On Principles Of Morality We Are Rebuilding The World
by Barbara Mascetti

They applied the rules strictly that year. A woman with whom Anne had played as a child was convicted of adultery and shot on the steps of the town hall. Anne wept, and yet, as the convict-women wrapped the body, she felt a surge of affirmation for the rightness of what had been done.

The executioner - a young constable not yet hardened to his new duties - was himself close to tears. Sweating in the winter sunlight, he cleared the Browning and put pistol and magazine into separate pockets of the grimy civilian overcoat he wore over his uniform. That done, he felt able to breathe again. "Jesus," he said, "That was... I mean, for chrissake, all she had to do was give us his name."

Detective-Inspector Murchinson shrugged and rubbed some dirt into the newly-scrubbed stone with his shoe.

"Stupid cow liked the idea of dying for love. Well, never mind. Maybe she wouldn't tell us who was her fancy-man, but someone else has. I've had a denunciation, see?" His face hardened. "We've got given the name of Martin Conyers, wife name of Anne. I'm going to have a word with you, 'wife name of Anne'."

Through a haze of brick dust Anne saw the two strangers approach the site supervisor. A dull pain began in that part of her where she imagined the child to be growing. The supervisor pointed her out, then beckoned to her. She put down her tools and walked across the freshly cleared ground.

Murchinson showed his card and said, "Mrs Conyers, I'm going to have to ask you to have a simple chemical test. Just two minutes. Er - you'll need a witness."

The doctor snapped shut his bag. Murchinson watched the Conyers woman clumsily push her hair back under her black headscarf.

The supervisor was babbling, "I knew I could have faith in you, Mrs Conyers; I knew you lived a moral life - "

Anne's work-reddened hands stopped moving. "You never did like Martin, did you?"

Murchinson said pleasantly, "Well, now we've established that Mrs Conyers has no notifiable disease, perhaps you'd allow me and the doctor a private word with the lady."

As the door clicked shut the doctor said, "It seems you know why we're here, Ms Conyers - "

"Call me by my right name! It's Mrs, not Ms. I'm - I'm legally married."

"But you cannot stay married," said the Inspector, "Not to an adulterer."

"I see." She was holding her belly as if in pain.

He asked, "Did you know about this?"

She shook her head stupidly. Murchinson thought, You've made a mistake there, my girl. You've had education - in the old days you wouldn't have been shovelling dirt - so you're articulate and your reaction to a shock would be to talk.

Probing, he went on. "Was there anything wrong between you and Martin?"

"No, noth- everything. Everything went wrong at once for us. Like it did for the world. I thought we could be an exception; that us two together could go on being happy. Stupid. Well, what are you going to do?"

Murchinson said, "It's fortunate that in this case there's no question of the disease, but even so, the same... penalties apply. The public demands it, see?"

"They'll shoot him," she whispered.

The doctor found the courage to speak again. "Not necessarily. God knows we have few enough people. We can't kill them casually. If they cooperate it's commuted to hard labour for life."

Murchinson said, "Mrs Conyers, we have sufficient evidence to convict your husband." He thought privately that all they had was sufficient evidence to bring him to trial. To convict they would need a confession as well. The inspector leaned forward. "I hope you understand that for your own protection you must have your divorce proclaimed immediately. This evening.

"Now we're going to take you round to your house, and we'll do what's necessary. But we'll give you a few minutes alone with him before we move in.

"I know he's done you a great wrong - but if you have any affection left for him, any at all, I want you to try and persuade him to cooperate."

Anne Conyers writhed. "I can't do it; I won't be able to say the words, not in that street - he grew up there; his mother lives across the road - "

"The divorce must be public, or we won't have grounds for arrest and interrogation. And we need to interrogate him to get him to admit it, don't we? If we get a confession, then we can spare him. What's more, we can certify that you were innocent. Think what your life will be like if we fail to do that."

She made a last attempt to escape. "He's a war hero, did you know that? People in Russia sent him gifts on his saint's day. From Russia. What do I tell them? I'm pregnant; what will I tell my child?"

After a silence Murchinson said, "That he was an adulterer; a breaker of oaths."

They stepped out of the fug of the supervisor's shack and into the bright, cold air. For the last time Anne looked round at the neat farm amid the rubble; her old life. Over the sheds the banner still flew, 'On Principles Of Morality We Are Rebuilding The World'.

The house felt strange, charged with tension. Anne realised it would be impossible for her to go on living there after... She could imagine no after.

The militia squad helped her pile up Martin's possessions just inside the front door. The fornicator's worldly goods would be cast out from the home just as he is cast out from society. The task did not take long; he hadn't salvaged much. There was the little table he had made himself, the picture she had given him... she turned round to tell the inspector that she could not go on with this, but he was already speaking.

"He's coming down the street now. We'll give you five minutes."

Anne felt her throat dry out. She knew that unless she spoke immediately it would be too late to stop. But all she could say was, "The upstairs isn't safe, it's condemned. Go in there."

She picked up the little picture and stared at it. Four minutes for him to pick his way through the debris in the street. Twenty seconds for him to find his key. Five seconds to open the door ...

"What are you doing Anne? Need any hel-"

Martin saw the pile. Anne's tongue was a thick lump in her mouth.


"I was to tell you... I was to tell you that if you confess they won't kill you."

Why didn't he answer? What was she supposed to do, plead? A blessed, liberating rage coursed through her. In a hoarse, gulping voice she said, "I'm nothing - except what you made me - wife of the leading citizen, wife of the hero - so now you don't like what you've made? I'm nothing, except your wife. And now I'm not even that!"

And then Anne had shoved past him somehow, into the street and the gathering crowd. She hurled the words at them, "I divorce thee," and dashed the picture to the ground. A chain gang had halted in their work and stared at her. How many of them were adulterers also? She said it the second time; "I divorce thee."

The inspector was holding Martin. She had thought of Murchinson as big and authoritative, but next to Martin's bulk Murchinson looked a thin, wasted little man. As if he had the disease himself. Why didn't Martin knock him down and escape?

Then she saw a terrible sight. Martin's mother was running wildly out of her house across the road, tears streaming down her brown, puckered face. She shouted, My son, my son, and a young militiaman had to hold her back.

Anne thought, Third and last time. God give me strength to say what must be said.

"I divorce thee."

They applied the rules strictly that year. However, towards those who cooperated, the authorities showed mercy. His ankle tagged, rags wrapped around his inadequate shoes, Martin Conyers trudged through the freezing slush towards a forced labour project in the north.

As they left the Assizes, Murchinson took Anne Conyers' arm. She did not like being casually touched by men, but she had realised that in Murchinson's case it didn't matter. Christ, she thought, I didn't know there were still queers left.

He read her expression perfectly.

"You're quite right, of course. I'm not exactly in this job for the benefit of my health. Rather a lost cause, my health." He sighed. "Well, some final questions if you don't mind. Not for the files; for me. So I can do my job better."

"I don't care how well you do your job."

"You've shown a more public-spirited attitude in the past." Their eyes met. "You know, it would have looked more natural if you'd once asked who the woman was. A schoolmate of yours, wasn't she? In a way your Martin killed her. Was that why -"

The pain was in her again. She grasped her belly in both hands and cried out, "No, damn you. It was because he was happy. Without me. That, and no other reason, is why I denounced him."