on looking back
rating: +9+x

they cross paths, the two of them, where the wood of the eumenides gives way to the sand outside sodom. the white crescent moons of her fingernails are already giving way to salt, and his skin is mausoleum-cold, black mist clinging to his hair.

his hands are blistered and bloody and still half-reached out, as though in supplication. her hands are gathered close to her chest, like a prayer, chapped skin wet with bitter tears.

both of their hands are now empty.

why did you do it? he asks her, his voice a melody stripped of its tune. she tightens her shawl around her shoulders to ward off the grecian cold that creeps towards her, like the dawn over the horizon. like it could stop the blood in her veins from turning to salt.

it was my home, she answers. not for people with cavernous, sneering mouths or for closed doors or the damp skin in the dark that is all it will be remembered for. she can feel her teeth turn to salt pearls, the shape of them yielding to her tongue. her mouth tastes like the red sea when she wets her lips. i lived there my entire life.

there had been children there who played unaware of the dirty streets. a sapling fig tree with its roots against all odds finding the spaces between cobblestones, one of the only things in sodom to give what it had for no price. the clothes she wove with her own hands and the memories woven into them, left behind in their righteous procession into the desert.

the young man in front of her could be her daughters’ age. he holds an instrument that is foreign to her in shaking hands, his blood the only song that lingers on its strings. in the moment she looked back, she saw one of the tallest buildings crumble under the hands of the angels, its foundations torn from their roots. in his body, she sees it again — a moment of divine collapse.

she will not be a mother much longer.

her hand reaches out to brush away the tears on his salt-white skin, and the water of them melts rivets into her palms.

why did you? she asks him, her voice as soft as ash. there are holes worn into his sandals from the trek through the world after the world, and he steps out of them into the warmth of the sand, like it could bleed the afterlife's cold out of him.

i was worried i would lose her either way, he answers. if he had reached out a hand, he could have caught the threshold of the light of day in it. he had sung the whole walk out, but he had faltered then, to hear the birdsong. if i was - i wanted to at least see her one last time.

she had danced in a way that made even his voice falter, and her smile had been as clever and biting as a woodman’s axe. she knew the most beautiful places to see the stars, and he had laid next to her as she spoke about the stories of them and the meaning of each tree that surrounded them, and thought her wiser than any philosopher of athens who thought his words great.

he lowers himself to the ground, in this space scattered with sand and gnarly roots both.

she cannot join him, her legs trapping her in the shape of a pillar forever, the veins of salt already creeping up to her chest. neither of them need to speak it to know she will pass soon. she wonders if she will ever see her neighbors again, in whatever comes next.

i think i will follow you, he whispers, eyes hollow. i have sung my way into the underworld once before. it will be easier this time. his voice is a rasp, like a viper’s hiss in the weeds. he has worn his hands and throat bloody both, and his lyre sits forgotten at his feet.

there is a song that lingers here, in this impossible crossroads. but it is not the boy with a voice that could reach the heart of death, nor a song that makes the trees turn in his wake to listen.

she sings with a simple voice, like clay and rough cloth. it has never been raised to move mountains - she has sung her daughters to sleep with it, when they cried out at night, and raised it quietly for psalms, and hummed to herself in her weaving. there are songs in sodom that will never be sung again. she fills the air with them, now - from her sister’s wedding, from the children playing in the street, even the drinking songs you could hear out of your window long after the sun had left the sky.

she sings until her lungs fill with salt. until her body mixes with the sand.

there is a bloody lyre resting where her feet once stood, its crossbar pointing towards gomorrah.

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