Art Pact 243 - Embedded
Every morning I pick up my watch from my nightstand and strap it on. When my husband leaves for work, I raise it to my mouth and begin to report my observations from the previous day.
In my capacity as a secret agent, I have often wondered whether the people at home are really quite as on the ball as I remember them. I've been embedded here for close on to thirty years now, have married and raised a family and although I have seen much to be deplored here, it is impossible to spend so much time in a culture and not come to appreciate some elements of it. The people here are friendly to me, of course, because I so resemble their cultural ideal - as an eighteen-year old girl when I first arrived, I was head-turningly beautiful by their standards, and although I have been weathered by age, experience, and (chiefly, I think) children, I still retain something of that natural advantage. In addition, unlike the great majority of the native women, I have my training from the homeland, my education and upbringing which have instilled in me a self-confidence that life here slowly drains out of those women not bolstered against its effects. Thus, to the men of this place, I project a shell of supreme competence, which is in itself attractive to them, although I fear they do not perhaps understand why, nor that it is their culture which has robbed their own women of this mental gloss. My own dear husband is still unsure quite why I chose him, quite baffled that someone like me would lower herself to consort with a man of - if I must be brutally objective in my descriptions - rather plain demeanour and equipped with no great fortune. If he knew - that my mission requires me to be placed close to the common man of this land and decidedly distant from any sort of fame or celebrity which might lead to my exposure - I think it would clarify a great confusion in him. He would sigh, nod, and say to himself "of course, that explains it", and he would be a little sad but he would at least have some sort of closure to the puzzle that has dominated our marital life.
The truth behind the truth, though, is that I have come to love him, and had I access to a time-machine and my younger self had had the freedom to select her own mate, I think I should have advised her to pick him anyway. He is not physically handsome, that is true, but neither is he repulsive, and he came to our marriage bed with a humility and an openness to learning that has made that side of our relationship a delight rather than a dull chore. Perhaps he lacks the sweeping passion that I imagine in my homelanders, but his is a comfortable love, a hot-water bottle that warms the heart and the loins alike, there is no shame in such a style and truth be told perhaps it is ideal for these climes, where furtive couplings in back alleys and raging dramas of sex that roam free through the house result more in chills and less in thrills. We in the homeland (can I call myself one of that we still?) joke about their sexual habits being confined to the bed, and yet on a cold autumn morning there is no more comfortable place for it. And all winter mornings are cold here.
If you doubt that my feelings for him run deep, you might look to our children for confirmation. There was no mention of children in my briefing - I might have avoided them easily without receiving censure from above or suspicion from my target nation, since although they are currently in a fit of mother-worship (ironic, since their culture is designed to denigrate grown women in all other ways), they are first and foremost a pragmatic people, well accustomed to individual idiosyncrasy in the matter of parenthood and also, of course, to the medical problems which prevent it. Their science lags behind that of the homeland, making infertility still something that is troublesome to cure, although - in another irony - they also lack contraception which does not rely on the frailties of human memory or maturity, so that the couples who should be able to conceive but cannot are often supplied with infants by young couples who should not be able to conceive but have. I could easily have stayed with my husband without children, then, but I felt that if I did want them he would be as good a father as any. Since there was no telling when I might be called upon to extract myself, I also thought that it might be a good idea to get on with it. If I waited for a recall that never happened I felt that would be filled with regret had I sacrificed my opportunities at a family. If I was recalled after the children were born, I could decide then whether to bring them with me or leave them in their father's care.
The recall did not, of course, come while the children were living at home. Indeed, the whole subject of communication with the homeland has been puzzling me for some time. I talk into the watch, the special watch they gave me that they assured me my handlers would be monitoring. I tell them things I have observed, the dispositions of policemen and the locations of government buildings. I wait further orders, but none are forthcoming. There is no mention of the homeland on the news here - I vaguely remember something about an information embargo, no doubt a trick by the local government to keep their subjects from learning about a better way of life. I read nothing in the papers, either, and I monitor the web pages I remember being drop-boxes for general codes, but most of them simply return page not found errors. Has something happened in the homeland?
It is troubling, but I am a soldier. I continue to make my reports.