In theory I should have been nicer to her. After all, we used to love one another, back in the days before the dryness. In our small village, we would sneak out of our cavas and wander by the drifting pools. They didn't drift, but were used to drift in during times for thought.
They were sacred and sanctuaries from the noise of life. Our moons, Palos and Altos reflected on them nightly, even as one moon waned, the other moved to bloom. We were to keep the pools safe and ensure they were never tainted.
In day they blazed with the sun’s reflected fire, hard to look at, often needing the shade of a hand to see that glory light between fingers. But at night they were crystalline and stars and moons danced their surfaces. A sip quenched many thirsts.
"I am amazed they never warm from the harsh light of day," I would say, as we sat with dipped and tangled feet and legs. "It sends the heat away, so we are always cool", she replied. Still I was convinced there was some magic to it, something unexplainable.
That night it was particularly enticing, lapping quietly, slight wind, rippling the reflecting night. The smell from the tassel trees made the air rich and flavored. She had the pools' luster on her skin.
I reached out and took her in the crook of my elbow, pulling her close, smelling her hair - citrus and savory. We had explored each other as children do, cautious and curious, but never like tonight. After all, we knew one day we would be Mypek, even before both the Elder and Clan Mother said it. We knew from how we could laugh so easily together and from when she stayed with me after my first hunt, when I was clawed by the Skreecat, which left such scars on my back and head; I was many moon turns in bed. I remember the Skreecat staring in my eyes as I lay there. With his claw he marked me for his brother, but did not kill me> I must have fought hard for such forgiveness, but he howled long in the night in triumph. She would say my back looked like a map, and it might be fun to travel the paths, and laugh. From then we knew the bond and time of making would come to us.
She pressed me back to the earth, my legs still lingering in the pool, as she slid easily atop. An easy and wet slide up my legs till she was poised astride my hips. My fingers found the small pocket at the base of her spine and I pulled her forward into a first deep kiss, salty and sweet. The tip of her tongue tasted like the roasted packberries we had been eating; the smoky flavor mixed with her salt increased my thirst. As we kissed with greater depth, her hand eased down to untie my kathos, dropping it next to us. The cool air blowing around and between us; chill between our warmth. Her tathdress slipped easily over her head, we fully exposed to one another for the very first time.
She, so striking – lithe of muscle, rich in color. The water and sweat made her skin glisten and mine tingle. "I am not so pretty; others are more beautiful", she said. "I am small, but do I please your eye." I had no voice to answer; pulled her close as I ran my hands over her form, feeling the tension in her muscles loosen with each stroke. In kiss, I felt, rather than heard her moan - air and vibration passing from her to me. She eased her hips, herself down to encompass me. I jolted a bit, shamed by my reaction, like a boy touching a sparker without knowing it. Her fingers wrapped around the back of my head entangled in my hair bringing me close so I could taste her neck, shoulder, breast as she arched back. Her blood pulse tapping the tip of my tongue. I can feel all the dropped tassels from the trees clinging to my wet back, itchy - how am I distracted in this moment.
We moved in easy and awkward rhythm, as one, as one. If this was to be the time of our making then it should be with the same power as the Skreecat. I lifted her and with gentle arm and hand around her waist lowered her to hands and knees, moving as one, as one. Her hands gripping the embankment edge, almost clawing up tufts. Moving as one, as one. I could see the ghosts of our faces over her shoulder reflecting in the pool, wiggling in the ripples and the light of the moons. Her eyes half-closed, mine wide in wonder. My hands on her hips I lean forward, "you are Mypek", I whisper. My legs and back tightening, beginning to vibrate. She lifts one hand to cover mine, "Mypek," she moans; and as we move, as one, as one; she slips unbalanced forward with a cry, both falling in languid motion, into the pool.
Our cries must have sprung out loudly in the night, startling the people. As we sputtered up from the water, my arms around her trying to lift her up, the people ran out from the cavas. We were bathed brightly in the moons' light.
"What have you done," they were shouting. "You have spoiled the pools" others were screaming. Armsmen pulled her from me; I was gripped by the arms and wrestled back to the shore, slammed face down and held by my arms.
"Stop," she cried out, "he is Mypek!" As the Elder stormed up, he backhanded her across the face. "Neither of you is Mypek, and cannot be ever," he shouted. The Clan Mother, put her hand on his arm and looked with soft eyes, but he would have none of it. "You may have destroyed our place, we can only see if the gods will accept your amends.
"This is on me", she said, half screaming, half crying.
"No." said the Elder. The Clan Mother agreed, "in this it is always the man that owns the shame and bears the pain, but you have your part, too."
"What are you talking..." I started, but was lifted by the Armsmen, and rapped hard in the gut with the Elder’s talking stick. After, I was carried to the pit and dropped in, cover closing, leaving me in dark and silence. I could hear her crying, asking where they were taking her, what was so wrong.
I, from the dark, kept whispering, "Mypek, Mypek, Mypek," as one.
At some point I woke, stiff from the cramped position and moistness of the hole. My skin hurt from where it had been scrapped against the ground and my stomach and ribs pained from the hit. Through the slight crack along the edge of the cover, I could barely make out the lightness of the sky. "It must be near dawn", I thought, and wondered if I was to be left here.
It felt like the day drifted and with it me in and out of thought. The hatch suddenly pulled back, hands reaching in to yank me out. I was laid face down on the ground arms pulled straight out from my sides almost to their limit. A board was laid across my back, with pins that grabbed at my outstretched wrists so there was no release as my arms were tied to the board. The Armsmen then lifted the board, and me straight off the ground, my legs and feet dangled like a small child, I could get no purchase. The board and me, placed between two poles - one to each side, the ends of my arm board sliding into notches in the tops of the poles. My feet tied to the base of each pole. I stood, no kathos, naked. I had not lifted my head and could only see feet and legs. I could feel the breath of a breeze, certain I was close to the pool. As I tried to lift my eyes, I knew immediately where I stood, by the shore where only a brief while ago we were Mypek…bonded. I felt shame-faced and knew I blushed as I could feel the heat rise on my skin.
Before me was a form hidden behind a large headdress made from the sharp teethreeds from the dryland by our cavas. I remember the sharp edges from boyhood as I was pushed into them, small scrapping teeth. The headdress was lowered over a form, falling below the knees. "Oh how hot that must be," I thought as my gaze came up the form - a bird head, like the sharp-beaked Shrike with only small spaces where the person's arms could poke through. I could see the bite marks the teethreeds made on the arms. I glanced to the face, beaked and covered, except for the eyes - the eyes, her eyes, her eyes.
"Mypek" I spoke.
"No longer" Elder stated. Neither of you are Mypek, neither have names. She is the Bird Head. You are Pain. You must purge what you have done to the Clan, to the Pools, until the Pools give sign you are forgiven." The clan was silent, although I thought I could hear the muffled crying - my mother? my sister? the Clan mother? I could not tell.
Not Mypek - her eyes were dry and fearful, this I could see.
"I ask the forgiveness of you, the clan and you," I said to her.
"That is not the way," said the Elder. "You are to bleed and your pain will be given by the Bird Head, until the Pools forgive. You will be here until that time. You will rest here. You will be posted each morning. You will look to the blazing glare of the water by day; you will sleep just out of reach by night. You will seek forgiveness, and you will bleed. This will continue without surcease. The Bird Head will be here with you, but will only touch you to cut or give you a drink. At night, you will be alone. You are gone from us, except for this ritual. Should either try to run or give comfort, the other will be killed. Only in this will the pools be cleansed. Now the process begins!"
With his final pronouncement, she stood. I could see the scrapes on her arms and legs and knew beneath the bird's head she, too was naked. In one hand she held the ritual bird's knife, in the other a handful of pool sand. She approached so tentatively until the Clan Mother shoved her hard, stumbling she almost fell into me, with a whimper, but caught herself.
I wished I could comfort her. I had done this to us. That is what they said. This was my fault. I should own this. Her eyes were in such confusion and fear.
"Do it! I am sorry! Do it! As one!" I whispered
She reached out, wincing at the bite of the teethreeds, and stabbed the point into my upper right chest. I strangled out a cry, but as she pulled back, the clan mother took her hand and pressed it deep, turning it to make a pattern in my skin. As the blood flowed down my chest, she rubbed the pool sand into the wound; stepped back, and knelt down. I stood there the rest of the day, stretched, blood drying on me and the ground, muscles taut, eyes half closed, looking out at the blazing glare upon the water. I needed to squint to see her waiting.
As the day ended, she stood and came to me providing a cup of water and salted meat, which she held while I ate and drank. Then she turned away. The Armsmen returned to lower me to the ground as the sun set, still ankle tied to one pole. It was over. I could the hear the howl of the Skreecat in the distance.
Each day was a repeat, I, strapped to my arm bar, lifted into place, stretched and laced to the poles. Her adding a new cut, at first guided by the Clan Mother's hand, later with no help. Each day we looked at each other, but couldn't see. Each day the glare of the sun harsh on my eyes and skin, her cocooned in the bird head, scrapped and silent. Each day new designs on new places, front, back. Each day blood and sand. Older wounds turning to whitened scars on my darkening skin. Each day, no forgiveness. Each day a final howl.
Each day, the pools diminished a little. I could see them getting less. They did not recover from the harsh light and heat of the day. It felt true – the magic was gone. I could hear the squabbles - we ruined the world - no rains, no coolness, the pool water is becoming brackish, more teethreeds sprouting up. The clan clamored for even more pain. The cuts grew deeper, designs more intricate. It covered my chest, back, arms, legs - I was unsure what would happen when space ran out. They just re-started, new over old. Always, the Bird Head and me, moon turn after moon turn. Howl after howl. No forgiveness!
As the pools diminished, so did I. Smaller, tauter, a body of trails too complicated to follow anymore. The water for my drink grew tart and smelled like me with no bath. Maybe we were bonded, the pools and me, each becoming less. Maybe forgiveness required my death; clearly my blood wasn't enough. For one brief month, I had respite from the cutting, but was posted everyday. No Bird Head – maybe she died, maybe they killed her, maybe she escaped, maybe she was forgiven. After all she did her cutting very well. No, she returned and new paths were carved over old ones.
I could not remember the last voice I heard spoken to me, other then the pronouncement of the Elder. It played over in my mind. Where was the forgiveness? Each day fewer came to see the day's start, the day's cut, the day's blood. Each day fewer would come to drift in the pools; there was not much water left. The land grew hot, then hotter, grass to scrub to packed earth.
The tribe moved on. Then, only the two of us and some Armsmen – to tie, to lift, to drop, to untie, to bring the water and the meat, to take Bird Head away.
We were warned. "You must continue! You must find the forgiveness! You must bring the world back. There is no respite for your task. At the bottom of one pole was an indentation of earth that cupped my body where I lay each night. Each day she returned, eyes flat, arms withered, small scars marking the passing in and out of the armholes. Even the Bird Head, was diminished, the vibrant colors of a year ago faded from all the hours in the glare.
The pools were cracked earth with small ponds left, even hard to find water there or sand to rub into the cuts.
That last night, hung in my place, the sun setting, she kneeling in front of me, waiting for water and meat, like the hundreds gone before...no one came. I was hanging; no one came to let me down. There was so little light left. She stood, looking about puzzled, where were they. No movements anywhere. I could feel my body sag, the pull on my shoulders agonizing. She came to me, reaching to lift the bar, but too small and the Bird’s Head restricting her movement.
She tried pushing up with the top of the bird's head against the arm bar, but the head shattered, powdered and fell, caught on her arms. She pulled it off; deep welts forming and blood ran from her arms. I could see her for the first time in over a year.
Pale, her deep color gone...tight of face, soft shapes turned to hard angles...muscles slack. A lesser self. She strained to reach the arm bar, pushed against the pole over and over. Each pole press pulling harder on my outstretched arms, but the pain was sparking. That is what I am now...PAIN...that is what I endure...PAIN...that is my purpose...PAIN...that is what will forgive me...PAIN!
The pole gave way and we - she, me, the pole, the arm bar, all toppled to the ground. Me, face down, tasting dirt still stained with all my old blood. I can taste myself. She cuts the arm bonds; then leg bonds; I am freed but have no strength to move. All I have now is the PAIN. She rolls me over. Her face is next to mine. I can see it but barely; so little light. Altos is waning and Palos has not yet bloomed.
She leans in on my chest, I am PAIN, I wince but she does not notice. She keeps trying to set a cup to my lips. I can smell myself, unwashed and realize it is the water. I turn my face away. Puzzled she looks in my eyes.
"Last drink, Bird Head" I croak "you take it".
I should have been nicer to her; after all we used to love one another in a time before the dryness. I can feel my body shredded, mapped and overlaid with more mapping. It almost feels like the tassel leaves are still stuck on my back. I rest my hand on her face; we are again without clothes, without shame, without desire, at the dry poolside.
"I am sorry," I say. I feel myself cupped in my earthen spot. She leans to my ear, her body touching mine.
"We had a making,” she whispers. “She had my size, but your power. We had a making, but you could not see for the Bird Head. We had a making and they took her from us. We had a making and you never knew."
"I am PAIN, that is what I know. That is my forgiveness and it is yours, too," my voice fading. I could feel the slight drip of tears on my cheek and curled in. She curled in, too, back to my chest. She took my arm and pulled it around her like a blanket corner, my palm to her mouth. I could feel her words more than hear them.
"We had a making, but they would not tell me her name. She is our forgiveness." I could feel our tears. They fell over our whole body. The spark light filled the sky. “How strange,” I thought, “the world so full of our tears.” I could hear the rustle of Skreecats just out of view, but close. They lift muzzles to howl in unison. Curled to each other the tears of the Gods fall harder, on us, all around us, as one. In my palm she whispers, “Mypek”. I am gone. We are gone, as one, as one.