Copyright© 2010 by Shakes Peer2B
It was weeks after Amanda's death before I was able to begin to function again. Gav and Sophie were as devastated as I when I told them the news, and it opened the wounds in my heart even wider to witness their anguish.
In the world in which I grew up, three-year-olds did not understand death. Sophie did. Death is not an uncommon occurrence these days, and she knew from the beginning that her mother was not coming home again. She was younger and more resilient than I, but that didn't diminish her own suffering. It just allowed her to bounce back more quickly.
Gav tried to take it 'like a man' but I could see that he, too, was suffering.
To their credit, our neighbors, as had become our habit at the Citadel, pitched in and took over a lot of my parenting duties, seeing to it that Sophie and Gav were fed and properly clothed. I had never expected my children to need the help and support of the community when I was promoting that attitude, but I was grateful for it then.
Grey Eagle, always accompanied by Jamaal, was there almost every day, offering words of wisdom to help ease the pain that Sophie and Gav were suffering. He offered them to me, as well, but I was not in a very receptive mood.
The wake was delayed until word could be passed to The People and to those at the Citadel who wanted to attend, and perhaps that was for the best. It gave us a little time to wallow in our self-pity and get some of it out of our systems.
Amanda's wake was surreal. I knew that my sorrow, and that of our children, was, in large part, selfish longing for what we had lost. We knew that Amanda had lived an extraordinary life and that it was well worth celebrating, but to be there, with our hearts broken, and hear person after person talk about how Amanda had touched their lives and made them better brought home just how selfish our sorrow was. We laughed at the funny stories, and shared the heartfelt memories of the rest of the community, and when it came our turn, we found that there was room in our hearts to share our memories with the others.
Sophie went first. Another thing I was not accustomed to see from one so young, but she knew she was among friends and there was no suggestion of stage fright, as, in her clear three-going-on-forty voice, she told about how her mommy, who ran the bank, played with her and told her stories. Everyone laughed until tears flowed when Sophie told about the time Amanda had slipped while giving her a bath, and wound up in the tub with her. The words were simple, and her child's voice offered them with all the naiveté one would expect of a little girl nearing her fourth birthday, but it was clear that Sophie wanted everyone to remember Mommy as she had: the loving, attentive Mommy who, in spite of being an important person, still had time for Sophie.
Gav, too, had stories to tell. My heart swelled with pride as he related his adventures with Amanda, not as a twelve-year-old child would do, but as a young man. His love and admiration for his mother were there in every word, and my tears, as he spoke, combined pride and sadness that his time with her had been cut short.
When it came my turn, I almost couldn't speak. Sophie took my hand, and like Amanda in miniature, let me know that it would be all right. I spoke of the second great love of my life, the one that had become the greatest. I spoke of my ineptitude in so many aspects of my chosen role - the clumsiness that Amanda had mended and smoothed. I told of those first lessons in leadership that she had administered by throwing me to the ground when we first arrived at the Citadel. I rambled on and on, and they hung on every word.
When I finally ran dry, I raised a full glass of beer and said, simply, "To Amanda!"
The response resonated through the hills as everyone in Phoenix shouted it from the bottoms of their hearts. Yes, some were grieving for their own lost loved ones by showing their grief for Amanda, and some were grieving for things left undone or unsaid between Amanda and themselves. I wanted to believe that they all loved her as much as Sophie, Gav and I had, so I didn't look any deeper. People deal with loss in their own ways, and we had suffered enough losses in our short history. I wasn't going to try to tell anyone how to do it.
Grey Eagle told Amanda's story - the story of the Puma who accompanied Coyote Who Rides a Horse, and the telling was yet another celebration of her life. Everyone who could get within earshot listened with rapt attention as the fire crackled and the shadows played across the old man's face.
That was the beginning of my healing, but nowhere near the end. That was the night that Amanda came to me once again in my sleep, but this night was different. No longer was I holding her bleeding, dying body, reliving those horrendous moments only to wake up sweating, consumed with guilt and survivor's remorse.
No, this night, she came to me, serene and gentle, whispering to me, smiling, telling me to forgive myself.
"We always knew that this could happen to one of us," her image whispered, "but we could not live in fear. My life has not been in vain. Now it is time to let me go and keep your promise."
I slept that night. For the first time in weeks, I slept peacefully, and Amanda kept watch over me.
When I awoke, I went to find Sophie and Gav.
"Hi, Daddy!" My daughter said from her chair at the kitchen table.
"Hey, Munchkin!" I said, rejoicing in the smile I received in return.
"How are you this morning, Dad," Gav asked, concern showing on his face.
"Much better this morning, son," I answered. I saw the searching in his eyes, and walked over to embrace him. Words wouldn't come but he understood. "Much better."
I realized I was famished, and the bacon and eggs that Gav was preparing for their breakfast hit me in the nostrils and reminded me that I hadn't eaten properly for a long time.
"Are you going to be okay, Daddy?" Sophie asked innocently.
"I am now, baby," I kissed her on the cheek. "I promised your mom that I would take care of you, and I can't do that if I spend all my time feeling sorry for myself."
At three going on four, of course, priorities are a little different. "I'm not a baby!" Sophie said indignantly.
"No, sweetheart, you aren't. My apologies. How about if you just be my little angel?"
"I guess that's okay," she smiled.
It wasn't as simple as that, of course. There were still times when I missed Amanda so much that it twisted my guts in knots, and even when I relieved General Lee, finally, of the temporary command he had held since Amanda and I left on our fateful trip, I found that my heart was no longer in it.
I could not, of course, just quit, but with the annexation of Silicon Valley, it was time for us to start thinking about a more permanent form of government. I needed input from everyone who had any interest in the matter, and that meant waiting at least until Simmons and his people finished their initial training. I sent word to have them stop in at Phoenix on their way back, but it was still more than a month until I would see them.
One day, not long after Amanda's wake, while I was going over the notes I had been making on government, and to which Amanda had contributed her own ideas, I was summoned to the infirmary.
Grey Eagle lay on a bed, looking, for the first time since I'd known him, frail and fragile. I had to lean close to hear what he had to say.
"I had another vision, after coming to this place," he told me, in a weak, raspy voice. "In my vision, I saw the Puma fall. Soon after came the end of the Grey Eagle's song. I did not tell others of this vision, except the Raven..."
"That would be me," Jamaal butted in. He had been Grey Eagle's constant companion since we had arrived in Phoenix.
" ... and I swore him to secrecy," Grey Eagle continued uninterrupted. "I did not want to make a self-fulfilling prophecy, and I hoped that it was a false dream, but it has come true. The Puma has fallen, and now it is time for the Grey Eagle's song to end."
"What are you talking about," I blustered, not willing to believe that he, too, was dying. Since Grey Eagle was the oldest among us, with health care what it is, I should have expected this, but the timing was, for me, very bad. "You'll be back on your feet in no time, you just wait and see."
The hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach told me otherwise, but I wanted so badly to believe it.
"It is time for me to go to a place where the hunting is not so hard and game is plentiful, Coyote who Rides a Horse," Grey Eagle said, weariness in every word. "The Raven knows my songs. He will sing for me now."
I looked at Jamaal in confusion.
He pulled out an old, worn hundred dollar bill. Not a credit note, but a hundred dollars in US currency.
"You 'member up in them mountains outside Bakersfield, 'fo we got to the Citadel, how I won this here hunnert offa Matt?" he asked.
I did remember. It was just me, Gunny, Jamaal, Smiley, Ruth, Cora and Crystal back then. Matt had just joined us and Gunny and I had just returned from killing the men who kidnapped Ruth and Crystal.
"'Member what I tol' you then, 'bout stories and grandkids?"
Again I nodded.
"Well, somebody gots to carry on where ol' Eagle here leaves off, an' since I been gettin' in a storytellin' mood, I reckon it might as well be me," he ended his speech with a big smile.
I thought about it, and realized that he was right. We had no one who had time to write a history of our people, and my journals are all written from my point of view - a decidedly subjective one. Grey Eagle, with all his tales of visions, had also been our historian, and I could not think of anyone better to follow in his footsteps.
"You keep them alive," I told him, my voice trembling with the intensity of my need for him to understand. "You keep all of them alive: Smiley Brown, Mark Wyndham, Amanda, Grey Eagle, and all the rest. That's your job now. Keep their memory alive."
The smile disappeared from his face and Jamaal answered solemnly, and suddenly the ghetto accent was gone from his voice, "Don't worry Gav. No one is going to forget while I'm alive."
I couldn't speak anymore as tears welled up in my eyes, so I took his hand and gripped it hard, then turned back to see the smile fade from Grey Eagle's face.
'You have one more task to complete, Gavin," he told me, his voice stronger now. "I did not see the Coyote fall in my vision, but I saw him riding away as great cities rose from the rubble in the land that he left behind. You know what you must do now, before you can leave this land behind."
I nodded. I didn't know what he meant about me riding away, but I knew that the Constitution must be the task remaining - the foundation for our new nation. I took his bony hand. "I will miss you old friend. More than you know. If I have been successful here, a large part of that success is owed to you."
"We will hunt together again, Coyote who Rides a Horse," he gripped my hand, then the light died from his eyes, and only an empty shell lay on the bed.
I, too, felt empty inside. Turning to Jamaal, I said, "He has left big tracks for you to follow, my friend. Make a good song for him."
Jamaal nodded as I clapped him on the shoulder and left.
Grey Eagle's burial, at the request of the People, was a simple affair, attended mostly by the People who could come on short notice. According to tradition, he was bathed and his face painted with red paint. They dressed him in his finest clothes and wrapped him in his best blanket, then took him into the hills on a horse, with all of his worldly possessions. In a small cave, they laid him to rest with his possessions, covering the body with stones to keep the animals away. All of this was done the same day he died. As they had for Amanda, however, Phoenicians came from far and wide for his wake.
Jamaal held center stage for most of the night, telling, first, the story of Grey Eagle, then smoothly transitioning to the legend of Coyote Who Rides a Horse. Interwoven within that story, in a somewhat different style, but just as compellingly as when Grey Eagle had told his tales, were the stories of all of our fallen. He did them proud, and made my heart swell with the glory of their lives. When he had finished, with tears in my eyes, I took his hand, and without words communicated my appreciation and approval. If I had tried to speak, I would have broken down, and I did not want to do that again in front of all of our people.
Before they left the next day, Chief Morales and Chief Westley came to see me. The way my life had been going lately, I feared what they might have to tell me, but they and their people had been staunch allies and good friends, and I owed them the courtesy of the meeting.
"How can I help you, gentlemen?" I asked, offering them chairs with a wave of my hand.
Yes, strangely enough, I had an office. Thanks to an excess of real estate in Phoenix, we had an entire building set aside for the use of the government.
"We have been talking to the People who buried Grey Eagle," Chief Morales began, "and would like to thank you for honoring his Apache heritage in the manner of his burial."
"It was the least I could do for the man who taught me everything I know that is worth knowing in these times," I answered. "He was my teacher, my hunting companion, my comrade in arms, and my friend. I could do no less."
"Nonetheless," the chief continued, "it shows that you have respect for our traditions, and it has helped us to make a decision that we have discussed among ourselves for some time. We have long been allies, you and I, and our people."
I nodded, wondering where this was going.
"In fact, you have trained our people in the same way you train your own. I don't know if you know this, but all of our people have been through your training at the place you call the Citadel," Chief Morales ended with a questioning glance.
"I knew that many of your people had taken advantage of our training, and have helped teach some of the skills our people learn," I replied, "but I did not know that all of you had taken the training."
"I tell you this only to get to my next topic," the Chief of the Combined Tribes said. "Thanks to your friendship, we have not only survived, but flourished in the wake of the Sickness. We have intermarried with your people, and indeed, many of us prefer living among you. By the same token, many Phoenicians choose to live among us. For these reasons, it seems to make little sense for us to maintain a separate state."
"Are you saying that the People wish to become, officially, Phoenicians?" I asked.
"If you will have us," Morales answered to be polite, although we both knew the answer to that.
"We welcome you, brothers, with open arms!" I exclaimed, my day suddenly brighter. "You have been Phoenicians in all but name since the beginning. This will only formalize that relationship..."
A sudden thought occurred to me; "Ah, but this places an additional burden upon you and Chief Westley."
The two exchanged glances in puzzlement.
"Additional burden?" Chief Westley asked.
"In three weeks, when the leaders of our new annex in Silicon Valley return from training, we will begin the process of drafting a constitution," I told them. "You must be a part of that to ensure that the interests of your people are taken into account."
For seven long years, I have battled wearily with the greedy, the ignorant and the apathetic, as well as with Amanda's ghost, to draft a Constitution that I felt would give Phoenicia a fighting chance at avoiding the pitfalls of previous democracies. Many wanted to just keep the Constitution of the United States as our own. Persuading them that changes were in order was almost as hard as keeping out the loopholes that greedy and unscrupulous people kept trying to slip in.
I was not alone in my fight, but even among those of us who saw the need for change, and wanted a truly representative Government, it was difficult to reach agreement. Compromise was the order of the day, and I had to revisit my original notes and decide what was fundamental, and therefore not subject to compromise, and what could be modified. It was a grueling time, and only Amanda's spirit kept me from tearing my hair out. I know she was not really there, but her memory kept popping up in my mind, reminding me not to make an ass of myself, soothing me when my temper flared.
As we argued and debated over the provisions of the Constitution, Phoenicia grew. Our reputation and the relative wealth of our people drew survivors of the Sickness and the intervening years in ever growing numbers. Groups who claimed land clamored to be annexed, and as those groups were annexed, of necessity, we secured the lands between to ensure safe passage for our goods and people.
The demand for shipping soon outgrew the fleet of trucks we salvaged from before the sickness, and it became faster to build new ones, with engines designed for our fuels, than to restore the old ones, thanks to the manufacturing equipment preserved by the folks in Sillyvale.
Yes, 'Sillyvale'. That is the name some wag constructed from 'Silicon Valley' and 'Sunnyvale.' It is ridiculous, but it has stuck. Even the residents of the place have begun calling it Sillyvale.
So many Spanish-speaking people have joined us through migration and our own expansion over the years, that our language is now a mixture of Spanish and English that has evolved from the mixing of the peoples. I am still more comfortable with North American English, but I have had to become fluent in Spanglish, which has become the de-facto language of Phoenicia. On top of the intermingling of cultures with the People, this bids fair to make us into the homogenous society I promised Jamaal and Smiley in a hardware store in Patterson so long ago. I think I like that idea.
By the time the draft of the Constitution was ready to be ratified, Phoenicia stretched from somewhere north of Vancouver south to Guadalajara in the former country of Mexico, and from the Pacific Ocean eastward to Salt Lake City and the old city of Phoenix in what was once called Arizona.
Naturally, the training camp at the Citadel became too small to handle the influx of new citizens, so we have built others in strategic locations. In fact, due to the difficulty of keeping it supplied, we abandoned the Citadel a couple of years ago. We kept enough books from the archives to provide references for printing our own texts to teach the children, but left the rest of the archives in the mine, for another day. Thanks to the resurrection of Sillyvale and the on-line knowledge that has been resurrected with it, that day may never come.
Phoenix is now a bustling city that has spread out from the original site to cover the old Porterville site. Amanda would not recognize the place. There are far more new buildings than pre-Sickness buildings, and we get around in our hybrid solar/ethanol cars.
The old cities and some places in the back country are still dangerous places to be, but for the most part, we no longer need to travel in convoys, except near the outer fringes of our territory.
Our Navy is preparing to make a Pacific cruise to see what remains on the islands of the Pacific and points west. The four armed ships in the Navy are converted, pre-sickness vessels and will be accompanied by tankers carrying the bio-diesel and ethanol they will need to make the voyage. Two Solar Sailers, the first prototypes of a new, energy efficient design, will accompany them so we can shake them out and see if the technology is feasible for exploration. The Solar Sailers are an innovation out of Sillyvale. They use sails that double as solar collectors.
These technologies, of course, are a direct result of our annexation of Sillyvale, as is our growing communication network.
As our energy needs have grown, I have directed our scientists and engineers to concentrate on renewable energy sources and technologies, and rather than resurrecting the old petroleum systems, we have adapted and invented new technologies that leverage pre-sickness discoveries into more effective and efficient modes of power generation. It is my hope that enough momentum will have built in that direction that, by the time I step down to make room for our first President, it will be easier and cheaper to continue on the renewable energy path than to go back to petroleum.
It helps, too, that our population is still only a very small fraction of that which was supported in the same geographical area before the sickness. Much more land can be dedicated to farming for energy, since not as much is needed to produce food as was required before the Sickness.
We have, in some ways, become imperialists, despite my initial abhorrence of the concept. If those who do not choose to join us leave us alone, we leave them alone, partly because, in the end, most will join us as long as we are not enemies. If they try to prey on Phoenicians, however, we hunt them down. That has been our policy since the ambush that killed Amanda. We tracked those men back to their camp in the hills bordering the west side of the valley, and with overwhelming force captured or killed everyone in the camp.
Those who chose to fight, died. Those who surrendered, mostly women and children, were given the opportunity to join us. There were two of the captives - young men - who chose not to join us. I seriously considered executing them rather than postponing a future confrontation with them by banishing them.
There seemed no point in imprisoning them - it would simply create a drain on us to guard, feed, and clothe them, and we still had no prison system, but if they were intent on continuing their hostility toward Phoenicia, banishment to somewhere outside our borders seemed only to be delaying the inevitable. The problem, as Amanda's memory reminded me, was that the more cruelty we displayed toward our enemies, the more cruelty we could expect in return. Ultimately, I had them taken to our Eastern border and released, with a warning: If they ever tried to prey upon Phoenicians again, they would be killed, no questions asked.
Amanda let me sleep after that, so I guess she would have approved, or at least my subconscious believed she would have.