The Aqueduct 

One night, a little girl was saying her evening prayers when an angel appeared to her. Do not fear, said the angel bathed in light. The little girl stared at him in astonishment. I fear, she gasped. You look more like a calamarius than an angel! The tentacles shrank back a little. I am not of the seraphim or the cherubim, but I am an angel from heaven, the strange creature soughed. I thought there was no more sea in the new heaven and new earth, the girl protested. The radiant, anthropoid calamarius wrung its tentacles. Questions and more questions!! he sighed in a voice that could have come from the spiralling twilight of a sea shell. First of all, he argued, it is possible that the new heaven and new earth have not arrived yet. Secondly, when it says there is no sea, it likely means that there is no sea comparable to your polluted black waters, but instead a magnificent ocean of immaculate beauty. Third, the sea has long been associated with the realm of the dead—the saints merely speak of there being no more death when they say that there is no more sea. Have you never read all the epitaphs and poems for drowned sailors? Not all of them, the little girl whispered, but I have read a few inscriptions by the shore. I am sorry for troubling you with questions. The calamarius gently touched her shoulder with the tip of his tentacle. Do not fear. I only came to bring you a gift. Heaven has ordained that you shall receive whatever you ask for. The little girl thought about it, and said: It is written that if someone lacks wisdom, they can ask for it. And I remember reading about a great king who was offered everything in the world, but he only wanted wisdom. Please give me wisdom! The calamarius glowed brighter, and said: That is a good gift, indeed, but one that you are perhaps not ready for. I will give you till tomorrow evening to consider. The calamarian angel turned into smoke and vanished. It was a while before the girl could sleep, but when she did she had the strangest nightmares. First she dreamed of a man who watched as his scrolls were torn up and burned before he himself was lowered into a cistern of filth. Then she saw another man far, far away, wandering from capital to capital in search of employment as he lectured, never dreaming of how his followers would be buried alive in the earth after their books were burned. She saw a queen who dreamed of tranquil lakes and white elephants, giving birth to a beautiful child from her right side, a child she would never know, for she died seven days after his birth. Then she saw a stonemason asking questions and reasoning with friends in a prison cell as he drank a draught of hemlock. She saw a young woman put on her father’s armour and travel north to defend her people, while another woman of another time surreptitiously broke the law to bury her brothers, even though it meant ending her life hanging from a tree. And then there was a slave skilled in logic who did not scream or cave into threats, but calmly discoursed on cause and effect as his enraged master broke his arm. She saw a peasant girl meet a winged angel announcing the birth of holiness. She saw an exiled woman who made tents for a living, all the while teaching the deep things of the spirit despite the dangers of persecution. A man who built amazing machines and had counted every speck of dust in the galaxy died from a sword thrust as he drew geometrical figures and circles in the dirt. A thin old hermit who dwelled on snowbound mountain peaks conversed with clouds and pines. A man who gazed at stars lived under house arrest. And in yet another realm of green islands and pale blue seas with days of glass, there was one who lived among rotting lepers. Bodies burned on stakes; heads fell from gibbets; books burned in pyre after pyre. One by one, faces and screams passed through her head, until she felt a crown of thorns tightening around her skull as she watched a quiet carpenter with loving eyes die on a cross. In the morning, she felt a little feverish, and stepped out into the garden to go cool herself in the nearby pool fed by an aqueduct . She passed through the olives and cypresses until she came to the rolling hills. The early sun painted the grain and flowers in lighter and lighter shades of gray until the world suddenly exploded into warbling and light, into an almost violent radiance, golden and blue, as the birds took flight and the aqueduct loomed in its solid mineral glory, its arches like hundreds of windows into different worlds. Thirsty, exhausted, and stronger than ever before, she faced the day as she embraced the evening to come.

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