The Fatigues arrive with Christmas dinner an hour late. It’s the same old slop, but the Fatigues wear Santa hats. Impatience rules the evening. Everyone’s so hungry, they crowd noisily around, like it’s a food delivery in a famine, and to make it worse, there are only two Fatigues there tonight to serve the meal instead of the usual four.
I do like that the book is being pretty consistent with time. Earlier Lev and annoying kid were saying it was Thanksgiving, now it’s Christmas. It’s still annoying that it’s impossible to figure out time or location based on the actual description of their surroundings, but less than if that was the only way to know.
Compliments done, why is this going on? The two rather than four makes sense, getting people to come by on Christmas is going to be difficult. But why are the kids hungry? This is America, there’s surplus food everywhere, and the most basic way of pacifying kids is keeping them from being hungry.
As annoying kid explained earlier, restaurants have to throw out lots of food. Since that food is being discarded, it also has the benefit that no one will notice it being used to feed these kids, while it’d be really easy to set things up to watch for anyone making bulk food purchases in excess of what they could possibly eat. (Similarly, flag anyone buying formula and diapers who doesn’t have a registered baby – it seems very likely that families order their girls unwound for getting pregnant but can’t actually send her off until she has it, so there should be pregnant runaways giving birth in safehouses.) Furthermore, we know there’s electricity in this place because they’ve got space heaters going, so giving them a microwave and refrigerator would be easy. And that’d mean not having to show up regularly to deliver the food.
(Also, now that I think about it, there’s also a wasted opportunity here. The kids are in a locked building, dependent on the adults for food. If the food today is super late, wouldn’t that be really scary? Okay, rationally you couldn’t starve, you’d be able to break out…probably. But you’d risk alerting everyone and just being caught. Or maybe it’s late because the adults were caught and the police are coming to get them right now. Everything is so muted in this book – the surroundings, the reactions, everything.)
Risa decides to go to the bathroom while everyone else is waiting for food.
She takes a moment to examine herself in the mirror, but she doesn’t like the straggly-haired, ragged girl she’s become, so she doesn’t look at herself for long. She washes her face and, since there are no towels, dries it with her sleeve.
Wait, so you don’t just have a toilet, you have a sink? So you guys are in fact able to wash yourselves, since that just requires soap, clean water and ideally privacy. The door’s lock being broken is a bit of an issue, but you just have the other girls sit outside the door, then sit outside for them.
Roland walks in.
And now he closes the door gently behind him. Risa immediately realizes her mistake. She should never have come here alone.
“Get out!” she says. She wishes she could sound more forceful
So all that stuff about Risa being a tough kid who had to take care of herself was just part of establishing her as as cutely broken. She can’t actually handle herself.
Roland is indeed here to rape her.
“We’re all friends here, right? And since everyone’s eating dinner, we’ve got some quality time to get to know each other.”
“Stay away from me!” Now she’s scanning her options, but realizes in this tight a space, with only one door, and nothing she can use as a weapon, her options are limited.
Because this is about what the author wants to happen, not what makes sense, she’s completely helpless. Screaming is easy and obvious, and it actually means she wins – the adults hear, they catch Roland and he’s likely removed from the group completely. But she just stands there letting him get closer and say creepy stuff to her.
Finally she tries to hit him, but that doesn’t work because she is a girl and helpless.
The way she always saw it, screaming was a show of weakness. A sign of defeat. Now she has to admit defeat
It’s like this book made sure to get fucked up shit into every little corner it could.
The scream doesn’t even work because a plane flies over right then, and obviously she can’t scream again because she already did it once. No really, he doesn’t cover her mouth again, but somehow just screaming against isn’t an option.
The Connor comes in, as the whole scene has been contriving its way to happen.
Connor steps over the threshold, but he doesn’t move toward them. Instead he goes to the sink. “Mind if I wash up for dinner?”
Risa waits for him to make a sharp and sudden move, catching Roland off guard, but he doesn’t. He just washes his hands.
“Your girlfriend’s had her eye on me since Sonia’s basement,” says Roland. “You know that, don’t you?”
Connor dries his hands on his pants. “You two can do whatever you like. Risa and I broke up this morning. Should I turn off the light when I leave?”
Oh thank goodness Connor didn’t fall for Roland’s trick to get him to start a fight! That’s what really matters.
Also luckily for Risa, Roland decides not to rape her after all if Connor doesn’t care.
Risa is dumber than Connor and also hysterical because of her womanly uterus and so gets upset and demands to know why he did that so he has to explain about how he doesn’t really not care, he just didn’t want to take the bait, so it’s only he sort of doesn’t care.
“He didn’t just follow you to the bathroom—he pushed past me first. He made sure I knew he was following you here. This whole thing wasn’t about you, it was about me—just like you said. He wanted me to catch him. He wanted to make me crazy, to get me fighting mad. So I didn’t take the bait.”
Risa shakes her head—not in disbelief, but reeling from the truth of it.
“But … but what if . . . what if he . . .”
“But he didn’t, did he?
As I said, I went into this ready to hate it. I was expecting stuff about how terrible abortion and women deciding to have sex it. I was not expecting it to be so devoted to finding all sorts of other, unrelated things to be a hateful piece of garbage about.
And it can still get worse.
All the emotions rebounding madly through Risa finally come to rest in an unfamiliar place, and tears burst from her eyes. Connor steps forward to comfort her, but she pushes him away with the same force she would have used against Roland.
“Get out!” she yells. “Just get out!”
Connor throws up his hands, frustrated. “Fine. I guess I should have just gone to dinner and not come in here at all.”
And yet there’s a part of her that can’t forgive him for just standing there. After all, heroes are supposed to behave in very specific ways. They’re supposed to fight, even if it means risking their lives.
This is the moment Risa realizes that, even with all his troubles, she sees Connor as a hero.
And oh, we still have further to go. Next chapter is Connor’s.
Holding his temper in that bathroom was perhaps the hardest thing Connor had ever had to do. Even now, as he storms away from Risa, he wants to lay into Roland
It’s not enough that we just had a chapter in which a girl being threatened with rape is all about the boy. We now get a redundant mini-chapter about how hard it was on the boy. It was really hard. He has a temper but he had to control himself and that’s so so hard okay.
Roland has fashioned himself a knife out of some metal he found lying around the warehouse. If Connor launches at him with a rage of swinging fists, Roland will find a way to end it with a single deadly thrust— and he’ll be able to get away with it, claiming it was self-defense.
A) Tell an adult this.
B) No, that is not self-defense. If he actually got a knife and stabbed you with it, he would be in trouble. This is obvious, therefore you know it.
C) While we’re here, go tell an adult he just tried to rape Risa. You know, that third option you’ve had this whole time. The thing you could have done when you saw him attack Risa instead of getting into a dick-waving contest.
But we can’t have anyone thinking that knife is actually enough for Roland to beat Connor-sue.
Even against a knife, Connor suspects he might be able to either turn the blade against him, or take Roland out in some other way before he has the chance to use it. The question is this: Is Connor willing to enter a battle that must end with one of them dead? Connor might be a lot of things, but he’s no killer.
Thank goodness Connor is so moral he’d rather let Roland rape his friend instead.
This whole incident also casts a new light on how all the other kids are muttering about how much they wish someone would take out Roland. What other abuses is he committing? Whatever they are, it’s worth ignoring them because Connor doesn’t want to deal with them. Let’s all cry a single tear for how hard it is for Connor to rein in his temper. He’s the real victim here.
another side of him, a side that’s growing steadily stronger, enjoys this exercise of silent power—and it is power, because Roland now behaves exactly the way he and Risa want him to.
I’m glad leaving Risa to be raped has worked out so well for you, Connor.
So I keep thinking about Wither with this, and it’s really making me appreciate that book. It was fucked up rape apologism, but at least it bothered with excuses. It understood it needed to bend over backwards to make Linden unaware of what was happening, and it allowed the girls to react to what was done to them, because even Wither accepted that the things that happened to them were about them.