Art Pact 84

What's in a name, he'd asked, coming out of the registry office, and at the time I couldn't really give him any sort of a reply. It was important to me, and I was glad that he'd gone along with my request, but I couldn't articulate why it was so important. It would have been a deal-breaker, though, if he'd stuck his heels in and resolved not to take my name.

Now, having to explain who I was, it seemed like an awkward and petulant request.

"And you are his sister?" the woman in the uniform asks me.

"His wife," I tell her.

"Ah," she says, nodding, as if this explains everything. I am filled with a sort of of furious embarrassment. How can she judge me, now, of all times? I can feel my blood pressure rising, and below the lip of the reception desk, where they cannot be seen, my fists bunch up so tight that even an hour later on I will see the crescent-moon shapes that my nails are making in my palms. "Now, do you have some form of identification?"--she looks up, smiles with a sort of institutionalised sympathy, the sort of look someone in HR would give you while you were being fired--"I'm sorry to have to ask, but obviously we have to make sure in cases such as these."

Cases such as these. The horrible blandness of the euphemisms is almost as bad as the concepts they're trying so hamfistedly to hide. I take a deep breath, release it in a long sigh, and release my right hand from its tight fist to dig into my handbag. Here is my driving license, here is my passport, here is our certificate of marriage.

I decide to give her the driving license. It's the least personal, something I had for my job. I never drove him - on the rare occasions we hired a car he always insisted on taking the wheel, and since I had no feelings about driving one way or another I was happy to concede this to him. He was a nervous passenger - when we travelled in other people's cars I could see him pumping furiously at the invisible passenger's-side brake, wincing when the engine was overrevved, leaning to one side or the other as if it could make us avoid oncoming traffic that was too close for his comfort.

"Thank you, Mrs. Argent," she says, barely glancing at it. She returns to the endless tapping at her computer. When she looks up again, the smile is gone. "Could you take a seat," she half-asks, half-orders. "Someone will be with you in a moment."

Something is wrong, I can tell. Her face is frozen in that impassive expression people use to mask fear - fear that someone will make a scene, fear that they will have to watch painful emotions, perhaps even a physical fear. I lean forward, testing my theory, and the woman behind the desk leans away from me, flinching noticeably.

"Please," she says, the first time she has used the word, and, it is clear, not sincerely. She indicates the waiting room chairs again, more timidly this time. For a moment I find the exchange satisfying, the feeling of being able to physically intimidate someone five inches taller than me, then I remember why I am here again - and that something has come up on her system, some problem that means I will not be able to see him, not today at least. Nothing that starts with me taking a seat will be resolved quickly, I know that much about how the bureaucracy works. I lean back again, and free of my immediate presence she bouys up again with false bravado: "You'll have to take a seat."

I turn away, but she is wrong. I don't have to do anything. I'm Silver. I walk to the door, press on it, find that somehow it has become locked. Behind me the receptionist is moving further away, trying to get into the office behind her desk, where she can lock the door and trap herself safely out of my reach. I'll be here, in the reception hall, when the security officers get here. If she's looking through the window she'll see if I finesse the door. Normally that would bother me, but now?

No, let her see. I am Silver, and I will not be denied this last chance to see my husband. I reach through the metal face-plate of the lock, grab hold of the latch, and pull. Ribbons of metal follow my hand as I draw it back, and the door swings open.


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