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Capable

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When Capable is small, a velvet-soft puppy dies. It is not long from it’s mother, a pink and naked thing, and there are others that are living, wriggling in the dirt, but Capable cries all the same.

“You feel too much,” says the raider who might be Capable’s mother. “Things die. This one never lived, and we’ll have meat tonight. Be grateful.”

Capable drags a hand across her cheeks and sniffs hard, just once, and stops crying. She gives the dead thing to another raider, who cuts it up and cooks it into something warm, and when Capable eats it, it’s with a scarf wrapped around her head, like if she can’t hear it, it isn’t happening. Perhaps she does feel too much, she thinks, because death creeps into her mouth, and eyes, and ears, until it hums in the air around her like a cloud of mosquitos. Perhaps she killed the puppy, by willing it to live.

When Capable is a little older, the raider dies. It’s possible she wasn’t her mother, but her hair curled the same, and her eyes cut the same, and she held Capable’s hand sometimes. It’s a bite from something poison, but no one sees what. Capable puts her mouth to the swollen wound, and sucks at it until she can taste something bitter on her tongue, and spits on the sand. The woman’s eyes are half closed, but they cut through her still, and she is smiling.

“If you catch the thing that did it, cut it up for me,” she says.

“I’ll bite it’s head off,” Capable says quietly, blinking back her tears.

“Good. And don’t do it crying.”

Capable doesn't say anything to that, but she holds her mother’s hand until it goes limp, and then she unwinds the leather belt from around her hips, and takes off her clothing, piece by piece, and then wraps her in a wide piece of dirty cloth. She digs a hole, deep so nothing more will bite her, and pushes her in, and covers her up, and it’s dark by the time it’s done, and Capable is shivering. She bundles up the clothing and straps it together with the belt and shrugs it over her shoulder, and then she walks doggedly toward the lights of the raider camp in the distance.

“You feel too much,” she tells herself as she walks, and she drags a hand across her cheeks, and sniffs hard, just once, and stops crying.

When Capable is a little older still, she is sold to Immortan Joe. She no longer has a mother to vouch for her usefulness, and her hair is bright, and her skin is clean, and Immortan Joe gives water to the raiders who bring her in. She keeps her eyes on the face of the one who cooked her puppy, a lifetime of desert ago, and she hopes they cut deep.

“You are a lucky thing,” Joe tells her. “You will be treasured.”

I feel too much, Capable wants to say, but she clasps her hands in front of her instead, and she bites the inside of her cheek until it’s bloody, and smiles at him like he’s the whole world and everything in it. The whole world, dead and rotting.

“Thank you,” she says.

Angharad gentles the wound some. Angharad made of gold. She takes Capable’s hand when they are first alone together, and presses their palms together, and their fingers, until they look like they are reflections of one another. I feel too much, Capable thinks, and her heart beats faster.

“Don’t call me Splendid,” Angharad says.

In the vault, Capable feels a kinship with the walls. They are strong, and terrible, and they hold things back, and keep things in, and Capable thinks she is all of that, and silent, and hard, and eternal. She thinks she might be death itself, wriggling under the skin of everyone born into this world. She thinks she is blood, and bone, and poison.

She tells Angharad this, when she asks, and Angharad takes her hand again, and kisses her palm, and kisses the tips of her fingers, and kisses the inside of her wrist.

“It’s him who is death,” she says, very quietly. “You are hope.”

Capable doesn't reply, she brushes a thumb across the new cuts along Angharad’s forehead, she tucks her knees under her chin. Angharad takes that as acceptance, and she rests her head on Capable’s shoulder. Their hair tangles together, gold and red, and Capable thinks that if she is the blood of death, then Angharad is the gold of waking life. You feel too much, she tells herself, and she stills her hands from braiding their hair together.

But it is easier after that, to think that she might have someone, to think that it might be easy. And then there is Toast, and Dag, and Cheedo, and Capable grows lighter every time they smile. Death cannot belong to one girl, she thinks, watching Toast make shadow puppets across the walls. Death is not a stillborn puppy or a bitten mother or a girl sold to be a wife. Death is that those things must happen in the burned world they have left.

When Capable is not old enough, Angharad falls. The world rattles through Capable’s head, and her scream rips at her throat, and her sisters are muddied blurs of colour around her. She would throw herself through the open door if Dag and Cheedo weren't in her way. Death can take back death, she thinks feverishly, I feel too much, we’re going too fast, we have to go back, wehavetogoback. When she takes a breath, her vision goes grey at the edges, and she beats her fists against the Rig, like it was the vehicle that took Angharad from her. Like it wasn't her fault. Like death wasn't always at the tips of her fingers.

When Cheedo runs, she drags a hand across her cheeks, and sniffs hard, just once, and runs after her. She must be strong, for Cheedo, and Dag, and Toast. For Angharad. For herself. She will more than likely kill them, when the death inside her spills out again, but she can’t bring herself to leave, so she is strong instead, to keep it back a little longer.

When she finds Nux, she thinks of Angharad. Angharad would yell at this boy, and lecture him, and let him stay. Capable does not yell, she tells him the truth, and she touches him because he needs touching, and she lets him stay. There are countless lives in the desert, and countless deaths, and War Boys in between, and Vuvalini with poisoned water, and Max with ghosts in his eyes, and the Wretched of a parched earth. Capable will help them, like Angharad wanted to, like Angharad couldn't. Capable will gather up whatever deathless things remain, and she will be their walls, their words, their hope, just as Angharad had wanted.

Gradually, as the Citadel grows green around her, she accepts that everyone is touched by death, and that she is not the root of it, she is not death disguised as a girl with blood for hair. Babies are born with her help, and children know letters, and numbers, and words. Toast makes shadow puppets on the walls, and the children scream in delight. Cheedo lives on the flat ground, and rides bikes with the Vuvalini, and grows as fierce as she once was fragile. Dag keeps them all alive. Angharad is the gold of waking life.

“You feel too much,” Cheedo tells her one day, when she is laughing at Dag’s flowers with tears in her eyes.

“Yes,” she agrees, and she laughs again, and there is death at her edges, and she is content.