Written for the e-zine Lavender, Issue 1
It’s funny seeing her again.
An obscuring screen of trees and high ferns, Turnbull being trotted off in the distance, flashes of red, and then – there’s the detachment, and leading it, there she is, big as life and twice as crazy.
She’s coming over. Oh, God. Well, maybe she won’t remember.
She does. "Meg! Meg Thatcher! Why I haven’t seen you since--"
Dammit. She intimidates me, like she always did. But only for a second. I regroup. "It’s Inspector Thatcher now, Sergeant." I sound cooler than I feel. Easy to fall back on my. . . what does that obnoxious detective call me? My "Ice Queen" persona.
"Oh. So it is. Sir." Funny to have her salute me. I salute back. Lieutenant Welsh makes an impatient noise. There are introductions, requests for assistance, and then we’re discussing plans, directing her recruits. They’re an unimpressive bunch, all thumbs and wide eyes. She bustles off, ordering the poor green recruits about, terrifying them. She’s good at that, inciting terror. It’s mostly an act, though, and it’s actually amusing to observe, now it’s not directed at me. Now, it’s amusing. Then, I was just as terrified.
I watch her and the amusement fades. My heart sinks to see how she's changed. God, how she’s changed! Fat. She got fat, and seemingly shorter, but I suspect that’s an effect of my rank compared to hers. Her face is puffy, but she looks well. She looks old. Must be, what? Only fifty-six or seven by now. Looks older. Probably never heard of sun block.
Worst of all, she’s become a caricature of herself. Dear heavens, she’s foolish, now.
Sergeant Samara Thorn. "Sam" Thorn. "Sergeant Prickly of the Yukon." Big Time Crazy Sam Thorn.
Hard to imagine, looking at the pudgy shape, watching the waddle, hearing the Wicked Witch cackle, that when she was forty, she had dignity. Stature. Actually, she looked a bit like Katharine Hepburn, then.
Husky voiced, slim-hipped, boyish. Lovely, lively, long hands, reddish hair caught up in a bun at the nape of her neck. The bun was always slightly loose, one curl invariably pulling loose from its restraints to dance around her forehead. The rest of her was tightly wrapped even then; no doubt she had more than one screw loose from the beginning. But she was commanding, nevertheless. Terrifying, because of her perfection, which contrasted starkly with our fumblings. Controlled, except for that lock of hair. She was always blowing it out of her way. Her one flaw. Charming flaw.
Trustworthy. She could strike fear into your heart, but you’d happily put your life in her hands. We all did.
I did. And I put more than my life there.
Female recruits are supposed to be treated with dignity, but there was always the odd male recruit at Depot who felt women had no right to be there, the occasional mocking officer who degraded us in front of the men, the all too common authority figure who considered a lack of a penis punishable by abuse. So I vowed to become cold and focused, tried to force myself to ignore the taunts and the abuse. But I couldn't not care. It was terribly hard to pretend it didn't matter. Nearly impossible, and too often I'd succumb to embarrassing, hateful tears. Everything grated, bruised, scoured me.
Sam was a salve for my emotional wounds. She'd been there before us, back when a woman in the R.C.M.P. was still a novelty. Still a rarity. And a target. She'd taken abuse and survived – hell, she'd given it back in triplicate, and continued to do so, for us, for our sake.
I'd smile at the tales of her retaliation against The Enemy, as she called those insufferable men. She shared her stories with me to soothe my feelings after a particularly loathsome instructor vented his misogyny at me, or, unbelievably, after a fellow recruit ejaculated on my spare uniform (which left me with a near obsession with dry cleaners). She told me her own tales (nearly legendary and recounted with obvious relish) about those times, her own trials, her survival and success. At first I found solace in her tiny office, then over coffee in her quarters, and, inevitably, as we lay together on her small bed. She'd hold me and stroke my hair, whispering You will succeed, Meg, you are too good and too fine and too deserving to let them beat you. And finally, there were no more stories, no more whispered words of encouragement, only the lessons her mouth taught me as she lay buried between my thighs, the only sounds my inarticulate gasps around the hand I'd stuffed in my mouth to stop from screaming my pleasure.
I look up, starting at that particular memory, feel a rush of desire and quickly adjust my tunic as if, like a male, my arousal were visible. Perhaps it is -- my cheeks burn and I turn away for a moment, regaining control. I have no desire to revisit these feelings, and the fact that I am still stirred by them unnerves me. I focus on her lumpy form as she bustles about the campsite and find I am embarrassed by the memory, embarrassed by her. But embarrassed, too, and angry with myself, for what followed those impassioned interludes so many years ago. She's already referred to it, and directly, too, much to my surprise. Evidently there is no escaping the Incident.
Oh, I understand now that she'd abused her own power over me, using my insecurity and pain as a way to lead me to her bed. Perhaps I knew it then as well, but for the longest time I didn't care; I was of legal age, and was happy to be stroked and praised and, God help me, made love to with her long, lovely hands and wickedly talented mouth. But as my time at Depot passed and I grew in confidence, the opinions of my tormentors became irrelevant to me. To my surprise, I had discovered that I did, indeed, have natural abilities for the work. Those officers I respected predicted a bright future for me, making it clear the R.C.M.P. was pleased to have me among their ranks. Suddenly I had many options and many friends, and Sam's demands on my time fettered me. As my interest in Sam Thorn began to wane, my desire to separate myself from her increased. It's not that I felt nothing for her, but I craved independence.
And, too, the boys around me were becoming men, and most of them had to admit, albeit grudgingly, that I had earned their respect, that I was their equal. Personally, I felt superior to many of them, but they weren't privy to my thoughts and I was smart enough not to share them. I was confident; I had grown up. The R.C.M.P. was growing up, too, I suppose, and Sam Thorn was still part of its adolescence.
She tried to hold on to me, and I reacted as if I were asthmatic. I found her attentions stifling, now, and though I still came to her bed, it was not with gratitude, and it was not often. I didn't cut off the relationship completely because I was loath to hurt her. But still I felt the bands tightening around my throat and needed to break them before I suffocated.
Of course, she didn't deserve what happened next; as I said, I never intended to hurt her. But after an intense training mission, when I returned high on adrenaline and success, it was a natural progression to find the company of my fellow recruits both desirable and pleasant, and preferable to that of Sam Thorn. I didn't seek her out, even though I'd promised to come to her quarters. Not even bothering to shower, I trotted out to the park with Brian Tompkins and Patrice Roulin, two men from my team, to share a beer and congratulate ourselves on a job well done.
The officers turned a blind eye to our roving far afield that night – we were close to graduating and had worked ourselves nearly to death over the past months. I suppose they imagined we deserved a break, so they gave tacit assent to our behavior. The barracks emptied, and recruits headed out in twos, threes and larger groups to celebrate the end of a grueling exercise and the approach of graduation. Brian, Pat and I settled down into the soft grass and watched the stars come out. And relaxed, and talked, and drank.
I knew Brian had a crush on me – he was a wholesome fellow from back East – Halifax, I think, but his red hair and freckles had never appealed to me very much. And Pat, dark-eyed and darkly handsome, was Quebecois, and while I'm a great believer in the multi-cultural model of my country, I'd never much cared for the French and their divisive ways. But as we sat there and talked, sharing our aspirations, I began to be quite taken with both of them. All three of us were enthralled by our chosen career. All three of us were greatly impressed with each other and with our success. It seemed we had much more in common than I had supposed.
And of course, all three of us were tired, and giddy, and on our way to being drunk.
You can guess the result of this, of the dizzying crash from adrenaline-fueled heights, the alcohol, the darkness and the closeness. Soon enough I was kissing Pat, and then Brian, and then Pat's hand was in my blouse and my hand was on Brian's tumescent penis, and then we were nearly naked under the stars, doing all sorts of things to each other in really imaginative ways.
Still, I remember thinking, through the alcoholic daze, as I looked down at someone's head, not quite sure in the darkness if it were red or black, that neither one of them knew how to go down on a woman properly.
All I know is that time passed in frantic groping and thrusting, and then someone groaned and someone moaned, and a third someone grunted in release, and there was the taste of semen in my mouth and a surge of wet heat along my thigh, and finally a satisfying wetness between my legs. We lay there, panting and sated, but when I was able finally to open my eyes and lift my head I saw a recognizable silhouette against the sapphire of the sky. I gasped. "Sam – Sergeant Thorn!" which was enough to shrivel what was left of Brian and Pat's erections, I'm certain.
Oh dear God, dear God, no.
We scrambled madly, grabbing at clothes, putting them on indiscriminately, but when I looked again, she was gone. I suppose I might have thought I'd imagined it out of a guilty conscience, but I'd heard a sound as she retreated, something that might have been a muffled curse.
After the shock of discovery, the three of us couldn't look at each other, and we never spoke of the Incident again, not even ten years later when I encountered Brian at an Ottawa cocktail party. We smiled as if we'd been merely classmates, exchanged pleasantries and drifted away. Pat went on to become a political activist, and a vocal separatist, so even if we met, I'd have little to say to him. But back then I felt ashamed, and did not say anything at all. I dressed hurriedly and went directly to Sam's quarters.
She was behind her desk, holding a pen and staring intently at the paper before her. She didn't look up as I came in and stood uncertainly in her doorway, but still she addressed me. "I'm writing a reprimand," she said. "Your first, but quite possibly the last you'll ever receive from the R.C.M.P."
I swallowed, feeling the rise of panic. "I'm not certain what you mean."
"Do you imagine they'll want you as a Mountie after this sort of behavior?" She spoke through compressed lips, staring coldly when her eyes met mine. "You've ended your career, Thatcher. A shame, too, after all we've invested in you." She narrowed her eyes and wrinkled her nose. "Gah. I can smell them on you. Disgusting."
Her words cut me, but I felt anger, too. "All you've invested in me?"
"Of course. Time, energy, money, expectations—"
"--Does that include seduction and abuse of power?"
That made her blink. "I beg your pardon?"
"You seduced me. You took advantage of me."
Her mouth dropped open. "What happened with us has nothing to do with this. . .incident. And what you're saying isn't true, you know that. You came to me in need. You wanted me, and I wanted you, Meg. You know it."
"No," I said. "I never wanted that." I was lying; I could feel myself lying, but couldn't stop, not while she held my future in her hands.
"Meg," she said, her voice rough, "I love—"
"Shut up!" I barked at her. I don't want to hear that, I won't hear that. "You used your position to get what you wanted. That's the way it will look. That's what I'll tell them."
Something shifted in her face and in the air between us. I realize, now, that it was the balance of power reaching its tipping point. "You'd…" There was panic in her voice. "You'd tell them about us?"
"If I have to." I took a step towards her, and it seemed to me that, like Alice Through the Looking Glass, I had begun to grow, and she to shrink before me. "Do I have to tell them?"
My eyes held hers, though it was the hardest thing I've ever done. Time stretched. The tension in the room was overwhelming.
She broke first. "No," she whispered, looking down. "You don't need to tell them." I watched, fascinated, as her left hand crumpled the paper and pushed it to the floor. The pen dropped from the fingers of her right hand as if they'd gone numb, and then her head lowered.
And I felt ashamed, more ashamed than I'd been in the park feeling Brian's come drying on my leg, wiping Pat's from the corner of my mouth. I'd been disgusted with myself, then.
Now I hated myself. Utterly. Blackmail. I'd lowered myself that far. I'd broken oaths and rules and the standards by which I thought I lived. But when I glanced at the figure before me, I understood I'd done far, far worse than that.
Sam Thorn, the woman who'd comforted me, bolstered me through the tough times, who'd helped me become successful, suddenly looked old, and broken, and frightened. Of me. And no matter that she'd manipulated me into her bed, I knew her feelings for me were not a lie. I could barely control myself, barely keep myself from crossing to her, catching her up in my arms and telling her I would never hurt her.
But I didn't. I couldn't. I closed my heart, sealed it, cauterized it.
I squared myself and pulled myself together, detaching from my shame at having treated her so. "Then we have a deal, I think."
She nodded. "Yes." Her voice was dull.
"Good night, then," I said, my hand on the doorknob. I took one last look at the hunched figure and then turned my back, closing the door on Sam Thorn.
Her face, round as the moon, freckled and crêpey about the eyes, bobs in front of me, and her faded eyes peer into mine, pinning me. For a moment she’s the Sam Thorn of old, and I’m a raw recruit. "Yes," I mumble, then clear my throat. "Yes, Sergeant?"
"We’re waiting, Inspector," she says, and there’s an edge to her voice. "I’m waiting for you. Are you ready?"
"Of course." I straighten my shoulders, sloughing off uncertainty. I’m the ranking officer; I must take command, be cool and efficient. They're all looking to me for that.
She’s looking to me.
And so I give an order and it's obeyed without question. Watching the detachment swiftly deploy at my command, I realize how far I’ve come from the weeping recruit who flinched from criticism and wore her hurts like bruises. I’ve learned to hide all feelings except anger, to turn insults back on the attacker, to wield the sharpened blade of my own tongue. I realize, suddenly, that I have become what she was. Intimidating. Commanding. Terrifying. Controlled. Perhaps controlling. I'm certain Turnbull and Fraser would say so.
And trustworthy? Well, that seems disingenuous, under these circumstances. I'm not certain I can be trusted.
What I do know is that a price was paid for my transformation, and it wasn't the exchange of sex for comfort. I paid with the death of my innocence, not in Sam's bed but standing before her desk, shaming her, shaming myself.
Sam Thorn shambles away from me, silly, unattractive, possibly delusional. It's not as if I could feel attraction to her now, or that I'd want to. But I have to wonder: the aftermath of the Incident -- was that when she began to let herself go, to give in to the craziness? Was that when I began to become the Ice Queen, someone who barks at her subordinates, who has no true friends, who sublimates her desires with work, and who cannot allow herself to love? I have the sudden desire to run after her, to call her name, to debase myself in front of her, apologize for hurting her, for making her what she is. For becoming what I am.
I've taken two steps before I stop.
I wasn’t responsible then. I couldn’t be.
I won’t be responsible now.
I won't feel anything for her.
I won't feel anything.
I don't feel anything.
I am who I am. I feel nothing.
Except. . .