Watching the ship pass overhead, slowly drifting off into the distance, my hopeful heart falls back down to the rocky cliffs. My stomach begins to turn.
Witnessing my longing, Serene stays true to her character and snarls, “He’s not coming back.”
My face sours. I try not to cry. I begin to climb down, eager to get away from her continuing torment, “Oh, don’t pretend you don’t know what I am talking about. You come up here every day waiting for Adam to come back.”
I quicken my pace in an effort to descend down the path, away from Serene as she raises her voice, “Look, I am trying to do you a favor. Now that we are becoming THE AGE, it’s time for you to grow up__ He’s not coming back for you. No one who goes to the other side ever comes back, you know that.”
No longer able to suppress my pain, I turn back at Serene, “And why is that!!? Have you ever asked yourself why they don’t come back!? Aren’t you even curious?___ Maybe it’s because they never get old. Maybe it’s because they never get sick. Maybe it’s cause when you can build beautiful ships that fly through the clouds, there is no need to come back to this...” I thrust my hand downward, dismissively referring to the dirt covered, primitive life of the village.
Serene points upward to the sky, “The NoBodys are an abomination.”
"Ha!" I laugh while turning to walk down the path, "You don’t even know what the word means.”
“Yes I do. Father is right to say that we should be prepared to kill them all. They’re evil.”
“None of us have ever even seen one. How would you know?”
“Father says they rip your guts out. I mean, please__ how are you supposed to have children if they take your stomach out? Nature blessed us with the means to grant life. It’s unnatural to desecrate your body like that.”
I scoff, “The men burrow deeper into the mines while we tend to the crops and that’s supposed to mean that we are closer to nature?”
"Father says that you're left with a plastic body__That they remove your heart and you no longer have a soul. That...” Serene sternly concludes, “... is why they are evil.”
Shaking my head, I point out the flaw in her argument, "So you would say evil is a state of being. And not the means to describe someone's intent."
“Let me ask you something...” I soften my tone to be less combative in an attempt at reason, “What if the NoBodys landed here and offered all the people in the village medicines?” Serene’s face squeezes in taboo, the very thought of the NoBodys landing in the village evokes fear at what surely would be a fatal confrontation. “ And __What if...” my voice turns flat, “... they had a medicine that could help__ mother?” My eyes plea for Serene to think for herself just once, on something of profound importance, for someone deeply personal to both of us.
Pausing in a sheer moment of neutrality, Serene’s face remains unmoved. Looking directly into my eyes, she threatens, “If you don’t stop talking like this, I’m going to tell father.”
“argh” I shrug my shoulders at the futility and turn again down the path.
Her pursuit lugs her ongoing diatribe, “The NoBodys have broken the laws of nature__ It’s forbidden.” Skipping a step to close in behind me, her voice begins to sharpen, salivating in an escalated sense of power, “And you know that father doesn’t take kindly to those who go against the rules of the village, even if it’s his daughter. If he hears that you've been talking like this__ surely there will be no more climbing the cliffs for you.”
My intimate familiarity with Serene’s thinking knows that she is serious, and willing. In fact, I know that at this very moment she is picturing father’s response as she tells him, relishing in watching the retribution.
“Well then...” I begin a power play of my own, “...I suppose I would have to tell father too.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“I would have to tell him what I saw you doing to Jacob.” I stop in my tracks, spinning around in a stance of confrontation, dramatically adding, “You know__ behind the barn, two nights ago. On your knees.”
Briefly taken aback, Serene stops under the realization of her sudden vulnerability. Coming to terms with what would happen if this secret came out, she tries to justify her promiscuousness, “Jacob loves me__ He’s promised me. He has the biggest offering for father and gets to pick first__ and Jacob has promised to pick me.”
“You’re not supposed to be doing that until you are THE AGE.”
Not comfortable in speaking from a position of weakness, Serene tries to resume her natural aggression, “You’re just jealous.”
I don’t relent, “Like you said__ father doesn’t take kindly to those who break the rules of the village, even if it is his own_ loving daughter.”
Stepping in close to my face, Serene’s eyes fill with unrequited rage over a measured tone, “Don’t you dare__ Don’t you even think about messing this up for me.” She brushes sharply past my shoulder and stomps down the path with a scorned venom.
For the rest of the descent down the cliff, I keep a good distance behind Serene. The daily bickering with her is exhausting.
Spotting a small Drupal bush, I stop for a moment to try and calm myself while gently picking its curled herbal leaves. Fresh tea for mother will be a good opportunity to talk to her about finding a way out of the ceremony.
Arriving at the top of the mines, just above the valley floor, Serene spots our “Father!” putting a gallop in her step as she trots over to greet him.
Toiling through another physical day, our father stands outside the mouth of a mine, spindling together sticks of dynamite to be used for tunneling. His face is caked from the dark dust that constantly bellows into the air. He stops to enjoy a moment watching his prized daughter, Serene, bringing her girlish excitement into his labor filled world. As Serene hugs him, she doesn’t give a second thought to the dirt and sweat rubbing into her clothes. In fact, by kissing him on the cheek, she evokes his affectionate smile as he removes his gloves in order to try and wipe the soot from her lips. Innocent as she may appear, this act is intended to be witnessed by me, as an affirmation that she is father's favorite.
Turning her attention towards me, Serene announces, “I found Caress up on the cliffs, again." causing father to cast a stern look at my direction, to which she ups the ante, “She says she isn't coming tomorrow night." The vindictive smile shines proudly across her face.
"Oh?" Father puts his gloves back on, a disapproving demeanor evolves from his body as he realizes he has to again deal with my rebellious nature.
My mind scrambles. "Actually," I reach for a new tact, "I_ didn't think it would be right to take any of the attention away from Serene. I mean__ the goal is to get the biggest offering, yes? I really shouldn't be there to compete with her. So, I thought, if the ceremony was exclusively for her, then she could garner all the attention."
Serene furrows her brow in a sudden change of heart, picturing herself as the ceremony's exclusive prize. She turns to father and exclaims, "Yeeah."
Father's glare at me remains unmoved.
"Besides," I push it farther, adding the soft touch of a subservient smile, "I need to tend to mother."
Father's voice springs to life, “Your mother is feeling much better this morning. She’s up and about. Her faith is pulling her through, just in time to see Both Of You__ start your new lives as mothers."
Taking a quick note of my hair, father removes his gloves again to unravel one of my pony tails.
Serene notes his displeasure, "She cut it again this morning."
Softening his tone as a means to convey that he knows what I am up to, he concludes, "You're not getting out of this."
Unable to find another plausible excuse, anxiety begins to build inside of me. What should I do? Off in the distance I see Jacob carrying a load of dynamite into the mine. Serene also sees him. Should I tell? A rush of adrenaline shoots through my body at the thought of telling father about Jacob and Serene. Once he hears they’ve had intimate contact he will surely turn on her; call off the whole ceremony in fact. I open my mouth while beginning to carefully choose my words.
Serene spots my intention and quickly jumps in, “We saw some ships today." knowing it would immediately raise father’s ire.
Father’s anger quickly jumps to the surface, “On which side!?" My moment has passed.
Serene assures, "They were off in the distance."
"Good! Those damn immoral, pompous, ego-infested NoBodys need to stay the hell on their side__ One incident and they'll have a helluva fight on their hands.” Raising a spindle of dynamite, father broadens his shoulders, "They think we're just a bunch of farmers__ They have no idea. Time used to be man's great equalizer. It's given to each of us as finite, non-renewable; nature's way to keep us humble. The NoBodys are soon gonna find a restoration to that order. Believe me.”
Serene continues to control the conversation, “We were wondering__ how do they have kids?"
"Kids?__ Why would they have kids? That would just squander their own sense of self-importance. If you're arrogant enough to think that your own personal existence in the universe is so important that you need to give up being human, and grace the world with your endless presence, then there’s no way you're gonna have any desire to take on the devotion and sacrifice it takes to raise kids."
Serene follows up, "When is the last time you saw one?"
“We came across one over on the far side of the canyon about a year ago___ managed to corner it into a ravine. It had crossed over and was trying to hide out__ on the run from something. Not much left. Completely hallowed out. Heh__ Looked like a toothpick with a head stuck on top. You see, they're called 'No-Bodys' cause they manage to carve out_ defile every last ounce of their organs."
Continuing to prod, Serene shoots me an evil look with an intent to prevent me from saying anything, “What happened to him?"
“Well,“ Father pauses to take note on how to sensor his response, "let me tell you. There's more to all this...” He raises his arms in reference to everything around us, “...the trees, the clouds, the house you live in__ it’s all temporary. Nothing is meant to be forever__ Nothing. So, I guess you could say, we helped nature out.”
A deep boom thunders underground in the mine as they clear out another tunnel. Father’s attention returns to work. Sending us off, he walks away, "Run along now. You both are late. I want that field picked well before sundown. Tonight you both are going over to the tailor__ get new dresses.”
Serene starts to hop up and down, gleefully clapping her hands together.