Deleted Scenes from a World You Can’t Forget
Ana Cristina Alvarez
Your hair has grown too long after your year asleep. So you take the knife at your hip, the one with the wet bandana tied around the hilt, and begin to slice the excess length of tangled hair. The only light in the cave is from the delicate fire you’ve lit at the mouth, not too far from the blood-red sea. Quiet. Because you think you hear heavy breathing, creatures resurfaced from thousands of years with soil still stuck to their claws. You toss the strands of hair into the fire—you’d rather deal with the brief, awful smell than with a monster, or perhaps someone worse, tracking you down. The souls in your pockets glow, radiating a warmth you feel you don’t deserve. More sounds in the distance: growls and a roar, followed by the sound of bones crunching, skin and sinew tearing. At some point that night, when the fire nearly extinguishes, you think: who amongst the group, when you find them, will have the guts to tell you, a former Imperial General, that this ruined world is your fault?
When the alcohol passes through you and the streamers are swept to the sides of that morning’s city streets, you stand on the bridge that overlooks the docks and crates and empty canopied stands. You pick at the callouses on your fingers, promise yourself you’ll stop once one of your friends—how comforting to call them friends—approaches you, says Good Morning, and asks about your plans now that the world is safe again. Safe for whom, you wonder. You note the absence of the souls you’ve carried with you, the green haloes that radiated through the thickest of fabrics, how their warmth reminded you of sun-drenched blankets.
You share lavender and chamomile tea with her in Mobliz. The two of you sit at a table outside—the table looks to be from one of the destroyed houses nearby, a grand oak now repurposed as a park table for her to sit and watch the children play in new gardens and refurbished yards. You sip your tea and look at her: the green hair has turned dirty blond at the roots. You want to ask if she misses magic, if she misses that other half of her, her father’s people. But you shouldn’t be the one to ask that, not when you feel responsible for their eradication, first as a general, and later as the one who organized the siege on the tower. (And despite the person you’ve become you still harbor this guilt.) It would be like salt on the wound to ask her, you think. But she wouldn’t have asked you to visit if she felt that way, you think. You wouldn’t be drinking tea with her, you think. When you speak, your voice is quiet and soft, the opposite of who you believe you are. You ask her, “What if I was wrong?”
She tilts her head, still-green curls flutter in the breeze, and you remember how she stood at the front of the airship at the end of that long fight. “Wrong about what?” she asks. A child with muddy hands and clothes runs to her and complains about the other children, so she tells you “Just one moment,” then takes his small hand, despite the mud, and walks with him to the other children to settle the argument. You never ask her your question again.
What could you have done differently in that tower? What if you’ve ruined this world, too?
The thief (…treasure hunter) passes you the bowl of peanuts. He waves the bartender for another drink. The two of you sit at the farthest end of the bar, where the lighting is less than ideal unless a person wants to be forgotten. “You did everything you could,” he says. He squeezes your hand (the one not reaching for peanuts). He asks if you need another smuggled supply of hair dye to keep your anonymity in check—just because you refuse to visit Albrook, Maranda, and Tzen doesn’t mean people who lived there can’t find you and kill you for what you used to represent. You wouldn’t blame them, really. If the thief thinks you’re being paranoid, he doesn’t say so. “You’re not the one who killed those goddesses,” he says. You still dream of the three withered, monstrous bodies of flesh-shelled goddesses, their power being forcibly siphoned to a self-proclaimed god. You still dream of cradling the souls of Espers, and you dream of how they turned to dust in your hands, the beings gone forever because you had to destroy the new source of all magic to save the world.
“Not to sound like a certain gambler,” the thief says, “but we were dealt a shitty hand. We did everything we could with the knowledge we had.”
You tap your calloused fingers on the rim of the empty cup. The question is there, settled on your teeth. You want to ask: “What does forgiving yourself look like?”
Someone has put coins in the jukebox and a song from thirty years ago plays. You hear the sounds of laughter and conversation behind you, the occasional woosh of someone twirling their dance partner. You hear the thief humming along. He nudges you, grabs a handful of peanuts, then shoves them all in his mouth like a squirrel. It’s immature and ridiculous, but you laugh anyway. You’re thankful he doesn’t pressure you to say what else is on your mind—you’re thankful just for his company.
There are new species of flora and fauna on the island where you woke up over a year ago. There are apples and plums growing on trees. Finches and seagulls wake you up in the early hours of the morning. The sea is sky-blue again. The rain creates a peaceful hum on the shack’s metal roof. You try to maintain a vegetable patch, but you don’t mind when rabbits eat the cabbage and broccoli. You keep the grounds near the burial plots clean and respectful. You become better at fishing. You learn to keep a beehive. You build an addition to the shack for when your friends visit. You build a small dock and sit there at night listening to the ocean. Your friend visits you and now only the curled ends of her hair is green, the rest is an unremarkable dirty blond. You share a bottle of wine on your porch and talk until you’re both interrupted by the sounds of evening bullfrogs and crickets. The night sky is purple and black and the stars go on forever. You reach over to your friend and embrace her, and she holds you.