by Than Pence
Cramp Co-Winner: Cadence is sending her daughter away to save humanity from the Gorge.
|"Lie down on your back, Lidia."
"The water's cold."
Her mother sniffles. "It's fine, dearie. It's fine."
Lidia, a slight girl of seven with thin black hair and a wide, freckled face, looks into her mother's eyes. "This isn't the way, Mom. This can't be the way."
Her mother doesn't meet Lidia's gaze. She tries to force the frail child into the water, to prepare her to float. Lidia refuses until the one set of brown eyes lock onto the larger set of glossy blue.
Cadence sheds a tear. "I know this is hard, dearie, but it's... necessary."
Looking around, Lidia sees dozens of other duos on the banks, in the water. A parent with a child, one preparing to send the other away.
"We'll all go down stream and then what, Mom? Who'll help us?"
"The River will help, Lidia, dearie."
She's heard that phrase most of her childish life. She snorts in derision. "The River."
Cadence watery eyes turn resolute, cold. Lidia sees her mother's arm tense and she prepares for a slap that doesn't come. "The River, dearie, is absolute. It is all we have left. This river will take you to the River and you'll all be safe."
"But not you. None of our parents," says Lidia, gesturing to pairs near and far.
With a stiff spine and rigid jaw, Cadence says, "What the River says, that is what I say."
That was something else Lidia had heard her entire life, that ridiculous creed. She feels like slapping her mother but refuses, just as Cadence did not slap Lidia.
"The River will collect you all on the other side of the barrier and you'll... be... safe."
"Unless the barrier can't be breeched. Or we're seen from the walls, or shores, or ships. People working for the Gorge will see us, Mom. They'll see us and shout to us and we'll be lost."
"You will be safe--"
"--till human voices wake us. And we drown!"
Her mother sheds more tears, liquid pairs escaping the sorrow in her soul. "Lidia, dearie, I've spoken of my childhood, of time before the End." She's biting her lip, a trait Lidia does not like and she refuses to leave Lidia's angry gaze. "I want what I've had to be what you have. I want you to have a normal... childhood."
"What childhood is normal without a kid's parent?"
"I remember once," says Cadence, ignoring her daughter's question. "Once, this giant field of dandelions was growed up behind the house. Beth and I would run through it with our hands spread out and knock the tops of every flower head we found."
Lidia doesn't want to spoil her mother's moment but nearly becomes fastened to the idea that a dandelion is a weed.
"Soon enough, a big wind comes through and lifts up all that pollen and there's not a care in the world. I would spend this or that evening waving my arms in the lemon-colored light that only a field of dandelions and an unspoiled sunset can generate."
She meets Lidia's gaze once more. "I want that for you, dearie. I want you to have a field of flowers, a strong, real breeze, and a sunset. I want you to know of a time when the Gorge didn't exist, when the End never came. A time when we didn't have to rely on a resistance group like the River." Cadence moves closer, touching her forehead to her daughter's. "Do you understand?" she asks, her lips quivering.
Lidia's own lips cannot keep from shivering and quivering even more and she finally agrees to float downstream, entranced, to let this black river and her own black clothing carry her to the River on the other side of the barrier. She is ready to live a life free of the Gorge, even if it is without her cherished mother.
A tearful goodbye sends her off, as it does all the other children. The water is colder in the center and the current is strong, but Lidia's will to survive is stronger. With practiced breathing, she is confident she'll make it.
* ~ * ~ *
Cadence sees her seven-year old daughter round the river bend and her eyes dry instantly. Angling around the bank, she meets a woman half her age, more than twice as old as the daughter she cast away.
"There are more sendoffs this time," replies the younger woman.
"Soon there will be more than enough. Just a few more trips."
"Any more and you'll be too old to fight the Gorge."
Cadence smiles. "Lidia, dearie, be kind to your elders. Your own son is going back through time, too. And when you and he and all the others follow the signs left behind by the River..."
"I know, Mom. I know. Or, I think I do. It's all still confusing."
"It always is. Come on. The timeline will catch up soon, and shift."
She throws her arm around her daughter's shoulder and Lidia says, "I hope he's alright, Mom."
"Mason will be just fine. Or he won't. Either way, you'll either be certain or never know--"
Time dilates around the pair and without knowledge of the previous second, Cadence is walking alone, hands in her pockets and humming a tune.
"What the river says, that's what I'll say," she sings, unaware of where the song comes from, what it means, or why it's relevant.
Stopping at the edge of the riverbank, Cadence turns to look at the clean, pristine body of water behind her. She then moves slowly through a field of dandelions toward a house. It's empty save for her and she is always feeling like she once knew of something that made her happy, but it flitters away like deja vu and it's gone with the wind, like pollen that leaps up from a dandelion's flower head.
"It's a weed," she grumbles, and then she cries, unexpectedly.
Word Count: 993