The Last Death of Jerusalem

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The Last Death of Jerusalem by Aydia Caplan - Photo by Jade Lowe

The woman with no name laid her hand on the soft, crumbling stone, spidered fingers along the uneven lines between bricks and twined them into moss darkened by the night’s embroidery.

Something fell from a crack in the wall, and she stood looking down at it, indifferent to the paper, to her life, to everything. And then curiosity stole over her and she sighed, knelt, took it up: paper someone long ago had pressed into niches between stones. She unfolded it. Soaked in the foreign gliding shapes of words.

Her fingers crept into a different crack, extracted a different piece of paper—wrestling to untangle it from the stone—and pried it open. This language too she couldn’t read, but she knew it, familiar letters, vowels sucked out, the language of prayer. Yes, this was a small slip of faith; they all were.

She knew this wall.

She’d heard of it, long before the day she woke up one morning not to a ghost town but a ghost world, before all the people had vanished and she’d taken up wandering like a prideless lion.

A shadow crossed her face sideways as she stepped backward and looked around—this was Jerusalem, no longer sacred, no longer even significant. She felt the misery of this once-holy land echoing in her heart, despair numbing her inside and out. The collapsed buildings, the fractured tiles. The wind, scented of dead glory, sighed as it rushed through hollow spaces, stirred the prayers in the Western Wall, brushed against her face and further dried eyes that had cried until no more tears could come.

She could feel surrounding her the graves of souls not raised from the dead even though the world had ended, the derelict holiness reclaimed by nature, the resting place of kings upon kings, demolished yet again.

She turned forward. Her eyes measured out the distance: at least 10 times her height. But she had nothing to lose, nothing at all but her broken self. And who doesn’t want to stand at the top of the world? This was the top of a world, some people’s world, although there was no one now to pray but the murmuring dead and silently vanished. She could leap, perhaps, and join them at last…

She stepped close to the wall and found crevices for her hands, holding it like a dance partner. Paper drummed down around her as she placed her toes carefully on the cold stone, pulled upward, brought knee to ribs searching for another foothold, pushed down with her right hand to reach up with her left.

At last she heaved herself up onto the top and stood there, hair billowing. Twilight scooped around her, cloaking the remains of buildings, beckoning her to the edge where she stood gazing out over the dessicated city. Her gaze fluttered over the tumbled houses and streets, over the broken dome like an egg hatched empty. Ironic that time had ruined a city that had weathered so many attacks by men, that it lay obliterated, and unpious—she the only one to see it.

And she could do nothing for this land; there was no use in working to repair something whose purpose was rendered obsolete by the disappearance of all humans except her. She herself was rendered obsolete by their disappearance.

Although she’d known fear, and sorrow, and tight bitter hunger, although she’d met loneliness even before the loss of people, nothing could equal the immense plains of her solitude now. She was beyond isolation—there was nothing to isolate herself from. Language had no words to describe this, but language had no meaning any longer. She stood on the wall of a thrice-demolished temple and thought again:

What if she jumped?

Who would mourn the last human’s death? Mother Nature would creep into the rusting shells of battle-tools and filth-spitters with no qualms, nothing but a slow vengeance. The animals would breathe the air clean again with relief, the trees would stretch and sigh.

The nameless woman was the only creature capable of tears in the world, and she had no grief left for herself.

She took one step closer to the edge. What if she did it? She almost leapt of sheer curiosity. The nameless woman rocked on her toes, back and forth, now hovering over the fall, now standing solid on rough-hewn rock. She leaned forward—

No. She couldn’t die here. This world was enough. It would have to be.

She would fight, yes, she would wage a slow war against human nature, if only to prove to a mute universe that she could. That she was stronger than despair. That the human race was stronger than despair.

She climbed down the Western Wall, stood staring at that vertical garden of wishes. At last she picked up a stone and scraped words directly onto the wall, her first and last prayer: Give me the strength to live.

And the nameless woman turned and walked silent away from Jerusalem.

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