Some more silence except for Nina and Helen sniffling and wiping their noses with tissues from a little box on the table. Then Brian said to his two boarders, “How does she seem to you? Is she o.k.?”
Nina took a deep breath, her head clearing. “She seems so. Though she’s pretty standoffish. No shame, though -- she’s always spreading her legs like it’s nothing, or peeing on the lawn right in front of us.” Helen nodded in agreement.
Dr. Maber said, “That’s just her effort to prove herself as a dedicated nudist who does not believe in modesty. She thinks everyone is a spy of Mr. Ross’s. You can’t really call it paranoia, in light of the fact that there is a network of spies and she has fallen into their traps in the past.”
Donald said, “I hate to say this, but maybe she’s gotten used to it. She’s been naked for what -- almost a year now?”
Sarah looked at Dr. Maber. The psychologist then said, “She’s done a good job of hiding her feelings of shame, but the stress is corrosive. That she seems standoffish is a bad sign. If she were naked in a world full of naked people, it would be a different story. But she is forced to be naked when everyone around her is clothed, in a society that celebrates and constantly mentions clothes. I’m sure she’s a typical teenage girl who obsesses about clothes constantly anyway. The extreme tantalization, over an extended period of time . . .” She shook her head. “It reminds me of people who were starved to death in the middle ages. They were chained to a wall and every day a hot meal was placed on the floor just out of their reach.”
“Oh come on,” Donald said. “This is not starvation. You can’t die from being naked.”
“That’s not my point. The extreme frustration caused most of those people to lose their minds long before they actually died.” At this everyone cringed.
No one said anything for a while. Then Brian said, “So what do we do? How do we get her trust?”
Donald grunted. “Why don’t we get this over with one-two-three? Trap her in a room with fine clothes, run them right over her body until she says ‘uncle’. Make her crack. It’s for her own good.”
“I already tried that,” Sarah said. “I recited her various shames and she did seem to get agitated. But that would be . . cruel.”
Brian snorted and hid his face, chuckling. “Cruel? . . .Sarah Wickland, you are a real piece of work.”
Sarah rolled her eyes. “Let’s keep to the subject, shall we?”
Dr. Maber, her eyes big blue pools of kindheartedness, turned to Nina and Helen. “What she needs is for someone her own age to get her trust.”
Nina and Helen knew themselves to be on the spot. The purpose of this meeting was suddenly clear. Defensively Helen said, “She’s not our age. She’s quite a bit younger.” But this was obviously a lame excuse.
Sarah said, “Given the, uh, atmosphere where you are staying, you two would have a lot in common with her.” In other words: at Brian’s all three of you are naked against your will. That much was undeniable. “And you have several days to work on her. Just be friendly.”
“And be honest,” Dr. Maber said. “Say you want to help. That’s true isn’t it?”
Nina nodded her head wearily, thinking of those pictures. “There’s nothing I want to do more than find a way to get that poor kid into clothes and out of that awful . . . situation.” She thought of the naked girl in the snow and hugged her arms across her chest, shivering. “She was so . . . cold . . .”
“Then you see the moral imperative,” Dr. Maber said.
Brian cleared his throat and shifted in his chair. “Excuse me, and I do want to support whatever Nina and Helen do at my place, but I just don’t see how this is going to work. This,” he pointed at the screen, “is a very unusual young girl, very strong. She’s got a will of iron. If all that . . . torture . . . didn’t break her will, I don’t see how a couple of days of make-nice will suddenly make her cave in and admit to everything.”
Sarah said, “Well, what do you suggest?”
Brian thought for a moment, then said, “I don’t know.” He shrugged. “This is a tough nut to crack. I just don’t know.”
Sarah said, “Nina, Helen, I want you to hang out with Tami Smithers for the next few days. Take her out to places, try to get her to open up. You can even tell her the, uh, particulars of your own situation. Maybe that will form a bond that will lead her to trust you . . . and us.”
The meeting broke up soon afterwards. Nina and Helen, walking together to the elevator, kept exchanging looks. This was going to be some assignment. But Dr. Maber was right -- this was a “moral imperative”. That poor girl! She probably prayed every day to God begging for clothes. They absolutely, positively, had to help her. Here we come, poor naked girl. We’re coming to rescue you. . .
It was in this frame of mind that Nina and Helen stepped onto the elevator and watched the doors close.