kindle a light
Months, weeks, days after the assault she thinks she might be pregnant. She knows her would-be rapist didn't get that far, yet it's all she can think about. The kid would look like Eddie, it would grow up to be like him, and her awful fate would be to love it anyway.
She's a honest-to-god superhero- one of the only two female superheroes in the world. She isn't meant to have problems so cruel and so ordinary. But she fears her unmade, unborn child and the potential it holds, she fears having something of hers and losing it. She worries sometimes that she will grow to fat to fit in her costume, and she thinks about her hated father. In a way she fears sex now, now that she's seen what it can do. She worries that if a war comes, chocolate will be rationed. She is a public figure and a heroine, in a way, but she's also just a person.
Also she was viciously raped. Almost.
A long time before the attempted rape or the superheroics or anything of that sort, the Nazis gained power in Poland, Sally Juspecyzk's home country.
Sally was thirteen. She remembers little of it now, just people being scared all the time, and beatings in the street, and her mother praying and Sally and her sister Bella praying with her. When they arrived in America, having been the lucky ones, having got out, they were poor. It was just Sally, Bella, her parents, an uncle and a cousin. Some other aunt, although Sally never knew for certain if she was an actual relative or a friend of the family, had stayed behind. She was a nun. She died in a concentration camp. Sally was a favourite of hers, and Sally still keeps in her posession a last letter from her. It's in Polish, though, and as she grows up she forgets Polish. She has the final words of a doomed woman kept locked away in a drawer, and she can't read them.
Sally wanted to be a nun, when she was little.
She remembers her school being closed, and being disappointed because she was a good learner and achieved high marks. But she was more devastated- a real, cold devastation- at the closure of the local theatre, where as a child she had sat in the dark, her parents on either side, and watched things that to her seemed strange and amazing. Did she understand the words? She can't remember. But she understood the dancing. She dreamed on being on that stage herself and dancing for an audience in the dark, seeing nothing but a sea of awed faces in the shadows.
When Sally grows up she doesn't think much about these things. They will lead to terrible places.
She remembers walking the streets a lot, not knowing where she was going, afraid to go home because her parents would be shouting. Sometimes she would walk the streets at night, and men would approach her.
One of these men, after having been informed by a now fearful Sally that she was not providing sex, offers her a job as a waitress. She would have to strip to her underwear for the job, he adds, leering at her. She agrees. She doesn't know why. Quite possibly she is emotionally dead inside, without knowing it. After all, at the age of thirteen she has witnessed things that grown men will forever talk about in hushed voices.
She has to take off even most of her underwear in the end.
After working as a waitress for a few months, her boss offers her a job 'dancing' at his bar and she agrees. She stands on the darkened stage in her underwear and sees only a sea of laughing, leering faces. But she doesn't care, doesn't care at all, can't and won't. She performs for the crowd, she endures their touches, she takes the money and leaves. For seven months she does this.
With the money she buys nicer clothes, better food, and make-up. Her parents and sister never see enough of her to notice anything different. Sally's uncle and cousin gradually drift away, and she never knows for sure where they ended up.
Then one day Sally comes home to find her things- her few things- piled in suitcases. Her father stands over them. Her mother is not there.
Quietly, angrily, her father tells her he knows now what she does for money, that she's a common whore, and she is not welcome in the home anymore. He points to the door. She swears at him- she thinks of her poor murdered aunt when she does this- and she takes her bags and leaves. When she looks back she sees her sister- her younger sister, who she used to play dolls with and pray with- looking out of the window, crying.
Her boss, no doubt thinking of things other than this poor girl's plight, allows her to stay in an empty room above the bar. She can only stand it for a few days. Finally she takes what little money she has saved and rents a room elsewhere. She finds a job as a waitress in a small cafe downtown. It's a gloomy, dirty place but at least she is no longer expected to strip.
She changes her name. She has difficulty thinking of what should replace "Juspecyzk" until one day she is leafing through a travel brochure and sees pictures of a beach town called Jupiter in Florida. The beaches look so pretty, so peaceful, so far away from where she is. She's found a new name.
Also now no-one will guess that she is Polish: she has figured out that Polish people are currently not well regarded.
She tries to get a job as an actress, although her dreams are fading away now. After work she goes to auditions, but she's never sucessful. She meets some interesting men, some of whom wish her luck with future endevours, and offer her business cards while staring at her chest, but that's it.
She wonders if she will ever be happy in life. After one audition she returns to her apartment to see a woman standing outside, looking up at it. Even from a distance Sally recognizes her mother, but she slides into the shadows until she walks away.
The newspapers are all talking about some kind of superhero. Some guy with a hood over his face who beat up three hoodlums and landed them in hospital, or something. Sally's oddly fascinated by that story. She cuts it out of the paper and sticks it to her wall.
Later on another superhero appears, calling himself Nite Owl, and Sally reads about him in the papers too. The papers are requesting that either of these supermen comes forward; they're willing to pay for an interview. An idea forms in Sally's mind.
She's starting to get desperate for money. She can barely pay the rent. She's written to her father asking for help, although she hates to do so, and has recieved no letter back.
The walls of Sally's tiny room are decorated with newspaper clippings detailing the exploits of Hooded Justice and Nite Owl. Sally wishes men like them had been around in Poland when Hitler took over: maybe, just maybe, her aunt would have been spared. (When she finds out later the sort of man Hooded Justice is, she finds it ironic that she ever had this thought.)
Sometimes she imagines a strange parallel life, where she is a nun - a nun! Being a whore now! - in Poland, with her family. Nothing terrible had ever happened; she lives the rest of her life out in peace. She dreams of this sometimes, of a quiet life. She stopped believing in God long ago, though.
In the days before Christmas of 1938, Sally recieves a letter from her father. Enclosed are a few dollars; it is apparently all he has to spare. Her sister is attending school now. And her mother is dead. Sally rereads this sentence over and over again. Your mother has died. That is all it says. No expressions of sympathy; Sally is no longer part of the family and this death is not her concern.
Inutterably angry, Sally tears the letter into pieces and then lights a candle and burns each piece. When night falls she lies on her bed and stares at the newspapers on the wall. What drove these men to risk their lives for others? What sort of person would do that? One who wanted things right again.
The next day she takes her father's money, goes to a disreputable shop, and buys a dress and some tights.
She too starts to appear in newspapers. She nets herself an agent- one of the business cards she recieved displays a picture of a reasonably friendly face, and when she asks for his assistance he seems more than happy to provide. His name is Laurence Schnexader.
Shortly after she makes her name she recieves a letter from a man called himself Captain Metropolis. It is here that she meets the Comedian. And likes him, likes his roguish grin and spiky hair, likes him quite a bit.
Sally marries Laurence eventually. From the moment she says "I do" she regrets it.
Eddie is there. She doesn't know why, because neither of them invited him. At the party afterwards Laurence grabs her arm, hard. "Did you tell him to come?" he hisses. She jerks away, mutters "No!" and goes to dance with Hollis.
She has sex with Laurence that night but not after that, not for a long while anyway. She doesn't want to anymore, especially because Laurence is so like Eddie in some deep-down way: they are both cruel and bullying men. She knows this is a marriage of convience and nothing less. After three months of marriage she finds magazines in their room- magazines with men in them. Like Hooded Justice used to read. She's repeating the same barely-deserving-of-the-name relationships, over and over again.
Her relationship with HJ (she never learnt his real name) is something she doesn't think about much. He had had incredibly...nasty views, and he never learned she was Polish. Nor did Laurence, come to that.
Some days she looks at her old costume and can only remember being thrown to the floor, hitting the ground, screaming. None of the crime-fighting stuff was really real. She rounded up drunks and sent them home, she and Hollis once beat up a man who abused his wife, but the day Eddie did what he did- that was when reality crept in. That was the day of the superwoman. Some days she feels like Eddie has destroyed not only her, but every woman in the world. The Sillouette is dead -although it was Laurence rather than Eddie who was her undoing- and she wonders if there will be another costumed woman in her lifetime.
Some days she longs for a daughter.
Some days the phone rings and it's Eddie. She always puts the phone down.
One day there's a knock on the door. She opens it and it's Eddie. Just like that. She should have expected that he would do this, when the phone calls didn't work.
"Hi," he says. She stares and tries to come up with something to say, something devastating.
"Come back to try again, huh?"
He looks sort of angry and she hates him, really hates him. The sheer level of hatred scares her. She is, she has always thought, not really a hateful person.
"Thought you wanted it," he muttered. "Honest I did." He's like a child. It's almost funny. "Wouldn't have done it if I hadn't thought you wanted it."
"I said no, Eddie."
"Lots of women say no," he says, still sulking like a child forbidden sweets. "They don't mean it most of the time."
"I meant it, and I think you're sick. You were then and you still are."
He looks angry again, as if he's really taking her rage personally. Only hers. He's seen lots of anger directed at him, she knows. Of course, he deserved it all. In a stupid, perverse way, she's glad, because it means he cares what she thinks. The rapist cares what his victim thinks about him, how sweet.
"I thought you wanted it," he tries again.
"Fuck off, Eddie!" She loves the f-word and its unladylike feel. "You're a joke of a man."
She goes to close the door but she can't. He looks too sulky, too surprised, like a child. She remembers him being bigger, somehow. This Eddie is a joke- a whiny, pathetic little rapist and mass murderer. She's pleased to realise that she's not in the least bit scared of him.
"I liked you, Sal," he says. "You were smokin' hot stuff back in the day."
"I still am," she says defiantely, even though now her age is beginning to show and she can't fit in the costume like she used to.
"Yeah," he says. "Y'are. C'mon, let me in, Sal. Your husband ain't home, is he?"
"He's only my husband in name. He's a little asshole, just like you. I've never loved a decent man, ever."
To her amazement he doesn't really react to that. He sort of shrugs, like he's finally realised he's not going to win this one. "Let me in," he tries again.
She feels like she's defeated him. She lets him in.
He stands around in the TV room. He picks up a snowglobe from a shelf.
"Don't touch that," she snaps.
He puts it down. "You got kids?" he asked.
Something hurts deep inside her- a child from Laurence would be a child concieved in hatred- but she doesn't show it. "No."
"You want 'em?"
"I don't know," she lies. She glares at him. "I'm still waitin' on what I've been waitin' on for years."
He stares and then he realises. "I said sorry, alright?"
"No, you said you thought I wanted it and that was your excuse for kicking me and punching me and trying to rape me."
"It wasn't like that, Sal, you know it wasn't. Geez."
"It was like that. It was exactly like that. I felt every punch!" She pushes him, hard. He falls against the shelf and the snowglobe wobbles but doesn't fall. "Or have you raped so many women you forgot which one you broke the ribs of? Which one you left bleeding on the floor?"
"I didn't mean to, alright?" He's not looking at her anymore. Is that actual guilt she can see in his eyes? Could be. "Didn't mean to hurt you bad, Sal. Just to..."
"Just to, what, Eddie?" she snaps.
"Just wanted you."
"Wanted me? That makes it okay, then, that makes it okay what you did?"
"No," he says quietly. "I didn't know you'd be mad."
"Say sorry, Eddie!" she shouts. "Say sorry, godammit!"
He looks at the floor. She's never seen him do that before. "Sorry."
"Right," she says. She expects to feel different now, like she can put this chapter of her life behind her, but she doesn't feel that. "Go now, Eddie."
"What, that's it? I wanted to talk to you."
"We've said all we can say."
"But I thought we could...you know...I thought if I explained myself, maybe you'd...maybe we could have a fresh start." He actually stammers this. For one minute Sally wonders if he actually loves her. Loves her in his own way, if Eddie ever had any proper love in him it's gone now.
"Eddie, are you mad?"
"No, I just thought..."
"You tried to rape me. Do you not get what that means? It means I want you out of my life. It means I don't like having you in my house, or anywhere near me. It means you're sick and pathetic, and I hate you."
There's silence for a minute, except for the ticking of the clock in the kitchen.
"You hate me?" Eddie asks.
"There's few women in the world who wouldn't hate their rapist."
"Stop calling me that. I explained, didn't I? Said sorry."
Sally laughs. "You just don't get it. You never will."
She points to the door, but Eddie doesn't go. He looks almost about to cry, but it provokes anger in her rather than sympathy. "I liked you, Sally. Really I did," he says. "Not just cos you were hot, either. You had something no other woman I ever met had and I don't know what it was but I spent so many nights wishing we were, you know, together. Like, my wife."
Sally laughs again- a laugh that frightens even her. She puts her hand over her mouth and closes her eyes and laughs hysterically at the darkness, feeling like she'll never stop.
"Jeez! You should have thought about that before you tried to rape me."
Eddie says nothing. He looks a little frightened, too.
"Sal, I mean it. Take a swing at me if it'll make you feel better. Equal things out a bit, yeah?"
"You're stupid, Eddie," Sally says calmly, the laughter dying down at last. "What you did, I can't equal it out. It doesn't work like that."
"S'pose..." Eddie looks away again. "I know what I did was bad. I know I'm a bad person, Sally. Me being a hero, that's a load of bullshit. But I could have been good to you. I just screwed it up."
"Don't you ever think that? I mean, think if you hadn't done something this way your life might have turned out that way? You do want to be a mom, don't you? I can tell."
He can read her like a book.
"Go fuck yourself, Eddie," she says dispassionately.
He shuts his mouth.
"Things ain't ever going to be right between us, you got that."
Eddie looks her in the eye. "I could try," he says. "I could make you happy. Even if just for a moment. You know?"
"You're sick, Eddie. I don't ever want you to touch me, not ever." But it's the phrase make you happy that's echoing in her head now. The anger's starting to go. Has she ever been happy? What sort of a life has she led so far? And no-one's ever said...
She just wants it gone. The assault, all of it. Sex is a dirty thing to her, now, her who used to be a whore. If there's only one person who can put it right...maybe it's him and not her. He was the wrongdoer, it's his job. Maybe she's tried hard enough already. Maybe she just wants...
She's worn down now. She wants closure. She wants revenge.
"Fine, Eddie," she says. "Do it."
"I've...I've had enough of you and of it and feeling dirty and wrong all the time. You took me and...You did this, Eddie." She steps towards him, hands in fists, suddenly powerful.
"Now undo it."
They have sex and Eddie's gentle and very nervous. It's over fast and she tells him to go. He runs from the door and in his face she sees, hopes she sees, the same expression she wore once while lying bleeding on the floor a long time ago.
He didn't rape her this time. Maybe she raped him.
Not long after that she realises she's pregnant.
She makes Laurence think it's his, although she knows he's suspicious. She even calls the kid Laurel, after him.
The kid...the girl...Laurel Jane Jupiter, her only child...she has Eddie's hair. Sally takes every opportunity to hand the kid over to Laurence or to Hollis, who's so good with her that she wishes deep in her heart that he was her father, somehow. Despite him being like a brother to her. Perhaps she's gone sick in the head now. She wonders what Hollis would say if he knew the truth.
She feels bad, deeply bad, every time she looks at Laurie. It's the sort of badness that lurks deep within, that she thinks may be found only in the hearts of people who have done a grievous wrong and know it. People like Eddie, in fact.
She tells him. It only takes a phone call.
"Is it mine?" Eddie asks. He recognises her voice and has read the papers.
"She's yours." Sally answers. "Never go near her, ever."
"But-" Eddie starts. She hangs up and feels great satisfaction. He's punished now. Really punished. What could be worse for a parent than being forbidden to see their child?
But she feels so sad, as well. For them all.
One day Laurie'll find out. She's the consequence of her father's sin, her mother's anger, she's born of vengance and hope, a walking contradiction. When she grows up she'll hate her, hate them both.
But Sally loves her daughter now, like she always knew she would.
On TV as feminism reaches its height a group of women burn pornographic literature. She's in there, one of the Tijuana Bibles in flames. She can see her crudley drawn breasts and her smile catching fire, but she doesn't turn off the television. They chant slogans and wave banners. She wonders if, had her life taken a different turn, she'd be among them instead of in the fire.
Maybe they hate her for being the creature she was, for wearing clothes that call kinky sex to mind and walking the streets. It's an odd thought, but the world is changing now. She sort of wants to be a feminist, but what sort of feminist willingly copulates with her rapist?
Laurie grows up.
Sally starts encouraging her to take up costumed adventuring too. She's desperate for her daughter to have a better life than her, for things to really and finally and absolutely be put right. She suspects she might be being too pushy, but she knows it's for the best. In her dreams she imagines a costumed Laurie beating them all up: Hitler and the Nazis, Sally's own father, Laurence, Eddie. Especially Eddie. Screw biology. He's not her father. She doesn't need one. Neither of them did.
She divorces Laurence and moves house. On her way out of Laurence's house he whispers "Slut." She wants to break his legs, but she says nothing back to him. She resolves to wear the word slut like a medal, as payback, but she can't, no more than she can wear whore as anything other than her father's word.
Times are changing. The TV tells her and eleven-year-old Laurie that a superman has been created, a man who can blow up tanks just by looking at them and turn bullets into feathers. Laurie makes a snide comment about there now being real superheroes in the world, and turns the TV off.
The man's name is Dr Manhattan and at the age of seventeen Laurie is dating him. Sally isn't sure she approves, but she can see why. Dr Manhattan is the most powerful man in the world: by becoming his ally and lover, Laurie's essentially become the most powerful woman in the world.
She raised that woman. She didn't raise her to be a god's girlfriend, but what is there to be done? Better for her to have the kind of power Sally never had. Laurie will never be assaulted and left hurting on the floor.
Dr Manhattan's real name is Jon. It seems such a simple and silly name for him. How can she look at a human glowing blue, radiating power, closest thing on Earth to a god, and call him just "Jon"? That's what she does, though, when she meets him on Laurie's twentieth birthday.
"Sally," he says, and offers a hand. She warily takes it. She once said she would believe in Dr Manhattan only when she saw him, and here she is shaking his hand, and she still doesn't quite believe in him.
Hollis had described the feeling as finding out Santa was real after all. He was completely right.
"Nice to meet you," she says.
"Likewise," he says. His tone of voice barely changes. "Laurie's told me a lot about you."
"The good stuff, hahaha," she says with a too-loud laugh.
"Yes," he says. The yes is said in a way that frightens her. Jon, she decides, is not human. Is this her fault, Laurie dating this...thing? They say Dr Manhattan can see the future, maybe he can see the past as well, and maybe he knows who Laurie's father is. Maybe he will tell Laurie, and maybe Laurie will hate her.
In 1977 the Keene Act is passed. Laurie's activities as a costumed hero are now illegal, and Sally detects...something in her daughter's tone when Laurie explains about this. She is still the girlfriend of Dr Manhattan, and Vietnam is over, and Nixon is still President, and there is talk of war. War, again.
When Laurie puts away her costume and turns to her mother and shrugs Sally realises how capable her daughter is of hating her. Laurie is the sort who loves too much and hates too much.
"That's it then, Mom," Laurie says softly.
"I suppose," Sally says, knowing there's disappointment in her voice. "You did good, honey. Real good."
"Huh," is all Laurie says. Just the 'huh' breaks Sally's heart a little.
Sally has found her sister again. Bella lives in New Jersey, alone, a part-time teacher. They have discovered they have little to say to each other. Sally's father is dead, though. Heart attack. Sally doesn't care. Bella informs her where their parents are buried, but Sally puts the thought from her mind.
She feels old.
Sally recieves a letter from a Miss Roxana Lily. She doesn't know this person, but she reads on anyway. Roxana Lily was a prostitute for years. Eventually a man came along and offered a better life if she married him; desperate, she accepted. No sooner were they married then he started to abuse her. She grew even more desperate, until the day Sally and Hollis- Silk Spectre and Nite Owl to Roxana- showed up. Seeing him standing in the front garden slapping her around the face over and over, they intervened. They gave him the beating of his life and warned him to stay away- and he did. He was so beaten and humiliated that he left the country, leaving her to put her life back together.
Roxana Lily has written, she says, to finally say thank you. Sally reads the letter many times.
She did do some good. Once. Somehow.
She puts this new letter with her aunt's letter, side by side in the drawer. Somehow, everything seems to be...alright. Even though a war is probably coming, even though Laurie looks at her coldly, even though her life has gone so wrong in so many ways, Roxana is still alive.
Sally reads the paper and discovers Eddie is dead.
Outwardly she has no real reaction. She puts the paper down. She's...
angry. And she doesn't know why. Eddie didn't go out peacefully. He was thrown from his apartment window: a messy and horrible way to go. They think it was a robbery gone wrong, but Eddie was the Comedian and there was no way, none, that an ordinary robber could kill him. Why kill him anyway? She was the one he hurt the most without actually killing her, like he killed children in Vietnam: she's the only survivor of Eddie.
The death is pushed to the third page of the newspaper; the main headlines are about the war. It is almost certainly going to happen now; the curtain's rising on this terrible show. Sally feels hopeless, sad, and like the world is falling down around her.
It takes her a while to realise she's grieving.
Not long after this New York crumples to the ground. New York, where she lived, where her daughter now lives, where millions of people live. Sally calls her daughter, again and again, and hears nothing from Laurie. The TV screens are filled with bodies and blood. Newsreaders are crying. The staff at the nursing home hold a one-minute silence.
Sally thinks her daughter is dead. It is the worst thing she ever feels.
In the days that pass she finally decides to visit her parent's graves. She recieves nothing from this: no sense of closure. She learns that Hollis Mason is also dead, but she is so numb she barely feels it. The pain comes later, the pain of being the only sane Minuteman left, the pain of having lost everything.
She takes the Polish letter from its locked drawer and tries to read it and can't. She could once- why can't she remember? Her aunt wished for her to have a good life, that was in the letter, she remembers that, or is she making it up? She takes Roxana's letter too, and gains only small comfort from it, but she will take even small comfort now, now that her daughter is dead. She thinks about phoning her sister, but she doesn't, she can't face speaking to anybody. The path of her life rolls up behind her. She's Sally, former superhero, she's lost her daughter. Her daughter is the child of a rapist, but Sally wasn't raped, not really.
Laurie is her only reason for living, and she's dead.
"I love you, Mom," Laurie says. "You never did anything wrong by me."
Sally does not answer back, there's no need for the words, but in her head she whispers them. They hug. And Laurie and her new husband leave- away to new identities, new love, new life. That's my daughter, Sally thinks. I did it.
She turns to the photograph on her bedside table, of the Minutemen in 1940, mere minutes before Eddie came to watch her undress, before he ruined her life, before he put the wheels in motion that would lead to her daughter existing. One moment, one meeting, one idiotic, cruel act, and here stands Laurie Juspecyzk, daughter and superhero.
Eddie stares out of the photograph, smirking at her. Or maybe smiling. Or something.
She kisses it- a thank you for her daughter- and then cries for a while. Finally she stops crying, stands up, and lives happily and peacefully for the rest of her life.
As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light of meaning in the darkness of mere being.
- C.G. Jung, quoted in Watchmen