Wherein: Death; Insnar’s Power; The Water Takes Sillith
Sillith walked the path to the old icehouse, now root cellar, where Paramon was loading the cart. She could hear noises from the icehouse through the woods, the chunk of the door pulled back, the rattle and thump of onions, sweet potatoes, beets in the cart. There were the silences of a man working alone.
Paramon had been on edge lately, as they all had. The boys’ markings had increased, the cottages and huts marked with symbols drawn in dye or long strings of dead and stinking fish, and everyone felt it was only time between the peace they knew and whatever would happen next.
Nights, Paramon talked late into the dark with each family. Sillith kept watch over him, urging him home when it was clear he’d become too upset. The other settlers were drawing into themselves, all of the families smaller with the loss of the boys, and sadder. Paramon suffered dreams, nightmarish visions. Sillith spent nights dozing by the fire so that she could wake him when he became restless, groaning and shouting in his sleep.
This was the reason she followed him to the icehouse that day, to keep him companioned and hopeful. When he spent too much time alone, he came back despondent. Only together could they keep their sorrows at bay.
The sounds from the icehouse had stopped. She imagined her father there, sitting a moment in the quiet morning light, before pulling the cart home. When she thought of the mossy, concave roof of the icehouse, she thought they should right it, rebuild it, though every settler was loathe to alter the work of Tislar, to touch and rearrange those bright days of history.
Her thoughts were interrupted by a flurry of noise, pairs of feet running away in the woods and she began to run, too, down the path until she could see the cart standing alone on the brown flanked path in front of the icehouse, and she felt absurdly frightened.
She called out, “Paramon!”
She knew before she found him, like a thud inside her, that he was hurt, and there he was. She stopped at the icehouse door, looking down at him, blood pooling from his head to the mossy floor. There were his clear eyes, staring up at nothing, and she could almost believe he was lying there in daydream, were it not for his long angular face, turned to the side in a manner unfamiliar, unthinkable. His blue eyes stared up at her. There was the curl, still, that fell across his temple.
She stared. Then she bent and reached to touch his face and there was no breath, no life in him, she felt it before she touched him and when she touched him, Sillith broke, broke again, and fell over him, breaking, all of her breaking. From her broken lungs and broken throat she breathed, Paramon! And the woods filled with the screaming breaths of her sobbing.
She did not know how long it had been. Paramon’s blood was all over her arms and hands. She looked around. There was an onion fallen on the moss. She stared at this onion, at the thin brown skin and sprouted green top. Finally, she moved. She understood that she could not leave her father, like an onion, on the ground.
Sillith dragged her father’s body from the moss. She was careful with his head, which poured blood, still. She was not careful with his legs, letting them thump after him as she staggered under the weight of his torso, slight as he was, one hand under the soaked, dripping head. She could not stand the sight of his blood soaking into the soil of the island. It was an affront to her, that the island would use his blood to further its own creation, to grow something. She didn’t care about his feet, dragging in the dirt after them as she heaved his body, cradling the broken skull, to the cart. She ceased to weep because the act of carrying him made her feel as though she was saving him. Even though he was dead, she saved him. Saved him from the crowing, triumphant murderers, saved him from all those who used him in his life, saved him from his knowing, or her knowing, what his death might mean.
Sillith bent and heaved her father into the cart. She put him on top of the vegetables there, her father on top of turnips, on top of beets. One arm stuck out, upright, as if some rigid point were being made, while she dug up heaps of moss and leaves, something for beneath his head, his precious head. She piled the leaves and moss in the cart, their reddish gold and brown made dull by the red blood, and they became abstractions, the leaves, moss, like the swaths of drying, browning blood on her own arms and hands. She settled her father into the cart, his head cushioned on the moss. Finally, she closed his eyes, shut out that blue, which did not fade immediately as she felt it should. His head was at an awkward and uncomfortable angle, despite her ministrations. She pulled his arms and legs out straight. She picked up the handles of the cart and rolled Paramon over the humps, the wheel ruts, the roots and mud and bunches of weed, heading for the deep of the swamp and the hill beyond.
The day burned overhead and passed while Sillith dug the hole into the wet soil at the edge of the hill by the bay. She knew she might as well roll Paramon into the bay, that when the rains came he would probably slide down into it anyway, but it was unthinkable. She would dig him a grave, regardless. The only place soft enough to dig was near the trees. She would not put him in the sand under the burning sun, she would not.
She dug and then scooped wet soil and sand out of a hole, deaf and mute. She became the digging. She did not look at the cart. She did not look at the legs hanging from the cart. She did not think about her life, about their cottage, her father’s face or words. She flung wet sand out of the hole, and it poured back in, watered and thick, from all sides, and yet she flung. Hours passed. The shade rolled away and she was burned by the sun. When it came time for her to climb out of the deep hole, she had all but forgotten why she was there. She climbed up the bank sandy, wet, sore. There, in the cart above her, Paramon rested.
She felt a small shock upon seeing him, but did not let it into her mind. She bent to pick him up, and felt his face near hers, without breath or motion in it. She took off her outer dress and wrapped it gently around his head and torso. Then, with great difficulty, she lifted him. Heavy! She gasped. He had been so light and full of gesture and motion. His unfamiliar weight in her arms, what could this be? She lifted him and fell sideways towards the grave she’d dug, both of them sliding, falling, so that Sillith’s legs tangled in his and they landed with a thump and a splash in the bottom. Her face was down in the wet, gathered froth of the sand. She separated herself from her father and lay staring out of the hole and up at the sky.
After some time, she became conscious of her father’s body nearby, twisted, his eyes and face blindfolded by her dress, and something snapped inside of her. She scrambled out of the hole and began scratching at the pile with her fingers, shoving the sandy dirt back in the hole by handfuls, as if only the end of it could save her. She worked until she found she was scraping her fingers and hands along roots and weeds far from the grave, pulling handfuls of nothing but a few weeds onto the mound she’d made.
She knelt by the grave and put two handprints into the mud. She did not think about Paramon. Curiously, she had the sensation that she’d just buried herself. Her breathing quickened. Panting, she stared down at the dirt. What was in there? Was it her? She wanted to dig it all up, to dig it out again, but sheer exhaustion prevented her.
Smeared with sand and dirt, wet, broken, Sillith stood and wandered towards the north of the island.
After he’d set flame to the huts filled with sleeping Sandtowners, after his ears filled with screams and his nostrils with smoke, after he’d seen a child, her dress of orange flame consuming her, perform a brilliant dance in the dark night and then collapse, after he’d watched Umar kill Lup, after the flames grew tall and wild, after the weeping filled the woods, after he’d shrunk into the dark and begun to make his way back to camp to find out how the other boys had done, Insnar came upon Sillith.
The sight of Sillith shivering in the first wisp of light rising in the sky, sitting in the mud near the bay, her hands folded neatly in the filthy lap of her shift surprised him.
He remembered, then, that her father was to have been beaten that morning. This seemed so far away and docile compared to what he’d just seen, that it came to him as a dream. No harm, like the harm he’d just done, surely, could have come to Paramon? A flicker rose in him, of who he once had been, of who the Wharshes had been to him. He remembered Leena, and stifled his thoughts.
In their place rose something else, something stronger. Sillith did not look up at his approach, nor had she ever bothered to look at him, always preoccupied with her father, or Liny, or even the island itself. Rage flared in him, his nostrils filled with the smoke of his deeds, the power of his new self, and he yanked Sillith back by her long hair. She looked up, frowned, focused on his face, murmured, and suddenly flung her arms, her long, forgiving, unknowing arms up to him. She even, he thought, murmured his name. Insnar.
But she ceased to speak when he tore her shift, forced her legs open, pressed them into the mud. She made no sound when he shoved himself inside of her, splitting her, it felt like, cracking her, as deep as he could go, driving himself like an axe through wood, and it was only him, Insnar alone, in that moment, Insnar who had everything, was everything, all powerful, strength and beauty and youth pulsing in him, inside of her, the dead-eyed girl who stared up at him blankly, who would be cloven by him, utterly, finally.
When she rose, he was gone. There was a choking smoke in the air, hanging in the trees like so many gray scarves. Sillith saw it but did not make sense of it. She was past sense. She walked gingerly. There was dirt deep in her nails, impacted. She noticed this discomfort though she was torn at the very center of herself. She was filthy and parched, and she walked. She crossed the point, from the bay to the sea. She wanted to be in the water.
The sun had risen. There were children on the dunes. They sat quietly, some sleeping on their sides. Sillith did not think to question this, why the children, alone, so early, not doing their chores, were there. To question this would be to remember anything at all. She walked, as if pulled by rope, to the water. She could feel it the moment she stepped in. It wanted her. It pulled at her calves, the shreds of her shift. As if a great hand beckoned, with each stroke of a wave she was moved deeper.
She looked down and there was green kelp on her leg, she could feel it, a muscled grip. Then another. She stood staring down as the green and brown seaweeds gathered her. Light caught the school of fish under water first. The school shimmered past, heeled, shimmered back toward her. The first fish jumped, a slender streak of silver. A flick and gone. Then another. Another leapt and clamped tiny jaws onto her skin. It didn’t hurt, though it hung from her. She lifted her arm to see more closely, to classify this fish, when another leapt, bit, shook its fins. Then there were too many to count, so many, leaping and latching onto her belly, her breasts, her arms. The weight of all those weightless drops of silver, barely more than water splashes, become, like water itself, heavier and heavier with each added drop, until Sillith toppled forward, and a great green wave took her under.
END OF PART ONE
*Note: At this time, Part II will not be posted on-line. You should probably contact me through the facebook page if you want to say something about that, plead for more, etc.