Bethida is sitting in the front parlor of Eulalia's house, sipping tea and nibbling at the corner of a scone with a polite imitation of an appetite. She looks out the window and sighs despondently.
Bethida isn't sure if Eulalia will really be able to help her at all, but she could use a shoulder to cry on now, figuratively or literally. She still has the letter her son gave her before he left for Simeland, slipped into her pocket.
Eulalia comes into the parlor, hobbling briskly. She's moving better these days, since she learned how effectively a channel can treat arthritis.
Eulalia: Bethida, how nice of you to call.
Bethida: Hello, Eulalia. So good to see you. You seem to be in better shape these days...
Eulalia: Yes, and Brenn is, too. He and Pametta left on their honeymoon this morning, at last.
Eulalia found it a bit of a ~ relief ~, to tell the truth.
Bethida: I feel so terrible that my family caused him such trouble, on what should have been a wonderful occasion. ~~ guilt ~~
Eulalia: You aren't responsible for Brenn's... questionable judgement. And it worked out, in the end. Your son made it to the Sime Center in time, so nobody got killed.
Bethida goes quiet, and stares out the window.
Bethida: I... you know, Eulalia, I tried to be the best mother I could to Naoyu.
Eulalia: I'm sure you did.
Bethida: I wanted him to have the best of everything, always. Even with clothes, I would never settle for something cheaper if I could get the best.
Bethida: There weren't... in our family. No one. ~~ despair ~~ Not in generations. Oh, I heard the "one in three" statistic again and again, but I... it just didn't happen. The odds were against it.
Eulalia: Bethida, you don't know that it didn't happen. A lot of families hide that sort of thing, even from their own children. Even from themselves. Who's to say some of those "accidents" or "illnesses" weren't changeover?
Bethida: When Naoyu was little... I acted just like nervous new mothers always do. I never left his side. Every time he cried, it was an emergency.
Eulalia: He grew up just fine in spite of that.
Bethida: I hovered over him -- I was so terribly afraid something might happen to him, and even my husband told me I shouldn't smother him.
Bethida: So when he got older, I... tried to let him have his space. I backed off a little. And now I think that if I hadn't, maybe I would have seen it coming. I... I thought I was watching him, you know; he wasn't all lanky and bony like some of those other ones are.
Eulalia: Changeovers hide. No matter how carefully they're watched. And it looks a lot like any childish illness. You can't really tell until the tentacles start to develop, and then it's often too late.
Bethida represses a polite sort of shiver. She didn't see any of her son's changeover, but what she did see of tentacles on that night, up close and personal, was more than enough.
Bethida: You know, Eulalia, I... on that night, I was at the wedding reception. Naoyu didn't want to go, and I... thought it was simply because weddings aren't so interesting to twelve-year-old boys.
Eulalia: They're not. He would have protested going even if he'd already been Gen.
Bethida: I'm sure that if I'd only stayed, if I'd only thought of him, I would have noticed something was wrong -- by mother's intuition, even if I couldn't see it.
Eulalia: Your son would have told you exactly what he told his nanny: that his dinner was disagreeing with him, and he'd be fine in the morning. Then he'd still have climbed out the window and run off.
Bethida fingers the letter from Naoyu in her coat pocket, feeling, however irrationally, that it's the equivalent of a last letter from a now-deceased relative.
Bethida: He was always so considerate of my feelings. Oh, he was naughty sometimes and liked to run off without telling us where he was going -- you know how they get at that age...
Eulalia: Yes. But he didn't want to place on you the guilt of killing him.
Bethida can't deny that if her husband had known, a shotgun would probably have become the first line of "treatment."
Eulalia: This way, whatever happened wouldn't be something you could have prevented.
Bethida: I... I finally went to see him, at the Sime Center, and it turned out he had already left. They'd put him on the train to Simeland already...
Eulalia: They do that quickly, I understand.
Bethida: But he left me a letter. They gave it to me at the front desk.
Bethida pulls it out and glances over it again, feeling ~~ proud ~~ at how much he's improved his handwriting in the past year, even through the ~~ despair ~~.
Bethida: It's silly, really, but... do you know what he wrote in here. 'You are a great mom, and I love you.' I... was surprised he still thought of me as his mother. Oh, I'm sure they'll encourage him to stop thinking of me that way, over there, soon enough.
Eulalia: Why would they?
Bethida: Don't they? I mean, I had always heard they looked down on the culture outside their territory. He's one of them now -- they want him to stay.
Bethida fights down disgust and despair at the idea of her poor nice son being told what to think by Simes.
Eulalia: He has to stay whether or not he maintains ties with his family here. Think if it from the Simes' point of view. If your son keeps a relationship with you, you might eventually decide to support him.
Bethida: But... how do I support him? Other than to let them take my... well.
Eulalia: They'd prefer that, I'm sure, but if you sent Naoyu money for his education, that would be less money they have to spend.
Bethida: Oh, I'm sure they would prefer it.
Bethida gives a less restrained shudder.
Bethida: I saw how that one was looking at me, the one who let me in. He was polite, but I don't think he really saw me as a person at all. Those things, they... kept wiggling. There was another one who came in later, to tell me my coach had left, and she had the same look in her eyes. And she... she wiggled them at me, on purpose!
Eulalia: She did? What for?
Bethida: I don't know! Just to see me jump, I suppose. Well, I certainly did.
Bethida is quite certain now that she prefers the dime-novel variety of Simes, who can always be put in their place by a handsome hero. The other Gen she met at the Center that night was hardly that.
Eulalia: Look, they can't make you give your selyn to them. Not if you don't agree.
Bethida: When I found the Senator in that room, so bruised and beaten-looking, I... really thought that maybe they did. Really, anyone might have thought the same in my place. There was a chain attached to one of his ankles, even though the end of it was broken. It was really horrifying to see...
Eulalia: That chain. The coachman was nervous about driving Naoyu, so Brenn had them chain the boy to him with a dog chain. Then forgot the key.
Bethida: I thought, just for a moment, that they'd -- Oh, I know novels aren't real, but I'd read stories all about things like that before. Authors do sometimes base their stories on their own experience.
Eulalia: Perhaps such things happened in the past, when Simeland was run by killer Simes.
Bethida: But I couldn't even stay calm and brave in the face of that... I'd be a terrible heroine, really.
Eulalia: Well, naturally. That's why they're heroines.
Bethida: I just -- ugh! The way they move, not even just the tentacles, it's -- so unnatural.
Eulalia: I know. But some of them are decent, and others are useful, even so.
Bethida: So I've heard. But I don't think I would ever be able to submit myself to that...
Eulalia: You don't have to, if you don't want to. But you may find you are more flexible yourself than you ever dreamed. I don't think Brenn ever gave it much thought, until very recently.
Bethida: Maybe it's for the better that I didn't see him before he left. I'm not sure if I would have been able to bear that...
Eulalia: That would be very difficult.
Bethida sighs again, and tucks Naoyu's letter back in her pocket carefully.
Eulalia: It was bad enough seeing the news photos when Brenn...well, you remember.
Bethida: Indeed I do.
Bethida vividly remembers cringing at them herself.
Eulalia: It would have been much harder if I'd had to see it in person.
Bethida: I wonder if it's in my heart, as a mother. You know how they talk about people having a face that only a mother could love...
Bethida laughs bitterly, more to allay her sorrow than anything.
Eulalia: You still love your son.
Bethida: I do. But I remember him as a child, not as... a Sime. I... I wonder if I really love him as he is now, or just my memories of him.
Eulalia: It's hard to tell, without seeing him in person. Where did they send him?
Bethida: I didn't ask. I suppose I'll have to go back and ask, though, if I'm going to write to him, or send money...
Bethida: I don't know how my husband will feel about that. As far as he's concerned, he no longer has a son.
Eulalia: That's a simpler approach, I suppose.
Bethida sighs, and politely sips her now-cold tea.
Bethida: I ought to get going. Thank you for your time, Eulalia.
Eulalia: You're welcome. Do come again.
Bethida touches the letter in her pocket one last time, before putting on her coat and hat.