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The Grieving House rises like a lighthouse from the artificial snowdrifts, its windows blazing honeyed gold. The clean lines of it look too much like a grave marker. The House was built to give the bereaved some sense of togetherness and let them guide each other, a space of community and healing.
I hate it a little more every time I see it.
But Rhodan has asked me to come with him, and I shall not refuse him anything that I have the capacity to give.
He is sorry; he wants to sit with crying strangers and listen to stories about people he might have killed. I don’t want to apologize for all the youths my mother sent to face their deaths, or for the fact that I live when so many better people did not.
Inside, the doors shut against the cold, we peel away coats and scarves. I try not to breathe too deeply, as if the lingering scent of bleach might scour my guilty lungs.
The residents here are used to our visits now. Seeing us arrive doesn’t draw the stares it once did. I’d been surprised we were recognized at all, but a space colony is never so big as it first seems. Even the people who never saw the vids of Rhodan’s squadron shackled and loaded into trucks, the awful stills of me standing wooden-faced behind my mother at her inauguration, know who we are.
The first few months we came here, people would only speak to me. They’d shake my hand and gaze at me with fierce, tearful stares. “Health to your mother,” they’d say. “Health to you. Thank you for all you’ve done.” I wanted to cry or scream or vomit every time someone thanked me. They wouldn’t look at Rhodan except to scorn him. They pretended not to see the arcs of dull light that bounced off his metal hand from the fluorescents overhead. Now they know him, and I hang back to watch as he roams the lounge where knots of the bereaved gather in conversation. Some greet him with nods, the bolder or more forgiving with handshakes.
He has run some errands for them; the new government’s Citizens’ Allowance is less than what the Empire could afford to give us, and so he purchases cans of rolled flatbread and jars of pickles and preserves for them as though he is responsible for their straitened circumstances. Maybe he feels himself responsible: that he, in his superior wisdom as an Original Human, should never have bowed to a child culture—should have stopped us from ruling ourselves.
I cannot lurk at the edges of the room forever, though I would prefer it. When I sit down at a table everyone snaps me sharp salutes and I duck my head. They must be widows, not parents; they are all so young.
“Thank you for visiting so often, Lieutenant,” one says. Her eyes are hungrier than they are sad. “I see you more than I see my own family.”
“It’s nice to know someone cares,” someone at my right elbow says. I startle at their proximity, rein myself back in.
“How generous of your mother to spare you,” a young man agrees. I can’t begin to explain. I am too beholden to the fiction of a united front.
“The colony of St. Marguerite made vital contributions to planet Josephine’s struggle for independence. Your colony’s reinforcements arrived just in time to turn the tide when we took Ajaccio City from the Loyalists,” I say, and see how cautiously none of them turn to look at Rhodan. “Nearly everyone in this house sent their children or their spouse when my mother called for help. That’s a debt we can never repay.”
I unpack gifts from my bag: tins of smoked salt fish, tubes of honey—things that don’t come standard in the citizens’ ration but must be bought at the supplemental market.
I cannot say I am buying their forgiveness, because they don’t think I need to be forgiven. What I’m trying to buy when I spend my citizen’s allowance on other people is a respite from my own guilt.
An older woman seated a couple meters away is fiddling with the broadcast box, jumping between shortwave channels. All the news is about my mother and her campaign to be reelected Baron-General. The box lands on a speech from her rival, a young woman with a more pessimistic platform.
“We will not see wealth again in our lifetime,” the opposition declares. “That we have our freedom is a miracle—a miracle that must be maintained. The Queen-over-Queens on Uca is sleeping still; our rebellion wasn’t significant enough for her to wake and sing of danger. We cannot be caught unprepared if her empire chooses to reclaim us. We must prioritize our self-sufficiency over all other goals—”
The woman changes the channel again.
“That child fears the Empire too much. She shouldn’t be running for office,” someone at my table says. “Now, your mother is sensible. She knows that as long as the Queen is asleep, we can send envoys to the lesser Imperial planets and reestablish trade. But I’m sure you’re better informed than I am!”
My skin prickles at their laughter. I can only smile weakly, and am grateful when Rhodan is ready to leave.
The snow starts again as we walk home. It has been snowing intermittently for six months now. The colony sky is the color of joss ash, funereal.
Fake sky, fake snow, real cold. The artificial weather system is an extravagant leftover of the Yucarean Empire, who felt that simulating seasons was beneficial for people’s mental health. Mother turned off rain and snow in the colonies—an early directive to conserve resources—and reallocated the water piped into maintaining public greenspace so that more water was available for human use.
Now we have a broken climate management system that no one knows how to fix. We have snow, and thus all other water is rationed.
In a kinder world, I would take Rhodan’s hand, or tuck mine into the pocket of his dark overcoat, or seize the trailing meter of his scarf and wrap the end around my own throat to bind us together as we walk. Instead, we hold our backs straight, arms still, carefully not touching even though we walk barely a handsbreadth apart.
Were we always this conscious of our distance, this scrupulous about staying in range, demonstrating that we could touch if not for superior self-control? What ill-defined virtue do I think I’m demonstrating when I deny my desire to reach for him, to learn the warmth of his golden-pale skin? We are so close that I can smell the violet leaves in his perfume.
Noriko Forte is standing outside our insula when we return.
“Captain Rhodan!” she shouts. She is dressed in a heavy lavender duffel coat trimmed with some sort of white fur, her hood drawn back to show her pointed, shrewd face under the streetlamps. Her boots are crusted with slush.
He stills at her shout, and I am numb to my bones with the fear that he is gathering himself to answer her.
“Captain Inges Rhodan! Why was your squad pardoned after the Siege of Ten Hands Hill?”
“Rhodan,” I say softly. He turns toward me at once. “Let’s go inside.”
She follows us as far as the insula’s lobby, stopping when we let ourselves through the autolock. She knows precisely the boundary between trespassing and not. She has been doing this every day for three months, wading from her capsule hotel in the city center through the snow to harass us.
St. Marguerite hangs suspended at Josephine’s third Lagrange point, on the other side of the star that lights the planet. This is a uniquely inconvenient position. Forced to circle around their star, shuttles take longer to reach it than any other orbital colony. I had thought that no one would care to follow us, and for over two years I was right. Until my mother announced her campaign for reelection, planet Josephine had forgotten that she had a second child, a child who had disappeared after the Yucarean Loyalist squadron 1007 Blue-Six was pardoned.
When we are nine floors up, the door locked behind us, I put my unit key into the electricity meter to reactivate the light switches. Rhodan plugs his into the gas meter with his flesh hand, closing the circuit so that he can turn the heater on.
One of the metal fingers on his prosthetic has frozen straight on the walk home. In the narrow, too-bright kitchen I collect artificial snow from the windowsill and melt it on the stove, making a double boiler for the oil can. It’s cold enough indoors that the oil has congealed to a lump.
“Perhaps I should talk to her,” he muses.
I suspect he would like to explain, if there was some way it wouldn’t hurt us. Thus, his silence. To speak would throw away my efforts.
“It’ll only provoke her to dig deeper. If she’s bothering you,” I say, “if you want to be away from her, I … I can afford to get you on a shuttle out of here.”
“Would you go with me?” he asks, and I shake my head because my savings cannot stretch that far. “Then I prefer not to go.”
“I don’t want you to feel obligated to—to keep me company here.”
“I prefer not to go,” he repeats, and I turn away to test the oil can with a fingertip. When I lift it from the stove Rhodan proffers his frozen hand, supporting the weight of the prosthetic with his other arm.
He lifts his eyes to the ceiling as I bend to breathe on the joint plates, warming them just enough to loosen them, little chips of ice dropping free until I can unscrew them. I apply warmed oil one drop at a time, careful not to touch any part of him that will feel it or look at his lovely, solemn face. If I have kept him safe, I have accomplished all I set out to. I don’t want or need more.
“Does it hurt very much?” I ask. This is his second prosthetic in as many years. He flexes the hand, fingers curling and stretching without a creak.
“I’m used to it,” he says, which is not an answer.
At least he speaks to me at all. I will always be grateful for this.
Dinner is lentil soup with cod from the supplemental market. We still have a half-kilo of lentils left over from our ration packs. The fish would taste better with rice, but rice needs so much water to grow and thus comes so dear that I cannot justify the purchase.
Up here we cannot often obtain the same foods we enjoyed on the surface, even with closed-loop hatcheries and orbital farms. Since Josephine’s independence, interplanetary trade has halted and exports from the surface to the colonies have declined, aside from the regular shuttles loaded with government ration packs.
As I clear our dishes from the table in the sitting room the ansible chimes behind me.
“Shall I answer?” Rhodan offers. If he’s joking his face doesn’t show it.
“Perhaps if I ignore her,” I say, “she’ll go away.”
“You are lucky that your family cares for you so.” I take the reproof for what it is. We have both renounced our families’ politics, but only my sister continues to reach out.
When I answer her call she turns her lovely eyes on the camera and says, “Come home,” without any pleasantries or preamble. Sennia has never been patient.
“I am home, but thank you,” I say. It baffles me that she calls the surface home; we only lived there for a year as Mother amassed her forces, gathered her weapons in secret. Sennia, having reached the universal age of majority at twenty, moved as Mother’s right hand. I, three years behind, enrolled in the Academie Briseix, where all the privileged children of Yucarean imperial administrators and justices learned the obligations of their station: to cultivate rather than conquer, to garden, to steward those from cultures younger and less wise.
Rhodan was the treasured only son of a Yucarean magistrate. I should have hated him, but I sat behind him for two hours every morning and found that I couldn’t. He took everything seriously. He wanted to lead justly, to fulfill his responsibilities as an Original Human. It would be irresponsible, he told me once long ago, to strew the seeds of life throughout all these galaxies, and then fail to tend them.
I had retorted that we’d all gone untended for the thousands of years before we’d independently invented FTL travel, so how much responsibility were the nobles of Uca really taking? Child cultures were treated like moss jars or ant farms until we proved ourselves sufficiently interesting, and only then we were welcomed home. The Yucareans were our parents, and they knew best, sending people from the homeworld to direct and guide us in every settlement. A child cannot be master of the house, so long as the parent lives.
“There’s no need to be childish,” Sennia says. The drawn bow of her mouth droops in a pout. “Stop playing house with Rhodan and come home. Aren’t you sick of the winter up there? And it would be tremendously helpful to have you back for the campaign. It looks odd that I’m the only one of us speaking up for Mother.”
I do not want to return to the planet, to Ajaccio City, to the tall, skinny house that Mother invaded. I do not want to put on a starched uniform and stand next to Sennia at the back of the dais while Mother speaks.
I’d never thought of peace as a performance before Mother became Baron-General. But we were always on display. Look at us—medals gleaming, trousers pressed. Look at us in the concert halls, the restaurants, the parks. Look at us enjoying the fruits of our labor, even as our troops wither far out of sight in care wards or solitary bedsits.
“Is that all?” I ask.
“What do you mean?”
“You’re asking me to come home because Mother needs to put me to work again.”
“Well, of course, I miss you, too. Do I really have to say it?” Sennia frowns again. “You owe her this much.”
“I owe her nothing!”
“She pardoned the Blue-Six squad.”
“That was a trade,” I say, “not a favor to me. You know that.”
I am glad that this angers her enough to disconnect the call. It saves me the trouble of doing it myself.
Rhodan does not speak when he returns to the room with an orange from the supplemental market in his hands. I tick it off the running tally in my mind: four left. He seats himself in one of the high-backed chairs by the window and begins to peel the orange, the sharp, bright scent luring me from the ansible stand.
He accidentally puts his silver thumb through a segment. His forehead creases when I take it from him anyway and thank him. He would like to give me the unblemished pieces, I think, but I am grateful to have even broken pulp.
What is it like for him, living under the awful weight of my forgiveness? Does it itch, burn, blister, the way I saw the citizens’ skin redden and rupture in Ward 9?
At 22:00 we bid each other a stiff, polite good night and retreat to our separate rooms. We do not touch.
My dreams are full of acrid smoke and crashing, shattering sounds. I seldom dream of any screaming but my own. When Mother sent us on the attack the bombs blazed too hot and quick for anyone else to scream.
At 26:00 a noise pierces the veil of sleep and I find myself choking on my breath. I am already upright. It takes me a moment to place myself in our kitchen and when Rhodan’s face looms before me, alight with concern, I startle. In this moment, wrapped in shadows, I can only remember him holding a grenade launcher, the stinging burn of aerosolized urushiol in my mouth and nose as I begin to blister inside and out. It is unfair; he is also the boy who bought me gingerbread when we walked home from school together. But trauma is unfair in itself. Memory, its very persistence, is unfair.
“Don’t move,” he says, schooling his face to flawless calm. “There’s glass on the floor.”
He snaps the lights on, fast as thought. When he sees the salty tracks on my face he hands me a dish towel to preserve whatever dignity remains for me. He kneels at my feet, carefully picking up topaz-colored shards with the hand that can’t be cut. I think it used to be the tea pitcher. It doesn’t matter now.
We will not speak of this in the morning.
He is up before I am; he usually is. He tries to tread lightly when he knows I’ve had a bad night—the walls are so thin that he always knows—but I’ve been a light sleeper ever since Mother first sent me to her war.
Rhodan has seen me at my worst. Worse than sleepwalking and panic-addled, has seen me caked in ash and blood and choking for breath, caught in the spray of an urushiol grenade. Has seen me hollow-eyed with exhaustion, asking him to run away with me. This does not stop me from changing, washing my face, brushing my hair before breakfast. He always does the same. This rigid decorum is the skeleton supporting our life together.
I think sometimes that we will never be at ease: two solitudes not even greeting each other but gliding past with averted eyes.
This morning he has set the table with pickled eggplant, rolled omelets made from egg concentrate, a red soup full of vegetables minced fine. He has chopped the last sausage carefully hoarded in the cold storage into the soup. I find a chunk in my spoon amongst the vegetables and look up at him, already doing the math in my head.
“You said they stretch farther in soups,” he says.
This is true, but the fact remains that it’s still ten days before we will receive more: two per person per month. I blame myself. He always tries to feed me something nourishing after I’ve had a bad night. I’ve had a lot of bad nights lately.
“I don’t mind the rationing so much, you know. I grew up in a colony, remember?” I don’t know how else to reassure him.
He is too polite to point out that L1 is closer to the planet and its exported bounty, that I grew up under a different government before my mother decided to tear it down and build a new one, and he doesn’t meet my eyes as he piles extra pickles on my plate. He holds the chopsticks in his flesh hand; easier to train himself to ambidexterity than to relearn how to use them with the prosthetic. I sometimes worry that he only wears the prosthetic for me, whether it might be to comfort me with an appearance of normalcy—my mistakes repaired—or to remind me that I am the reason he needs it.
Before I can smooth things over, we hear the shouts in the street. We can’t tell what’s going on just by peering out the sitting-room window, though we can see the crowds massing, flowing north and deeper into the city center. Rhodan and I take turns fiddling with the broadcast box, scanning the colony shortwave until we finally hit something more than reports on the snow’s reclamation rate.
The ration shipment from the planet has been seized by space pirates. There will be no red meat, tea, dairy for weeks at best. If it can’t be gotten from the colony’s hydroponic farms, we’ll have to go without. I regret the sausage in our soup, cooling on the table. It’s uncertain whether another of Josephine’s own starving colonies has sent the raiders, or if the Empire wants to prove to us how small and helpless we are.
This would never have happened before the rebellion, but I loathe myself for thinking so.
The disturbance is centered on the government warehouses where the colonial administrators have rations stored against this sort of disaster. The people in the streets yell for them to distribute ahead of schedule. It’s a sensible demand, considering how long we have lived in this snow. If the government can’t even dispatch climate technicians, I don’t trust that we’ll get further rations on time.
“I’ll go out and see what I can find,” I say. It has to be me. People have tolerated our presence here, but I can’t risk the crowd turning on Rhodan. If the Empire is blamed for the piracy, it will not matter that he suffers with us. He was once numbered among the ruling class, and there is a difference between changing oneself and being forgiven.
“You can’t,” he says. “It’s not safe for you. Your mother—”
He doesn’t need to finish the sentence. I can hear is at fault hanging in the air, because I’m thinking it too.
“Please,” I say, and stop. To forbid him to go would be an assertion of ownership. To say that I have not brought him all this way to risk him would demand his gratitude. I cannot insist on our equality if I say such things, and so I am bound.
He understands my dilemma, which is humiliating in its own way, and relents. He only insists on wrapping his scarf around me before I leave. The fleece is pilled from wear and smells of violet leaf.
I scour the supplemental markets nearby, finding them picked clean. Most of the produce from the hydroponic farms goes into standard ration packs. Only surplus goes to market. All I can buy amounts to a pint of wrinkled peas, a bundle of limp mustard greens—already on the edge of spoilage.
When I return home, I find Rhodan sitting before the open cupboards with his tablet, taking meticulous inventory of all we have: lentils and millet, jars of pickles, sorghum flour. I am used to sorghum bread, the staple of a colony childhood, but Rhodan has never developed a taste for it. There’s still half a jar of lanterncherry preserves in the back of our cold storage, a luxury we’ve been slowly savoring. I will leave it for him, to make the bread bearable.
The shouting in the streets continues, and I hum to drown it out.
I would welcome the distraction of the ansible’s chime were I not wrist-deep kneading sorghum. Rhodan answers as I wash my hands. He is perfectly courteous to Sennia; perhaps this is why she is already angry when I go to the receiver.
“Come home. You are making an idiot of yourself and a fool of Mother,” she snaps. “How will anyone believe she can rule a planet if she can’t manage her children?’
Her face is red. I can feel mine heating as well. “Can Mother rule a planet?”
“Do you understand how you delegitimize Mother’s position just by existing? Do you understand how it looks for her, her child living happily with a war criminal?”
“She should have considered the problems of associating with war criminals before she ordered me to bomb a hospital.”
“It was a military hospital,” Sennia says, and I think I am going to be sick. A hospital is a hospital regardless of qualifiers. “Mother was doing everything in her power to achieve the revolution quickly. To win our freedom while we are alive to taste it. You cannot grudge her that.”
“Do you know what I can grudge her? 99,823 people dead. Two sausages per person a month. Half a year of snow! There is austerity, there is sacrifice, and there is willful mismanagement. You can promise Mother she’s lost my vote.”
I disconnect the call. Mother’s proud, sharp face is gazing into our window from the poster across the plaza, and I slam the shutters harder than I mean to.
I think that the humans from what-was-Earth must feel the same way about the Yucarean Empire as I do about Mother: loved but found wanting, tolerated only on the condition of my obedience. The gift of life, unwanted, unasked for, and unreturnable, like a handmade sweater that doesn’t fit from someone you can’t bear to disappoint.
A long moment passes as I try to reign in my ragged breaths. When my vision comes back into focus, Rhodan’s hand is extended before me, a single perfect orange naked on his gleaming palm.
In good times we are tremendously careful with each other.
These are not good times, and so our determination to treat each other delicately drives us farther apart. We burrow in our respective rooms and spout garden-party politesse over our sorghum bread at meals, asking after each other’s health as though we don’t overhear every ache and nightmare. He offers me the lanterncherry preserves at breakfast and his forehead creases when I refuse. I lie awake at night listening for the click of his fingers ringing off cups or drumming restlessly against his desk. Silence stretches between us more frequently and its quality degrades from companionable to oppressive, a stifling humidity hanging in the air.
And all day, the shouting in the streets. I can’t help feeling that what’s under siege is not my mother’s callous governance but the fragile happiness I have spent the last two years building on a pile of corpses.
I last for twelve days before I go down into the streets and find Noriko Forte standing in the slush. The temptation to ask her if she’s up for committing a bit of treason hits me in a wild, hysterical flash. I fight it down, but the thought remains: isn’t that what I’m about to do? Mother and Sennia would call it that.
“If I tell you how I bought Captain Rhodan his pardon,” I say, “who will you tell?”
“Everyone,” she says. It’s the only acceptable answer. The smile I give her is strained, but it still qualifies.
“Then come in.”
She trails after me like a cleaning drone and accepts a glass of bitter snowmelt water when I bring her into the insula. Rhodan borrows a folding chair from the community closet so that all three of us can sit around the kitchen table.
When she has turned on the little recorder pulled from her purse, when she is poised with tablet and stylus at the ready, Noriko Forte asks, “Do you have any questions for me?”
I should ask about her editorial policy, or whether I’ll be allowed to approve the article before it’s published. Instead, I ask, “Have you ever been down to the surface?”
“I grew up in Eucris,” she says. “Other side of the planet. I’ve never visited the capital if that’s what you mean.”
“But your governor was from Uca, and even if the allowances meant you didn’t worry about money, that wasn’t the same as being able to earn any job or position you wanted. Even though your family ate rice, even though you learned the songs, even though you knew all the histories we’re told about how the Empire was grown from seeds. Even though we learned their ethics and political theory and all the omens by heart. We let them raise and mold us, but they wouldn’t let us grow up. Right?”
“My grandmother was Metran. We were the first to learn the price of disobedience.”
“Then you know what it was like, and why my mother started the rebellion.”
She nods and backchannels and takes notes, occasionally interjecting a question as I show her all my stains. I have spent the last two years strenuously avoiding discussion of the war, and it is sickening how recounting it excites my senses. My muscles tense, my cheeks flush, colors I’d forgotten come back into my voice—and shame lodges roiling in my belly.
Noriko Forte is not so surprised by any of it as I expected her to be. She never rushes me through my faltering attempts at context. She only lifts an eyebrow when I am recounting the Siege of Ten Hands Hill, a month before the end of the war, when we’d pursued Rhodan’s squadron into a residential area. He’d recognized me and raised a surrender flag. I’d suspected a ruse and chosen, wrongly, to attack. By the time I realized my mistake and called off my troops it was already too late for some of Rhodan’s comrades and the three or four houses hit with firebombs. Too late for his arm, ruined by plasma shot. When I found him in the military hospital, I’d taken him away before his unit’s survivors could be put on trial for crimes against the new Republic.
“So he was pardoned because you were at fault for his injury?” Noriko Forte asks. “I wouldn’t think it’d have made any scandal. There weren’t many who would sympathize with him—”
“No, that’s not—his unit drew us off to get us away from the hospital. The hospital Mother ordered me to attack.”
“And if he had gone to trial …”
“I would have corroborated everything the Blue-Six squadron had to say about our own crimes.”
“Why are you telling me this? Why now?” she finally asks.
I chew on my tongue for so long that Rhodan reaches out to cover my hand with his own. It takes everything I have to hold still under the shock of it but I breathe deep and let him be an anchor, a pillar, a silent stable center to me.
“Because I wholly support autonomy for the Josephine system,” I say, “and I will not hide what we did for it. If we will be free, then we must also be accountable.”
The silence is different after Noriko Forte leaves, as if we’ve sanded down its edges. I make coffee, running the same pot over and over through yesterday’s grounds until it reaches a tolerable strength. When we settle in the parlor with our cups Rhodan says, “I have never thanked you.”
“I never wanted you to,” I say, too quickly. If I sometimes feel oppressed by the weight of our history, how much more does it pain him to live with the weight of my mercy on his back? “I did it for selfish reasons anyway.”
The look he gives me is enough invitation to keep talking, and for once I do.
“I couldn’t bear the thought of Inges Rhodan shut away where I might never hear him sing again.”
It is not all I want to say, only what I have the courage to put into words, and for once it is enough. He rises from his chair, lifting his hands. I meet him halfway and fit my palms against his like the heroes in the political romances we used to watch in history class.
The Empire’s history is shaped by love: what star to seed, what space to sail, all the places we flee to or from our feelings. The Republic is not different in this. I bombed a hospital because I loved the mother who ordered it. Now I topple her rule because if Rhodan is a criminal, I am a worse one, and I love him too much to be praised for the same atrocities he is vilified for.
He curls his long fingers, metal and flesh, down over the tips of mine. I do not pull away.
Our bedrooms have been separate and private spaces for so long that, even invited, to enter feels like a trespass. So we stay in the parlor, sinking to the synthetic wood floors in each other’s arms. It should not surprise me as it does that he knows where my scars are. He traces them carefully with his lips.
When he cries out his voice echoes in me like a bell at midnight.
When we have finished, when he rests his forehead against my shoulder, I turn my head to gaze out the open curtains. It is snowing again, as if the colony itself is trying to drive the protestors back indoors. The crowd refuses to disperse.
“What if you—are not safe?” Inges asks. “I was pardoned, but you …”
The words hang over us like storm clouds: exile, prison, execution. All the fates I’d refused to let anyone inflict on Inges. It is easier to consign myself to the flames than to watch him burn.
“If I am going to hold my mother accountable,” I say, “I must start with myself.”
It takes a moment to understand that the noise coming from him is a sob, but when I do I card my fingers through his long hair. The view out the window turns blurry.
Somewhere far away the Queen-over-Queens sleeps on Uca, the cradle at the heart of the universe, wakes only to sing prophecy, and sleeps again. Does she even know that this tiny system has disowned itself?
Inges moves his thumb over my shoulder blade in slow circles and I close my eyes. His voice is low in my ear, rumbling all the tiny bones there. I will not be so selfish as to ask him to stand by me, but I think he will anyway. He can make that choice now. At the end of everything my confession has made us equal. I am doing my best in the world my mother built, and every day it gets a little warmer, and someday the snow will melt.