by Tony Devlin, Ireland.
The last of the trees, the luxuriant undergrowth, fell away, and the great dome of the sky opened around them. The sun was massive, red and low, overhead the zenith was empty and clear.
The young man bent close as he laid Teresa’s broken body down, his warm breath touching her cheek. She returned his sad, almost plaintive smile. The old woman raised a hand in farewell, still holding the rough earthen cup that had quelled all her pain. Soon, Teresa knew, it would bring her the gift of unending sleep.
Images drifted silently behind her closed eyes now, of desperate days descending into mayhem, of the scenes at the airport in Porto Velho as she somehow found the space to fling her stolen biplane into the super-heated air. The rush and noise and terror as the big jets literally fell from the sky, the atmosphere too thin to keep them aloft.
Then the blessed solitude as her small craft’s propeller clawed its way out of the madness, heading for the slopes of Pico da Neblina; the slow silence of her descent, fuel tanks empty, to tear and crash through the matted tangle of the forest.
Teresa had seen so much of the cataclysm, flying those big jets above seas that rose to engulf cities, swallow whole countries, experiencing the accelerating warming, when a hothouse earth literally smothered its rogue species, humanity. The brief suicidal surge of the age of fossil-fuelled industry was over, mortal engines pounding out the rhythm of its march into oblivion, fallen apart so incredibly quickly, cascading over the cliff-edge of an irreversible tipping point. Hardest to bear was the inconsolable grief, that collective darkness in the human psyche as the realisation sank in.
How fortunate she had been, to obey the deep primal imperative to run. To fly, literally, back into what remained of the wilderness, the trackless undergrowth of the last lung of an asphyxiating world. And more fortunate still, to receive this unmerited kindness, the simple mercy, of those still living in the Great Mother’s arms.
Her heart swelled, for the compassion in the nameless woman’s final wave, the gentle care in the young man’s face. Teresa closed her eyes and sank back, spent and complete, life’s meaning no longer a mystery. It was in that cup of kindness all along.