As Offred waits in her room, she thinks about the household’s previous Handmaid. When she first arrived, she began her slow examination of every nook and cranny in the room, and found evidence of its previous resident. Offred gets sidetracked into another memory: she remembers looking hastily through hotel rooms, when she used to meet up with Luke when he was still married to his first wife. She remembers her nervousness and confusion about his feelings and about the affair. She didn’t appreciate the happiness she had. She misses the carelessness and independence of staying in hotels.
This memory shows how Offred fuses love, freedom, and carelessness in her mind. She longs for the past, but she also realizes that her new perspective allows her a greater appreciation for what she previously took for granted. Gilead has shrunk down the range of experiences she can have, but it has made her extremely attentive to detail and nuance.
Offred returns to her main memory of examining her bedroom when she arrived at the house. She explored every tiny detail, including mattress stains that suggested old lovers, and felt faint, thinking of Luke. On the third day after her arrival, she looked at the cupboard, where there were still hooks, allowing the potential of self-harm. In the darkest corner, someone wrote “Nolite te bastardes carborundorum.”
Offred’s swooning memory of Luke demonstrates how she is still able to feel the emotions of the past even in the present that tries to suppress them. As well as thoughts of love, rebellion takes up a large part of her attention—the hooks immediately signify suicide.
Though Offred doesn’t know the meaning of the phrase, suspecting it might be Latin, she is happy imagining the previous Handmaid who sent her the message, and happy to have received it. She thinks of Moira’s energy and freckles, and imagines that the previous Handmaid must have had freckles too. Offred flashes back to another memory, when she asked Rita about the previous Handmaid, and pretended to know her, mentioning her freckles. Rita refused to explain why that Handmaid left.
Even without understanding the Latin, Offred’s act of reading is rebellion, since women are forbidden to read. Offred’s active imagination melds together Moira to the previous Handmaid. Though Rita won’t be her friend, Offred can communicate with and love her own imaginary friends.