Give Them Wine
by Mary Brunini McArdle
In the mid-22nd century, a mysterious apocalyptic event has destroyed the world as we know it. In the Mississippi delta country, survivors reorganize in isolated enclaves and live in primitive conditions with little knowledge of their own history.
Donas, a beautiful, bright, curious girl on the verge of womanhood, discovers that her community is hiding a terrible secret: drug-induced conformity. She flees, taking her younger brother Mak and sister Rani with her. They make their way south and find a new life with a new people. They find hope, love and maybe some trace of their own past that might point the way to the future.
The morning of the burial rite for Perce, Donas’ thoughts were flying in several directions. She had never seen a burial before, and her natural curiosity came into play.
Sewella arrived at the breakfast table with eyes puffy from crying; the rest of her family, including Lionel, were sympathetic and solicitous. Mak and Rani seemed to know instinctively this was a time for silence, for which Donas was grateful. ‘If I had to keep them in check, I think I would be distracted to the point of tears myself,’ she thought.
She had awakened with a grumbling feeling in her stomach. To her surprise, she was bleeding — in the trauma of her experiences of the last several weeks, she had lost track of time. She was compelled to draw Barrett aside and ask for her help, not familiar with the south women’s way of dealing with these things. Also Donas was experiencing more discomfort than usual. Her lower body ached the entire day. She tried not to think about it too much.
Nearly the entire community walked solemnly to the place where Perce’s remains would be put into the ground. Only the ill, the injured, the guards at the Storyteller’s Hall, and a few others stayed behind. Donas was not aware that there were guards posted on the hills day and night to watch for intruders, and also at the gates. The Gatekeepers were men with other occupations who spelled one another. The Hill Guards blended in with the ordinary inhabitants so as to be indistinguishable.
The burial site was outside the City’s gates, but closer than the fields cultivated by the inhabitants. A stone wall surrounded a large plot of land, in which numerous flat stones were placed.
Donas didn’t realize until later that the three older men who said the words over Perce were the “Masters of Decision” Lionel had mentioned. Obviously they were greatly respected; the crowd was hushed, and even on the journey back there was little talking.
The Masters of Decision spoke one after the other:
“Remove this man to his unknown future, You who are the Maker of us all.”
“Receive this man, gracious and bountiful Earth, which supports and cares for us.”
“Remember this man, all you people of the City.”
Then the three lowered the body into the freshly dug grave and filled it in. This took perhaps a half hour. A pair of younger men carried a flat stone to the Masters, and they placed it on top of the loose dirt.
‘I wonder if there were any words spoken over the dead at the motele,’ Donas thought. ‘I never saw a burial there, but I cannot imagine Katera saying anything, unless she made some reference as to whether or not the person had been a “perfect Rose”.’
The phrases used by the Masters of Decision were strange, but somehow comforting. Still, Donas felt uneasy the whole morning. ‘Perhaps the bleeding is making me feel this way,’ she reasoned. ‘Or the fact that everyone around me is in grief.’
But just below the layers of her mind there was something else. It was not until she retired for the night and fell asleep that her dreams brought out the reason for her unease. She woke and sat up, trembling and gasping for air.
In her dream the flat stones of the burial ground had floated around her, much larger than they had really been. Pale rose, gray, ivory, blue — like the stones of the paved paths in the City and the bricks of which the houses were constructed.
The strange markings on the stones seemed to be trying to tell her something. Then, suddenly, she was back at the motele, outdoors, and there were rosebushes everywhere. She thought they would tear her flesh with their thorns and surely strangle her. She had to fight for breath. Then she saw that the markings on the burial stones were almost the same as those on the parchment cover of The Rose.
‘No! What are they for?’ she wondered. ‘Should I ask Lionel? Will he answer? Or will he be as informative as he is about that building? What are these people hiding?’
She didn’t sleep the rest of the night. The next day she was sluggish and uncommunicative, which was just as well, because everyone else was also. ‘My bleeding is helping me,’ Donas thought. ‘No one is noticing I am not myself.’
Donas slipped out before supper to visit Nakoma.
“Donas, what a nice surprise! I have a gift for you. Come to my room. Mother is lying down.”
‘Nakoma must be lonely most of the time,’ Donas thought. ‘It’s a shame she doesn’t have a father or any brothers or sisters.’
Nakoma presented Donas with a basket of sweet-smelling soap. “This is from our last batch, which Mother and I made while you were traveling.”
“How pretty!” Donas exclaimed, lifting the basket. “Rani will want to take this away from me. I suppose I must share it with her. My thanks, Nakoma.”
“Share what, Donas?”
“Rani! Where did you pop in from?”
“I just came over to see what you were doing.”
“Nakoma gave me a gift of sweet soaps — smell, Rani.”
Rani took the basket from Donas. “Ooooh! These smell pretty. Like flowers. I like flowers, don’t you, Nakoma? Except for roses. Roses are bad.”
“Rani, why don’t you take the basket home for me and put it in our room,” Donas suggested.
“Can I take a bath with one of these soaps?”
Rani left happily with the basket. Donas paused for a moment.
“Would you tell me something? I feel I almost know you well enough—”
A querulous voice from another room interrupted Donas. “Nakoma!”
“Yes, Mother. I’m here with Donas.”
“Please don’t forget to check the last load of candles.”
“In a moment, Mother.”
Nakoma turned back to Donas. “She’s always worrying about our market supplies. Now, what is it?”
Donas lowered her voice. “Do you ever feel poorly with the bleeding? I do this time, and usually I don’t.”
“Yes, the first day or two. I always have terrible dreams with mine.”
“Oh,” Donas said, relieved. ‘Perhaps that was all it was — that awful dream — my bleeding.’
To be continued...
Copyright © 2011 by Mary Brunini McArdle