Gilgamesh and Enkidu


The raft moves slow upon the river, Gilgamesh at its stern, dressed in the robes of his station; he guides the vessel with a wooden oar. Enkidu, the wild man rests upon the raft, long-haired, broad-shouldered, dressed in the skins of animals. His fingers trail in the water. He observes the flowers on the riverbank. They are pale, deathly. They glow like lamps in the evening light. “This river—” Enkidu says. “It is that,” Gilgamesh replies, “a river.” “Are you going to tell me where we are?” Enkidu asks. “I will,” Gilgamesh says. “Once we are clear of this place.” “Is it a bad place?” Enkidu asks. “Is it like the Forest of Humbaba?” “No,” Gilgamesh says. “It’s only a river.” Enkidu shifts his body. The raft is hard, uncomfortably so. But he is glad to be, once more, with Gilgamesh. “Let’s a play a game of memory then,” Enkidu says. “Do you remember the first dream you had about me?” Gilgamesh pauses his oar. “I suppose I remember it well enough.” “Recite it for me,” Enkidu says. “You already know how it goes,” Gilgamesh replies. “Please,” Enkidu says. Gilgamesh sighs. “There were stars. And stars belonged to me.” “How did you know?” Enkidu asks. “The way one knows such things,” Gilgamesh replies. “I never know anything in my dreams,” Enkidu says. “As I stood looking up at the stars,” Gilgamesh says, “a skybolt fell upon me.” Enkidu smiles at this. “A skybolt, yes, a word for lightning.” “A magnificent thing, flung down,” Gilgamesh says. “The skybolt struck me. It made me feel as if—” Enkidu lifts his large hand from the river. He puts it on Gilgamesh’s bare thigh. Gilgamesh shudders. “Your hand is cold,” he says. “Your leg is warm,” Enkidu replies. Gilgamesh dips his oar in the river once more. “Do you remember the second dream you had about me?” Enkidu asks. “Enkidu—” “Well, do you?” “Yes, I remember all my dreams.” “I doubt that,” Enkidu says. He props himself on his elbow and peers at the riverbank once more. “Those flowers—” he says. “Like funeral flowers. How long was I sleeping, Gilgamesh?” “A long time,” Gilgamesh replies. “Too long.” Enkidu closes his eyes. “I remember—before I fell asleep—you told me—you told me that you loved me.” Gilgamesh nods. “As a man loves his wife,” Gilgamesh says. “I don’t like it when you use those words,” Enkidu says. “I know.” “Then why do you say them?” Gilgamesh is silent, but he too is now smiling. Enkidu splashes water at him. “Where are we? Tell me. Is this the plain of Lebabon?” “It is not.” “This river—” Enkidu says. He pauses then. “Yes,” Gilgamesh replies. “This river.” “I remember your third dream,” Enkidu says. “Heaven cried out,” he says. “Day grew silent and darkness emerged.” “Darkness, yes,” Gilgamesh says. Enkidu grows quiet for a time. “This is not the land of the Scorpion Men, is it, Gilgamesh?” he asks finally. “No, Enkidu, it is not.” “I can still hear the words you spoke before I fell off to sleep,” Enkidu says. “They echo, as if from deep inside a cave. ‘My friend whom I love, whom I love so much, the fate of mortals has conquered you.’” “Don’t—” Gilgamesh says. “This is the last country, isn’t it?” Enkidu says. “I have died and you have come to rescue me, as if from the monster, Humaba, or the fierce Bull of Heaven. You have come to rescue me and bring me back.” “No, Enkidu.” Enkidu raises up on the raft. “No?” “I did come,” Gilgamesh says. “But I’ve learned we cannot leave this country, this last country. There is no way to do so. And so—” “And so?” “We go deeper. Rest my friend. We go deeper.” Enkidu lays his head upon the raft. His eyes are open. His body, stiff and gray. As night falls, the river descends. The walls of a gorge tower above the raft. Gilgamesh continues to steer. Finally, the raft comes to what appears to be a great pale door in the river. There are carvings on the door. Gilgamesh finds he cannot read them. He does not speak. There is no one to speak to. He hopes only that the door will open.  

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