January 11th, 2008 04:20 EST
The Bronze Sky
She was an angry little demon and I loved her for it. But the rest of the world was not as understanding and oftentimes I had to take her aside and remind her to be wary. “Sofia, your voice is a bit too resonant,” I’d say.
“That’s the very thing,” she cried. “They listen only to my voice. When they’re not simply infuriated at me, they treat me like a child– or worse– a monster!”
Her dream was to become a senator. Mondays through Fridays she attended mock debates at the University, though she often wondered if anybody would have her the day she was fully qualified. She once talked to her instructor about it. He only shook his head and said that since the war, many of our senators had overcome mighty handicaps, the greatest of them, Bianca Aberdene, who was deaf, mute, and missing the tip of her left pinky.
I don’t pretend to understand Sofia’s attraction to politics. President Ashley had stripped the Senate of its powers at the start of the war two years ago, and the office of senator had become an empty mark of prestige. The convening of the Senate was a social gathering more than anything, a lavish party funded by the Treasury.
“That’s why we have to fight,” Sofia said. “Ashley won't hold onto power forever. I want to keep the old ideas alive. I would use the anger in my voice.”
We were taking the scenic paths of a neighborhood park. Her lovely lips sucked on a bar of sea-salt ice cream, and in the old days I would have been intoxicated just from watching her. I felt nothing today but the joy of seeing her strong and healthy. Sea-salt ice cream is, incidentally, one of the few foods that escaped the toxic radiation of war, the Grail of health addicts all over the world. The rest of us stay far away from its abominable taste.
“If I could discipline my voice,” Sofia said. She had finished her ice cream. “It’s not right to sound angry all the time.”
We sat down by a gurgling brook. I took a rock in my hand. It was smooth and wet and I tossed it into the water. The rock sank heavily and a sleek minnow darted away. “You could try singing, maybe,” I said. “It takes a lot of tonal control and I’ve heard it invokes a different part of the brain.”
“I don’t know,” she said. “I haven’t tried to sing in a very long time.”
She was afraid, and how well I understood. Before the war, she had the voice of an angel.
“I could ask Father Bernard,” I said. “He would help you.”
I call him Father because he still lives in the ruins of a church nearby. He doesn’t answer to Father Bernard. “Why should I?” he said once. “No, call me Bernard.”
It was not his fault, but he carried the burden of the war in his mind. It was only that faith could no longer sustain anyone in the horrors of this age. The growth of a sixth finger, the crumbling of a child’s nose into dust, the madness that drove men to devour their own flesh, these things ripped apart religion’s tender white veil. Bernard was hit hard by it all. Prior to the war, he had worked with children in the choir, and the radiation worked its evils on their young, defenseless bodies first. Sofia and I were among the more fortunate ones, but this did not sate our craving to be what we once were.
“Bernard will make things right,” I said again. “It’s worth a try.”
Sofia looked down at her feet. She did not say anything, but her body responded to my direction, and I took her to the rise where Father Bernard’s church lay wearily, disemboweled of its fleeting magnificence.
I sat down on a boulder and waited for her. There was only one room intact in the church and I had volunteered to step outside. The sky was a fiery flush of orange. It was always this tinge nowadays, like the atmospheric explosions of the war had sucked all the lively colors out of the sky. I remembered burrowing deeper under a blanket, closer to Sofia’s warmth, on the shores of a nameless beach as the sun set like melting gold on a frying pan. I looked upon the bronze sky as a place of waiting, of testing, of passion. I thought the world looked on us benevolently– I would have never guessed I would become a mockery of all our dreams.
I could hear a tentative voice trilling shyly. She did not want me to hear her sing. Then the door burst open and Sofia sprang forth explosively. She took me in her arms and I could feel all the curves of her body, soft and utterly desirable.
“I think today's a new start,” she said. “Singing just might work, after all.”
“Let’s hope so,” I said.