September 7th, 1964
“How do you feel today?” Verloc asked. He bent down in front of Gemma and inspected her pupils for dilation. He spoke with more interest today than he’d shown yet to date. It was progress. She made herself smile just a bit more than she had yesterday and perked up her eyebrows a smidge to look more open and at ease. She couldn’t actually do anything about her pupils but with the rest of her adjustments, maybe his own wish for success would convince him they looked bigger too.
“Better. I still have a headache but I forget about it sometimes,” she answered. “I think the fever’s broke finally, but I still feel warm. And sort of… fuzzy?”
“What do you mean by ‘fuzzy’?” he asked, leaning back.
She’d just been laying it on a bit thick throwing that detail on the pile and hadn’t expected to be asked to elaborate on it, but that wasn’t a problem. “You know how Joy- Oh. No, I suppose you wouldn’t know, would you?” she said, catching herself with a little laugh. Verloc didn’t share her amusement and just gave her a look of impatience. Gemma got back to the point. “Joy makes everything seem a little softer. And when you think about things, any things, you never really think that hard. Everything is just… fluffier? I feel like I’m just on the verge of feeling like that.”
Not bad for some absolute bollocks.
“There’s probably still some chemical interference from Sally’s Blackberry preventing the Coconut from working at full effect. We’ll have to see how that progresses.”
He went back to his spot by the door and they sat in an awkward silence for a moment. Gemma decided to throw caution to the wind and see how far this apparent improvement might have gotten her.
“Why is it that you don’t take Joy?”
Verloc’s face scrunched up in suspicious skepticism at such an audacious question.
“Oh really!,” she said. “I’m just curious. It’s not as if I could print anything about it anyway. And if this formula is working, I’ll probably forget long before I leave here.” She didn’t think he’d put much stock in the former assurance, but his ego might sell him on the latter.
He appeared to consider, scrutinizing the consequences.
“Why don’t you?” he asked finally. “How did you end up on Blackberry?”
“Is that a trade agreement?” Gemma asked, arching an eyebrow and smirking. Verloc grumped at having been caught at implying a deal was being made without actually committing to one. He said nothing, not willing to actually agree. That was fine by Gemma. It wasn’t as if he could use her story against her either, so long as she omitted certain details.
“It started with your Sunshine,” she began. “Well, I say “yours”. There are a few different purveyors of it now. I was assigned a story on it, to disavow its existence obviously, but… well, I have a “certain level of journalistic integrity to maintain”, don’t I?” Verloc gave her quizzical squint at being quoted back to himself. “I tracked down a seller, bought some, and tried it-“
“Who? And how did they get my formula?” Verloc demanded. “It was Sally, wasn’t it?”
“I can’t reveal my sources,” Gemma said, scowling at his interruption, “but personally, I don’t think it was Sally who leaked the original formula. It’s been on the streets for years now.” Sally had been the one to tell her that Verloc invented Sunshine, but only after Gemma implied that is was one of her creations. It had the same sort of naming convention as many of her other drugs, but Sally was insistent that Verloc had come up with it. At first Gemma had thought Sally was just trying to deny involvement and distance herself, but there had been something more to that admission. It wasn’t vindictiveness, oddly enough. One would think as bitter as that break-up apparently was… Gemma later decided, after going through her notes again and rereading the internal memos between the two of them, that it must have been Sally assigning credit where it was due. If you’d had credit for a development as big as Strawberry stolen out from under you, maybe credit going where it was owed was something you cared about. And it couldn’t hurt if that credit was owed to your rotten ex-boyfriend and getting it would be bad for his business.
“Anyway…” Gemma trailed to get back to her story.
“It was dreadful, taking Sunshine instead of Joy. It wasn’t as bad as this is, but this would probably be much worse if I hadn’t experienced Joy withdrawal first. I started remembering things. Things we all wanted so badly to forget. I honestly don’t understand how you could live with all of this all the time.” She was inviting him to explain and she hoped he’d just take it upon himself.
“You didn’t go back on Joy once you wrote your story though,” Verloc said instead. “Why not?”
Gemma pursed her lips, annoyed he hadn’t taken the bait, but she pretended it was just because she was thinking of how to answer.
“The memories were almost unbearable, but at the same time it was… On Sunshine, everything was so much clearer. It wasn’t fuzzy at all,” she said, thinking to throw that detail in on a whim to better sell her Coconut con. “I felt like I was really seeing things for the first time in years. And it hurt to see everything again like that, as it really had been but…” Gemma swallowed hard, realizing in the moment that she’d only traded one addiction for another, “I couldn’t give it up. All the memories were so horrible, but now I had them when most everyone else doesn’t. It felt like getting a good story does, even if we can’t publish it.”
There was a funny look on Verloc’s face. Gemma could almost mistake it for respect, where it not for the shade of inquisition to it, like he was deciding if he approved or not and his decision would rest on further information.
“Why did you start taking Blackberry then?” he asked.
“Doctors, mainly.” Gemma shrugged. “Sunshine works on the Joy Detectors, but it doesn’t fool Doctors.”
“And Sally just agreed to put you on it?” Verloc asked. “You just walked into her shop and asked?”
“Of course not,” Gemma said, rolling her eyes. “Not with something like that. I had a referral.” Then, seeing him about to ask, she cut him off, “No one you would know.” No need to drag Margaret into this. Best to change the subject. “How do you trick the Doctors?” she asked.
“I hardly need that getting out too,” Verloc rebuffed.
“Fine,” Gemma said, not having expected he’d answer that anyway. “Why don’t you take Joy then?”
Verloc regarded her carefully, then asked, “Do you remember why we invented Joy in the first place?”
Gemma examined his expression, trying to estimate the intent of his question. This was a dangerous topic in Wellington Wells. She understood Verloc to be a man of limited emotional range and so he’d be unlikely to respond in the typical Wellie fashion to it, especially since he was the one bringing it up. Despite those facts, it still felt risky to acknowledge.
She wouldn’t have come here if she wasn’t willing to take a risk though.
“The children,” she answered. She glanced away at the words, unable to completely deny the feelings that subject conjured up.
“Not quite,” Verloc said. “The children were the catalyst, yes, but the town hobbled along for years before we gave them Joy. No, if everyone was just grieving the children, it would have been one thing.” Verloc’s watched Gemma’s face intently as he went on. “We had to invent Joy because of the Breeder Riots.”
Breeder Riot. There was a phrase that had been bricked up behind a wall in her subconscious ages ago. Yes, Gemma remembered the children and the train and the collective grief, but she had forgotten all about the intervening years. The girls who crossed the bridge and never returned, the mobs chasing visibly pregnant women down the street. The brawls. The break-ins. The murders. The Joy hid those memories away nicely and even on Sunshine, she supposed her own mind was careful not to dredge them up.
“Are you all right, Miss Olsen?” Verloc asked, his tone lacking any hint of concern. He gave her a narrow-eyed glance. It felt like an accusation. Or satisfaction.
“Yes. I just… Please. Go on,” she said, desperate to set the past aside and get back to the present discussion. Gemma knew he could see he’d rattled a loose memory for her, but he went on without further comment on it. She supposed he must have been content with that.
“It would have been one thing if the town was just sad over the children,” Verloc continued. “The problem was that they didn’t fight for their children and they hated themselves for it. And so if anyone reminded them of what cowards they had been, they would mob up and attack like a bunch of rabid animals.”
“It was an impossible choice, doctor,” Gemma argued, unable to help leaping to defend her fellow townspeople. “Give up the children or have them mowed down in the streets by tanks? What else could we have done?”
“Miss Olsen, you misunderstand!” Verloc said in a tone bordering on cheerful. “What the town chose to do is neither here nor there. I don’t have a horse in that race. What matters is that everyone thinks they should have fought, but they didn’t. If they really thought sending the children away was the right thing to do, that it was the only thing they could have done? They would have been upset over it, but they would have come to terms with it. That they behaved like feral dogs at the sight of anything that reminded them of what they chose to do?
“Well, you can’t chalk that up to mere grief, Miss Olsen.”
Gemma couldn’t stand how callous Verloc was about this. She knew him to be cold, but to hear him speak so bluntly about the most horrific events in Wellington Wells’ living memory, as if he were merely a bystander or a passive observer, completely uninvolved? You didn’t need to have been a parent to weigh under the collective trauma of the loss of the children. It had repercussions for all of them to this day, that everyone could only bear through the gentleman’s agreement not to think of it. She felt a visceral need for him understand how they had come to that, to justify the town to him.
And she knew enough about him to drag him down to that level, she thought.
“Your parents sent you away too. To save you from the Blitz,” Gemma pointed out, “Do you suppose they wonder if they made the right choice?”
Verloc started at the question, and for the briefest second, he looked as if she’d knocked a bad memory loose for him too. Just as quickly, he set it aside and his face fell back into its usual impassivity.
“I’m alive, aren’t I?” he said. “I rather doubt they’ve killed any of their neighbors over it.”
“Do you think Wellington Wells’ children are alive?” she asked, unable to keep the acid out of her voice.
“A trainful of perfectly healthy children, at exactly the right age to be assimilated without much resistance? The children are fine,” Verloc said. “They speak German now, but they’re fine. They’re probably better off then they would have been.”
He checked his watch and flinched at the time. That Verloc could find the topic at hand boring enough to need to check his watch made Gemma seethe.
“To answer your original question,” he said, making to leave, “I don’t take Joy because I don’t need to hide from the past like everyone else does.” With that, he let himself out of her cell and left her to process the conversation.
Upon review, Gemma decided she’d need to reassess what discipline of the mind meant.
When she had first starting taking Sunshine, she was careful not to dwell on the memories that resurfaced. She would acknowledge them, maybe turn them about if she was safe in her home away from prying eyes and free to feel. One did not want to be caught at one’s desk with a too-furrowed brow, thinking about that blast from the train’s whistle though. So she had taught herself when to pull back, when to stop pursuing a line of thought.
She thought she had remembered everything though. Verloc’s questions revealed that, in fact, she had been avoiding the worst of it. The memory of the train had brushed against the memory of the women who similarly crossed the bridge and how many of them never returned. She hadn’t followed that thread though, a self-protective intuition taking up the responsibility Joy could no longer perform, hiding the memory of all those women over the bridge, how the Home for Wayward Girls fell into disuse, the puffy, dazed look of those few who came back.
And the Breeder Riots.
Come to think of it, Gemma realized that the early years of her own career were largely a blank space in her own memory. She remembered long days at the office and longer nights bent over her typewriter in bed with the television on, but hardly anything of what she actually reported on. What else she might be keeping from herself? If asking Verloc hardball questions might leave her open to retaliation via those repressed memories, perhaps mental discipline would be to seek out and confront them, rather than letting Verloc to pull them up opportunistically.
It was embarrassing to have been destabilized in her interview like that. She was supposed to be the one in control of the conversation.
She should have agreed with him. Gemma had been so stunned by the memory and Verloc’s complete lack of sympathy for the people of Wellington Wells that she’d lost sight of her strategy. She shouldn’t have pointed out his hypocrisy or tried to force his empathy. He didn’t have any to begin with, and anyway, it would only make him reluctant to talk in the future.
Gemma comforted herself with the impression – or hope – that Verloc just happened upon the subject of the Breeder Riots, as opposed to bringing them up deliberately. If she started going through all those awful memories and coming to terms with them, he’d have fewer surprises to spring on her.
She’d need to be careful though. When she was taking Sunshine, she could cry if she needed to and look as sad as she wanted as long as she was in private. Here, there was no privacy. More than just a stoic facade, she needed to maintain a ruse of improving mood in order to keep Verloc convinced that his formula was working. Gemma felt confident she could use that to correct her misstep today. If she pretended to have thought about what Verloc had said and found that he was right tomorrow, maybe having disagreed with him the day before wouldn’t matter.
At least now she had another fun activity to occupy her abundance of time with.
Speaking of fun activities to do in one’s cell, the nurse had just come around for that hour’s check so Gemma got out of bed to chat with Haworth as she had the last three days. She raised her hand to knock on the glass, but stopped when she saw he was not at his tea table. He was instead in bed again, although today he was still fully dressed and only lying on top on the covers rather than buried under them. He lay on his back with his arm draped over his eyes. Gemma didn’t think he was sleeping though. He was breathing too hard and moving too much, shivering maybe. Perhaps he’d come down with a cold. She thought it best to leave him be.
Her plans thwarted, or at least delayed, Gemma sat back on her own bed with her back to the window just in case and gingerly started prodding the memory of the Breeder Riots.
There had been quite a few of them, hadn’t there? They started in August of 1947 and went on until… well, it was after Joy had come out, wasn’t it? She remembered that much because she remembered the rhetoric at the time, that the rioters should have taken their Joy. Or that the people instigating the riot should? Gemma tried to remember which it actually was. The distinction seemed important somehow.
A knock at the glass interrupted her train of thought. She rolled over and looked up. It was Haworth and apparently he remembered making her jump yesterday when he knocked so abruptly that he took care not to startle her today. She got out of bed and came to the window. She had been right about the shivering, but he seemed to be trying not to show it. He started signalling at her so she watched his hands and interpreted as he went.
1,4 2,4 1,4 5,4 3,4 4,5 1,1 4,3 2,5
Did you ask?
Gemma stared and then, unable to decide what he meant, gave him the questioning shrug.
He let out an impatient huff and then flashed a V for Verloc with his fingers. When she still didn’t seem to know what he was talking about, he gestured about his cell with both hands and gave her the questioning shrug.
Oh! Had she asked about why Verloc kept him here?
She’d completely forgotten. Gemma shook her head no and then tapped her fingers to her forehead and shook her head again in a ditzy way. Haworth was disappointed, but he nodded understandingly. It was hard to blame anyone for forgetting anything in this town, let alone in here under these conditions.
God, he looked like hell, just like he had that first day in here. Though he had tried to minimize how much he was shaking earlier, he apparently had forgotten in the meantime. He stood there on the other side of the glass, shivering and looking much older than he had the last few days.
She had done the math; Haworth was sixty-four years old which wasn’t that old but it wasn’t that young either. Nonetheless, she found him to be quite sharp still. He had, after all, been able to learn the Polybius code without any verbal instructions, only short directives written in bed sheets and pantomime. Her assumption that his madness was a lie Verloc used to excuse his absence from the public was bearing out; he certainly seemed to still have all his faculties. The last few days, he hadn’t seemed frail or feeble at all as he did today.
Gemma remembered then; Haworth’s notes showed he had incidents of misbehavior every four days. He was due for one. He hadn’t earned his red note today yet, but there was a discernible pattern to be observed. He had looked sick last time too, hadn’t he? When she’d come to the window to look in on him that first proper day in the program, he’d been in bed then too, shuddering and sweaty. She’d chalked that up to the Coconut then; she felt like death warmed over after her dose of it too. He’d looked just peachy the next morning though, not only fully recovered but almost content.
There had to be a reason for the regularity of incidents, some explanation for why he would take to violence or chicanery – some of his notes detailed tricks on the staff rather than assaults – on a regular schedule. Gemma couldn’t assume that whatever that explanation was also accounted for his poor health, but thought the odds were likely.
When she had asked yesterday if Verloc was cruel to him, Haworth had denied it. Could he perhaps have been lying? If so, why? The only logical explanation Gemma could think of for Haworth to be ill and irritable on such a predictable time table was because Verloc was doing something to make him so.
God, he was just an awful human being, wasn’t he? She couldn’t imagine treating Margaret like this, no matter how badly they might have disagreed. Even if they had somehow ended up in a downright blood feud, she couldn’t fathom a scenario in which this would seem like an acceptable recourse.
Gemma waved her hand to get Haworth’s attention and signaled to him, asking him yet again.
1,1 4,2 1,5 5,4 3,4 4,5 3,4 2,5 1,1 5,4
Are you okay?
Haworth seemed to decrypt her question by the time she got to the O in “okay” and gave her a nod and a dismissive wave of the hand. Gemma pursed her lips at that answer and pressed a little harder. She gave him a pointed look, gave him the V sign for Verloc, and pointed at him. Haworth didn’t seem quite to understand her question so she pointed at his patient notes and held up three fingers.
He appeared to freeze up then, as if he were weren’t sure how to respond and was deliberating over it. It told Gemma that she may have hit upon something sensitive. Ultimately, he settled on shaking his head no and waving her concern off again.
Gemma gave him a skeptic side-eye and gestured at the state of him. Haworth crossed his arms and hunched his shoulders, shaking his head no again with more insistence.
Ugh. Men. Gemma crossed her own arms and harrumphed. Her resolve to be annoyed with Haworth’s refusal to talk about whatever had him shivering and sweating like this abated quickly. If he had been lying about how Verloc was treating him, maybe it was because he was afraid to be truthful about it. While Gemma recognized she was more or less at the mercy of a possible mad man, Verloc hadn’t yet given her a reason to worry. She had only been here four days though. Haworth had been in here for four years. She might just not have seen how bad Verloc could get.
That wasn’t a comforting thought. Gemma had an ace up her sleeve that Haworth lacked however; eventually Margaret would come looking for her. As Margaret was also on Blackberry, she wouldn’t forget about her. Whether Verloc planned to keep her here indefinitely or not, after a long enough absence inquiries would be made. Gemma had every confidence that she would get out of here, one way or another. And when she did get out, she could also tell the town where Harry Haworth had disappeared to. Wellington Wells surely wouldn’t stand for the inventor of Joy being kept a prisoner in his own laboratories.
Gemma waved her hands again and made an apologetic face at Haworth to get him to lower his hackles. She pointed at herself, then jerked her thumb at the door. Then she signaled to him.
2,4 5,2 2,4 3,1 3,1 4,4 1,5 3,1 3,1 4,4 2,3 1,5 3,2 5,4 3,4 4,5 1,1 4,2 1,5 2,3 1,5 4,2 1,5
I will tell them you are here.
It was a very long message, but she took her time so he wouldn’t lose track. Haworth paid rapt attention, decoding along as she went along. When she finally finished, he nodded but he glanced away and huffed a little. Gemma expected a bit more gratitude after all that signalling, but Haworth looked as if he thought it was just an empty promise.
Gemma scowled and signaled much faster than was courteous:
14 34 33 44 12 15 31 24 15 51 15
Then she gave him an especially offended questioning shrug.
Haworth had the decency to look penitent for his unenthusiastic response. He signaled back to her:
2,3 1,5 1,1 4,2 1,4 2,4 4,4 1,2 1,5 2,1 3,4 4,2 1,5
Heard it before.
Oh? Now that was interesting! Gemma was quick to signal back.
2,1 4,2 3,4 3,2 5,2 2,3 3,4
Once he decoded her question, Haworth froze up again – Gemma made a note to remember it as a tell of his – but he decided to answer. It took him time to work through the letters, but Gemma watched carefully as he spelled out a name for her.
3,2 1,1 4,2 2,2 1,5 4,2 5,4 2,1 3,1 3,4 5,2 1,5 4,2 1,4 1,5 5,2
She’d heard of Margery Flowerdew before. The woman was known for her remarkable flower garden, if memory served. She had been featured in the paper a few times, Gemma recalled, but that was Ladies Page business. Gemma had never met her personally.
Still, getting the name of someone who had actually been in this program was some much needed progress, especially after finding only one of her original leads had. Gemma was, of course, not satisfied with only that though. She signed out a simple question.
5,2 2,3 1,5 3,3
Haworth’s brow furrowed in thought as he tried to remember when exactly. After a few seconds he signed out to her:
3,2 1,1 5,4
Then he wobbled his hand a bit and signed:
3,2 1,1 5,4 2,4 4,5 3,3 1,5
She couldn’t fault Haworth for not remembering exactly. The days were already starting to run together for her and she hadn’t even been here a week yet. That had been months ago though and obviously Margery had not delivered on her promise. Gemma rather doubted it was because she had left the program cured and had simply forgotten about Haworth. She hesitated to ask lest the answer be upsetting for him, but her desire to know won out. She signaled again:
5,2 2,3 1,5 4,2 1,5 3,3 3,4 5,2
Haworth glanced off to the side, resentful as he signed back.
1,5 4,3 1,3 1,1 3,5 1,5 1,4
Gemma’s eyes went wide at that, not only because someone had found a way out of here – which gave her hope that she could do the same if the need arose – but that the need had arisen for Margery. That knowledge was rather foreboding, but Gemma suspected as much when she came here, hadn’t she? She signed to Haworth again:
2,3 3,4 5,2
Haworth grimaced at the question and Gemma realized how complicated the answer must be. Nonetheless, Haworth gave it a shot. He thought over how to convey and then, making a curious face like he was loathe to do what he was about to do yet resolute to do it, began to mime instead.
He held his hands at his chest, palms up, and gestured up and down a little. Gemma arched an eyebrow at this display, which seemed unusually crass for him. He gave her a swift scowl back and instead drew impatient circles on his own chest with both hands and then gestured up and down his own shoulders. Then, to add, he stuck out his thumbs and repeated the motion, as if he were pretending to wear suspenders.
Gemma made an exaggerated of mouthing “Ohhhh” at him and then signaled:
1,2 4,2 1,1
Haworth’s mouth pulled into a thin line and his mustache shunted to one side. Gemma couldn’t help but laugh at that. And to his credit, Haworth seemed to take the wasted effort in stride since she found it so amusing. He went on with his charades.
He pointed to his chest again with one hand and drew a curved line under one of his invisible breasts. Then for emphasis, he drew the curve again in the air in front of him. Gemma nodded her understanding and drew a quick underwire on herself to confirm. Haworth nodded and went on. He mimed performing some fiddly little motions with his fingers up near his face, like he was knitting something very tiny, then overacted opening a door.
Gemma straightened up and pointed a few frantic times at the door behind her, then crossed her arms in front of her. Haworth nodded and gave her a thumbs up for her deduction: they had removed the doors entirely because of Margery’s escape. That explained why they had confiscated her bras too. Gemma quickly drew a bra on herself and crossed her arms again and pointed to the wall beyond which the rest of the world lie. Haworth mouthed the word “Oh” seemingly more to himself than to her and nodded as if that made sense.
Gemma mouthed “Oh” back at him and gave him the questioning shrug. Haworth huffed to himself, again overwhelmed with how to communicate what he was thinking. He chose signalling this time.
3,5 1,1 4,2 2,5 2,4 3,3 2,2 5,4 3,4 4,5 4,2 2,2 2,4 4,2 1,4 3,1 1,5
Then he flipped his hands around (to indicate numerals) and held up six fingers, then four.
Parking your girdle. But for 1964.
Gemma cackled at that. The old-timey phrasing paired with the idea that going without a bra was some sort of modern revolt against constrictive underpinnings and the fact that Haworth considered it enough to draw a parallel… Ohoho, but that necessarily meant that he’d noticed she didn’t have a bra on, didn’t it? Gemma smirked, pointed at her breasts, then gestured between them and her eyes. Then she fixed him with a look of playful accusation. When Haworth sheepishly glanced away, she started laughing again.
Throwing up his hands, Haworth gestured behind him at the rest of his cell as if to ask what else he had to do in here. Gemma held her own hands up in open appeasement and then swept them down her torso, inviting him to look. He harrumphed, proffered a sarcastic hand out, and mouthed “thank you” at her, sending her into another peal of giggles. Haworth gave her a grudging little smile at how much fun she was having at his expense.
Gemma’s amusement was cut short by the screeching slide of the bolt on her door. It was time for Dr. Hughes’ nightly diagnostic. Gemma made quick work of getting her mirth under control and not looking too interested in what was going on in Haworth’s cell. She saw Haworth slide out of view from the corner of her eye.
“Ah, you seem to be in better spirits today, Miss Olsen,” Dr. Hughes noted.
Gemma took a seat at the end of the bed and actually had to force her smile to be less jovial than she felt at the moment. She didn’t want him to think the Coconut was working too quickly.
“I suppose so,” she said in non-committal agreement.
“Dr. Verloc mentioned that you seemed a little agitated when he visited this morning,” he said. He leaned over her and tilted her chin up so he could look at her pupils. His stare was intense like it always was, but since it was so familiar by now, Gemma was no longer perturbed by it.
“Really? I don’t know why he would think that,” Gemma said, not breaking eye contact. “I feel… not great, but better.”
“You don’t recall anything that might have left you feeling perturbed this morning?” Dr. Hughes asked. He sniffed at her, small and quick, but she heard it.
Gemma pretended to consider the question then said, “No, I don’t remember anything like that!”
“Hmm.” Dr. Hughes pulled a thermometer out of his pocket and, knowing the drill, Gemma let him place it under her tongue. They waited together for the thermometer to register and then Dr. Hughes took it back.
“Your pupils are still not where we’d like them to be,” he said. “Still, you seem to be improving.”
“Maybe Dr. Verloc actually is as brilliant as they say,” Gemma said. Dr. Hughes’s eyebrows twitched downward and Gemma heard him snort, but he covered it with a small cough.
“Oh yes, quite so,” he said as he let himself out.