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The Things Men Do

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The Things Men Do

 

She knows the things men do.

Angharad has always known the things men do. Her flesh knows it now too, in the immediacy of the blood that pumps and oozes from the scrape of her leg, to the slow crawl of the blood that feeds her ever, ever growing belly.

The stranger was sawing at the mask on his face in short, sharp thrusts of his fist. She has seen men do that too, the war boys who guarded them sometimes, when they thought they were safe enough, Rictus when he thought Cheedo would see, and even the old man himself. The fist that rises and falls, because men are all fist.

He shot her.

He didn’t mean it, but he did. The stranger, the . . . blood bag (she hates those words, hates them like milker and breeder and feeder), he shot her.

Grazed her really.

She knows the things men do.

He shot her . . . but he did not shoot her. Not Furiosa. Not Angharad’s brave and bold friend, who was face down in the dust. When Angharad tasted blood on her tongue, blood her own teeth drew to keep her from screaming a scream that would have ended the world. If Furiosa died, they would all be lost. He would chop off their legs and their arms and keep them collared and chained and . . .

The stranger did not shoot her. The War Boy was as ecstatic as Angharad was chaotic.

He did not kill when it was not necessary.

He could have.

He did, after all, shoot Angharad.

But not a kill. Who knows the mind of a feral, Joe would say, rasping low against her neck. Angharad should know the things men do.

The Rig began to groan and gasp. Furiosa was spitting and thumping. “We’re dragging something, I think it’s the fuel pod.”

The stranger looked to Angharad, metal mouthed like a War Boy would wished he could be. “No, I’ll go,” he grunted, and snatched his bag of guns.

Furiosa’s water eyes met Angharad’s. She fancied she knew her friend well enough to see the surprise there too.

Angharad is surprised. Because she should know the things men do.

 

*** 

 

She didn't know war boys could cry.

The pitted wall of the War Rig was cool against her shoulder, where her shawl had slipped down. Cheedo, on her right, was warm and soft. Capable stared out the window at the darkness, and wondered if the War Boy was cold, hiding up in the gun turret.

She knew men didn’t cry, of course she knew that. But she’d sort of . . . assumed . . . that boys were the same. Still, Nux had cried. Tears dripped down his cheeks like little droplets of fire caught by the sunset. His tears hurt him, at least they seemed to. He would dash them away from his cheeks with quick, nervous fingers, until Capable eased them away with the palm of her hand.

Her sisters were quiet now, even Cheedo had stopped crying.

Capable didn’t know if she had any tears left. Her eyes were like burning coals, hot and searing in her skull. They could no more cry another tear than a rock could bleed.

She pulled the wrap up over her shoulder. “Do you think he’s crying for her?” she whispered.  She could lean forward and brush the stranger’s neck with her lips, but she hoped he and Furiosa wouldn’t hear her foolish question.

Toast snorted softly. “No,” she said, her voice thick with certainty.

“He can’t cry,” Dag said.

“Yes he can,” Furiosa said with all the conviction Toast had shown. “But he won’t.” Furiosa looked over her shoulder at them. “Not for her.”

The stranger made a noise low in his throat, half way between engine growl and moan. “The baby,” he suggested. He sat directly in front of Capable, and his head did not move an inch.

Did men cry for babies? Did that mean they could? Or just strangers who appear from storms carrying boys on their back?

“He won’t cry for the baby either,” Furiosa growled, and the stranger looked at her, quickly, like a thief. “He’ll cry for himself if he cries at all.” She turned her face to the window and spat. The stranger turned his attention back to the road.

She had to know, had to ask, it burned inside her like the time when Angharad told them they would escape. She leaned forward, drawing her knees up to her chest and hugging them. “Can men cry?” she asked the stranger.

For a moment, they all looked at the stranger, even Furiosa. Furiosa raised her eyebrows, as if asking ‘well?’

The stranger shrugged one shoulder and hummed under his breath.

Capable sat back beside Cheedo, holding her wrap tight against her shoulders. She thought about the War Boy, curled up tight and shivering in the gunwale. “Men can cry,” she decided with a murmur. Just not monsters.

 

*** 

 

Cheedo had never heard a noise like the Rig’s wheels spinning on the road. She’d never heard that wet, spurting slurp that sounded so much like a granted wish.

No, no, no, no, I don’t want to go back. I’m not a thing. I’m sorry, I never said it, I never meant to say it, I don’t want to go back!

Furiosa led the way, the stranger and Toast following close on her heels. Cheedo waited for Dag and Capable to clamber down from the cab before she dropped down behind them.

The shudder that had taken the place of her heart spread down her spine and across her shoulders in a ripple, something cool and unpleasant spreading between her toes. She stared at her feet, toes buried in whatever was keeping the Rig from moving.

“What is this?” she whispered, crouching to prod the wet ground.

“Mud,” the stranger grumped as he passed her by.

Mud. She’d heard of mud. In books. Where the water from the Citadel fell into the sand. She’d thought it would feel nice. It sucked at her toes and made her skin crawl. “Why is it everywhere? Why does it keep stopping us?” she whispered. Were the war parties behind them? On their tail? If she spoke louder, would Joe hear and call her back?

Might she go with head bowed, begging forgiveness? To take a long walk off the tower’s edge one night when Joe asks too much?

The stranger kicked at the sucking sand, sending a spatter of grains against the wheel, a shallow drum beat against the thump of Cheedo’s heart in her veins. “It’s bog,” he told her, pointing to the wheels. “It’s water in the sand. Don’t see much of it around here. We’re soft, to give us more movement on the sand. So we can’t let more air out. We need to lose weight instead.”

 “Lose the spares,” Furiosa snapped. She herself climbed onto the engine house, twisting at the catches for the engine plate.

“Dig,” the stranger guided Cheedo to the Rig’s great, spiked wheels. He kicked his boot at the bog, spraying the dirt backwards. Cheedo crouched, digging her hands into the thick mud, where sharp grains of sand stabbed at her palms. “That’s it, like that.”

This was work. Work that they had been spared, like Joe used to say, like Miss Giddy used to say (but not in the same way). Cheedo dug while Furiosa and the stranger used their strength to force an engine plate under a wheel.

“We need time,” Furiosa hissed, and the stranger agreed.

When the Rig finally started to purr and crawl forward, agonisingly slowly, and the wheels spat their mud at her, a slap of wet sand smacking her across her cheek hard enough to hurt. She squeaked, more from surprise than pain, and backed away from the rumbling Rig.

The stranger seemed to want to smile. He walked past her and raised his hand to brush his thumb along his cheek, pointing at her own sandy face. “You have to watch that,” he said, in a mumble that she could barely hear above the V8. He raised his hand to gesture something to Furiosa, and walked away.

She clambered back into the cab behind Furiosa, her fingers tap dancing across her cheek. “He’s not like Joe,” she whispered, more to herself than to Furiosa.

Furiosa, teasing the wheel from side to side, watched the stranger in her mirror.

 

*** 

 

“If he falls, we leave his body to Joe and the People Eater?”

Furiosa felt the ache of tight, rusted muscles from the hard knots above her hips, the sharp sting of her arm’s fastenings, rubbing too tight against her skin, and the black hot glow of her hurting back – her War Rig was hurt and so was she.

“Yes,” she said tersely.

Dag moaned aloud, staring back at the fog and the ever, ever present echo of gunfire. For a heartbeat, Furiosa thought the woman might fall to the mud, and weep and grieve for the loss of the stranger.

But Dag’s long limbs seemed to stiffen, and like a prodded spider she scuttled to the shelter of the War Rig, where Cheedo enveloped her in a tight embrace.

“He goes to Valhalla,” she heard the War Boy say, quietly.

“No, he doesn’t go to Valhalla,” Capable murmured, in a kind way. In a way like Angharad might have. That pain was not black hot, it was searing red in Furiosa’s very bones. Angharad . . . they would talk for hours into the long nights, sitting in the windows of the highest towers. Windows that opened onto only air, and Angharad would talk of the nights she wanted to walk right off the edge.

Walk like the stranger had done. Walk off to the edge of the fog and further.

Angharad never had, but she had slipped off the edge none the less.

The fog sparked and reverberated with dull light, a thick purple cloud billowing in its depths. Like blood in oil, Furiosa thought.

The War Boy paused for a moment, his hands clasping together. “We live, we die, we live again,” he whispered, and returned his affections to the engine. Capable had seen too, her lips curved into an expression of pity.

Poor Capable was in love, Furiosa thought. A little old to be learning that lesson, but just one more lesson that Immortan Joe had stolen from his wives.

Furiosa raised her gun, watching the shadows, the shadows that congealed into the shape of a man.

She could hear Toast’s breath catch in her throat. She could hear the War Boy’s breath escape in a gasp. She could hear the stranger’s breath ragged as he dropped the sack. She could hear her own and – the stranger brought a wheel.

In Furiosa’s life she had received many gifts. Fists and teeth and blood and, most hated of all, the gift of her chrome arm. This gift is not handed to her but the War Boy, and she still stood mute while the stranger washed blood from his face.

“Are you hurt?” Toast asked.

“It’s not his blood,” she said. The stranger, this . . .  Road Warrior, he brought them a trove of gifts. Guns and wheels and . . . yes, he brought himself back too.

Toast stared wide eyed at Furiosa, barely flinching as the Road Warrior passed them. The Road Warrior’s heavy walk pulled her gaze along with it, and she met Furiosa’s eyes with her lips parted in awe. “He brought us bullets,” she whispers.

Furiosa nodded. “He brought us bullets.” And a wheel. And guns. And himself. She'd never been given a gift she wanted so badly.