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Author's Note: The following snippets were written for Firefly Friday fic challenges #10.
Mother Is The Name of God
Ruby watched River dance with wide blue eyes.
Night had fallen, but that didn't seem to deter her new friend at all, as she held out her skirt and spun in lazy circles to a tune only she could hear. The hodgeberries they'd gathered jumped with each step, and landed back in the bowl of her skirt. The moon was rising, painting everything with cold white light. The stars winked out form behind the clouds above them, and a warm breeze blew through the hills, making the trees rustle. Maybe that was music, Ruby decided. Maybe that was music enough for dancing.
They had wandered away from Doralee's watchful eye. Walked to the edge of town where the berries grew wild and River had gathered a skirt-full, telling Ruby a story about when she was little and how she and her brother had stolen fruit from a garden that they couldn't ever go back to, now. Ruby had come here with Cora, before Mamma had killed her. They used to play in the thicket, making forts and houses among the branches and staying outside in the sun until they were brown as nuts, their fingers and mouths stained red with berry juice.
She remembered Cora's blood. It made her head buzz like a hive, drowning out her words.
River stopped dancing and knelt in the dirt at her feet. "Mothers are supposed to make the monsters go away," she said—looking sad and understanding. "Not invite them in."
Ruby just stared at her. No one—not her cousin Josiah who had taken her in until his wife claimed that Ruby's not talking spooked her so much she couldn't bear to have the child underfoot, not Doralee who had followed the good lord's teachings and took her in, raising her up the last year to be a good God fearing girl—no one had ever actually talked to Ruby the way River was talking to her.
They never talked about Mamma, 'cept to say "Poor child," and whisper with bent heads that they hoped to God that craziness didn't run in the blood. It made the Patron watch her with slitted eyes, and made the other children run away when she wanted to play with them. She'd taken to spending her days with Doralee, helping keeping the schoolroom tidy. She would get on a chair with a bucket and a rag and scrub down the blackboard every day, while the other kids played out in the yard. She would get the broom Doralee gave her that was girl-sized, and sweep out the cloakroom. At home, it was her job to dry the dishes Doralee washed in almost scalding hot water after supper. She never broke a single one, even the big blue serving plate that was half again as big as she was, and Doralee said she had a sure hand for all it was still a little'un.
Ruby didn't talk—but that didn't mean she didn't understand. Ain't nobody seemed to know that, though. People talked about her while she was there all the time—like they was thinking she'd gone deaf as well as dumb. Like she'd lost her mind, instead of just her words. She would lie awake at night, next to Doralee in the big bed, and cry. She wished Cora was still here. Then it wouldn't matter. None of it would matter, because sure, she missed Mamma, but she missed Cora more. She could still feel her sister's arms around her, when she closed her eyes.
She could still see Cora's blood on the wall, when she closed her eyes.
"Mother is the name of God in the lips and hearts of children," River said solemnly. "He said that, a long time ago. He's dead now. There are no temples anymore. My mother sold me."
Ruby's eyes went wide.
"Simon doesn't know—doesn't understand. Doesn't want to believe. He's so good—such a good ge-ge. He tries so hard, and it's hard for him. He doesn't think I know, but he can't hide it from me. Can't keep it secret. He doesn't use words, but doesn't have to." River held a finger to her lips for silence, smiling. "Doesn't need words to shout. You don't, either. Just need someone to hear you, without the words."
She stood, holding her skirt closed with one hand so the berries wouldn't escape. She held the other out for Ruby. Just the way Cora used to. She gave her hand without thinking, and the girl's long pale fingers wrapped around hers with a warmth and strength she'd missed.
"I'm sorry I can't stay," River said, frowning. "But Daddy's coming, soon. We won't be here long."
Ruby wanted to ask her how she knew—and where her daddy had gone.
Her and Cora's daddy had gone up to God when they were babies, and Mamma had screamed and yelled and railed against him when things got hard. Mad at him for leaving them. He hadn't had any brothers or cousins, or else she would have had to marry one of them. Mamma hadn't been born here, the way Cora and Ruby had been. Ruby hadn't learned that until after Mamma had slit Cora's throat, and reached towards her with the knife still in one hand, her bloody fingers grasping at the air in front of her. And Cora staring at her, her blonde hair matted and caked with red.
"The wicked are wicked, no doubt, and they go astray and they fall, and they come by their deserts," River said as they skidded down the hill, pebbles rattling before them, dust in their wake. The clinic was in front of them now—lights blazing in every window. "But who can tell the mischief which the very virtuous do?"
Ruby could hear Doralee calling her, worry in her voice. River let her go without her needing to say a word, so she could follow the sound of her name.
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