By The Rivers Of Babylon
© 2000 by Kayla Rigney
“Pascal, would mind if I just sat in here for a while?”
The pipemaster smiled with delight. He hadn’t expected to see Max
before his shift ended; and here she was standing in the door of the
pipe chamber. The smile faded when he got a good look at her face. It
was dark and still in a way he’d never seen before. He quickly left his
post and went to her.
“Of course, I don’t mind, Max,” he said. “What’s wrong?”
“Mouse told me he was taught animals have no souls,” Max replied. Up
close she looked physically ill. “He said that most people think
animals are just animals. Is this true?”
Pascal didn’t know what to say. He’d never owned a pet and frankly
considered Arthur the raccoon a monumental nuisance.
“Well is it?”
“I… I don’t know,” Pascal stammered. His Max was so obviously
upset and hurt that he was afraid the truth would only hurt her more.
He lied. Big mistake.
Her violet eyes flashed fire. “I hate it when you lie to me,” she
spat. She crossed her arms and glared at him. “I never lie to
“I know, Max,” he said, quietly. “It’s a reflex.” The pipemaster put
his “tappers” under one arm, and offered his upturned hand to her. “I’m
Max extended her arm and softly tapped his open palm with her index
finger. My heart hurts, she coded.
“I can see that,” Pascal replied, gently encircling her finger with
his fist. “Do you want me to answer your question now?”
“Max, I don’t know how it is Above,” he said. “But, here, yes,
animals are just animals – even Arthur. Human
survival comes first and that’s the way it is.”
“Well, that’s just asinine,” Max said. “No soul is more valuable
than any other.”
“I didn’t say it was a matter of value. I said it was a matter of
Max was very still. She obviously didn’t understand. In spite of her
seemingly vast knowledge of the ugly side of human history (and her
desire to prevent it), Pascal realized she couldn’t grasp the
simple reality of it. When reality gave her nightmares, Max sang to the
She stood with her eyes locked on his for what seemed an eternity.
Finally she broke the silence and asked, “Is that how you feel,
“No,” he replied, realizing for the first time exactly how he
did feel about the subject.
“No,” Pascal told her, shaking his head. He smiled from deep
“I met someone in the park once,” he began and then stopped. “Max, I
don’t know how to tell you without sounding a little crazy,” he said.
“In fact, I’ve never told anybody before.”
“Just tell it,” she said.
The pipes suddenly went wild. Every message demanded a relay. The
pipemaster did nothing.
Max smiled at him.
Still standing holding only her finger, Pascal lost himself in a
long-ago memory. “You know I rarely go Above,” he began. Max nodded.
“Well, maybe this stands out because I am so sheltered; but I
see it like it was yesterday.”
“That day,” he replied. “Maybe it was a Sunday. I know it
was around Yom Kippur, because my uncle Bram was really on mind. And I
went Above to the park just because that’s where I remember him
Max moved closer until they stood toe to toe. Pascal could feel her
“I walked out into this really amazing fall day. It so was crisp and
cold and perfect. I could almost taste the perfection of it
all.” The experience of the day came down solidly to him. He wanted so
much to pull Max into his memory. “I just stood at the tunnel entrance
and tried to drink it in. Do you know what I mean?”
Yes, I do, she coded inside his hand.
“I stood there for a long time,” he told her. “I just let the day
surround me, like you surround me.” He felt her smile. “And suddenly
this dog just appeared in front of me. I mean, one second it
wasn’t there and then poof it’s just there, like magic.” The
pipemaster laughed because the animal had been so abrupt. “And I could
see it wasn’t any ordinary dog.”
“How could tell?” Max’s eyes were not so hurt now. They had that
soft look he saw only when they were alone.
“Well,” Pascal said. “For one thing, it was a German Shepherd, and I
wasn’t afraid. I’m usually afraid of large dogs. And for another he was
in a cart.”
“A dog wheelchair.”
“You’re kidding, right?”
“No,” he replied. “I’m not. ”
Pascal could see that Max was enchanted. He sensed a deep
understanding in her touch. “So what happened?” she asked.
“This dog looked into my eyes and smiled at me,” Pascal
replied. Normally, he felt uncomfortable even thinking about this
story, but now he only wanted to tell the joy of it. He found his voice
and went on, “I mean in one instant this dog knew me. He could
see I was happy and he was too, and he smiled. That part I know, and
that part was real. It’s what happened next that I can’t explain.”
Max seemed to be drawing the story out of him using only her endless
“Max, I swear the dog spoke too me.”
She looked startled but not unaccepting.
“He said jahgshe.”
“Jahsghe?” she asked.
“That’s what it sounded like, anyway,” Pascal replied. “I heard it
inside my head.” He felt rather silly telling her this. “The dog said
jahsghe and went away.”
Max didn’t say anything. She just looked at him with her violet
“You think I’m crazy, don’t you?” the pipemaster asked. “You think
it didn’t happen and I’m nuts.”
“No,” Max said, slowly. “I don’t think you’re crazy. In fact, I
“Yes, I do,” she replied and was silent.
Normally, Max was a very easy read. Pascal could take one look at
her and tell exactly what she was thinking. Tonight, he couldn’t. It
was as if she was trying to decide to tell him something he wasn’t
supposed to know; and she wasn’t at all sure if she should break the
The pipes were tearing at him. He knew he’d either have to go back
to them or call Kip in to cover. “Max?”
“What are you thinking?”
She raised one eyebrow and smiled at him. “Jahsghe, “she
said. Soulmate, she coded.
“Is that what it means?”
“That’s what I mean,” Max replied. Her eyes were deep and
very still. Pascal could get lost in those eyes.
“If it makes a difference, I believe the pipes have a soul, as
well,” he told her.
“Speaking of which,” she said. “You need to get back to work.”
The pipemaster didn’t budge. Instead, he leaned in and kissed her.
“Are you all right?” he asked, softly.
“No,” Max said, touching his face. “But I’m better.”
“Hobbit, it only takes one voice.” Her implication was
“I know that,” Pascal replied. He wanted to tell her that he wasn’t
as strong as she was, but he couldn’t bring himself to say it out loud.
Unless pushed, the pipemaster tended to go with the flow –
even when the flow was wrong.
Max put her hand against his chest and gave him a gentle shove. “Go
back to the pipes,” she said, smiling her special smile. “They
“And what about you?” Pascal asked. “Do you want me,
Her eyes sparkled when she said, “Every minute of every day.”
“I’ll see you later,” he called, laughing. “Count on it.”
It took every ounce of his strength and skill to get the line back
on track. It was a wild night.
Before Pascal went to Max, he found Mouse and told him the crazy
story. Strangely, it didn’t sound so crazy the second time around. It
sounded like proof. Just because a belief is ingrained doesn’t make it
right, Pascal thought. Besides, he knew what he knew; and he knew that
dog had a soul.
Max was already in bed when he finally made it back to their
chamber. She’d fallen asleep reading The Origins of Nazi Genocide :
From Euthanasia to the Final Solution. Pascal gently took the book
from her hands and set it on the bedside table.
“Great bedtime story, Maxine Louise,” he said, stroking her cheek
with the back of his hand. “No wonder you have nightmares.”
She stirred and mumbled something about forgetting Burleigh at the
The pipemaster changed into his nightshirt and quietly slipped into
bed. In her sleep, Max moved to him and settled into his arms. He held
her loosely, reveling in her steady breathing against his chest. Pascal
knew he was a very lucky man. He’d had two perfect moments in his
lifetime. This was the second one.
As he drifted into sleep, the pipemaster wondered what the dog had
really meant. Maybe he’d simply shared his happiness in the day and
that was all. Or it was more? Pascal thought it was more. It reminded
him of that old song Narcissa sometimes sang late at night. So many
layers, so many voices.
By the Rivers of Babylon
Where we sat down
And there we wept when we remembered Zion.
As Max pointed out, it only takes one voice. And every word means
something different to every soul who sings it.
Playing in the background is part of the Beautiful Spiritual “By the
rivers of Babylon”. This version is the beginning of the reggae version
by Bonny M.
Rivers of Babylon
Spiritual- Author Unknown
By the rivers of Babylon
Where we sat down
There we wept
When we remembered Zion
Let the wicked carry us away in captivity
Requiring of us a song.
How hall we sing The Lord’s song
In a strange land?
Let the words of our mouths
And the meditation of our heart
Be acceptable in thy sight