Running Water, Scattered Salt

There are secrets you cannot keep.

In winter, you crawl your way out into a frozen field and hack at the ground with your hands until your nails break off. You press bleeding lips to the shallow earth and whisper what is not unspeakable.

Stumbling home, you veer off course and fall through the ice into still water. Cold as it is, you are colder, and winter is long; you could kick your way to the surface, but to what end? For what purpose? You burrow deep into the mud and wait instead for the first moon of spring.

Months later, wrapped in weeds, you haul yourself up upon the bank. They have nibbled away your nose, your ears, your fingers, your toes; they would have taken your eyes, too, but there are some things you hold on to. The world is warmer, but you are not. You strike out for town, and on the way pass an acre of grass whispering the name you tried to bury.

William Fitzgerald Turns Freelance

William Fitzgerald is there when they teargas the mayor, just as he was there when they teargassed the mothers, just as he was there when the crowd was only a few dozen people and no one was paying attention. Not in the crowd, mind; well off to the side, an anonymous hunched shadow next to a trashcan, bearing witness, such as it is.

It’s been a lean few years for William Fitzgerald, his secrets worthless, his clients gone; the office is shut and he’s living in an unheated, windowless basement, sleeping on concrete. He’s desperate, and worse, he’s sober, too skint for even the six dollar scotch he prefers. He loathes the openness of this violence, but he is long familiar with the glee and the fear glittering behind the blunt snouts of the gas masks, the safety they think their power and anonymity give them. His fingers twitch with acquisitive fury.

He prowls behind them, a lion after hyenas, remembering faces, conversations, license plates, names. When they slip out in the grey light of morning, legs shaky from a night’s worth of license, he is there, another piece of litter blown against the sidewalk. When they go home, he is there, with his camera and a new little book, piecing together identities. What is hidden is valuable; what is buried must be unearthed.

Roaring Camp

Off base and in the bars, or crowding the rails in the opera house, the Gentlemen are on the hunt for somewhere to sleep. War is come, but not—quite—yet, and they are flash in their uniforms, the clever, the canny, the old hands among them camouflaged in civvies, wary of the tigers that prowl the streets, that slink in through the kitchen door just long enough for the word to spread and the less wise to scatter.

They pass messages through the jukebox, sometimes through titles, sometimes through lyrics: heaven for two, why don’t you do right, jolene, jolene. They are scrutinized by the other patrons, the locals, the townies: what do they know, and when do they know it? None of them are from this town, all of them are suspect.

Later, scattered to the winds, they send letters through the military post, always one step ahead or behind the censors. Change the names, change the dates, change the places; nothing as formal and as breakable as a code, but all sly allusions, sidelong slang. If you know, you know. Meanwhile, the Army, off on completely the wrong track, prohibited soldiers from using any Xs at the end of their letters because ‘the number and arrangement of kisses might constitute a code.’

Would That I Knew You When You Were Young

He was 34 when he gave birth to his fourth child. Late, all things considered, but not uncommon; some people didn’t push out their last one until late in their forties. He wasn’t in a rush, but he didn’t want it looming over his head, either. Four lives to Pythia, that was the rule; four seedbank colonists out to work the curving fields before landfall. Better to get it done and out of the way, so he could focus on other things.

The E had made his hair grow back, the one change he didn’t rue in the process. A younger face in the mirror, softer; the spin of the ship dragged at him more, pulled him in strange ways. Glad to have it above him and done, but he will miss his hair when it goes again. Ah, well.

He gave birth to this one in one of the forest pools, air sharp with amniosis, cedar, eucalyptus. The water was cool, not cold, Pythia warming to his need. He cried out her name and dug his fingers in her soil for the final push, but otherwise it was an easy birth, and him an old hand at it. Born swimming; that was the way. Good for engineers, good for fishers; who knows what the future would need, other than Pythia?

Another life, another step through the narrow pass of extinction. In that moment, ship to skin, he could feel a little of her, sense the high walls passing on either side, an inhuman tension easing for a moment. Duty discharged; his life and hers spun on.

Tethys

“Abimelech asked, would it not be better to be ruled by one man, rather than seventy? Remember that I am your blood, your brother, your son.”

When the younger gods fought amongst themselves, turned knives and teeth against their children, I took pity on the oldest and hid her away in the far reaches of my kingdom where ever the light cannot reach. I taught her the oldest ways, the language that can only be spoken in the darkness, the spells that brought motion to an unmoving world.

Both of us were built for love, and loyalty, but even then her future pressed down upon her like so many atmospheres of water. Constancy itself, she would never find constancy, nor in shape nor mood, but find herself exiled among the rivers of the air, the mutable, everchanging tides of the heavens. Married now to a man, now to a bull, now to a flicker of gold, she will learn to change herself, into smaller things, flies that bite, eyes that peep from a feather’s end.

We took her in, as I said, my man and I, and gave her safety, a bed, the knowledge we had. Time, most of all: time after her double wombing, time before marriage taught her petulance, time to be herself, to be alone, to owe no one nothing and be owed nothing in return. We had space; no greater kingdom save the earth itself, no less need than the night that came before and will follow after. We had many daughters, and she, Queen of the Gods, was but one among them.