Eve turns her hand so dust can spill from the seams in her gloves of tough, cracking leather.
She watches microscopic particles drifting to the floor.
She thinks: A tiny moment, me watching a cascade of desert dust. It happens a million times a day but I see it this once; this meaningless event – is it meaningless? I probably won’t remember it, but should I? What is important?
She’s alone, and has been for more than a year, working in a desolate and lethal hell. She’s given up hope that other people will come to work here – too many have died terrible deaths.
Eve scans the bleak living quarters around her, and wonders if they are depressing her, are responsible for her wanting to kill herself. She dismisses that as madness, but can’t dismiss the truth.
She wants to die.
She loses herself in work, undaunted by the labour demanded by her situation. A storm has laden the living quarters with so much desert dust that it’s going to take a gigantic effort just to reach the blast baffles of the entrances.
Despite the scarf, tight over her mouth and nose, she still feels the air thick, clogging her airways and lungs. Grit in her mouth.
With muscles built from punishing work in this harsh reality, she sweeps. Rhythmical, repetitive movement. Good for thinking.
She relaxes for a moment, gasping for air. Work makes the coarse fabric of her overalls drag against skin, chafing, burning with the salt of sweat. The broom handle thumps against her breast as she rests. More particles fall – beaten out of the fibres.
Eve sweeps harder, powerful strokes stirring up a billowing haze. She strips the mask away and slaps it against her thigh; puffs of dust burst out. Replacing the mask, she shouts, “No one should carry this much pain!” Her screeched words echo from distant walls.
Eve sits on the gritty floor. Tears. She’s hugging her broom. She calls into the darkness, “Oh yes, I could die so easily. Why does living demand so much more death than dying ever would?”
Eve’s swept all she can. She nearly has access to the north entrance now. It’s not as blocked as usual.
Eve throws the broom down. On the hard floor it clatters and bounces. She picks it up, puts it back in its place. “Sorry, broom. My pain…”
Eve whimpers, brushing hot tears of anger away and lifts a steel shovel. The blade whines as it scrapes on the floor. She says, “Sorry, shovel, I didn’t mean to grip you so tight. I was so close to smashing you against a wall … again.”
She almost stops talking but her mind forces her on, “This world is all so twisted and ruled by idiots. How did their small minds ever get to tell us what to believe in, what to hold dear, what is good and bad?”
Eve shovels desert grit for aching hours. She thinks: Dying, I mean actually dying, is so easy – so many people die even when they are not trying to. I can cease, now, here. What is this thing called life and who thought it all right to dump it on me?
Grey dust surrounds Eve. Grey consoles, grey floor … even the ceilings and walls not struck by the feeble light of her single candle.
If she digs her way out of the living quarters, this cavern of cubicles and consoles … a boiler unit, safes, equipment dispensers … she will dig herself, as she has so many times before, back into the desert. Searingly bright, but still grey.
She’s sweated access to a button that will set a mechanism to cut a gash through the dust in the north entrance tunnel.
She walks to the water console and chokes from trying to drink too fast. Splashes cover the console and floor as she gasps for air, fist thudding against her chest to dislodge water caught in her bronchus.
Stupid body! You wanted water and I just gave you some. Why can’t you even deal with something so pitifully simple? Where was I? Oh yes: ranting. What was I ranting about this time?
Her minds goes round and round, pointless exhausting circles – never a destination.
The hum and rattle of machinery pull Eve back into the here and now. She realises the shovel is still in her hands. “Hello again … we’ve worked so much together. Oh yes, this is me talking to a shovel… Well, I’m about to kill myself so what I say to you doesn’t matter. I think I’d prefer to be a shovel. Why were we humans cursed with this quality, intelligence, which means we can make so much of a mess of ourselves?” She, shakes with tortured sobs, holds the shovel high and announces, “You … you can’t even make a single mistake!” She leans it against a console. “Take a break. I’m not the best company at the moment.”
Eve gathers her weapons and heads for the inhospitable desert. She no longer cares if it kills her. Though there’s unlikely to be much danger today, the storm will have destroyed any predators in the immediate area. Twisted and unrecognisable patches of carbon will be all that remain. Burned drifters unable now to sting and wait for the victim to grow too weak to stop them tearing flesh and organs apart with their tentacles, or the diving birds that swoop at impossible speeds, tearing a chunk from you – silent death: no warning. Or something else, something she’s never seen but powerful enough to smash a whole entrance gate once – causing the death of an entire shift of sixteen workers.
In the tunnel, Eve stops, hissing in fury. She beats her head against a wall. “No way! Where did this thought come from? To stay alive just for the chance I can understand and pull someone else back … back from this agony I’m suffering? Life, you are so relentlessly cruel. That was a horrible thought to give me.”
Tears cut through the dust on her face. “Really? What am I supposed to do – tell people I’m staying alive just in case I can save them? That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.”
She strides into the desert, sunlight stabbing into her eyes.
She pauses, hands white-knuckled on her weapons. “Stupidest thing … yes, even by my standards of stupid. So, Eve, who are you? What have you achieved? You’ve lied, cheated, competed at the expense of others. Oh … don’t forget just how much of a coward you’ve been…”
Her voice echoes from bleak walls and rocks, “Why did I turn out like this?” She falls silent, staring at banks of dust forming sweeping curves. “Why…? Because that’s what my whole life made me.”
She throws shards of shattered wood before her, and stops, counting, watching for smoke that will tell her not to go on.
No smoke: Good.
She walks forward. “Yes, culture, ambition, competition, greed. Yes, Eve, you are a bitch … as big a total bitch as it’s possible to be: I’m going to kill you.”
The weapons fall from her hands – dangling by their straps. She thinks: That’s where the pain comes from! She’s dizzy, stunned: whirling thoughts settle into crystal sharp clarity.
I’m a good person trapped in bad behaviour… So obvious.
I could try to become a person I can admire. Is that even possible? True … there is no one else here to stop me: I am the culture here now.
She grimaces and shouts out, “And so Eve’s last words become my first? Yes! Eve, goodbye. You are dead.”
She quails: That’s a huge task I’ve given myself… To change learned behaviours inculcated from birth? Do I have the strength?
I never had it before…
©Gary Bonn, 2017
This is a prequel for a book coming out this year: Harsh Reality.