|Historical Handsome Dan|
I tried to ignore how much I would mind if they didn’t notice. I reminded myself that it was convenient that they missed similarities between Terry and me, overlooked our comradery.
And then Terry and I had an “argument.”
It started because Terry was bragging about the Bulldogs, his college football team, and how they beat their rivals in 1909 (“they didn't get past the 30-yard line the whole game!”). I pointed out that he'd admitted that those same rivals “trounced” his college the year before. And he complained about the other team's coach going too far in an anti-Bulldog pep talk, and I asked oh so innocently why a Bulldog would be such a good mascot for a sports team in the first place.
And suddenly, mentors were standing between us, Tyra holding up her hands, palms out. Only Moadine stood back, watching us.
Marta said carefully, “What are you two discussing?”
“Games,” I said, braced to tell them more, to get them laughing about the image of a bulldog with a football (Van had a dictionary with pictures, so I knew what a bulldog looked like). Terry shook his head slightly. At me. I shook my head back. Marta and the others simply misunderstood. I could explain—
“Are games something to argue about?”
“We don't resolve disagreements this way, Alima,” Tyra said, but Marta doesn't like flat pronouncements and frowned at her (so, they weren't arguing?).
Marta said, “It sounds like a, ah, very competitive topic.”
“It's sports,” I said.
“A type of sports, I suppose. Is there value in these sports?”
And quite suddenly, I couldn't stand it. They didn't get it— It wasn't— What they were saying— Why were they so stupid?!
At least I didn't say anything out loud. I turned and tried to stride away like Terry would, shoulders back, arms swinging, but I stumbled on the pavement, and I knew my face was red, and I wanted to run-run-run.
I think Terry called to me, but suddenly Celis and Ellador were there, walking beside me, bracing me up. They were talking cheerfully, the way they did when we were younger, and they knew I'd gotten into trouble, and they would rush in to take me someplace safe. We left Solis's town center and headed past the fountains to the meadows and the trees. I collapsed under one. Celis swung herself up into a branch while Ellador sat cautiously beside me.
I buried my head in my arms. No one said anything. The only sound was wind blowing and leaves rasping and Celis whistling.
“Thanks,” I finally mumbled.
“You talk to Van. You disagree with Van,” I reminded her.
“They confer,” Celis said merrily. “Consult. Negotiate.”
“Sometimes he says things that upset me,” Ellador admitted. “He told me about this horrible theological concept that other day, and I ran to the temple for comfort. I wish I hadn't. It was embarrassing.”
“Do you confer with Jeff?” I said to Celis, a little nastily.
She didn't get offended. For the first time, I realized that Celis was rather like Terry.
“Jeff compliments me,” Celis said instead. “I like it.”
I grinned at Ellador, who shook her head at Celis's complete lack of interest in anything “substantial.”
Not that we would betray Celis's supposed lack of seriousness, of productive desires, to the mentors (especially Tyra). And I realized that we had always been like this, a unit against a larger culture. Like Terry and me. Like Juste and her companion. Like other groups and cliques and partners in Herland.
“We weren't arguing,” I told Ellador more calmly. “It was funny, what we were talking about. Fun.”
She looked doubtful but nodded.
“You were very loud,” she explained.
I knew girls who got as loud. But I also knew that it wasn't encouraged, not outside of children's play (and even then . . . ). Herland was unified. Herland was cooperative. Herland was rational and logical and solved problems without butting heads. We weren't animals.
Right then I felt like a sour bulldog.
Ellador said, “Do you, ah, like Terry?”
Sure. Of course. Absolutely.
But I knew Ellador was asking about romance, sex, one of the few things Terry absolutely refused to discuss with me. (I told him he was as coy as the mentors, which annoyed him, but he still refused.) Terry got red-faced on the entire topic. He usually ended up challenging me to an arm-wrestle.
I rather liked Nieve in the way Ellador meant, but I planned to leave; I knew better than to take advantage of a Herland girl when there was no future for us. Even Terry was being responsible about his flirtations though he said that was because he didn’t want Moadine to castrate him, which excuse made me laugh so hard, I fell in the stream (this was before the move to Solis).
I shrugged, and Ellador subsided. Celis cocked an eyebrow. I scowled at her.
Ellador said doubtfully, “We shouldn’t want to separate ourselves from the rest of Herland.”
This time, Celis rolled her eyes, and I had to agree. We already were separate from the herd: Celis and Jeff; Ellador and Van; Terry and I. We were already establishing boundaries around “us.” The mentors couldn’t stop it. It was far stronger than philosophy.
Celis said, “You're the one who wants to leave, Ellador.”
“Do you?” I turned my cheek to stare up at Ellador from my knees. She flushed, then nodded.
Celis looked utterly unimpressed, which surprised me. I thought a world tour—especially if planes and trains were involved—sounded fantastic.
Celis said, “I think to truly understand a place, you have to live somewhere over time. Experience it.”
I knew what she was saying. A tour from the air would be exciting but merely theoretical. That was why Terry chafed at being held to Solis, why he wanted to see the rest of Herland, including its industrial areas.
“A broad view gives one the bigger picture,” Ellador argued. “One can see the things that need to be fixed.”
“Is that the best reason to go? To find out a place's flaws? Why not go for the feat, the triumph, the excitement?”
“Oh, you just don't want to leave Herland, Celis.”
“No, I don't. But Van didn't do go searching for flaws when he arrived in Herland. He gave it a chance.”
“He is exceptional, isn't he?” Ellador said, glowing. “I think I might—yes, I might actually marry him.”
Terry had explained marriage to me with lots of references to “contracts” and “legal agreements”. I gathered it also involved sex though Terry admitted that plenty of people even in America of the early twentieth century practiced sex outside of marriage. Personally, I didn't see why Ellador would bother with the whole business. What legal difference would a marriage make in Herland society?
“Van wants it,” Ellador explained. “Besides, outside of Herland, a man and woman can't travel together without being married.”
“Why would anyone care? Those people aren't sharing a bed with you.”
Ellador blushed. “He wants to protect my reputation.”
A ruined reputation was one of the more unlikable things Terry had confessed to me about the outside world. He chose his words carefully (for Terry) but I gathered that out there, my reputation would be ruined if people knew I didn't know my father, if people knew I spent years passing as a girl. Specifically, my reputation would be ruined in American or British society. Other societies wouldn’t care so much.
Ellador continued, “Van says marriage brings us closer. I've read some of the words he wrote about us.” She quoted, “This deeper recognition came and grew. I felt my own soul rise and lift its wings, as it were. Life got bigger. It seemed as if I understood—as I never had before—as if I too could grow—if she would help me. It came to both of us, all at once.”
I tried not to gag and glanced around, but even level-headed Celis looked a little wistful.
I said sarcastically (I sounded like Terry), “Does Jeff want to marry you, Celis?”
My irritation made no sense. I was the one scheming to leave, yet I felt adrift, abandoned, left behind with all this talk of marriage.
Maybe Herland had good reason to resent the “us”.
Celis said, “He does.”
“You really like him?”
I wasn't (just) being obnoxious. I honestly couldn't see Jeff's allure. Van and Ellador, yes. Anyone and Terry, absolutely. But moralizing, virtuous, praise-heavy Jeff with hard-headed, pragmatic, funny Celis?
Celis waved a hand. “He's a bit overly chivalrous. But he's kind. And he doesn't argue, which I don't like doing either. Beside, if I don't nab him, Jancey will, and make his life a terror.”
Ellador clucked, but I conceded the point. I wouldn't want to marry Jancey either.
One thing at a time. First, I had to get free of Herland and untouchable girls and all that stuff.
Next Chapter 11: Terry