This week’s words were:
relapse :: busy bee :: ocean :: pacify :: putrid
A Traitor’s Grave
‘He wants to hear the ocean,’ gasped Lily, stumbling out of the putrid bedchamber with her arms piled high. Streaks of unhappy colour – browns and greens and off-yellows – yawned their way across the linens she carried. Old blood. Sepsis. Ill-humours. The heralds of death.
‘And how are we expected to do that?’ I muttered, falling into step beside her.
‘There has to be a way,’ she muttered, her face sweating and her teeth gritted. ‘I just – ugh!’ She stopped, throwing the soiled bandages to the ground. ‘I can’t!’ She slammed her fists against the wall and leaned her forehead on them, her shoulders quaking through her thin gown.
‘Lily, I –‘
‘Just leave me be!’ she snapped, and I drew my hands back. ‘Please, Maryam. I’m all right.’ She took in a deep breath, before pushing herself upright once more and bending to pick up the linens.
‘How is he? I mean, really?’ I asked, sinking my hands into the slimy, stinking fabric. Lily let me help her without a word, and that said everything. ‘Does he – I mean, how long?’ We slipped into the darkness of the long narrow hallway, our feet finding the way without light, as they had done for all the years between our girlhoods and now.
‘He’s suffered a major relapse,’ said Lily, and even though I couldn’t see her, I could imagine her looking around for peeping eyes and spying ears. ‘It’s impossible to pacify him now. He’s like a starving man who’s forgotten how to eat.’ She paused, and I thought about how she licked her lips when she was nervous, and the shine in her dark eyes. ‘He has a day. Maybe,’ she whispered.
‘If I run, right now, and wake the Librarian, I can get a recording of the ocean,’ I said, my throat contracting. ‘If that would help. If it would help you, I mean.’
‘My busy bee,’ she said, her words stumbling. ‘It wouldn’t do any good. It’s the real ocean he wants, the real thing. He’ll know a recording.’
‘But – it’s impossible,’ I said, my eyes flooding, warm and wet. I blinked, hard, realising we’d stopped walking. We stood, in darkness, our Lord’s sickness between us, and only one day left. ‘It can’t be done, Lil. The ocean? Nobody’s heard it in a generation, not for real!’
‘Sssh,’ she said, like she was comforting me. ‘I know. He knows it, too. He’s playing for time, is all. But he’s too sick.’
‘But that means… it means…’ I wanted to fling the sodden bandages far from me, but instead I sunk my fingernails into them, feeling them rip beneath my hands.
‘You know I loved you, Maryam. Always,’ she said, so quickly I barely heard it.
‘Lily –‘ I said, but a clanging bell smashed my words to shards and turned my blood to ice. Voices shouted, and the darkness lifted a little as, somewhere close by, someone lit the first of the torches. He’s gone, I thought, and my heart clattered around inside me. The Lord’s dead.
‘They’ll be coming for me now,’ I heard Lily’s voice say, straight into my ear. Her lips were warm on my cheek.
‘I won’t let them take you,’ I wanted to say, but it was as if I had swallowed a handful of thorns. I won’t let them touch you I won’t let them butcher you I won’t I won’t
‘I won’t leave you alone,’ she said, shoving the disgusting bundle of cloth at me, making me stumble.
‘Wait!’ I screamed, but it was too late.
In the darkness, her sure feet found the top step without difficulty, and she fell without a sound.
They buried her alone, in an unmarked hole, because only the beautiful can be interred as handmaidens of the Lord, and only the perfect can join him in the sky. From the top of my tower I can watch the old soil reclaim her body – her traitor’s body. Or so they say, at least. I know better.
She promised she’d never leave me, and she kept her word.