The Handmaid I
for Margaret Atwood
Behind my veil, it’s the gush of flowers I
noticed first in The Wife’s domed greenhouse:
deep-red tulips yawning open like
the famished, orchid mouths of children. In
her night-blue satin gown, honey-blonde curls and false eyelashes, I
suspected she must be either singing or
praying to herself even though eventually,
the tulips suffocated and died in her gloved hands,
leaving bloody stains on The Wife’s fingertips.
Meticulously, she snipped the
wilted leaves – snip, snip, snip – and dreamt
of her barren womb filling with a vine of
ripe fruit like soft peaches. There were bright
fruit trees in her garden. I
was forbidden from touching the fruit trees:
anything ripe was forbidden to us – like Eve herself
with tousled, flame-red hair,
deceived and consumed with temptation,
the hiss and slur of a green garden snake,
snaking around an arching apple branch with
glistening, emerald eyes and a seductive tongue.
Then, the echo of The Husband’s footsteps,
mahogany staircase in his black suit.
Sweetie, I’m about to leave. Sweetie, I’m going now.
There were Eyes everywhere like tiny
pricks of sharp light, and
the tight, pale skin in between my legs
prickled with the thought of him. Ofmichael.
Of:Michael, and I thought of myself as a rare,
silk purse with glistening, gold coins that he kept hidden
in his suit pocket,
his fingers fumbling in the darkness of that
purse, trying to find –. I
detected his footsteps disappear as he slipped
inside a black jeep and fantasised about making love
to young, pubescent girls in the back seat
of his tinted jeep on hot, burning leather. Yet, my breathing
became more anxious, like a stuffed
white bird in a tight mason jar,
heavily pregnant with a dead fetus inside it,
stuffed with red feathers. I
silently down the attic,
through the long, narrow walls of this house,
while The Wife waved at The Husband,
grasping onto a pair of blunt garden shears.
I retreated back into my room like the
female ghost before me, in
this exact spot, hands quivering against my belly. I
and there, another woman, faceless,
as if from a cherry tree, from the ceiling above me.
The Handmaid II
for Margaret Atwood
“Ofdavid, may The Lord be with you.”
“Yes, may He be with you too –”
and outside, shuffling forward in pairs,
veiled in wings of crimson like scarlet fever itself,
huge wings of red masking our faces, I
thought we could have been mistaken for
a pair of school girls or ballerinas
in ruby slippers, speaking only in whispers.
it’s envy we felt like crazy, old women,
gazing at each other with ragged holes in our hearts,
and grasping onto our empty baskets.
The Wives loomed in the distance,
in their gardens blooming with red damask roses,
and they appeared like anxious mothers baking
burnt blackberry pies and waiting
for fathers to return home after shifting heaps of
shredded paper all day, while
some of The Wives strolled down the street,
pushing empty, black buggies, and
when they stared at us,
we glanced the other way, as if to save our faces
from the August summer fire.
Then, further along, I felt I’d stumbled
into a familiar area –
this was home to me once,
shadows of my former self lingered
within these streets and vacant stores where a woman’s
ivory tulle wedding gown still hung against
a window like a pallid ghost –
my daughter’s footprints in the park,
and my own husband –
a shiver of cigarette smoke clouding behind him.
We shuffled like ghosts in these decayed spaces,
bound to their core. She murmured, “I’m with child, Ofmichael,” and I
saw we’d reached the heart of The City,
without knowing we had, where memories
slipped in and out like pieces of
fractured skull – on the beach, once, with you my dear husband,
splashes of scintillating water, and our daughter
away by blinding, blue waters – then she’d
disappeared through a forest of snow,
I said nothing. We faced The Church Wall. A dead body.
I imagined myself hanging
from The Wall, off
a twine of rope. Raped. Vagina missing.
A white sac over my mouth, resembling
a distorted clown with spots of blood
where eyes and mouth once were.
I blinked. We were allowed to view things
in quick glimpses as the world narrowed around us,
a thinning, oval mirror.
It was another woman hanging down from The Wall –
an inch of blonde hair teasing
out from underneath her bloody veil. I
glanced up at the sky – a curve of
blue glass and I remembered I was once
a bony girl here, giggling and laughing,
and blowing kisses at the sky.
“Ofmichael, there’s someone watching us,” she whispered,
and like a pair of school girls,
we continued walking,
wearing our red veils like hot flesh and I glanced across
seeing the silver river, and
how easy it would have been for us plunge in it.
The Handmaid III
for Margaret Atwood
Then, with my head nestled in between The Wife’s lap,
as if I was a pregnant thrush on a plate, The Husband eased into me.
I noticed the stuffed and heavily pregnant birds with brilliant plumes
screaming out of the cloudy, glass mason jars –
and some of the fetuses appeared alive, still wet from birth,
their wings tearing out of their mothers’ wombs –
whilst I was being fucked by him. I
convinced myself I was lying in a marble tomb:
Baby, sweet Baby, it’s you I missed terribly, Dear Husband, it’s you
I thought about making love to as I was being fucked and fucked like a stuffed,
dumbfaced plastic doll – in our former home, as a ghost, noticing shadows in every room,
and our daughter’s toys lying scattered like bald, plastic heads in the gloomy hallway.
Still, The Wife muzzled my mouth with her clammy hand like
a sticky gauze, and I could smell a crush of red roses and a twist of
my daughter’s bloody hair in her palm, whilst our breaths came out together
in shorts bursts like feeble heartbeats until my own heart stopped.
Then, I saw our daughter’s footprints drift and fade across
a forest of snow, and I followed her, through that forest of snow,
hearing the rustle of her footsteps, and finally yours my
Dear Husband as I – too – disappeared forever.
Juned Subhan is a writer and an English teacher from England, a former graduate from the University of Glasgow. His work [poetry & fiction] has been published in various periodicals including Prairie Schooner, Copper Nickel, North American Review, December, Poems & Plays, Cimarron Review, Louisiana Literature, Quiddity, World Literature Today, Bryant Literary Review and Joyce Carol Oates’s Ontario Review amongst others.