This was a piece of creative writing done for school. It's set after Offred's time, when the Gileadan regime has been more firmly established. For some reason, the notion of Unwomen really caught my attention and hence.. this came into being.
Aunt Catherine had spoken of them often in the days approaching our Coming Of Age. Unwomen, she said, an unfortunate blight upon God's creation. They would be exterminated at birth if only the Devil had not provided them with such an effective disguise. They looked like us, spoke like us – but they were different. Aunt Catherine's eyes had roved over us suspiciously. There is an Unwoman in this room right now, she told us. It knows who it is, but you have no way of knowing.
I had fidgeted uncomfortably, inching slightly away from my neighbour. The Aunts told us that it was a defect of birth, and not contagious, but I was not going to take any chances. F5935, sitting several arm lengths away from me shifted, and tried to catch my eye. I could see her rolling them, expressing her scorn for Aunt Catherine's words. I avoided her gaze. Suddenly I wondered about her interest in me. We were not encourage to communicate with each other, and her desire to partake in virtually illegal activities took on an ominous light in the aftermath of the Aunt's words.
They want what you have, said Aunt Catherine. They hate you for your goodness, your purity, your piety.
As we left the Hall of Learning and returned to the room in which we slept, F5935 caught up with me and fell into step beside me. "Can you believe all of that? Sometimes I don't think she listens to what's coming out of her mouth!" she scoffed quietly. "Unwomen. Ridiculous."
By her very attempt to dismiss the phenomenon, she ineptly revealed to me her true nature. The pieces fell into place. It knows who it is, whispered Aunt Catherine in my head. F5935 had been brought up by a Commander who, along with his Wife, had been put up on the Wall for seditious activities. She had escaped a similar punishment; a lenient Commander had accounted for her age and allowed her to proceed into training with the rest of us; a mercy that was now evidently a mistake. She was lucky that God had given her such a chance. I wondered at His Grace, to try and find goodness in such beasts, providing them with a chance to redeem themselves that we, the cynical and realistic human beings, knew they would not take.
I gave F5935 a warning glance. I know what you are, my eyes told her. Unwoman. She would keep her distance from now on. I couldn't afford to be seen with such a creature. When we left the Centre several weeks later, we had not spoken again.
The next week, I donned the red robe for the first time. The rest of my life would play out in a cacophony of colours. Red for a year, then green, red, yellow, red, orange and red, again. This cycle of roles would be repeated three times. Sometime between then, whilst clothed in the red robe, my destiny would be fulfilled and I would be allowed the privilege of becoming a Wife. The alternative was unthinkable, and ultimately impossible. I knew what I was.
I began life as Chloe. But names are afforded only to those who have risen high enough to earn one. When I entered the centre, I became F5967. Next, I was Ofmatthew. Though I can barely admit it, even within my own mind, my first Ceremony was terrifying. We had been preparing for this for a decade, and yet tears ran unchecked down my face at that first hint of pain. The Wife did not look at me when it was over, and this devastated me. She was everything I aspired to be; I would be her, sometime within the next twenty-one years of my life. I knew her disregard for me resulted from some transgression of mine – I was still flawed, whilst she had attained perfection – and I spent the following days in suitable atonement, as we had been taught. I prayed, and desperately, painfully demonstrated to God my remorse. Through my pain, he would witness my utmost sincerity. I hoped to have fulfilled my destiny before I reached orange. The Aunts told us that the colonies were worse than an orange robe's duties, but implicit in their words was a 'but not by much.' The bones in my aching, sorrowing fingers had not properly set by the time of the next Ceremony, and the Wife's tight grip ensured that my second-left-most finger on my left hand never properly healed. Luckily, our true purpose does not require a full working set of fingers.
I had my first Particicution when I was several weeks out of the Centre. An Unwoman, they said. She had tried to run when her last Handmaid shift ended. They all try to run, Aunt Catherine had said. They know what they are, and they know their punishment. I had never believed myself to be capable of true violence against another, but perhaps if I aided in ridding our society of a menace such as this creature, the Lord would see fit to reward me.
I was not rewarded. The orange robe was every bit as horrific as I had been lead to believe it would be. Everyone knew that if you had not had a child by the beginning of that very last year in red, then there was no chance that the extra year would change anything. By then you had already had three years in the orange, and if you were even Woman in the first place, the radiation will have irreparably changed that. The small deposits of radioactive white solid that we were instructed to retrieve and place in solid lead boxes are deceptively innocuous. The thing you learn when you leave Gilead for the Outside is don't let it touch your skin. Death comes all too readily out there, for those who are careless.
At the end of my second cycle, the first hint of doubt entered my previously impenetrable fortress of resolution and faith. I had just completed a year as a Martha and had taken up the red robe again. I had three more years as a Handmaid to save myself. Seeing blood dripping down my legs at the end of my second-last year in red delivered a blow that left me gasping. When the two Marthas attending the household found me, curled in my wardrobe with my blood staining my clothes, the sympathy in their eyes turned to disgust as they realised what my condition meant.
"Demon," spat one as they left the room.
I endured my final term in the orange robe. When, clad in red, I arrived at my final household, the Commander and his Wife were standing outside their front door, as was custom. I froze upon meeting the gaze of the Wife. She was cradling a small child in her arms and – no! Her mouth opened upon seeing me, and then a smile of remembrance and nostalgia rose upon her features. I was frozen with shock and jealousy. I wanted what she had, more than anything in the world.
"Oh, but it can't be… F5… oh, those numbers are ludicrous, don't you think? Do you remember me, from the Centre?" asked the Wife excitedly, who, two decades ago, I had so fervently believed to be Unwoman. How our roles had reversed. She held her child tightly, stroking her its hair.
"I am Ofmark, now," I corrected, "And yes, ma'am, I remember you." Bitterness and resentment were welling up inside me like a wave, gathering momentum as she continued to gently play with the toddler's golden hair, the very image of womanliness and fertility.
I wanted her life. I wanted her child. I hated her for what she had. You want what she has, Aunt Catherine repeated accusingly in my head. Bile rising in my throat, I realised: I know what I am. Twelve years of the red robe, twelve years of opportunities – this was not bad luck. This was fate. I was born this way. I cannot change what I am. In one year, I will be taken to the colonies to die violently of radiation sickness: a just punishment for a Daughter of Satan. Alone in the room of the house allocated to me, I screamed. And screamed, and screamed. I blamed F5935; I blamed her Commander, I blamed the eleven men who were supposed to have given me life, given me freedom; I blamed the woman who birthed me; I blamed God.
I lived my final year as a 'woman' in a daze. I did not notice the gentle, loving grip of the Wife on my fingers during the Ceremony, her left hand taking care not to crush my crooked finger, which still pained me occasionally. I rejected her kind offers to join her for a hot mug of tea before bed. I missed it when she fiercely rebuked the Marthas for the scorn and disgust with which they treated me.
And then my final year as a Woman ended.
"It's absurd!" hissed the Wife, clutching my arm tightly, and stroking my cheek before I was led away. "Unwoman! Ridiculous! You're as much of a woman as I am, child or not!
I was shoved into the back of the van, in which there were six other women sitting on benches attached to the walls. Once was crying, two were sleeping, and the rest of us gazed at each other with mutual disgust and horror.
We have been travelling for little over an hour when the van stops. A door opens, and then slams. The back doors of the van are thrown open. A man, dressed in full Angel regalia stands in the open doorway and speaks urgently, in unnecessarily hushed tones.
"We're getting you out."
His accent is odd. He is not from Gilead.
"I'm from Canada. I'm with the Underground."
I have never heard of the Underground, but his message is clear. The two sleeping Unwomen have woken, and are now clinging to the crying creature, mingling their tears with hers. I exchange a glance with the other three. As one, we rise and exit the van. The man motions for us to return inside; he was only letting us know what was going on. It will take a while to get to the borders. If we hear gunfire, it will be the Guardians at the colonies realising that an escape attempt is being made. The woman to my right reaches out, takes the Canadian's gun, and lodges a bullet in his skull.
You shall not murder. The sixth of the Ten Commandments. But we are Unwomen. God's face is already turned from us.
Perhaps they will kill us when we arrive at the colonies, with one of us driving the van. Not even women are afforded the privilege of driving a vehicle. Even if they do not, I will be dead within the month. The colonies are a death-trap; a trap that I do not deserve nor intend, as an Unwoman, to survive.