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Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/2237726-Grandmother-Keeper
Rated: E · Fiction · Fantasy · #2237726
Sometimes remembering comes at a price.
The keening echoed off cracked canyon walls and crawled across the skin of my ears like sand fleas.

"What is that sound, father?"

He did not turn in his ascent of the barren, sandy cliff."Life," he said.

"Climb," mother said behind me.

So I climbed, sweat dried to brittle white crust by the sun hours ago. My skin threatened to become as dry and cracked as old man desert's.

Twelve. I turned twelve today.

"Twelve is the age of putting away toys and childish things," father said this morning, as I dressed in the robes of a man for the first time.

"Twelve is the age of putting away silly songs and games," mother said, as I put on the shoes of a man for the first time.

"Twelve is the age you learn who you are," father said, and led me into the desert.

"Come my son, see the land of our people." Father had reached the top.

Heat shimmered off the rocks and blistered my hands as I pulled myself up. Mother panted quietly behind me. Under father's outstretched arm lay a shimmering plain, baked to stone by the sun and ground to dust by fierce wind. The keening burrowed into my ear and I recognized it for what it was: a song. In my twelve years, I had never heard such a song.

"This entire desert was once a beautiful garden," father said. "It was green and lush because our people were keepers of the Song of Life. From a very early age, the song would choose its singers, and they would sing our world to life."

Everything was sand, and salt, and rock, as far as the eye could see...except for a small, dark spot in the center.

"Where are we going, father? I asked this as he began the descent to the plain.

"To show you the last of the keepers," he said. "Lest we be forgotten entirely."

"Listen, and remember," mother said as I lowered myself over the edge.

The dust on the wind smelled of heat and death, and each step threatened to drag me to the ground. Yet I walked across the desert hardpan in the shoes of a man, and my ears listened to the song. It swirled and eddied around my head and pulled me along in its current.

It pulled me to an oasis in the center of the desert; a patch of life in the bosom of death, only as wide as the height of a man in new robes and new shoes.

Father pointed to a gnarled and wizened woman seated in the dust next to the green, head bowed, eyes closed. Her song rose from her throat and poured over the ground, pulling a bubbling spring from the soil. Flowers I had never seen before bent their petaled heads toward her lined, brown face as if toward the sun.

"Grandmother is the last of the keepers," father said. "The flowers give her to drink from the spring and the desert birds bring her scraps to eat, but she is very old. When her song ends, our land will be nothing but memories." He knelt and caressed the flowers gently before breathing in their scent.

"Drink," mother said. "When you go to be a doctor, or a lawyer in a big, fancy house, in a big, fancy city, you are the last to carry the memory of where we come from."

I dropped to my knees and plunged my hands into the spring. As I drank from the cold, crystal water, I felt the toys, and games, and songs fall from my mind. The Song of Life flowed over me, and wrote itself upon my blank pages. I gazed into the flowers and saw, reflected in each one, the souls of a world.

Father stood, reluctance on his face. "Come son, the lesson is over." He turned away.

The sweet smell of the flowers amongst the grass, the bubbling spring, Life's song flowing over my body, I could not leave. My feet felt rooted to that place.

Mother took my arm and pulled me away. We set our faces toward the rising night and the climb ahead of us, when the song faltered.

As one, we turned back to the garden and saw Grandmother keeper's eyes fly open. The song died, and her mouth worked silently before she did as well, collapsing into the dust.

I shook off mother's hand and ran in the robes and shoes of a man, back to the garden.

Grass began to brown under the burning sun. The spring climbed back into the earth and became nothing but a muddy hole. Petals as flowers bent their heads and my heart broke. Our land, our people...were gone. I dropped to my knees and shook Grandmother, imploring her to get up and sing. Sing for our people's land. Sing for life.

"It is done." My father said. "It is good for a man to see both life and death. Say your goodbyes."

Tears fell from my eyes and grief rose in my throat until I felt it would burst from me. My mouth opened in a wail, but no lamentation came out.

What flowed from my mouth was the Life Song, high and keening. It rushed down my body, lifted the flower's faces back to the sky, and pulled the bubbling water from the ground.

"No!" Mother shrieked and father caught her around the waist, despair written on his features.

"There is nothing we can do. The song has chosen," he said, as he dragged her away.

***


I sit in the dust under the growing dusk, watching the sound of my voice draw a little patch of life from the bosom of death. The cries and shrieks faded some time ago, but I can still make out a small, dark shape in the distance, and it looks like my father's slumped shoulders and my mother's tears.

The shoes of a man are in the dust beside me...I have no time to think of these things, for today I know who I am. The Song consumes all my energy and I hunger, but I believe I hear the wings of desert birds on the wind.

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