(Image with permission of Becka Wolfe)
In which Mouse finds improved accommodation . . ..
The Communal Female, by Gertrude Godchosen
Finley J. MacDonald
As he climbs, clinking in darkness, Mouse can hear the screws, one front and one behind, their feet echoing as they step round and round, up a tight, clammy staircase. A key clunks in a lock. Hinges squeal, and Mouse is pulled through. The air smells of wet stone, and Mouse can hear voices and clicking metal. The hood is pulled off. Next to a wooden bucket in the dim hall, an old man looks up slowly, a mop handle in purple-veined hands. Mouse, between two female screws, is shoved along toward a cell. The door swings open to let him through and clashes behind him.
“Feet. Feet near the bars!”
Mouse shuffles alongside the bars. One screw regards him–young, comely, undesirable as an angel of death–while the second screw drags away the ankle chains.
“Hands through the bars.”
Mouse offers his wrists, and the irons click and slide.
Clean yourself up, inmate.”
Apart from the fact that he is locked in inside it, the room seems hardly a prison cell. The bars across the window are posted in sunlight. Upon the cot frame, a mattress four inches thick invites him to slumber in a bright splash of light that climbs from the floor and up the whitewashed wall. Along the opposite wall, a pitcher of water is set over its shadow on the table. There is a washbasin. Shaving knife. Comb, soap. A folded towel and wash cloth. On the shelf above, the top book reads: The Communal Female, by Gertrude Godchosen.
The slap and slide of the mop on stone works closer. The old man sways into view, grumbling. He halts for a moment, looks at Mouse’s feet, and giggles.
“What, old man?”
The mop slops across the space and moves on. Mouse looks himself in the metal mirror affixed to the wall. Mug covered in black wool, nose and forehead red as iron ore. Mouse fills the basin with water. He unbuttons his shirt and drops it to the floor. He dips his face into water, and the dribbling stream clouds the basin. He starts with the sideburns, and he scratches away the beard, piling the tufts at the edge of the table. He touches his face, his cheekbones like worn cliffs, his two eyes over bruised moons. With the cloth, he sponges his burned shoulders, neck, and back.
Toweling himself, Mouse steps across the clean floor to the window. He stands in the light breeze. Below, weather vanes on a stone building pierce a green field with milk cows—black, red, and spotted. Bells that tinkle as the cows wander and graze.
At the bed, Mouse takes up the shirt. He pulls it on, sits on the bed, toes off his shoes, and stands to push down his trousers. He tugs the trousers to his waist, and he slips on the canvas slippers he finds at the edge of the bed. He runs his hand down his chest. The light, woven fibers smell oddly unworn. A padlock clacks, key delving. The bottom, barred door in the larger door squeaks open, and a tray slides through.
“When you finish, place that shaving knife on the tray and leave it near the door.”
The door slams. Mouse steps to the table and sets off the basin and empty pitcher. As he carries the food to the table, he smells pepper and spice. Mouse has not eaten. He sits down at the table and begins shoveling lentils and dark, spiced rice into his mouth. He sips hot, strong tea. Afterwards, according to the screw’s demands, he sets the shaving knife near the bowls and spoon and leaves it all near the bars. He picks The Communal Female off the shelf. The copy has been rebound, and the pages are tattered. Mouse drops to his side on the bed and reads slowly, sounding out words he has never encountered.
What we wish for
Most will take a dim view, no doubt, of our project, and indeed, heap scorn at the prospect of a commune excluding male humanity. It is our purpose, notwithstanding, to set forth a vision, to suggest tenets, and to extol the merits of sororities directed by females for the benefit of females.
We note and shall describe again in more detail the current state of affairs whereby post-cataclysmic societies appear to be reforming themselves along lines which have already led to grave depopulation and irreparable damage to many regions of our earth. Regrettable technologies and institutions are already in place. We feel we can trace this unthinking envy of and pell-mell rush toward imitative invention to an enduring, patriarchal mindset—as well as to a lack of reflection and imagination. As mankind does not appear capable of altering or ameliorating courses of action that have led and shall surely lead again to disastrous consequences, we make the following, brazen proposal: tear down the edifice of patriarchy entirely. We are certainly not proposing violence, which is altogether useless and impossible at any rate, as patriarchy outstrips us entirely in the realm of violence. Rather, such as we propose may be accomplished through bringing up children entirely uninfected with patriarchy, advancing persons steeped in lore, crafts, customs, music, arts, and indeed, religion founded upon and steeped in the feminine.
That being said, we do not wish to be complainers. We have no desire to wallow in conflict and petulance. We do not even impugn patriarchies per se, for we might then diminish our claim to the establishment of utopian communes quite beyond mere matriarchy, for we aspire to communes whose full-fledged members are women exclusively.
Objections will be raised, no doubt, even in the mind of our female reader. We shall attempt to disperse them. While perhaps admitting to a certain diminished climate, to a subtly repressive air which has flattened her person; while quite likely associating rape, war, abuse of children, and destruction of earthly environment as belonging essentially to the male sphere; our female reader may protest that she has little wish to swear off associations with males entirely, if nothing else, as a matter of sensual concern. Let us rush to assure her that swearing off all associations with males is not implicit in the project of creating female communes; however, such associations should transpire outside the institutional container which ascribes feminine rights and customs.