Mara and Cara are kicking their feet up on the porch swing at Mara’s house, drinking tequila and grapefruit juice and watching Samael split firewood with a certain amount of justifiable admiration.
“He’s awfully good at all of the boy work,” said Mara, “and he doesn’t even sweat. I bet he’d be great at camping. Building fires and stuff. He has spent hundreds of years sleeping outdoors with armies. We should ask him.”
Cara nods, and sips her drink.
“You know what we should do?” she says, “We should take Samael with us to Burning Man. We have an extra ticket since that creep I was living with dumped me. Plus, he would be so much better at camping than we are!”
Mara thinks Cara’s idea is excellent. They are both terrible at camping, and Samael has centuries of experience with outdoor living. There is a drawback, of course.
“How will we explain the wings?” asks Mara.
“We won’t have to. It’s Burning Man. We’ll be lolling around camp all day, and only come out at night. Everyone will be tripping and everyone will be in costume. No one will even bat an eye at Samael. They’ll just think he has a really great costume. It’s the only place we could ever go where we’d all pass for normal! He’ll just be one more practically nude leather man with wings. If anything, we’ll need to freaken him up a bit.”
Mara smiles and takes a drink. “He’d be an excellent guard outside the temple of pain…I have a feeling he’s asked all of those questions before in real life. Let’s go ask him.”
At Burning Man, Samael surprises the women with his enthusiasm and curiosity. He wants to see everything, do everything. He is completely relaxed, which Mara has not seen in him before. He smiles, which he does very seldom. When Mara asks him, he tells her that this is a place that evil cannot touch deeply because there is so much love, and will not explain further. “We are safe here, for a few days. It is a gift, ” he says.
They go from camp to camp, and Samael is amazed that humans come together in the desert to create this temporary world where they all cooperate. He, who so seldom speaks, spends hours talking to people about their art, their lives, their stories. He knows how rare it is for people to live and work together, even for such a short time. He finds it beautiful, particularly because it is temporary. In the old times, he tells them, the entire city would have been an offering worthy of any of the gods.
Mara finds him almost painfully beautiful in these moments in which he is so human.
They walk for hours, into the desert. Away from Center Camp, there are stars and stars. Samael tells them stories about the stars in other deserts, in other times. Far away. Long ago. Places that are beautiful and dangerous. Other places where other people made fire offerings, but never on the scale of an entire city. Places that Samael cannot take the women to see, and would not risk taking them even if he could.
Places where even an angel can die.
In the desert, under the night sky, he can see how precious Mara has become to him, and is surprised to find he still has the ability to love. As they walk, he wraps his wings around her like a cloak wishing it would always be so easy to protect her.
Samael is particularly touched by the Temple, and the prayers and remembrances people have left there. The letters of love, the photographs, the small mementoes of lost lives brought hundreds, thousands of miles to be offered to the flames here. They walk through the Temple, arms entwined, tears streaking their faces. Mara touches a finger to a tear running down the angel’s face, puts the tear on her tongue. “Now it’s mine,” she says. He holds her for a moment, kisses her hair, and thanks her. He touches each altar as they pass and says a prayer. Tears, and tears. Grace.
On Saturday night, they watch the Man burn, then wander far out in the desert stars together, watching the fires in all the camps from afar and finally going back into Black Rock City to watch the many small burns. They gather outside the temple as the walls crash down into the flames and embers that remain, faces lit from the glow.
There are drummers there. Real drummers, and a woman playing a slow, sad, ancient sounding tune on a wood flute. Samael puts his arms around Mara, and they dance. It’s a dance Samael seems to know. A tune he hums with the musicians. The song moves along, and they turn, slowly at first, Mara’s arms around Samael’s neck. She breathes in his smoky scent, thinking how much he seems to belong here. This temporary world that marries the ancient and the modern so completely.
The tune becomes joyful, faster, they both fling out their arms laughing as they spin like dervishes together, and a crowd circles around them clapping and spinning along with them. Stars and lasers spinning above them all. The lights of the temporary city around them. Fires burning. Smoke rising to the sky in offering.
Samael realizes that Mara’s face is pressed against his, and he is not holding her up. She is floating next to him, body to body, as they spin. Cara claps, dazzled like a child at the circus, saying “Samael, how did you make Mara fly?”
He takes Mara’s face in his hands, kisses her gently and says “is there some magic you’ve been hiding from me, my treasure?”
And she looks down, gasps and falls into his arms. Then looks up at her lover, laughing.
“This is a place, it seems, where the unexpected is to be expected,” Samael says.
And they begin to dance again. All smiles.