The Handmaid's Tale Part 12: Jezebel's
Everyday Offred hopes to wake up in her old bed. She keeps track of the days like a prisoner, but she is not serving a term that will end. She feels unhealthy, tired. She scripts frivolous fights with Luke in her head while waiting for the inevitable breakfast egg. Later that day, Ofglen and Offred visit the Wall. There is a body hanging marked with a J. It does not stand for Jewish. Most Jews left when they were given the choice to emigrate or convert. Jews who pretended to convert and were found out were hung on the Wall. As they pass by a building called Memorial Hall, Ofglen tells Offred that the Eyes have banquets there. She says she was told by someone in a secret support network to which she belongs. She tells Offred that the password is Mayday. Offred recalls when Ofglen used it on her on their first walk. They part and Offred returns to the Commander's house. Passing through the garden she is summoned by Serena Joy. Serena is knitting and wraps a skein around Offred's hands. Then she casually asks if Offred is pregnant yet. She suggests that maybe the Commander is sterile. This is heresy, but Offred agrees. Serena suggests that Offred try to have a baby with another man. She says she can arrange it with Nick. Offred assents. Serena says she will try to get a picture of Offred's baby girl for her as a present. This incenses Offred who does not even know if her child is alive till this moment. Then Serena gives her a cigarette and tells her to ask Rita for a match. Rita gives her the match after warning her not to burn down the house. Offred returns to her room, fantasizing about all the ways she could use the cigarette and match. She lies on her bed and remembers her last evening with the Commander.
He has taken to drinking in her presence. They cheat at Scrabble and listen to the radio. He explained that in the time before women no longer inspired men. Sex could be bought. Men complained that they no longer had feelings. They did not want sex or marriage. Offred asks if men feel now. He says yes. He wants to know what she thinks. He wants intimacy, but she cannot give him that. She lies and says she has no opinion about the way things have turned out. He apologizes. "Better never means better for everyone, he says. It always means worse for some." Chapter 32, pg. 211
The next day, Offred and Ofglen walk to the Prayvaganza together. Offred looks for dandelions on the lawns they pass, remembering the wreaths of them she would make with her daughter. Guardians with machine guns guard the doors to the building in which the Prayvaganza is being held. The Wives sit in folding chairs in the courtyard and the Econowives sit in the gallery. The Handmaids kneel on the floor opposite the Wives. The whispering is uncontrollable. Janine walks in and Ofglen tells Offred that her child died after all. Ofglen says Janine thinks it is her fault for having it with a doctor instead of the Commander. Offred wonders if the Wives already gossip about her in the same way. "Agreed to it right away, really she didn't care, anything with two legs and a good you-know-what was fine with her. They aren't squeamish, they don't have the same feelings we do." Chapter 33, pg. 215 Offred remembers seeing Janine whispering to herself in the Red Center. She had a smile frozen on her face and was whispering the conversation of a waitress. The Aunt on guard had left and Moira slapped Janine and told her she would be killed and burnt up with the garbage if she had lost her mind. Janine snapped out of it then.
A Commander gives a speech about victory and sacrifice and then twenty newly decorated Angels come in to accept their brides. Offred remembers the Commander explaining how the new order had eliminated the indignities women had to go through to fulfill their biological destinies: singles' bars, blind dates, nose jobs, silicon implants, domestic beatings, and divorce. Offred said what was now missing was love. The Commander said love is unnecessary and a historical anomaly. Offred caught the tail end of the service. The new Wives were being exhorted to be subject to their husbands. "And Adam was not deceived, but the women being deceived was in the transgression. Notwithstanding she shall be saved by childbearing." Chapter 34, pg. 221 Offred imagines the reaction of the wives on introduction to their husbands. They have never seen these men till this day, and they are stuck with them for the rest of their lives. However they are not expected to love them, just copulate with them. Offred imagines all the new couples sweating and grunting and failing in bed. She remembers Moira suggesting that Aunt Lydia made Janine perform oral sex on her in her office. These rebellious thoughts were heartening. Leaving the Prayvaganza, Ofglen told Offred that she knew about her secret meetings with the Commander and asked her to get information of any kind for her.
In her room again, Offred thinks of her attempt to escape with Luke. At the border the officials called to verify their passports. They knew the outcome of that phone call so they got in the car and tried to escape but were caught in the woods. Offred questions whether she should fight at all. She wonders how the Commander could doubt the validity of love. Everyone fell in love and hoped to fall in love before. Love was intangible and wonderful and precarious. You had to work at it. You could change yourself or you could change the man. Offred weeps and waits. Serena Joy knocks at the door and shows Offred a picture of her child. She is tall and changed. Offred believes she has been obliterated in her daughter's eyes. She remembers why they do not give Handmaid's knives with their dinner.
That night the Commander has a surprise for Offred. He takes out a gaudy, purple dress and tells her to put it on. He wants to take her out. He has makeup to disguise her and a blue cloak. They don't have any problem at the checkpoints. Offred gets onto the floor of the car at the gate of their destination, because Wives and Handmaids are not allowed in. They get out and he puts a tag around her wrist. He tells her to say she is an evening rental if anyone asks. He opens a door and they pass down a corridor into the courtyard of an old hotel. The courtyard is full of women dressed in a variety of sexy outfits from the time before. The Commander tells her not to gawk because she will give herself away. He shows her off to various men and then leads her over to a couch. He says wanting variety is natural for men, and the club is good for business. All the trade delegations are brought to the club. He says the women at the club are a mixture of former intellectuals and whores who prefer this lifestyle to the standard choices for women. When he goes to get her a drink, Offred spots Moira across the room in a bunny costume. Moira signals for Offred to meet her in the bathroom in five minutes.
When the Commander returns, Offred excuses herself and seeks out the bathroom. An Aunt monitoring the door to the restroom tells Offred she has fifteen minutes. She finds Moira within and they hug. Moira welcomes her to Jezebel's. Offred tells her she is only at the club for the night. Moira tells her the story of her path since her escape from the Red Center. She walked all the way to the center of Cambridge, getting through all the checkpoints with Aunt Elizabeth's identification card. Moira remembered a Quaker family from the mailing list of the feminist paper she had worked for before and went to their door. She told them she was taking a survey and they took her in. She then immediately confessed her predicament and asked them to help her. They burnt her clothes and identification cards and took her to another Quaker house, which was a station on the Underground Femaleroad. Moira was smuggled from house to house for eight months before she was caught in Salem along with the couple escorting her. Some of the people who assisted her had been killed and hung on the Wall. When she was caught she thought she was going to be killed, but they gave her the choice to work at the club or in the Colonies. They showed her movies about the work that exiled women and men did in the Colonies: shoveling dead bodies, farming, or working with radioactive materials and other toxins. She chose to work at the club, even though it required that she be surgically sterilized. Offred worries that she has lost her fighting spirit, but is encouraged when Moira comments that the club is a "butch paradise." Chapter 38, pg. 249 This was the last time Offred saw Moira.
The Commander takes Offred up to one of the rooms in the hotel. She asks to go to the bathroom. "There is something reassuring about the toilets. Bodily functions at least remain democratic. Everybody shits, as Moira would say." Chapter 39, pg. 252 Moira just told her that she had seen her mother in the film about the Colonies. Offred had believed her to be dead. She now remembers her mother's disappearance and the discovery of her ransacked apartment. She mourns her mother's death again. Meanwhile, the Commander is getting impatient in the room. She joins him on the bed, conscious of the fact that she does not want to have sex with him alone. She tries to pretend to enjoy it. "The trouble is I can't be, with him, any different than I usually am with him. Usually I am inert. Surely there must be something for us, other than this futility and bathos." Chapter 39, pg. 255