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EVERY GRAM OF SILENCE

I saw her eyes, just the once: when she pulled me from Father’s house, her blindfold had come undone. So bright, emeralds on fire.

Rain had daggered her lashes like ingrown teeth; they scratched, scratched at the glistening wet and the veiny white underneath. Black veins. Their stunted branches grew, pulsating, as she tore away my rubble blanket, brick and stone crushed to dust between her skinny fingers.

She had looked at me. They were glass…no, they were flesh, throbbing in their sockets, but they shone like glass. They were blind too – the left wandering far too left, the right pupil a gaping hole – yet she saw me, those all those pale rain-tears.

I stopped breathing. My crumpled legs tried to flee, but they were pinned under a concrete pillar five feet wide. Shameful, to have been so afraid. They were just eyes, blind and glazed in the soaking twilight, and whether they blinked or not was no reason to fear eyes over being buried alive.

But I feared. I wished the rubble had covered me like a blanket.

Maybe that was why she wore the blindfold; delirious under the debris, half-drowning in a grey brine of rain and quicklime, I was certain that her errant gaze was scorching the life from me…or maybe it was only the quicklime that did the scorching.

I had fainted. A blink, a quick nap, but long enough that when I looked again her blindfold was back on, that thin white satin fence between the green balefire and my sanity. She had hefted the pillar onto her shoulder, a stick of concrete twelve feet long. Her right hand was clawed into its flank, her fingers sunk to the second knuckle; her left she had offered to me.

Her hand…

Warm. Burning. Not the heat of a living body, but thick old leather roasted under the desert sun. A fever, even on her fingertips. As she held me up by the wrist, dangling me there like a doll with half its stuffing on the floor, my face had pressed against her arm. Under her coat of faded black wool, it was skin and bone. Yellow-grey blotches ran from her wrist into the shadow of her sleeve, then appeared again under her high collar, almost touching her earlobe. Then I smelled the stench.

A powerful, chemical stench. At first I thought it some kind of cheap perfume gone rotten from sitting on a shelf for too long. Now, after three years of handling jars and canisters of that same stink at James’ behest, I knew better. After a thousand days spent in her company, I no longer smelled her at all.

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