Inanna tells herself that people are kind.
She mumbles it under every shaky breath to the beat of her footsteps echoing throughout the city. Every step one she’s taken before. The same path. Same circles. Over and over again.
People are kind. People are kind. People are kind.
Hoisting her backpack higher over her shoulders, she takes the steps that will lead her over the bridge. Today is a bright day and the sun will glisten off the icy water in a way it never would have a year ago. When she lived where everything was dry. Reminding her that she lives there no more.
As if she needs a reminder.
Everything is a reminder.
The crinkled phone number in her pocket that she refuses to look at. Poking her with every step. The weight of the backpack reminds her in its lightness. It holds everything of value that she owns and still it is not heavy enough. The puckered skin on her hand reminds her by its presence. As a god she could leave the scarred, olive skin behind but that seems wrong.
The emptiness in her head reminds her with every thought.
Even as a god, she could not leave that behind.
She walks quickly, ready to pass a small boy holding the hand of his mother. He smiles up at her as she curves around them, all toothy grins and skipping feet. She does not smile back. His mother notices her only when the boy tugs on his mother’s perfect hand and points. The mother tugs him away immediately and gives Inanna a nervous frown.
She does not give the mother anything in return. She simply goes around.
People are kind. People are kind. People are kind.
Maybe she can convince herself.
So Inanna does not need the reminder but she will go to the river anyway. The wind is blowing west. And if her circles take her past the library on a day the wind is blowing west she will pick up the scent of the butcher shop.
A reminder that she had never forgotten what spilled blood smells like.
And the smell of the butcher shop is enough to make her remember the moment she realized that she would never forget. Turning the smell of adoration to pain.
For she had gone to war.
Snow sneaks in the cracks of her boots, making her socks wet and stick between her toes with every step.
She can hear the boy behind her. Words impossible but babbling clear.
It was not her first war, the Sumerian goddess was a god of war as much as any of the buff gods who also wore the title. She had fought and finished wars before most of them were even conceived in the minds of man. But it had been a long time. When her people had left her behind, she had gone as they wished. Kicked from her own homeland. Once she had crossed the ocean, she had left war behind.
She did not go when they dug trenches over an entire continent.
She did not go when the same continent fell apart all over again.
She did not go when they brought their war to the jungles.
But she did go when they went home.
The cold wind whips through her jacket as she draws nearer to the river. Another reminder that she is not under sunbaked skies. Shoving her hands in her pockets, Inanna briefly wonders if she has enough money for a heavier coat. The nearly inaudible jangle of the few coins in the bottom of the styrofoam cup shoved in the mesh side of her backpack saying no.
She will not touch the small bundle of bills tucked safely in the bottom of her bag. The few hours of work she gets a week keeps the roof over her head. Even if the lights stay off.
One foot in two worlds.
There is a chance she could collect more if she pulled the cup back out and waited. Sitting at the side of the road. The indignity of it all didn’t even bother her as she’d always thought it would.
She knew it should.
How could it?
That required more from her than she had left to give.
But for all that she felt nothing at their stares and whispers, the occasional kick still hurt. Trod over by people too busy to look down.
Nerves still working even if the neurons were numb.
People were kind. People were kind. People were kind.
She went home for the first time in centuries with a gun under her arm and a new country on her sleeve. Finding a face that matched the sun and sand. The same type of face she’d always worn. The same goddess she’d always been.
Which was why she went. She went back to war. Not for the war itself and not as the goddess of war, despite the fact that she could hear them calling out for her presence. Like children pleading to play with a loaded gun.
She went as the goddess of love.
Inanna had always served as a duality. Love and war in one form. Worshipped together as her people had not seen the need to split her in two as so many others did. Ares and Aphrodite. Mars and Venus. Even Freya was being slowly torn apart as they tried to turn her into Frigg and Odin.
It’s why Ares could not leave. Nothing but war. Trapped on a battlefield as soldiers called on his name without even knowing it. Unable to even try and find his peace.
Not that Inanna could find hers either.
But she was both. And so that was how she gone home to the sand where she was born
The logistics had come back quickly. Commanding officers and solidarity between soldiers and the constant tingling in the back of the skull that something might happen any second were all old friends. That was how men had always gone to war.
But she was both.
So she went because she loved her people even if they had left her behind. She loved them so much that she hated those who hurt them no matter where they came from. Wanted to save them. Help them. Save those remaining from ever being hurt by people from any side.
For what other reason do men go to war than the love of another?
The love of a child back home who must be protected from harm. The love of a stranger across the world who must be freed. The love of power. The love of money.
Twisted sometimes by hate and fear.
War springs only from love.
On either side.
People are kind. People are kind. People are kind.
Inanna smiles reflexively when she hears the rush of the river as her steps take her closer. She rents a room with men who cannot step near rivers for fear the sound of it’s rush will bring on memories they do not want to hold. But she almost remembers why she smiles as it’s tumbling roar graces her ears.
For her the memories do not come as a rush.
And so she carries on. Wondering if today will be the day when she looks at the river and something will change. She does not have the energy to hope but she can manage wonder.
Because she knows she loved the river.
She can remember that she loved it before she left. The way it’s tiny waves tumbled over themselves or how it’s current seemed so eager to be going new places or how the entire river diverted around a large rock rather than plowing through it. Skipping merrily under the bridge to greet the concrete pillars and kiss away the whisps of graffiti marring the structure.
She turned the corner. She saw the river. The waves and the current and the rock and the graffiti.
But her chest was empty. She could never remember how to love it.
Only that she had.
The screech of a car sliding to a stop a few blocks away tore through the air to find her. She went nowhere, eyes still fixed on the river.
But her ears were gone. Her ears were trapped in a different car. A different truck. Truck. A truck that had tried sliding to a stop. Sliding and skidding and making a horrible screeching sound that echoed through her head like the constant whine of a machine you hadn’t realized was on until someone pointed it out. And then it was all you could hear.
A different truck in a different city.
It didn’t matter.
She imagined it had started with a bang. Just a few meters ahead. The distance between her and the large rock dividing the river. She could not hear the rush, only the squeal. the bang.
But she could never remember the bang even when she had gone looking for the memories.
She’d tried to make sense of them in the days when her sister had dragged her by her hair out the door and she’d actually gone to see the doctor. Even then, she could never remember the bang. Just the screeching as tires locked and tried to find purchase on a patch of road that had no business being paved as it was riddled with potholes anyway.
But after the screech came the crash. The crash the crash the crash. One crash that seemed unending when it was your car, your truck, your body ramming and then flipping over the remains of the truck that had exploded just in front of you. A second crash as you land and nothing can save you from the jarring crunch of bodies snapping back. 80 to 0 in seconds. Helmeted head hitting whatever was behind you.
Your head lets out a crunch. Possible brain damage.
It was her head that had crunched. Puncturing the screech and leading in the silence. Crunch. The sound imprinted on her eardrums like a brand. Hot and scarred.
Like the fire. The fire that she still wasn’t sure was hers. If they had been the ones on fire first or if the flames had travelled from the exploded remains of the other truck. But it had come. Before they could put themselves back together.
And then, standing at the river’s edge, Inanna stopped feeling the cold winter’s bite at her fingers.
Because her skin joined the journey her ears were forcing her to take. Pushing her through memories uncaring if she wanted to go. Her hands tingled. Burning with flames that didn’t exist as the snow fell overhead. But they hurt. They hurt. They hurt because her nerves were still working even if the neurons had gone numb. Hands in flame. Scar left behind.
Healed but still burning.
Even through the burning she had crawled. Crawled up and then out and then away.
Or she’d tried. There was no away.
Because this was a city. A city with tight streets where the buildings pressed into the roads until the two were ambivalent neighbours. One moving people. The other holding them still. A duality. Always dualities joined at the hip. One duality would never judge another and so Inanna hadn’t hesitated to crawl from the burning truck and hide in the shadows of the building. They would not reject her. Would hide her in their depths.
There was a hole in the building that touched the road.
And then, standing beside an icy river, Inanna’s nose brought back the memory that meant she avoided the library on days the wind blew west. Joining skin and ears. So much more poignant than eyes was the smell.
Blood was not metal or tang or iron. Blood was dust. Mixing with the sand under the sunbaked sky to become a thick paste mess that clung to the nostrils as it filled the air with heaviness. Something that smelled like licking a dirty flag pole and having tiny bits of metal bite your flesh for days after. The taste never far from your tongue even when you’ve scrubbed it until the toothbrush lost it’s bristles. Blood was fire and dust and ash that got in your eyes as the bodies burned.
Too many bodies.
Because there was a hole in the building that touched the road and all of her people were bleeding. The people who wore the same uniform as she did and the people who lived in the land she called home.
Both. Both. Both were bleeding.
Filling the air with the smell of blood that was dust and burning metal of trucks that couldn’t screech any longer because their tires were burning away from fire that was too hot. Rubber dripping into the hole in the road. Fire so hot that it was still in her hand days later. so that even dust and blood could not put it out. Blood that was her blood but also the shattered bits of bodies that fly farther than blood could travel on its own.
She’d sat and stared and something had cracked on the inside.
This was not love. This was not war. Because you do not hurt the people you love for the sake of war. And the world had smelled of dust and blood.
This was something else.
And people were not kind.
She did not want this. They’d put her in a hospital where the mattress was too soft and the sheets too hard and the only thing to do was to stare at the ceiling and think. So she did. She did not want to feel this. See this. Be the goddess of this.
So she decided to give up war.
She would only be love. Inanna resolved to do as so many had done before her. Push away Ares and become Aphrodite. Someone else could have war. She did not want it.
And war had faded. Dulling and numbing and receding to a place where she could remember that it existed but no longer touch.
So did love.
One day she went looking to feel it and found it was gone too. Remembered like a phantom in her brain with no idea what it really meant. She knew she was supposed to love rivers. She did not know how. She could not remember how to love her sister. Looking with dull eyes as Ereshkigal had walked out for the last time, more patient than Inanna had ever expected. Phone number shoved roughly into her hands.
Love and war.
So both were gone. The duality. Tied together by a chain stronger than even the greatest smith could forge. She thought it was okay. A worthy sacrifice. Numb was better than the pain. The pain. All the pain that ran through her head and tingled in her scar and made her wince as she tried to walk out the door.
But why did she still hurt?
Standing next to an icy river with screeching in her ears and fire on her skin and dusty blood in her nose, she still ached. Numb and empty.
But still aching.
Aching and empty and stretching and how could numb still feel like something without feeling like anything at all. Like the existence of a hole even though holes are just empty spaces. But you know they’re not filled in. That something is missing. She squeezed tighter against her scar. Fingers cold. Nearly numb. But she still knew they were there. The pressure present. Touch not. Empty. Aching for something that she could not name because maybe she had lost what she needed to find it. Numb. Both gone. Sister gone. Nothing but a backpack and a piece of paper in her pocket that scratched with every step. Not feeling shouldn’t create so much worry and anger and pain because it was supposed to be not feeling. It wasn’t supposed to be all stuck on the inside with no way to get out. and
A light touch on her shoulder dragging her back. It distracts from the burn in her hand and gives Inanna the presence of mind to turn slightly. Snapping her back, the other senses soon followed in returning from the desert to the icy river. The smell releasing her last but still lingering in her nostrils as though it was ready to come back at the slightest provocation.
Even less than last time.
When she turns, she sees the same woman she had passed earlier. The same small boy clinging to her hand with the same wide grin on his face.
The woman’s frown is gone and something lighter has taken it’s place. It’s not a smile but it reminds of her of how her sister had looked when she’d last stepped out the door. Slipped a paper into her hands.
Concern. Maybe. It was hard to remember.
“I apologize for the intrusion,” the woman says, “but my son wanted to give you something, if that’s alright?”
Inanna nods on reflex. She’d learned to take what was offered and take it quick. Whether it was some coins or a half drunk bottle from bunkmates who offered kindly and then wanted it back when their own buzz wore off.
Couldn’t take back what was drunk.
She wouldn’t spend money on it herself but if someone was offering. It seemed like magic that she could numb the numb.
So she nods and the little boy steps forward, lifting the hand not glued to his mother’s, “S’for you.” He says.
It’s a dandelion.
More brown than yellow but somehow still alive despite the first snow having already fallen. Likely the last of the season.
She stares at it.
Two colours. One flower.
“I found it in the park,” he says, puffing up his tiny chest, “I wanna give it to you.”
So she takes it. That was the rule.
A quiet, “thank you,” tumbling from her lips.
He grins and then leaves, tugging his mother after him. The mother who is now looking back at her with Ereshkigal’s face. No frown.
The river continues to rush, skipping merrily on its way, as she lifts the dandelion up. Up and up. The faintest scent hitting her nose.
Enough so that her eyes widen when her hand comes back down and the smell of the flower stays behind. Mixing with the lingering scent of blood for something new. Something that was more than one thing.
She thought it would fade.
But as she reaches the end of her circle and reverses the familiar path, passing by the river again, the smell is still in her nose. A new reminder.
A reminder just like the lightness of her backpack or the scratch of the paper in her pocket or the scar on her hand or the emptiness in her head. But different.
She reaches into the styrofoam cup jammed into the mesh of her backpack and pulls out two coins.
She reaches into her pocket and pulls out the paper. Eyes searching for a payphone.
A new reminder.
People are kind.
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