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Advice for Daughters

Chapter Text

o

The thing you have to remember is that it's legal. When he put the ring on my finger and said the words I became, in the eyes of the law, his wife. It doesn't matter what came before.

o

When I woke up all I knew was something was howling in another room. Whatever they'd used to knock us out kept me from waking up all the way, and all I could think was it sounded like the dog had, caught in the steel-jaw trap. I thought of walking into the other room, and it was there, matted cream-yellow fur, tiny drops of blood splattering as it tried to pull away from the pain. Mom had taken the bat. I heard it hit and the wailing stopped. But then it started again, a soft whimper. It hadn't been killed right, not like when Mom did it.

You have to do it right. She'd given me the bat afterward. She made me hit the body in the same place she had, see the skull splinter further and bits splash.

"You have to do it right," she said. "If you don't know what you're doing, if you get scared or don't hit hard enough, it just makes it worse. Swing with all your force, right into the head." And I did but the whimper wouldn't stop. I realized I wasn't really hitting anything, just dreaming of it, because the dog was in the other room and I was still there in the bed. I had to get there first.

I got up. I wasn't wearing anything, so I pulled the sheet along with me, and I tried to open the door. The knob turned but it wouldn't open. I kept trying until I was sobbing, and then I let go of the sheet and pounded with both hands because I could still hear the dog dying.

The door opened. It was an old woman, a silver-haired real first generation adult. "Calm down," she said.

"The dog," I said. "I need to get to the dog."

"There isn't any dog here."

"It's in the other room," I told her. "I can hear it." I started to cry again. "It went into the trap."

"Shhh. There's no dog there." She pulled the sheet back around me and let me take a step out, holding onto my arm and shoulder firmly so I couldn't go anywhere she didn't want. "This is the wives' floor. These are all your rooms. Now stop making a fuss, you'll upset the others."

"But the dog," I said. "It's right there, I can hear it."

"That's just -" She shook her head. She pulled the lock free and opened the door for me. The girl had her arms tight across her belly, under swelled breasts that seemed to barely fit her frame, and her face glistened with tears. Then the woman pulled the door shut again. "See? There's no dog. Nothing you need to worry about." She patted my shoulder twice, turned me around and guided me back into the room.

"She'll stay quiet most of the time," the woman said. "But she has fits sometimes. She's in a snit about all of you, I'm sure. Wanted to stay the only one here."

Then she told me to lie down and go to sleep again.

So it's because of me they started calling her that sometimes.

o

Delores had skin as white as a mushroom. Her father was first generation. He'd taught her about the world because he didn't dare show it to her, like that would be good enough. She hadn't been on her own a month before they got her. I could have told him as much.

Mom said the first generation never realized they were mortal. They never understood they could die too. It's why they kept having us, they never worried about what happened after they were gone.

Delores thought that if only she could go to the kitchens she could escape. If only they opened the windows she could escape. If only they let her go to a party she could escape. If only she could be first wife she could escape.

She hated me a lot, for having those things.

o

No one would tell us exactly what the first girl had done or what her name had been before they started to call her that. When I kept asking, he yelled and she came over with her eyes down. He repeated it, said, "And that's your name, isn't it?" and she nodded. "That's all she's worth," he said. "She should be grateful he kept her at all after what she did."

That wasn't even accurate. She had a mouth too.

o

You could tell Sapphire had been loved.

She was twelve but so well fed she looked three years older, with endless black hair. When the workers came to put out names above our doors, she said she wanted to write it herself. S-A-P-P-H-I-R-E, she'd written, in letters that flowed like spilled water, the sort of fancy writing you only see on the cover of old books. It was a whole other alphabet, cursive, and she knew every letter by heart, when only Delores could even write the first set easily. She wrote our names for us when we asked, her hand flying effortlessly through the strokes, and then she offered to write whatever the first girl's name was too if she'd come out and meet us, but the door had stayed shut.

The morning after it happened, she jumped down the elevator shaft.

I did my best to be consoling. "She just wanted to explore," I said, stoking. "She wasn't very bright. She had no idea how dangerous it was. She didn't even scream, dear, she didn't know what was happening. It was an accident. You mustn't blame yourself. No one would have expected it to happen." They put in a grating across the doors on that floor anyway. As well as madness, wives are prone to clumsiness.

So I never found out why Sapphire was there, how they'd stolen her when she'd had people who had protected her from everything. But everyone dies. Maybe her family was gone too, maybe she'd wandered out into the streets, vulnerable as a baby bird, and walked right into the Gatherer's open hand when they came to scoop her up.

She hadn't even known to scream.