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When the Day Comes

Chapter 1: When the Day Comes

by Halfwest

When the day comes, the young man goes out of the door. But it is not truly day yet: the sun has not touched his land. He walks slowly down the garden path. His bare feet touch the soil and the soft grass when he leaves the path. This is fertile ground, this is his ground. Someday, when he is grown, when his brothers and sisters have gone away, when his father has passed over the horizon to tend the skies and seed the clouds to make rain for the garden, this bit of earth will be his alone to tend and to love. Perhaps he will have children. Perhaps his brothers and sisters will bring their children. But these thoughts are now far from his mind. Now he walks slowly, for his heart is heavy. His shoulders droop, and because he is unable to bear the weight by himself, he must lean against the fence. The morning dew shimmers on the cream-painted wood. It wets his arms, but he does not bother with it. The dew is there to clean the earth. Perhaps it may help him as it helps the ladybugs who drink from droplets on the leaves, or the mice who sit up on the hind paws to catch the dew and wash their whiskers with it.

The young man stands at the fence. He watches the place where the road turns and disappears from view. He watches the tops of the hills, waiting for the sun to rise. Now, his land is cast in shadow. There is a chill in the air, and a stillness that comes only before dawn on a clear morning. It is his favorite time of day. He would love it if he knew of its existence, but his heart is too heavy to know.

He does not hear the girl's footsteps as she walks towards him. He does not hear the tiny tinkling of the metal bells on the chain clasped loosely around her ankle. He does not hear the wind sweep her curly hair to one side. But he hears when she stands beside him, and says, Good morning, Sam.

Then he looks at her. His expression is dazed. She sees, and she understands, for the news of his burden spread quickly through their land last night. Although the young man is dazed, he answers her politely, Good morning, miss.

She stares into his eyes. He is a gardener, and so to do such a thing is not unheard of. To stare into a gardener's eyes would shame no girl of her social position, however young. To find a girl staring into his eyes would normally shame a gardener, yet she is the first to turn away. She breaks the bond between them, looking at the road as she rubs her bare toes in the dust. She is aware of her sudden shyness.

--I am sorry for you, she says quietly.

--Yes, he answers. His eyes do not leave her face. She fidgets uncomfortably with the basket in her hands. She is taking the basket to the marketplace, where she will fill it with a loaf of bread, and a bottle of milk, and sweets for her little brothers and sisters, and flowers for her mother, and a letter for her father.

--The women wept for you, she says. She returns his gaze for an instant only, then hides beneath long lashes again.

--Yes, he answers. There is no change in his voice. He speaks as an echo, a memory of sound coming from some far-away place.

She waits to speak again, debating in her mind whether to pose the question. It is not a question for one such as her to ask, but she wonders, and she feels that it is the right question. So she says to him, Did you love her very much?

Again their eyes meet, but this time, it is he who turns away. He returns his attention to the hills, with his face towards the East where the sun will rise soon. He tells her, in a voice that would not have been heard if the morning were not so still, Yes, even so did I.

--And her death, says the girl, Was it hard?

--No, he answers. She went quietly. It was not hard. He thought, but did not say, death is never hard for the one who dies; it is the ones they leave behind who know that death is hard.

The girl leans with her elbows in the dew on the fence beside the young man named Sam. She does not want to look at him. She concentrates intensely on the swirling patterns she is making with her feet in the dust on the road. She does not know what to say. Death is not a common thing, and she is young, and this was no stranger who died, but the mother of the gardener who is her friend. She thinks he is her friend. They know each other, anyway. Finally, she finds more words. She tells him, Many will come to care for you and your family. I shall come, too, if you want me.

--And if I do not want you? He murmurs to the wind. If I do not want you?

--Then I shall not come, the girl sighs. Her sigh is wistful, because she does not know what else to make it. She has never known death. She has never consoled one below her social standing. She has never consoled one whose loss she felt was greater than her own, for she was prone to be self-centered at times. But his loss was very great. She marveled that he had the strength to stand in the morning twilight and to speak with her.

--Will you come, the young man asks, if the other women make you cook and clean?

--I shall come, if you want me.

--Will you come, the young man asks, if I say that you will find me weeping?

--I shall come, if you want me.

--Will you come, the young man asks, because I say that you will find me weeping?

--Even so shall I, the girl whispers, turning to him. She sees that his eyes are shining. Her heart flutters with fear. She has never seen a young man cry unless it was because she willed it. The fear goes quickly, though, and leaves behind a feeling similar to curiosity. She wonders if she could will it to be so. She sees that he has not slept, and she wonders.

--Tonight, how will you sleep? she asks him.

--I cannot know, he replies, his voice strained.

--You will try with tears and smiles to console many, the girl tells him. Many of them will weep as if it was their own mother who has died. Who will console you?

The young man sinks further below his weight.

--I do not know, he says.

Now the girl stands straight up. The cool morning wind swirls the hem of her dress around her ankles, making the little bells sing as if with laughter. Her sleeves cling to her arms where the dew has wet them. In this light, she casts no shadow. She says to him, bravely, I shall come, if you want me.

He looks at her. --And if I do not want you?

The girl shrugs. She twirls her basket gracefully from one hand to the other, as if it held his burden. His burden was almost nothing to her. She sticks out one hip, and rests the basket upon it.

--That is your loss, she says lightly.

--Then I shall not have lost very much, the young man answers.

--You will have lost me.

--That is not so very much.

Now there is silence between them. The girl looks at him icily. She no longer sees any sorrow or pain in his eyes. She sees instead depths of emptiness beyond imagining, then a flicker at the very bottom which might have been pity.

--You are a simple man, Sam, says the girl.

--I wish to be no other way, he says.

--Do you not wish to have things that others do not?

--I wish only to tend my garden.

--Do you not wish to see things and be made wise?

--I wish only to know the names of the plants and the songs of the birds, so that I may sing to them in the morning when my heart is heavy.

--Do you not wish for the dead to walk once more?

He pauses a moment in thought, then speaks.

--No, because the dead are happier than the living. They are able to sleep, and sing to the birds, and be sure their loved ones are safe.

--I do not understand you, the girl tells him bitterly.

--That is not my concern, the young man answers. My family is suffering. I am suffering. A good woman is dead. And you say that you do not understand. Give thanks to the winds of fate who carry you. Maybe to understand, you would have to suffer, too.

--You are very presumptuous, the girl huffs.

The young man looks away from her, and does not answer. The girl stomps her foot as a child would do. A cloud of dust rises to her ankle in the morning air.

--Why do you turn away from me? she demands.

--Because you have hurt me, he says. And because I am hurt by other things. I wish to mourn, and you tell me that you do not understand. I cannot help you understand why my heart yearns for no more than I have, any more than I can teach you that the grass is green, and the stones are hard, and the river is wet. You must know by yourself, or not know at all. If you choose not to know, you must let alone the turtles who hide unseen in the grass, and the cats who warm themselves on the stones, and the fishes who depend on the wetness of the water to live. If you will not understand my grief, you must let me alone as well. I do not wish to be taught of your wealth, nor of your learning, and least of all do I wish to be taught of the pleasure you would give men after sunset.

The girl pouts, then frowns thoughtfully, then looks down at the road again.

--I am sorry, she whispers.

--It is forgiven, he assures her.

--Then shall I come and have the other women tell me to cook and clean?

He looks away, and does not speak.

--And shall I come, the girl asks, if I think that I shall find you weeping?

Still the young man does not speak.

--And shall I come, she says at last, because I know that I shall find you weeping?

Now the young man speaks. --I would welcome you, he says.

--This is what you want?

--Even so, he says.

--Then, because it is your wish, and because I shall be made to cook and clean, and because I shall find you weeping, I shall come.

--You have a good heart, the young man says quietly.

--I would seem a shadow beside your candle, Sam.

--Perhaps it is shadows that would comfort me most tonight, says Sam. It is easier to weep in the company of shadows. A light can be seen by all, but shadows protect, and they do not speak, and they do not understand.

--I shall protect you, Sam, the girl tells him.

Again he looks at her. She sees that his eyes are silver with unshed tears.

--I'll need someone to protect me, just this once, the young man says. When the wind has taken his words with it, the sun rises finally from behind the hills. The day has come. The girl realizes how late the hour has become. She steps away from her drama, twirls her basket once around to her other hand, and curtseys to the gardener.

--Mama will be cross if I do not return, she tells him.

He bids her leave with a wave of his hand. She shines a bright smile to him before turning to skip down the road. She will go to the marketplace, and she will fill her basket with a loaf of bread, and a bottle of milk, and sweets for her little brothers and sisters, and flowers for her mother, and a letter for her father. She will go home by a longer road, but she will not have to pass the gardener's home, which will be filled with mourning women, and grieving friends, and the wealthy neighbor with a kind heart who will not leave Sam's father, and the wealthy neighbor's nephew with sad eyes who has lost his parents and will weep with Sam. The girl will scamper into her home with her basket. Perhaps some other young man will have tied a new ribbon into her untamable hair. As she goes through the hall, she will give a sweet to her youngest brother, who will giggle at her and clutch at his newest indulgence with grubby hands. She will deliver the letter to her father, who will ask her how her journey was, and she will tell him how the road feels very cool against bare feet in the morning. She will run into the kitchen where her mother is cooking breakfast. The young girl will sneak into the room with the flowers in her hand, and throw her arms around her mother's neck. Her mother will be frightened, but she will laugh to see the flowers. The mother will put them into a bowl, where they will float until the youngest child takes some to eat the petals, and another child steals one to press inside a book, and the cat will nibble at the leaves, and their colors will fade, until finally the father will see them and toss them out the window, and scold his wife for allowing dead things to sit around the house. He will say that they can afford to keep fresh flowers. It is a bad reflection upon them to keep dead flowers. He will quarrel with his wife, and with his children, and they will be arguments that began before the children were born. Life will go on as usual, every fight bringing them all a little closer to the end.

None of this is known to the young gardener. He turns to go back into his house, where a dead thing that was once his mother is lying covered in a white sheet. He walks slowly on the dark soil, feeling the life that pulses below it. Soon the dead thing that was once his mother will go into the ground, and she too will pulse with the garden's life. Her body will feed the rhythm. Her death will keep the earth alive for one more season. Sam stops with his hand on the doorknob. He looks back over his shoulder. Now at last the tears begin.