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Water and Earth

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Before

 

Furiosa knows a green life. She knows dew on leaves and the right kind of thorns for poison. She drags cactus barbs deep across her palms to help keep her grip on the sweat-slick handles of the bikes. She is fourteen and old enough to patrol the edges of the green colony, she is fourteen and she drives like a demon, she is fourteen and even those older than her give her their rations of guzzoline because they know she’ll take it further. She is fourteen and she is stolen with her mother, and the thieves burn through the middle of the green like sheet lightning and leave it reeling.

Furiosa’s mother dies because she is not fourteen. She is thrown away as something useless and Furiosa knows it is her fault, knows all of it is her fault, because she had been on patrol (Furiosa who drives like a demon), but she hadn't noticed the mirrors flashing on the horizon in dots and dashes. Not until the War Boys were on them and the shiniest girls had been rounded up (plus Furiosa’s mother who would not let go).

Then it is only Furiosa and a girl named Plaintive. Plaintive scores her arms with her fingernails until the War Boys put her in cuffs. Furiosa is silent in her grief, and her anger. She thinks of the green they’ve left behind and she wonders whether it has stopped burning yet. It will heal, but there will be a scar. She tries to think of herself as water, without a ripple, rare and wanted and vital. Hidden. The thing to stop the burning. It is a slower journey than it should be, she thinks that she could do it quicker, and she stores the Fury Road behind her eyes. The War Boys do not touch them.

Immortan Joe is a thing from nightmares but Furiosa is calm water. She tilts her chin at him but does not fight, this girl who once drove like a demon; he has an army after all. She takes her branding without a sound. Plaintive bites him on their wedding night and she is put in a metal mask with teeth of nails. Furiosa holds her hand when they sleep, after he has left, and neither of them cry even though they have as much water as they could ever want. There are other girls too, girls plucked from other places. Furiosa tells them about the green place of many mothers and they don’t believe her. They believe Miss Giddy’s stories about satellites, because the sky is something they are allowed to see.

Furiosa is fifteen and she gives birth to a dead baby. Their world on fire is not good for tiny things. Furiosa is calm water, and Immortan Joe is a terrible thing when he’s angry. But he has Rictus, a child he is rearing for war, and Thistle, the First Wife and Rictus’s mother; it is a good thing to be ignored by Joe. She talks to the milking mothers, soft and large and lovely. She talks to Joe’s other children. She talks to Miss Giddy. She learns of the War Rig and the Gas Boys and the Bullet Farm. She still remembers the way back.

Plaintive gives Joe a son and she is not as loved as Thistle but her muzzle is taken off. Her eyes have become dark pools of poisoned water, Furiosa thinks, and she holds her hand in the night. In her dreams she goes back to the green place; it is a blur, a mirage in her new yellow world, but she makes the journey in her sleep. She knows the way. She knows the canyon and the people who guard it, she knows the gangs of the wasteland, and she knows the green place beyond. In her dreams she is driving the War Rig.

She bears another dead child and she is not surprised when Immortan Joe tells her she is no longer his wife. She is surprised that she survives it. She is surprised that he will still let her up so high.

Rictus, fifteen years old and six feet tall, thinks that Furiosa was named for the Fury Road, and she tells him she once drove like a demon. He is the one who gets her in a vehicle with her hands cuffed to the wheel and her feet chained to the pedals. Joe can refuse his children nothing. It is not the War Rig, but it growls under her hands, and she feels closer to the green place than she has been in so many days. She still tells the wives her stories and they still do not believe them. Plaintive stays silent.

Furiosa loses her arm in the tangle of a car wreck. She is calm water. She builds herself a new arm from pieces of the wreck that took it from her. She learns to drive again. She is ignored, she cultivates a reputation as untouchable. She is still allowed to talk to the wives, Furiosa has never given Joe any reason to think she would run. Her stories are just stories, but she keeps telling them. She realises that she will not see the green place again; she thinks it may never have existed.

When Angharad is found (stolen), Furiosa tells her stories like she has always done for the others, and Angharad believes them. There are new girls too and it is Angharad who tells them Furiosa’s stories when she is not there, Angharad who makes them believe, Angharad who talks of seeds and bullets and the difference between them. Furiosa has trouble looking at this girl who speaks like there is hope for anything in a world that’s dead. Furiosa drives like a demon and Rictus teachers her to fight. He can see War in her even though she is not a War Boy.

Plaintive dies trying to give Joe another child, and Furiosa does cry then, because with her goes the last proof of the green place. Without Plaintive the stories really are lies and the redemption that she tastes in her dreams is dust. She tells Angharad she has lied about everything and Angharad smiles and doesn't believe her. Angharad plants seeds. Cheedo imagines green things in wet earth, and she tells them of the flowers she will put in her hair. The Dag pricks tattoos into her fingers, of blinking eyes and delicate shapes, and she tells them that she will dig her toes into the ground and grow up and up like a tree. They will, all of them, go to the green place of the many mothers. Furiosa tells them she lied, she lied, and they smile.

When Furiosa is named Imperator and given the War Rig to drive, she does not feel anything. It growls under hands. She paints her face in engine grease and she drives like a demon, but her dreams are empty, and the green place does not exist. She does not see the Wives anymore, she avoids them because Angharad still looks at her like she has the answer. She avoids them because they are too much like the many mothers from her childhood. Women who she had loved and who had loved her.

Angharad tells the Wives that they are not things and Furiosa beats her fist bloody against a wall because it’s too dangerous. These girls will get themselves killed with things like hope and things like freedom. Furiosa is calm water, but Angharad bandages her split knuckles with a strip from her dress, and looks at her like she knows every truth.

When Angharad becomes pregnant, she comes to Furiosa with a plan. Furiosa says no. Furiosa grits her teeth so hard her jaw throbs for hours. Furiosa will not kill these girls like she killed her mother, like she killed Plaintive, like she burned the green place. They are pristine, they are shiny and new, and Furiosa kills everything so beautiful. She drives like a demon, she shoots birds out of the sky, she fights Rictus, she ignores Joe’s vault of treasures.

They come to her with a plan when Angharad’s belly swells bigger. All of them come. Capable delivers their intentions, and Cheedo begs Furiosa’s help, and every word they speak is Angharad’s.

“We are not things,” the Dag whispers, twisting her hands together.

“We will go to the green place with the many mothers,” Toast insists.

Furiosa says no. She dreams of her childhood, Plaintive with her hair in little bunches all over her head, her mother with a rifle over her shoulder and a scarf around her head, bruised cheekbones and shins and scabby knees from fighting the other children. The green place is exactly as she knew it, the scars are healed, they welcome her back like she had never done them wrong. She wakes up in sunlight and she thinks, for a moment, that she is there, and that the dream had been Immortan Joe and the War Boys, and the green colony was the only real thing. She looks out to sandstone and the screams of the dried-out starving, and she goes to the vault, and to The Splendid Angharad (who knew by sight that Furiosa was not calm water, she was the burning earth, the sting of wind-blown sand, the bone-white skeleton tree).

Imperator Furiosa is the Fury Road and she will have her anger and she use it and she will be redeemed. The wives have their plan, and Furiosa will deliver them to hope.

 

After.

 

They do find the green place with many mothers. It is a different sort of green, and they are a different sort of mother, and it had been Max who made them see it. Furiosa thinks that Angharad would have seen it too, when they came to the endless salt. Furiosa and Capable and the Dag turn the vault into a garden using the bag of seeds left behind by the Seed Keeper. The Dag names every single thing she plants and she tends to them like a mother to her children, and her belly swells. She calls her daughter Angharad and they never call her Splendid, though she is, they all are.

The citadel turns into something else. A honeycomb of tunnels and steps and weirdness, capped with green like the hair on a giant made of rock. There are no winches anymore, there are steps cut into the earth, and anyone can climb them, and anyone can drink the water.

Furiosa does not call herself an Imperator, she does not call herself Immortan, she is just Furiosa of the Fury Road, Furiosa of the green place, Furiosa of the many mothers. The thousands in rags, growing flesh onto their bones, look at her like she has saved them. It makes her uncomfortable sometimes, but she will not take it from them. She carves herself out a place in the rock, she builds herself a new arm, and she drives like a demon. She and her War Boys (who are not called War Boys, who are just boys), defend their citadel if they need to.

Toast makes weapons out of anything she can find, she counts bullets and writes lists and barks orders. Capable watches from towers, Capable flashes mirrors, Capable tells the former War Boys new stories to believe in. The Dag grows things and Angharad the Second does too, and the milking mothers help, digging their fingers into the earth, coaxing sweet peas up walls. The milking mothers claim names from those plants, Sage and Foxglove and Cinchona, and they teach Cheedo what plants cure sickness and what plants cause it. She is not the Organic Mechanic, she is a girl with gentle hands who learns how to keep people alive without blood bags and gas masks and white powder. Angharad the First is still there, these are her seeds planted and growing, and Furiosa thinks that her redemption is them.

She thinks of Max often, though she only knows his name because Capable had told her afterwards. She doesn't remember much after tearing Immortan Joe down. She remembers Max’s hands at the back of her skull and his breath stirring her eyelashes. She remembers that he told her he was sorry, but she does not remember him telling her his name.

He comes back when Angharad is hip height and smarter than all of them. She knows who he is immediately, she’s heard about Max who saved Furiosa’s life, Max who shot the first Angharad just a little bit, Max who might have been mad. She finds him, at the bottom of the citadel, looking up.

“Furiosa will want to see you,” she tells him, and he squints down at her and frowns, and then he nods, and follows her into the cliffs.

Furiosa is in her room, deep inside the citadel, close to where the water is pumped from so it’s always cool. She does not spend much time there outside of sleeping, but sometimes it seems a refuge from the brightness of the open air. Sometimes she lies on her bed and remembers that she once thought she was calm water.

“Your Max came back,” says Angharad, an unmistakable voice, and Furiosa sits up.

He is standing just outside the open door, he is hunched in on himself, wary like he always was; his hands curl and uncurl at his sides. He is dusty and stained and his eyes flick around the room like he’s counting exits. Angharad disappears, shrieking curses that echoe through the rooms well after she is gone.

“Are you here long?” Furiosa asks, when she is able.

Max frowns and shrugs, drags a thumb across his mouth.

“Maybe,” he says. “Just...just checkin’ in.”

“Five years later?” Furiosa smiles, gets to her feet. “Do you need a car?”

Max doesn't say anything; his eyes narrow, he rolls his shoulders back, stretching them until something cracks. He looks like the road; beaten earth and clouds of dust and a pin straight horizon. Furiosa sometimes thought he had existed only in her head, though the others told all of his stories. She thought he was a mirage, like the green place, like hope, but here he is, in battered leather and scarred flesh. His hair is longer. His hands shake a little. He still twitches at things only he can see.

“I never got to thank you, for stabbing me in the side,” Furiosa says, walking closer.

Max doesn't reply but he meets her eyes for the first time, and his gaze is almost steady. She will give him a car, and guzzoline, and water, and he will disappear for another five years, she knows that. He is still caught in something tangled, he is still reconciling one part of himself with another. She thinks she might know how he feels, but she has claimed her redemption.

“You’re getting a reputation,” he tells her.

“I know.”

In her doorway she rests her hand at the back of his neck and her forehead against his. She finds skin under his collar, rough with dirt, but warm. She lays her palm against his neck, she tangles her fingers into his hair, pressing her nails into his scalp, and they stay like this until he closes his eyes.

He stays for two days. He follows her as she does her rounds and meets her people. He gives Angharad a toy music box. Toast gives him a gun. At night, he stays in Furiosa’s room, in Furiosa’s bed, though they rarely touch. They both have nightmares, and Max wakes up with violence in his hands, and Furiosa wakes up with fury in hers, and they touch then, until they are able to sleep again. He leaves in the night, and Furiosa watches as he gathers his meagre belongings.

“Five years,” she says quietly.

“Sooner,” he tells her.

He kneels next to the bed, and she bows her head, and he kisses her on the corner of the mouth, clumsy and quick, and then he is gone. Furiosa strains to hear the sound of an engine starting, but she is buried too deep and too dark, and there is nothing but silence.

In the morning, she works in the gardens, with Angharad laughing, and the Dag cursing, and Cheedo humming under her breath. There is a rumbling in the wasteland, but Furiosa will only give it her attention when it grabs it from her. There is a rumbling in the wasteland, and Furiosa and her many mothers will be ready.