Art Pact 113
Mara Kieta Poulde Vors Ratin, having endured years of teasing about her short name, was a "blow it up" enthusiast. If she'd had psychic powers I doubt one rock would have been standing on top of another rock anywhere on planet Earth, if you catch my drift. She had rages that went on for hours, indulgent rants of screaming and shouting and wishing that the core of this world would just crack and let out the lava like white out of an egg. She hated with a fury that was terrifying to behold, and during one of these episodes no-one but me would go near her. Even I was a little afraid, but I'd known her long enough to understand that the anger behind it was because of an impotence regards actually affecting the world. She was strong, stronger than most of the boys we knew, stronger than most of the women and a good proportion of the men, but there was something in her that reigned her back from physical violence. Perhaps if she'd been able to release her fists she might have hurt someone badly, but perhaps on the other hand it would have taken some of the steam out of her. Instead she just fumed and hissed and the rages were like the little blow-outs that hint that somewhere, sometime soon, a volcano is going to erupt. I looked at her and saw a hurricane wrapped in skin, so that it was sometimes hard to think of her as anything other than malignant energy.
I found it hard to take, for two reasons - one empathic, the other selfish. The more honourable side of me wanted to help her, because she was (for better or worse) my friend. She was unlike my other friends, the ones I'd grown up with and knew everything about. Mara was an open book in our shared interests (science and archery), and utterly opaque in all other respects. I had never been to her house; I did not even know where she lived. I knew nothing about her family, or of any other interests she might have held. But despite that, and despite her misanthropy, I liked her. So I wanted her to be happy, or at the least free of whatever it was within her that was the root source of her rages.
And she was happy - sometimes. I think if I'd only ever seen her in her darkest moments I wouldn't have wanted to mitigate them, because there was little in her furies that could remind me that she was a girl like me, and like me deserving of a happy life, of a future that could be hoped for and not feared. It was in between times that showed me that, little things like her face after an arrow thudded into the centre of a bullseye, a little smile of satisfaction when an experiment went as expected - or better still, in some unexpected but intriguing way.
On the other, more self-centred hand, I wanted to calm her down because of the boys. Because of one boy in particular, Lento.
Lento Parasido Ponte Un Block Dos Hill Tres Leilo Vors Kantego was the eldest of three brothers, all equally handsome, all equally repellent. I mention Lento's good looks only because they were a simple fact, not because they figured into my feelings for him in any way. I despised Lento just as thoroughly as Mara hated all of mankind, and although I could agree with so many of the girls in our year that he was good-looking facially, the spirit behind those features was to me so ugly that there was no way I could ever have been attracted to him. It is something of a shame that I now know a man who looks similar to Lento but lacks his awful personality, and I have not thought even for a second that he should be anything more than a friend to me simply because I cannot imagine that sort of handsomeness in the context of love or lust.
Lento had many faults, but the sin I was particularly riled at was his old-fashioned home-style sexism. Lento's mother had left the family after the birth of the third boy, and his father had taken the opportunity to reinforce in his offspring an idea that had no doubt led to the woman's flight in the first place: that women were inferior to men in every way that counted, that they belonged in the kitchen or in bed, that they were untrustworthy backstabbers, and so on. I seemed to spend half of my free time at school attempting in vain to reassure myself that Lento would come to a terrible end, or that he had effectively shut himself off from the society of women for all time so that once school was over no girl would ever have to suffer his presence again, but I knew with despair that it was not true. Lento was handsome, and girls at school were willing to overlook his stupidity for the sake of his face. That in turn meant that I was not just arguing against boys, but against almost everyone (teachers excepted, mostly), when I stood up for the simple, obvious (to me, anyway) notion of equality.
Mara's furies were a weak spot in my defences. When Lento argued that women were not suitable for positions of power because of their emotional behaviour, it was Mara he pointed to. Would anyone make Mara the president of Usmerica? he would ask. That is what a woman is like when you give her access to an education, he would say: flighty and violent. You might as well give the nuclear buttons to an angry chimpanzee.
And the fact was that in Mara's case he was right - you wouldn't have. I knew that that was Mara and not me, and that there were plenty of men who you could have said the same thing about. But I also knew that if Mara was not so... Mara-ish anymore it would be one leg kicked out from under Lento's moronic argument. So I set to work.