Love on a Pyre

This is a fragment of a scene from an as-yet unwritten novel about a dark time in the story of Gabrielle Dolly and her lover, Mitchell Cary Drummond. It is in part a refutation of the atheist contention. It is not rigorous; not intended to be so. It is cast of emotion rather than logic. Tough shit. Deal with it.

As Drummond stood by the side of Dolly’s pyre, lost in his private misery, a woman came and stood quietly beside him. After awhile, he turned in annoyance to see who would be so importunate.

He saw an Indian woman, with the open features of the East family cast over the exotic eyes and lips of the classic Hindu features. She was richly clad in exquisite printed silks–sari and scarves–and there were gold coins sewn into a band that bound her hair. She had a single carmine caste mark in the center of her forehead. Her eyes were heavily painted with kohl and her lips with some red juice. She had a delicate tracery of mehndi tattoos on her hands, arms, and bare feet.

She was, in that moment, profoundly beautiful to him.

When she realized that he was looking at her, she met his glance shyly, bobbed her head once and gave him a faint smile, then turned back to her contemplation of the blaze before her.

Drummond, too, turned back to stare into the flames, letting himself sink into a hypnotic state induced by the moving shapes and figments within them.

“I’m surprised you came,” he said. He didn’t know who she was, but her appearance told him she was a Hindu and might consider Shiva and Kali holy beings.

“Why do you say that?” her accent fell gently on his ear, like rolling pebbles in a brook.

“This…” he waved a hand to indicate the barbaric ceremony to honor Dolly’s passing, “…is all for one who killed your Gods.”

She nodded once, her mouth in an amused little moue, as if to say, That’s what I thought you meant.

“What the Little One killed was no more Shiva, no more Kali than I am Buddha. But I am no less Buddha for all of that. Those two were the embodiment of concepts that are alien to me. Buddha teaches us that all of the physical world is illusion. If this is truth, then how can what you killed be a God?”

“Then how can a God even exist?”

“You can’t know. No one can know. You must take it on… faith.” She gave Drummond a smile filled with perfect, gleaming white teeth in flawless brown skin. “You see? It all comes down to faith. Even the denial of gods… must be — can only be — built on faith.”

They stood side-by-side in silence, watching the flames lick their way up the wooden structure of the pyre.

“You mourn,” she said simply, sympathetically after a few minutes more.

A thousand things to say ran through Drummond’s mind in a split second before he realized he had to breathe. He took a deep, shuddering breath, then for some reason, said:
“I used to think that mourning was selfish. The departed one doesn’t care that we grieve. It’s all for those left behind. And it’s selfish…”

“Resentful,” she said. The formation of the word was liquid, her vowels rolled inside her mouth like you could tell she had carefully considered the formation of each sound. “‘How dare she leave me?!'”

“Exactly,” Drummond replied with a sad, ironic smile. “But now…” he sighed. “I realize that it’s love that’s selfish.”

She nodded and they lapsed back into silent meditation on the flames.

A little while later, Drummond realized that he was weeping.

“Who are your tears for?” she asked him.

“For myself,” he sobbed. “She’ll never come again in my life.”

“But she will come.”

“Oh, yes…” bitterly, “…but I won’t know her.”

“But you do know her now.”

“No. I never got to …Damn love! I pretend it was because I cared for her, that I wanted what was best for her. But what I really want is her. Just her.”

There was another long silence, then she said, in that didactic tone that gentle, educated people use to show that they are concerned, “Say what is good in this moment.”

Drummond turned his face to the sky, his cheeks sheeted with his tears. “She is free,” he said.

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