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7. Rucksack

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NOW.

Fathers are strange beasts, aren't they? 

When I was very small, I didn't question the fact that there were no men in the Green Place. None of the children did, really. Our lives were full of women. That was just the way our world worked. Mothers taught us and fed us and worked the land and went on watch. They told us all of the stories we knew. And in the far-off edges of our world, the threat of Raiders loomed, shadowy figures we were taught, always, to fear.

That was our world. Mothers, children, and raiders. When Bill made his revelation in the cave, I had never heard the word "father" before.

The truth of the world is always so much more complicated than we are lead to know.

I didn't learn the whole truth in that cavern, but I know it now. I know that men weren't allowed in the Green Place at all. Boys were exiled at twelve. That's what the mothers would have told me, when I grew older. They would have told me how things were. 

Had I stayed there in the Green Place, surrounded by friends and mothers, working the land, my belly full with always enough water to drink, one day they would have explained the true purpose of going on watch -- like mama did, in the days before her death.  Watch was a different duty than we grew up believing. Mothers did not just go on watch to spy on raiders from a distance, ensuring they didn't get too close, keeping their strange customs and violence at bay. 

The mothers also went on watch to trade with certain gangs. They brought them food and medicines. They went to maintain the equilibrium, to purchase a certain amount of security.

They also went to lie with them.

There are no mothers without fathers, after all.

Bill didn't tell tell me all of this that night in the cave. How could he? I had only lived through four name days. I was so small. I knew nothing. 

All I truly learned that night -- another night without mama, and I'd left behind my collection of screws with which to count it -- was that Bill was supposed to be something like a mother. He would be taking care of me for awhile. 

I also learned that the strangely muted white pain I felt was due to the fact that I was now missing my hand. 

Bill was spare on details. But I had seen a lizard drop its tail before, and I imagined it to be something like that. I thought of my hand scampering off into the darkness, sunning itself on a rock somewhere, eating flies. 

(I believe Bill kept me fairly dosed up on poppy, those few days.)

I've lost so many people but somehow Bill still scurries around this place, keeping to the edges of things, never attracting attention. It was his way during the reign of the Immortan Joe and now it's old habit. No one in the Citadel knows of our connection. That was something Bill taught me early. Don't show your bluebelly. Always keep the soft spots hidden. Be invulnerable. 

Bill taught me well. There were years and years in which I revealed nothing of myself to anyone. But the fight is over now. These days...it feels as though I have nothing left to lose.

*

There is a story Mother Hazel used to tell us when I was young, about a baby girl born into a dark and scary world. The girl's mother was scared that the girl wouldn't survive to adulthood. When she prayed on it one night when the moon was full, a gnarled old witch appeared. The witch made a deal with the mother. She magicked a little green rucksack onto the baby's back, and said: "This child will survive, so long as she never removes this rucksack." The mother readily agreed. What harm could a little rucksack be?

But the witch hadn't told the mother the whole story. The truth was revealed on the baby's first Name Day, when a perfect, heavy stone appeared in the bottom of the rucksack. It could not be removed. 

Each year, another stone appeared in the rucksack. At first the girl just kept on living. What was a little bit of extra weight? Her legs and back grew strong. She stood tall and shining. She knew she would survive.

But the pack grew heavier and heavier, and on the girl's sixteenth Name Day, another stone appeared, and it overcame her. She was so tired. She would not take off the rucksack, but she also could not move. The girl survived into adulthood, like the witch had promised, but she had only the shadow of a life. 

My rucksack is full of stones. It overflows. I scatter them like wishes when I walk, but it never gets any lighter. I have no chance. I am here, but not here. I am the walking dead. My life is a shadow.

So why not tell you all about it? 



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