While Mother and Father Enki leave the Laboratory, Enki’s two guards remain behind. They take positions in the hall outside the Laboratory door and stand stiffly, their spear-guns at their sides. I am about to resume sweeping, when I realize that one of these statues is the worker who looked at me through the arch.

I sweep away from him, but he speaks.

“Little one,” he says (not that he so large himself), “will you bring me water?”

“Yes,” I squeak like a mouse. My hands shake as I carry the cup to him and accidentally splash water onto his hand. Why does he affect me this way? No one else, not even the gods, grips my stomach and twists it into a knot.

“What is your name?” he asks and I tell him.

“Bragda,” he repeats. “They call me Naftu.”

His eyes are like mine, small and black, and their expression interesting. He is so like me that I know he is from another section of the second batch.

He downs the water and asks, “What is it like, working for Mother?”

I don’t know what to say. For one thing, I don’t think he should be talking to me. The other guard does not move.

“What do you mean?” I ask. I pick up my broom and pretend to sweep.

Naftu, on the other hand, no longer pretends to work and lounges against the wall in a friendly manner. “I mean,” he says, “you must see a lot, being that you work in her Laboratory. You are right in the room where she creates the beings.”

“How do you know about that?” I say. “About the Creation, I mean.”

He laughs softly and I watch his mouth crinkle at the edges. I want to reach out and touch it, but of course that would be unwise.

“Everyone knows what she does,” he says. “Besides, Father Enki is also a powerful scientist. His Laboratory is as beautiful as Mother’s.”

“Really?” I say. Not having visited Father Enki’s house, I would not know. “What does Father create in his Laboratory?”

Naftu gives me a speculative look. His throat skin looks soft and is the color of honey. “Surely, you joke. You do not know that Father also Creates? The two of them discuss it often. Mother visits Father’s palace and they drink wine together and become happily drunk. And during their happy drinking, they tell each other what they are creating.”

I do not say anything. Something about this sounds wrong. From what I have understood, Mother keeps her work a secret from the other gods. She wants, and has every right to want, to be the creator of humans who can remake themselves. For what good are humans, like myself, who cannot? The Birth Goddesses are exhausted and cannot be expected to continue to carry the infants.

I give Naftu my best look of suspicion.

He smiles. “You do not believe me, little Bragda? I should know, seeing that many times I have stood guard at the door while they played.”

I stop my fake sweeping. “Then why,” I ask him, “do the two of them not work together in the same Laboratory? If, as you say, they are in this together?”

Instead of answering me, he smiles and says, “You are a sweet little thing. Do you have a lover?”

I cannot breathe. Is it possible that he has asked this? Why would I have a lover? Only the gods have lovers; it is they who chose, and none have beckoned to me.

“You are too shy to answer, little one?” he persists.

Not facing him, I stammer, “I-I don’t know what you mean.”

“Oh come now,” he laughs (and the other guard laughs with him). “You are how old? Sixteen? By now, surely you have had pleasure with someone.”

“You mean a god,” I whisper.

He leaves his post and approaches me. “A god? Not necessarily. What makes you think it must be a god?”

I am confused. “But it is the gods who are lovers to each other and some of them choose from among the workers. Who else would I have?”

“Can you believe this?” Naftu says to the other guard. With a wide smile, he turns back to me. “Little one, small and brown and innocent as a nut. You are an unopened nut.”

He laughs and I cannot help but admire his strong, white teeth. They look oddly like Father Enki’s. The way he is talking causes me to feel hollow in my belly. I back away, but he moves toward me. Finally, he has me against a wall. Part of me wishes that Mother would return, but some of me does not.

He puts his hand on the wall over my head. “I think you need a lover,” he says.


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