Gabe was about half way through the watering when he saw the Unsaved girl.
He’d just reached the window end of the tenth row. He liked to work away from the standpipe and outwards each time, because he enjoyed the sensation of moving slowly and steadily towards the light and warmth of the sun.
He liked feeling the watering can swing easier in his hand as he limped from plant to plant, testing the soil for moistness with his thumb the way Brother Matthew had showed him to, gently tipping the liquid into the containers when required.
And at the end of each row, he liked to stand and look out of the open side of the tower, over the Unsaved city at its feet, across the Solent with its gaggle of grey glowering hulks and on to the emerald of the Island.
He wasn’t supposed to stop at all, because The LORD frowned on laziness. But it was only for maybe a fraction of a minute each row, and Gabe secretly thought that if The LORD really didn’t want him to look out of the tower sometimes, he wouldn’t have made it seem so interesting. He knew better than to mention that to Brother Matthew, though, just like he knew better than to get caught.
As he turned around to return, Gabe gasped to see a girl of marriage age crouched mannishly at the standpipe, dressed in garish clothes that left her arms and legs uncovered, her cupped hands catching water and raising it carelessly to her mouth.
Gabe started at the sound of his watering can hitting the floor, and the girl looked up.
â€œHey man, didn’t notice anyone here,â€ she said, standing to face him. â€œOtherwise I’d have asked first.â€
It wasn’t clear with her stood in the shadows, but there was something strange about her right eye. â€œYou shouldn’t be here, sister,â€ Gabe stammered.
â€œHow come?â€ replied the girl, plucking a tomato as she wandered towards him. â€œNot like there’s any bars on those big open sides, is it?â€
â€œThis is a House of The LORD, sister, and you are Unsaved,â€ said Gabe, still staring at the girl’s eye, which seemed to be surrounded and covered over by metal and plastic. â€œThe Unsaved may enter, but only through the Door of Penitence.â€
â€œAh, right,â€ said the girl around a mouthful of tomato. â€œNever knew a cult had the top of this tower. Probably wouldn’t have climbed it otherwise â€” no offence. Hey â€” my eye freaking you out or something?â€
Gabe felt his face heat and he looked at the floor. â€œI meant no insult, sister, I -â€
â€œNo worries, I’m used to it. Draws a lot of attention, even downtown. Beats the shit out of only having one good eye, though.â€
Gabe’s head jerked up. â€œSo it’s true? The Unsaved really use machines to remove the flaws which The LORD deemed necessary to balance the gift of your life?â€
The girl laughed â€” not the modest laugh of a Saved Daughter, but something that seemed to pass through her like a spirit.
â€œWell, you could put it that way,â€ she said. â€œBut I don’t think some sky fairy messed up my eye before I was born any more than one did for your leg, there.â€
Gabe felt awkward again; not ashamed of the flaw that was his burden from The LORD, but ashamed at wondering what it would be like not to limp. He squashed the thoughts, as they were impious.
â€œHey, I guess I’d better go â€” I’m making you twitchy,â€ said the girl, maintaining an endless stream of chatter as she started unclipping various strange objects from her belt and attaching them to a large coil of rope across her shoulder. â€œHell knows how you get any work done with that view there, though â€” what I came up to see in the first place. Tomatoes and conversation a bonus, right?â€
â€œYou … you climbed the tower?â€
â€œYah. Kind of a hobby, but everyone’s started doing it now, so the fun’s fading. I liked it for the solitude, y’know? Anyway, better leave you to yours. Name’s Jez.â€
She stuck out an open hand toward Gabe, who found himself unable to do anything more than stare at it blankly.
â€œNo shakes with the unsaved, huh? Fair enough. Not even gonna tell me your name? Gabriel – OK. Well, maybe see you around, man. You ever come downtown, gimme a shout. I’ll get you lunch in exchange for the tomatoes and the water.â€
Gabe watched, still dumbstruck, as the girl who called herself Jez pulled on some odd-looking gloves, attached some small devices to the lip of the window, and clambered downwards out of sight with a shouted farewell.
â€œI heard voices, Brother Gabriel; to whom were you speaking?â€, asked Brother Matthew as he entered the growing room.
Still staring out over the city, Gabe told an outright lie for the first time he could remember. â€œNo one, Brother Matthew. No one at all.â€
[This just doesn’t work the way I wanted it to, because as I started writing it I realised there’s much more to tell than will fit in a piece of flash. But I had no time to do another piece, so this is what you get. Selah.]