Particicution

Pages 347-350 (Black+Red edition) and Pages 261-263 (White edition)

“You know the rules for a Particicution,” Aunt Lydia says. “You will wait until I blow the whistle. After that, what you do is up to you, until I blow the whistle again. Understood?”

A noise come from among us, a formless assent.

“Well then,” says Aunt Lydia. She nods. Two Guardians, not the same ones that have taken away the rope, come forward now from behind the stage. Between them they half carry, half drag a third man. He too is in a Guardian’s uniform, but he has no hat on and the uniform is dirty and torn. His face is cut and bruised, deep reddish-brown bruises; the flesh is swollen and knobby, stubbled with unshaven beard. This doesn’t look like a face but like an unknown vegetable, a mangled bulb or tuber, something that’s grown wrong. Even from where I’m standing I can smell him: he smells of s**t and vomit. His hair is blond and falls over his face, spiky with what? Dried sweat?

I stare at him revulsion. He looks drunk. He looks like a drunk that’s been in a fight. What have they brought a drunk in here?

“This man,” says Aunt Lydia, “has been convicted of rape.” Her voice trembles with rage, and a kind of triumph. “He was once a Guardian. He has disgraced his uniform. He has abused his position of trust. His partner in viciousness has already been shot. The penalty for rape as you know, is death. Deuteronomy 22:23-29. I might add that this crime involved two of you and took place at gunpoint. It was also brutal. I will not offend your ears with any details, except to say that one woman was pregnant and the baby died.”

A sigh goes up from us; despite myself I feel my hands clench. It is too much, this violation. The baby too, after what we go through. It’s true, there is a bloodlust; I want to tear, gouge, rend.

We jostle forward, our heads turn from side to side, our nostrils flare, sniffing death, we look at one another, seeing the hatred. Shooting was too good. The man’s head swivels groggily around: had he even heard her?

Aunt Lydia waits a moment; then she gives a little smile and raised her whistle to her lips. We hear it, shrill and silver, an echo from a volleyball games of long ago.

The two Guardians let go of the third man’s arms and step back. He staggers – is he drugged? – and falls to his knees. His eyes are shrivelled up inside the puffy flesh of his face, as if the light is too bright for him. They’ve kept him in darkness. He raises one hand to his cheek, as though to feel if he is still there. All of this happens quickly, but is seems to be slowly.

Nobody moves forward. The women are looking at him with horror, as if he’s a half-dead rat dragging itself across a kitchen floor. He’s squinting around at us, the circle of red women. One corner of his mouth moves up, incredible – a smile?

I try to look inside him, inside the trashed face, see what he must really look like. I think he’s about thirty. It isn’t Luke.

But it could have been, I know that. It could be Nick. I know that whatever he’s done I can’t touch him.

He says something. It comes out thick, as if his throat is bruised, his tongue huge in his mouth, but I hear it anyway. He says, “I didn’t…”

There’s a surge forward, like a crowd at a rock concert in the former time, when the doors opened, that urgency coming like a wave through us. The air is bright with adrenaline, we are permitted anything and this is freedom, in my body also, I’m reeling, red spreads everywhere, but before that tide of cloth and bodies hits him Ofglen is shoving through the women in front of us, propelling herself with elbows, left, right, and running towards him. She pushes him down, sideways, then kicks his head viciously, one, two, three times, sharp painful jabs with the foot, well aimed. Now there are sounds, gasps, a low noise like growling, yells, and the red bodies tumble forward and I can longer see, he’s obscured by arms, fists, feet. A high scream comes from somewhere, like a horse in terror.

I keep back, try to stay on my feet. Something hits me from behind. I stagger. When I regain my balance and look around. I see the Wives and daughters leaning forward in their chairs, the Aunts on the platform gazing down with interest. They must have a better view from up there.

He has become an it,

Ofglen is back beside me. Her face is tight, expressionless.

“I saw what you did,” I say to her. Now I’m beginning to feel again: shock, outrage, nausea. Barbarism. “Why did you do that? You! I thought you…”

“Don’t look at me,” she says. “They’re watching.”

“I don’t care,” I say. My voice is rising, I can’t help it.

“Get control of yourself,” she says. She pretends to brush me off, my arm and shoulder, bringing her face close to my ear. “Don’t be stupid. He wasn’t a rapist at all, he was a political. He was one of ours. I knocked him out. Put him out of his misery. Don’t you know what they’re doing to him?”

One of ours, I think. A Guardian. It seems impossible.

Aunt Lydia blows her whistle again, but they don’t stop at once. The two Guardians move in, pulling them off, from what’s left. Some lie on the grass where they’ve been hit or kicked by accident. Some have fainted. They straggle away, in twos and threes or by themselves. They seem dazed.

“You will find our partners and re-form your line,” Aunt Lydia says into the mike. Few pay attention to her.