She isn't an idiot. She knows the world is an evil place. Buddy's earliest memories are of weeping male voices and little blue pills that rolled almost within the reach of grasping toddler fingers (the sour smell of the Joy he kept locked away where he thought she wouldn't find it). She remembers the feeling of warm dirt floors beneath her bare feet, and the blinding rarity of sunlight.
She remembers kindness, definitely. She can't deny that. But she also remembers a sort of creeping confusion, a sense of wrongness that seeped in slowly and constantly.
(“You aren't the same,” is what that wrongness says. “You can't pee standing up.”)
The air behind her mask is hot and stale, but she knows better than to take it off. She knows better than to let go of Brad's hand, and she knows better than to speak in her damnably childish voice when there are people who might hear it and get a clue.
“Even harmless-looking men are dangerous,” Brad says. “They would hurt you in ways you can't even imagine.”
She can imagine. She's not that stupid.
Buddy knows a lot about sex. It's kind of unavoidable, considering the amount of porno magazines lying around. In the villages, she's heard men groaning about loneliness, only some of which is emotional. She's heard whispers about rounded bosoms and the slap of skin on skin. It's neutral, it's given, and it doesn't exist anymore in the sense that it used to.
She knows what a woman is (was?). They gaze at her from tattered pages, all shiny parted lips and invitingly splayed limbs. She knows that women nagged and nagged and nagged and that they were gone forever GOD how could it have happened what did we do, what did they do, is this the end of people, is this the--
She knows a lot more than people give her credit for. She doesn't quite make the connection between herself and women. Women aren't real anymore, so she can't be one. She's Buddy, and she's a secret, and she knows way more than they know she knows.
She wants to call Brad her father, but when she says the word he cringes. He won't tell her why.
She bleeds all over her shorts, and prays that she isn't dying. She burns them in the firepit they're supposed to only use for cooking.
Uncle Sticky figures it out. She knows something is up when he asks her if she wants to go on a walk (Brad's the only one who ever asks), but she needs the openness of the desert.
In the echoing back of a semi, Buddy sits alone and thinks about women (about herself?). She thinks about long legs and long necks and long fingers. She has none of those things. How does she qualify? She wonders what a woman's voice is supposed to sound like. Smooth, she guesses. Smooth like virgin skin.
The truck jolts and she bangs her head against a crate of jerky. If she's important, why is she being carted around like so much meat?
She's special meat, at least. That has to mean something.
“It don't look like a girl,” the tall man says. “Looks like you just took some poor kid and shoved him in a dress.”
“It's a girl,” the fat man argues. “Look at her. Pretty little face, cute little tits. She's a godsend.”
“Only one way to know,” the tall man says.
She stands there, still and passive, as a large hand creeps up her leg--
“I'll be damned,” he says. He reaches, almost reverently, to touch her stone face.
She bites his finger off.
Uncle Sticky gives her the Talk (what's left of it).
“No, you can't go back to Brad.”
“Yes, you are the only one.”
“No, you can't back out now.”
“Yes, you'll be able to make babies.”
“No, it'll be days before we get there.”
“Yes, they'll have to have sex with you for the babies to grow.”
“No, you're not a child anymore.”
“Yes, you're very special.”
“No, it won't hurt.”
“No, you'll get used to it.”
“No, people like it.”
“Yes, you're a woman now. Not a child anymore.”
Despite the horror, she reaches out and clings onto him, because he held her before she was a woman, and she doesn't want things to change. She can feel his heartbeat. It's the same as it was before. She hopes her heartbeat is the same, but maybe she shouldn't.
If Buddy is a woman, if she is The Woman, so be it. She wipes snot from her face and creeps back into the semi. She wraps her arms around her knees and doesn't cry.
What she wants is something to do with her hands. She wants the half-melted crayons that Brad found in the half-burned schoolhouse, and she wants her uncles' hair to braid. Buddy wants a lot of things, and she should get them, probably. She's important. She's special. She's one-of-a-kind.
(she's got a cunt and it's right there and it's just a matter of time anyway so why are you--)
Her stomach churns. She wonders if it will churn when there's a baby in it. That's the goal, right? Her goal. She's going to make a lot of babies, and save the world. They're going to put a lot of babies in her, and save the world. She's going to swell up until she can barely move, and save the world. She'll send the babies off to spread the word (marching barefoot soldiers) and she'll become tattered like an old curtain and she'll deflate like a balloon and she'll shrivel up like a disembodied finger left in the sun.
And save the world.
She learns not to fear. She is special. She is the only one. She is an archetype, a symbol, three orifices and short child limbs and the taste of copper. Buddy is the only one. She will not fear those who need her.
She snarls when spider-hands stroke her as she tries to rest, drives them away with her deadly eyes. The sight of the stars and the smell of gasoline make up for the lost sleep.
When they find good food, the men share it with her. When she moves, their eyes follow her. When they hear her voice, their heads turn.
There are so many things in the world that she'd never seen, so many things that Brad had hidden from her. Why didn't he want her to hear engines roaring? Why didn't he want her to spin until she became dizzy and the stars swirled above her? Why didn't he want her to be what she was, chosen and blessed and a wild ravenous animal with bared fangs and bloody claws?
Brad is selfish, she decides. Brad would rather keep her to himself than let the world live. Brad, who doesn't want to be her father and doesn't want her to be free.
She begins to hate him.
She's going to meet Rando soon. Rando will know what to do, they say. Rando will reward them for their restraint.
She figures that it's probably Rando who'll fuck her first. He's important, she's important, it just makes sense. She wonders if it will look the way it does in the magazines. She looks nothing like a woman, so it probably won't.
She spends a lot of time brooding about this. She isn't exactly scared, but something about it makes her jittery. It's a big deal. She's a big deal. She's special, special, special--
(Too special to admit to being scared, anyway.)
She starts to dream about it. They aren't pleasant dreams, but they aren't nightmares either. She is watching from the outside as a woman with her face does the things women do. The man (men?) shift about as though they're made of clay. One minute they're her uncles, and the next they're strangers from the road. Sometimes they are masked, but other times they are so naked that they have no flesh (twisting bending bones, picked clean by crows). One night, they are Brad. She wakes up in a cold sweat, confused and horrified and angry all at once.
He's the only one she knows would never. The dream is betrayal.
Their party is waylaid, and many of her men crumble red and wet into the dust. She can't bring herself to mourn them. Rick tells her to stay in the cave, and she nods silently. She knows better than to disagree (she's too important).
She's only got one shirt. Somehow, the fact that this shirt will always be bloodstained is worse than the fact that she's bleeding.
She wonders if she'll only grow one breast. Will she be half a woman? Or, if she already is a woman, is she less than that now? Is she half a man, if she only has one breast?
It doesn't matter, because now her only shirt is dirty. What a pain.
The man in the cave is feeble, and he calls her by the wrong name. He's crying, she realizes.
“I'm sorry,” is what he says. “I'm sorry, I'm sorry, Lisa, I'm so sorry...”
Something in Buddy's gut moves her to sit beside him on the stone. She says that she isn't Lisa.
“My baby, my poor baby, I'm so sorry,” is what he says.
She says that it's okay, even though it isn't.
“I hurt you,” he says.
She says that he hasn't hurt her. He shakes his head so hard that his sunglasses are knocked askew.
“My baby, my baby,” he says. “I'm sorry you had someone like me for a father.”
(for a father)
She says that it's okay, even though it isn't.
“What kind of father would do those things?” he asks.
Buddy has no answer. What kinds of fathers are there?
“Lisa, I'm so sorry.” Tears are running down his face, getting caught in the wrinkles of his skin. He's shaking.
She is not Lisa. Buddy forgives the man, for whatever he has done.
Brad does not forgive the man for whatever he has done. The man crumbles wet and red and broken. Buddy thinks she smells something sour, but she isn't sure.
If Buddy has a thousand children.
If Buddy has a thousand children, will the world really be saved? If Buddy has five-hundred daughters, and each of those daughters has five-hundred of her own, will mankind survive?
Should mankind survive?
It's going to hurt, probably.
(and whoever he is, he will exist forever, and if mankind survives each of eve's children will bear his mark on their face and)
it's better than a lot of things. it's way way better than so much that could have happened if she weren't a snarling thing.
he's going to die soon anyway, so why?
and if brad actually cares, why is he only trying to save her when it's too late?
why doesn't it hurt? all she can feel is heat running down her face, like dirty water in her eyes.
Rando has kind hands. Rando moves like a wounded deer.
She won't mind, if he's her first. He says he won't make her do anything she doesn't want to do, but she knows he's lying. At least he probably knows she knows.
Her eye hurts constantly. She can't get it to open all the way, and it's leaking foul, thick tears. Buddy knows that if she doesn't do something soon, the infection will creep from her eye into the rest of her, and she'll burn up and die.
And the world will end.
When Rando and his men are sleeping, she heats a knife in the cooking water. Once it's so hot that she can hardly hold it, she carefully cuts away the grimy bandages from her face.
Looking at it now, she knows that if she'd left it in, it would never have healed. The thing is so mangled that the best she could have hoped for was blinding scar tissue. She steals some clean bandages from one of the trucks, and wraps them tightly.
She considers keeping her eye, but looking at it makes her sad. She throws it into the embers of the fire and watches it shrivel.
Buddy never had a father, not really. She isn't sure what this thing is, but he's mowing down hordes of men with nothing but his skull and teeth. She watches silently as Brad's body is mangled and pierced and bruised, and he keeps fighting, screaming like a trapped animal.
She watches silently as he cuts Rando down. For some reason, the mutilated face beneath the mask doesn't disturb her at all (alike). Brad's teeth are red-stained, and he's gasping and stumbling and his tears are dragging streaks down his sweating, dirt-smudged face.
Brad wants to know if he's done well.
Buddy thinks about the philosophy of mercy-killing.
She hugs him tightly, and despite the filth and the blood and the tears, for a second she feels like a child again.
She doesn't stay to watch him turn. She's not sure why-- is it empathy, or is it disgust? Either way, she's wearing his poncho, and she hasn't switched it out for a cleaner one.
That has to mean something, doesn't it?
Buddy wipes something from her eye. She doesn't check to see what it is. She'll just assume it's blood.
She stretches, takes a breath, and moves forward.