Chapter 45: Salvation
Copyright © 2014 by Brian Bixby
“What happened to the crowds that were waiting outside Hannah’s door?” I asked the woman who had brought me out some cold root beer and a sandwich.
“She sent them away a week ago, said she was ill. Is she going to be all right?”
I shook my head. “You know Instruments. Who can say?”
The woman nodded to that one. “Well, Instrument or not, it’s a shame she’s keeping you out here waiting like this.” And she headed off back to her house.
I’d been sitting here all alone for three hours in front of Hannah’s door. Penelope had answered the door when I first arrived and told me Hannah was seeing no one, and she added, “especially not you.” Guess I’d lost what credit I had with Penelope. I told her I was going to stay here until Hannah saw me. I’d figured maybe after a while Hannah would come, if only to try to chase me away. But the door had stayed shut.
I’d been sitting here an hour when one of the locals recognized me, not so much because I was the famous Emily Fisher(!) as because I was Hannah’s half-sister, something Hannah had been proud enough to tell people before last week. He must have talked it around, because people began smiling and nodding as they walked by. Quite a few had stopped to talk. And that woman, whose name I’d already forgotten, had asked if I was hungry and made up an extra sandwich for me.
It was a good ham sandwich, with spicy mustard. And the root beer was just what I needed after sitting here all this time.
I was just finishing up when two hands clasped my eyes from behind. “Guess who this is?”
With that voice, there could be only one. “Lucrezia Borgia, come to tell me she’s poisoned my root beer.”
The hands were removed, and the next second Jezebel was standing before me, a big smile on her face. “Just for that, you’re going to have to tell me who Lucrezia Borgia is.”
Standing beside her was Stacia. “Hi, Emily. A mutual acquaintance of ours said you might need some moral support.” And she pointedly glanced down at the ring on my hand.
Oh. OK, thanks, Sarah. “What have you two come from?”
Jezebel replied, “Oh, the bathhouse down in Lakeside.”
My first thought was that I’m surprised I didn’t know, given what happened the last time I knew Stacia was at the bathhouse. And then I had to wonder what Jezebel was doing at the bathhouse. I looked up at Jezebel, who if anything was smiling even more, and then over to Stacia.
As if it were the most ordinary thing in the world, Stacia casually observed, “She needed some lessons and some experience, Emily, before she goes off with you and Elsie.”
Jezebel chimed in, “And Stacia’s such a wonderful teacher!” Then she saw the expression on my face and immediately was dismayed. “You’re . . . not . . . happy for me.” Seconds later, the tears began to flow, and Jezebel flew into Stacia’s arms. Great, I’d done it again.
Stacia didn’t look surprised. She just held Jezebel tightly as the girl sobbed on her shoulder. And then it was as if I heard her voice in my head: Come take her, let her know you care.
I wasn’t sure I was the right person to do this, but I went ahead. Jezebel tried to fight me off, but finally was hugging me just as hard as she’d held Stacia, and crying just as badly, too. After a lot of this, she finally collected herself to whisper in my ear, “You probably think I’m a big baby.”
I whispered back, “And I’m an ignorant fool, Jezebel. Can we call it even for now?”
She nodded her head, sniffled, and backed away a bit so she could look me in the face. Her own face was red-eyed and swollen from crying, but her voice sounded steady enough. “We’re not really even, though, are we?”
You may still be an emotional wreck, Jezebel, but you’re just as smart as ever. “No, we’re not. But that is going to take time and a lot of conversations.” I looked past her at Stacia. “Including a few conversations between Stacia and me, as well.” Stacia could tell I was annoyed, but wasn’t put out at all by it. She just smiled back at me.
Jezebel also heard the annoyance in my voice, and glanced back and forth between us a few times before saying, “Well, when you do, I should be there. If I’m going with you, Emily, I need to know how your views are different from the Children’s, and that would be the fastest way to learn.” She laughed and gave me another great big smile. “Unless you want me to seduce you. I’d learn a lot from that experience.”
Stacia, Stacia, dropped her head into her hands with a groan. “Jezebel, remember subtlety? You don’t announce you’re going to seduce someone.”
Jezebel actually looked abashed for a second. “Oh, yeah, forgot about that.” She turned back to me. “And that’s something you’re going to have to explain, Emily, because Stacia has no subtlety herself. She’ll just go up to some random stranger . . .” Jezebel turned in mid-sentence to look over at Stacia and stopped dead when she saw how upset Stacia looked. She turned back to me. “Well, um, ah, maybe that’s gossip and I shouldn’t be talking about that right now. In fact, maybe I should go over and pay a visit to Tanya and you and I can talk later. OK, Emily?”
I nodded, and quick as that, Jezebel left, though not without a backward glance at Stacia, who still looked upset. If what Sarah Priest had said about Stacia being an “obligatory bisexual” meant what I thought it did, then Stacia had reason to be upset; I suspect bisexuality falls under the same ban as homosexuality among the Children. But that in turn made me wonder exactly what Stacia had been teaching Jezebel. Not a subject for the here and now, though.
I waited until Jezebel was out of earshot before saying to Stacia, “She’s a handful, isn’t she?”
In measured tones, Stacia replied, “Jezebel has not yet reached the age of discretion. I think in her case it’s going to be when she’s in her seventies.”
Once Stacia had regained her equanimity, she said, “I came here to help you out with Hannah, so let’s get to it.” And she rapped sharply on the door before opening it and calling in, “Penelope, it’s Stacia Fletcher.”
Penelope came to the door, already looking annoyed. She saw me and her annoyance increased. “Go away,” was all she said, and she tried to close the door on Stacia.
As I’ve said, Stacia was petite. She just slipped past Penelope, walked into the house, and began calling out, “Hannah! Come out! The Divine has another message for you!”
Penelope abandoned the door to follow after Stacia to try to catch her. I followed after Penelope. It was almost funny to watch Stacia dodge around the furniture, easily avoiding Penelope, while calling out repeatedly to Hannah and telling her she had a message from the Divine.
Hannah finally came out of her bedroom. She looked poorly, dressed in a bathrobe with a bad case of pillow hair. She saw me, but ignored me and fixed on Stacia. “What message do you convey from the Divine, Stacia?”
Stacia and Penelope had stopped their chase when Hannah appeared. Stacia grinned, and pointed at me. “There’s your message. The Prophesied One wants to talk with you. And I’ve heard you say she’s sent here by the Divine. And now you refuse to listen to her.” She turned to Penelope and in mock exasperation said, “Some people are so unreasonable.”
Hannah looked me over. It was not a favorable look. Once she was done, she sat down in the same chair she’d been in that memorable evening of my trial. In a sullen voice, she said, “I’m here. I’m listening. The Prophesied One can say what she will.”
Stacia smiled at me, and then looked to Penelope. “C’mon, Penelope, you’ve been cooped up in this cottage too long. I’ve been wandering all around North Village and know where there are some ripe raspberries.”
Penelope stood her ground, shook her head. “I’m staying with my daughter.”
Before Stacia could say anything, Hannah erupted. “Mother, go with Stacia. Now. Let’s get this over with.”
Penelope looked so taken aback I had to wonder whether Hannah had ever raised her voice to her mother before. Before she could respond, Stacia got in front of her and said something I couldn’t hear before leading Penelope out the door. I waited until the door had closed before taking up a chair in the living room facing Hannah.
Neither of us spoke at first. Hannah just glared at me. And I wasn’t sure what to say. I thought about starting with the fact we were sisters, and then dropped it. Hannah knew that. I needed to tell her something she didn’t know. And it had to be somehow different from that I said the other day. Which was tough, because I’d already laid out all my arguments the other day, and it hadn’t helped.
What did Hannah want from me? Apart from nothing, that is. What would make a difference to her? I reached back to what Sarah Priest had said to me, and I knew one thing I could say that would make a difference. So I told her, “I take full responsibility for depriving you of your Inspiration, Hannah.” Not entirely true, but as far as Hannah was concerned, it might as well be true. And that’s why I had to say it. If Hannah didn’t think I was being honest with her, then she was lost and so was I.
And as an opener, it worked. Hannah’s glare subsided. She still wasn’t happy, but she wanted to know more. And so that’s what she asked. “Why? Why take my Inspiration from me?”
Skip the equivocation this time, Emily. If what just happened is any indication, straight talk is what Hannah needs. “Because I didn’t want to see you dead before you turned twenty. Because I don’t think being inspired by the Divine is worth dying for. Because I like you and want my sister to be around as she is, not as some weird vessel of the Divine.” I had Hannah’s attention at least, and so I just kept talking. Babbling, really, I was trying to say anything that explained how I felt, anything that might get through to Hannah. “Even when you kind of tricked me the first time I met you here, Hannah, I liked you. Whatever I thought of your methods, you did want what’s right for me. But . . . remember the night of my trial? The way you just seduced Angus McPherson? Or what you did to Sonia, making her experience the hell of the heretics? I don’t like that person at all. I’m afraid of that person. I don’t want to be the sister of that person. So when I got the choice, I chose the Hannah I loved.”
I took a deep breath. I had no idea I was going to say so much. But I wasn’t finished; I couldn’t be. I’d told Hannah how I felt. But what about her feelings? So I finished off by saying, “If it was the wrong choice, well, I made it. You want to disown me, then do it. But don’t kill yourself. My sister Elsie would tell you it’s a bad idea.”
I’d had Hannah’s attention, and maybe even a bit of sympathy, right up until the last. But the reference to suicide startled her. She must have thought that was her personal secret. Her eyes grew wide and she became a bit afraid of me. It took her several minutes to digest what I’d said. And then all she offered in return was, “You’ve made me an Instrument without Inspiration. How am I supposed to help people as an Instrument, when I am not?”
No point in sugar-coating it. Besides, there was a point I could make here about my own weird situation. “I don’t know, Hannah. That’s not my problem. My problem is that I’m supposed to be this Prophesied One, but if the Divine is guiding me, it’s doing it behind my back.”
With all the logic of religion, Hannah replied, “But you’re the Prophesied One. The Divine must be guiding you.”
I laughed at that. “All right, then what I say must have the Divine’s backing. I’m ordering you to forget about killing yourself. I’m ordering you to do your duty as an Instrument, just as other Instruments remain Instruments when they’ve lost their Inspiration. In fact, I’m ordering you to try as hard as you possibly can to be the best Instrument among the Children, and to trust that the Divine will guide you, even if you don’t feel it.”
That was too much for Hannah. “You can’t do that!”
“Because . . .” Hannah was at a loss for words.
“Because what I’m asking of you is what you expect of me, Hannah: to trust that the Divine will guide me even though I don’t feel it.” I didn’t know I was going to say it until I did, but, oh, did it ever make sense. I’d turned Hannah’s words against her, and she couldn’t deny it. She had to see the similarities in our situations. And she did. I could feel the difference in her attitude. It was no longer just about her, and I knew I’d won.
And then I remembered something else from way, way back that might help make my pleading even stronger. “Look, Hannah, Selena Sawyer once told me that Instruments of the Divine only came when the Children were going through a crisis. We just did go through a crisis. You played a major role as an Instrument in resolving it. So the crisis is over. And maybe that means you were meant to lay down your role as Instrument afterwards. Maybe, as Alex put it that night of the trial, the Divine is being merciful to you and releasing you from being nothing more than an Instrument for the rest of your life, because you’re no longer needed as one. Not to guide the Children through a crisis, at least.”
I could tell I’d made some headway with Hannah. But she wasn’t going to just smile and agree with me. No, this was serious business, and she took her time mulling it over. And when she spoke, I realized I’d been too smart for my own good. She said, “I’ve seen the prophecy, Emily. You are the one who guided us through the crisis, not me. And you’re supposed to stay here afterwards to continue guiding us. If I’m not needed, you still are. So why are you leaving?”
Touché! Now Hannah had turned my logic back on me, and at my most vulnerable point. I tried to think of a clever way to respond to Hannah, and came up with nothing. She had me: if her situation was similar to mine, so mine was similar to hers, and I couldn’t ask her to do what I wouldn’t do myself. All I could do was take full responsibility for my choices, or, in this case, my difficulty in making choices. “Because I don’t know if I can actually do any good here. And because I promised to take Elsie and Jezebel away to do them some good. And I’m not going to break my promise, Hannah. But I can tell you this: if I do come back, it will be because I decided to help by doing something here that only I can do.” That, I thought to myself, is the truth, inspired or not. And just the way I said it, I had a pretty good idea of what the answer was going to be, after all.
End of chapter forty-five