Summary: They meet by the cliffs, beneath the orange sunset, as the shadows fall.
1st Place – 2004 Spooky Award for Outstanding Vignette
Title: At Sunset
Key Words: post-col, character death, not sallie-safe
Spoilers: anything with William
Disclaimer: Not mine
Archive: Gossamer, please. Email me before archiving elsewhere. I don’t see why I’d refuse.
Comments: Huge thanks to Lib and Jody for giving me the confidence to post this!
They meet by the cliffs, beneath the orange sunset, as the shadows fall. He drives up in a battered, roofless jalopy, and she stands by the cave entrance, watching.
He walks to her across the cracked earth, through the scrub, and she soaks his image into her skin. Soaks him in like rain.
“How long has it been?” she asks, but she already knows.
Three years of the red sands, shifting beneath the wind. She has watched the days pass, as the birds wheeled black across the sky, as the seasons melted into one another, as the sun rose and fell. The days have drained into the earth. Her skin is cracked, sunburn peeled, red as ochre. She lives beside the only spring of water, hunts in the evenings, and prays by the ancient, crumbling altars of nature.
This place is the beginning of the earth, of life. Every year, the rains arrive to cleanse, leaving a band of rainbows across the sky, shimmering like serpents. This year he has come just after the rainbows. He has come at last.
“They are all gone now,” he tells her, clasping her wizened hand. “We are the last.”
“Oh,” she says, without surprise. “I’m sorry.”
He nods. She sees the tracks of water down his dusty face, like those left by frogs after the rain. The frogs swallow what liquid they can, then burrow into the dry earth, waiting for the next downpour. She and he cannot do the same. It is over.
“Do you still have faith?” she asks him.
“I still feel it inside,” he answers, finally folding her in his arms. His faith is like the spinifex grass in the wind. No matter how far it bends, it will never break. She knows this because she gave it to him.
“I feel it too,” she whispers, kissing his forehead.
In his strong clasp her body is a mere bag of bones, but there is enough hard tendon to support her, enough wiry strength for survival.
“How long do you think we have?” he asks.
“I have another year, at most,” she says, stroking his hair. “Will you keep going?”
“I’ll decide when the time comes.”
She nods and puts her face to his shoulder, her lips pressing together as something wells up inside, a water source. It’s been three years since she cried.
“I tried, mom,” he says.
“We all tried, William.”
The orange light darkens around them, the sun slipping past the horizon. The light used to seem alien to her, but now it is home, it is life. She has been grateful for it, as she has been for the steady thumping of her heart.
Her life’s blood still thrums through her veins, moving as though to the beat of tribal drums, of old songs that once echoed through this place.
But now, perhaps, it is finally the time for silence.
“William, we don’t have to stay another year,” she says. “Your dad visits me sometimes, at night. He doesn’t speak, but he sits beside me. We talk without sound.”
“I know you don’t believe me, William, but I see him. I see them all. Sometimes, under the red moon, I walk to the top of the cliffs and I see them. They look up at me from the desert, expectantly. Waiting for us to join them.”
When he shudders and averts his eyes, she realizes there’s still a part of him that fears it, that hides from death. It proves the strength of his humanity, after all he’s seen, to still fear it. She lost this part of herself long ago.
“I can’t, mom.”
“Then we’ll stay, Will,” she says. “We’ll wait for them to take us.”
“Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water. Only
There is shadow under this red rock,
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust”
–T.S. Eliot, ‘The Wasteland’