The journey back to the compound is long. Helena listens to the sound of Grace’s breathing and thinks about her own breathing when she’d run, how fast she’d gone, the way that fear thump-thumped in her chest like someone trying to beat their way out. Like a baby-ghost, crawling its way up her throat.
Now she has no ghosts. The space in her gapes and – in a familiar way – hungers, and Helena breathes in-out through her nose and hushes it.
Soon, she thinks, watching the world move slowly by as they go, soon.
It is not soon. It takes so long to return to the farm, which gives Helena time to think, consider. She wonders how Sarah is doing without her. She can’t decide if she wants Sarah to be doing well – it pulls at her, pulls at her chest, licks around the hollowness in her, this problem. It is tearing her in two (two). She hopes Sarah is alright, but: she wants Sarah to need Helena. She needs Sarah to need Helena.
Because Grace said Sarah did not need Helena. There are so many problems, tangled around Helena like rope, zip ties, handcuffs, other confinements. Absolutes are this:
She needs Sarah. Sarah needs her.
Grace is a truth-thing.
Grace said Sarah did not need her.
The world shifts underneath Helena’s feet and she groans at the seasick motion of it. One of these things is false, and her mind keeps trying to pull her back to Maggie’s apartment, where Sarah said everything you know is wrong.
Everything Helena knows is wrong. Wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong. The journey back to the compound is long. Long long long long long. For every long a wrong pounds through Helena’s heart, two hearts beating long wrong long wrong wrong.
The journey back to the compound is long. It gives Helena too much time to think.
But then they arrive and Helena walks in through the gates, the same gates she’d run out of – she is ready for the returning to be over, because she cannot stop thinking of mirrors and reflections and the way that this is like a mirror-backwards version of her leaving and how, when she’d left, Sarah needed her. It is making Helena too sick and she wants it to stop.
“Babies,” she whispers to herself, when the others have left her. Babies, says the took-space inside Helena. Babies babies babies, babies that Helena will take care of and help, babies who will never be afraid.
She closes her eyes, breathes, and does not think of Sarah. Then she follows the men who are waiting for her.
She follows. Like a sheep.
They lead her to a table, hand her a hospital gown, say: Change. Helena turns her back and does; she is becoming good at change, she thinks. Underneath the material of the gown she feels cold and small, like a child – like a child – like a child shouldn’t have to, ever.
She gets on the bed. They strap her down and she breathes, breathes, looks up at the ceiling and breathes. Her loss, that iron ball, is thumping against her chest like another heart. It is too easy to remember how they took. It is too easy to remember that they are only giving back something that they took they took they took they took.
But it is a good thing, Helena tells herself. It is a good thing. She will have babies. They will be so beautiful. Without these people she would not have babies at all.
Still: she is strapped down to a bed. Confined. She is strapped down to the bed and then man – Henrik, is his name, he is no longer keeping her against her will and so he deserves a name – pulls at tubes and needles and things that have no name. A woman scuttles around him like a beetle.
(Around Henrik, Helena notices, everyone is a beetle. There to be stepped on.)
“Alright,” he says, not looking at her, “you just hold on to Alexis’ hand, there, she’s the midwife.”
What is a midwife, Helena thinks, confused. Is she a sometimes-wife? A wife besides Henrik’s wife? That is not God’s will.
“I’ve done this many times,” she says, which doesn’t answer Helena’s question. Helena takes her hand anyways; it is rough, similar to Helena’s hand but much smaller, much weaker. Helena misses the pressure of her own hand.
(Helena misses Kira’s hand, which was like this: mitten-soft-small.)
“You may feel just a little bit of discomfort,” Henrik continues, talking right over A-le-xis, and Helena leans up, the better to watch – it is her body, she should see what they do with it, especially when they are touching her, especially then.
Alexis puts a hand on Helena’s shoulder, (warning,) and Henrik says, “right – now.”
It’s a confusing sort of pain. Helena hurts there sometimes, when she bleeds, but this is different and unfamiliar. She doesn’t like it.
“You’re doing very well,” Alexis says, strangled, “and you’re very strong.” Then Helena realizes she has been squeezing the other woman’s hand like she is going to break it.
Would she break it? Hm. Maybe. Not now, though. Not when this woman has done nothing to her.
Now Henrik is looking at her – now that she is strapped down, now that he is putting her babies in her, now that he has power he is looking at her.
“It’s just the catheter threading through the cervix,” he says, like that means something.
But it doesn’t. Big silly nonsense words. The question, Helena thinks, is whether he thinks that Helena is a person: if he thinks her an object, a child, he will not explain. If Helena is not a person to him he will throw words at her like stones and let her be buried in them.
“What’s a cervix,” she asks him, low and bitter and testing.
“Well, when the time is right,” Henrik says, watching her, “it’ll – open, wide enough to let the baby pass.”
Like a door, Helena thinks, dim distant image of Helena-door opening to let babies out, all wide eyes parted mouths smooth unmarked skin. He’s passed the test well enough, Henrik has.
“Now for the embryos,” he says – ем-брі-он, little baby. Little tiny baby. He holds up a tube and there they are, Helena’s miracles.
“Those are my babies?” she asks, grinning despite herself to see them there, close enough to touch.
“That’s right,” he says, eyes wide wide, gesturing with the babies as he says things Helena does not care about. She nods along; she does not take her eyes off of her children even as Henrik does not take his eyes off of her.
Come back, she thinks, I am here for you, I will not leave you. Come back.
He does his science and Helena wrinkles her brow, looking back and forth – are they there? Are her babies inside of her? Do they know that they are home?
She wants to ask: can my babies tell that they are home, inside me, but it is revealing too much about Helena so Helena will not do it. Instead she listens intently to the sound of her own heartbeat, the feast-feeling of her babies nestling snug inside the curve of her.
“That’s it,” Henrik says, satisfied, and Helena thinks that’s it. She begins to lean back, slow, eyes wide (that’sit) as he continues. “God willing, in nine months we’ll be welcoming a brand new you into the world. Maybe even twins.”
A brand new you a brand new you a brand new you a brand new Helena, a Helena who has never been hurt, another chance for Helena, a new Helena, a brand new Helena, a brand new you.
twins, a brand new you. New skin. All that new skin singing. Distantly Helena is still leaning back on the bed, but mostly all of her is in her belly, feeling all that skin all that new skin a brand new you, God willing. God’s will God’s work God’s immaculate womb. For you knit me together—
Her children will be wonderfully made, yes, but there will be no fear in them. No fear in them at all.
Helena leans back onto the bed, and breathes, and watches the ceiling. For the first time in a long time, she does not feel hollow at all.
Henrik leaves, Alexis leaves, (everyone leaves) but Helena is not alone, not really – she can feel life in her, feel it growing. Her body is no longer only her own. She has purpose, again. Again she has purpose; she did not realize how much she missed being something, being for something.
(She does not think of Sarah.)
They leave her alone in the bed and she talks to her babies, gentle. Hello, she says, hello hello hello; I am not going to leave you. You do not have to be afraid. You will never have to be afraid.
Helena has been taught fear. The world has made her afraid, the world has leaned in on every side to make her afraid. It has come to her in nuns and Proletheans and God. She will let no one like that near her children. Her children will never have to be afraid.
She tells them so, in not-words, and listens to the distant sounds of footsteps approaching. Woman, small. Grace? No. It is Alexis, smiling like a liar: she does not bare her teeth. Her arms are piled with clothes; Helena has been wearing so many sets of clothing, lately, and still none of them her own. Always given to her by other people.
It seems like her life is given to her by other people, Helena muses. Put on this gown, Helena. Lie down in the bed and let us put straps on your feet. Take off your coat, Helena. Into the cage.
(She does not think of Sarah.)
(That is a lie. Guilt is growing with her children, guilt is curling in her stomach. She thinks around Sarah but Sarah is still there, nestled between Helena’s ribs. Right across from Helena’s heart.)
(That is a lie.)
(She is starting to grow tired of lying.)
“How are you feeling?” Alexis chirps, like a little bird, but Helena would never answer that. Nobody asks how Helena is feeling if they really want to know. This is a thing people do when they want you to get to what they want you to do.
“I have gas,” she says, lazily, because it does not matter.
“There’s plenty more of that to come,” Alexis says, lowering herself to Helena’s level. Helena considers considering killing her, but still this woman is undeserving. So she does not.
“Now let’s get you dressed,” she says, giving Helena clothing to wear, and Helena raises herself to her elbows. She thinks maybe Alexis did not want her to notice the let’s, that she would slide it in next to you and Helena would not notice.
Helena always notices these things. She does not need someone else’s hands on her skin. No, no, this is not what she needs. Let’s, Alexis says, like she and Helena are two of the same thing.
Well. Aren’t they supposed to be family? Maybe they are the same thing, then, at least to Alexis.
“I have something I’d like to show you,” she continues, smiling and smiling. She pushes the clothing into Helena’s hands.
Fine, Helena thinks, stirring, taking the clothes. It is not a promise, she tells herself, moving to get dressed; it does not mean anything, to take clothing, it does not mean she is making a promise.
(She tells herself this, but: she is a liar.)
The clothes settle on Helena’s skin with an unfamiliar weight; she is not used to skirts, does not wear skirts – did not wear skirts. The people here are trying very hard to change her – they leave her with no clothing but the type they like, the type they choose.
Helena does not like thinking about what that means; she shoves it to the side, slips on the clothing, does not think of Sarah. She is not afraid.
Alexis leads her out the door, into the outside, where air is cold in Helena’s throat but not on her skin. Beneath all the clothing she is very warm.
She does miss her coat, though. She does not miss anything about – before, except her coat. It was big and green and warm, and what was in the pockets was hers. It was a good coat.
That is what she is mourning. She is mourning the coat. She misses the coat. But she had to leave the coat behind, because she was in a hurry, with important things to do, and who would go back for a coat? No matter how much a coat protects you from the elements, it is just a coat. It is easily replaceable.
Helena shakes herself from her thoughts – she does not think she was mourning the coat at all – and enters the door Alexis is holding open for her. Like a baby through a Helena- door; like a baby through a cervix, maybe.
Except this is another mirror-reverse of that: when she moves through the door she is surrounded by children, every sort of child. They swirl around her like fish – like fish, they look at her without fear. They are tame little animals. They do not smell the predator on her.
Helena loves them so much it spills out of her chest. She loves their little hands as they grab onto the skirt she wears, she loves their grins and their strange babbling speech. How different this is from the convent, which smelled of soap and fear and echoed with silence. How different this is. How warm.
Helena imagines her own babies here, growing and eating and wearing clothes that fit, laughing with other children. Laughing with Helena. They could be happy, here; Helena could be happy here, maybe, if her children were happy. She does not picture the future too closely but it is warm and bright and soft. Could be. Maybe.
(That maybe is more than Helena has ever had, when it comes to futures.)
She looks up and sees a little girl watching her across the room, cradling a stuffed sheep. (Baa.) She smiles at Helena; there is no fear in it, that smile, and it is so beautiful it makes her heart ache. Helena thinks of Kira, briefly, and the way Kira smiled at her – but she pushes that memory out of her head, pushes her tongue out of her mouth.
Helena is good at many things, and one of them is getting rid of sadness. If she could not get rid of sadness, anger, fear when she needed to she would not be alive.
She sticks her tongue out at the little girl watching, hesitant, slow. The girl does not pause before sticking her own tongue back out and giggling.
She’s beautiful. Helena tries to smile back but she does not want to frighten this child, frighten her with all of Helena’s teeth. Her smile instead is so tender and soft that it barely even stretches the corners of her mouth – it is a true smile, though, it is such a true thing.
But she’s distracted by the pull of hands on her skirt, voices saying “look,” “hello,” voices laughing. The children are watching Helena without menace – she is new to them, Helena thinks, she is new and exciting and there is no blood on her hands.
She leans down and listens to them, because: in the convent everything Helena said was evil and so she could not speak. But there is nothing evil in children, and all little Helena wanted was for someone to listen to her.
She is mending all of the mistakes. She is undoing what has been done to her, one little bit at a time.
Helena leans in close and listens. Out of the mouth of babes.
They do not give her long with the children, though, before rushing them off to what Alexis calls “story time” with a wrinkle of her nose. Oh. Helena likes stories, but only when they are useful. (This is true of…far too many things.) She has never had someone sit and tell her a story just because.
She lingers in the door and watches the children gather, settle, hush after harsh words from Alexis. Helena’s eyes narrow thoughtfully; she considers that harshness. Considers. But she’s distracted by footsteps – this time it is Grace, settling behind her. Helena thinks about turning to look at her. Then she realizes she has nothing to say.
Henrik enters the room and the children turn to him like flowers towards the sun. There is a gnawing itching thing in Helena that wonders whether this single-minded devotion is love or fear it should be the first it must be the first, because if Henrik makes these children afraid—
She listens closely, just in case. He tells a story about a creator and a creation, a creation who is not loved, a creation who wants desperately to be loved, a creation who follows its creator to the end of the earth.
Helena does not like the story, much. The people who created her are dead and gone. Respectively. Even if they were here – she followed Tomas, but she did not do so willingly. She would not follow her mother anywhere, that rotting womb, that thing that abandonedher.
The muscles ‘round her mouth twitch and Helena shoves that thought away, shoves it far far away, does not think of her mother. She will be a good mother. Her children will not hate her; they will have no cause to.
She returns to watching the children, because to them this is just a story.
But the children or also watching her – or at least, one is: the little girl Helena saw earlier, who no longer has a sheep. Helena sticks her tongue out again. It worked before. Helena knows she could be good for children, knows she could love children, but she is – afraid. She is afraid. She is afraid of doing it wrong, of hurting the children, speaking with her rough voice, touching them with her rough hands.
Best to use silent, happy gestures. Like tongue pokes.
And it works: Helena’s companion sticks her tongue out, (reflecting) like Helena did. She smiles. She turns back to the story.
Helena’s done well, then. She feels a surge of warmth in her chest and grins, one quick twitch of the mouth.
But story time ended while Helena was distracted, and the children are herded off to rest and dream of sweet things. Only the sweetest of things, only the best for children. Helena sends a quick prayer for their rest and does not consider, too closely, the idea of praying.
(There are a lot of things Helena is not thinking about, not considering; she does not think about this idea either. This is a happy place, and Helena will not ruin it with Helena. She is light, or was, or could be. It is not her job to bring in darkness.)
All of them move away except the girl who keeps looking at Helena, the girl Helena likes. She is watching Helena closely; she comes closer, slowly, slowly, hesitant and young.
Henrik approaches Helena too, but he is not hesitant at all. Helena notices, again, the way everyone moves around him. He is the leader of the family, the alpha. She is supposed to bare her belly to him. She will, if she wants to stay.
(In a way she already has. Twice. Twice she has bared her belly, and he took from it and then gave again when he grew bored. His generosity has limits. Helena knows. Helena will keep her eyes sharp, but not her teeth. Just in case.)
“One day,” he says, “this room will be full of your children.”
There is something strange about that, something Helena cannot quite put her finger on, but before she can consider she feels a light tug on her hair.
The girl – the – the – Helena’s – Helena’s – Helena’s – friend, Helena’s friend, Helena’s friend is pulling on Helena’s hair with gentle fingers, her eyes wide and curious. Helena sticks her tongue out again. Because. It works, and again she is afraid. Afraid of ruining.
If she is to be used to children, though, she cannot be afraid. She has to be certain that she will not break them, or – what is the point? So she reaches out, soft and gentle and loving as she knows how, and runs fingers through her friend’s hair in return. They are a closed loop. Helena leans in close, and—
Her friend is yanked back from her. “You’re not listening, Faith,” says Alexis, words all stick-stone-break-bone sharp.
“I just wanted to touch her hair,” says Faith, who is Helena’s friend – her words are soft as all the boneless places, soft as places that are too easily hit and stabbed and bruised and broken, too easily broken.
“Don’t talk back to me,” Alexis says over Faith’s small “Ow, you’re hurting me.”
And over Alexis’ bitterwords is the sound of a slap, small mewling “ow”s, small sounds of pain, small pain sounds.
(ow said Helena ow ow ow ow ow you are hurting me ow please stop please stop I am sorry ow anything to make the pain stop small Helena small Helena no bones small Helena fear little fear Helena Helena afraid the world has made Helena so afraid the world has sewn bones under her skin and said that is enough the world has)
(stabbed rebar in her liver and)
(shot her in the heart and)
(locked her in a cage and beaten her and pressed a razor blade into Helena’s hand and this. was. This was supposed to be a place without fear. This was supposed to be a place without pain. Helena thinks about her children here, afraid, and watches. And considers.
Alexis has still done nothing to her. But.)
Faith runs, breathes, her breath sounding too much like Helena’s, far too much like Helena’s. Alexis turns back to Helena and reassembles her human skin, her liar’s smile.
“Shall we head back, then?” she asks, still smiling, but Helena has seen her teeth. Helena has seen this woman use her teeth on children, which is something she cannot forgive. How dare you hurt a child. How dare you make a child afraid. The animal in Helena wakes, yawns in a great stretch of its own teeth. Her body and her mind hum in unison, the old song of an animal protecting young. She eyes Alexis, presses her body against the frame of the door, coaxes her body away from threat and towards bared-belly-fear.
Then Alexis is close enough and Helena lunges, slams the woman against the door, listens to her hiccup of fear good. Good, know what you have done know what it is like consider that fear, consider that you are giving that fear to others, know it, know the fear breathe the fear breathe, Helena. Breathe. Thou shalt not kill. Not yet.
“There was a woman in convent like you,” she tells Alexis, as the other woman squirms and wiggles and tries, in vain, to run.
You said I was very strong, yes? Helena thinks. And yet now she is surprised, at Helena’s strength! People are so changeable. But that is the way of liars, twisting and sliding their way out of danger. Like snakes. Hiss.
“You touch her again,” Helena breathes, stroking her fingers around Alexis’ chin (speak no evil), “and I will gut you like a fish.”
Here is a threat you will understand, you woman of creaking fish-windmills, shiny fish-buckles, fish brands on fish necks, fish blades at fish throats. Everywhere fish, but: Helena is the only one with wings, here. She is the only one holy.
She shoves Alexis off in one smooth, violent motion, sighs, and turns back to the room. Without children it is strange to her: empty.
Alexis leaves, Grace follows, but – Helena is sick, for now, of following. Instead she is left to her own devices and she wanders outside, breathes in the air. She thinks about the tiny babies dreaming upstairs. She thinks about Faith’s skin blooming bruises, spoiling the milk-and-honey of her.
She tires of the outside quickly, after that. Moves to find Grace-and-Alexis. Peeks her head in one door, two (she does not return to the room where she was kept), hands folded neatly behind her, res-pec-ta-ble.
It is door number three that yields Helena’s prize: Grace on a bed, Alexis looming over her (they like their power here, Helena thinks), and – food! Food for Helena, food for Grace, eat up, little piggies, eat up, feed your babies. She grunts, little pig sounds, as she enters. She and Grace are two fat pigs, yes, but this also makes Alexis uneasy. Helena likes making Alexis uneasy; she likes making Alexis afraid. As afraid as she has made the children.
She hopes that the sounds do not make Grace afraid. Oink oink. I am not a predator at all. I am just as docile as you.
“Well,” says Alexis, standing, “now that you’re both in a…family way, you can keep each other company.”
Helena grabs the food, slings herself onto the bed, considers. She doesn’t think she minds, spending the time with Grace. And food. Mostly food, but Grace too. She curls up into herself and looks at Grace, pulls her lip hopefully between her teeth. Maybe they could be friends.
Alexis turns to leave – good riddance – and Helena oinks again, for everyone’s benefit. Or. For everyone except Alexis, good riddance, amen. She laughs at her own cleverness but Grace, Grace moves in broad angry motions – like swipes of a blade over skin – shoving the blankets off her legs and curling up into a ball.
No. Not angry. The need to make yourself small, to press yourself to yourself, that is born from sadness.
“You are sad to be pregnant?” Helena asks, curiously.
Grace doesn’t answer. Sadness is heavy in the air, metal on Helena’s tongue, metal like fear – she remembers her first time meeting Grace, metal-fear on her tongue under grapes. Metal-sadness on her tongue under grapes.
Sadness is a heavy thing; it pulls down. But: Helena can shift sadness. She has done it before.
(She does not think of Sarah she does not.)
“You might as well eat,” she says, shrugging, “you will be fat soon. Anyway.”
She laughs, but Grace just looks at her, looks at her. The problem with Grace is that she knows what Helena is; there are so few people who know, know what a monster Helena has been, but Grace is one of them. The smile slides off Helena’s face. Grace is sad and her sadness is so heavy that Helena cannot shift it. She cannot budge it. It is like straining against zip ties, blood on your wrists – not impossible, but. Difficult.
“I thought you like Mark,” she says, sour. She eats another grape. These ones are not as sweet as the last bunch: their time has passed. They are beginning to rot, or at least dangling off that edge. The taste of them blooms sour on Helena’s tongue.
“You don’t get it, do you,” Grace says, sour as grapes, and Helena stops chewing. She is getting the feeling she does not want to know what truth Grace is going to give her.
“My – my father is the father,” says Grace, anger rotting in the depths of her words, “I’m carrying your babies.”
“My babies in your cervix,” says Helena slow, Grace door, Grace door opening, children who do not know Helena, children whose home is not Helena, Helena’s children not Helena’s children.
“For your genes, Helena,” Grace says, but she does not say no. Helena’s babies are in Grace. Helena’s babies are making Grace not-hollow, growing in Grace, growing in time to Grace’s heartbeat, dreaming of the sweetest of things and not knowing Helena at all.
Are they her babies. Are they.
“Haven’t you been listening to anything my father says,” Grace asks, but it isn’t a question. Not really. There is pity in it, but not the kind that makes Helena want to spit, rip throats, break necks – she can’t explain it, not really, explain how Grace thinking her stupid for not paying attention is better than other people thinking that she wouldn’t pay attention.
Maybe it is because Grace expects things of her. Maybe that.
Maybe she likes that there is a line, in Grace’s head, a line marked Helena that Helena is not living up to. But there is a line.
And she is not living up to it; she had listened to nothing Henrik had said, distracted by the flash of babies in his hand. Stupid Helena, distracted by (the rapid motion of Sarah’s eyelashes underneath her knife) (the feeling of Sarah’s leg against her leg Sarah’s knife against her leg) (Sarah’s voice saying please Helena I need you Helena please Helena please) promises. Promises that are never, ever kept.
“Not really,” Helena says softly. She is beginning to realize that this was a mistake.
Something starts rising in her, something that listens to Grace’s words and wants to tell Helena something about them, but Helena swallows it down with food. She turns away from Grace. She turns to the food, and picks at it. Does not consider. She is not afraid she is not afraid.
She can hear Mark enter, smell the scent of sweat and nervousness oozing from him. Helena thought him a liar; now she knows he is that, but he is also just a boy. Just a stupid boy who says stupid little lies and does not know why he says them. Wind-up robot boy. Tick tick.
“Hello, Gracie,” he pants, twisting his hands – I am not a threat, he says, shrinking himself, turning his hands in on themselves too, I am safe, love me, I am safe – “are you well?”
Grace looks at Helena, and Helena feels a white-hot jolt of fear for a second along with the thought that Grace expects her to know. The thought that Grace expects things from her.
But then Grace opens her mouth, shakes her head, says, “She has no idea.”
Mark turns to Helena and Helena wonders if he has any idea; maybe he doesn’t, maybe he doesn’t know, stupid robot liar boy.
“He puts babies in all these women?” she asks, her tone all horror, saying prove me wrong, Mark, know that you should be afraid.
“Yes,” he says instead. “To multiply is – divine.”
Someone told Helena a lot of things about divinity, once.
She is sick of liars.
Grace looks at her, out of the corner of Helena’s eye, and Helena knows Grace knows this for a falsehood. The two of them can smell out lies, sweat and good intent, but it is too late for Grace.
Too late for Helena too, maybe.
Apparently Mark thinks this is good enough, that you can just say God wants anything and that is good enough for Helena, stupid Helena who followed so trustingly—
Anyways. It is not enough, but that does not matter. He turns to Grace, settles on the bed. Gestures to the food. “Try and eat something, Gracie,” he pleads. “Please?”
Helena wants to tell him that Helena could not get Grace to eat, and Helena wasn’t even lying to her. But she doesn’t. Instead she watches his hand on Grace’s hand, watches his stupid belief. He thinks that love can save her? Stupid. Stupid. Where was he when Henrik took his daughter’s hand and led her to the hospital bed? Where were you then, Mark?
She does not say that. Instead she says mwah, mwah mwah mwah. She wonders if Mark knows what an insult that is.
Grace knows, because Grace is smart and true and should not have to have Helena’s babies inside of her. Grace is smart and true and Helena feels disgust for Mark, for Grace’s sake.
“You love her like puppy,” she says, her breath stinking of grapes, “but you let him make her brood mare.”
“The women here don’t see it that way,” he says, smug in his belief. “Tell her, Gracie.”
Tell me, Grace, thinks Helena. She needs Grace to be an absolute, a not-liar, because every single person Helena knows is a liar. She is sick of liars. She is sick of not knowing if truth will come out of someone’s mouth. She is sick of that uncertainty. She is sick of being afraid.
Tell me, Grace, thinks Helena, and Grace says nothing. She rolls over.
Ah. That answers that question.
Mark turns to look at Helena, all wide eyes. “Hm,” Helena says. She does not look away from him.
Let him see. Let him see what he has done.
Grace stops talking when Mark leaves, rolls onto her side and does not make a sound. Helena curls up and thinks. She wishes that everyone here would stop lying. She is sick of liars. She is sick of lying. She wants the truth to stream in, like light, shining on everyone’s faces. So bright it is hard to look at.
If this dream is to come true she should probably stop lying to herself.
She misses Sarah. She misses Sarah like a raw ache in her throat, in her chest, burning in her stomach. She thought that it would be alright to leave Sarah, for her babies – but in this place? In this place, with these liars, with the crack of Alexis’ hand? With her babies – with all her babies, and only some of them hers, and Helena not knowing which is which?
With every woman here tethered to the weight of Helena’s babies, so they are born to mothers who might not even have wanted them? That is an undoing of all Helena wanted. Helena wanted children who were not as unhappy as she was, as she is. All of her babies, she thought, would be happy. All of them. All of them born to a happy mother, a mother who loved them. They could make a family.
This is not a family at all, and Helena realizes again with the force of a bullet that she already has a family. And she left them.
She slides her feet off the bed, rests her head in her hands – it is too heavy to be unsupported. Sadness is a heavy thing, Helena knows, and it is dragging her down. Sadness drags Helena down, Helena whose limbs are arcing with fear like fast blood, thump-thump-thump, and Helena whose anger is roaring to life, warm, in her stomach. Anger for what others have done. Fear for what she has done. Sadness, anger, fear; all these things together she cannot get rid of. They swirl in her stomach. They make her sick.
She looks at Grace, who even in sleep has a furrowed brow. This too is her fault, possibly. She wonders if Grace would be happier if she was not there. She wonders if everyone would be happier if Helena was not there, if Helena was gone.
The thought makes her press the heels of her hands against her face, drags her head down with sadness. She wants, desperately and suddenly, a razor blade. She wants to let the sadness out, she wants to let all of her heavy feelings out and fly away with her wings.
But no, that belongs to Tomas and Tomas is gone. It is time for Helena to be gone too.
And just like that, she’s decided; she begins the motion of putting on her boots. Everything clicks very suddenly into place, easy as killing, right as Sarah’s skin on her skin. She will go back to Sarah. She has done it before, and Sarah knew what to do. Even if Sarah does – not – want – her , Sarah will know what to do.
Then: “What are you doing?” Grace asks, sleep-soft. Helena won’t lie, she won’t lie, she is sick of liars. She wouldn’t lie to Grace, anyways: she is sick of lying, too.
“I don’t – belong here,” she chokes out, words like bones in her throat, sharp. How can she explain, the weight of this place, the way it settles on her shoulders, the way she swears she hears Faith (her friend) whimpering, choking in every breath, the way every breath here stinks of fear and liars and liars and fear and she is sick, sick, of being afraid.
“But…where will you go?” asks Grace, and Helena says “To my sestra” because it is as simple as that. Easy as loving, right as a razor blade on her skin.
“You’re a good girl, Grace,” she says, words choked with anger and love, maybe – something that could be love, if she had space to love Grace.
(She wishes she had room to love Grace.)
“But if you don’t want to have my babies,” she spits, “don’t have my babies.”
“I would never do that,” says Grace, truly. Helena can feel the truth like bones beneath the skin of Grace’s words. She looks at Grace. Grace looks at her. There are so many things Helena wants to say; she says none of them.
Instead Grace breaks eye contact, grabs for her boots, says, “I’m coming with you.”
Helena thinks, suddenly, of crying: this is only the second time someone has said I will come with you, and the first time, the first someone has chosen to come with Helena when she did not ask them to.
(The first time was Kira.)
(Helena will not let that happen again she will not let Grace get hurt. She will not let Grace be afraid.)
Helena can feel her heart thud, feel it twist and stretch – there is room for Grace in it, now. Her heart has tenderly moved Sarah and Kira aside to make room for Grace in it. And she trusts her heart; she trusts it.
She trusts Grace.
She turns to go, to lead – but Grace leads, Grace says, “This way, it’s faster.”
Nobody – has –
The lights flicker on blue-green ship color, ship color rust ship blade on back Helena, Helena Helena, down in the dark Helena, you are the light Helena, Ithinkhetooksomethingfrominsideofme blue green ship rust take took taken helockedyouinacage cage cage cage cage cage—
“You disappoint me, daughter,” says Henrik, walking forward, no hestitation. How stupid of Helena to not know, when everyone cowered in front of this man. How stupid of her to think him kind.
But: Grace does not cower. She has always worn her fear stiff and Helena is angry, angry, because she had just promised that Grace would not have to be afraid.
“Go back to your beds,” he says, words just as much a threat as his rifle, but Grace shakes her head.
“No, father,” she says.
“We trusted you to counsel her,” Henrik hisses, like Grace has not done exactly that, like Grace has not led Helena true – out of the loins of liars comes truth, and how inhuman of them to not recognize it.
Helena walks forward, slow, over talk of purpose. It is Helena who can decide Helena’s purpose. Helena’s purpose is to protect the ones she loves and make sure they are never, ever afraid again. She decided this when Henrik towered over her and now that the two of them are standing on equal footing it only makes her decision stronger.
“I am not afraid of you,” she says, strong as anything, because she is not. She will keep everyone safe, the babies and the women and all of them. She is not afraid. She is sick of being afraid.
“Neither am I,” says Grace.
Neither am I, says Grace, who speaks the truth.
Helena thinks she may be proud of her. She does not know what proud feels like, but it has to be something like this: something that uncurls from the baby-space of her, near her cervix, that stretches and purrs and tells her arms to reach for Grace. Not now, Helena tells her arms, and instead she watches Grace spit at her father, spit, “Mother’s gone west to find more brood mares?”
Helena closes her eyes, breathes; angersadnessfear, that other women might be forced to carry Helena’s babies, forced forced forced.
“Both of you can go to hell,” Grace says, and then Helena does.
For severalmanyfew breaths, Helena’s vision warps and she is reminded, suddenly, of when she was drugged, when the world was shiny and she dreamed of Sarah.
Sarah. Sarah needs her, Grace needs her, and Helena claws herself back to waking.
“—Helena is a miracle—” Henrik says, voice crackling in Helena’s ears like the static on the radio, Sarah radio Sarah miracle miracle meathead miracle you did it’s a “—sign that I cannot—” do this, you can’t, I wish you could, you saved my life you’re my sister you’re
“—not locking Gracie up anymore,” says Mark, and Helena thinks she is proud of him too. Not for long, though, with Henrik and his big gun. Stand, Helena. Walk, Helena.
Lunge, Helena, amen amen amen amen amen.
Henrik makes a lot of noise but Helena has fought bigger, fought meaner, fought stronger, fought more than Henrik has but most importantly she is angry and she is not afraid.
She is not afraid. She will not let this man make anyone afraid – she will save the children and the women and the animals too, save them from this, amen. She will cut off this fear at the root.
This is your purpose, Helena. God’s will God’s work Helena’s own womb, with her babies who will never, ever have to be afraid.
But first she will save Grace from this, Grace who watches Helena with her arm ‘round Grace’s father’s throat with wide eyes.
“Go,” Helena grunts, strained, hoping the word is enough, hoping it is sharp as a bullet, right in the heart. “Go. Run!”
It is enough; Grace runs. She takes Mark’s hand and runs.
For a brief second Helena closes her eyes and mourns: mourns Grace, mourns her babies inside of Grace, mourns the fact that she does not think they will meet again. She mourns part of her heart. She mourns what happened to you Grace.
Then she listens to Henrik’s breathing. He is unconscious. Good.
She will not let this man make anyone afraid.
But he has a lot of fear to make up for.
She hoists his fat pig body onto the bed, tightens the straps. She hums as she works, low notes that perch like crows in the air.
Helena is almost done with that, murder, murdering the people who have made-her-this-way. But this is not for her. This is for her babies, that Henrik made this way, and for Grace, who he locked in a cage, and a little bit because Tomas is gone, Tomas locked Helena in a cage, and because of Henrik Tomas is gone, and Tomas made-her-this-way.
Also it is for Helena. But nobody has to know that.
She pokes at all the shiny little toys, while she waits, waiting for—
Ah. There. Little animal grunts, like he is already buried in a woman, uh ah ah. Good morning, Henrik.
What happened to you?
“Helena,” he says, “Helena, what are you doing.” Helena can almost taste the fear under his words, but it is not enough, not close enough to the surface. So much fear to make up for. So much fear to pull out of one little man.
“Why do you sound so scared,” she says to him; part of her is hoping he will say Helena I am scared, Helena I am afraid. Maybe if he said that she would stop!
She would not stop.
“Helena,” he says again; he keeps making the mistake of thinking that he is good enough to say her name! Dreamily she approaches him, trails glass along his face, little vials marked Helena. See, Helena! See. Helena. See Helena. See.
He keeps saying her name, over and over, as Helena walks around him. Positions herself between his legs. Poor Henrik has no hand to hold onto. Poor Alexis is gone.
“We saved you,” he says – close, close to the right amount of fear, not there yet. We saved you. Helena drowns that out with a groan, reaches up, stretches any little bit of fear out. Stretches the anger from her heart to her limbs. Mmm. Close. Not there yet.
She moves around him like a predator, smelling the fear on him, hearing the fear on him, hearing it rise.
“Helena, I am the father of your children,” he tries next. “They are going to need me when they get older.”
But that makes Helena think of Grace, think of the women, think of all the women Henrik is father-of-your-children to. All these women. All these Helena babies.
“Daddy how do they make babies,” she says, Grace says, Helena’s babies say. For all of them she is doing this. Daddy. Helena never had a father. Helena never needed one.
(Helena never needed a mother, either, but that’s not the point.)
She grabs the probe, rolls it between her hands. Hello probe. It is a solid weight. It is a little like a knife. It is a little like a gun. But it is missing something!
She fumbles through the tray, until she finds: Ah. There.
“Would you like horse baby?” she asks Henrik, but the trick is this: she is giving him just as much choice as he gave her! It is a very funny joke. Very nice, Helena.
(She doesn’t think he gets it. Sad.)
The next container she pops open, sniffs; it doesn’t smell like much but she can smell Henrik growing afraid, sour sweat, sour like grapes, sour like sadness, fear and sadness, sadness and fear.
“Cow baby,” she murmurs. She grabs all those little science bits she has no name for. Helena was never a scientist, not really. Now is as good a time as any to learn, yes? Now is a very good time to learn.
“Is this how you do it?” she asks Henrik, and she listens to him breathing. Deep down in the pits of his breathing she can hear Faith, ow ow ow ow you’re hurting me.
She slows down, to let Faith out. Faith does not belong here. Shoo, Faith. Run, Faith. This is not for children.
“You’ve made your point,” Henrik says – so Faith is gone, all that child fear, all that is left is big man fear, big adult fear. “This isn’t funny.”
Helena hums, shoves a pipe in her mouth – see, big man doctor for big man fear.
“Do I look like I’m trying to be funny?” she growls at him.
(It is funny. But only to Helena. The pipe cracks between her teeth. Henrik, there is nothing funny here for you. There is nothing funny at all for you. You are never going to smile again. You will be so afraid. You have made so many people afraid.)
Henrik has made so many people afraid. So many. Now it is time for him to pay his debts, at last; he says Helena, over and over, and fear pounds at his words like an animal in a cage, like Helena in a cage.
She flicks liquid off her hand, (baptism,) and crouches down.
“Helena,” Henrik says, his voice strangled, “don’t do this.”
“No,” Helena breathes, eyes wide. You may feel just a little bit of discomfort right—
“Helena—” Henrik says again, voice all choked with fear, voice oozing fear, more fear in those three syllables than Helena has heard in her life, more fear than in Helena, Henrik is afraid, right—
He tilts his head back, screams, and Helena laughs an angry joyous, sound. She can hear the fear and anger and sadness rising to the ceiling, rising out into the world, being set free. There is no room for them in either of their bodies. She’s done it. She’s done it she’s done it amen, praise God.
She cannot stop laughing. Henrik screams and screams and screams.
When she’s done Helena leaves him there – she’s still laughing, little giddy sounds rising from her throat as she goes to work. Quick! Quick! Fire blooms easy, fire blooms like anger, and she coaxes it along the building, all of the buildings. Then quick quick she goes to get the children.
The children, remember, are never going to be afraid. She lets them go. She lets the animals go, too, and the women. They stumble sleepy run. Fire nips at their heels like a dog, as they go.
Helena turns and goes the opposite way, once everyone is gone. She runs and runs, but: her footsteps are still heavy.
She turns to look at what she’s done.
Goodbye, Grace, she says to the fire. Goodbye, Faith. Goodbye children. Goodbye babies.
She watches for a little while, but there is no one else to say goodbye to. Fire is neat that way. It eats everything right up, the way Helena does. When the fire is done there will be nothing left of this place, nothing to remember Helena by.
That’s alright, Helena thinks as she turns to go. There is not much she needs to remember anyways.
She turns her back on the fire and leaves. The light makes a path ahead of her, as she goes.