Fantasy, Home

To Listen To A City

There is crimson pouring out between Cecelia’s fingers. It coats her calloused hands and soaks into the fabric of her skirt. It will be a weight she’ll bare without complaint later. Much later. Cecelia sits with her back pressed against the cool brickwork, listening to a woman’s dying breaths as she cradles the poor soul’s head in her lap. She is a young pretty thing, younger than Cecelia. Through gritted teeth and stuttering vocals, Cecelia learns her name; Lola. Lola who worked in the kitchens, dreaming of a life beyond the choking city she was born in.

Cecelia tells Lola she’s going to be okay, and only feels a little guilty that Lola believes her. It’s dark in their little corner, hidden between two tables, with only the light spilling from the open door to the kitchen to see by. Lola can’t see how bad her wounds are from her position in Cecelia’s lap. She can’t see all the blood. Lola tells Cecelia in shaking syllables that it doesn’t hurt much anymore. She wonders aloud that it’s probably a good sign, right? Cecelia offers a smile and continues to stroke Lola’s head, she doesn’t answer Lola.

The waring men with their guns and anger have left, and the world is quiet, at least for Lola. It’s loud to Cecelia, but that isn’t new. This broken city had been loud since the moment Cecelia first stepped onto it’s roads. It screams and shouts and threatens to drown Cecelia with the tidal wave of it’s anger and bloodlust. It weeps and begs Cecelia to take away the pain, to make it’s inhabitants stop killing each other and stop staining it’s stone flesh. It is a city caught midway to decay and forced to live.

Cecelia wishes this city weren’t so poisoned by the rot of it’s inhabitants. She wishes the air didn’t stick to her tongue and taste like smoke and iron. She wishes that the weeds that grew in-between the cracked sidewalks and patches of dry brown grass weren’t being fed by the multitude of bodies decaying six feet under and watered by the blood of innocent bystanders. She wishes the streets weren’t stained that vivid red in Cecelia’s minds eye. Cecelia wishes her chest didn’t burn with the need to take up the impossible task of making them clean again.

No matter how hard she tries, Cecelia can’t bring herself to love this city. She tries, Lord knows she tries, but it’s so hard to, when her thoughts always turn to her own city. Her quiet and warm home. Where the air taste’s of flowers and freshly baked goods. Where the land is calm and gentle and sings so softly. It’s so hard to really love a city whose soul is so broken and buried beneath a haze of hate and violence that curls around Cecelia’s ankles like a fog.

It’s not the city’s fault, she knows that, but all the same, Cecelia can’t offer more than pity and scraps of kindness that will do nothing for the city in the long run. Cecelia feels like she’ll drown in all the pain filling every nook and cranny of this city if she stays just a day more. Even in the places coveted by those fragile souls who still hold onto their hope, their kindness, even those tiny fires can’t heal this city. Though Cecelia applauds those people, she wishes those sparks of warmth who love their city despite its ugliness the best.

A choking cough drags Cecelia back to the present. Cecelia blinks down at Lola and forces away the tears that burn behind her eyes. She smiles, rubbing Lola’s shoulders and tries not to stare too long at the holes that pocket her torso. Lola won’t be the first person Cecelia watches die, but she’ll be the first Cecelia has to deal with alone.

Cecelia wishes her mother were here. She wishes any of her siblings, even loud Molly, could be here. To sit with her and share the burden of loss. She wishes she were in her home city, at least then Lola would be dying in a happy place. Cecelia knows these are terrible selfish thoughts, but she lets them swim in her head anyway. Her mother had taught her there was nothing wrong with wanting to be in a better place. There is nothing wrong with wanting to escape the harsh moments of reality, of wanting to hide away from the world.

“Would you like a hear a song, Lola?” Cecelia whispers, brushing Lola’s blonde bangs aside. Her skin is cool and is starting to shift from sickly pale to corpse grey. It’s a wonder Lola is still conscious. “To pass the time while we wait for help?” Help Cecelia was sure was coming, even if she knew Lola was already beyond any aid they could offer. Lola nods, and Cecelia resumes petting her hair, before reaching deep and calling upon the soul within the city.

Cecelia has always been able to talk to the land. Or rather, the land has always been able to talk to Cecelia. Every moment Cecelia’s feet touched the earth, the land — be it country or city or forest — sang for Cecelia. The land would always tell her the story of its life, of its joys and pains. It let her walk without fear, nipping at her heels and begging her to stay and listen to it until her dying day. The land never let her get lost, no matter how loud it was.

Her mother had taught Cecelia to listen to the land, to read between the lines of music it called language, and how to turn those sounds into words. “Speaker”, her mother had called people like herself and Cecelia. A soul capable of hearing the language of the land, and capable of translating it’s song to speech. A gift that fell to only a chosen fading few.

Though Cecelia rarely “spoke” for the land, she always listened. It was a courteous thing to do, a burden and gift Cecelia gladly accepted. Even when it left her drained and gave her headaches from the noise. The land could be such a chatterbox when it realized someone was listening. Cities especially so. And like proud parents, it loved to speak of those who lived within it.

Cecelia opened her mouth and begun singing quietly to Lola. Cecelia sang, eyes shut, the broken soul of the city held, for a limited time only, against her own. She dug deep, pressing past all the surface level anger and hate and terrible hunger for blood — and she pulled up that small spark of love the city held for Lola.

A city will remember all who have walked it’s streets. A city will watch over and grant favor to those who care for and love it back. Lola, sweet Lola, loved her city more than she wanted to leave it. Lola would have returned to her city, no matter how much she complained about it. The city knew Lola would come back, for she loved her city even though it was broken.

Cecelia sang of those memories, of the love this jagged immeasurable soul held for Lola, and smiled down at a grinning tearful Lola. Lola had never heard a song so sweet, so full of careful fragile love. It took away Lola’s remaining pain, and warmed her even as the world grew cold.

“It’s okay,” Cecelia told Lola’s dimming eyes. “You can rest now, you’re gonna be safe.” Cecelia stroked Lola’s cool red-streaked cheek one last time, and Lola, who no longer had the breath to speak, made her lips form the words “thank you”.

And then Cecelia was alone.

Voices rang out, not the voices of the weeping angry city, that vast soul now screaming for vengeance, but the voices of other people. Cecelia called out, and forced a smile to the men and women who would lay Lola to rest. Cecelia let them take Lola’s remains and stepped outside. She breathed in in smoke and iron air of the city, and smiled. Through all the rage and sorrow, she heard two quiet words, spoken in an voice similar to Lola’s.

“Thank you.”

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