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if you had your gun (would you shoot it at the sky?)

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(This is what you remember)

You are fourteen, and being dragged by your hair through the desert by a man with white-painted skin and engine grease on his forehead. He’s saying, “She’s a pretty one,” to the white-painted boy trying to grab your feet.

“Spirited, too,” says the boy, and you kick his head. He laughs, casually grabs your ankle, and twists. You scream, high and clear like a bird’s call, as the bones crack. There are birds in the green place sometimes, and you always whistle at them, but they never whistle back. Your mother says it’s just the way of nature; wild things didn’t come when called, could not be tamed. She said that you were a wild thing, even though you’re timid.

Somewhere behind you, where you cannot see, your mother is yelling for you, trying to fight the white painted men holding her down. There is a thud, and a sick crunch, and her voice dies down into nothing.

You forget everything you were ever taught about being brave, and you start to cry.

-

(This is what you remember)

You are fourteen, and your mother is dead. You are stripped naked and paraded in front of a fat old man with breathing tubes in his face and greying hair.

He asks you, “Do you have a name?”

You spit at his face.

He backhands you, and smiles. “Get the brand,” he says to the man with the shiny forehead. “She’ll give me strong sons indeed.”

-

(This is what you remember)

You are six years old, and your mother tells you, “You are a wild thing, my darling, my Furiosa,” and strokes your hair. She tells you, “You will never be beaten, never, ever. Not by any man.”

-

(This is what you know)

You have long forgotten how old you are. You are speeding across the desert in your war rig, that is not really yours but stolen, and a white-painted war boy has strapped a muzzled man to the front of his car, like some sick accessory.

You meet his eyes. Something must show on your face – pity, disgust.

He looks away.

-

(This is what you remember)

You are sixteen, and Immortan Joe tells you that you are beautiful. He pinches a lock of your hair between his fingers and asks when you’re going to give him a son.

You tell him, “Never.”

The next day, the Organic Mechanic examines you, tells Joe you’re probably infertile. When he grabs your arm, drags you out of the vault and out of the citadel, his cracked yellow nails dig into your arm, break the skin. You watch the blood well up as your thrown out among the Wretched like trash, and you let the pain act as an anchor as the starving, filthy people wander over to you, run their fingers through your hair, over your skin, over the soft white fabric you’d been given as clothing.

An old man gets up in your face, pulls open your lips to look at your teeth, and his own lips twist in disgust. “You don’t belong among us,” he tells you, furious. “You don’t belong. Get away. Get away,” and you run, tears on your face and blood running down the fingers of your left hand.

You run until you smack into the chest of one of the white-painted warboys, tears on your cheeks. He grabs you by the shoulder and tilts your chin up with his other hand so he can look you in the face. You’ve never seen him before, but it’s evident he knows who you are.

“It’s okay,” he tells you, awkwardly. “I’m not going to hurt you. They call me the Ace. What’s happened to your arm, let me have a look at it.”

The scratches in your arm get infected. The skin around them turns red, and then green, and then black. When they strap you down and cut it off, it’s the Ace that holds your good hand tightly in both of his own, whispering the most soothing things he knows in your ear.

-

(This is what you know.)

Angharad is beautiful, radiant, hanging out of the side of the side of the rig with a smile on her face. Angharad is you, seven thousand days ago, plus the ones you don’t remember, so full of hope. Angharad is your mother, holding onto you with one hand while she shoots her gun with the other. Angharad is the Valkyrie, still a child in your mind’s eye, laughing joyfully while hanging out of a tree, trying to catch one of the birds you whistle at to eat for dinner. Angharad is –

Angharad is gone.

“She went under the wheels,” says the Fool, and he looks almost as if he’s going to weep.

Angharad is your mother, her skull crushed by a war boy’s rifle, for fighting too hard to save you. Angharad will never get to mother her child.

“She went under the wheels,” says the Fool, and he looks as if he might weep, but he keeps going, keeps driving, and no tears fall, none of his and none of yours.

-

(This is what you remember)

You are twenty, and Immortan Joe summons you to stand before him, you with your stump of an arm and your shorn hair and the fire inside you.

“I knew you were strong,” he says, like he is proud, like he is your father, like he has any right to celebrate your survival.

You spit in his face. He hits you. This is a ritual that feels centuries old.

He has his Imperators beat you. After they are done, you are bloody and bruised and you can’t stand on your own.

“How would you feel,” he asks, “about working for me?”

You know enough to know that saying no means your death. You know enough to know that no man will ever defeat you, not really. You tilt your chin up, wince at the pain of the movement, and ask, “What sort of work?”

You stop counting how old you are. You only count the days.

-

(This is what you remember)

You are nine, and you spent an entire day chasing the Valkyrie across the desert, clutching old, dead sticks in your hands and pretending they’re swords. You’re both laughing, hair flying in the wind, singing songs to each other as you play. She tells you, “When I grow up, I’m going to be a terrifying warrior.”

You don’t doubt her; of course you don’t. The Valkyrie is younger than you, but she is bolder; she loves guns and high places, and getting into trouble. You’re brave in your own, quiet way, but the Valkyrie wears her fearlessness for everyone to see; you are called the shy mouse by the Many Mothers, and they laugh whenever they hear your true name spoken. “Furiosa, ha. She’s not got an angry bone in her,” they say, but you know they’re wrong.

“I’m going to be beautiful as well,” says the Valkyrie, and you don’t doubt that either.

“I don’t care about being beautiful,” you tell her. “I just want to be brave.”

“You are brave,” says the Valkyrie.

“And you’re beautiful,” you return, and when she raises her sword-stick, yours is there to parry it.

-

(This is what you know)

Max leaves. But he comes back. And then he leaves again, but he is back in less than a fortnight. That is who Max is – he is the living ghost that haunts you with his absence, only to return with gifts in the form of guns, and car parts, and bullets, and once, a frail, skinny girl child with the smooth brown skin and huge brown eyes, who drags her twisted, crippled leg behind her when she walks. “I figured this was the safest place for her,” Max says, when you question him about it, and Capable scoops up the girl and smooths back her hair and tells says to no one in particular, “I’ll look after her.”

The Dag has a baby girl, and also a garden. It’s hard to say which she loves more. Most days, she spends tending to the garden, signing to the child, held on her back in a sling made of out the billowing white fabric she’d once used as clothing. The child does not have a name; the Dag says she can name herself when she’s old enough, and the remaining Vuvalini nod in approval. They spend part of every afternoon in the Dag’s garden, teaching her about their customs. You think they are happy, but you’re not sure.

Toast shaves her head in imitation of you. She dresses in war boy leathers and smears engine oil on her face, and teaches herself to drive. The war boys start calling her Imperator, and you feel so much pride that every time you see her, it is a struggle not to wrap your arms around her and hold her until she understands how much you have come to love her, like she is your own child.

Capable is, well, she is capable. She needs no one’s help to look after the crippled little girl, she needs no help watching over the war boys, or any help organizing some king of civilization within the Wretched, even as she retreats further and further into herself. She hardly talks to you anymore, or to anyone else, for that matter, until one day you find her crying quietly in one of the Citadel’s tunnels, hugging her knees and letting her hair obscure her face. You sit down next to her, put your arm around her shoulders, and tell her, “You are not alone,” and she cries harder even as she starts to smile, and after that she begins to get better.

Cheedo is the one who surprises you; Cheedo finds her anger after you return to the Citadel, Cheedo finds her fight. She’s scared of guns, oddly, scared of crossbows, but she loves knives, and she learns to throw them with an accuracy the Many Mothers would be proud of, learns to use her fists and her legs and her body as a weapon. Cheedo goes out with Toast when there’s a run, and Cheedo is the one who steps in if something goes wrong. Cheedo is the one who gains a reputation as dangerous, despite her calm, quiet, timid exterior. Cheedo thrives in the new world they create, fragile no more. Cheedo is you, if you’d gotten the chance to grow on your own terms.

And you – you do what you always do. You survive. It feels, for a while, like it’s all you know how to do, deep down in your bones – keep putting one foot in front of the other, breathe in, breathe out, sleep and eat and piss and shit in an exhausting never-ending cycle. You start counting the days again, and then, one night when you can’t sleep, you count up your years, try to figure out your age. The number you get to is thirty-three, but when you look at your tired, drawn face in the reflection of your water basin, you figure you’re probably older. The days you don’t remember took their toll on you.

The next time Max comes back, you ask him how old he is. He tells you, “Very,” and you realize he doesn’t mean forty or forty-five; you’re not sure if he’s a ghost or a desert spirit or if there really are immortal men walking the earth, it doesn’t really matter. When he says very, he means it, and when you kiss him, his mouth is warm.

-

(This is what you remember)

Walking through the desert with your mother, on a hunting trip, looking for food and water and anything you could scavenge, hearing motors roar on the horizon and trying to run, trying to hide, and your mother telling you to be brave, no matter what.

You are fourteen. You are growing up to be pretty, with smooth skin and green eyes and long, gently curling golden-brown hair. Your mother tells you you’re gorgeous with pride in her voice but worries in her eyes, the Valkyrie smiles her sharp smile whenever she sees you, but there is envy there, too. You don’t want to be good-looking, you’d rather be withered and ugly like the very oldest of the mothers. You’ve heard whispers of the bad things men do to pretty girls.

There are engines on the horizon, and they get closer and closer until they’re surrounding you, and you’re mother kills three of the white-painted men that try to grab you, until she is overcome, and you –

You are being dragged through the desert by your hair.