When Mira first walked in, Zoe hardly noticed her. It was only when her son, Tristan, came trailing in behind her that Zoe started paying attention. They walked right up and sat in chairs beside the podium - or pulpit as some members liked to refer to it, though Tom discouraged this. (I broke this here as I have four names and the only one I'm sure of who/what/where/when/why is the kid.)Awkward, c
aught somewhere in the gloaming period between boyhood and adolescence, Tristan stuck out in the room full of adults.
’s presence was conspicuous (Good. Try my example on for size.)
. There were other kids on the compound, but only a few and none over the age of three: screaming brats that still hung off their mother’s tits, a threat only to a good night’s sleep, (Who's POV?)
. Like Tristan, they were usually brought in by their mothers as lingering remnants of their past lives.
A few had been fathered by Tom, but no one knew the difference: they were all equal (I like the emerging detail but I know what the last four words mean in this context.)
. Zoe studied Tristan, looking for traces of Tom, and found none. Tristan must have been twelve, thirteen at most, his blonde hair and light blue eyes a contrast to Tom’s dark features.
He was c C
hubby too, another rarity on the compound, his
cheeks and flabb
y stomach looking misplaced in an environment that so valued health and wellness. Zoe struggled to remember where the group had last recruited, where they might have picked up this woman and her child. She cursed herself for not going on the bus trip over the weekend. She had chosen instead to stay back at the compound to help with the spring planting; the feel of soil on her hands and sunshine on her face a welcome respite from the cramped quarters and stale air of the bus. (If Z is our anchor, I'd lead off with her/name on line one.) Try Zoe looked up when Mira first walked in, registering motion more than person...
Zoe looked around and watched as latecomers arrived and were made to stand at the back, every chair taken. In spite of all the people, Zoe could discern when Tom made his entrance into the room. He had a way of
standing out (You used this with the kid.) Try: changing the air pressure in the room
. His was an outsider status that drew attention to him rather than repelled. Zoe stared at him as he walked by, the mere sight of him enough to calm her nerves. She had cut his hair the night before. For weeks, it had hung in his eyes and landed, scraggly and unkempt, just past his ears. She’d had to do it while he was working. Tom would never have allowed time out for such an earthly indulgence. She used small, collapsible scissors, taken from an otherwise untouched travel sewing kit; the little bits of thread and tiny white buttons contained in it of no use. While Zoe cut, Tom had sat at his computer, lost in its glow, his fingers
moving deftly (active/dangerous) probing/prodding/poking
across the keyboard. As a rule, computers weren’t allowed at the compound, but Tom conceded that they were a necessary evil for some of their goals and kept one for his own use. Zoe sometimes missed these things she had once taken as pleasures, and delighted in being close enough to Tom to gain access to that which was now illicit. (I'm four para in and while you've laid a damn fine road to it, I don't have a sense of conflict.)
Once Tom was at the podium, the audience stopped their idle chatter almost immediately, sensing his thoughts, anticipating his needs. He never used a microphone, preferring instead that the room fall into an awed hush as his people settled down to allow the dead quiet that was necessary to hear him speak. Heads were bent forward and eyes became trained only on him.
“Good morning,” he said, addressing (one or the other, not both)
the crowd. “Today Mira and Tristan are joining us. They’re here to stay and I want you to make them feel welcome.”
Zoe waited for Mira to get up, to give the introduction that was customary, but Mira continued sitting, examining her nails, displaying none of the nervousness that others in her place had
felt (POV) exhibited
. Tristan, next to her, looked down at his sneakers and fidgeted in his chair.
“Who wants to start?” Tom said, moving on instead of acknowledging Mira’s lapse.
Monday mornings were reserved for Roundup, a name shared with a potent brand of weed killer Zoe later found out (That is deliciously ripe with dread and conflict.)
. For the group, Roundup functioned as a sort of newsletter, a way to circumvent the
grape vine gossip and jealousy
and announce the group’s activities using a purer form of communication. It was a Monday morning ritual in which slights and injuries from the previous week were talked about, small betrayals that had occurred within the compound brought to light.
Tom kept a hierarchy of worthy conversations group members could have amongst themselves and gossip ranked somewhere near the bottom. It was the lowest form of conversation a person could engage in, followed only (the last two words contradict the rest)
by talking about the details of your day. It was Tom’s philosophy that grievances should be aired out as soon as possible to keep the group running as one smooth machine. If one part is hurting, everyone will be made to feel it rather than have it fester like some unseen infection.
Zoe used to leave these meetings feeling like she had been slapped, seething with resentment at something that had been said about her. For days afterward, she would remain wary of every move she made, frightened of what would later be said about her. It had been a long time though since her name had been mentioned at a meeting. Not since the months after she first arrived, when everything was new and she was still bound in invisible ways to her old life. Though no longer the subject of the Roundups, Zoe knew she was still expected to take part, but she often couldn’t bring herself to do it the way others did. She couldn’t summon the malice or create the invective that others relished in.
After Tom’s invitation, when no one immediately stood to speak, Zoe wondered if they would go a Monday without anyone speaking, what that would be like. Breaks in routine were so rare that she felt herself growing excited at the possibility, some latent spark of mischief remnant in the bottom of her belly rising up in anticipation. The fact that a bus trip had occurred over the weekend made this highly unlikely. More grievances than usual were always brought up after these. The cramped quarters the group was forced to live in while they recruited, coupled with exposure to life outside the compound had a tendency to damage their cohesiveness. (Very good conflict building but if you're gonna take the long way around, you gotta cut those first two/three para.)
When Henry stood up to speak, disturbing the quiet, Zoe knew then that this Monday would be no different from the last. “I think Mira has something she’d like to share,” he said.
Zoe felt her chest tighten and stifled her urge to look in Henry’s direction. Henry took a priggish delight in pointing out others’ faults. If she ever felt hatred towards a member of the group, it was towards him. Whenever these thoughts came, Zoe knew to suffocate them in her head before they had occasion to slip out through her mouth. She should have gotten over these feelings for Henry by now, and she hadn’t. That was her failure.
When Mira didn’t immediately get up to speak, Tom turned to her. “Is Henry correct, Mira?” he asked, using a warm, fatherly tone that Zoe knew could turn angry and rage-filled in an instant. “Is there something you need to share with the group?”
Zoe examined Mira more closely now. She couldn’t decide whether she was beautiful or ugly. There was something polarizing about her, a way you could experience her differently depending on how you viewed her with no middle ground. Zoe wondered what Mira could possibly have to say so soon. She felt partly envious of her gall and partly repulsed by it.
“Zoe Tanis,” Mira said, so that Zoe almost went to raise her hand, as if a classroom attendance was being called. Where once she might have felt shock that a new member would mention her by name, Zoe now heard Mira’s pronouncement with only calm detachment. Any curiosity she felt was muted and distant, a reaction to news from a foreign country she had once visited and now could barely remember. (Huh?)
“Zoe,” Tom said, so that Zoe knew she was expected to rise up, to stand so that all eyes could fall on her. Zoe stood.
“I’m from the city her father works in. I knew him...well,” Mira said. Zoe tried to think what Mira’s connection to her father might be. She was probably one of his whores. Mira could not have been more than thirty: older than Zoe, but not by much. She would have been a willing ingénue, ready to make an offering of herself at the temple of Gordon Tanis. “He died three weeks ago.”