You wonder what kind of safe house the females could have set up. Once, he had heard, there had been cities and states and territories and countries. Now there were only two continents. One for the males. One for the females. It has been this way for sixty-two years.
Seventy-two years ago there had been a war. You hated war. Hated the lingering second hand effects that controlled your life.
You wonder as you watch the sweat build into larger spots under her arms and in the middle of her back if the females live like the males. When she wakes up in the morning, does she look out her bedroom window to see the fence that wraps around each neighborhood of decaying houses?
Are their fences littered with old balls and clothes and pages of a language they weren’t taught to read? You know the language. Your grandfather had taught you in the middle of the day a little at a time.
“It’s best to sneak things in the daylight.” He had told you once as you sat on his knee, studying a poem he had found flying in the wind. “If you do it at night, they will know. If you do it during the day, you can cover it up easier.” He had patted your back and kissed your head. “Besides, you are doing no real wrong.” He had whispered. “Somebody has to remember. Someday, bravery will resurface, and our people will need teachers.”
You look at the female again. You watch the sweat drip down her neck and listen to her steady breathing.
“What does your family do?”
“Don’t waste my time.” She growls. “If you have a question, ask it.”
“Do your villages have fences?”
“Do you hate them?”
She turns around. “Of course I do.”
“Who doesn’t, right?”
“I saw a village on my way here.” She says with a tilt of her head. She’s staring directly in your eye now, and you swear you can feel her sifting through your thoughts. “Somebody grew plants to cover.” She whispered. “It was beautiful and haunting.”
“You remind me of dirt.” You say, and you had meant it as a compliment.
“Save the romance for the girls.” She advises. “Although I imagine it’s going to get old after a while.”
The ground groans.
“They are coming.” She mutters. She closes her eyes and takes a breath. “Timing.” She opens her eyes and takes a noisy, nervous breath. “What’s wrong with your other eye?”
You curse her silently for reminding you of the pain coursing through your head. “Infection.” You say harshly.
“Oh, so you do have fight in you?” She steps closer. Her breath is old and her teeth are dirty. There’s a piece of last night’s supper stuck in her side teeth.
You narrow your good eye and meet her stare. She’s an idiot. Of course you are strong. Of course you have fight. It’s just that being in jail for so long changes the way a male fights. You have to have a deeper burning fight of a long-term survivor.
She’s taking her time with the bad eye, like a predator sizes up its prey.
You push past her. She doesn’t get to look at you like that.
“Get back here!” She hisses. “We need to rest now. We will travel once they’ve moved past the first villages.”
When you turn around, she has her hands open in front of her and her lips are moving. You don’t hear her words, but you want to. There’s a flash of light in her eyes and on her hands, and in a snap there’s a box in her hands.
“Come here.” She beckons. “Food first, and then we sleep.”
She kneels on the ground and pulls out two smaller boxes of food and two canteens of a sweet drink. “You don’t have this fruit on your continent.” She explains as you take your first drink.
“Were you born with magic?” You ask as you devour the food.
“Don’t be stupid.” She takes a big bit of the bread. “All those babies are killed.”
“Maybe some aren’t.” You bait her.
“Oh, so you know one?” She leans against the dirt wall. “Who, what kind of magic, and how did he survive the cleansing?”
You shake your head no.
She shrugs and digs into the box. She pulls out two sets of clothing and sets them aside. “Don’t you touch yours until you’ve been scrubbed clean.” She says.
You think about what you’d like to say back to her, but you hold your tongue for now.
She tosses a blanket at you and keeps one for herself. “I can’t make medicine.” She says, and you swear she has a hint of regret in her tone.
“What we have is enough.” You lie down against the wall and pull the blanket up. Will you sleep? You doubt it. You watch her as she lies down against the opposite wall and curls up. “Thank you.” You mutter. “For the food.” You stare up at the top of tunnel. The ground groans again. “And for the rescue.” You mumble after it’s quieted down again.
“Not many know those words these days.” She said. “Somebody loved you once upon a time.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Your heart expands, and then implodes.
Hope you enjoyed. See ya around.