Monday, October 8, 2012

Twenty-Year Anniversary Dinner



            “You're dying, you know.”
            “Yep.”
            “Well?”
            “Well, what?”
            “Well, don't you think you should tell somebody? Somebody besides me, I mean.”
            “I didn't tell you that. I don't even know that I am. And you don't know either.”
            “You just said you were though.”
            “I did not.”
            “Then you confirmed that you were.”
            “I didn't do that either. Maybe I just feel like I am is all.”
            “No. You are. You don't have much time left. Strangers may not be able to tell. But I can. I remember how you used to be.”
            “I'm just getting old,” the man coughed up a couple, dusty lung-fulls of air. He'd been combing his hair in the mirror.
            “You're not that old.”
            “Well, thank you.”
            “Not old enough to be coughing like that all the time,” she elaborated, “Not old enough to say that you died an old man.”
            “Ah.”
            “Well?!”
            “Well, what?!”
            “Well, are you going to tell anyone?!”
            “Like who, I already asked you.”
            “No, you didn't.”
            “Alright then. Like who?”
            “Like your kids, for one.”
            Our kids, don't you mean?”
            “Yes.”
            “I wouldn't want to alarm them.”
            “Well, I just think it would be fair.”
            “And besides, I'm not anyway.”
            “I've seen your handkerchief. It's like you try to hide it. Like you still think you can hide anything from me.”
            “Trying to hide it? Jesus, this is why I just can't... Were you always this way? Seriously. I can't remember.”
            She was drying herself with a towel and saw no need to answer what she believed to be a perfectly rhetorical question.
            He gritted his teeth and hated her then. At the same time, though, he also knew that this feeling would pass in just another minute.
            “Oh, I remember now,” he continued, “You were. Always trying hide something from you. You'd never consider for one second that maybe I'd just put it out of sight so that you wouldn't have to see it. So that you wouldn't be grossed out. But no. And you know, this is when I really get pissed off. When I try to do something for your benefit and you turn it around on me and fuck me with it. All the time. All the fucking time.”
            “Yeah? Name one other time.”
            “Too many to name even. There must be a million.”
            “Try.”
            But the man was too tired. And rather, he let his drawn face reply.
            “It's just like that,” he went on, though, after a minute, “Right there. Like how you can't just say you're sorry for accusing me of something when, meanwhile, I was actually thinking of you. I had you in mind and was trying to do something nice. And you can't even apologize!”
            He was so tired. The words. The circles. He wanted nothing more than to just sleep forever.
            “That's only because I don't believe you. I still think you were trying to hide it, is what I mean.”
            “Well, that's your problem then. I guess.”
            “Actually...it's yours.”
            “Well, thanks for sounding so concerned.”
            “I'm concerned. Otherwise, I wouldn't have brought it up.”
            “You're concerned for... If you're so concerned than you would have approached this a little differently. And some other time might have been nice too. Oh, your fucking timing. I can't help but wonder if you do this shit on purpose.”
            “No. I just didn't know when else to do it.”
            Anytime,” the man was so tired...so tired of speaking, “Anytime but now would have been just great. A few hours earlier even. Or, preferably, a few hours from now. Or, most preferably, tomorrow. Or the next day. Or never.”
            “Well, I guess that's why I picked now. Because 'never' is when you would have approached it.”
            “I would have approached it when there was something to worry about. Something solid.”
           “Yeah. Well, something solid is exactly what I saw on your...” but instead of another word; a frown came out, sad eyes looking down at the ground, and a sniffle.
            He tried to put his arm around her then but she slipped out of it.
            “No,” she picked up with, “I can't do this right now. I can't get into it. And maybe I won't be able to anymore at all, for that matter.”
            The man was about to say something but, on second thought, just shook his head.
            She was applying cocoa butter to her skin now. And he was looking into the mirror without actually seeing anything back.
            “Could I pee, please?” he asked.
            “You can pee,” her voice had changed. In these three words, it seemed suddenly cheery...as if the brief but somehow serious discussion they'd just had hadn't happened at all.
            “Just one minute. I swear.”
            “Okay. But I need to be in here too so...”
            “Yeah, yeah. I'll hurry.”
            And, just like that, the bad spell had been broken.
            She left the tiny room and he closed the door but didn't lock it, of course. And he thought, while unbuttoning his trousers, how this funny little game they always played...this dosey doe...this inability to stand there and pee while she was watching, after all this time, was an un-characteristic so strange and yet it was a cornerstone that seemed to define their marriage. It made him happy though. It was a domestic feeling. He thought about how he probably could have peed in front of other girls and how, in the past, he probably even had. But not her. Why? It was such a silly thing. But it made him smile as he stood there waiting.
            The man looked down at his paunch then and wished, if only for her, that he was a little more fit...and not possibly dying. Because she deserved better. Someone she could be proud of and proud to be seen beside. And even just going for a walk once in a while would have burned off most of this excess fat. And maybe if they just walked together. Hadn't she been asking him for a while now if he would do just that? No. He had that wrong. Rather, it had been a while since she'd asked him that. But just how long exactly? A year? Jesus Christ, could it have been even longer? And suddenly, he felt ashamed and wanted to take her tiny hand and look her in the eye and tell her how sorry he was. Surely, it was never too late. Unless she...
            She was merely an attractive female is all. Still. They weren't that old. He was merely old beyond his years. But could he somehow stop this whole crazy train from derailing? Or had it already. And even if she... He surely deserved it. Oh, the heartbreak that might be there lying. But oh, the heartache that he must have put her through. Not the acute kind. Not that piercing, for an instant kind of sting that lingers for days or months even. But the chronic kind. The kind that wears and weathers people down over years like erosion. The kind that they'd obviously been living with...since the beginning? Could it be true that, in the end, they just weren't right for each other after all? That they never were? No. He refused to believe this. He refused because it wasn't true. For how then, after all these years, could he still just love her so much...in his way. And it was in little ways that he loved her so much. Her little movements. The little things she said in her little voice with the little, determined look on her face. The little things that she'd always buy. The strange and seemingly useless (or at least unnecessary) products hanging up in her shower. And it was her shower. Still. After all these years. It was still her place. Her domicile. He was just a visitor there. An alien on alien soil surrounded by all these seemingly useless products. Home was a strange planet for him to live on. But he loved it. How he loved it so. Every waking breath. Every footstep along that carpet. And every breath she took as he'd lie there beside her. For hours. Perfectly captivated just to watch her sleep. Her little face. Its determined look gone at those hours. Perfect, blissful, oblivion. It was like she was in heaven then. And so was he. And how perverse did that make things?
            She knit little things. He wrote horrible things. She bought little things that helped brighten up his day. Did you she do it for him? It didn't really matter. In fact, it was probably more what she did without thinking that he must have loved the most.
            “You know you're shallow, right?”
            It had taken him a long time to urinate. Perhaps, another sign there of waning.
            “I know. You tell me that all the time,” he said as she passed through the door again to put on her camisole.
            “You know that though, right?”
            “I don't think there really are any shallow people or any deep people. People just see things differently is all.”
            “You would say that.”
            “I mean...if by 'deep' you mean; deep-thinking. Then I doubt either one of us are truly accredited philosophers. I've never claimed to be that anyway.”
            “No. And I know you still don't get it. Deep is how much you feel. It's how much you process. I swear, sometimes I wish your heart and liver were in the other's place. But then, I guess, you'd really be dying. Or, make that 'dead'. Dead a long time ago, probably.”
            “Maybe.”
            She did deserve better. And maybe his death would be the best thing for her. The best thing that ever happened. She could remarry. They weren't that old. Not 'old' like he'd pictured them together so many times. It was one of his favorite little daydreams. An imaginary clip. They were running late for something. An engagement. Perhaps, 30 years into the future even. And, once they'd gotten themselves ready, she was having trouble moving her aluminum walker towards the door. A walker with tennis balls on two of the feet even...just like the old people have. And he was trying to assist her. And she said, “Now, now,” in her little old lady voice, “Just take it easy.” He loved this little clip and couldn't wait until they actually lived it. That would mean that they'd made it. Through all the hardships and misunderstandings; they were still together in the end. Old folks just trying to make it out of the house in a somewhat timely fashion. It would mean that they'd also stopped working by then and finally had an infinite amount of time to spend together. Just together. They could finally relax. Without all of the duty that came along with living from paycheck to paycheck and still trying to prove something to the world. “Now, now,” she said. Her hair was grey but still the same length with the same bangs cut just short of her eyebrows. “Now, now,” it always seemed to echo. She had a sweater on in this little vision and her back was bent over just slightly. But there were the same glasses that she always wore...even just now putting on her camisole.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Doomsday & The Ramp



.א

            “Is it true, Papa? Have they finished it? Have they finished building the ramp?”
            “Of course not, Darry. Where did you even hear that? Who would have told you such a thing?”
            But the boy didn't answer.
            “Darry...” Yitzhak made the tone that all parents make when they know for certain that their child has overstepped their bounds or has done something wrong, “You need to tell Papa now. And I promise, I will not punish you. Were you listening to the adults speak when you knew you weren't supposed to?”
            “No.”
            “Well, then Darry,” he came over and sat on the child's bed with him now, “You have nothing to be afraid of.”
            “Really?”
            “Did I just make you a promise?”
            “Yes.”
            “Then, go on. Just tell your dad. Hmm? Don't you want to do that? Don't you want to atone and cleanse your soul?”
            “Atone for what, Papa?”
            “Well, for starters, for not telling the complete and honest truth,” he feigned a smile, “How about that?”
            “But, Papa...!”
            “But nothing. Now, you just tell Papa what you heard. Because, I promise you... And it seems I have been making a lot of promises today already. But I do promise you, Darry. There is absolutely nothing for you to worry about.”
            “Well...”
            “That's a good boy. Just come out with it, now.”
            “I saw it.”
            “You saw it?!” Yitzhak's throat turned instantly dry causing this exclamation to come out as more of a throaty whisper than anything else, “You saw it? But how? And what did you see exactly?”
            “The ramp.”
            “And you saw it with your own eyes...” Yitzhak spoke this mostly to himself, though, and lifted his empty gaze to the wall adjacent.
            “Yes,” the boy almost whimpered.
            “Well, Darry. You know very well that children have been forbidden to play outside these past many days. Weeks, now, I suppose it's been. And I know that this has been very hard for you. And I am very sorry for this. But why then?!” he was almost pleading now, “And how?! And who was there watching you? Or, I guess I should say, supposed to have been watching you?”
            Nobody. It was at night.”
            “At night?! You mean...you mean, you snuck out of your room?! Then...the other boys. They must have snuck out too. They must have made you.”
            “No.”
            “Tempted you. Egged you on, is what you are saying.”
            “No,” and the boy was very sad now.
            “Then what, Darry. How do you know then...? I mean, why do you think...? Or suspect even...?! That the ramp is finished?! Which it is not!”
            “You promised you wouldn't get mad.”
            “I promised that I would not punish you. And still, I will not. But...for God, Darry. And because God is everywhere. How do you know this? And what did you see?”
            “I just wanted to walk.”
            “Yes,” and Yitzhak seemed to understand. This was, after all, his own flesh and blood seated next to him; his own knee, hairy and boney, pressing up against the tiny, fleshy knee of his child's, “A walk at night. To get some fresh air. To feel the peace. I too, Darry, enjoy breathing this air and seeing the stars shine with brightness. I like just to look at them sometimes...twinkling. It reminds of...”
            “Of God, Papa?”
            “Yes,” and Yitzhak had to chuckle to himself, “Of God. It reminds me of just how big He his and just how small we are. And it also makes me wonder if being with him means becoming a star. Because wouldn't that be wonderful, Darry? To actually be one of those stars up there. Immortal, I grant you. But just being able to see from that view all that is going on down here. And what do you think, Darry? Do you think that maybe we would be able to see a bigger picture then? Do you think that maybe we would be able to see at least part of God's plan?”
            “Yes, Papa.”
            “I do too, you good boy. That, I do too.”
            “Papa?”
            “Yes, Darry.”
            “Are we going to die?”
            Yitzhak wanted to shut his eyes tightly and the cover them with his own hand. Just a bit of reprieve to block out, momentarily, that hot light of the setting, afternoon sun. But he couldn't. Normally, he would have. But this time, he couldn't. So he put his hand on the boy's knee instead.
            “Oh, Darry. Do all young boys ask questions like these? And so often?”
            And it was true. The boy, at least in Yitzhak's mind, did have an unnatural preoccupation with death. And the fear of dying.
            “I don't know.”
            “I don't know either.”
            “But are we?”
            “Yes, Darry. And this, you already know. We are all going to die. But then we will all come back.”
            “I know. But how long do we have to just lie there?”
            “This, Darry, you know I cannot know. Until the Messiah comes. But there is something that I can tell you.”
            “Yes?”
            “Yes. I can tell you that you will not remember just lying there as you so eloquently put it. So, please don't you worry about that.”
            “Then what will happen, Papa?”
            “Well, Darry. I imagine that it will be just like waking up from a very long nap. At first, you may feel very tired and you may not even remember when it was that you first went to sleep. But then it will come to you. And then you will look over and your mother and I will be there too. And we will be so glad to see you,” Yitzhak's voice trailed off at the end as he fought back the tears.
            “Then why are you crying, Papa?”
            “Because, my boy. Because it just makes me so happy to think about this moment, you see. Because death can seem very sad, Darry. But when we see it as just another part of His greatest plan...then it can seem very happy. And how thankful we must be to have such a wonderful God who allows everybody to see each other again. And I think we will meet many people, Darry. People whom we do not even know quite yet.”
            “Like?”
            “Like your children's children's children's children. And they will all be so very happy to meet you. Even if you do not know them quite yet.”
            “That sounds good.”
            “Yes, Darry. It will be very pleasant and interesting. For you and me both! And we will eat very much and dance around.”
            “Good!” the boy perked up now, “Because I'm hungry!”
            “Yes, son. I do know this. And it is my deepest wish that you were not. But we will eat soon, my boy. Very soon. We will feast and eat all that you can handle!” Yitzhak smiled as he found himself caught up in this fantasy now too when viewed through his own child's eyes. “So much to eat,” he said again and then added, “And no sadness whatsoever. And never, never any pain or suffering. And no one will ever have to die again. Now, how's that for a nice thought. We only ever have to die once. And even that, my child, in the grandest of all things to come, will not even be so bad.”
            “And Uncle? Will he be there too?”
            Why. This is what the knot in Yitzhak's throat seemed to ask just then as it grew until bursting into a watery gusher. While yet, at the very same time, it seemed to solidify and grow denser until finally it weighed down his actual head. And he didn't answer. Instead, he lifted his hand from the boy's knee and wrapped it around his tiny shoulders.
            “Papa?”
            “Yes, Darry.”
            “Where's Mama right now?”
            “You know that too, my boy. You know that she is during her menstruation and that she is at the common house until she is again pure.”
            “But...when will that be?”
            “In just a few day's time, I think. It is not important, Darry. You know that that is where she goes every time as all the women do, for that is their duty.”
            I know. But I just want to see her.”
            “As well do I, Darry. But you know that it is forbidden. Forbidden by God.”
            “But I just want to hold her.”
            “As do I, Darry. But you will see her and she will hold you soon enough. Very soon, I think.”
            “But, Papa...”
            “No, Darry. No more questions. And, please now, no more buts.”
            “But why do you keep saying my name?!”
            “Only because, Darry. Because, I named you. And you know that I love you very much.”
            Yes, but...”
            “And do you want to hear something very special?”
            “Yes,” the boy acquiesced.
            “Well, I think... Do you know what I think?”
            “No.”
            I think...that we should lie down and take a nap together and this way, we can feel refreshed and perfectly enjoy the evening. And I think that you have been up and worrying about nothing all day...and could use a good rest.”
            “Okay.”
            “Thank you, Darry. You are a very good boy. A very obedient boy. And you know that God is always watching. And that He sees that you are a very good boy too. Now, doesn't this make you happy?”
            “Yes, Papa.”
            “Okay then. I thought that it would.”
            And then they did lie down together; Yitzhak's arm still wrapped around the boy. And as the boy's deep breathing of slumber increased; he thought to himself.
            Oh no, no, no, Yitzhak. This isn't how it was supposed to happen. And even if it is all the way that it was supposed to happen, it's still not the way that you wanted it to be. This boy here so soundly asleep in your arms. He would grow strong and smart. Smarter than you, Yitzhak. Smart enough to come up with a plan that could...that would take them all down. That would save us all. For all you know, Yitzhak, your boy could be the Messiah. Who's to say that he's not? Hmm? Who is to say? I would take him in my arms and run from here if there were anywhere to run to. And I would place him out of sight with just enough water if there was anywhere he would not be found. And I would stay with him. That's right, Yitzhak. Why not? For days...weeks maybe; the two of you...the three of you could live in a pit...
            And Yitzhak smiled now as the reality faded back in. He wanted to chuckle to himself again too. Then to laugh and laugh out loud! But he couldn't. Normally, he would have. But this time, he couldn't. Oh, what a dream. And even at this late hour. Even now. The mind's strictest code. The instinct to...not let go. To protect his own flesh and hang on for dear life. Dear...life.
            “I love you, Darry,” he whispered once more and kissed the boy's sweaty forehead.
            “Are you ready, Yitzhak?” a voice fainter than any whisper then came from somewhere just beyond the door. A broken voice.
            “Yes, my brother,” Yitzhak whispered back, “Yes. We are.”
            And he stared at the ceiling and held his boy tightly. And there, they waited like innocents.
There they waited...like lambs for the slaughter.

.ב

            They told us to lie down and wait. To pray and wait. To wait for the end to come.
            They told us shut our eyes tightly. To put our heads against the wall and try not to think about anything. Anything but God now. And that we would be able to feel Him so close. And that we should give ourselves to Him...peacefully. For, it was not His intention to hurt us. Nor his.
            They told us that, no matter what we heard, to try and not make a sound...not a whimper. They said that this would scare the remaining...and they were right.
            From all the way across the room, I could hear them. They started down there like a line. And unfortunately, I was to be one of the last. At least I assumed so. I could hear their footsteps and the stones below them. The only footsteps. And they were across the room.
            But the echoes! And I felt myself starting to cry. I was scared, yes. But the tears were only for this complaint. For complaining to God just now about the echoes! Why?! Why couldn't it have just been outside?! There would be no echoes there...I don't think. And I think that I would have felt much closer to Him there...under the stars and the sky. But there were no stars. And there was no sky. There was darkness though. And I suppose, I should be very thankful for that. My eyes were shut very tight, this is true. I did as they said. I obeyed. And I knew that this was because it was best for me and everyone. And it was because it was best that they told us to do it. But I still don't think that I would've liked to even imagine this in the light. That is what would have felt cruel. That is what would have been a test too trying. So He has been merciful in this way. And so I should be thankful rather than complain. Complain about the echoes.
            I am only so grateful that my boy is not here. And to think that, at first, I had actually wanted him to be with me. I felt it only natural despite our law. But that only now, I find...I realize that we are truly going against our law. And there is nothing natural about this.
            He is such a sweet boy. I hope that it is already over for him. And if Brother has kept to his word and his plan then... Ah, but this is not his plan. It never was. He had simply been chosen. And like all chosen people, we must survive. No. We must prevail. We must endure. And endure this hardship, we would. And he would too. And to endure this hardship, I would try...when they came to me.
            If I could hold my baby right now, my baby boy, I would kiss his sweet forehead and hold him tightly. And I would caress his sweet name again over and over. And I would forgive him for playing outside and exploring. And I would wrap him in my arms and hold him and cry. But this would upset him very much. So I know that it is better this way. And I suppose that I am very thankful for that too. Very thankful for so many things right now with only one complaint. And I hope that He sees this. Even though I know that the does. Still. I hope that He will not judge me too harshly.
            For, even across this wide room, I can hear it all spilling.
            And there were whimpers. For, how could there not be? As there was the gargling and the last minute pleas. As there was the echo of the limbs all gone limp. I also heard what sounded like rain. I could not hear the metal though. And, I suppose, I was very thankful for this too. Because, this also, would have been a trial that I could not bear. Instead, the sounds were hollow. Muffled. Anything but sharp.
            The footsteps moved closer. Slowly but methodically. Infallibly. And never with much of a pause. If there were protests...true protests; then they were stifled almost immediately by the chosens' great strength. For, that's why they were chosen. Or part of the reason, at least. Their great physical strength as well as their incorruptible character. They were unable to be persuaded and unable to crumble. And I believe it is this last trait that they were chosen for above all others. They were men but they could be metal. And they would be metal because this is what had been asked of them. They would be metal for us, thank God. But then they would burn forever and ever. Also for us. And if I am still crying then it is also for this reason. Not from fear though. For, the chosen are well known for being quick and precise as they were thorough. Always.
            So I was not afraid that they were right behind me now. Perhaps they were now only one soul away. There was a silent scuffle. A third pair of footsteps flopping along the stone floor a bit slippery with sand. There was a tension. And then there was the release. That muffled sound of the limbs going limp again. And the stoney silence. The silence of exaltation. This is what I liked to imagine.
            This time, though, something warm ran just below my toes. And it kept running until I could feel it all the way up to my knees and my thighs. Then I felt a felt a soft hand on my shoulder and may have only imagined that I heard a very gentle, “Shhh.”
            So this was the end. It had finally come for me. The waiting was over. And, for this, I was very much relieved. And very grateful. For, in an instant, I would awake and be with my baby boy again and with my husband whom I love very much. And together, we would mourn for the chosen. But praise them. And plea and beg and pray for their forgiveness. It would be our duty because they had done theirs.
            “Shhh,” I heard once more. I definitely heard it this time and felt as the hand on my back pressed on it so firmly. Not uncomfortably but just firmly enough. Enough to hold me in place. To hold me motionless should I try to move. Which I did...although involuntarily.
            “Shhh,” the voice whispered again, “Please, Sister. Be still. Be still so I can put you at peace. Please, do this for me. Enough struggling.”
            But I wasn't struggling. At least, I do not believe. The room was now gone. And the sounds were gone too. And even the touch of the hand was there but just barely. Because there was only darkness now. Darkness with only one tiny seed of light somewhere deep in my heart. In the center. And it would not leave me. And it would not let me be. So, yes. I suppose, I was. Maybe. Although, I did not want it to be. But maybe. Yes or no. I don't know. But just maybe. I was struggling. Dearly. For the life. And with the life still left in me. 

.ג

            “Please, just stop fighting, my sister!” I tried to whisper so that the others...the remaining would not become more frightened, “Please, just stop kicking!”
            She was hardly there at all though. This, I could see. Certainly, she could not hear me. But if... Oh, only if she could and would obey my pleas.
            Her eyes were all black though. Black like I'd never seen them before! Shining with terror in the darkness and the moonlight. But she could not hear me begging her to stop her kicking feet. To please stop squirming and wiggling below my weary hand now gone weak. No.
            No, no, no. This, I could not do. This and only this, it seems, too much to ask of me. Even now and after so many. But this. This, I could not. And for that, I am infinitely sorry. I am infinitely sorry, my Lord! Please. Oh, please just hear. Hear me! And please, just this once. Just this one. Please, take her to heaven for me. For, I do not have the strength.
            “She's leaving, Abi!” He whispered also. Attempted to whisper at least. But the echo, again, revealing his state of alarm. Revealing the state of all things. “There! There, now she has found the door! And you must go after her! Please, Abi, please!”
            “Oh, has she?” I muttered. Perhaps silently. As if in a trance.
            “If you will not go then I must.”
            And I knew he was right then. And I knew he was stronger. Yes, I would go. For if he went, I would crumble. If he went, there would be no guarantees. No certainty. And for this, I must be certain. Certain or else I would crumble.
            Ah. But you've already crumbled, Abi.
            “Yes. I will go,” I mumbled.
            “And I will then finish here. Finish our work For, these are the last. And then we are... Come back and I will give you a chance. I will finish the work entirely.”
            “Thank you, my friend,” and I meant this will all sincerity, “And I love you for that. But I am already damned now. And I will be with you. I want to be with you and by your side. For all of eternity.”
            “Then come back anyway, Abi. Come back for me. But only so that we may take this great trip together. As it shall be.”
            And it will be. And that is my word. Please, then, do not worry.”
           
            Frantically, she had run. But this did not much concern me. Her footprints were there and even across the top of this great mountain, I believed I could hear her breathing. For, she would be the only one.
            She had a right to be afraid, Abi. A right to squirm and fight. For, the blade had gone dull, Abi. Or, at least it was starting. But what was I to do?! To sharpen the blade then so close to them? The sound alone would likely kill them with fright. Which might have been better. Better for me. And, I suppose I that may have gone outside just to hone it but I could not make them wait any longer. To torture them so. Perhaps, to believe, for only a moment that they had escaped. But there was no escape. For any of us. And they knew this deep down. But now that the blade had gone dull, the work was not so easy. For us or for them. The first had gone quickly. Instantly. And I knew how to do it. For, that's why they chose me. Partly. I knew how to take the lamb. Peacefully. Quietly. Sometimes, I even imagined that it awaited me expectantly. To feel the rapture...though I know this is silly. To go to sleep. To do its duty just as I was there to do mine. And I felt like, for only a moment, we were one. But I never felt the oneness on this night. I was only there to ravage. For, there was so little time and there were so many. Nine hundred sixty, to be exact. Almost 1,000 souls. Is it any wonder, then, that the blade was now dull?      
            Was I supposed to remember all their faces? Was I supposed to whisper to each one? To say something gently that would put them at ease? I had wanted to, yes. But there was no time! The decision had been made so late. Ah, but who can blame him for this? I could not have made such a decision myself. But I could do the work. We could do the work. Just barely. He had been one of the most difficult though. Despite the fact that he had gone so willingly. He had wanted to set an example. To prove to the rest of us that he was not joking. After his decision had been made. He had wanted to lead. And lead us he had. And lead us he did. Up until now. The very, very end. When, while my own hands still touched him...my very weary hands; we'd parted ways. And now he led them and them only. But he was right. His decision was right and he'd made the right choice. He had been one of the most difficult though. It had felt like snuffing the candle out...the candle of God Himself. Like snuffing out his great light. Because I know now, and certainly, what the world is when there is no God. It is like this. Like this silence all around me. Like this darkness all around. Like all the faces I wished I could remember though not in this way. Like all the faces not at peace...at least it seemed so when I closed my eyes. But this was only the trickery of my hell just beginning.     
            Yes, there were the faces every time I blinked. Sometimes just the eyes. But all their eyes. As if they were all still watching me. Looking at me. All of them combined. And surely, they were. Because it would take them time, Abi. A little time yet to find their way. And they were looking to you, Abi, because they still wanted life. You who were practically dripping with it. All of their lives with much of the crust already turned dry. They were seeping into you, Abi! Not their souls but their life. But this would go away. And go away soon. The work was almost finished. And, perhaps with this one, I could finally take time.
            Perhaps, no more punctures. Perhaps, no more of this dull back-and-forth on the same skin with the same blade that you keep pretending is still sharp!  
            Perhaps, this one was a gift. One last gift. From God.
            There she is. I found her now. She had not run very far. She had not even thought to find a place to hide. Just her. In the sand. Almost exactly like she had been lying before. Her breathing; short gulps. And I found myself only wanting to wash her now as she was so much covered in earth.
            “Sister?”
            I knew my voice would not startle her. So paralyzed she was with hysterics and fear.
            “Sister?” and I laid down next to her now in the sand and the earth, “Shh. Shh. Now, there is no reason to have become so afraid. But it is just a reaction. I know...I know. And do you see there, my sister? On the horizon? Can you see the early light there that has now come to greet us? And only us, sister. Now, isn't that nice? Can you see how beautiful? Just look at the light casting all those shadows away. So soon, they will all be gone. So soon, there will be nothing but a beautiful, new day. Can you see?”
            Her hair was wet with perspiration against my face. And I imagined that it cleaned me ever so slightly. My cheek.
            “Yes.”
            “I am so glad then. This makes me so happy that we can share this together.”
            She was a very delicate girl. Her heart still beating fast and hard.
            “Come, now. Let us be at ease.”
            And then she was. Her heart still beating fast and hard but with her limbs all gone limp. She rattled a little but this was still a great gift. This was still a great blessing.
            And when I left her there in the light of the day, I knew she was at peace because I could not see her face. Not even when I blinked. And I believed then that I could face all the fire and endure all the pain that surely awaited me. But please, do not let me miss her for all eternity. That and that alone would be too great.
     
            And now, as I had promised, I will go back and talk with my friend still there in the common house. To be with him and see how he is doing. Because, I can hear them on the ramp now. A ram in their hands. Its head and its horns as it breaks down our gate. Hell will be here soon. We won't have long to wait.