Rolling the Stone
WATER SPLASHED ON DAPHNE’S face. She opened her eyes, and her mouth said: ” – gle!”
Cahle and the old woman looked down on her, smiling. As she blinked in the light, she felt Mrs. Gurgle gently pulling something out of her hair. But something else was happening. Memory was flowing out of her mind in a tide. The face of death… the great pillars of the world… the white slabs… they sped into the past like silver fish, fading as they went.
She turned to the mat beside her. Mau lay still and snored.
No reason to get excited, she thought, feeling a little lightheaded. He had been so cold, and she’d brought him up here to keep him warm. There had been… something that happened. The shape of it was still in her head, but she couldn’t fill it in. Except… “There was a silver fish?” she wondered aloud.
Mrs. Gurgle looked very surprised and said something
to Cahle, who smiled and nodded.
“She says you are indeed a woman of power,” Cahle said. “You pulled him out of a dark dream.”
“I did? I can’t remember. But there was a fish in it.”
The hole in her memory was still there when Cahle had gone, and there was still a fish in it. Something big and important had happened and she had been there, and all she could remember was that there had been a fish in it?
Mrs. Gurgle had curled up in her corner, and it looked as if she was asleep. Daphne was certain that she wasn’t. She’d be peeking through eyelids that were almost closed and listening so hard that her ears would try to flap. All the women took far too much interest in her and Mau. It was like the maids back home gossiping. It was silly and quite unnecessary, it really was!
Mau looked quite small on the mat. The twitching had stopped, but he had curled up in a ball. It was a shock, now, to see him so still.
“Ermintrude,” said her voice in the air.
“Yes,” she said, and added, “You are me, aren’t you?”
“When he is asleep, he still dreams of dark waters. Touch him. Hold him. Warm him. Let him know he is not alone.”
It sounded like her own voice, and it made her blush. She could feel the hot pinkness rising up her neck. “That wouldn’t be seemly,” she hissed, before she could stop herself. Then she wanted to shout: “That wasn’t me! That was some old woman’s stupid granddaughter!”
“So who are you?” said the voice in the air. “Some creature who knows how to feel but not how to touch? Here? In this place? Mau is alone. He thinks he has no soul, so he is building himself one. Help him. Save him. Tell him the stupid old men are wrong.”
“The stupid old – ” Daphne began, and felt a memory uncoil. “The Grandfathers?”
“Yes! Help him roll away the stone! He is a woman’s child and he is crying!”
“Who are you?” she asked the air.
The voice came back like an echo: “Who are you?” Then the voice went, leaving not even a shape in the silence.
I’ve got to think about this, Daphne thought. Or perhaps not. Not now, in this place, because maybe there’s such a thing as too much thinking. Because however much of a Daphne you yearn to be, there is always your Ermintrude looking over your shoulder. Anyway, her thoughts added, Mrs. Gurgle is here, so she counts as a chaperone, and a better one than poor Captain Roberts, since she’s nothing like as dead.
She knelt by Mau’s mat. The voice had been right: There was a trickle of tears down his face, even though he seemed fast asleep.