Take This Cup From Me

Jillian was at the top of the Tower when she found out about Comacho’s death. It was a clear night, she remembers that, and cold: the air bit into her gloves when she went out on the roof to smoke a joint. The stars were high, high and alien, and crowded into the bowl of the sky. Sheila was sensitive to smoke, so she had to smoke outside. Which was fine; it kept her in time with the seasons.

She pictured him, conjured the image forth into the lungful of smoke, power pushing through her; a short dark kid with a crew cut who used to pretend he was a velociraptor in the halls. She didn’t know him well, but they’d hang out sometimes watching the breakdancers during lunch. Been shot in the head outside of a house party, just randomly, some stupid fight or other, she didn’t know.

She went to his grave, next time she went back, left a knot on his stone. Marble for memory, cedar for waste. This, she knew, even then, nothing more than raw superstition. The dead are the dead; all her Art is reserved for the guilty surviving.

Held to High Standard

In the thick of the fighting all that long summer: a leather-lunged voice raised in stern dispute, and a pen worn down to the rachis with writing, Pythia of Mericourt is hounded on all sides, by those who love her as much as those who hate her. “Whore of the people,” they call her. “Every son’s mother.” She rattles her saber against her thigh, and keeps her guns loaded and lashed against her side.

In the long march to the palace, she is there at the front, high and mighty and furious on a horse, whipping them on, a voice crying out for justice. She has herded cattle and sheep; revolutionaries are no harder.

There is a moment — just one, not long — when they break down the doors, where she feels the world shudder and tilt toward change. For that heady second, all seems possible, everything become thinkable.

Alas, no: the world is vast and the groove of history is deep. Twenty years later they have locked her away, “for her own good,” and she bears them prophesy; witness of another world, where the women she led were armed and unbroken, where the banner of empire was never sewn from the skin of revolution.