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I

I was born on Whileaway, and in Womanland, and on Earth, twice. Technically I suppose I was born on Earth all four times, in the way that it was the same planet, but to the victors go the rights of naming, and Janet and Jael have earned those rights. Jeannine and I, Joanna, are envious of that. We are the same woman; Jeannine the downtrodden, poor trapped proto-housewife, Janet the free, utopian and barbarous and wondrous, Jael the assassin, rage made of flesh and steel, and I, Joanna, who you would recognise if you met in a conference room, an elevator, a mirror.

If you were a certain type of person, you might call us The Housewife, The Separatist Lesbian, The Militant Man Hater and The Career Woman. I just call us "I".


II

We meet again in Schrafft's one day, Janet looking surprised at having appeared suddenly in our world, strangely attired. She'd been shifting a cow out of a Whileawayan doorway, and sat down with a jolt, off balance. Fortunately she did not land on any of us. "Oh my goodness," she said, I think to put herself in the mind of being here again with us backward sods. Then she ordered coffee, and yawned and stretched enormously, endangering the hats of the women at the next table. I didn't tell her how glad I was to see her, brash wonderful exasperating Janet.

Alice Reasoner, Jael, sat running her strange fingers down the menu, and Jeannine beside her had a bowl full of ice cream she was playing with. I wasn't hungry, but sipped at my coffee and wondered what might have become of Laur. I should know that, I'm the author, but Janet's ways are obstreperous and opaque, and possibly she's spirited her away to Whileaway anyhow. It could have happened; there was the policeman that one time.

I wonder if Jael was right about the plague, the war, the reason. It would explain why Whileaway never decided on male babies once they had a hold of genetic surgery. It would explain. Then again, if Janet is right and Jael is wrong, if it was a plague of natural causes (Jael would say she is a natural cause; the most natural there could be) - would I, Joanna - would I bring them back if I could? After a generation or two? Would I?


III

This is men's work har har look at her blank face har har as I serve him coffee over the financial reports for his business - his own business - that I taught him to read. I. I, I, I. That peculiar mental trick they do in order not to perceive me.

This is men's work roars another one what we talk about in there I hope you weren't listening har har. I stretch my lips over my teeth, smile, because I need my job and if I remind him that I had that same discussion with him first - it's amazing what the telephone does, takes away their favourite tricks, no standing over you, they can't see your body, can't leer at you - well. Well.


IV

We walked around the the city, Jael and I. I, Joanna, looking over the shoulder of I, Jeannine. Sometimes it seemed to be my city, sometimes Jeannine's, sometimes some other J's entirely. Every time a man spoke to us har har don't you girls look after yourselves do you want to come home with me how about a blow job how about a fuck stuck up bitch I was just saying hello can't you be friendly what's your problem you're an ugly cunt anyway I was afraid Jael's shining teeth would flash out, her claws slice up the sidewalk, but it was as she said and she was harmless and docile, a tourist taking in the sights, undercover.

She suffered their insults well in Manland (always the same), and then she killed. He tried to rape and she killed.

With the quiet avenging angel next to me I noticed them more, the everyday background noise of their hostile voices. I wondered what would happen to them, the men without a Manland, when they met Jael and her army. Whether she would be always and forever a tourist here, behind her battle lines, or whether she would bring her war with her. Does helping her win her war create war in my world? Would I feel sorry if she killed one of those men on the street? I think of the man whose thumb I bruised and I wonder.


V

The Making of An Earth Woman

Smile.
Dress nicely but not too nicely.
Be thin but not too thin.
Hold conversations but don't press your point.
Don't argue.
Share your body with everyone (male).
Cover up, you slut.
Smile.


VI

The Making of a Whileawayan Woman

Birth.


VII

Jael has begun to teach us methods of disguise.


VIII

There you go darling. Good girl. Thanks honey. Aren't you a sweetie. You're my favourite woman today (because you work in the pay office and I want my money, today you are a woman not a girl. I have some idea you don't like it when I call you a girl every other day.). You're a sweet girl. Smile. Are you all right there, darling? You're a smart girl (like when my cat learned how to ask for food). You're the smartest woman I've ever known (I'm 67 and I didn't know women could be smart until this job forced me to listen to you, you bitch, and I hate it.). Smile, it can't be that bad. Aren't you a good girl.


IX

Jeannine Dadier used to think she was a good girl. Or think she wanted to be one, at any rate, whatever it is they mean when they say that to you, you smiled, didn't make a fuss, didn't have your own ideas, oh no. Alice Reasoner has changed her and now she has an edge about her, an alertness. I haven't seen her shrink into my furniture in months, haven't seen her match her soul to a settee or look back at me from a lamp. She told me one day that she didn't think she would fit any more. I wonder what her first revolutionary act was. I wonder what became of Cal.


X

Janet says, You might have been right. Janet says, There are arguments on Whileaway. The evidence is patchy. You might have been right. Maybe there was no plague.

Jeannine looks up from her ice cream, fierce. "So what will you do?"

Janet shrugs. Nothing.


XI

I am a woman and I want you to see me.

You imagined I meant 'naked', didn't you.


XII

Last week I told Jael she should set up her base.