The way my insides lurch, I wonder if he is right, but then my sanity returns. I know that only gods can take lovers no matter what this worker believes. But then he shocks me further.
“Verku over there, he has a wife.”
I don’t know how this could be. This worker is spinning tales, telling lies. “What do you mean?”
Naftu licks his lips. “A female worker is joined to him for all time. They are lovers every night.”
My head fills with white sparks. What is he saying? Only some of the gods have wives and always they are goddesses. Even so, some take workers as lovers whenever they feel like it.
“I thought that only on their world could someone take a wife. Not here on Earth.”
“Here on Earth is where we live,” says Naftu. “And why cannot workers do that too?”
“Because,” I say slowly and exactly, “workers cannot make offspring. What point then is there for them to unite with each other?”
“Ah,” he says, shaking his head, looking back at Verku. “She has no idea, she has no idea.”
Now I am angry. I hold the broom between us like a weapon. “I am not stupid! Do not speak to me as if I am! You know the gods came here to mine the gold and that they made us to work the mines, not to become as they are. We, the second batch still cannot reproduce, so we are not much good, are we? The birth goddesses can carry worker infants only so many times before becoming exhausted. Mother works day and night to find a way to make new batches that they can create infants on their own! We have no rights, we are nothing.”
Naftu gives me a look of sadness. “You think so, little nut. You think that is true, that we are nothing?”
I am more than confused now, I am wild inside. “But we are as animals, are we not? We exist to serve the gods.”
Naftu does not immediately answer, but moves to stand in front of the window. He looks out upon the gardens. Finally, he turns to me.
“Our parents are both gods and those beings who live like apes in the forest. The gods put their essence into the ape men. So…we are special, are we not?” He seems to ask the air, not anyone in particular.
I ignore his question and ask, “How was Verku permitted to take a wife?”
“Father Enki saw that Verku was fond of Leezna and that they always tried to be together. And Father laughed and made a decree that Verku and Leezna would be joined. When other gods were visiting for the evening meal, and they had drunk much wine, Father Enki had Verku and Leezna brought before them and joined them in marriage. Upon their fingers, he placed rings of gold and made them to kiss in front of the company, then declared them husband and wife.”
I have never heard of such a thing. “Were they permitted to keep the rings of gold?”
“No,” says Naftu. He is not smiling now. “The gods, they took them back. But strangely, Father Enki let Verku and Leezna live together in the same chamber. He may have forgotten now, but no one bothers them.”
“No gods come to take Leezna as lover then?” I ask.
“No,” says Naftu. “Perhaps they have forgotten her. But then you know that a new sky ship arrived in the month of Shep and on it were new birth goddesses. They are very beautiful and likely the gods have their eyes turned upon them.”
“But,” I say, not quite as shy now, “birth goddesses surely do not have time for lovering.”
“Oh, but there you are wrong,” says Naftu. “After the joined seeds are put into them, they have nothing to do but wait until they grow into workers. They have plenty of time for serving as lovers, if they choose.”
I am quiet thinking about this, about how it might feel to carry another creature inside one’s belly. And then to remove one’s robe and… My face grows hot.
“So,” says Naftu, looking into my eyes, “what is Mother working on lately? Has she had any luck creating a worker who can carry an infant?”
My heart thumps hard. I back away. Why is he asking this?
He shoots the other guard a look. Does he think I cannot see? “You are in here with her all the time, are you not, little nut? You must see everything that goes on.”
I feel as if someone punched me in the belly. For a moment I cannot catch my breath. It is as if I had created, just like Mother, a wonderful world where this worker here with the black black eyes, looks upon such as I with desire. And in this world, he and I…well, there is little point in dreaming this now. For now I understand the true reason for his interest.
I am about to scream that these two guards are nothing but spies that Father Enki left behind. And they, thinking that I, because I am nothing but the sweeper, am dimwitted enough to tell them Mother’s secrets. But should I scream, how do I know they will not hurt me?
To think this way about Father Enki, that he would stoop to this low behavior, a god, a celestial being from the stars. It is as if my mind has been ripped in two.
Naftu, that snake who I believed was special, is watching me carefully. I am beginning to fear everything. For if this guard is not as he pretends and if Father Enki is not perfect as I believed, then is anything safe? Will the sun rise tomorrow, will the moon be in the sky tonight?
I shut my eyes and when I open them again, I am different. My mouth opens and words shoot out as if someone else is directing them. “Why doesn’t Father Enki ask Mother herself if he wants to know what she is creating?”
For a moment, Naftu is silent. He glances again at his partner. Finally, he speaks. “I find you very desirable, little nut. Would you like it if I kissed you?”
He moves close again. I step back. I have, like a bird, soared high in the sky, then unlike one, crashed to earth. All this time, nothing is as I have believed.
“No!” I say, holding my broom in front of me. “I do not wish for the kiss of a snake.”
He looks shocked. “Snake? You see me as a snake? Why, Bragda, why? When our eyes have met through the window and light has passed between us?”
“Not true light,” I say. “Not real light at all. Now leave me alone, leave me to my work. Mother will be returning and you will be leaving.”
As he returns to his post outside the door, I cannot see his face.
Year of the Sun
They file past, a parade of pride. I feel their spirit, their fire, these handsome workers who have passed the test and produced from their own loins infants like themselves. How beautiful these creatures are, now grown, with their smooth skin, their slim waists, their long, waving black hair. Not as tall as the gods, but taller than my kind, they glide down the aisle to Mother.
She sits on her podium in perfect posture, arms open to receive her children. “Look at you,” she beams, her large eyes luminous. I see her cast a sidewise glance at Father Enki, who lounges in the Chair for Distinguished Guests, his own face serious and closed. At his side are his two favorite old guards, one of them guess who.
I am old myself now. Countless moons have passed since I witnessed these hairless infants carried in for Mother’s inspection. My back is stooped, my legs hurt when I rise from my mat, my hair is grizzled. Mother allows me still to sweep, and she is kind when I frequently need to rest. I do not know how much longer I will be able to work. But I am thankful to have lasted long enough to witness this exhibit of advanced workers, who finally meet Mother’s standards.
Nufta looks at me long and hard. By now, I have learned to read expressions in eyes and on faces of both god and worker. He is expressing a mix of feelings ― respect for me, anger that he did not, so long ago trick me, regret that we were never lovers.
Since that time so long ago, I, plain though I am, have enjoyed three lovers. One just on one occasion, the other two for lengths of time. From the second, I learned how to please a male and the third one benefited. None were gods, for why should any of them choose such as I when now there are workers of beauty close to their own?
Father Enki’s eyes follow the gorgeous creatures, but he does not rise nor signal from his chair. He is clearly reluctant to give Mother her due. That is not to say that he himself has not created some lovely creatures of his own, but it is only two of Mother’s children, who present us with their first offspring.
Mother stands to accept these into her arms. She holds them with adoration and speaks to the audience of gods and workers.
“This is a Day of Days in the Universe,” she intones. She is wearing a long violet tunic, usually Enki’s color, and a thin gold band upon her flowing hair. “For the first time upon this Earth, two created Eves have produced infants, their own kind, from their own loins.”
She signals for one of the infants’ mothers to take hers back and holds up the other for the audience’s inspection. “Witness,” she instructs us, “the softness of the infant’s skin, just like its mother’s. Observe the soft shine of the child’s hair; her large, lustrous eyes and now hear this.” Mother must have gently pinched the infant’s leg, for it suddenly opens its tiny mouth and lets out a magnificent wail.
“Only with the building seed of the gods could such a fine wail be possible,” she laughs.
After handing the once again quiet infant back to its mother, she announces, “Be it known, that neither of these infants were fathered by one of us, but by new workers only! Step forward fathers!”
At Mother’s signal, two of the new Adams advance and kneel before her. I cannot help but admire their smooth, strong backs. It is strange to behold the look of the gods, but smaller and with dark hair. I glance at my hairy arm and suffer regret and anger. Why couldn’t I have been born as part of this much improved batch?
Mother instructs the two male workers to face the audience, then, standing up to her full glory, proceeds to give a speech.
“We have made the workers who will populate this planet. They will work for us in the mines, certainly, but the day will come when we leave and these fine creatures, will go forth and multiply. They will produce kings and queens, scholars, farmers, soldiers, and scientists. Some day, far in the future, perhaps they will learn what we know now, but they must discover it for themselves, they must forge their own path.”
She extends her long, elegant arm to her half brother. “Enki, my love, let us no longer be rivals in the Laboratory. Your learnings have helped me and my learnings have done so for you. Let us forgive and remember only what we have made and adore it.”
Enki’s large, blue eyes lock with hers and he cannot resist her charms, for as everyone knows, in spite of their rivalry, he loves her. They hold hands and I forget about disapproving of myself and instead join in, experiencing the joy of the gods. This is a fine day and I am indeed lucky to witness the birth of what may become, if all goes well, future gods.
Afterwards, there are meats and fruits, bread and honey cakes and wine that flows through the night. And after all these moons, Nufta and I find a dark pavilion on the outer grounds of the palace and make love. Under the silver moon, we are lovers.
Margaret Karmazin’s credits include over ninety stories published in literary and national magazines, including Rosebud, North Atlantic Review, Potomac Review, Confrontation, Virginia Adversaria, Mobius, Chiron Review and Aim Magazine. Her stories in The MacGuffin, Eureka Literary Magazine and Words of Wisdom were nominated for Pushcart awards, and Piper’s Ash, Ltd. published a chapbook of her sci-fi stories, Cosmic Women. She helped write the introduction for and has a story included in Still Going Strong (Haworth Press) and a novel, Replacing Fiona, published by etreasurespublishing.com and available on online bookstores. One of her stories is included in Ten Twisted Tales. “Sweeping” originally appeared in the March 2009 issue of The Battered Suitcase.