A mile below the surface of the great city, the little girl Coriolana is carefully tying her shoes. She is tying them tight because she’s going to ask her father a question, an important question, and she doesn’t want to look like a little kid when she does it. She wants answers this time. She wants him to know that she’s serious. She wants to know about her mother.
They’ve got two whole rooms to themselves, and a washroom they only have to share with one other family, now that the Hu’s are gone. She walks from the bedroom to the workroom with purpose, determined to get the truth.
Her father is a man of crinkled lines, some that catch across his face with the marks of time, others creases of smiles, and a few, jagged, irregular marks, some white scars, some old burns, that cut across his skin like debts.
Coriolana stands next to him, watching him work on his machines for a minute. He glances up at her for a moment, and smiles. Her eyes seem bigger than normal human eyes, here in the subdark, one mile below the surface. They say that all the children have bigger eyes down here, because they’ve never seen the sun, and they are going nocturnal, like little rodents, swarming under the sparkling forever city.
Coriolana’s father knows that all children have wide open eyes, open to see the world, to take it all in. So when Coriolana asks him about her mother, he knows it’s time to feed her the answer, the whole truth of the thing.
“Your mother,” he says, tapping his metal tool on his thigh, “sold love.”
Coriolana is young, but not so young that she doesn’t know the slurs of the children on the street. She scruches up her nose. “A whore?” she asks, her voice a squeak.
“Your mother,” he said, laying down the tools of his trade, “was a minister to many people. It was harder even then in those days, and your mother was compassionate and she didn’t turn down anyone who could pay.” Her father rubbed his face unconciously, his fingers sliding over the pocks and burns of his past.
Coriolana tugged his arm. “But you never had to pay, did you Papa? Because she loved you.”
He took her tiny hand in his warm and leathery palm and looked up into those giant eyes, his own twin suns. “I never once failed to pay your mother.” he said. “And she was worth all I had and more.”
“And she gave me to you?”
He shook his grey head, and reached out his arms to the child, who folded herself into his lap. “When she died, I knew that she wouldn’t have wanted you to end up in the Grind Houses, so I took you in, said you were mine.”
“I’m not yours?” asked the girl.
The old man hugged her tightly. “It doesn’t matter to me whose line you’re from. You’re my baby girl, and you always will be.”