“…So, in conclusion, the current literature on the irrigation systems employed by Sumerian farmers around 1700 BCE has underestimated the importance of the smoothing effects of shod oxen’s trampling efforts, exaggerating the efficacy of the eight-tier furrow system, which, while important, in no way accounts for the shitty fart turd man — ”
Red-faced and breathless, the speaker blinks at the words. He finds an audience blinking back at him. The speaker tugs at his collar and his clip-on tie falls off.
“Excuse me. There, ah, seems to be a misprint.”
Washed up on stage, the man is too dry to spin it as a joke, and after two clearings of the throat and three attempts to restart the sentence, as if jumpstarting an impotent car, it is too obvious that he hasn’t memorised the words. He excuses himself off-stage to the sound of a single pair of hands clapping hesitantly, just once, before stopping. A woman witnessing this disaster slowly recedes further off-stage, hiding herself, shoes showing, behind the red velvet of backstage curtains, until she hears him finally marching away. Both know very well that she’s the one who wrote that research speech for him. She stayed up till 5 AM to do so, after he sent her an urgent email at 11 PM. And, simply enough, in the dead of night, what’s on anyone’s mind worms itself through social filters and splats down on print like a ladleful of gruel (thankfully, she’d fallen asleep before any real expletives came to mind).
She treads carefully in escape, passing a number of pencil-biting and nervous-ticked colleagues and curmudgeons waiting for their turn to prove they have the most interesting thing to say tonight, about, for instance, the influences of Sapphic poetry on the formation of the Hellenic league, a re-examination of the names for coloured dyes middle chronology Mesopotamia employed, and other grab-bag attempts at classicist relevance and what-have-yous. Academia is a ship sinking in an ocean of sweat, and it smells just as muffled.
Finally, the woman sees the land-ho of her predicament. The humming green of the emergency sign and the hurrying figure, presumably leaving in the same manner any other does. A symbol of universal danger, though it is never shown what this nameless runner is running from. A beast, a fire, an army? That’s too specific, isn’t it — these are things you could possibly face and fight and defeat. So, what else to run from but himself? The figure is a sign is the signifier — and he won’t be safe even when he’s left, because, paradoxical to his own existence, he is required to remain in danger. Which is more or less what happens to the woman, who finds herself staring at the disgraced professor.
After his embarrassing event, the dreadful postdoc supervisor chewed her out, reprimanded her, insulted her in the way only an academic is capable of. Avoiding slurs, the culpable words, while more poignantly wording their meaning, making them seem as if it’s ultimately her fault. What she does is only an unintentional reaction to him, but he isolates her in guilt.
Like a layered drink, men in hierarchies keep the tiers separated. The pitfall of this horrific man is his dirty perspective: a diploma and a few awards feed his lies that he understands the humanities. And so, to him, ‘learning about’ is the same as ‘having transcended’. Any feminist scholar will tell you that the history of science, since Roger Bacon’s first examinations of nature to this meticulously self-aggrandised professor, operates on the assumption that to understand is to conquer. A masturbatory principle, one which pardons participation and denies involvement in the disciplines he has subjugated — it’s in the name: ‘Master’s degree’ However, the humanities teach about the fallibility of mankind, but fallible is the man who cannot first confront his humanity. So for his blind spots and epistemic shortcomings, he penalised her:
“I’m cutting your pay.”
“I don’t get paid.”
“Then all your publications are annulled.”
“You put your name on mine anyway.”
“I reassign you to the archive translation project.”
“You’re such an asshole.”
Cruelty and hubris in a Sumerologist dress — the storage archives are a modern dungeon. Translators surrounded by tablets of dust and stone. Allergies and cloggy noses abound, as are the symbols with meaning, the meaningless efforts, the efforts with no end, and the ends which are fruitless. Only pure luck governs the value of the translations. The Sumerians, the Akkadians, the Urs, the Amorites, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, and the unindexed lives buried in deeper stratigraphy still… they wrote down what they lived and loved, stored and spent, experienced and exalted — they transcribed what happened and what would into millions of cuneiform slabs. It speaks deeply and beautifully of the earliest urge to engrave — to prove — human existence into brittle clay fact.
“This shit sucks.”
Lullaby Birdland sighs. The archive room is a nursery for anxiety. Buzzing phosphorescent lights emulating the presence of bugs, metal shelves and trays categorised with numbers that’d make anyone’s mind blur, a microfiche reader from the 70s that hurts the eye socket, and an invisible dust cloud that invades her allergies (she goes through two boxes of tissues a day). What’s worse, she has to use her phone’s flashlight as a lamp, and lacking an outlet for a charger, she can’t use her phone for anything else. Meaning she isn’t even allowed the small smile of checking Fleur’s supportive texts and medicine reminders, fully capitalised but always with a heart at the end. Perhaps as corollary, she has started tapping the back of her phone whenever she’s nervous.
Right now, in front of her, is an array of broken chunks. Pieced together like a jigsaw puzzle — depressed with a variety of lines and shapes, from heads to suns to birds within the reeds, the geometric within the symbolic carries the wet clay of human meaning. It’s labelled as ‘B01CKGI0XA’, treating this unique ancient thing like an Amazon product, but nowhere as useful or ornamental as the replica tablets available online. Yet, Lullaby loves the experience. Dredging up 5000 year old details and just knowing them. Feeling millenia, a calendar of mostly useless facts. No one really cares about the Assyrian system of wheat storage, but it’s at least inspired the way Lullaby arranges her spice rack.
Spread across the cracked skins of history is an (incomplete) poem about one of the kings in Sumerian history. It is an ‘end poem’, a sad lyric ascribed to rulers, praising their achievements while announcing the next era. Ironically, the name of who it’s ascribed to is missing, as is the precise cause of death. The only thing that’s known is that they died. Very little is known about how people in Mesopotamia, culturally or psychologically, handled death — processed loss, evoked mourning, cherished memory — making that missing piece painfully stand out.
It’s the morbidity of the historian, to research times (that of realms, nations, or people) and to hunt for anything proving finality. Only when it’s ended, and its memory transmitted, is it valuable. Regardless, Lullaby has been coerced to re-translate parts of the text, not for any particular refreshing new insights or elucidatory frameworks, but because Lanyard requires an original translation for his research on Sumerian society. He’ll claim he did it and he’ll be accoladed for it and ‘L. Birdland’ will miss from the publication. She wonders at times like these — all the time, really — if it’s worth it. The board is slow to respond to her complaints about his abuse and breach of conduct; for now, she is vulnerable and she cannot threaten him back. It makes her angry, it makes it hard to read.
Her fingers tremble over the familiar glyphs — she recognises and scribbles down their meanings. She notices her pencil is shaking. Or rather, her writing hand is. Her other hand, too. Then her arm begins to tremble, her vision starts tremoring. Her head becomes heavy yet light, her senses stop working and none of her thoughts stick, not even her own panicking. She sits up and stands down and remains completely still, movement might crumble her. Her phone’s flashlight turns dark — a pure black — and the heavens open up in the tubes on the ceiling, she begins to crack and fall apart, whatever does this is winning. Then, it stops. She recalls her form, she can move again, she notices her mouth is full of sand.
Pthooey. Blegh. Eck. Yeeeckkkk.. Uhuhuhuh…
Lullaby spits and hacks her mouth clean with a series of ugly sounds. Shadows of birds dance across the land she leans on, her leaning leading to a searing sensation in her hands. She flinches back up on her feet, jumping around and whipping her hands to cool off. She notices her surroundings. Dust, but not like that in the archives. Buzzing, but from actual insects. No eigengrau hues that colour the room like a depression: this is a malpais of soft beige and light yellows. Beads of cold sweat mark her forehead. She’s tapping away at her phone. The flashlight’s turned itself off, its dark screen only reflecting a bright sun above. It is scorching hot and it is anywhere but home. She starts searching for it. Out of sheer desperation, or is it willpower, she manages not to panic.
The landscape doesn’t change for miles when she encounters the first sign of life. It is a man, collapsed near a rock. He is dressed in loose and reddened garbs, his neck and collarbones overexposed for this type of climate, his arm mauled and loosely assembled. Lullaby approaches him with questions: Are you okay, Where is this, What happened to you, Is this heaven wait no it can’t be if you’re here bleeding to death that’s not something that happens in heaven. His reaction is an exhausted deliverance.
“Mi… Nga resussun…”
“Yes, of course. Hold still.”
She dabs the gash with a pathetic, insufficient tissue. Then, she drops the bloody paper, overwhelmed with a feeling more inscrutable than any ancient symbol. A detected presence inside her, unmovable and undefinable, existing within her but outside comfortable notions of cause-and-effect. The feeling of a feeling is like a rumbling cloud filled with rain or thunder or snow, covering the dawning of a black sun. This malicious air in her breaks her skin into indecipherable fragments; she is a salt pillar fully aware. But like before, she clears up, storms are dangerous but pass before long, she is back in that dusty archive room, she goes home.
What was that? Who was dying? Did I transport into a text? Did I hallucinate?
Estranged from herself, Lullaby falls down face-forward into the beanbag in the hallway reserved for this purpose. The door falling shut behind her quakes house, home, and portrait hanging in the hall. It falls off, but a rough and coarse hand stops its fall and pats her head.
“Let’s talk. What’s up?” They’re in the living room — the only room –, Lullaby’s face is on the table.
“I had a panic attack at work. Two, actually.” A mug of coffee slides her way and she sits up to take a sip. It’s her usual: no milk, one sweet, one sugar.. and… something else? Her eyes widen and seek explanation in Fleur’s.
“Vanilla extract.” Lullaby’s face’s wrinkled frown turns into a content, approving hum. “I’m sorry, liefje. Were there many things at once or is it one big thing?”
“I guess a very big thing. I’m not sure. It just feels really bad.”
“Is it Lanyard again? That man is extorting you and I cannot see you like this. Let me talk to him.”
Lullaby thinks about the suggestion for a while as Fleur sifts through the news, her university painfully featured in today’s issue. She gets her newspapers at the post office run by a Moroccan man, who, despite the reasons he left, still holds a warm heart for The Netherlands, something he and Fleur hold in common. Why not just read the news on your phone, Lullaby once asked, Well I just like touching things, Fleur replied before booping Lullaby’s big nose.
“Okay. Can you go and beat him up for me?”
“I’d love to. But first things first: you. Describe this big thing for me, and take your time.”
“Oookay, so… I was in the archives. And then I wasn’t? I mean, I was translating a text and then this feeling hit me and when I came to I was in a desert. That’s not a lot but literally that’s all that happened. Sorry.”
“That’s okay. Did something happen while you were there?”
Lullaby wants to ask ‘you believe all this?’, but is quick to realise her girlfriend cares more that she’s upset over the plausibility of details. Fleur’s patience is one of the most attractive things about her — besides the fact she is a big and strong lady, not an unwelcome leftover after 15 years of farm work, and her lemony scent, a thousand carried crates of lingering citrus.
“There was a man. He was bleeding. I wanted to help him, but before I could, I froze up and I was back in the archive room. He said something, but I’m not sure what.”
Fleur presses her mouth against her forehead, still salty from before, and Lullaby blushes. She knows it’s checking for fever, which is kind of patronising, but also, it’s lips. Lullaby’s embarrassment makes Fleur laugh, who in turn becomes embarrassed over her pig-snort laugh, so Lullaby goes in for a kiss to settle this vicious cycle before it has a chance to start. Things escalate from there. Things become alright for her, despite today.
With how relaxed Lullaby is after Fleur put her on the coffee table, kissed her neck, covered every inch with her hands, it must’ve been stress, right? She needed this. She says this and it’s true. And yet… she can’t shake those words the bleeding man said:
Mi nga resussun.
“Woman, help me,” in Sumerian.
Probably just stress. Yeah.
Lullaby kept her displacement (what else to even call it?) mostly to herself. With one exception: the tabby cat always lounging on the windowsill on her way to work, she seems to really get it, you know?
She did not mention it to: Lanyard, who she masterfully avoids; three people from the physics faculty loudly discussing the science of time-travel movies; Jamila Achi, the beautiful Bolivian professor teaching pre-Columbian Incan religious culture and architecture she confessed to while drunk that one time and who has been smiling at her in passing ever since; Courtney, the receptionist in the lobby who despite the constant stream of phone-calls from nervous students overwhelmed by the bureaucracy of university (mostly the horrible website interface) always asks her how she’s doing; basically anyone she spoke to, especially the Honours College student assigned to her on top of her throttling duties who asked her, “What’s that in your bag,” pointing at the bloody tissue next to a box of mini donuts.
“I had a nosebleed earlier. Haha, yep. Just a nosebleed. That’s my blood. From the nose. Hey, uh, I’ll be right back.”
She jogs to the nearest garbage can and throws away the tissue, she wants to throw away herself, too, but decides against it. She absolutely didn’t have a nosebleed and the only blood she can remember isn’t her own. Did that really happen yesterday? But she was so much further than just yesterday. Yesterday’s shock and today’s confusion catch up with her, unsurprisingly. Two similar feelings, even when they spring from unrelated circumstances, have the tendency to cross over and spill into one another, two foreign agents in the body, the body remembers what the mind tries to hide, so let it come, let it happen. So she lets herself cry, nothing wrong with that, stopping yourself from this biologic need is so exhausting and demoralising, don’t do that to yourself. Lullaby sniffles and checks her phone.
You: did you put those donuts in my bag
Fleur: You found them! Haha, yes. I hope you feel good today. ❤
You: you are so good to me i love you so much
Fleur: LOL! I love you, too. Keep yourself a priority. ❤
She cries again, fist-pumping in celebration of how gay she is.
Her finger, like before, slides over stone depressions, unconcerned with possible panic attacks now she’s reminded of her wonderful girlfriend. The Sumerian king list, a slab that trails the blood of rulers and imbrues their might. And mighty they were: the antediluvian monarchs ruled for multiple sars at a time, a unit corresponding to 3,600 years, with En-men-lu-ana taking the high score with a whopping 43,200 years. Presented so matter-of-factly, with barely a mention of how their immortal reigns (or lives) ended. That’s outsourced to the poets. Lullaby’s favourite is Kug-Bau, the only woman on the list — her rule lasted a mere 100 years, but she is described as casting a net of sovereignity over the whole world, which none of her descendents and predecessors can brag about.
‘Enlil-bāni’ catches her eye, or rather, the cuneiforms of his name do: a gate-like symbol on top of a triangular arrow pointing east, resembling, in its bare simplicity, the same concept as the running man of the exit sign, suggesting a royal that shouldn’t stay. She knows the story of him well, it’s one of the more apocryphal ones, and that means something in a list of eternal lives. By memory, Lullaby seeks and finds the hymn addressed to this man. 24 years lasted his reign, but by far the most interesting one.
“The king with a sweet mouth, lips good with words.” Not silver-tongued, but nectar-lipped. A strange choice of words. Jewellery never lacked in Sumer, it was common trade, but not worthwhile in the sense of description. Property did not exist in the city-states, everything was ours, meaning commerce was a negative, a deception of necessity, the thrum of noble metals the greediest kind. A value that is assigned, rather than a beauty occuring naturally is a bitter metaphor, like the silver tongue.
Fruit, and its sweetness, is the cultural locus of marvel. It is nature, gift of the gods, the gods that are society. Lullaby’s dissertation dealt with how Mesopotamia lacked religion, lacked a word for it, as it was not a separate sphere of the people’s lifeworld. It was what was — that, undifferent, and nothing less. There is a poetic simplicity in that, leaving normalities unnamed for future historians to bother, but the pervasiveness of systems insists they never be tolerated as invisible.
That which affects you and you partake of should be sometimes praised, always scrutinised, and often condemned. Give it a name and make it respond to your angered voice. Our society is rife with these assigned, cover-up values, though more in number are wonders hidden between us. Maybe this is why Enlil-bana attracts her, his story fills her with a presence: a simple gardener tending to succulent fruit who bumbled his way into being a king, who loved beauty over gold.
Lullaby is broken out of her reverie when she plummets, face-first, into a mouthful of dirt.
Pthooey. Blegh. Eck. Yeeeckkkk.. Uhuhuhuh…
She shoots up, repeating her dance, scaring away a flock of nearby birds.
No, something’s off. She got here without a panic attack. Moreover, the taste in her mouth isn’t dry, choking sand. It’s thick, wet dirt. She takes the time to look around: a rooftop terrace with two long, foot-deep pools embraced by a lowcut grass; sandstone planters with mulberry bushes and trees bearing quinces, plums, and pears; a man holding a bowl of porridge looking at her with a grave-marked expression; a plaza where two warriors are sparring, one delivering a fierce elbow strike to the other’s face, the other delivering a mighty, perhaps accidental slash to the arm of his partner.
The man approaches her, hailing her as a ghost-sighting. “Za-e… Àm?”
“Who are you?” she replies, banshee-like.
“What are you doing here?” He yells back (still in Sumerian.)
“Where is here?” She realizes she made him nervous with her sudden, stubborn intensity. Calmly, this time, she asks “Where is here?”
“Nippur, city of corn and cornelian, seat of king Erra-imittī, its supportive pillar.” Lullaby closes her eyes and tries to still her thoughts, first with comforting distractions, then with empty negotiations. She opens her opals, forced to believe the words he said. She already knew where this is, it had haunted her mind even while Fleur fucked her: this is Sumer, she is not in her own time.
“Do you want a donut?” Fleur, resigned to this strange fate, asks this to the porridge man. She translates ‘donut’ as ‘sweet hole for eating’ (she snorts).
“It is unusual for goddesses to give gifts,” he accepts the donut.
This confuses Lullaby — goddess? Of what, despondency? The man takes a bite. His eyes widen and seek explanation in Lullaby’s. She has none, agreeing it must seem a bit goddess-y, if not downright sacrosanct, to appear out of nowhere and bringing food that technically, temporally can’t exist yet.
She checks her phone — still no reception, still no screen which comes as no surprise. Tap, tap, tap. How awkward, how terrifying. The sunken, deep sea feeling in her chest, her ribcage is the Mariana trench, makes her believe, if patterns are to be believed, that she will wake up in her own time soon. She expects, enduring a pressure, a pain, a reverent pair of eyes. The man observes this, takes another bite of donut. A minute passes, and the man asks if he can leave for his duties; he can, so he dunks the half-eaten donut in the porridge and runs off. Before he does, though, he prays Lullaby exist in a gratifying destiny and escape her current one as a ‘mulki’. Or, “the celestial body which has been cleaved apart.” The word to signify brokenness, a person embedded in shameful experience, one trapped in evil reeds by the machinations of another. One who is kept from being whole.
“That obvious, huh?” Lullaby laughs with wry, unblinking eyes.
“Hey, If it turns out I’m stuck here, I’m going to be so fucking pissed.”
She blinks, suddenly back in her time. She gets fucking pissed anyway, seeing what’s in front of her.
Lanyard is leaning against the door frame, smug as can be.
“Been slacking off all day again? Some people have actual work to do. My editor has been nagging me for a manuscript. I need a text and I need it now.”
Memory is a powerful thing — it makes us remember, sometimes relive, the feelings we dread to feel. It’s in our body: our muscles remember keystrokes for late nights of typing and the stretched-out, wirey haze of caffeine; the imprint of nails in the palms of our hands as someone disregards everything we’ve done, the labours, emotional, physical, psychological, to harangue that you produce; the restraint in our fingers, arms, shoulders, eyes, cerebral rage centre, to not clock the guy with your already-clenched fist. Memory is a reminder of the panic, the paralysis, the present. Funny thing is, it is through memory, history?, that we are allowed a do-over. With more tools at our disposal, we snatch these useful paraphernalia, we craft a better outcome.
In Lullaby’s case, the image of the two fighting men replays like a movie. And she’s an actor in it this time.
She slams an elbow into his ceramic nose.
“Oh my god, What happened?”
“I assaulted someone!”
Lullaby sits there, her hands cuffed behind her back, an uncommon smile on her face. One elbow of her white shirt is caked in dried blood, her face is covered in dust, a gash across her forehead.
“No, I understand that much,” Fleur’s patience replies. Her concern continues, “but your face!”
She wishes she could say, “you should see the other guy,” but Lanyard never got so much as a hit in, something she’s very proud of. He twirled dramatically until crashing and fainting into another archive room full of graduate students, each of whom raced to call security, the police, an ambulance, and the last one, feeling left out, a funeral service. Just in case. The second faction was who delivered her injuries, having slammed her face into a dusty tray. Between then and now, officers pelted her with disorienting questions — Are you armed, What are these tablets, Are you a socialist, What are your social media accounts, Are you being political with your research, Do you love your country — while Lanyard, of course, his face now finally graced with some colour, only had to answer if he was okay.
That beautiful face opposite of her, terrified of making her lose that smile, the nights in bed where she was too stressed to do anything, ‘absence’ the doctor called it, any slight of movement risking a breakdown, holding her tight and helping her hold it in, endure, since there wasn’t an alternative, no backup, and not in the employability sense, but with the debts, she only had a couple of months left until the paychecks would start, their worries would end, asks, “did you just throw it all away?” Lullaby hopes not, but almost knows better, and starts to cry.
The police officer who cut up her forehead comes in, not a regretting shiver in the way he wears his uniform, so used to using his station to statisfy his reactionary rage. “You’re in luck. He doesn’t want to press charges.”
“Why the hell not?”
‘Because my work is more important than your savagery, and you yet have a part to play in it. Now since apparently you can’t be left unsupervised, I’ll be the supervisor you’ve been needing. From now on, conduct all work in my office,’ is what he told her, and she almost broke another part of him. Academia is a nepotist graveyard where integrity goes to die and comes back as a zombie. Not always by volition, sometimes it’s sacrificed. The rituals being the subtle coercions of your supervising professor, the only person who gets to write reviews about you. Lullaby always hated him and ended up under him, and it was his name ending up on her works. Condoned plagiarism, intellectual exploitation, theft of dignity. Whatever it’s called (it’s hardly called anything), Lullaby would exceed this.
But that audacity. That eternal arrogance, institutionalised and form-fitted to him, like the plaster of a building, part of the whole and its sum. But the rooms, filled with theses and papers, honest work and gentle living, so necessary and critical, shouldn’t have to do anything with the house in which they’re built — in other words, why are the marginalised expected to succeed in spite of their surroundings? Why leave the penalties in place, like banana peels for them to slip on? Why leave these institutions intact while pretending they have no beneficiaries? Don’t feign to think there can be bigoted systems without bigots holding them in careful place. Never step up to help those maligned move up or help tear it down, that’s saying “got mine”, that’s saying “I will not move for you or with you.” It’s always easy to fail. For the least deserving, it’s made easier.
No reason it should.
They were home, going over what happened, how it happened again, one of the mini donuts was missing though nothing could prove it was left off 5000 years ago, but the fact it hadn’t come back with Lullaby, unlike the bloody tissue, stood out, not quite a pattern, but a hunch to go on if time-travel was something to get used to. It was the first time she rejected Fleur’s warm and strong hugs, it was the first time she fell into irritation over despair. They looked at each other, first shocked, then smiling with pride.
Having to spend more than the scheduled weekly seminar with Lanyard would be the worst possible outcome, at the very least more punitive than jailtime. It happened again. Cordoned to a wobbly table in the corner of his office, she was translating an end poem addressed to Erra-imitti, predecessor of Enlil-bani and the goofiest king. Lanyard was busy playing a cheap bubble-pop game on his phone, smirking about how he’d playfully coerced a number of students to give him more lives like it’s something to brag about.
He sputters sadistic complaints at the woman he isn’t even missing.
Lullaby Birdland returns to the same spot she worried could never leave. The easy-going, charming gardener walked with a chirpy pace (energised by the forbidden flavours of chocolate and donut) into the palace, carrying a bowl of porridge. It hadn’t occurred to her that these out-of-time visits existed on the same continuum as the king list — and why would she? Who would apply the logic of historiography or any kind to the science-fiction? That man, with the warm bowl, is Enlil-bani, the next king. She runs inside, unsure why — hoping to stop it? Bear witness to history? — and hides herself behind the gazellefur curtains in the king’s chambers.
The story of Erra-imitti’s end is that of Enlil-bani’s ascension. The throne of Nippur required by decree to always be occupied, lest a usurper sit on it and proclaim themselves the ruler. The seat on all accounts more important than the person. On paper or clay, etiquette is a royal’s most powerful weapon, even gods become bound by the rules of equity, no matter the sinicure. In reality, this is true, though just as jocose. The current king, she spies, is sitting at a table. We might wonder why Erra-imitti has to eat his porridge at a table instead of just placing the bowl on the throne’s armrest, or why in the world he took off his crown, which seems so rude of the universe to hinge someone’s death on these insignifcant details.
The king’s substitute is tapping his knee, probably so bored of always having to sit and wait and have nothing to do but look at this charmless man he must respect eat his porridge in complete silence. No sounds but the unbearable slurping, the little sips, and the disgusting mulch barrelling in his mouth, then, a choking sound. Erra-imitti grasps for his throat, wheezing like a valve being closed, his eyes bulging in both a quickening towards death and the realisation that because of his own dumb customs, this is how he’ll die. Enlil-bani cannot move from the throne to save him in fear of capital punishment, so he remains seated, meeting his king’s pleas with a noncommittal shrug. Neither does Lullaby emerge as the saviour, not because out of some voyeuristic cruelty or the moral principles of a time-traveller, but because she’s gotten stuck in the curtains.
It takes a while for him to die. It’s a stressfully awkward situation for Lullaby, especially when one of the attendant’s retrieves a mysterious dough-y substance from the late king’s throat. She unravels herself and escapes to the roof terrace, inadvertently responsible for the demarcations between two dynasties. Nothing comes to her in the efforts of identifying this emotion — not quite fear, not quite pride, probably the extremity of ‘oops’. At some point, she got out her phone to tap, her little fidget coping method. The new king scares her with a tap on the shoulder.
“Ahu mi (strange woman), you have not yet left? I know not which god you are, or serve, but that which had to be witnessed transpired. Tell the greaters change is come.”
Such a laconic attitude to losing one’s superior. Then again, by the paradox of how we approach truth of life, the prevalent commonality of godheads and acceptance under divinity makes the exceptional very mundane. It’s precisely these momentous, preternatural occasions that can only be explained by the whiplash of ineffable cosmic machinations, and because they are fundamentally whimsical. Materialism is the good effort to make sense of caprice and to call out its actors when punishment becomes cruelty. As face-value as it comes, it’s almost disappointingly mundane, when a king chokes on a temporally-displaced foodstuff.
“What do you mean?”
“It’s done — I am king now. Erra-imitti was a tyran, who abused his people’s trust into building structures serving no purpose but his ego. There is no reason to make a big deal out of the obvious things that should happen. Do not stand still to perform justice. An ensi (righteous ruler) is the one who stays.” He performs the Sumerian equivalent of a diva’s hairflip, and Enlil-bani looks Lullaby dead in the eye. “Go back and become mul.”
Lullaby thinks: fuck this 5000 year old pretty boy for giving me good as hell advice.
“What?” says a man she loathes. She appeared on top of his sanded oakwood desk, scattering pages of words he plagiarised from his students.
“Lullaby, get off my desk. Right now. This is not for your eyes to see.”
Standing above him, this disparity in height certainly puts things into perspective. Papers, manuscripts, laptops — So many different words, so much arduous editing to make it seem like he wrote it. Everything he did to her, he does to new students. Postdocs don’t have much clout with regards to this, but for the starry-eyed young bloods, it is so much of an offensible act.
“Oh, I think it is.”
Lullaby, phone in hand, takes pictures of all the evidence and makes her daring escape. Lanyard fails a parkour attempt and slams himself on an award, a nice and heavy copper statue he won (using Lullaby’s dissertation).
“…So, in conclusion, in the end poem ascribed to the nameless person who “bled from the arms yet had so much to give”, the person in question cannot be accurately identified using archaeological toolsets. But: however many end poems are written for kings, it may not be assumed, through silence, that this poem was not written for, perhaps, a soldier, engraved by a friend, a lover, or I put some donuts in your bag again — ”
Lullaby stands red-faced behind the tiny podium, no curtains to hide behind, so she uses the stack of papers in front of her. Her eyes trailed off to the post-it note Fleur put on her speech. Lullaby blames herself for loving her girlfriend’s handwriting so much she didn’t want to risk losing it. The audience releases a cheerful laughter, one very particular member yells “Hope you like them, liefje!”, at which point the whole room erupts.
It’s only been a week since Lanyard got kicked out over allegations of massive student fraud and intimidation. The Honours College boy corroborated her story with similar claims, they high-fived at the end of the hearing. Though Lullaby feels rightfully bitter that her previous complaints weren’t sufficient enough, despite being of the exact same nature, it at least put her in the vector of events to break his nose. The seat of Sumerian literature expert now empty, Lullaby was instantly the most elligible person to occupy it. Perhaps it doesn’t matter who gets to exact its principles and uphold its statements, but goddamn, Lullaby thinks, does it feel good.
Mul, by the way, means ‘celestial body that shines in the heavens.’