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.
Sewella was standing in the kitchen the next morning, her hair loose and damp. Donas had never seen her with her hair down — it was luxurious, reaching almost to her waist.
“I took a bath and washed my hair,” she said. “As soon as it dries, I’m going to plait it and go back to Alfreda’s. Are you well?”
“Just about,” Donas replied cautiously. “Mak told me Lionel has to work late again tonight. I thought I’d retire early. Tomorrow Rani and I should be completely recovered.”
“We want you back to normal,” Sewella said lightly. “Otherwise everyone will think you like Nakoma’s mother.”
Donas’s laugh was bitter. “I don’t think there’s a chance on this solid earth I will ever be like Nakoma’s mother, Sewella.” Or yours, Donas thought.
“Donas, I hope I didn’t offend you,” the older girl said. “I was just teasing. Nakoma’s mother is the town fool. There’s nothing really wrong with her.”
“I knew you were teasing, Sewella,” Donas said hastily, realizing her manner had almost betrayed her. ‘Be careful,’ she warned herself. ‘Be careful of your tone of voice and your facial expressions.’
For that reason, among others, she was relieved when Sewella left.
All day Donas was like a nervous ratter, jumping at the least unexpected sound. She filled the pack bag Nakoma had given her with flint, tools, clothes, and food. There were four water jugs in Donas’s bedroom; these she tied together in pairs. ‘Mak and I will have to carry them across our shoulders,’ she thought.
She wiped her face. It was suffocatingly hot. Rani engaged in idle play, not talking much. Donas couldn’t tell what her little sister was thinking, but at least she wasn’t giving Donas any argument.
Nakoma knocked on the front door before midday. “We closed our booth early,” she told Donas. “It’s too hot to keep it open.”
“Come in the dining room. We can talk there.” Donas led the way. The two girls seated themselves at the table.
“Have you solidified your plans, Donas?” Nakoma had pulled her hair back from her face and secured it with a brown ribbon. She was flushed from the heat.
“I’m nearly ready,” Donas said. “Tonight, when Mak comes home, I’m going to send him back to the stable for our horses — after everyone else retires. Actually just Lionel and Sewella will be here; I think Barrett and Sebastian will still be staying with Alfreda. Then Rani and I’ll have to meet Mak at the stables once we’ve given him a bit of a head start. I’m going to need you to watch — for Mak to leave and then for Rani and me to come out. I don’t think I can carry the water and the pack bag without help, and we’ll need you to bring us four of the spears.”
“Then we’ll have to carry our supplies to the stable where Mak will be waiting with the horses. As soon as we load them, we’ll leave.”
“I’ll go with you as far as the north City gate,” Nakoma said. “There should be enough moonlight for you to see. Whatever Gatekeeper is there won’t be Sebastian, fortunately. I may have to think of a way to distract whoever the Gatekeeper is, get his attention for a few minutes so you and the others can walk your horses through. Then you can mount them.”
“I think I can navigate better at night now. We won’t be able to go very fast with Rani riding double with me and Mak leading the pack horse, so the sun should come up before we have to enter the forest.”
“Until tonight then, Donas.”
* * *
It was late afternoon when Donas heard the unwelcome sound of thunder. She jumped, startled. ‘No,’ she thought. ‘It’s been dry for so long! Why does it have to storm now? How can we manage if it’s pouring down rain?’
Rani looked up from their bed, where she was playing with two wooden figures. “Donas, I heard thunder.”
“So did I, Rani.”
“I don’t want to get wet, Donas.”
“Neither do I.”
“Then why don’t we just not go?”
“We can’t wait.”
“Rani, please. I have too much in my thoughts for this. Play with your toys.”
Donas pulled aside the woven hanging from the window. The sky was very dark. Lightning flashed in the west.
The next several hours were tense. Wind, rain... it seemed as though the storm would never stop. No one came home for the evening meal. Donas went to the kitchen to prepare something for herself and Rani.
The two sisters ate in silence, listening to the sounds of the weather. The hours seemed to pass as slowly as the seasons changing. Donas found herself counting each breath as Rani’s little chest rose and fell.
At length the storm began to play itself out. ‘It’s going to stop,’ Donas thought, relieved. ‘It’s going to stop before Mak arrives.’
But when he did arrive, there was more waiting. Donas had instructed him to tell Lionel that she and Rani had already gone to bed, but the elder girl had to be sure Lionel and Sewella had retired also.
Donas’s muscles ached from the tension. It was an effort to keep Mak quiet, which was typical. It had always been an effort to keep Mak quiet. Donas had to grit her teeth to keep from shaking him.
When she finally decided it was safe to leave, she gave him two of the water jugs to carry. He accepted them without a word. They hung below his knees and would probably bump against his legs the whole way, but to Donas’s surprise, he did not protest. “Do you remember what to do, Mak?” she asked anxiously, when the two of them reached the front entrance.
He nodded and went out the door.
If the circumstances had not been so serious, Donas would have found the sight of him laughable as he strode off, the water jugs almost bigger than he was. He looked like a solemn dwarf laden with bags of treasure.
‘Where did I learn about dwarfs carrying treasure?’ Donas wondered. ‘I think I remember someone putting a wet cloth on my head when I had a fever and telling me a story. I must have been less than three years old — in the nursery. The trainer was probably trying to keep me quiet.’
Shaking off the memory, Donas returned to her room and stayed there long enough to give Mak time to reach his destination, then loaded the remaining water jugs across her shoulders and picked up the pack bag.
“Can I bring these?” Rani held up the wooden figures.
“Yes. Now, quietly, Rani.”
Nakoma was waiting for them with the spears when Donas opened the front door and she and Rani stepped onto the pavement. They began to walk toward the stable, Nakoma with them.
The rain had ended, leaving behind a layer of silver fog that penetrated every corner of the path before them, illuminated by an invisible moon. The fog reminded Donas of Sewella’s long, fair hair as it had floated around her like a cloud early that morning. Such beautiful hair — and how beautiful the night, had it not been such a difficult one! Rani began to cry soon after they left the house of Sebastian. Her tears glinted like metal hair ornaments as they ran down her face.
To be continued...
Copyright © 2011 by Mary Brunini McArdle