With that hymn stuck in our heads, Lin and I backed out of the impromptu funeral and went to see Nessa. The song had reminded us of her. It was like an announcement that somebody was in trouble, like a beckoning for friends. We had heard it once, at the beginning, and hadn’t done anything about it. Poor Nessa. She had no one but us, and we didn’t even know our cues.
Lin and I hurried our way across the city. It took a few minutes, but not so long as I had remembered. We found our Russian friend just as we had left her, surrounded by cooing Atlanteans, swaying while pressing her body down. She was perfectly preserved. There had been no decay, no rigor mortis. Nessa was at peace.
“I don’t think that’s a courtesy,” Lin said, referring to the continued singing and swaying.
“You’re right. I don’t think they’re following conventions right now. They’re deep in it.”
“Is that Iara?” Lin asked.
“Yes. She must be the reason this is all coming to a head. My guess is that all the gillies are clergy or shamans or mediators of some sort.”
Iara knelt down in front of Nessa and lapped water onto our friend’s face with her hands. The glowwater traced patterns on her skin. The patterns stayed lit for several seconds after Iara took her hand away, and then she would make them again. “Look at the design she’s making,” said Lin. “Is that a tear?”
“It’s something.” I knelt down beside Iara and placed my hands in the water with hers. She paused for a moment, unsure if this was acceptable practice.
“Careful, David,” Lin warned. “You don’t know what you’re getting into.” But her caution was misplaced.
“We’re okay. I think this is something sacred for them. Something sacrosanct. They’re private. Respectful. They know about death.”
Iara took my hands in hers and began to lead them in making the pattern. We traced it on Nessa’s forehead and breast and it remained there for some time, glowing, a half-moon and a teardrop.
“It’s beautiful,” said Lin.
“Yes. They’re preparing her for burial. I don’t know why they waited until now. I don’t know what’s precipitated this, but I know this feeling. This is what it feels like to say goodbye for the last time.”
“You don’t think they’ll take her to the grime pool, do you? The one we just left with that boy?”
“I don’t know, Lin. But look at those guys,” I said, pointing to a group of Atlanteans hefting a long board between them. “They’re taking her somewhere.”
“Not there. No way.”
“If that happens,” I said, “we can intervene.”
The men with the long board kneeled down beside Nessa and gently lifted her onto it like a bier. They hoisted her onto their shoulders and Lin, Nessa, and myself fell in step behind them. We walked a long way. When we passed the feast, it had all but been deserted. More of those walrus-foxes were slumping in between seats, gobbling leftovers. It was like we had missed the Rapture. Except for the singing. We could hear everyone singing at the garbage pool. Iara paused and looked to Lin and me, raising her eyebrow and indicating the music.
“No!” we both shouted. It was wrong to put our companion into the trash. We stood in front of the bier as we had discussed, urging them to go in another direction.
And so we walked a long time again back to another pool, bright and small, at the very center of the city. I had previously thought of this pool as an embellishment, a fountain or the silver dollar of Atlantis. It was a naturally formed edifice, perhaps eight feet in height, with a clear crystalline base. White quartz grew around it like frozen flowers, and I thought of it like a spiritual birthmark. Iara turned and asked us once more with her face.
I nodded before Lin pieced it together and came to kiss Nessa on her brow. I wasn’t sure what to say, only that I had to say something. This was my vocation. I was a Speaker to God on behalf of His people, just as I was a Transmitter for Him back. From dust you came, and to the dust you shall return did not seem to fit. There is no dust here. It is too wet. I prayed and opened my spirit, searching my memory. I felt like God was drawing me into the Book of Ezekiel. Once more I exploited my affinity to the prophet. “I will take you from the land of foreigners,” I began. “I will sprinkle you with pure water, and you will be cleansed. I will give you a new heart. I will give you my Spirit. I will welcome you home.”
“They’re getting rid of her!” Lin called out.
“No. They are giving her to the Lord,” I said. “On that day I will cleanse you, and you will dwell in the un-dwellable city, and the desolate land will be made like Eden.”
The attendants sang the same hymn from the feast and shared some of the black, brackish drink. We sang and swayed for a long time before they lowered Nessa into the water. She was weighted down by the board and it was fitted with a great stone, center-balanced, to draw it beneath the surface. She disappeared as if lowered into an interminable grave. The water raised her arms to us in a slight wave, and the glow-water lit up her hair like a black blaze.
As I watched her fade away, I felt like I was really saying two goodbyes. I was releasing Nessa but also letting go of Liz. I had resigned myself to her death, of course. But this was my first moment to fully reflect on the inviolability of Liz’s transition into the invisible world beyond our own. I like to think she would have looked every bit as beautiful as the Russian princess, sliding back into the waters away from Dignite and from harm. I knelt at the edge of the pool. Liz was gone, but I had her in a new way. She lived in another room in my heart. I still didn’t know what had happened to her, but my experience today was knowledge of another kind. Gnosis and noetics.
I can move on.
I’m writing this in bed now, too full to sleep and too full of memories to keep my mind from racing. It’s weird to feel so manly and so unmanned by your own efforts in just one day.
We have to lose life in order to find it precious. Whether above or below, we all live in a culture of bereavement.