“The ringing of the division bell had begun.”
Someone has to pick up what remains. More often than not, that someone is me.
I am the one who opens my gates to the victims of their folly. I am daughter, step-daughter, sister, half-sister.
When Baldr came to my gates I greeted him personally. He fell down in my lap and I held him and I loved him. He is dim, here … perhaps things have not gone as they should have gone, but I suppose they have gone as they must.
I am older than I am. I am the accumulated desiccation of every single life which came wriggling from the mud. I am their accumulated decay – their flesh digesting in the stomachs of others who will someday return to the rot and the mud. I am older than they – yet still I am daughter; I am sister.
And to some I am mother.
I was mother to Baldr, whom I loved. His hair was like woven spider’s silk between the fleshy pads of my pale pink fingers; like spun sunshine between the small bones of my hand held together by tough bits of ligaments suspended in purification. He smelled like pinewoods and snow. His tears felt like mother’s milk on the thigh of my dress. It must be frightening to die.
People are fond of saying, when a child dies: “Parents are not meant to bury their children.” Nonsense. What is meant or not meant has no function here – it is only that they are less well equipped, for they do not spend their lives quietly learning to understanding that they will be burying their children, as their children quietly learn to understand that they will bury their parents.
The natural order is hardly a natural construct.
Nonetheless, when Baldr came pale-faced with shock to my gate, I knew it had begun. From that moment on, it was always meant to come: if anything was ever meant or not meant, my father was simply not meant to get away with it. I would pose the notion that He understood this from the get-go: one such as He is not an idiot, though one such as He might often do idiotic things.
There are cycles. From the moment my brother the wolf was taken, my sibling the snake tossed out to sea, myself forced onto my throne in this land of the dead, He was always meant to strike Baldr down. These Christians like to think “Eye for an Eye” was their very own unique and original idea.
Nothing is original anymore. It all comes from somewhere. From whispers. From half-forgotten dreams and stories that have faded over time, like a painting left too long in the sun.
So it surprised no one, save for the ones who were left blind (read: the world) that they fished my father out of the river like a trash fish they needed to kill lest it pollute the water with its sour semen. It surprised no one. One does not kill the All Father’s favored son and dance away, life and limb intact.
Besides. A child had been buried. We have already established how miserable people are at dealing with such things.
More children were always meant to be buried.
So once I put Baldr to sleep, once I cleaned my fine wool gown (it was a dress made for a queen, as you’ll note I am. I put it on to greet the All Father’s favorite son into my eternal hall) and sent out all my servants, I sat upon my throne and I waited. I waited, and I listened to the stirrings of the earth.
You would never imagine the sounds the earth makes. So much of it the diligent breaking down of things. You know things: leaves, bits of bark and grass, the skins snakes shed, the shells some insects and spiders leave behind, the afterbirth left uneaten on the soil, the wine that was spilled at the foot of the tree, the abandoned bird’s nest, mounds of dung, shed hair and fur, meat vacated by spirit. So many things for the worms to make their way through, with their tiny, chewing orifices. So many things to slowly break down under the weight of so much bacterium and mold.
And if you listen to those things, to their disintegration and rot, they’ll tell you so much. The things people leave behind speak just as much as the things people make sure to keep close.
I knew when my father stormed into that party. I knew He was drunk to begin with (ever the fan of the pre-game, my father) and I knew He would only be more drunk before He left. He spilled His ale. He ran His fingers through His hair. He scratched His nails over His skin. He thumped the table with His fist. He left His clothes behind when He realized His mistake, and He became something else to better run and hide.
There is no running and hiding once you’ve heaped insults at the feet of your hosts. There is no running and hiding once you’ve heaped insults at the feet of the gods. Not even for gods. And my father had been running for such a long time.
One can never tell just what the fallout will be, though one always knows there will be a fallout. “They will kill Him at last,” I thought. “I will greet my father. He will live in my halls beside Baldr. Or perhaps not so side-by-side.” I would put on a dress made for a daughter: a lovely faded pink, just the color of fresh salmon’s flesh.
Then again, I thought, death would likely not be good enough retaliation against the murderer of their shinning prince: would Sigyn be the one to die? The Joy of His Heart, they call Her, the ones who saw them together. I would put on something fine to welcome Her here, and certainly She would live side-by-side with Baldr, for a mother understands. An ermine-fur lined cloak, perhaps? Brown, so as not to be too fine – She is a woman of taste, not a woman of excess.
No. Even that would not be enough, I understood. The death of a child must only be repaid in kind. I would put on a dress made for a sister: gray wool, fur cloak, and that is all. I would meet my little half-brother at the gate, as I had met Baldr.
And so I did. I met that boy who looked upon me with the wide eyes of horror (at me, perhaps, at the eternal immensity of this place, at the memory of His death – I listened in on the sound of His flesh torn asunder by His brother’s unnatural fangs, the sound of His blood a warm patter on the snow) and I wrapped Him up in my rabbit fur cloak and, as I had held Baldr while He cried, I held my brother.
What a family we are. Someday I will make sure to have us pose for a fine family portrait: Baldr with His pierced chest and His badly burned bride, Narvi with His gaping bowels, Vali in His new-found wolf suit, Sigyn all gaunt from Her years in Her cave with my father and Her fingers blistered from burying Her son in the snow, Hodur shell-shocked with His inadvertent murder, Frigg so stern and regal and cold from the death of Her sons, my mother as regal as Frigg and harder, too, a queen to monsters not unlike myself, my siblings all bound and outcast, Odin shamefaced and my father still looking for a reason to laugh –
And me, by then grown weary of gathering what remains.
[Tahni J. Nikitins is a student of Comparative Literature and Creative Writing. In fall her essay “The Deconstruction of Narrative Framing in David Markson’s ‘Wittgensteins’s Mistress'” will be published through the department of comparative literature’s annual journal Nomad and she plans on finishing her degree in Sweden. Some of her fiction and poetry has been featured in Huginn, Lilith: Queen of the Desert and Unto Herself: A Devotional Anthology for Independent Goddesses. She can be found at http://musing-ramblings.blogspot.com/ and tahnijnikitins.deviantart.com.]