SMOKE AND HONEY
By Ende Mac
Content Warnings: Mentions of death, mentions of religion, brief mentions of previous animal death.
And the apartment is still and empty, and darkness shrouds the depths of the bedroom, and I hover over the still face of the carpet. And I see that it is good.
The girl sleeps. She sleeps an awful lot these days. It seems like a good sleep, one that didn’t take much to earn. She tilted into it (gently, gently), and her breathing steadied (gently, gently), like the regular musical notes of the machine at her bedside – the one that chirps out a lovely melody I don’t need the machine to vocalise. I can hear the girl’s heart without it.
The girl doesn’t wake up. Sometimes, when the girl sleeps like this – or on other days, when she doesn’t leave the bed – one of her home nurses will reposition her so she doesn’t get sores. It’s a dutiful, gentle sort of motion that – when the girl is confused – makes her think her mother is there. The nurse will handle her pinched, fragile skin so delicately, put a damp sponge to the girl’s lips, and the girl will smile.
Tonight, I let the nurse sleep deeply. The girl will not need her anymore.
Not that she’s alone. There is always me.
I knew her. Before her parents were born, or their parents. I knew her before her earlier parents sang stories around cypress fires and before her earliest parents pressed red handprints against stone. I have loved her all the while. Since before the plates in the Earth wrenched themselves apart, since before meteors ribboned through the thin atmosphere with little to no resistance. I have loved her since the start of love.
Though she has no name for me, she has loved me too. She loved me when I was her parents’ first cat, coffee-furred and with a purr that betrayed the lung infection I had as a kit. She loved me when I was the dog she adopted in college. She found me shivering outside a bar, and just as I knew she would, she lured me to the car with promises and slivers of cheese. She loved me as the nesting pigeon outside her first apartment. As the spider she collected from her bathtub drain. As the wilting basil on her kitchen stoop.
I have cradled these decades so carefully.
It is almost time to wake her and to lead her home. But not yet. For now, I watch my girl sleep.
Her hands are folded delicately over her chest, a swollen knuckle holding a ring in place. I had already guided her wife home some years ago. Yet, when the girl is confused, sometimes she forgets. The nurses do not correct her. One nurse will tell her that her wife is late from the store, but she is bringing her saltwater taffy when she returns. Another nurse will turn music on, and they will sway to it, together, until she forgets what she was confused about. The third nurse – the girl’s favourite, I suspect – will sneak the girl one of her favourite honey-flavoured cigars, and they will share it, extinguishing its last ember in a small rock garden on the nightstand.
When asked about the next-day smell, that nurse will only smile serenely at whichever of the other two has the morning shift.
‘Smoke and honey?’ she always asks, winking at my girl. ‘It must be an angel.’
To my surprise, I don’t have to wake my girl after all. She looks up at me. She smiles. My girl has no name for me, but for the first time, she recognises me: the kitten, the hound, the dove, the spider, the basil. She is the one who reaches for me, childlike in her lack of fear. I take her hand, the one with the ring, the one that used to work tangles out of my fur and had dirt-stained fingernails from repotting kitchen plants. The machine protests; neither of us pays much mind.
I guide my girl home before the sun rises. And it is good, and it is love.
Ende Mac: Ende Mac is getting their law license somewhere out in the great plains of the American Midwest. They have a piece with Robot Butt, as well as other forthcoming publications at Fantasy & Science Fiction, Fusion Fragment, If There’s Anyone Left, and Drabblecast. Their writing predominantly centers around abstract speculative fiction, queer identity, and criminal law reform. Please feel free to reach out to them at @endewriting on Twitter and BlueSky.