I turn it over in my hand; my heart skips a beat as I feel my eyes grow wide; it is from Matron. I glance up at Kira, now aligning with her anticipation, and she impatiently gestures for me to open the letter.
I do so. I scan the letter. I gasp, even though my Breath cannot be heard by the others. More than three hundred years have passed since Matron’s last visit to our tiny town, but now she is coming to us once more, and desires to stay at my vineyard! She intends to bring four others with her, some order of being that she calls “children,” and asks if that is okay.
“Of course!” I write back, not wanting to admit my ignorance of the term – mostly not wanting to write anything that would make her consider another vineyard. I do not know why she has chosen my home to honor, but I am grateful to see Matron once more; most of my sisters have never even met her.
Thirty-seven days pass before she arrives, leaving just two more days of silence before the next reprieve. I see Matron’s cart crest the Delevian hillside, and Kira touches my arm; I look over. She lays her hand out flat, places her other hand cupped on top of it, and pulls it toward herself. I nod my head in agreement, so she departs to gather our town-sisters, to welcome Matron’s arrival.
The cart arrives outside of my home before the others do, so I gratefully accept the chance to greet Matron before she is otherwise surrounded. Our eyes meet; we smile, and after she hops down from the donkey, we share an embrace. I stretch out my hand face up, brush my other hand across it, then pat my chin four times. “Where are the others you spoke about?” the gesture asks; she smiles, and motions to have me follow her to the back of the cart.
There is a lip used to climb into the cart; Matron pulls herself up, and gestures to have me follow. I do not know what I expected to see upon meeting these “children,” but it was certainly not the sight now before me.
“Little people?” I mouth the words to Matron. She laughs and nods, then taps her chest. “My little people,” the gesture conveys. I raise my eyebrows, then return my gaze to the cart. Two of the little people are asleep on the straw, and the largest one is awake and staring back at me, trying to speak.
I touch my finger to my ear so that the little one will understand that her words cannot be heard before the reprieve; the gesture seems to be understood well enough, as her lips stop moving, before her eyes dart to Matron.
Matron responds by gesturing to the littlest person — another Breath-bearer I believe, although she is tiny — so the largest one scoops her into her arms, and follows Matron out of the cart. The remaining little person wakes up, smiles, and runs headlong out of the cart. I try to catch him, but he falls to the ground, bounces on his aura, and laughs. Typical Word-bearer, I smile to myself.
In my kitchen, Matron touches her hand to her cheek to thank me, presumably for receiving them. I touch my hand to her cheek, “You are welcome, of course.” I hold up three fingers, then also raise my pinky. “Where is the fourth child?” it asks. Matron places her hand over her rounded stomach; I am unsure of what the gesture means, and she is soon distracted by the speedy Word-bearer.
The crowds soon come, and over the course of the next day and a half, Kira and I and the biggest little person serve them bread and wine and iced cream; Matron holds the littlest little person and teaches my town-sisters through sign language. Finally, on the evening before the reprieve, she dismisses the crowds, and puts the children to bed.
“So what are they?” I ask the following day, as soon as the reprieve allows me to be heard. Matron smiles when she sees my nod toward the little Word-bearer.
“Your first words in six years, and you are asking about my children?” she laughs. “I suppose you do not remember being young?” Now that I think of it, I do recall a time when Matron seemed much larger than me; now she is the shorter one.
Matron then speaks with me about children, about parents, and husbands, and all manner of things that I hadn’t thought much about over the last thousand years. She also tells me the names of her children — Lydia the eldest daughter is now in the vineyard, learning how to harvest grapes; David is trying to pull a serpent from its den; and Clara the littlest is with us as we stroll the vineyard’s circumference, sleeping in her mother’s arms.
“Are you my mother as well?” I ask, vaguely recalling the days when Matron would hold me in her arms. She shakes her head, and places her hand against my cheek.
“I would be proud if that were the case, but I am not. However your mother is a good friend of mine.”
“Where is she?” I catch my Breath. “Why have I never met her?”
Matron hesitates a moment before answering. “Like all of your planet-sisters, you have been forgotten.” I feel my face betray my confusion.
“You must understand, there were many orphans in the beginning, children who died as the earth was destroyed. This planet was devoted to raising you and your sisters, until we could sort everyone out. Your father chose eternal death, and I only found your mother last century. But by now, the galaxy has largely forgotten the lost children of Earth, and bringing you all to remembrance will be…complicated.”
“Because your remembrance is inseparably bound to sorrow,” she answers. “Do you remember what sorrow was like on ancient Earth? How old were you…” Matron then answers whatever question she was about to ask. “I apologize; I forgot for a moment that you died in your mother’s womb. Have any of your sisters told you about sorrow? You probably do not remember the experience.”
“Well, I am not sure that I fully understood, but Kira talks a lot about these things; she died in a school shooting at age seven. She says that the ancients would value self-love above self-sacrifice, and that sorrow and death flowed out of that philosophy, breaking the universe.”
“Yes, it sounds like your friend has studied the ancients well. She is right of course; our failure to love properly is what destroyed the heavens and the earth. When you and your sisters are remembered, you will be a strong reminder to your parents of a time when that failure brought harm to those we should have loved.
“Surely my mother did not mean to bring me harm though,” I object. “Many of us died of natural causes — like Priscilla; she died in a hurricane.”
Matron shakes her head. “There is nothing at all natural about death. Every instance was the fault of the ancients in some way, going back to the fall of Adam.” She lowers her eyes to Clara; her daughter is asleep in her arms, but has now started breathing a little more rapidly than usual. “In your case, your mother was betrothed to a Roman centurion in the first century, when she slept with a soldier from his first cohort. She drank poison so that the pregnancy would not reveal her infidelity.
I blink. “You are telling me that my mother killed me — on purpose?” Matron remains silent, but nods her head. An unknown emotion covers her face, and I feel my own face contort in shape. My heart descends.
“You are a treasure,” Matron looks up from watching Clara. “Children are always a blessing from the becoming one.”
“But why did she not want me?” I feel betrayed, first by Mother, then by Matron. “And how can she be your friend?!”
“Try to understand, we were all fools back then. We all did terrible things, which is why the king had to take our iniquity upon himself. Your mother was among those who bowed the knee, so the crown granted her clemency. And we need you to do the same.”
“You need me to honor the crown? I cannot believe that is even in question; of course I will. I already do.”
Matron shakes her head. “When you are remembered, I need you to forgive your mother.” I shake my own head, raise my hands, and step away from Matron — partly out of confusion, partly from disbelief. I do want to know my mother, but she sounds like a person I should not want to know. How could Matron so calmly own her as a friend? I am so confused.
“Elloraine, do you trust me?”
“Of course I trust you, Matron.” Unlike Mother, Matron was actually there to help raise me.
“Then trust me when I tell you that you will never regret the day that you forgave your mother.” She glances up to the sky, to the stars that are becoming visible as the moon dips below the horizon.
“Even though she has forgotten you, she is out there, and I know that in the deepwaters of her soul she is waiting for you, longing to know you. When the time is right, you and your sisters will be released into the galaxy, to be what you were always meant to be.”
“What is that?”
“A blessing, to your parents.” Waters form within my eyes, and Matron steps toward me to wipe them away.
“When will I be able to see her?” I ask when her hands descend from my face to my shoulders. “And what sign will tell us the day of our remembrance?”
“The prophets have not told us the day or the hour,” she shakes her head. “But it is written that the galaxy will mourn, and you will be remembered when a girl named Empathy weeps.”
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