Friday, March 13, 2009

To Gather Stones Together

To everything, turn, turn, turn, there is a season, turn, turn, turn, echoed through Libby’s head as she twisted the can opener. Turn turn turn. Ecclesiastes, she remembered, from the Bible, from the Christian Bible, and it’s a world of laughter, a world of tears, it’s a world of hopes and a world of fears, but that only reminded her of taking Carmen to Disney World. Carmen with Maria’s bright black eyes and with blue and bronze beads braided into her dark hair, stargazing with Libby in the last hours Before. Bronze and blue beads scattered in the grass.

Eight years old was too young to die.

A time to kill, a time to heal, a time to laugh, a time to weep; to everything, turn, turn, turn, there is a season, turn, turn, turn. Anger hurt less than grief.

Drain the full can onto the dirt. Dump the tomatoes into the mixing bowl. Toss the empty can on the heap on the carefully cleared ground. Prometheus tricking Zeus into taking the inedible parts of the sacrifice with some of the best bits on top, leaving the meat for those who had done the sacrificing. Another can, turn, turn, turn.

“It occurs to me,” said Maria, “that this might as easily attract Satan.” Said Rosa; it would be some time yet before the shape of Libby’s partner’s new non-Christian-derived name became familiar. Before Libby’s own new non-Christian-derived name became familiar, too, but ‘Liberty’ shortened to ‘Libby’ as readily as did ‘Elizabeth’, which was part of why she’d chosen it. “More easily, maybe—we know he exists in premillennial theology and we can’t be sure about Ixchel or Athena.”

“This was your idea,” Libby reminded her. “You pays your money, you takes your chances.” In any event, if Plan A failed, Libby would far rather ask the help of Satan, whose only sins were pride and disobedience, than of God, who ‘took your daughter to heaven’, as an unhelpful and newly Christian neighbor had explained. (“Mom told me twenty years ago that Grandma went to heaven,” Libby had retorted; “Grandma’s dead and so is Carmen and don’t you fucking dare say otherwise!”)

“And better Satan than God—ow!”

From the expression on Ma—Rosa’s face, Libby suspected that Rosa had tugged a bit too hard on the cord that was being threaded through Rosa’s ear and coming out bloody. That was all right; Mayan-style blood sacrifice would mean little if it inflicted little pain. “It’s hard to shake the upbringing, that’s all.”

Libby made an agreeing sound, added the corn to the bowl, wiped away tears before they could drip off her nose, and started on a can of beans.

Soon enough, a two-person two-day supply of food taken from the Lopez–de Luca pantry was mixed and rolled into tortillas and divided into four portions, two for Libby and Mari—Rosa and two on the pyramid of tin cans. Libby carefully unwrapped three bars of Godiva chocolate, broke the first in half for herself and Rosa, and placed the second and third with the rest of the food. Rosa wound her red cord around the pyramid and stepped back, and Libby poured gasoline over the entire pile.

The point of animal sacrifice, Libby found herself thinking as she poured water to rinse Rosa’s hands and then held still so Rosa could rinse Libby’s, had always been that it was a sacrifice, a giving up of something one values highly, or, better, something that would provide more value in the future than it had now. An ox had been an excellent choice of sacrifice for an ancient Greek farmer, because he needed one to plow his fields to grow his food, and because it was a substantial food supply in itself. It might be an excellent sacrifice now, given how hard it had become to import food from even the next county, but that didn’t matter much because the farm Libby and Rosa had staked their claim on didn’t have any animals at all.

Food and fuel: the two most valuable things in this world of After.

Rosa lit a match.

Libby tilted her face heavenward, holding her arms out and her palms up, standing as Carmen’s mythology books said Greeks had stood to pray. “Oh Great Athena,” she whispered, swallowed, and continued in a stronger voice, “Athena Eleutheros, Athena Atrytone, Athena Promachos—” Athena of freedom, Athena the unwearying, Athena who fights in front. “—may this sacrifice find favor in your eyes.” It would be inappropriate to ask for anything now, that would sound too much as if Libby expected a quid pro quo from the goddess, but Libby couldn’t keep her mind from going over why she hoped for some positive response: the chaos of the world After, the many needs of everyone who had lost a child or a friend to what was (to someone who had grown up with Rapture-obsessed parents, and who knew from her brother that those parents were dead, vanished just like the children) beyond all doubt the Rapture, the desperate need to keep many of those people from joining the followers of the premillennial Christian God—the need to show those people that there was someone else to believe in, someone who neither rewarded followers with death nor punished unbelievers with the deaths of their children, someone who valued peace as God clearly did not. Athena might be a warrior, but she was also a weaver and scholar and tender of olive trees, and what warrior could have time for any of those tasks if there was a war on?

And maybe, hopefully, if Yahweh the judge and thunder god was similar enough to Zeus the judge and thunder god (to Zeus had he lost his fucking mind), if it was true that Athena was Metis’s daughter born after Zeus had swallowed Metis for fear of Metis’s child who would overthrow him—tradition said Metis’s second child by Zeus, Metis’s son, but ancient Greece hadn’t had feminists—

I’ll do anything you need me to do, Libby thought desperately, anything that’s within my power and that won’t hurt anyone who hasn’t first hurt me or mine—please be there, please help us! (And so much for not asking for a quid pro quo.)

Peace, child. The voice was female, amused, and utterly unfamiliar—Libby glanced around and saw only M—Rosa, who had stopped chanting and was staring into nothing. I hear you. Yes, my father and brother have gone insane; yes, they need to be stopped; yes, my people need help. No, I do not have the power to do anything about it. I have too few followers and too few priests, and they too many. You, Liberty, must be my hands and my voice, if you are willing—

Of course, Libby answered, dazed.

It will be difficult, the goddess warned. My father and brother have other weapons they intend to use. Many of those you would help would not be helped. You may find your name slandered; you may find yourself with far greater responsibility than you wish to bear.

So, what, I get to be the Roman-born peace-loving Antichrist? Libby asked. As long as it’s anti-baby-killer-Christ, bring it on.

The goddess laughed. Perhaps it will be you. Perhaps your bedmate, perhaps another; we have many candidates. But for now, your task is to be a priestess of Athena. Go and tell my people that the gods grieve with them, but they must lay aside sorrow lest anyone grieve for them; show them that they need not kneel before the murderer of their children; win me believers so that I have the strength to take up arms to win us a world in which I may lay those arms down again.

Wind swirled around Libby and was gone.

She blinked, once, twice, and lowered her arms. “Rosa?” she asked unsteadily.

“She came.” Rosa sucked in a breath. “She’s busy in Latin America, so many people praying that they can still have more children, but she came—I’m to be a priestess of Demeter, more people know Greek gods here than Mayan—I might be the Antichrist—you?”

“She came,” Libby echoed. “I might be the Antichrist instead—she can beat him, but she isn’t strong enough, she doesn’t have enough believers—I need to fix that—I almost don’t believe this happened—”

“Praise the gods and pass the ammunition and the seed corn,” Rosa said, and Libby broke down laughing, the first time she could remember laughing since Carmen died.

A time to be born and to die, to plant and to reap, to kill and to heal, to laugh and to weep, Libby thought when she could think again. “Time to eat,” she said, reaching for her half of the sacrificial meal.

“And then,” Rosa said, watching the fire, “time to go.”


Jessica R. said...

This was beautiful.

BookwormDragon said...

Just lovely. The hints of world-building in the background are most refreshing and the emotions feel true.

Zorya said...

That was awesome! Loved it.

Stephanie said...

Beautiful story!

Hel said...

Goddess bless, I have goosebumps now! That was beautifully written, and thought up!