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Saturday, July 6, 2013

Les Bercaux

       In New Crimea, there were the wealthy, the poor, and the people who were so penniless that they belonged to a new group entirely.
Unlike the elite citizens who lived in the lofty domes that balanced on spidery legs high above the dying city below, the poor and the ultra poor lived in the crumbling skeletons of the buildings long ago left behind by anyone not desperate and despondent.

            On the edge of the urban wasteland was the Sprawl, a vast and stinking shantytown that reeked of N2, human filth and rotting food. The Sprawl exported crime and imported destitution from the city itself, and it was here, amongst the sewer fog and heaps of garbage that Emese Stewart found herself wandering in the early hours.

            What she was doing was suicide, but she was beyond caring. Her pregnant belly swelled out before her like a ship’s prow cutting the dense fog, and even though the baby inside her was dead, her skin continued to stretch and shift to accommodate him. Her eyes were clouded from the N2 she had carefully dripped into her tear ducts, and the look of half-crazed bliss on her face made the inhabitants of the Sprawl, ghoul-like as they were, shrink away from her into the shadows, their eyes noting the cuts on her bare feet from the gravel.

            She wandered towards the beach where hovels made from scraps battled the churning waves perpetually, and once on the shore she sat down on the fine sand, littered though it was with needles, trash and torn contraceptives. Off to her left was the stretch of beach nicknamed Gehenna by those in the Sprawl, where thousands of graves were sunk into the relatively firm ground where beach mixed with the gravel and the corpses were less likely to be swept out to sea.

            A strangely familiar tune was carried from Gehenna towards her, and Emese turned to glance over her shoulder to where a man stood, shirtless and dirty, a few paces behind her, an old fashioned shovel slung over his shoulders. He tipped an imagined cap to her and continued humming, a look of serenity on his face.

            After he had repeated the same tune a few times, he wandered closer to her and cleared his throat, “Not many are out here this early.”

            Emese blinked at him, and in her drug addled mind she briefly saw him with a pair of giant bird wings erupting from his heels, his eyes blazing red. She shook her head and gasped, “Nothing. I’m not doing anything.”

            He blinked at her non sequitur response, “Are you alright?”

            “Yeah.” She looked back out at the ocean, and let out a long breath, “What were you humming just now?”

            “Oh, just an old song. Mais viendra le jour des adieux, car il faut que les femmes pleurent, et que les hommes curieux tentent les horizons qui leurrent.” he smiled, “Those are the only lyrics I remember from it, and those come from the middle somewhere.”

            Emese closed her eyes and exhaled sharply, the words coming unbidden from her memory, “But will come the day for good byes, because it is necessary that the women cry, and that their curious sons try the horizons that lie.” she shrugged, “That’s a very rough translation. The song is called Les Berceaux, or ‘the Cradles.’ It is about drowning sailors and their weeping mothers.”

            The man nodded silently, “I remember that much. My mother used to sing it when I was a child. Not many people speak any of the old languages, where did you learn French?”

            Emese blinked and shook her head, “I don’t remember. A lot has happened in the last little while…there’s a lot I don’t remember any more.”

            The man gestured to the beach with a question in his eyes, and Emese gave him a short nod. He sat down beside her, resting his shovel across his knees like it was an infant, “I am Avenir OubliĆ©, the grave digger. They mostly call me Av.” he offered her a hand caked with dirt, and she absently took it.

            “I’m Emese.”

            He gazed deeply into her eyes for a moment, and just when she thought he was going to lean in for an uncomfortable kiss he grunted, “You took quite a lot of N2, didn’t you?”

            “I…” she looked down at her swollen belly and in a hauntingly detached voice she said, “The baby is dead. Soon, my body will be induced to abort it, so I am out here, dealing with it.”

            “Dealing with it.” Av shook his head, “Or hiding.”

            Emese shook her head and stared out at the water, “Don’t. I don’t need a lecture.” she looked over at him angrily, and couldn’t help but notice his familiar eyes, the haunting slope of his chin and the messy tufts of hair on his head. He looked just like her husband.

            Av caught her staring and smiled, “What? I’m sorry, it has been a long day and there are too many dead to finish up in only so many hours. I must smell terrible.”

            Truth be told, he did smell terrible: the stench of death and putrefaction blended with body odor, sand and something else that Emese couldn’t quite name. In her state, though, it mattered not at all.

            “No. You smell real.” she murmured, “Real.”

            Av shrugged and looked over at her, “I forgive you, you know? It wasn’t your fault.”

            “Forgive me?” Emese blinked at him, and rage surged up inside her, “Forgive me for what?”

            He reached out and put a hand as rough as bark on her arm, his strange eyes boring into her own, “It wasn’t your fault.”

            “Get off me.” she pulled away almost sleepily, the drug momentarily making colors explode behind her eyes. She stood up awkwardly and demanded, “Who the hell are you?”           

            “Don’t you recognize me, mother?” Av stood and smiled at her, “I’m your son.” when she just stood there in silent horror he added, “It is all a part of the trip, mother. You made me from your sorrows: I am your son, all grown up, burying your hopes.” he took a step towards her and cupped her hands in his, “And I forgive you.”

            Emese turned and ran from the beach, terror giving her speed. The strange words that the man had spoken to her rang in her ears, and yet the cruel, twisting anguish and guilt that had been nestled in her womb along with her child seemed somehow lighter with his words.

            Back on the beach, Av sat down on the sand and smiled, his shovel once again nestled in his lap like an infant. Another grave digger stopped his work a few yards away and wandered over, a bottle in his hand. He sat down beside the first and offered the bottle, a smile creasing his lips.

            “Who was that, Av?”

            The first gravedigger turned and shrugged at him, “Another druggie strung out on the beach.”

            “What the hell did you say to her?”

            “What she wanted to hear. She told me her baby died, so I made up a story about how I was that child forgiving her. She was high enough to believe me.”

            “My god, you are sick.” the second grave digger snorted, “Why the hell did you do that?”

            “I don’t know,” Av scratched his shoulder, his eyes full of strange, vibrant sincerity, “To give her some hope, maybe?”

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