Amory beings her ethics project MEST work at the Celebrity Center.
Last Lines: As she walks back to the bus, Amory feels tired, proud, satisfied, but mostly relieved that the first day of hard work is over. If this is any indication of how the next few months will proceed, Amory thinks she’ll be just fine.
Back at HCO, Amory and Adam file off the bus. She still has a little time before she can eat, so she meanders to the back of the building to avoid the uniforms. A faint, but distinct, brushing sound emanates from inside an army green dumpster. Amory decides to investigate. “Hello? Is someone there?” she calls.
The brushing stops. Riley crouches inside the metal bin, dutifully scrubbing away the filth with a toothbrush. Every square inch of skin not protected by her soiled jumpsuit is black with grime. She uses her arm to brush her greasy hair from her eyes and sees the horrified look on her sister’s face.
“What on earth?” Amory asks.
Riley recoils in terror like a caged animal. “Go away!” she shouts. “You can’t talk to me!”
“What are you doing?” she asks from outside the dumpster. “You need to get out of there. You’ll get sick.”
The slightest movement sends echoes amongst the steel. Riley looks at the toothbrush in her hand. It is thick with rotten decay as she has already scrubbed an entire wall. “Just go away,” Riley insists. “I know what I’m doing.” She backs away from her sister until she is up against the metal. “You need to leave,” she insists when her sister does not move.
“But what about the baby?” Amory asks.
“I don’t want you getting in trouble too,” Riley adds. She knows her sister has problems of her own and does not want to add to her distress. But Riley is so disheveled she doesn’t even notice that Amory is wearing civvies and a dirty gray scarf. She rises to her feet and grows lightheaded from the blood draining to the legs and noxious fumes attacking her nostrils. She sways back and forth then clutches the filthy metal for support.
Amory pleads with Riley, “But sissy …””
“Just let me be!” Riley shouts and turns her back on her sister, rejecting any offer of support.
Once Amory leaves reluctantly, Riley collapses to the floor. She grabs her stomach and thinks about Amory’s question. What about the baby? She begins to cry, but her tears are quickly replaced by sobs, the kind of whales that feel as if they exhale every ounce of air from her lungs, down to the pit of her stomach, and leave nothing. Riley rocks back and forth on the metal ground, her chest releasing cries of agony and despair.
After a few minutes of indulging her personal needs, she wipes away her tears and collects her breath until it returns to a normal pace. She knows this emotional reaction must end. Her rational mind forces her to get back up on her knees and resume her scrubbing work. Her orders were clear—make it shine. She fights away tears as her brush moves back and forth, up and down across the metal. She focuses on the purpose of MEST work—to reconnect the spirit with the body through labor. As she scrubs, she visualizes herself reuniting, her spirit floating down from the sky and entering her flesh muscle by muscle, cell by cell. She must have coherence in herself before she can return to her important work of clearing the planet. She clears all thoughts, other than the greater good, from her brain as she scrubs back and forth, up and down. She does not let herself think about the baby, or her husband, or herself. None of that matters. The only thing that’s important is the greater good.
Hours later, she finishes her task. By the end of the job, it is clear. She must stop placing her selfish needs first and recommit herself to clearing the planet. By any means possible.
Scenes from the Next:
The uniforms review Amory’s files and determine her condition.