After the conference, a young man was waiting for Professor James Darcy Peixoto. His face was rotund and nervous, and he cleared his throat twice.
“I'm sorry, professor, if you have a minute...”
The eminent professor didn't have a minute – but there was something about the student's urgency that made him pause.
The young man was speaking in quick, hushed tones. “Can we talk in private, Professor?”
The library was quaint enough, and the professor led the nervous student there with a mix of suspicion and excitement. John Whiskeyjack was one of his colleague's students in the department of Gileadian studies, though he had never come up with anything spectacular.
“I found these,” the young man said in feverish excitement, “and after your lecture, I wanted to show them to you.”
He pushed a tin box Peixoto's way. “There are pincers, here.” And there they were, offered for his perusal.
The Serena Letters. They were only disordered, undated fragments, but they were enough to tell a story of their own.
* * *
My name is not Serena Joy, but my true name matters very little.
No-one will ever read these letters, oh Lord. Why I feel compelled to write them rather than to keep them in the secret of my mind is a mystery. Praying no longer suffices.
They took her away.
The girl – she was pregnant, this time, at least. They took her away, and I will never have my baby. I hate her. I hate them, and I hate Fred for all this. Debauching the handmaids – wasn't once enough? Maybe that was the wrath of God, coming upon him.
What will I do now? I don't have a Daughter to raise or a Commander to serve. I'm too young to be a Martha.
What will I do now?
* * *
The Red center is sending a new girl, today. I hope she knows how to behave this time. I'll make things clear to her from the start. I will make her understand. I'll make her fear me enough – she will not disobey. One of them must be different from the pack.
I'll tell her that Fred is my husband. My husband, before anything else. That she aught to see him only at the Ceremony.
I wonder if they enjoy it. Behold my maid Bilah... I really wonder if there's any pleasure for her in it. I don't envy the Handmaids the Ceremony. I envy them the ability to procreate. I envy them the attention my husband can't help but bestow on them.
Envy is a sin, but I don't care. In other times, I would find a priest and confess. There are no more priests, here – none of the kind that hide in the dark and listen to confessions in a fatherly fashion. None that keep dirty secrets under a sacred seal. No longer.
So instead, I write.
* * *
I remember the days before Gilead. I sang my faith – I cried often. On national television, everyone knew me for the young, strong and charismatic preacher. God knew me then, and I knew Him.
There was terrible comfort in giving my voice to Him – and knowledge as well, that we were doing the Right Thing, that the Righteous would walk in the Halls of God, and I would be there, amongst them.
That was before Fred. Before a time where I could no longer sing. My husband is on television now, and I watch him – or sometimes, in secret, on old tapes, my own acts of faith.
Faith. What is faith, really, if only a chimera's dream, spoon fed to the ignorant and the faithless? Faith. Do I still have the fiery thunder in my heart? Faith. I want to hold it in my hand and stroke it like a broken bird – or would I kill it, perhaps?
I want to hear God again, but the silence makes me want to curl up and cry.
* * *
I have been sick for several days. The other Wives come and go at my bedside quietly observing the unwritten rite. I smile meekly and accept the flowers they bring; I wish they were roses from Fred, but he never buys me anything but pansies.
I am not truly ill. Being sick is only a rite here, an unwritten way of being social, an open invitation to other women to come commiserate with me in open displays of friendship.
Angelina brought her Daughter, a beautiful pink-faced little thing and I thought, give me children or else I die... and wished I could indeed pass on.
Sometimes I wonder if this is the Apocalypse in disguise, but I always thought the Lord would make it more spectacular.
I have never stopped praying, so what am I being punished for?
* * *
He slept in his office again. Fred and I have grown apart in ways I had never foreseen. When he comes to bed, at long last, he gropes me barely, his pyjamas still on as he reaches for my body.
I never say no.
I never could.
If he wanted me to do all the baser things that are forbidden, I would do all these things, to relieve my solitude, but he never asks. It's not my place to offer. I always fear that he might do them with the Handmaid, instead, but I never hear Offred leaving her room, save to go sleep with the driver.
I imagine them, the slut and the rake, enjoying themselves.
Jealousy is a sin, and I am a sinner.
* * *
Once he had reviewed the fragments, Professor Peixoto looked to the student, perplexed. “Why did you never approach me before?”
The young man shrugged. “I didn't think they were particularly helpful, but you were discussing the name Serena Joy... I suddenly remembered this, and... well... I simply couldn't help but show them to you. Are they helpful at all?”
The professor took another long moment before he replied. “I think you may well have your thesis, Mr. Whiskeyjack. Consider doing a cross-disciplinary study of faith in the Republic of Gilead, based on Serena Joy's diary.”
Whiskeyjack frowned a little. “Ah.” A beat, and he added, “I suppose I will.”
“Good. Now, would it be possible to inquire about your sources?”
The student smiled timidly. “Maybe a little later. I never even considered getting them carbon-dated.”
“I see. Do that and get back to me. There is plenty to do in this respect.”
As they exited the library, Peixoto wondered to himself what the life of that woman had truly been like.
He reckoned no one would ever know.