Pushing the Sky Away
by Ian Cordingley
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3
Father and two others came for Blair that night. Tom was awakened by a shout. Someone — Blair — was shouting, trying hard to keep his shout from becoming a scream. Tom cast the ragged, stinky blanket off and ran out from under the tarp.
His father and two men were pinning Blair to the ground.
“Hand or eyes?” one of the men yelled.
“Hand,” Father replied. “Eyes.”
Blair was forced onto his back. His legs were flailing, catching a man in the face. His free left foot rammed hard into the stunned man’s face. It was hard enough for the man to yelp and stagger back, hand on his face. His companion was bellowing for him to ignore it and to help him.
Blair’s foot was still free and wild. One of the men grabbed it. The man he had struck, his face a bloody mess, hammered Blair’s abdomen. Blair moaned, going limp, and dragged into a serviceable position.
Father dug his heel into Blair’s side. In his hand was the knife.
“No,” Tom yelled. Strong hands grabbed him before he made it to his father. Tom was pulled off his feet, each of his hands restrained at the wrists. He was being dragged back to his tent. Tom struggled, beginning to work his way free.
“Back,” Father demanded. He pointed his knife at his son, gesturing with it for his son to return to bed. “Go back!”
“Leave him alone!”
“We need the water, boy! Do as you’re told!”
Tom paused a moment. Blair had stopped squirming. For a moment he looked hopeful the situation could be resolved without harm.
“We need the water!” Father roared. “We need it more than he needs to live!”
“Stop!” Diana was racing out of her shack.
Father ignored her. He grabbed Blair’s right hand and slashed with the knife. Blair yelped. The cut had been shallow, and the blade not sharp enough to slice through his skin. Enough for a thin sliver of blood to form and drip down his arm.
“You will not harm him! Not for all the water in the sky!”
“We will have his water,” Father said.
“No.” One simple word, spoken coldly, worse than a fist to the face.
She strode over, grabbing Father by his knife hand.
Father rose to his feet, his other hand flat. Diana’s eyes were fierce; he would not slap the fire out of her. He stared bitterly at her and stomped off back to his tent.
Blair nursed his hurt hand. The man holding Tom released him.
Diana knelt down next to Blair. He turned away from her.
“Let me help,” she said.
Tom nodded at him.
“All right,” he said, the two helping him to his feet. Reluctantly he followed her into the medical tent.
* * *
“I’m sorry for what happened,” Diana said, “but...”
“Don’t start,” Blair moaned. He had stripped off his shirt and was lying on a stretcher while Diana and another medic tended to his wounds.
“They’re desperate and they’ve been abused for so long.”
Blair tried to stand up. Diana pushed him back down. She gripped his hand while his wrist was being stitched up. A bandage to cover his wound was still being wrapped around his stitches. Blair grimaced; they had not been liberal with painkillers.
“Yes,” Blair said. “I am a wicked man. Are you happy now?”
“Just worried for you.”
“Worried for my soul?”
Diana did not respond to that comment. “You’re lucky,” she said. “It came close to severing the artery. I was worried you might lose motor control. You’re lucky it was so shallow.”
Blair grunted. He winced as the job was completed.
“What are you doing out here?” he asked. He could intuit she wasn’t part of the group. Of course, Blair had thoughts of what the answer could be. They need help because some higher power wants me to, there’s a guy into this sort of thing who’s hot — which one is correct?
“They’re a deprived people.”
“I’m not?” he asked. “I’m just a privileged city dweller? I dump water just for kicks and laugh at their misfortunes?
She said nothing. Blair smirked; Diana was exactly what he thought she would be. Quiet and self-righteous. Judgmental. Hating him for existing.
“I try and make a living,” Blair said. “Nothing more.”
“I’m more worried about infection,” Diana said. “Drugs do not always work on the strains out here. Do not get the wound dirty.”
“Thanks.” Blair grabbed his tattered shirt, pulling it on as he left the tent. “I’ll keep that in mind.”
The sky was as blue as metal, the clouds were almost purple. Despite the clouds, it was easy to determine where the sun was rising. Cool, pleasantly so. A welcome pocket of relief before the heat came and the night’s chill left.
Tom had a beaten metal cup full of brown gritty water. He walked over to Blair and offered it. Blair sighed, shrugged and accepted it. He lifted it to his lips, gingerly tipping it back. The quality of the water did not impress him. What was he expecting?
“What do you want?”
“To say I’m sorry,” Tom said. He crept closer, but slowly, keeping a gap between them for now, hoping to close the distance.
“Because I am,” Tom said. “I’m sorry you got attacked. I’m sorry you nearly got killed. I’m sorry it was my father who nearly killed you.”
“It wasn’t your fault.”
“I still feel sorry,” Tom said. Father was still somewhere in the blackness of his tent, studying Blair and his son while they talked. Wounded, plotting. Saying nothing.
“Fine,” Blair said. He had a second drink. It tasted worse than the first. “Don’t worry about that. I don’t blame you. I just need to be away from her.”
“Why don’t you like Diana?”
“I’ve had enough of people like her,” Blair explained. “I’ve heard enough from them. I’m greedy, I don’t care enough about the consequences. All of that crap.” He snorted and shook his head.
He grimaced at the cup of sour water. He flung the contents away — that was expected of him. It splattered a couple of paces away. No doubt Blair had not earned any new friends. Friends! Opportunistic bastards more likely!
“You want to know what it’s like to live in a city if you don’t live in one of those glass boxes?” Blair asked, acid in his words. “Not fun: cramped, hot. That woman...”
He gestured back at the medical tent.
“She feels sorry for you. Did they care, did they stop fornicating long enough to worry about those of us at the bottom? The ones who made their precious machines work, the ones who got them all that precious water to waste? The ones who raised the price of water if they ever got bored?”
Blair shook his head. Tom figured that everyone in the city had their own private lake, with thousands of gallons of clear water to pollute as they saw fit. Lies. You could never manage to see that much water in your life, no matter how hard you worked.
“We kept up with the prices, which only ever went up. It took a lot of work, but we did it. Nobody cared about us. It was all about the poor migrants out there, the ones who were exploited. We were just screwed.”
Tom set the empty cup on the ground.
Blair resisted the urge to kick it away. “You really think I am? You really think I’m the bad guy?”
The milkers were distant, the cities even more so, the plantations alien and dreaded, the burning landscape infinite. It was just life. Tom couldn’t comment on Blair’s life, even if it seemed somewhat fractionally better than his own.
“What do you think?” Blair asked.
Tom was surprised. Blair sounded as if he was sincerely asking Tom for his opinion, not trying to pick a fight with him. Blair nodded, assuring him that he was granted the authority, for a moment, of a man.
Tom thought for a moment. “I don’t think it’s ever going to end,” he said.
“The plantations need the water,” Tom said, “and they’re larger than us. We’re just more numerous. I don’t think that can ever change.”
Blair shrugged, surprised at the youth’s acceptance. “You and me both, kid.”
“You would like that?”
“Yeah,” Blair said, “but my job is just to haul water, not make the world better. Nothing more. I’d be doing that instead, if it were the case.”
Tom was not surprised to hear that.
* * *
Copyright © 2014 by Ian Cordingley