Even the Dead Are Getting Older

in memoriam, Zemira

from  I:34 Beneath the Cult of Love

He took from the shelf a little box that was much like the shelf, and opened it, there in the gloom. Carefully he took out from it the little skull of an infant, with its bones thin as paper, and now he let out a groan of dismay. This sound brought Claire back round from whatever distant place she was. She said, “Why do you groan, Dion Angelos?” He said, “Her headbone has fallen in,” and he presented the skull to Claire.

She saw that the unsutured bones at the top had shattered, and they rattled in the bowl when the dion moved the skull, dry as leaves. She took the skull which was littler than her hands, and he looked at it where it was encircled in those white fingers that tapered like well-made candles, and sighed over the damage, and said, “Even the dead are getting older.” Claire said, “Who was this one?” He said, “O Claire, could you not figure that riddle for yourself, as you did so many others? This one is my sister.”

Claire’s eyes widened and urgently she said, “Take this – take it, Angelos,” and he frightened took the tiny headbones back from her shaking hands, and she held her hands over her mouth and rocked back and forth on her feet. He said to her, “What disturbed you, O Sower of Peace?” She put down her hands and he saw the upset made her mouth crooked and her lips tight. She said, “O Angelos, I am not fit to touch what you have presented me, and am nothing but a great deceiver. You ought not to trust me with the things that are holy to you, for I am no friend to you nor any other mortal out of Zanzibar.” She said this quickly, then she ducked her head as though to hide herself in shame from him, and never ceased in rocking on her feet.

Dion Angelos answered her not, but rather put the broken skull back in the box, and put the box back on the shelf, so that it was nearly obscured in shadows. Then he turned back to the ducking patricia and said, “O Claire, I am a wretch but I am not a fool. We all lack a thing we need, or want, and seek to get it. I became your follower because you wield truth and fair dealing as your instruments of getting what you need, or want. This were rare among cruel men, and never found among the great. Yet it seems that you are great, and also good. Therefore regret nothing that you held the precious remainder of my sister in your hand. Some men say that each infant that goes out from underneath the sun comes to sit at the center of his own broad lily in the garden of the elect, and in the limit of that infant’s reason, he knows that he is in a soft place, and a warm place, and a clean place, and a bright place. When you held the headbone of my sister in your white hand, I wished that she might remain there forever. I knew what you were when I gave her to you, O Claire, and I gave her to you anyway.”

Now Claire found her cistern of tears fresh-filled by some means, and sobbed again, against the breast of Dion Angelos, and he held the miserable patricia till she brought that cistern back below the level of the overflow.

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