Once we got engaged, Alim was ready to bust his cage. He’d decided to leave, and the moment couldn't come soon enough. He turned overnight from an energetic puppy into something far less controllable, a demented hummingbird in desperate search of sustenance.
When he wasn't working, I would haul him out of Solis, Maodine keeping pace (we were gaining more freedom though I was never allowed to take Alim to the cliff edge—or go myself, for that matter). I would race Aim across the meadows, forcing him to leap streams, trip over tussocks, and scrabble up rises. He got wet and dirty, all while yelling, “Sweetie-pie” at me in high glee.
I was fairly certain that Moadine knew he was a boy. I wondered about the other mentors. Was their stillness, their carefulness around Alim due to his male identity? Did they think he didn't notice their cautiousness? Their “special” treatment as if he were a wild animal always about to bite? Wouldn't it have been kinder to let him know he was “not like the others”?
In any case, his undimmed enthusiasm—his interpretation of our engagement as “I can tackle Terry whenever I want”—did nothing to convince our mentors that I was a proper spouse-to-be. I saw Tyra pull Alim aside more than once for serious chats. He told me later, snorting, that she’d warned him against me. Considering that I was behaving like a particularly odious headmaster, I could see her point.
|Mass wedding in stadium|
Yet the women were terribly excited about the “new Fatherhood,” that is, having a baby the old-fashioned way. And Celis got pregnant almost immediately. I hoped that all this outpouring of support for male contributions—however biological—would mean that Alim and I would be allowed to leave Herland with Van and Ellador.
Except Van and Ellador's departure was planned for after Celis gave birth, and Alim would never last so long. He was getting more and more wild until Celis hauled him bodily out to the forest every day. Alim did suggest to the mentors that he take me to Har to meet his guardian Juste, which would have solved all our problems. The mentors hemmed and hawed. The idea was “being considered in counsel as a matter of reflection.”
Bureaucracies are the same the world over.
Finally, I swallowed my pride—my reputation as it was would be utterly besmirched—and put the second part of the plan in motion.
This entailed me making pronouncements about my husbandly expectations: “Alima should be at home, fulfilling her wifely duties, always at my side!”
As if I would prefer a spouse that stuck to me like a leech. But the women of Herland are not terribly sophisticated about male needs.
Which is not to say that some of my complaints didn't resonate with me personally. I honestly never understood Herland's treatment of a couple's living arrangements: the lack of privacy, the assumption that being “apart” was (merely) sexual (and sex could be accomplished anywhere). We had no home, no place of our own until I insisted on (at least) a private room.
But of course, Herland doesn't have many couples.
Not officially, that is.
I won't offend the sensibilities of my Edwardian readers by suggesting what the women of Herland may have suspected about Alim and me. The country was both less restrictive and more prurient than our own, even in those years before the Great War. Things that offended us never occurred to them, yet they appeared scandalized by any suggestion that humans were physical beings.
I wonder that Van's female co-author never remarks on this incongruity in their treatise Herland. She never questions that country's excessive supervision, its coy avoidance of physical matters but then she comes from the same strata of society as Van (and me but I'm no intellectual). She seems equally unaware of purely physical labor, such as washing diapers and scrubbing floors. A lack of appreciation of how other people—other classes, other cultures—live creeps through her work. She has her own rules of acceptable behavior, the way "advanced" people should behave.
I broke all those rules: I became more demanding of Alim (“Where have you been?”!) and frustrated at the lack of intimacy, which I hardly had to mimic after eighteen months of forced celibacy.
The final confrontation occurred as Alim describes, not as scripted; I was prepared to act pain, not experience it. Alim was so shocked and horrified by his overly eager performance, he muttered, “Sorry, sorry, ah, Terry, sorry,” which nearly gave the game away.
It was as well that Alim got carried away, that the pain I presented was real rather than manufactured. Moadine was suspicious. She came more than once to my locked room in Solis to question me. At first I thought she was interrogating me to stress my uncivilized and brutal nature, and I reacted as defensively as if I'd committed the deed.
|Helen Mirren from Prime Suspect|
“Alima may have misunderstood you,” she said. “Your advances. In your country, how does the act of sexual congress proceed?”
“My behavior is no more allowable there,” I told her sullenly, unable to admit that I was touched by her solicitude.
She shook her head and had me go over the order of events again.
Then the edict came down: I was to leave with Van and Ellador within the next month. I promised to keep Herland's secrets. Ellador vouched for me. I think Van convinced her that “gentlemen” keep their word. Or she realized that nobody would believe me about Herland anyway.
I didn't promise not to kidnap one of the country's citizens.
We left on a bright morning. Ellador rushed about hugging her mentors. Jeff showed up and said a stiff goodbye to (only) Van. Celis waved to me and winked. I checked the plane and tried to look suitably hang-dog.
I flew us out, banking the plane to bring us into the landing on the large lake. I wished Alim could have seen it, but he would be flying in my plane soon enough.
Next Chapter 16: Alim