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.
Now it was Lionel who stood still in stunned surprise. Donas turned toward the voice, while Mak and Rani began to creep behind Windflower’s protective bulk.
“Lionel. Donas. I must speak with you. But I ask you to let the little ones go outside for a few moments. They are much too young to hear this.”
A middle-aged woman stepped into the light of the sputtering candle. She had gray hair peppered with what was left of its original light brown coiled behind her neck, and a tired, lined face. But her eyes were still beautiful, green like the leaves of young spring plants, and haunted with a sad expression.
“It’s Nakoma’s mother,” Donas whispered.
“Mak, Rani,” Lionel said. “Do as she asks. Go outside and wait a little.”
Mak took Rani’s hand and the two of them walked around Windflower’s rump and exited the stable entrance, Rani looking over her shoulder in total confusion.
The woman put her hands on her head and groaned.
“Here,” Lionel said. “You’re feeling ill. Sit down on this bale of hay.”
“Thank you, Lionel. I will sit down, but it is not from pain of headache that I suffer. It is from the story I must tell. It is going to be difficult for you to accept, but let me make it easier for you — by assuring you that it is long forgiven, and that Barrett and Sebastian know the truth.”
Lionel stiffened and put his arms behind his back. “Very well, then. Proceed.”
“You will recall that Nakoma’s father was killed long before she was born?”
“Yes, of course.”
“He was not really her father.”
“What? But who—”
“You must understand. I was devastated with grief. I loved him more than anything. Sebastian and some of the other men came to sit with me that night. Sebastian was the last to leave.”
“No — no — I think I know what you’re going to say.” Lionel’s face tightened in distress.
“It was more my fault than Sebastian’s, Lionel — you must believe that. I threw myself at him. I... I wasn’t myself. It was only the one time. Sebastian is Nakoma’s father.”
“It can’t be true. My... my parents...” Lionel stammered. “They seem to love each other. And Mother is always so kind to everyone, even Nakoma. How could she live next to your house year after year—”
“Barrett is a woman of great strength. And wisdom. She knew it was not your father’s nature to be unfaithful. And he has never again been so.”
“How can I be certain he ever was? Why should I believe you? Suppose you are lying, just like your daughter!” Lionel’s voice was hoarse, his body rigid with denial.
“Lionel, the answer to that is so simple. All you need do is ask your father. We discussed the possibility long ago that someday you might have to know. But I would suggest you do not bring up the subject with Barrett. It is she who is the more deeply wounded.”
“Perhaps,” Lionel agreed. Donas saw a flicker of something intangible in his eyes. Then he murmured softly to himself, “’There is pain in wedded life as well as joy. Sometimes...years of it.’”
He looked at Nakoma’s mother and said aloud, “I’m not sure any of us can really know how much another has suffered.”
The older woman nodded her agreement and continued pensively, “I became reclusive, not because of my health, but because of my guilt. It was the punishment I took upon myself. To become the fool; to withdraw from the social life of the City completely to give your mother and father privacy and enough distance from me to make their peace with one another. It was my choice to cause no more grief for them, but rather to allow them to heal. And heal they did. As much as could be hoped for.”
Donas went over to her and knelt in front of the bale of hay. She put her hands on the woman’s knees. “The person who is the least seen is perhaps the one doing the most good. You remind me of someone I once knew. Someone who watched and waited. That is what you did, wasn’t it? But, answer me this: does Nakoma know?”
“Yes. I told her when she was thirteen and I observed that her interest in Lionel was going beyond that of friend and playmate. Unfortunately, I was not successful. She did not listen. Every other week in the market someone would say, ‘Nakoma and Lionel look well together, don’t they?’ Or, ‘I saw Nakoma on the hills with Lionel yesterday. Will there be a betrothal soon?’
“The market gossip kept me aware of Nakoma’s continued pursuit. She is so selfish that she would have her own half-brother as husband. That is against the laws of the Maker of us all. It had to be stopped. But — Donas and Lionel — do you not see? We mustn’t allow Nakoma to talk about this and do more hurt to Barrett and Sebastian. Or to Sewella, who has not yet found her betrothed.
“Nakoma has kept her knowledge of this matter to herself because of her desire for you, Lionel. Now she will keep her own counsel, because we won’t turn her over to the Masters quite yet. That is the threat with which I will ensure her silence. They would be much harsher with her if they knew just how wickedly she has been behaving.”
“What prompted you to choose this moment to reveal all this to me?” Lionel asked.
“I found the stash of spears today. Some of my furs were missing. And I was up late readying goods for my booth. I heard Nakoma leave the house in the middle of the night and pursued her. There was no time for me to consult with your father; he and Barrett are still with Alfreda.”
“This must have been very difficult for you.” Lionel’s expression had softened.
“Yes, very. Loneliness is hard enough to bear, without the renewal of guilt put aside years past.”
Lionel stepped to the entrance to the stable. “Mak, Rani — you can come back in now.”
“Goodnight, Lionel. I will return home and see to Nakoma. My good wishes to you and to Donas. And remember, Donas: there is only one liar among us.”
The older woman leaned over to kiss Donas’s cheek, then rose to her feet. She walked slowly to the stable entrance and out onto the pavement. The gray-brown hair melted into the fog, and she was gone.
To be continued...
Copyright © 2011 by Mary Brunini McArdle