“I needed to know what would happen. I needed to know what was next, and the thought of tomorrow felt like a dagger to my gut. Why did I cling to this life? Why did I care about the existence I so despised?”
Grade 12 student Carly White wrote a fanfiction piece titled “The Offred Before,” inspired by the novel The Handmaid’s Tale.
Carly was selected as a finalist in the InCITE writing competition and was announced as the overall winner for Grades 11 and 12 at the InCITE conference at MacLachlan College. Carly was asked to read her entry for English teachers, fellow finalists, and parents.
Read on for Carly’s story.
The Offred Before
I paused outside the Commander’s door, my heart pounding. I clung to a shred of hope that my heart rate sped out of fear. The prospect of being subconsciously enthralled by the Commander made me sick to my stomach. Earlier in the night, Fred had seen me in the kitchen and ordered my attendance to his office after the rest of the house was asleep. I didn’t know what to expect. He could do anything to me. He could rape me, kill me, punish me for something I’d done-- or had not done, for that matter-- with no questions asked.
My timid knock was followed by his footsteps, each making me shudder more than the last. When he opened the door, I became a shaky infant lamb, vulnerable to sacrifice. “Blessed day,” I breathed. His knobby figure became domineering as the door closed, and the power dynamic took up so much space that it was hard to breathe. He gingerly placed his hand on my back and it felt heavy as lead.
“You read?”, he asked. I was shocked by such a colloquial opening, denouncing any expectation I had of something horrible taking place in this room. Don’t get your hopes up, I told myself. This man is twisted. Could I answer this question, would I be punished?
“Before or after Gilead?” I responded. Blood rushed to my head, and my ears felt hot. Did I sound disrespectful? Would I be physically punished for my tone?
“Do you like reading, is what I’m asking.” He followed his question with an attempt at a warm smile, which was crooked and awkward. He hadn’t had much practice smiling.
“I like reading,” I stammered.
“Pick one,” he offered, proudly gesturing to his extensive literature collection.
A Latin book piqued my curiosity. As I ran my hand over the weathered leather cover, I remembered the late nights studying Latin in my first year of university. Studying was a grueling obligation at the time. It seemed like such a luxury now in my life as a handmaid in Gilead. I didn’t take my eyes off the literature as I made my way toward a mahogany bench near the bookshelf. I was entranced by the book, hungrily interpreting the words on the page.
“You know Latin?” Fred said, awakening me from my trance. His demeaning smirk indicated that he thought me being educated was a laughable prospect.
“Yes, I studied it post-secondary, pre-Gilead,” I responded with a dangerous level of fortitude, shocking myself.
“Well isn’t that something,” he drawled, stepping toward me. He knelt down in front of me, looking at my body in a way that set off alarms in my head. I was foolish not to have known that offering me a book was a sick ploy to gain my trust.
My usual instinct would be to leave when I felt uncomfortable, but I knew that non-compliance would put me at risk. The Commander began to raise his hands from his sides and I felt my face twist into a fearful, desperate expression. He delicately lifted the hemline of my skirt and began caressing my knees. His hands were cold, and I felt frozen. A bitter taste filled my mouth. There was nothing I could do. There was nothing I could do to get away. His hands moved up my thighs, and I succumbed to the dizzying sense of panic.
I returned to full awareness just seconds later, but I knew I had done something that would change my life forever. The sharp silence in the air made me feel sick. My hand burned hot, and the Commander held his left cheek, astonishment sweeping across his gaunt face. His eyes remained fixed on a 45-degree downward angle, as he murmured “Get out.”
I sat still and quiet in the chair beside my bed. My body was the only thing at rest; my mind was screaming. It screamed that I would lose my hand, it screamed that I would be sent to The Colonies, it screamed that I would never see my family again. I needed to know what would happen. I needed to know what was next, and the thought of tomorrow felt like a dagger to my gut. Why did I cling to this life? Why did I care about the existence I so despised?
I may not have had control over this life, but I needed control over the way it ended. I could not stand to allow my flesh to rot in the colonies, to let my face boil with wounds. I could not stand to live as less than a whole body, a part of me taken by Gilead. The only way I could be at peace was if I decided how this ended. It was grim, and it was freeing. I had to plan the way I left this earth.
I knew I would be replaced. I knew another unfortunate soul would be raped in my place, called by the name “Offred,” and forced to forget all that made her whole. I needed to speak to her, I needed to instill hope and sisterhood into her bleak state of mind. I thought of the Latin I studied, and a perfect way to speak to the next Offred in secret. I straightened the end of a coat hanger from the closet, and into the inner closet wall I carved: “Nolite te Bastardes Carborundorum”.
I didn’t cry. This was all I could do. The carving was all I had to leave behind for her, aside from a life of being used. As I twisted my flannel sheet into a tight snake, I felt a pulsating, heavy rush of adrenaline. This feeling, of being in control-- I’m glad I would get to feel it one last time. I hung the loop of flannel on the yellowed ceiling light and stepped onto the edge of my bed. I draped the noose over my neck. My feet led me off the bed, and I felt the tightness engulf me. I felt the hot air leave my abused body, and my shaking feet fell to rest.
I was finally free.