The Handmaid's Tale Part 10: Soul Scrolls
Cora drops the breakfast tray when she sees Offred's body inside the cupboard the next morning. Offred lies and says she fainted. Cora decides to keep it a secret between them. Offred is pleased by this small token of friendship.
It is summer. Serena Joy cuts irises in her garden. The irises are beautiful and female in shape. "There is something subversive about this garden of Serena's, a sense of buried things bursting upwards, wordlessly, into the light, as if to say: Whatever is silenced will clamor to be heard, though silently." Chapter 25, pg. 153 Offred shares the dangerous sensuality of the garden. The winter is less tempting.
Offred visits to the Commander's study have become routine. She is signaled by the slant of Nick's hat, and Serena is kept in the dark. Offred could not understand why the Commander desired these visits at first. She expected something more perverted. On her second visit, they played Scrabble again and he gave her a Vogue magazine to read. She feigned disinterest at first, but then supported by his encouragement realized that taboos did not exist within his study. However, she felt naughty as he watched her read it. She questioned how he could own this contraband. He said that his motives were beyond reproach. He told Offred she was the only one with whom he could share these things from the past. She discovered that he was estranged from his wife. The third night she asked him for some hand lotion, and he brought it for her on the fourth night. Despite this newfound power, Offred remained guarded because she knew she was only a means of entertainment for the Commander.
Offred's new relationship with the Commander changed the experience of the monthly Ceremony significantly. She felt shy and was embarrassed by her hairy legs. The Commander was no longer a thing to her, a bee to the flower. She was jealous of Serena and at the same time guilty for secretly entertaining her husband. Offred also relished the secret power this secret gave her, and feared being found out because of the Commander's carelessness. He touched her face during one Ceremony. Aunt Lydia said that the new system would cause women to live in harmony together and support each other, but the fact is that Offred has become the Commander's mistress and a familiar web of deceit and competition accompanies this role. Offred is no longer simply an empty womb.
Offred has bought fish and strawberries. Fish are rare now because of water pollution. Offred and Ofglen have become more comfortable with each other, and converse with more ease. There are no bodies on the Wall today. They walk to the store known as the Soul Scrolls and look in the window at the machines that continuously print standard prayers paid for by Commanders' Wives. Before the war, the store sold lingerie. Offred catches Ofglen's eyes in the reflection of the window, and they hold each other's gaze steadily. Then Ofglen asks in a whisper if she thinks God listens to the mechanical prayers of the Soul Scrolls. This is a treasonous question. Offred considers protesting, but instead says no. Ofglen is relieved and reveals that neither does she believe God listens to the prayers. They move away from the shop, fearing hidden microphone, and continue their conversation with new freedom. They both confess they thought the other was a true believer. Ofglen asks Offred to join an underground alliance of dissenters, but then they enter a crowded area and their conversation is cut short. On the way home, a van pulls up near them and two Eyes violently arrest an unassuming man on the street. Offred is shocked by this encounter, but relieved that it was not her being arrested.
Offred does not feel like a nap today. Instead she thinks about the past. Moira always criticized her for luring Luke away from his wife. Offred said he could make his own decisions, and countered saying Moira stole women from their girlfriends. Moira said it was different because there was a balance of power in sex between women. They never took these arguments very seriously.
At the time of the coup, Offred had a job at a library, transferring books onto computer discs. All the high profile government officials and representatives were killed at once. The Constitution was suspended. Newspapers and radio stations were shut down. Everyone had to travel with a pass. Also Pornomarts were shut down. No one knew who was making these changes. One day Offred went to the store and found her Compubank number was invalid. All the women at the library were fired that day and escorted out by men with machine guns. Later that day, she found that all women's credit accounts had been canceled and could only be accessed by their husbands or male kin. Women could no longer hold property. Luke tried to console Offred by telling her he would take care of her and that they still had each other, but Offred felt the ownership was now one-sided. She was his.
Offred sits across from the Commander playing Scrabble. They let each other cheat, and he enjoys her small triumphs. After the game, he asks he what she would like to read. By this time, Offred has read many magazines and a few novels in his study. She decides tonight that she would like to talk rather than read. She asks about his career. He tells her he is a social scientist. Then she asks him the meaning of the saying scratched in her cupboard, "Nolite te bastardes carborundorum." He laughs and says it is fake Latin. He pulls out an old textbook of his and shows her an identical phrase scribbled in the border. He tells her the meaning, and she realizes that the Handmaid before her had been in this library. He tells her the woman before her hung herself. She realizes he wants her life to be bearable to her. Her power over him is guilt. He asks her what she would like, and she says she would like to know what is going on in the world.