Artemis Rising returns to Escape Pod for its third year! This month-long event highlights science fiction by women and non-binary authors. We have five original stories this year that range in topics from biotech to far-flung A.I, virtual reality, and nanotech.
AUTHOR: Eileen Gunnell Lee
NARRATOR: Marguerite Croft
HOST: Divya Breed
ARTIST: Ashley Mackenzie
- Baro Porrajmos, or Love in the Vardo is an Escape Pod original for Artemis Rising 3.
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about the author…
Eileen Gunnell Lee is an award-winning essayist, teacher, and graduate student. She is currently completing a PhD in literature focusing on science fiction, myth, and the environment, and editing her first novel. She lives in Hamilton, Canada, and tweets @eileenglee.
Marguerite Croft is a professional writer living in the San Francisco Bay Area. She’s a recovering anthropologist and a graduate of the Clarion West Writers Workshop. She has read fiction for Podcastle, Pseudopod, and Escape Pod..
about the artist…
Ashley Mackenzie is an artist and illustrator based in Edmonton, Alberta. She was born in Victoria, BC and grew up between Vancouver, BC and Edmonton, AB. After studying online for a year through AAU in San Francisco, Calif., she moved to Toronto to pursue a degree in Illustration at OCADU. Though she loves the challenge of creating complex conceptual illustrations and finding new ways to navigate ideas, visually she also enjoys making concept art and decorative illustration. When not drawing, she can be found reading, playing video games or thinking about her next project.
Baro Porrajmos, or Love in the Vardo
By Eileen Gunnell Lee
The day we left the Static was the best day of our lives. The Static had been squalid—a cold concrete building with perpetually wet floors sloping toward the drains. There had been too many of us in there, even without the men.
We celebrated the day we left the Static. We ate the rest of our rations, so certain were we that after that day we would forage in the countryside, or trade for what we couldn’t glean ourselves.
Freedom! Opre Roma, and all that.
The world was opening up to us once again. Wide-eyed at the horizon revealed beyond the swinging gates, we didn’t think to question the gift of our liberation. The train of twenty-five caravans that appeared by mayoral decree were not like the old ones from the stories, with the wooden yokes for horses. They were also not the kind that self-piloted with optical sensors and a satellite connection, with a local transport web connection. These were older—the shocks a little soft, lights touchy, but they had good solar, solid batteries, air and water filtration. The mayor’s representative told us that these were second-hand, from Hungary, where they weren’t needed any longer. A good deal.
On the road for thirty-three days, we skirted the villages because the berry picking was good, and there were rabbits. I took my turn riding with Anya and her three, since I didn’t have a family of my own. That was the difficulty—or one of them—since the men had gone: knowing where a woman like me should ride. I was seventeen—young if I’d been born a gadja in the villages, but a Romani woman of any tribe would have had her eye on someone by now. Anya and I talked about this, as her children walked beside the rolling vardo.
“You don’t need a man,” Anya said. She eyed me, gauging my response before I knew what it would be. “I’ve got my three,” she said, “and no man to be found—but who’s looking?”
“It’s not the kids,” I replied.
Anya nodded. “I get it. Well, you don’t need a man for that, either.”
I smiled at Anya. I didn’t want her to think that she’d shocked me. We were liberated, after all, even before leaving the Static, before the men had gone. But after I hopped down from the cab, I walked to the front of the line to ride with Edingel Lee, or Eddie as most called her. She was old—something like eighty-eight, the last I’d heard, a respected Phuri Daj. She didn’t talk so much usually, but when she did, you listened.
Eddie told me about my parents. Without Eddie’s stories, I remembered only fleeting things about them; nothing to give them shape, to give them back the lives that they lost even before the rest of us were confined to the Static.
I remembered the seat of my father’s pants. He never paid any attention to where he sat outdoors—though indoors was quite a different matter. Outdoors, he sat where he liked, and so his pants were sometimes quite dirty. If something needed fixing—an axle, a bicycle chain, the motherboard for vardo control, anything—he’d drop down, cross his legs and set to. He was a small-framed man. I couldn’t remember his face; only the thin dark hair on the top of his head as he bent over whatever it was.
I remembered the black crescents of my father’s fingernails before he washed his hands at the outside tap. I remembered the foreshortened shadow as he fell, the balò—that pig of a policeman—having hit him from behind. I couldn’t remember his voice; only the sound of the truncheon crashing into his back ribs, his neck, his skull. The balò yelling, “Stop resisting! Stop resisting!”
Of my mother I remembered less, even though she was around longer. It was as if, after my father was gone, she consumed herself, subsisting on her own memories. Eddie tells me that after my father was gone, she spent less time with me, instead passing me up or down the line, to the sister mothers. The details of her face, the shape of her body—I assumed that once I knew these things. Eddie told me that after my father, my mother surrounded herself with the few rromni that were left, most of us being čhaj then, as now, with no prospects for marriage. But increasingly she’d go somewhere none of us could reach her—first in her own mind, and then into the woods.
And then she was gone. I was six years old. Two months later we were in the Static.
The first time the gadjo appeared was my eighteenth birthday. The stranger walked into the clearing from the west, just like that. No one knew where he could have come from.
I’d been spending the morning with Eddie, helping her to wash her clothes and those of another elder who was ill. These elders appreciated the old ways, keeping the women’s clothes separate from the men’s—some of the women wore men’s clothes now but the elders still wanted these washed on their own, even though it was women wearing them. I did as they asked.
When the gadjo came out of the forest, I’d just come out of the back of the vardo, my damp shirt sleeves pushed up to my elbows, handfuls of sodden under things in both fists. I could tell he was a gadjo right away. First of all, there was something shiny about him. The day was overcast, but his hair shone like the sun appeared just for him. His skin was a vivid white.
Second, I heard Anya call her children inside, hissing as she closed the shutters.
We hadn’t seen a Rrom in years. What else could he be but a man from the villages?
Across the clearing, two women laughed in a strange high-pitched way, like a call.
Standing there with women’s underpants in my hands, I was the only one not moving away from him in an awful hurry. As I stood there, rabbit-still, he walked toward me, flashing his shining teeth.
“Hello there!” he called.
Silently, I watched him come on, his face cracking into a smile as he raised his hand and gave a tentative wave.
Over my head, I heard Eddie shuffling toward the window, lift the latch, and push the shutter open just a crack.
“Get in, child.”
The vardo was already moving as I shifted the laundry to one hand, hitched my skirt, and leapt up onto the platform. I watched that otherworldly figure disappear behind us as we circled around the clearing before taking the east road.
Our flight to the next camp delayed my birthday proceedings by two days, so the celebration ended up being four days after I turned eighteen years old. We did birthdays a little bit differently than the gadjikano way. This came from a thousand years of travelling, mostly sticking to ourselves but sometimes picking up things along the way.
The day before one’s birthday, we Čhaj went around to each elder—and for this it didn’t matter if she is one or one hundred years older—and gave thanks. We honoured each of these women for their mothering of the clan. Whether they were literal mothers or not, each mother cared for one or another of us, sometimes all of us.
The honouring could take any number of forms, depending on the age of the person doing the honouring, and the resources available. In the Static we had nothing that was not provided to us, so in these times of resumed travel, the honouring in the form of a gift from the land felt especially lavish.
Anya was older than me by three years. On my Labouring Day—this was what we called it to remember the work that the mothers do to birth a child and a community—I found her stretched out on her mat, looking up out the open window while her youngest child, Isa—a small dark-haired girl of two—nuzzled under her shirt. When I presented Anya with a little container of blackberries, the girl looked over at me. Her eyes were glassy and the side of her face was flushed with the heat of her mother’s body.
“Go find your sisters, Isa,” Anya said, giving the child a little push with her toe.
As the girl stumbled out the door, Anya swung herself upright, tucking her breast back into her top and wrapping a shawl around her bare shoulders.
“Thanks,” she said, popping a berry into her mouth. “You didn’t have to.”
I shrugged. “I wanted to.”
Anya took another berry and placed it between her lips, squeezing the fruit until the juice ran to the corners of her mouth.
“Kiss me,” she said, leaning in close.
I laughed, dodging her deep red mouth and planting a kiss on her cheek.
“I honour my mother,” I said, sitting down on the mat next to Anya. I pulled my knees up to my chest. Anya squeezed my shoulders and pecked the side of my head affectionately.
“I had a dream last night,” I said. “A weird one.”
“You dreamed that Isa and Rennie finally stopped nursing and my tits rebounded gloriously. That’s what I dream about.” Anya grabbed her chest with both hands and pushed her breasts toward her chin. Under normal circumstances, I would have laughed, but the dream had spooked me.
“No, listen,” I said. “The dream was bright. Shining. I dreamed of the mulè—the dead—my mother and father. And the gadjo shining over all of them.”
The back of Eddie’s caravan was dark. In the old days, she told me, before the Static but after free movement had been banned, we Roma lived in kennas—or houses—like the gadje. We kept the front of the house for business and the back for family. This was not necessary now. There was no need for Eddie to keep the old metal-framed, vinyl upholstered chair by the door—the gadjikano chair that none of us could touch, lest we become marimé and be made to do penance that only the old ones remembered. The chair was always empty now, for no gadje ever came to do business or anything else.
Except one had come.
“Sit, Shuri,” Eddie said, nodding to the low seat between her own narrow bed and the shrine to St. Kali Sara.
This felt wrong, like it should have been me to be bustling about with the tea things while Eddie sat. But when I hesitated, the Phuri Daj shot me a look. I sat.
“Today is the day,” she said.
I nodded, folding my hands over my apron. I expected her voice to shift, for her to slip into the high register used for storytelling. I thought that would be my birthday gift at last: one of Eddie’s old stories made new and told to me alone. My own story. But Eddie’s voice coasted across the same even ground.
“I’ve decided that you are to have my vardo,” she said.
“Bibio—” I started, using the most affectionate but respectful term I could muster in the Old Tongue, so mixed up now just as we were, but she raised her hand in dismissal.
“I won’t hear it, Shuri. You are a grown woman, you need your own space. I’ve decided to move in with Julia. She needs someone to care for her—”
I shook my head. “I should live with Julia. I should care for her.”
Eddie’s hand flew up again. “No. I’ve thought it through. We old ladies understand each other. We’ll have more patience, a matching pace. I know you mean well, Shuri. I can see that you’ve turned out well. You respect your elders. That’s good. But the young should be young. You need your own space.”
“What do I need my own space for?” I protested. “I need to be with my family.”
Eddie lowered her head, lips tensing into a straight line of severity.
“You know how it works—what you must do, if you want to.”
The gadjo did not return until I was almost nineteen years old.
Despite my protests, even I had to admit that the year in my own caravan had been good for me. I learned my own desires well—how I liked to cook and eat, to keep my space ordered, through movement and touch to keep my own body healthy. Solitude had also provided opportunity for contemplation—and I had a lot to contemplate, being a woman on the verge of the answers to many of our life’s questions. I’d decided in that year, between helping Eddie with Julia, the death of that sick elder, and spending time with Anya’s Isa, that I would like to have children after all. Solitude had taught me about the strength of these connections, and their fragility.
Anya had told me how it worked with us years ago, when she was already thick with the creation of her second child. In her travels, a čhaj of our clan, because no men lived among us, must choose one path of many. This was, perhaps, harder in the old days, when a tangle with a man—sometimes even a gadjo—was a necessary part of this process. These days, the village doctors are familiar with our ways. Anya told me that we could have a child together, if we wanted to. Even so, it was no small thing to go to one of these gadjikano doctors, even if they seemed kind. I had to build myself up to it.
Things as they were, no one objected to circling the villages rather than heading deeper into the woods or the open country. They did not object when I drove the vardo away from the group, to the tarn above the village.
I knew he would come, and I knew the gadjo had come before I saw him; his strange light reflected off the smooth surface of the tarn, made the waning day seem bright again. Another čhaj might have taken this as an omen, but not me.
“Hello!” he called, raising his hand only chest-height before dropping it again to await my response.
I looked across the water, squinting at the way his image seemed to shimmer. He took this as a signal to approach and started forward, but seemed surprised when he splashed into the shallows. After stumbling out of the water and making his way around the bank, he stood before me pulling his shoes and socks from his feet. He sat down on the bank, stretching his legs out in front of him. His toes were long and white.
“I’m not supposed to talk to you,” I said, still standing a ways off.
He didn’t answer right away, twisting the water from his socks into the grass. Spreading the socks out on the grass on his opposite side, he said, “I know.”
“Why are you here?”
“I have something to tell you,” he said. But I couldn’t stand it any longer—the metallic tremor of his voice, his terrible shining face. In his presence, I felt myself constrict, shrink, turning on a point of obliteration. In his awful light, the dream came back to me and I saw my mother and father standing behind each of the gadjo’s shoulders, black eyes staring out from dead faces.
I turned and fled.
“You missed an opportunity there,” Anya said as she slathered bright orange cheese spread across a row of three slices of bread. “Could have had it done with already. We could have moved on tonight, you with your bun started.”
I frowned. “How do you know that’s what he wanted?”
Anya cocked her head to one side, her eyebrows raised in the middle. “Oh sweetie,” she said.
I sat down across from her and pulled Isa onto my lap.
“We don’t know,” I objected. “There’s something strange about him. He said he had something to tell me.”
“More like something to show you.”
I pulled three slices of bread from the bag and topped the sticky cheese silently. Anya placed the sandwiches over three squares of brown paper, folded the wrapping deftly, and handed a package to each child, with a quick kiss for Isa. “Go eat outside,” she said. Knowing that the packed lunch meant more than the suggestion of a seat on the vardo steps, the children whooped out the door, Isa’s high voice calling after her bigger sisters as they ran.
“There’s apples two fields over!” Anya shouted after them.
I shook the bag of bread to straighten the remaining slices, and twisted it shut.
“Shuri,” Anya said, sitting across from me and spreading her fingers over the cool formica table. “It’s not as bad as you might think, even with a gadjo. They’re just men, after all. You had a father around, so what is there to be afraid of?”
“It’s not that. Not really.”
“Then what is it?”
“Well,” I started, propping my chin in the cup of my palm. “It’s just so strange. It’s the same gadjo as came around a year ago—and where were we then? Not anywhere near here. Has he been following all this time? Why would he do that?”
Anya shrugged. “He could have been following. It’s not unheard of. Some of them are like that. They haven’t had any success with their own women. They’re outcasts, so they think they can get on with us. They think they can use their power to lure us, like we’d be interested in that kind of life. They think that power hangs about them like perfume, like we’d smell it and run after them like dogs. Of course, then there are those who think we’re just a bunch of wild animals—lonely, desperate women driven half-mad for it. That gets them real hard.”
“He wanted to talk to me,” I said. “He seemed in earnest.” I leaned back against the cushioned bench.
“He might be. Sometimes they don’t even know what they’re doing.”
Anya and I sat quiet for a while. I looked out the round window—the curved wood frame gleaned from the porthole of a salvaged ship—and imagined the green waves of long grass as an ocean, deep and temperamental, standing between us and the nearest gadjikano village.
“I only went to the doctors for Isa,” Anya said quietly. “The other two were from the same gadjo man. He was kind, wanted me to give up travelling, to be his wife.”
I looked at her, wide-eyed.
“I almost did, too,” she said, not looking at me. “That’s why I went to the doctors for Isa. I didn’t think I could come back here if I went to him again.”
The gadjo and I met at the tarn a week later.
Since our last meeting, I’d been pulled in two ways. The čhaj’s deeply ingrained fear of outsiders, men especially, would not soon loose its grip. But Anya’s words—also a contradiction—prodded me. What had it been like, for her, to consider a gadjo man, to think of giving up the vardo, the wide-open spaces, the interminable sky? Something had pulled her back to him, and not just the prospect of children.
It was strange to think of Anya vulnerable in this way, after all the years she’d filled my ear with slurs against the male sex, suggestions of taking a female lover. Would I fall so easily? Is that what Anya had done?
There was no awkward greeting this time. The gadjo rounded the tarn and sat beside me in the grass. He did not remove his shoes and socks, but I remembered his long, slim feet, the pale glow of his skin. As if trying to lessen the shock of his interminable lightness, at this meeting he wore a brown cap and gloves.
“What’s your name?” he asked.
I told him.
I stripped the flowers off the stem of a purple harebell, pushed the flowers into the loosely woven hem of my skirt.
“I saw you a year ago,” I said. “That was you, right?”
Peter nodded. “I shouldn’t have done that.”
“You shouldn’t have done that, but you’re here now? What’s the difference? Why are you here?”
Maybe it was too many questions all at once, but Peter just laughed as if, whatever his answers, they were the correct ones.
“Where do you come from?” I asked, adding one more question to the mix.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean,” I repeated, “tell me about your people.”
Peter laughed again, but as the sound faded quickly he ran a hand over his mouth. “My family has lived here for a long time. Well, for three generations back; before that they’re from the north, the borderlands. My mother is a teacher at a primary school. My father is in politics, travels all over. It’s because of him that I’m… that I do what I do.”
“And what do you do?”
“I’m an activist.” Peter’s hand shook just enough for me to notice it as he propped his elbows against his knees, now pulled close to his chest.
“What does that mean? What kind of activist?”
Peter pondered this for a moment. “Immigration, I guess you could say.”
“Why me, Peter?” I turned to face him, to study the amber-coloured freckles dusted over his nose and cheeks.
“You were the only one who looked at me,” he said. “The only one who didn’t run away. I thought I could make a connection with you. I have something I need to tell you, you see. You or another of your clan—”
“No,” I interrupted with a flick of my wrist as I’d seen Eddie do so many times. “Now ask me why I’ve chosen you.”
Even after the child was well-rooted, after I’d been to see Peter again at the tarn and then further down the hill toward the village where I stayed with him in the vardo—where my sisters couldn’t hear us—even then I was still plagued with dreams of him. I thought I could drive out these dreams with the real touch and feel and smell of him, so we stayed in the vardo together, his glowing skin against my brown belly or back, my fingernails digging pink furrows in him, or scratching the wooden panels beside my bed. I didn’t let him talk beyond the crisis calls of love or the sweet afterword, not realizing that only the words he was holding back could release the ghosts that had made their way into my mind.
It was during one such dream—a dream of turning around and around in the darkness of a damp, stinking place, with my mother, my father, and Peter just out of reach, only just unable to hear me when I called—that instead of echoing voices, I heard a hollow sound like footsteps. The sound came close but the darkness around me did not reveal its secret.
I awoke to someone knocking on the vardo door. Wrapping a sheet around my body, I shuffled from my warm cocoon, the tendons of my womb already protesting sudden movement.
“Shuri,” came a familiar voice. “Open the door.”
My breath caught in my throat. “Yes Eddie,” I squeaked. “Just a minute.”
The old woman pushed her way into the vardo the moment I unlatched the door, having shimmied into my dress and tied the apron hastily behind my back. Peter lay sleeping, exposed on the bed after I’d dragged the covers off him. As the door closed he roused, and when—through the tired slits of his eyes—he saw Eddie, he scrambled for his clothes, flushing red patches from cheek to chest. Clad in only his under things, he flung himself from the vardo, clutching his shirt, pants, and shoes.
“He’s not bad,” Eddie said, turning away from Peter’s retreat to look over the rumpled sheets, and the disordered state of the rest of the caravan. “Is he treating you well?”
I nodded, not sure I could muster a word.
“You’re enjoying him,” Eddie said.
This was not a question, but I nodded anyway.
“This is good,” Eddie inclined toward me. “The way it should be. Children should be brought into such comfortable nests. He is helping you make this nest. In the old days before the static this nest making between men and women continued well into old age.”
We sat together quietly for a moment.
“Will you be coming back soon, Shuri?” she asked.
“Yes,” I started, but then paused. “I think so.”
“Anya has asked me to tell you that she would like to be your helpmeet, your partner, as you raise the child. She loves you, you know.”
“Will the gadjo be returning to his people soon, then?”
“Peter,” I said. “And yes, I think so. He seems hesitant, but he will go.” My heart threatened to crack open at this utterance, but I knew it was true.
“Has he said anything to you?”
I hesitated. “What do you mean?”
Eddie was visibly agitated, her mouth twisting to one side. She turned to look at the door, but when she turned back to me she shook her head, the little tail of her dihklo brushing her shoulder.
“It’s nothing,” she said. “I’m glad you’re happy.”
A week later, I awoke with a start. The dream again—that rank building, my mother and father somehow reconstituted but dead, unreal. Flinging my arm out to Peter’s side of the bed, I found it cold. Heart hammering, I hung my head between my knees until I could shake the ghosts from my mind. My belly pressed uncomfortably into my diaphragm.
I found Peter outside, pacing at the edge of the tarn, stopping only to throw little rocks across the smooth surface. The full moon overhead fractured into radiating crescents across the black surface of the water.
“Did you have another dream?” Peter asked, not turning toward me.
I slipped my arms around his waist, pressed my cheek against his back. “It’s alright now,” I said. “It was just a dream.”
Peter shook his head. “You’re having a lot of nightmares. Almost every night. I hear you in your sleep.”
“It’s okay,” I protest. “I barely remember—”
Peter gripped my wrist and pulled me around to the front of him, clutched my body tightly to his.
“It’s not okay. I should have told you already. It’s why I’m here. I let myself be distracted by you. By all of this. None of it should have happened.”
I looked up at him, frowning. “None of it?”
Shaking his head, he said, “I didn’t mean it like that. This place is beautiful. You’re beautiful. You’re too good. It’s changing me, all of it. But I came here for a reason.”
“And I’m not it.”
His body shuddered against mine.
“Oh God,” he cried, tearing away from me. “I don’t know what to do!”
“You don’t want to go back to your people.”
Peter paused at the edge of the water, the toe of one naked foot sending a ripple of light outward across the surface. He’d rolled his pants up to his knees as if he’d planned to go wading and the fine, pale hairs of his legs stood straight out.
“I barely know who they are anymore,” he said quietly.
Standing beside Peter at the water’s edge, I took his hand. “Maybe you don’t have to go back. Maybe you can stay here.”
“In the vardo. You can travel with us. You don’t have to go back.”
Peter pulled his hand away. “No,” he said. “That won’t work. You have no idea. It’s not possible. I have to do what I came to do, which means that you have to come with me.”
Before I knew what was happening, Peter’s arms were around me. But his arms were not soft, his hands not caressing. His embrace was constricting and his fingers were claws digging into my skin. My feet left the ground. I kicked and thrashed against him, but he stepped forward and descended into the tarn. The cold water bit at my feet and legs. Then we were waist deep, the moon exploding around us. Peter was mumbling something over and over again, the rhythm of it in time with his steps deeper and deeper into the water. In my panic, it took too long before I realized that he was repeating “I’m sorry, Shuri. I’m sorry.” Dread weighed my body down, concentrating the horror of that apology for who knew what at the ends of each of my limbs so that I could not move, could not fight. I sobbed into his hand cupped over my mouth and convulsed, desperately sucking a last lungful of air as we both went under.
I clamoured up from the tarn. My sodden skirt clung to my thighs, making it difficult to walk. Clawing up onto the grass, I paused only to wretch water and bile, wipe my mouth uselessly with the back of my wet hand. I staggered to my feat
The moon still bright overhead, I saw that I was alone. Was Peter still in the water? I clutched my swollen belly and suppressed a sob.
Stumbling toward the vardo, my lungs rasped wetly. I couldn’t feel my feet. I would change my clothes. Yes, something warm and dry would help a little. I would change and drive back to see Eddie, I thought. But when I opened the vardo door, I found the old woman seated at my kitchen table. She didn’t look up immediately, studying instead a tarot spread, her mouth turned down in concentration. When she looked up her eyes were wide and glassy.
“He told you,” she said.
You knew! I wanted to scream, but instead I fell to the floor.
“Get it off me,” I whispered, my cold fingers fumbling the fasteners of my dress. “Get it off.”
Eddie stood and walked the few steps between us with what urgency an old woman can muster. Her gnarled hands unfastening the hook, pulling the zipper down. I struggled out of the wet dress and sat half-naked in the pile of soaked clothes, sobbing. The Phuri Daj opened a cupboard, pulled out a dry dress, and helped me into it. I crawled to the table and heaved myself into the chair. Eddie went back to the cupboard and took a wool blanket from a high shelf, wrapped it around me.
Gathering up the tarot spread, Eddie shuffled the cards and slid them back into the deck. She looked up at me and then turned back to the cards, arranging them one by one into a three column grid.
“I hate these things, as you know,” Eddie said. “So cliché, so utterly banal—but if you interact with the gadje it is inevitable. Necessary. Did Peter ask you for a reading?”
I shook my head.
“Oh, of course not. He wouldn’t have let it happen as it did with me. It wasn’t Peter, but another young gadjo who came asking for a reading as they did so often. I was younger then too, inexperienced, and wanting a bit of money to take the edge off travelling. But he’d hacked the computers and the cards came up Ten of Swords over and over again, creating a kind of rift of belief that sucked me under completely, just as he knew it would.”
I closed my eyes as Eddie spoke, remembered surfacing in the tarn the first time—though it wasn’t the tarn, but the rippling reality of the concrete warehouse of the Static. That dark and putrid warehouse with only the slow blink of LED lights illuminating the bodies. Rows and rows of bodies, some of which I recognized, others strange. They were stretched out on long tables, fine wires like hairs on their faces, chests, arms, legs, genitals.
“Bibio, why?” I asked, still feeling the raw sensitivity of resurrection. “Why do they do it?”
“Because they’re afraid, my love. They don’t understand why we don’t want them. So great is their sense of superiority, their supremacy, that they cannot fathom a people that does not want to be them. So they take that which they fear and they lock it up—in marriages, in prisons, in these neural simulations that make us believe we still have the freedom that was taken from us so long ago.”
“On a practical level,” she said. “They use the images from the simulations in foreign relations PR. ‘Look how well we treat our Gypsies.’”
“We never left the Static?”
“Why not just kill us?” I shouted, tasting the bitterness of these words as they passed my lips. “Another Barò Porrajmos?”
“It’s easier for them this way. Easier on the conscience. Many don’t even know. Many believe the pictures and videos even though they suspect, somewhere in the depths of their minds, how they are produced. They choose to believe them.”
Nausea welled up in me once more as I remembered the terror of my father’s abduction, my mother’s subsequent withering.
“What has happened to the ones who are gone?”
Eddie scattered the cards over the table. “I don’t truly know,” she said. “I’ve thought about it so much over the years. Some of them must be dead, it’s been so long. Julia, surely, is dead. But those like your mother who went before their time? I just don’t know. The men, though, they’re there, in the warehouse, just like you and I and everyone we know. My gadjo showed me rows and rows of Rroms. They keep us separate now because it is the only way to maintain the stability of the simulation. The men could live with us, but not we with them. They’re just fine with simulated women; I was told they like it better that way.”
“And the children?”
Eddie shook her head.
My breathing was shallow as I listened to this. Shallower even, perhaps, than when I’d seen it with my own eyes, standing beside Peter in the warehouse, skin tingling with the sensation of pulled wires, eyes stinging like a film had been ripped from them. There was something about hearing this in Eddie’s voice—hearing it uttered in this world that had never been a dream—that cracked open the mouth of a ravenous darkness inside of me. I pressed my fist to my belly and dug in until I felt the sharp pain of annihilation. Was that pain real? How would I ever know?
“You’ve known for so long,” I whispered. “None of the others know. You didn’t tell them.”
I thought of my Anya, her berry-stained mouth, her mouth uttering her pronouncements, so sure of everything, so stable, so permanent.
“No, I couldn’t.” Eddie gathered the cards to her and stacked them in a neat pile. “How could I make that choice for them? We’ll all be here soon enough, standing before happiness and truth, knowing that love exists in either choice, but not in both together.”