Even the Queen
The phone sang as I was looking over the defense's motion to dismiss. УIt's the universal ring,Ф my law clerk Bysshe said, reaching for it. УIt's probably the defendant. They don't let you use signatures from jail.Ф
УNo, it's not,Ф I said. УIt's my mother.Ф
УOh.Ф Bysshe reached for the receiver. УWhy isn't she using her signature?Ф
УBecause she knows I don't want to talk to her. She must have found out what Perdita's done.Ф
УYour daughter Perdita?Ф he asked, holding the receiver against his chest. УThe one with the little girl?Ф
УNo, that's Viola. Perdita's my younger daughter. The one with no sense.Ф
УWhat's she done?Ф
УShe's joined the Cyclists.Ф
Bysshe looked enquiringly blank, but I was not in the mood to enlighten him. Or in the mood to talk to Mother. УI know exactly what Mother will say. She'll ask me why I didn't tell her, and then she'll demand to know what I'm going to do about it, and there is nothing I can do about it, or I obviously would have done it already.Ф
Bysshe looked bewildered. УDo you want me to tell her you're in court?Ф
УNo.Ф I reached for the receiver. УI'll have to talk to her sooner or later.Ф I took it from him. УHello, Mother,Ф I said.
УTraci,Ф Mother said dramatically, УPerdita has become a Cyclist.Ф
УWhy didn't you tell me?Ф
УI thought Perdita should tell you herself.Ф
УPerdita!Ф She snorted. УShe wouldn't tell me. She knows what I'd have to say about it. I suppose you told Karen.Ф
УKaren's not here. She's in Iraq.Ф The only good thing about this whole debacle was that thanks to Iraq's eagerness to show it was a responsible world community member and its previous penchant for self-destruction, my mother-in-law was in the one place on the planet where the phone service was bad enough that I could claim I'd tried to call her but couldn't get through, and she'd have to believe me.
The Liberation has freed us from all sorts of indignities and scourges, including Iraq's Saddams, but mothers-in-law aren't one of them, and I was almost happy with Perdita for her excellent timing. When I didn't want to kill her.
УWhat's Karen doing in Iraq?Ф Mother asked.
УNegotiating a Palestinian homeland.Ф
УAnd meanwhile her granddaughter is ruining her life,Ф she said irrelevantly. "Did you tell Viola?
УI told you, Mother. I thought Perdita should tell all of you herself.Ф
УWell, she didn't. And this morning one of my patients, Carol Chen, called me and demanded to know what I was keeping from her. I had no idea what she was talking about.Ф
УHow did Carol Chen find out?Ф
УFrom her daughter, who almost joined the Cyclists last year. Her family talked her out of it,Ф she said accusingly. УCarol was convinced the medical community had discovered some terrible side-effect of ammenerol and were covering it up. I cannot believe you didn't tell me, Traci.Ф
And I cannot believe I didn't have Bysshe tell her I was in court, I thought. УI told you Mother. I thought it was Perdita's place to tell you. After all, it's her decision.Ф
УOh, Traci!Ф Mother said. УYou cannot mean that!Ф
In the first fine flush of freedom after the Liberation, I had entertained hopes that it would change everything--that it would somehow do away with inequality and matriarchal dominance and those humorless women determined to eliminate the word УmanholeФ and third-person singular pronouns from the language.
Of course it didn't. Men still make more money, УherstoryФ is still a blight on the semantic landscape, and my mother can still say, УOh, Traci!Ф in a tone that reduces me to pre-adolescence.
УHer decision!Ф Mother said. УDo you mean to tell me you plan to stand idly by and allow your daughter to make the mistake of her life?Ф
УWhat can I do? She's twenty-two years old and of sound mind.Ф
УIf she were of sound mind she wouldn't be doing this. Didn't you try to talk her out of it?Ф
УOf course I did, Mother.Ф
УAnd I didn't succeed. She's determined to become a Cyclist.Ф
УWell, there must be something we can do. Get an injunction or hire a deprogrammer or sue the Cyclists for brainwashing. You're a judge, there must be some law you can invoke--Ф
УThe law is called personal sovereignty, Mother, and since it was what made the Liberation possible in the first place, it can hardly be used against Perdita. Her decision meets all the criteria for a case of personal sovereignty: it's a personal decision, it was made by a sovereign adult, it affects no one else--Ф
УWhat about my practice? Carol Chen is convinced shunts cause cancer.Ф
УAny effect on your practice is considered an indirect effect. Like secondary smoke. It doesn't apply. Mother, whether we like it or not, Perdita has a perfect right to do this, and we don't have any right to interfere. A free society has to be based on respecting others' opinions and leaving each other alone. We have to respect Perdita's right to make her own decisions.Ф
All of which was true. It was too bad I hadn't said any of it to Perdita when she called. What I had said, in a tone that sounded exactly like my mother's, was УOh, Perdita!Ф
УThis is all your fault, you know,Ф Mother said. УI told you you shouldn't have let her get that tattoo over her shunt. And don't tell me it's a free society. What good is a free society when it allows my granddaughter to ruin her life?Ф She hung up.
I handed the receiver back to Bysshe.
УI really liked what you said about respecting your daughter's right to make her own decisions,Ф he said. He held out my robe. УAnd about not interfering in her life.Ф
УI want you to research the precedents on deprogramming for me,Ф I said, sliding my arms in the sleeves. УAnd find out if the Cyclists have been charged with any free choice violations-Ц brainwashing, intimidation, coercion.Ф
The phone sang, another universal. УHello, who's calling?Ф Bysshe said cautiously. His voice became suddenly friendlier. УJust a minute.Ф He put his hand over the receiver. УIt's your daughter Viola.Ф
I took the receiver. УHello, Viola.Ф
УI just talked to Grandma,Ф she said. УYou will not believe what Perdita's done now. She's joined the Cyclists.Ф
УI know,Ф I said.
УYou know? And you didn't tell me? I can't believe this. You never tell me anything.Ф
УI thought Perdita should tell you herself,Ф I said tiredly.
УAre you kidding? She never tells me anything either. That time she had eyebrow implants she didn't tell me for three weeks, and when she got the laser tattoo she didn't tell me at all. Twidge told me. You should have called me. Did you tell Grandma Karen?Ф
УShe's in Baghdad,Ф I said.
УI know,Ф Viola said. УI called her.Ф
УOh, Viola, you didn't!Ф
УUnlike you, Mom, I believe in telling members of our family about matters that concern them.Ф
УWhat did she say?Ф I asked, a kind of numbness settling over me now that the shock had worn off.
УI couldn't get through to her. The phone service over there is terrible. I got somebody who didn't speak English, and then I got cut off, and when I tried again they said the whole city was down.Ф
Thank you, I breathed silently. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
УGrandma Karen has a right to know, Mother. Think of the effect this could have on Twidge. She thinks Perdita's wonderful. When Perdita got the eyebrow implants, Twidge glued LED's to hers, and I almost never got them off. What if Twidge decides to join the Cyclists, too?Ф
УTwidge is only nine. By the time she's supposed to get her shunt, Perdita will have long since quit.Ф I hope, I added silently. Perdita had had the tattoo for a year and a half now and showed no signs of tiring of it. УBesides, Twidge has more sense.Ф
УIt's true. Oh, Mother, how could Perdita do this? Didn't you tell her about how awful it was?Ф
УYes,Ф I said. УAnd inconvenient. And unpleasant and unbalancing and painful. None of it made the slightest impact on her. She told me she thought it would be fun.Ф
Bysshe was pointing to his watch and mouthing, УTime for court.Ф
УFun!Ф Viola said. УWhen she saw what I went through that time? Honestly, Mother, sometimes I think she's completely brain-dead. Can't you have her declared incompetent and locked up or something?Ф
УNo,Ф I said, trying to zip up my robe with one hand. УViola, I have to go. I'm late for court. I'm afraid there's nothing we can do to stop her. She's a rational adult.Ф
УRational!Ф Viola said. УHer eyebrows light up, Mother. She has Custer's Last Stand lased on her arm.Ф
I handed the phone to Bysshe. УTell Viola I'll talk to her tomorrow.Ф I zipped up my robe. УAnd then call Baghdad and see how long they expect the phones to be out.Ф I started into the courtroom. УAnd if there are any more universal calls, make sure they're local before you answer.Ф