05/01/2012 § Leave a comment
Charles turned his head and shot back a look at Miriam that said, and why not? There was something frightening in his eyes. Hopelessness given way to something calm and deadly—defiance, determination. She had seen that look all too often as of late, in piecemeal media coverage of demonstrations they were allowed to see. It was the same as the face the Unquenched wore as they were beaten and gunned down in multitudes.
Don’t, she said again, louder.
It was well past curfew and there was nobody around at the Inner Garden. Miriam wished the Cherubs were here to stop what was about to happen, even if that meant getting in trouble herself. She would plead curiosity, reckless but innocent of heresy. We just wanted to see it, Father, we did not mean anything by it. Please forgive us. What was the worst that could happen? A couple of weeks in the meditation chamber, if not few days. Of course there was the small chance they would separate them, take Charles to a different Garden and pair her up with a new Adam, but even that was far more preferable than the alternative.
That was wishful thinking, she knew. All the Cherubs were at the plaza tonight because of the demonstration. A big one, she’d heard one of the priests say earlier that day, bigger than London last month, or even Moscow. Another had asked: What do they want this time? Answer: What else? What they always want. A spell of silence, and then: Do you think there will be blood? Answer: Brother, there is always blood.
No shots were fired as of yet—none that she could hear anyway. But it was only a matter of a time. The Unquenched were a desperate lot; thirst drove them mad in every sense of the word. She had seen them in person, once, as she and Charles were being escorted through the old downtown sector and into the garden complex. A long line of haggard faces had looped around a crumbling hospital building, waiting for their daily allotment of dihydrogen monoxide and clutching their plastic bottles like icons of faith. Always living in that state of utter and irrevocable need.
Some of them had shouted and flung objects as the convoy rolled by. They were fired upon. Tut, tut, tut. Blood on the crumbling walls, streets. Charles had hardly seemed to notice anything at the time, even though he was looking out the protective glass of the armoured mobile the whole time. Later, when she spoke of what she’d felt—pity, fear, revulsion—in the privacy of their new Garden, he would simply nod and quote the Scripture: For he that thirsts must needs die, and is as water spilt on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again. But it must have had affected him somehow, deep down, in ways she could not understand. And if she, the bone of his bones and flesh of his flesh, could not understand, who else could?
Go back, said Charles, I don’t want you watching.
Why are you doing this? said Miriam. Let’s go back. They won’t find out we were gone if we go back now.
Do you remember what they said when we were born? said Charles.
It was said we would replenish the world, said Charles. Do you remember that? They told us we would renew mankind.
We were made to abolish thirst, said Miriam.
They lied, said Charles.
I don’t understand, said Miriam.
You will, said Charles.
Miriam was crying now. She watched as Charles dropped to his knees on the fountain’s edge and pushed his hands into the water, slowly, putting them together into a small cracked bowl.
I am the water, he said. Whosoever drinks of me shall thirst nevermore.
He raised his hands, water dripping, running down his forearms and spilling onto the ground, and brought his lips to his hands.
Miriam ran. She ran at him with all the force of her body and knocked him sideways. Water fell on her face, trickled down her cheeks and into her lips. She held her breath. Charles struggled to get himself free. She hooked her arms under his armpits and held on but he was bigger and he dragged them both toward the water. She cried and begged. She bit his shoulder and drew blood, silver and thick.
Far away, a flare lighted the sky like a small and dirty sun. They heard gunshots and screaming. Charles grunted, and hurled them both headfirst into the fountain.
The water was cold, clear, deep. She let go of him but he closed his arms around her. Bubbles came out of their mouths, noses, ears. She gulped in. She felt the water slithering down her intestines and turning them into bubbles as it went. Then, as they sank deeper and deeper into the liquid dark, she saw a myriad of surprised faces just like Charles’ and hers, only younger and purer, staring at their effervescent bodies across the glass. They faded away.