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Nov 16, 2018 5:02 PM
Imrainai in Gilead
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Serena Joy opens the door to see her new handmaid. It is difficult to tell if she's in a good mood. It's always difficult to tell if she's in a good mood, nowadays.

"Come in and we'll get you settled."

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"Yes ma'am," she says, figuring she can just keep saying that unless and until someone corrects her. She steps inside. She doesn't have much with her; they took her books and her notebooks and replaced her clothes with different ones.

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The living room is utterly immaculate. It looks like a picture out of a magazine, or like a very competent and hardworking person had absolutely nothing to do other than make sure the floor is spotless. There is a bookshelf, but it's mostly being used to store small decorative knickknacks and a potted plant. 

"I am Serena Joy," Serena says. "I intend this relationship to be beneficial for both of us. Our last two Handmaids were both saved and made very godly marriages." The 'and didn't give us children' goes unspoken. "Here is your journal." She hands Keturah a binder with several brightly-colored section tabs sticking out. "In the first section, you will find your daily chores. I expect you to take notes on how to do them properly. The second section is recipes. You will cook with me each night until I am satisfied with your cooking; afterwards you will cook three days a week, and we will work together on Sunday dinners. The third section is for your notes and studying. You will find a syllabus. We will begin by studying Koine Greek, a general survey of both the New and Old Testaments, and a deep dive into Proverbs 31. The fourth section is for our ministry work; I have filled out the first month's calendar for you, but in the future I will expect you to keep up your own calendar. The fifth section is your ovulation calendar. Please begin tracking your ovulation signs immediately so we know when to schedule the Ceremony. The sixth section is your prayer journal. I have included a copy of the Sinner's Prayer so that you can be saved when you choose. Any questions?"

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Her brain is doing the thing it does, the thing where it politely screams in the background of everything so that she can still think pretty well over it, but everything is still tense and hard and scary. She can do things, she can do hard things, but she isn't sure she can consistently do this many things at once. She's pretty sure she can't. Augh.

"I'm saved, ma'am." She makes herself smile at that - doesn't dare let on how scared she is, because the one thing they can't do to her is make her someone she doesn't want to be. Not if she doesn't let them. She hopes. "I don't know how to track ovulation signs, but if there are instructions I'm sure I'll be fine." Not scared not scared not scared not scared. "What is our ministry work?"

 

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"You're saved? Really? It's... unusual, for a Handmaid to be saved. I understand from your paperwork you were caught kidnapping a girl away from her mother?"

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" - my sister was carrying a child and believed that her mother-to-be intended to abuse the child horribly. I don't - claim I've never made incorrect decisions. If I did I could hardly claim to be a Christian. But all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and I don't believe God's mercy is too small for my own case."

Thank you Baptist upbringing for making half of those words come automatically even when she kind of wants to cry right now.

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"I'm sure your sister was confused. A child's rightful mother"-- slight emphasis on the rightful-- "would never abuse a precious child."

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"Perhaps she was, ma'am. I hope the child is wherever God wills her to be." She's not going to cry, she's not, not in front of this woman who has nothing to do with the situation. She digs her fingernails into her palms and wills herself not to. 

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"I do as well." Serena politely ignores Keturah's distress. "I manage the local soup kitchen and tutor refugees from Canada. You will begin by running errands, but if you do well you may soon be making dinners and tutoring a refugee yourself."

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"I'll do my best, ma'am."

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"I'll show you to your room."

Keturah's room also resembles a magazine picture. There is a twin-size bed (neatly made), a desk, a dresser, and a bookshelf with actual books on it this time: several bible translations; How To Read The Bible As Literature; The Essence of the New Testament: A Survey; A Primer of Biblical Greek; Recovering Biblical Manhood & Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism; Taking Charge of Your Fertility.

This last Serena Joy picks up. "You will find instructions for tracking your ovulation in here. Please ask me if you have any questions, I would be happy to demonstrate."

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" - thank you, I'll be sure to ask if I do," says Keturah, and even she isn't sure if there's more relief or discomfort in her tone. She has lots of objections to the whole situation, obviously, but she doesn't expect them to do her any good, and it isn't her fault that she's in this situation, so she just - doesn't want to get in trouble on top everything else. Injury is enough, thank you, she'd like to pass on insults.

At least there are books. She doesn't think she can keep the room as clean as it is right now, but she can try.

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"You will, of course, be expected to maintain a high standard of cleanliness."

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"I understand. I will try my best to follow your example."

And fall short, but don't we all.

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"Very well. We have some time before it's time to start dinner. Which subject would you like to begin studying?"

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Oh are they starting now. "I'm interested in learning Greek, if you don't think learning how to do my chores is more urgent."

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"The house is quite clean, there would be no point. You will have plenty of time to learn once Nick and Fred have dirtied it again."

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"Yes, ma'am. Then Greek. I've read the Bible but only in translation."

And she may have skipped over parts of Habakuk, but hopefully she has time to rectify that before they get that far.

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Serena Joy takes her to the study and they begin work on the Greek alphabet. Serena is actually a very good teacher: strict but patient and good at explaining, and not someone who will let you get away with half-understanding something.

If Keturah looks at the bookshelf in the corner, she'll see a shelf of books written by Serena Joy Waterford.

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She does look. She doesn't mention them, but she remembers to ask for the chance to read them after she finishes the books that are already in her room.

Keturah has a pretty good memory, though she doesn't know that she'll be good at any of the other parts of language-learning. At least she has a good teacher? Free Greek lessons are at least some kind of silver lining to this whole mess, and she's going to do her best with them. 

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Eventually Serena closes the book and says "Time to start dinner."

Dinner is mashed potatoes and meatloaf.

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She can eat mashed potatoes and meatloaf, so that's something. She's never made them before, so she focuses on the instructions. By this point she has a tendency to miss things the first time and need them repeated, but she does ask again rather than attempt to fly blind. (It won't be like this forever, she reminds herself. She won't always be learning things. At some point she'll know them and some tasks will be familiar and her brain will hopefully be able to rest between the hard parts.)

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Serena Joy is very patient and appears to be pleased with whatever Keturah gets right, as if she were bracing herself for someone who had only the faintest idea of what a cooking knife is.

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She gradually stops looking vaguely like she's tensing for a blow.

"Thank you for your patience," she says, when both parts of the meal are nearly done cooking. 

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"Patience is a virtue. One of the fruits of the Holy Spirit. I pray for it daily."

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"Yes, ma'am. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness - there's another I'm blanking on - and self control. We're all called to display them, but I don't expect that all of us succeed."

 

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