WIllow Locke holding her titanium twin-lens
She had begun skipping classes or showing up disheveled and unkempt—to the great consternation of James and—she assumed—the Anarkhos.
“People are starting to notice,” he hissed at her in class one day. She only sneered and tucked her hair behind her ear.
That was when he saw the sparkle at her wrist. The jewelled cuff-links she had stolen from Blanck’s office—gold inlaid with sapphire and ruby—the capital letter “B.” She wore them with the brown dress James’ mother had given her. She had cut off the button and pierced the fabric so the cuff-links would fit. They were talismans—she had stolen from Blanck just as her sister had. The cuff-links were a promise she would fulfill.
“They’ll know—” James had whispered. “They’ll find out everything.”
“They always knew.” She shot back, in full voice, clutching her Ticonderoga, white-knuckled. Professor Lane scowled at them from the podium, then turned back to the chalkboard and continued his lecture on Plato. He turned away, just as Plato’s observers had turned away from the figures dancing before the fire, stupidly facing the cave wall, calling to the shadows projected there, scribbling nonsense. Plato’s cave was an indictment of her own blindness, of the pointlessness of self-improvement in a world bent on self-immolation.
Eitan Lostch on the rooftops
Eitan Lostch stretched out into empty space. His inky silhouette devoured the stars. Gravity released him from its covetous touch. His foot fell short of the next rooftop and his arms flailed wildly. He caught a clothes line that broke with his weight and whipped his cheek as he fell. He landed with a gymnast’s dismount on the steel balcony below, shattering terra-cotta planters, howling with triumph, covered with tattered laundry. He climbed back to the rooftop plateau, dislodging a brick that clattered down onto the steel grating.
He had roused the tenement hive, and Yiddish curses trailed him as he ran through the dark. He snatched at Robert’s sleeve, threatening his balance. He perched on the edge with his hands between his feet, scanning the dark labyrinth of the Bowery.
“I know the way,” said Robert.
He backed away from the ledge, ran as fast as he could and leapt into the dark. Eitan’s consciousness spread out before him and accelerated. He felt the slow drum of his feet on the roof, the motion of his arms, the coils of his legs, the width of the gap, the emptiness of space, the fear of gravity, the feeling of the wind. He landed clear on the other side.
The rooftops unfolded before them. The moonlight seemed to illuminate a pathway. The light linked each rooftop to the next like gigantic geometric stepping stones; a giant’s causeway. The ethereal avenue ran all the way to the undulant Hudson river.
Eitan saw silhouetted figures moving against the silver backdrop of the next roof. They seemed flat, joined to the light trapezoid of the roof. He thought of the film he and Robert had snuck into, Edison’s Frankenstein. The way the rectangle of light had swirled into motion and suddenly coalesced into rooms and figures. He thought of Frankenstein’s monster, the body forming in the incubation chamber, the flesh climbing the skeleton, the image writhing with fire and hideous life. He recognized the boys on the roof by the way they walked.
Edison’s Frankenstein, 1910
“This is a gift, from Mr. Gibson and I, to all of the seamstresses.” He had said, his voice laden with feeling. “I will hang these where you can all see them, to inspire you every day in your work. Let them serve as a reminder that your toil is to create beauty, and there is no more noble enterprise.”
Once when Charles Fulton had caught her looking up trying to catch Hannah’s eye, she remembered this speech and said, “I was only looking to the drawings for inspiration, Mr. Fulton.”
And the drawings were undeniably beautiful. Gibson had worked at a larger scale with ink and brush instead of pen, so the final piece could be seen from a distance, by even the rows in the back. Ayala’s gaze always rested on one in particular: a beautiful girl looking wistfully into the distance, standing on a windswept plain. His brush moved with swift confidence, the thrilling line forming the voluptuous cupid bow of her lips, her limpid eyes, delicately arched eyebrows, dramatically upswept hair. She couldn’t believe it was only black ink, she saw color, could feel texture. And the clothes! When the ink touched the fabric it sped up, cascading over the ravishing figure of the trim young woman. The high-waisted skirt was long but shockingly slim, revealing the girl’s shape instead of hiding it under mountains of petticoats.
The touch of the ink on the blouse was thrillingly light. The girl had turned, looking over her shoulder, as if she had just heard someone calling her name from across the luminous meadow. Her entire torso was turned away from the direction she was walking—impossible that she could be wearing a corset.
She could move freely! It must be a silk brassiere and a beautiful white cotton blouse. That was all. It was a new century. Ayala had seen Gibson’s illustrations printed everywhere, Life Magazine, the Macy’s catalog, The New York Times. They worked from patterns based on Gibson’s drawings, Mr. Blanck was fond of bragging about his personal connection, and often sent the artist samples of the blouses.
It was true, she realized. The Gibson style had changed recently, it had changed since he had given Mr. Blanck the drawings. She had noticed in his latest illustrations that the front panel of the blouses he drew were no longer rectangular—instead he had taken to drawing a long “V” shape. In the structure of an actual blouse, it would have to be several panels, she realized. The unbroken “V” shape would have to be structured by at least three supporting panels on each side if the blouse were to maintain its shape.
Evelyn Nesbit, the model for Charles Dana Gibson’s “Gibson Girl” illustrations.
Alva Belmont had lived in her new mansion at Madison Avenue and 51st street for more than a year. The grief of losing her husband hung on her shoulders like an overcoat. She had designed the mansion for him, each room patterned after his habits, his collections, his desires. Now he was gone, and she felt like she was inhabiting the shell of his mind. She was in the Japanese room, which was paneled floor to ceiling in cherry wood, inlaid with an intricate pattern of blossoming sakura trees, rendered in purpleheart and abalone. She ran her fingers over the suit of Samurai armor Oliver had purchased. It was more than a hundred years old. The elegantly wrought steel writhed with intertwined dragons. The crescent headdress cast a gigantic shadow in glow of the electric light with its painted paper shade.
“I miss you, Oliver,” Tears came unbidden to her eyes. She thought of the fishing village where they had found the armor, sealed in a cedar chest in the basement of the town hall. His childish excitement as he pried the boards away; the astronomical cost of shipping it back to New York.
“I’m throwing you a party, honey,” she said “I want all of our friends to come over and see our new place. I can’t sit here in the dark forever.” She turned away and shut off the light. The hallway was tiled with Italian marble in a black and white tessellation.
She opened the door to her study where Joseph was organizing the papers on her desk next to her Underwood typewriter.
“We have personal accounts—,” Joseph said. “We have an extensive account from Hannah, and she’ll bring Zilpah with her tonight,”
“Yes,” said Alva. “But the strike can’t be planned. It is an emotion, it will happen when the seamstresses feel it.”
“What else?” Joseph asked.
“Their stories are compelling,” Alva replied. “But we need financial records to give the article traction. We must search for coordination between corporate entities. Monopoly by mutuality. We know that the blouse factory is a profitable business, but I can’t imagine Blanck suddenly hiring a personal militia. How can Blanck afford to pay those Pinkertons? Their wages must exceed those of an immigrant seamstress. I suspect collusion. there must be another entity involved.”
“We need access,” said Joseph.
Alva Belmont on her wedding day.
“This! This happened! Ask your friend what happened!” She threw the book across the room at Clara, but the pages opened and the book tumbled in the air and fluttered to the carpet. Zilpah picked it up, and turned it over in her hands. Walden, by Henry D. Thoreau. Zilpah had often seen her friend reading it. Hannah could quote it at length, Thoreau’s ideas were one of her favorite subjects. Zilpah had once sat in a cafe with her for several hours as she laid out her arguments for self-determination, against the strictures of society. Anti-materialism, socialism and free love were set by the template of nature itself, she had argued. The social order was artificial, set and enforced by powerful men who wished only to protect their own interests while everyone else suffered. “It’s all in this book,” she had said, holding the same book that Zilpah now grasped. Zilpah opened it, there was a note written on the blank pages after the title.
Dear Mother and Father,
I can’t live this way anymore. Every day I ask myself: Who am I? What will I become? We live in a New World and yet I find myself enslaved to your impoverished European way of life, practicing the rituals a defunct Middle Eastern religion which only serves to separate me from the natural pattern of my life. I renounce Judaism, and I denounce your passivity and total submission to social control. You seem like sheep to me now that my eyes have been opened. You see, I have become a suffragette, an anarchist, and my purpose is to define my own life, in the way that Thoreau did in the pages of the book you now hold. My eyes have been opened by the company of the philosophers and revolutionaries I know keep. I cannot abide to stay with you, here in New York City, for another minute. Today I will travel by train to Chicago, where I will join the revolutionary movement there. You will never be able to find me, so do not attempt to follow or contact me. I am no longer your daughter, I have become a Revolutionary! Perhaps you will hear of me again—you will see my name in the headlines. You must begin to look towards the future.
“You see, Zilpah? Do you see? She did this! ‘The company of philosophers and revolutionaries’ Is that what you think of yourself, Clara Lemlich?” Sarah pointed at Clara, her outstretched arm rigid and shaking.
It was late, close to eleven when they arrived at Hannah’s building. Clara had become increasingly taciturn as they walked and now she stared up at the tenement in brooding silence. She walked with her arms folded across her chest, her thin pale fingers splayed out against her dark overcoat. She seemed nervous, upset, so different than the indomitable revolutionary she had met a few hours earlier. Zilpah reached for her, touched her shoulder.
“What’s wrong, Clara?” she asked.
Clara wrenched away and trudged up the stairs to the front door of the building in silence. Zilpah glanced over her shoulder and surveyed the street. Sitting beneath a streetlamp in an amber pool of arclight, a little old woman dressed all in black sat on a low stool and turned the crank of her hurdy-gurdy, smiling up at passers-by, nudging her wooden begging bowl forward with her foot. The adroit, melancholy tune interwoven through the noise of traffic and drunken revelry. Clara leaned against the bricks, following her gaze. Zilpah’s building was right across the way. Mother. She could look in on her. What would she find there? An abbatoir, a naked corpse in its rigor, lying twisted on the floor, deformed by the tremens that had wracked its last living moments. No! Mother was resourceful, without them she would adapt. Put on her rags and get to the stale beer saloon. Forced to work, she would drink less.
Then she saw her! Shuffling down the street, dressed in the only clothes she owned, peering around like a wary animal in the yellow arclight. Zilpah could even see her eyes, glazed and shining in the dark, too little white, too much black, like an animal. Zilpah flattened herself against the bricks and watched from the shadows of the eve. Her mother bent down low to the old woman, who stopped playing for a moment to half-rise from her stool and whisper something to her. Zilpah’s mother nodded, eyes closed, hands steepled before her as though in prayer. Then the old woman sat down and began her song again. Zilpah’s mother stepped back, lifted up her arms to the sky, and howled. That was the only way to describe the sound, a wild animal noise, a savage ululation. But as she listened she heard modulation in her mother’s strange loud moan. A note in a minor key descending, then rising again, then descending once more. She was singing! Zilpah’s blood coursed cold through her veins. She couldn’t breathe. Just get away.
She opened the door and slipped inside, Clara followed.
Chambers street, the address was a red brick building with a basement stair. She heard machines at work, a rhythmic churning from underground, great gouts of steam spewing from the ventilation screen, rising like ghosts into the dark. She slipped down the stairwell and peered through the tiny window inset into the heavy steel door. Another girl looked back at her. Another seamstress maybe? Zilpah saw her turn over her shoulder and wave to someone, and then the door creaked open.
She was inside. She saw the huge machines spinning a long web of newsprint back and forth above her head. The machinegun fire of the cutter, guillotining the paper, the slap of the folding mechanism. Black and red tabloid. There was a girl, dressed in a man’s suit, off-loading the bundles and tying them up with string. It was that odd designer—Clara Lemlich. She was the contact.
Clara saw her and grinned, left the papers to pile up and ran to embrace Zilpah, kissed her on both cheeks.
“Welcome sister! At last we meet!”
Zilpah followed her back to the output of the printing press and helped her bundle the papers. She had never seen a Yiddish headline:
“Better to starve quick than starve slow!”
Clara shouted over the noise of the press, “Something you said to Alva. It will become our declaration of war!”
It was something she had said to Ayala first, sitting on the stairs in front of their building. She had said it in desperation, thinking of her mother and sister. But when she had repeated it to Alva it had not seemed so desperate. It had steeled her spirit. For all their show of ferocity, what could the Pinkertons do? Beat her in front of the other girls? They wouldn’t dare.
They worked vigorously scooping up papers from the output and bundling them. Clara had lain her fine jacket and elaborate tie over the back of a chair and she worked with her collar open and her shirt-sleeves rolled up, her movements quick and precise, shuffling papers together with her wiry arms. She was young for a radical, Zilpah realized, maybe 17, 18? But then again Zilpah didn’t know many radicals.
The press-room was full of seamstresses, no one that she knew, they must have been Anarkhos agents working at every garment factory in Manhattan. The other girls were filling ink, dipping their putty knives into big buckets and scooping the ink into long metal trays on the press. Others watched the paper webbing carefully, adjusting it when it shifted out of alignment by turning steel wheels.
“You see? This is how Alva spends her money!” Clara shouted above the noise.
Reuven and his crew took the subway north to Tammany Hall. They exited the train and made their way into the building. As they hustled into the meeting hall they could already hear Jack McHale, president of the United Association of Journeymen Plumbers, Gas-Fitters and Steam-Fitters Union pounding his gavel. McHale’s voice boomed over the crowded meeting hall as he began his address:
“I hereby call to order the national meeting of the United Association of Pipe-Fitters on this day, September 15th, 1910. Since the new century has come upon us, our membership has increased ten-fold. We have become not only the first National Union, welcoming pipe-fitters from every state in America, we now also work in coordination with Canadian industry as well. So here we stand at the end of the first decade of the new century, an independent international organization 20,000 members strong-united in our craft!”
The hall erupted in a thunder of applause and wild cheers. Reuven sat near the back in the company of his crew. He liked to take notes to study words he was unfamiliar with.
“On this historic day,” McHale continued, “We are proud to welcome the return of the prodigal. To my left here sits John Marchant, many of you know him I’m sure.”
Some stifled chuckles erupted from the crowd.
“For those of you that don’t know him, John is the president of the Bronx local 131, and he’s finally decided to hang up his spurs and join up with UA! So what say you men?” McHale yelled this last line.
Another round of boisterous cheers and applause broke out, someone at the tables called out “You better get us all a drink, John!”
Up on the stand John laughed and said, “I thought it was your turn to buy, Mike!”
“Please welcome the Bronx local 131 and our new members who we’ve known for years. Our local governance will be even stronger, and we’re looking forward to the 131 pitching in with our National growth and representation.”
McHale poured himself a glass of water from a pitcher on his lectern and took a drink. Reuven had written “prodigal” in his leather-bound notebook with his thick carpenter’s pencil.
What would killing him accomplish, besides slaking her thirst for vengeance? He was only one node in the network—they would replace him. Her family would still be in danger—every union member living in the tenements was in danger. Satisfying her desire for revenge would destroy everything she cared about. She had to find a way to put it aside. She had to look for information, even when it seemed like there was none. She had to think clearly for the good of those still living. She thought of old Mrs. Pearlman, shivering in her night dress, of Mrs. Seinkewczik, gossiping about who was shtupping whom, a branch of rosemary twined around her wrist to ward off estries and dybbuks. She knew she had to choose. She had to set her thirst for revenge aside, but the feeling was indomitable. It seemed beyond her control. She longed for Ayala but she knew she couldn’t bring her back. When her longing dissipated she was left with only the cold, omnipresent desire for Max Blanck’s death.
She stacked the photos up and slipped them back into their paper sleeve. She turned her knife with its twisted blade over on the burned table. The wrenched blade had split the handle along the joint. The blade had been bent into a crescent. She set out a metal tray and retrieved a micro screw driver and disassembled the knife, carefully arranging the parts in the tray—the rectangular slot chamber, the spring, the lock mechanism, two parts of the cherrywood haft, the ornamental chrome hilt. The blade itself. She examined the sickle curved blade in the light of the kerosene lamp. There was something here, some insight into the utter wrongness of Baumer. He had appeared very sick but his strength and reflexes had seemed enhanced. She ran her finger over the edge of the blade. It was still very sharp. Baumer had caught it in his bare hand and twisted it. Why hadn’t he been cut? The steel was rigid, tempered. Why hadn’t it broken? It was as though the metal had somehow softened in Baumer’s hand.
She remembered how he had seemed to struggle against his own movements, deflecting his own blows so they wouldn’t connect, proclaiming his love for her while trying to kill her. Whatever it was, the illness was more than somatic, it had damaged his mind. Nikolai was right, she thought, there was information in the knife. Something was written in the blade that she could not read.
Every afternoon she stood at her lookout in the abandoned building—light splintering through the dusty air. Blanck’s movements were like clockwork. 2:30. Every day. She framed Blanck in the viewfinder of the twin-lens as he lumbered towards the door, adjusted the voltage knobs to hurtle the view forward, watched that sick cherubic smile spread across his face. A new wave of revulsion. Oh! To see him dead.
“There is none.”—loading her twin lens with another roll of film. “That is where you are wrong, my child. Information is everywhere. It streams infinitely from every point in the universe. Complexity cannot exist without information. One day we will find a long written script, somewhere in the body, that governs its pattern. Basic symmetry, eye color, brain structure, the size and position of internal organs—these structures are no accident, no miracle. They are written somewhere in every cell at a molecular level. The body reads the template and constructs itself. One day we will find written information in the structure of the universe itself, at the subatomic level. We will find it written in the light-quantum. The only question is: will we be able to read it? There are countless sources of information all around you. Your sister’s disappearance is written in many volumes, in traces of physical evidence, in the memory of witnesses, in the cuff-links you wear. Will you be able to read it?” She had learned hopelessness during the pogrom. She had learned it in the tenements. To hope that Ayala was alive was more than she could bear. Hope was suffering—a meaningless dream of a different life. The tenement was like a drawer filled with breeding rats. The natural reaction was horror and disgust. They would slam the drawer shut, suffocating everyone she cared about. In Prague, in the shtetl, on Manhattan island, it was the same all over the world. Information! Physical evidence! Talia had volume upon volume of information. Hope was another word for shame. And yet—the image of her father’s gigantic condenser array suddenly struck her. It still bloomed like a metal rose from the tenement drek, scattering light-quanta in multicolored arcs. She fought with her words, struggled to tell him— “Her blood on the rail—” she stuttered, “they moved her body after—she’s dead.” “You told me that Blanck’s door was broken—Ayala couldn’t have done that. There was some altercation—you know as well as I do that she could have escaped, injured. Your judgement is clouded by superstition.” Tears—hot, bright, electrical sparks. She ground her teeth. “They won’t be satisfied—they’ll kill us all. Just like they burned down the ghetto in Prague. My mother always feared the Amilech—a fairy tale to frighten children. But I’ve seen one. It’s happening again—the pogrom. The new world is no different than the old. We’re vermin to them.” He held her in his steady gaze. “Someone has to fight. In their hearts they are cowardly. Don’t let your emotion control you. Only ratiocination will reveal the truth, your emotion will blind you. Fight for justice, not revenge. The truth only resides in the memories of those that witnessed the event. Blanck knows what happened, he will slip.” He had used that word—Conan Doyle’s fictive process of reasoning. And why not? Willow Locke was fictional. From her daily lookout she saw that another girl had already taken Ayala’s sewing station—to Blanck it had never happened. Her sister’s life was another fiction, an uncomfortable dream easily forgotten. Ayala was interchangeable with thousands of girls in the tenements, none of them were that much different from the next. Who knew what happened to any of them when they left their jobs? Did they fall ill? Did they leave New York to find work on a Kentucky farm? Did they suddenly elope with a suitor? Did they become prostitutes? Max Blanck would only shrug his shoulders and smile.
“There is none.”—loading her twin lens with another roll of film.
“That is where you are wrong, my child. Information is everywhere. It streams infinitely from every point in the universe. Complexity cannot exist without information. One day we will find a long written script, somewhere in the body, that governs its pattern. Basic symmetry, eye color, brain structure, the size and position of internal organs—these structures are no accident, no miracle. They are written somewhere in every cell at a molecular level. The body reads the template and constructs itself. One day we will find written information in the structure of the universe itself, at the subatomic level. We will find it written in the light-quantum. The only question is: will we be able to read it? There are countless sources of information all around you. Your sister’s disappearance is written in many volumes, in traces of physical evidence, in the memory of witnesses, in the cuff-links you wear. Will you be able to read it?”
She had learned hopelessness during the pogrom. She had learned it in the tenements. To hope that Ayala was alive was more than she could bear. Hope was suffering—a meaningless dream of a different life. The tenement was like a drawer filled with breeding rats. The natural reaction was horror and disgust. They would slam the drawer shut, suffocating everyone she cared about. In Prague, in the shtetl, on Manhattan island, it was the same all over the world. Information! Physical evidence! Talia had volume upon volume of information. Hope was another word for shame. And yet—the image of her father’s gigantic condenser array suddenly struck her. It still bloomed like a metal rose from the tenement drek, scattering light-quanta in multicolored arcs. She fought with her words, struggled to tell him—
“Her blood on the rail—” she stuttered, “they moved her body after—she’s dead.”
“You told me that Blanck’s door was broken—Ayala couldn’t have done that. There was some altercation—you know as well as I do that she could have escaped, injured. Your judgement is clouded by superstition.”
Tears—hot, bright, electrical sparks. She ground her teeth.
“They won’t be satisfied—they’ll kill us all. Just like they burned down the ghetto in Prague. My mother always feared the Amilech—a fairy tale to frighten children. But I’ve seen one. It’s happening again—the pogrom. The new world is no different than the old. We’re vermin to them.”
He held her in his steady gaze. “Someone has to fight. In their hearts they are cowardly. Don’t let your emotion control you. Only ratiocination will reveal the truth, your emotion will blind you. Fight for justice, not revenge. The truth only resides in the memories of those that witnessed the event. Blanck knows what happened, he will slip.”
He had used that word—Conan Doyle’s fictive process of reasoning. And why not? Willow Locke was fictional. From her daily lookout she saw that another girl had already taken Ayala’s sewing station—to Blanck it had never happened. Her sister’s life was another fiction, an uncomfortable dream easily forgotten. Ayala was interchangeable with thousands of girls in the tenements, none of them were that much different from the next. Who knew what happened to any of them when they left their jobs? Did they fall ill? Did they leave New York to find work on a Kentucky farm? Did they suddenly elope with a suitor? Did they become prostitutes? Max Blanck would only shrug his shoulders and smile.
“Ah Miss Locke, do come in, I’ve been expecting you!” Mrs. Whitcomb had walked to the door and now threw it open. She was middle-aged and extremely beautiful. She had long blonde hair worn in a half twist and a quick smile. She had bright blue eyes. She wore a perfectly tailored black dress and a black jacket with a fancy ruffled silk blouse. She wore a silver Waterman ring top fountain pen on a long silver chain. Willow saw a thick silver men’s watch chain hanging from her pocket. She wore men’s glasses with thick tortoise shell frames. They were perfectly round and as she shook hands with Willow she pushed them up on her nose.
“I hate those stupid pince-nez women are supposed to wear.” She said when she noticed Willow looking at her glasses, “They hurt like the dickens.”
“Well yes I am, actually!” She laughed “but not a violent one like that dreadful Emma Goldman. The Greek word Anarkhos means ‘without rule.’ Just because a power structure exists, doesn’t mean it should exist. Small cohorts of individuals can wield control over large groups against their interests. In these corrupt systems, some degree of opposition, of Anarkhos, is necessary. These structures, if left unchecked–incubating within their own miasma of power– will grow unabated, consuming their environment, until nothing remains. A corporation was once thought of as a collection of individuals, but it has become something more. When the workers suffer, when their life is drained by this new vampiric something, who benefits? Not the workers. Not even the owners, who have become transformed by their immorality. Both are enslaved to the corporation. It has become an independent entity, a massive psychic organism: Mammon. It has stolen the personhood of its workers and owners and makes its own decisions.”
The starling had perched on Mrs. Whitcomb’s lap and began to sing.
“Oh, isn’t it lovely!” Mrs. Whitcomb exclaimed. “It rarely does that.”
She moved the automaton back to the desk and continued.
“All of this is merely a natural process of communication twisted back upon itself. A network of human energy, corrupt but voluntarily joined. Well, we have our own network. We do not ask for others to change things. We change them. Every law, every power structure should be able to withstand scrutiny. If it cannot, it is corrupt and must be dismantled. We are the ones who scrutinize. We are the Anarkhos.”