Play the role, perform the gig. Every day.
Xuan Ji, Tang Dynasty, 904
You see a woman old in her years. You think she looks like she’s lived a long life, but she’s hardly lived at all. She sits in front of the mirror while her maid does her hair and half-heartedly puts on makeup. Soon, the maid leaves to go prepare for tea, and you are left alone.
You stare at your tiny, bound, wrinkled feet. They ache to be freed, but you cannot do so. When they are bound, you are a noblewoman. When they are unbound, you are common. You haven’t walked on your own in so many years. Gradually, you set your feet upon the tiled floor and push off your chair.
But it is to no avail. You cry out in pain and fall backwards into your chair, which sends it toppling backward. The collision of your head on the ground makes your whole brain throb, and a trickle of blood escapes from the side of your face. You gasp and cry, but your voice is so naturally quiet that you haven’t really yelled in years. No one hears you. No one ever does.
Elanor, England, 1839
Wake up. Silk sheets surround you. Floundering about, you manage to make your way out of bed. Out of luxury into luxury. You ring the bell. The maid comes and dresses you. Some other fancy dress that could buy meals for a year for a whole village. You would sell it. Maybe.
Go from room to room. Talk drama. About new plans for the estate. All prim and proper, but slightly sassy on the side. A visitor comes. Looks the same as any other. Tailored suit and handsome face. What a handsome suitor he would be. Your mother probably arranged it. But as you talk with him, you don’t find anything different about him. Just like every other man. You don’t know what you’re looking for. Maybe you won’t ever find it.
Daniel Cash, Germany, 1945
All the men on the front need a girl. They say it’ll get them through the war. One brags of their wife, Betty, and shows a faded old photo of an unsmiling but pretty girl. “We’ll see them again soon, eh?” They ask you. You smile and shrug your shoulders and continue polishing your gun with a dirty rag.
Your wife is already dead. Tuberculosis took her three years ago. But does it really matter? Everyone needs a girl. You unfold the picture and show it to your platoon in the light of the dying fire. “That’s my wife: Jane,” you tell them. It’s the picture from her funeral.
You don’t want to fight. You aren’t a good soldier. You’re weak and pathetic like your whole platoon. But what can you do? You’re already miles deep into German territory. You’ve got nowhere to run, but of course, you shouldn’t even think of running. You should think of fighting for your girl, but you don’t.
You think joyfully of dying, so you’ll see her again. But of course, you mustn’t. So instead, you think of nothing at all.
Different titles. Same story. Play the role or else.
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