bleary eyes. 'Why not?'
'Because,' said Lucy, 'you just sleep-walked that entire corridor. Mac's little errand can surely wait till morning...'
'But we promised...' Linda protested weakly.
'Did we? I didn't.'
'Didn't we?' Linda blinked owlishly. 'I thought I did.'
'Just come on and rest,' said Lucy, starting for the closet. But when she got there and looked back for Linda, she spotted her heading back up the hallway they had cleaned this day.
'Marvelous,' Lucy muttered. For Linda was swooping and swaying as she walked as if she were drunk. Hurrying to catch up, she hissed, 'Linda, it's time to sleep!'
'Yeah, yeah. Right after we do this.'
Whatever has gotten into her? Lucy wondered peevishly. 'All right then,' she whispered. 'But very quickly. And I'll look in. You can barely see to walk, much less to see if Ginger's found the note.'
Briskly Lucy strode off up the corridor, not waiting for Linda to follow. As she reached the proper door, she wondered briefly how she would even know if Ginger had read the note. But no matter. Do this quickly, then off to sleep.
She looked in through the small window in the cell door.
And instantly sprang backwards.
That woke them both up. Ready to draw her sword, Linda hurried to Lucy's side. 'What happened?' she hissed.
Lucy's hand had flown to still her racing heart, as a thoroughly stunned look swept over her face. 'Someone was looking back!' she said.
At the same moment a frightened voice called from inside the cell, 'Who's out there?'. Followed almost immediately by, 'Oh my... oh my goodness! It's Carol! Carol, dear!' the voice went on, now gladsome. 'Why, wherever have you been for all this time? You went missing simply months and months ago, and...' And then a gasp. 'Why... I found a note under my pillow this evening, and couldn't sleep for wondering from whom it came. It was signed with a name I didn't recognize. You're... you're never this mysterious 'Lucy,' are you?'
Linda turned and looked at Lucy. 'You signed your new name on it?'
'Did I?' said Lucy. Surely she hadn't been that thoughtless; Ginger would not know who Lucy was! But then, thinking back on the writing of the note - then Lucy remembered. And blushed burned bright red.
Leaning close, Linda added softly, 'I take it this is Ginger?'
'Ah - oh - yes. Yes. Ginger, let me introduce my new friend, Linda. And, Linda, this is my - do I say 'old'? - friend Ginger. And, Ginger,' she added, 'yes, I'm Lucy now.'
'How do you do, Linda?' said the voice from inside the door. 'What a lovely name - as is the name Lucy. But then, I liked the name Carol as well.' And then she added, 'I would invite you in, my dears, but of course, the door is locked. I would have to summon someone from security to come and open it for us. And I do so hate to bother them after hours.'
Security? wondered Linda. Does she mean the guards?
Lucy recovered herself enough to produce her key. She held it up before the window so Ginger could see it, then unlocked the door.
The door opened. And Linda got her first look at Ginger.
There stood Ginger, dressed in a gown that was almost certainly silk, the candlelight setting off her casually beautiful coif, the smile on her face regal and elegant. She lifted her arms, the graceful and intricately wrought chains that dangled from her wrists glittering as gold, and embraced Lucy. 'Carol, my dear!' she effused, as she gave the woman a kiss on the cheek that never actually touched her cheek. Turning to Linda, Ginger gave her the same greeting - Linda distinctly heard the little smeck that landed in the air near her ear. It was the kind of kiss, Linda suspected, that was devised to muss neither hairstyle nor make-up.
'Come in, come in,' Ginger welcomed them warmly.
There was nothing especially special about the room; it was like all the others they had cleaned this day. But somehow, inhabited by Ginger, it was now a chamber of royalty. Noblesse oblige fairly oozed from the woman, scenting the very air about her. Gracefully, graciously, she swept before them, offering the lone chair to Linda, apologizing for the lack of extra seating to Lucy, patting the thick, silk-sheeted mattress of her bed as invitation for Lucy to take a seat there. And then, spreading her sumptuous skirts, she too perched on the edge of the bed, looking for all the world like a princess taking her throne.
'How wonderful to see you again, Ca... ah, Lucy. You disappeared well over a year ago, and none of us knew what had become of you.'
Before Lucy could attempt to explain, Ginger leaned closer and added, 'Mind you, there have been plenty of rumors, dear. Some said one thing; some another. The chief rumor I heard was that you had been banished, ah, downstairs,' and she said that word with, oh! such repugnance, 'for some flagrant breach of etiquette. Which of course I knew to be a lie. The Committee so rarely resorts to such extreme measures. And had you been such a very very bad girl,' and she chucked Lucy under the chin, 'I'd have surely noticed.'
The woman talks in underlinings, thought Linda.
'Now,' Ginger added, 'it did occur to me that perhaps you might have moved to one of the, ah, inferior levels,' (Linda nearly gagged), 'in order to bring enlightenment and refinement to the poor unwashed masses who reside down there - tis our burden as the upper class, you know.'
Lucy was nearly gagging as well. Was this really how the people here were - how she herself had been when she'd lived here? She didn't remember being so - so full of herself. 'Well, that's not where I was,' she began, but at the same time, Linda asked, 'Who's this Committee?'
'Oh, my dear,' said Ginger, 'it is they who watch over our way of life here among the, shall we say, upper crust. They keep a sharp eye out for any infractions in order to ensure the well-being of us all. Now, no one knows who the members of the Committee are, for they meet in secret, and I understand in disguise, and are sworn not to reveal themselves to any.'
'Charming system. You mean like secret police?' asked Linda. Having come from one of those lower levels populated by the 'poor unwashed masses,' she was having a fight on the inside, trying to not get offended at this insufferable woman's high-and-mighty ways.
'Oh, you make it sound so sinister,' Ginger replied merrily.
Linda met Queen Ginger's eyes evenly, met and held them. And slowly, blinking and blinking, Ginger dropped her head. 'Actually, it is,' she said softly.
And suddenly the grand facade crumbled and was gone. No more masquerade. Instead of royalty, Ginger was abruptly a smaller-than-life person, a little woman with carefully hidden crow's-feet and sadly sagging jowls.
'Ginger?' said Lucy.
The woman looked up at her, then again at Linda, then down at her own two hands twisting uncomfortably in her silken lap.
'What is it, Ginger?' Lucy prompted.
She looked up again, glancing towards the door. Pitching her voice so low the other two could scarcely hear her, she said, 'You mustn't tell anyone I said this. You've no notion the world of trouble I would be in if one word of what I'm about to tell you, ah, got out. But...' and now she was talking to her contorting hands, 'I'm... a member of the Committee...'
Lucy blinked, astonished. 'You? You mean to tell me that all those years...'
'Yes,' said Ginger meekly. 'That's how I knew, of course, that you hadn't been banished.'
'You're a snitch?' said Linda.
'Oh my, no,' said Ginger, some of her archness creeping back in. 'The Committee is the elite of the elite, the creme de la creme, the uppermost layer of all the upper crust. The acme of all that we might aspire to. We are...'
'Oh, I get it,' Linda broke in. 'A whole flock of stool pigeons, climbing to the top by trampling everyone else under foot.'
Ginger's eyes snapped. 'I ought to be thoroughly put out with you, Linda,' said she. 'But the problem is that... you're right.' She turned to Lucy. 'She's right, and it took me all this time to ever see it.'
'What happened to open your eyes?'
'You remember,' and suddenly she found it hard to go on, 'Mi...Millicent?'
'Millicent? Why, of course. That little birdlike woman, frail as gossamer. Yes, I remember her.'
'It, it was so foolish,' Ginger went on, her hands twisting in on themselves once again. 'All she did, dear, was give a tea. But she didn't invite - well, I daren't name the name - but she didn't invite the one woman who wields the most influence in the Committee. And for this slight, that woman - oh, Carol! She forced the rest of us to punish little Millicent. To, to send her, well, downstairs. To one of those barbarous levels, full of men who do little else but fight each other all day long. And we sent her there to char.'
And now Linda caught a glimpse of what that must mean to these upper level royals, to be forced to char even for their peers. Much less to clean up after people they viewed as hardly a step up from brute beasts.
'What happened then?' asked Lucy, dread seizing at her heart - for good reason, she was sure.
'Two men from security escorted her down there. And when they arrived, they found...' A shudder quaked through Ginger's being. 'Oh! It was hideous! Three men were holding down a fourth as they beat him and beat him. And the security who worked that level were laughing as they held back yet another man till the first three were done bludgeoning the poor fellow. And then, as the fourth man lay bleeding on the floor, the security released - or should I say, unleashed - the man they had been holding back. And he, seeing that the man on the floor was nearly dead, he... he... Oh, Carol. He killed those other men! Right in front of poor Millicent. And the shock of it was so great that, that...'
Ginger was weeping, her tears soaking unheeded into the fine silk of her gown. Lucy put her arms round her, patting her shoulder, murmuring comfortingly, 'It's all right, Ginger, it's all right.'
'But it isn't,' Ginger insisted. 'Poor, sweet, fragile little Millicent - her heart gave out from the horror of what she saw. The security men carried her back up here to us. And she was dead, Carol! And, oh, the look in her eyes...!'
Once again a shudder shook her whole being. 'That's when I saw at last what we truly are. What beasts we are, for all our refinement and lofty ways. It sickened me. And yet...'
'And yet when your old friend shows up unexpectedly,' put in Linda, 'you put on the dog like old times.'
Ginger winced. But nodded. 'Yes. You're right. I know what we are. I see what we are. Yet I keep up appearances just like the rest. It's as if I can't stop myself.'
'Or don't want to?'
'I want to!' Ginger flashed. 'At least... I think I want to. It was so disgusting, the way the others in the Committee - oh, yes, I know who all the others are; we just put forth the propaganda,' ('Lies,' muttered Linda), 'that we are all secret one from another - the way she who condemned Millicent smirked over the poor little corpse - the way her friends,' ('Toadies,' muttered Linda), 'simpered and fawned, and agreed that Millicent had gotten no better than she had deserved...' And Ginger dissolved into misery.
'Ugh,' said Lucy. She rummaged in her pack and found a bit of cloth to wipe her old friend's tears.
'Thank you,' Ginger whispered, and leaned against Lucy. Sniffling, she added, 'It's not that I don't want to change. But this is all I've ever known. Who I am is,' and she swept her arms out, taking in the whole level, 'what we are here. I don't know any other way. I don't know how to change. And... I'm frightened. It's very daunting, you know.'
Lucy was nodding. 'You can't change yourself. And it's ridiculous to even try.'
'Yes! And yet... you are different, Ca... I mean, Lucy. You have changed.'
Lucy smiled and glanced over at Linda. 'Yeah, more than you know, she's changed,' Linda grinned.
'But how?' Ginger asked in anguish.
'Not how,' said Lucy, taking Ginger's hands into her own. 'Who. The Master has changed me.'
'The Master...' Ginger echoed, hiccupping. 'That's who Walker told me of. But I didn't... I wasn't sure...'
'What did Walker tell you?'
'Oh, fantastic things - about life and death and blood shed for me.' She sniffed. 'You know, if Walker had shown up one day earlier, before that horrible thing happened to Millicent, I would have - oh, turned up my nose at him, I suppose - been affronted at his insults - taken offense at his declaration that without the Master I was nothing and less than nothing. How dare he, hmm? Oh, yes, I would have withered him with a glance, then summoned security to throw such a vulgar fellow out.'
She studied her hands once again. 'Seeing Millicent like that - it changed everything.'
'The Master's timing is perfect,' said Linda.
'It certainly is.'
Lucy's head came up. She hadn't said that, nor had Linda, nor obviously had Ginger. So who...?
Ginger looked at Lucy and Linda in confusion. 'Who is that? And how did he get here? The door...'
'No locked door can keep out the Master,' said Linda.
'Only a locked heart,' said he.
Ginger's face went pale. 'The, the Master?' she squeaked.
His arms opened wide as he smiled on the startled woman. 'Daughter,' he said. 'Would you like that? To be my daughter?'
'Then give me all. All that you are. All that you have. All that you hope. All that you fear. All. And in return, I will give you - peace. And myself. Is that not a good bargain?'
'Won't you unlock your heart to me, Ginger? Wouldn't you like to leave this place, which is your father's house, and come away with me to mine?' His eyes twinkled as he added, 'You will not be rich royalty there as you are here. Will that be all right?'
Blink. Puzzlement flashed over Linda's face.
'I...' said Ginger. 'I think I... Yes. I'm sick of this, of what I am. I just want to be - plain. Ordinary. Real.'
'Real you shall be. Mine you shall be. Simple, and cherished. My daughter.' And his arms were yet open to her.
'Master,' Ginger wept. And then she rushed to his embrace.
He held her. How he held her! Long and lovingly he held her close. And when he released the embrace...
She was changed. Transformed. The rich silk had become plain linen, simple and white. Her rich coif had become simple as well. The chains lay forgotten on the floor behind her. And her face...
Now held peace.
The Master touched her cheek gently, pressed a kiss to forehead. 'And now you are my daughter. You are Rose.'
A blooming blush spread across her face like joy. 'Rose,' she smiled back to him.
'Greet your sisters,' said he.
Light-hearted as a little child, she turned and embraced Lucy and Linda. No silly air-kisses now; she grabbed each in turn and kissed them for real, with laughter, with love. For the next few minutes, the room was filled with giggles.
As the merry gabble went on, Lucy could not be thoroughly happy. She spotted the Master regarding her quietly. Oh dear. She turned away.
And found him standing right behind her.
She jumped, understandably. 'Well?' said he.
She hung her head. 'Yes, sir,' she whispered. 'I'm sorry.'
'And you are forgiven for becoming angry with Maccabees.' He touched her chin, raising her face to his. 'And you will need to apologize to him when next you see him.'
'Yes, sir,' she said again.
'Good.' And his stern demeanor vanished as he smiled upon her. 'Trust a little more, my daughter,' he said. And then he was no longer before her.
Suddenly Linda found herself elbow to elbow with the Master. To her, he said softly, 'Ask.'
'I don't understand,' said she.
'That is why you must ask,' he prompted. 'And...?'
'You told Gin - I mean Rose - that she will not be rich or royalty when she comes to your house. But when you came for me back when I was here, you promised me both. That I would be rich, and would be royal.'
'And... that's what I don't understand.'
He smiled. 'When I found you here, my Linda, were you rich or royal?'
'No. I was poor as dirt and - well, I don't like to remember the rest.'
'But what of Rose? Does she need riches or status?'
'No. No, she's had both, and she's sick of them.'
'While you had the opposite, and were sick of that. So tell me, my daughter, my beautiful Linda - do you have riches now?'
She thought. 'If you mean riches like silk clothing and gold jewelry - no, of course not. But I know you now, and that the best riches of all.'
He smiled, his eyes crinkling merrily. 'And that is exactly what I promised you. Rose, on the other hand, shall have what she needs, which is the simplicity of knowing me.' A pause, and he added, 'Are you royalty, dear?'
And now it was Linda's eyes crinkling with delight. 'I'm better,' she responded. 'I'm your daughter.'
'Exactly. And that is royalty enough, as well as simplicity enough, for any and all. So, Linda - do you understand now, my little one?'
'I think I do. It's because Rose and I come from such different places. What I needed, you gave me; you made me somebody in you. And you're giving Rose what she needs. To be nobody.'
'To be ordinary, and no longer high-and-mighty above others, yes. Just as you, dear,' and he tilted her chin up to meet his compassionate eyes, 'are no longer anyone's kicking post.'
Linda swallowed hard then, the tears springing up. 'I love you,' she whispered as he took her into his arms.
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