Subversion
A Short Story by Liz Varley
Written using the suggestion "Training"
Originally featured on 03-19-2007
As part of our series "Springset"

Pink seems too obvious—like a lion hiding behind a chair waiting to attack. I’m still not convinced by any measure that pink is at all sexy anyway; it was only since the 1950’s that it had any indication of femininity, and even then it was just to tell the babies apart in the nursery.

The other women are pulling the panties from the bins and holding them up, pulling on the sides, shaking them a little. I pull out a lacy black pair and cringe. I want something that won’t give me a wedgie if I need to make a quick getaway. The lacy kind is always on sale, which leads me to wonder who is actually designing them. The mannequins are wearing them, but they don’t have skin that will get irritated or movable butt cheeks.

The mannequins are there to get men into the store, I think—a cross between a blow up doll and a real life model, calling to them like sirens. Or maybe it’s the women the mannequins are after, luring them with the power of sexuality. Maybe I just don’t understand.

I have to understand though, and this means pushing all of these questions out of my mind. I can’t disagree with every aspect of modern feminine culture on the inside if I’m to be a believable proponent of it on the outside. A good agent is like the star of an Oscar winning movie; the audience can never question your motives. I put down the black cotton and head back to the lacy sale bin. My freebie is a bikini with the words ‘Be My Valentine’ stitched across the crotch. I figure it will be a nice memento.

My objective is a straight forward as black cotton panties; all I have to do is show up to the Thompson Valentine’s Day Fundraiser, rub elbows with my enemies and then retreat, hopefully with a head full of useful information. The panties weren’t my idea. Geraldine Finks, the marketing strategist extraordinaire of our organization informed me that I would essentially be selling myself for this mission, and I’d better not do a half-assed job of it.

“Don’t think too much Erika, and you’ll do fine. Pretend that you’ve never questioned anything about this culture, that it’s your best friend.”

So this is fine, this is subversion, and since I was a little girl in the shabby underpinnings of upstate New York, subversion is what I’ve dreamed of. I don’t shop. I cook, but I don’t bake. Some of this is a relief, as I was never interested in the nuclear family thing. I can keep house Suzy Homemaker style, but I don’t feel compelled to. Unfortunately, the old school female societal role is coming back, and feminism, whatever is means, is becoming part of the Dark Ages. There’s only so long before the dirty looks I get on the street for my buzzed head and glasses and indistinct clothing may turn into insults, threats, or worse. It doesn’t take long for such things to become banal. We are up against large forces, such as the media, which makes billion of dollars on peoples insecurities, especially women’s.

I found out about the organization when a girl my age tossed a dollar bill into the guitar case I had opened as I was playing on Clinton Street. When I picked it up it read Sector 7 and listed a phone number in neat red ink. It took me three weeks to call but when I did they brought me right in, trained me as a secretary. I mostly mailed out contribution requests and literature to like-minded young women. I did this for six months before Nancy Wright, the director of our organization, came to me personally. She sat on the edge of my desk and looked me right in the eye, said she knew she was asking a lot, but would I do it? They picked me because I’m young, and because I was one of the only women who didn’t feel it was beneath her. I was ecstatic that they considered me capable enough of handling a mission. Also, deeper down, I felt obligated. I had an apartment now, furniture, some thread of a life.

With the panties bagged I join back into the thread of people moving along the mall avenues. I set my sights on Nordstrom. I need heels, as I don’t own any, and a dress-suit, preferably black. I have five hundred plus dollars cash left over after the panties and the reservation of a silver Audi for the night of the dinner. After all, no self-respecting neo-feminist would show up in a bio-diesel fueled Rabbit.

“Taylor Darcie,” I say to myself as I joined the ranks of women in faux velvet wear at the sale shoe rack. That was my name for the event. Ms. Darcie was promoting her newest series of lectures condoning the teaching of safe sex in high schools. She believed that distributing condoms and free literature on birth control was like begging them to fornicate, and as I was pretending to be her, I had to think so too. I get a black Michael Kors dress suit and a modest pair of Cole Haan heels for Taylor. She’s going for conservative chic.

Ms. Darcie was a character invented by the media department, and the reviews we paid to place in Rightgrrl, The Weekly Standard and other conservative magazines had necessary effect; Taylor Darcie was mentioned on The Bill O’Reilly Factor as one of the most important up and coming female authors. Taylor Darcie had never actually written a book, but agents are powerful, and people don’t actually read that many books anymore, they just read summaries. Taylor got invited to the Valentines Day Dinner and Fundraiser no problem. As a distinguished first time guest, she didn’t have to pay for her plate, either.

 

Women like Taylor have is easy, I realize, on the night of the fundraiser while I stand in line to buy cigarettes. A man lets me cut in front of him as I tap my newly painted purple nails on my teensy Prada bag. As I push the brown curls of my wig back I feel like I’m being watched. That’s not quite right—it’s that I usually blend in. With my full head of hair, black coal crusted eyelashes and three-inch heels I feel like I’m shouting, like I’ve revealed my hiding place. I feel the eyes on my back as I leave the store and I hurriedly light a cigarette, relishing in the familiarity of the hot smoke in my throat. I can feel the small microphone tucked into my bra when I buckle my seat belt.

A shiny-toothed valet meets me at the entrance to the Manor, tipping his hat as I get out of the car. A woman spots me from the landing and makes her way down the stairs, heels clicking.

“Taylor?” she asks, though I don’t know how she recognizes me. I nod slowly and force a large smile.

“I knew that was you! Yuni Huttner,” she says and holds out black-gloved hand. Her handshake is like holding a dead fish.

“We’re so excited you’re joining us! They’re just aren’t enough truly bright young women joining our cause anymore…you know? Oh I’m sure you do. All these juniors want nowadays is to marry a rich man and have a perfect family—they don’t think about the larger society we’re building, but you…you’re work is just magnificent!” The blond streaks in her hair catch the moonlight as she grasps my arm and pulls me up the stairs, into the front hall swarming with sequins and velvet. There are groups of older women and groups of younger women, most of whom are noticeably pregnant. I swallow as eyes begin to focus on me. I feel the urge to shrink, but instead I move forward into one of the older women groups. Each woman wears a gold pin in the shape of an S, for senior.

“This is Taylor Darcie,” Yuni says proudly, as if having brought food back to her den, the women smile tight lipped smiles and raise their eyebrows.

“You’re the one giving the lectures?” one asks, a thick woman with a pinched back face asks.

“I am,” I say, and remembering the advice of a co-worker, I add, “and how kind of you to ask.”

“I’m glad there’s one of you out there actually doing something,” another woman says quietly, leaning into the circle. The older women eye the pregnant ones suspiciously.

“Sometimes I feel like all our hard work is going down the drain,” the thick woman says, “but then I read about women like you, and I say to myself: we are making progress!”

“That’s so kind of you,” I say, trying to get my mental footing, “I just feel that girls are being so misled by the liberal culture, and I can’t keep silent about it.”

I have clearly stuck a cord, as the women nod accordingly.

“I can’t wait for your book to come out,” Yuni says and begins leading me to another group.

 

As I make my way around the room I begin to fear that I’m not getting enough information. Most of the older women spout out insults about the pregnant ones and the pregnant ones talk about their husbands, the babies they already have, or how under appreciated they are by the seniors.

“I’ve started an anti-lesbian coalition at my daughters school that has over fifty members,” a red haired woman says, thrusting her chin forward, “and do I get any credit?” She looks at me with eyes widened and I shake my head.

“That’s amazing Janice,” says a starry eyed junior who looks ready to pop, “I mean, it’s really important for girls to have that kind of support at a young age. God knows we don’t want them going on the wrong path.”

Hors d’oeuvres are being served but I’m feeling a little nauseous. I slip into the gold and pink bathroom, nodding to the security guard at the entrance. I hope I can lose the wig for a few minutes, maybe even take off my heels for a minute. A banner on the wall reads Trust=Love and underneath it is a photograph of the leader of the movement, Mary-Ellen Thompson. I can remember her speeches being broadcast on TV years ago, back when she was still building the movement, before she was a well-known senator, when she still had very vocal critics. Her eyes cut across the room like a laser, and I can feel them on me as I reach to lift off my wig. I pull it back on quickly as I hear heels approaching. In comes the starry eyed baby popper and I lean in towards the mirror, pretending to pinch my cheeks, though I’m not sure if anyone actually does this anymore.

“Hi,” she says, and pulls out some bubble gum pink lip-gloss.

“I always need to reapply after drinking champagne,” she says, her eyes meeting mine in the mirror. For a moment, her expression becomes serious, and then she smiles.

I lean in closer, now pressing the loose strands of wig down with my palms.

“You’re different,” she says quietly, and glances toward the door.

‘You’re one of them, aren’t you?” she whispers; her eyes are sparkling again, but with something else now. I shake my head and look back to the mirror.

“What’s that then?”

Her eyes are on the small black microphone now visible in the mirror. Thoughts begin to race through my mind and I feel my knees begin to shake. I look to the window, but it’s got bars, and it’s too high up. I could beat a pregnant girl out the front door, but that would be suspicious. They would know they’d been infiltrated.

“I thought this would be better,” she hisses, and I notice that she is gripping onto the sink.

“Better than what?” I ask, and I hear the mass ‘hurrah’ from a toast.

“They rescued me from a girls home,” she says, using her fingers to quote rescued, “and they found this complete douchebag for me to marry…I did it because I didn’t know what else to do, they said I would be taken care of…” she sighs.

“You work with Sector 7, right?” she asks, and I feel a lump form in my throat. She takes my struggle to answer as a yes. I wasn’t prepared for this, I think. The security officer pops his head in.

“You girls alright in here?” he asks, and I smile.

“Just baby talk,” the girl says, rubbing her rounded belly. The man smiles and returns to his seat.

“I want to go with you,” she says, and grabs my arm.

 

I am seated at a junior table even though I’m not married, which is acceptable as I’m under twenty-five. I have the prepared speech in my hand, the one given to me by Geraldine Finks, and I’m waiting for my introduction. As I hear my name I stand up and head to the podium, look onto the crowd of hot white smiles and shiny hair.

“I’m so proud to be here tonight,” I say, my voice shaking only slightly, “and to have the support of this movement. My public school lectures will influence the next generation of young women still unfamiliar with the vices of American society.” I find my friend’s eyes in the crowd.

“A young woman I met tonight, Mrs. Kelly Lowell, has offered to join me in these lectures to speak of the importance of abstinence, of family, and of the kindness of this movement.” The crowd murmurs approval and my voice levels. I continue the speech as it is written and return to my seat amidst loud clapping.

 

Back at my apartment past midnight, I walk the kitchen in my pajamas and rewind the mini-tape that captured the conversations of the evening. I take the white card from the pocket of my suit and pin it under a magnet on the fridge. The handwriting is that of Missy Versimmon, one of the top seniors, and on it is written Kelly’s address and phone number, as well as the time I’m scheduled to pick her up.

Read More By Liz Varley

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