Day 20

Photo by Irice via Flickr

Herr Nachnamen grabbed the oil cloth off of his messy worktable and wiped down the gleaming bronze side of the beast. 253 clocks ticked in perfect unison as he worked, finely tuned by his dexterous fingers.

He rose in the dark and wound each of the clocks as the first flickers of light hit the morning sky. He always finished winding the last clock before his wife awoke. He’d then return to the house from his workshop and start the fire in the kitchen. He would pull the bircher out of the ice box and add the dried apples and nuts, and then set the bowl on a little tray and carry it into Else to eat in bed. He hoped that it was not his imagination that her color was beginning to come back. His wife had not been well; she had begun to cough that summer, after their old dog Madchen had passed.

The commission for the beast had been a godsend. One morning in September, he had been woken by a rapping at his door. He glanced over at Else, who was still snoring softly next to him, and climbed carefully out of the bed, avoiding the floorboards with squeaks to let her sleep in. He threw on his robe and padded out to the door. He looked through the small window in his door and saw a handsome young man that he didn’t recognize looking impatiently at a fob watch. He did recognize the watch though, it was one of his own, the cover made from wood of the Black Forest, an odd choice for a man who clearly came from wealth. He was wearing a brilliant gold, black and red plaid waistcoat that nipped into his trim figure, a tall top hat befitting the fashion of the time, and gripping a long black cane with an ivory head carved in the shape of a wolf.

Nachnamen opened the door a crack, leaving the chain on and peered through the crack. The young man looked up and smiled.

“Herr Nachnamen,” he said, tipping his hat. “I’m so sorry to disturb you this early morning, but I come on urgent business.” Herr Nachnamen eyed him, and then unhooked the chain, stepping out into the chill morning.

“My wife is unwell. I would prefer not to wake her,” he said. “We may speak in my workshop, if you do not object.”

The stranger nodded his head in ascent, and Nachnamen led the way into his studio. He wished that he had taken the time to tidy up the night before, as in the light of day, the workshop was clearly in disarray, with gears and cogs appearing haphazardly throughout the room. Upon entering, the stranger immediately moved towards Nachnamen’s masterpiece, a little clockwork bear, exactly three inches tall, that could balance a ball on its nose while riding a unicycle. The bear was dressed in a delicately sewed harlequin costume that Else had painstakingly stitched together before she had fallen ill.

“Would you like me to wind it for you?” Nachnamen asked the man. He nodded, and Nachnamen pulled his keychain out of his desk drawer, selected the tiny key that wound the bear and fitted it into the hole on the bear’s thigh, and turned it three times.

The bear sprang to life, and Nachnamen set it on the floor of the shop. He and the stranger stepped back, allowing the bear room to pedal about. After the bear was steady, Nachnamen reached out and set the ball on its nose. For a second it teetered, but the bear adjusted, and the ball held, spinning on the bear’s nose.

The stranger pulled off his leather gloves and applauded Nachnamen unabashedly.

“Herr Nachnamen, this is truly a wonder. I had heard tales of your ability, and in truth I am quite fond of my watch which I believe to be your creation, but this is beyond what I could have hoped for. You are the man I have been seeking.” Nachnamen flushed. The stranger continued. “I am hoping to set you a commission, for which I will pay you 500 thaler; half now, and half when you have completed the task.” Nachnamen gasped. That money would allow him to keep Else comfortable for years. The man unscrewed the head of his cane, pulled out a rolled piece of parchment, and proceeded to unfurl it over Nachnamen’s worktable. Nachnamen looked at it, then pulled off his glasses, wiping them on his shirt.

“Is it possible?” asked the stranger, and he seemed to hold his breath.

Nachnamen was silent for a moment. The drawing was of a great clockwork wolf-like beast, a beast that, he could see from the intricate drawings, was meant to be able to run and attack. A beast with metal teeth and snapping jaws.

“How can I promise such a thing, knowing that it is meant for destruction?” Nachnamen asked.

The stranger smiled, his teeth straighter than any Nachnamen had ever seen. “I have heard that you and I may have the same sympathies. I am not a man of action; I am a man of means. And I wish to procure this for men of action.” He held up his cane and Nachnamen observed that on the end, so faint that he could have imagined it, was a five pointed star.  Nachnamen looked again at the drawings laid on the table. “Do we understand each other?” the stranger asked. Nachnamen nodded.

“It can be done,” he said finally. The stranger dropped a bag of thaler on top of the parchment. “I will be back in three months time,” he said, and then left without ever giving his name.

Nachnamen had begun to work immediately, pulling various cogs and wheels loose from other projects and dumping them in a bowl. That day he worked until the small hours of the morning, only pausing to feed his wife and wrap her in another layer of blankets. The next day, he wound his clocks, and went off to fetch a doctor with his new fortune. In town, he purchased two thick wool blankets, and a pair of well knit socks, before stopping in to call on Dr. Becker. The elderly doctor came out to Nachnamen’s home and saw to his wife, leaving behind medicine and hope. As soon as his wife was settled, Nachnamen returned to his workshop and began to work again.

His life quickly became focused on three things: winding his clocks in the morning; caring for Else; and creating a piece of machinery beyond anything he had ever imagined.  The beast was tricky. He had to scrap the original drawing when he found that the mechanics wouldn’t work. Instead, he built the machinery for each minute detail of the creature; one to control each paw, one to control each leg, a gear for the jaw and a gear for the head. And out of sheer whimsy, he added a tail; a tail that twitched and waved as the beast ran.

For run the beast did. The first time Nachnamen set it free in the woods behind his home, he nearly wept with pride at the pure beauty of it. The size of a large wolf, it could run at a full tilt, and the springs were so delicate that it seemed able to sense obstacles and leap out of their way. Its bronze and gold parts gleamed in the winter sun. When wound, it could run as long as a clock, or longer, over twelve hours. And, per the stranger’s specifications, it could attack, rearing up on its hind legs and snapping with its hard silver pointed teeth that had been filed as sharp as knives.

The job was done three days before the stranger was set to return. Else, who had been recovering slowly, had begun to grow curious about his work. At the end of the project, she began asking him every day if she could see what had so consumed his time. She was still frail, but Nachnamen thought that perhaps he might be able to show her, he was too proud of his work not to ask her to share in his delight.

On the day before the stranger was to arrive, he set a chair behind their house, wrapped Else in a set of blankets, and carried her outdoors. She had rarely seen the sun since the beginning of her convalescence and it took time before she could adjust. She nestled into her blankets and held out her hand. Nachnamen took it into his own.

“Was it always this beautiful here?” she asked, looking at the sunlight streaming through the edge of the woods. Nachnamen smiled down at her.

“It is more beautiful with you here,” he said, and then blushed, but Else simply smiled up at him.

Nachnamen went into his workshop and pulled out the set of three keys that were needed to wind the beast. The beast itself was laying on the floor, much like a dog in slumber. Nachnamen set to work, and soon the beast was ready. He opened the door, and it flew out into the garden, and he heard Else give a yelp of delight as it careened around the grass. He came out and stood behind her, his arms crossed as they both watched the creature run away from them.

“Will it come back?” Else asked, reaching up for Nachnamen’s hand again.

“It will,” he said. She sighed happily.

The creature turned and raced back towards them. Nachnamen watched it approach, and as it gained speed, it occurred to him that the creature might not differentiate an enemy from a friend. Perhaps he should not have brought Else out here. The beast did not slow. Nachnamen gasped and reached towards Else to pull her out of harm’s way, when suddenly the beast drew up short, skidding to a stop in front of Else. Nachnamen let out a breath of relief. The beast cocked its head to one side, and then, just like their dog Madchen had once done, laid its great head on Else’s lap.  Else squealed in delight, and petted it on the head, and the creature wagged its tail. Nachnamen stared at it in disbelief; the creature had never been designed to act in such a manner. He could not account for it.

“He’s wonderful,” Else breathed, and Nachnamen thought he had not seen his wife look so well for a very long time. He looked at the beast, and the great bronze creature nearly seemed to smile in response. The beast slept on the foot of their bed that night, and Nachnamen was almost certain that he could hear it snoring.

The next morning, when the stranger arrived, Else sat in their room and quietly wept as Nachnamen made the exchange. The stranger left him with another bag of money, but somehow he could not bring himself to touch it. And the next morning, for the first time in years, he could not bring himself to rise and wind his clocks. Instead, when dawn broke, he pulled Else to him and held her tightly, matching his breath to hers.

The stranger returned two weeks later, arriving as unceremoniously as he had the first time. However, he brought the creature with him. When Nachnamen answered the door, he noticed that the man looked a bit disheveled, and seemed in an ill temper.

“Your machine does not work Herr Nachnamen.” The stranger said, when Nachnamen allowed him to enter. He noted the bag of money still sitting on the table where he had left it. “I see you might have anticipated that.”

Nachnamen shrugged. “A machine’s disposition is of its own making. I can only do so much,” he said humbly. The stranger grunted.

“The thing wants to play fetch,” he said distastefully. “I had hoped that it might inspire fear, but instead, my men have begun to call him Rolf, and scratch him behind the ears.”

Else appeared in the bedroom doorway and caught her breath when she saw who had come. The creature immediately moved and went to sit at her feet. Else placed her delicate hand on its huge head. The stranger marked the movement.

“I see where we stand then,” he said. “I will have to ask for the second payment back.” Nachnamen nodded, too overjoyed to speak. He exchanged a glance with Else who gestured for him to return the stranger’s money. The stranger grabbed the bag of thaler and left, and they saw him no more.

A year later, Nachnamen received a letter from his brother in Berlin that said the revolution had been lost. He folded the letter back up and placed it in his pocket, and turned instead to watch Else, who was chasing Rolf happily through the garden.

 

Day 19

I smack the barrel with the palm of my hand, sending a loud boom through the dark forest. A great flock of starlings rise up and lift away, flying over our heads. No one else will hear. We are alone here. One by one, my friends take up position by the exposed pipes and the doorframes of the abandoned factory, and begin to set a beat. I smack the barrel again, and then settle into a softer rhythm. Boom, ba doom da, boom, ba doom da… The clinks and chimes of other sounds join with me, raising the noise like smoke into the night sky.

Erik, my Erik, throws a heap of kindling on top of the dry logs already set up in the center of the concrete tarmac and pulls out his Zippo. He holds the lighter aloft to the sky, a single flame fighting the black night, and a great cheer goes up from the group. “Fire!” they scream enthusiastically. In the factory, we quiet our beats, waiting in anticipation. Erik, beautiful even in the dark, swoops down, as if in a bow, and touches the blue white flame to the edge of the kindling. The flame catches immediately, and Erik leaps back, howling in joy. He runs across the circle and grabs Zu Zu’s wrist and pulls her along after him in a twisted dance, where they run around the fire, whooping and hollering. They are striking together, their faces aglow with ecstasy, and for a moment I’m eaten alive with jealousy. My beat falters and I have to correct it.

The rest of the group joins in, screaming with abandon at the night sky. Ray and Button, the best dancers of the group, quickly take over the pace and the rest fell in line behind them, circling the fire. They reach towards the sky, trying to take in everything. My crew and I, watching them from the wall-less frame of the factory, respond with a burst of sound, pounding away on our chosen instruments. I am breathless and so alive. My palms begin to tingle, but it doesn’t matter.

They dance and we play through the night, throwing more and more fuel on the fire, until it is raging at six feet high. Erik and the rest are lit up against the wall of forest that surrounds us. The graffiti on the walls of the nearby building seems to move in the shadow and light of the fire, dancing along with them. When it begins to grow light, they start to fall off, first one by one, then in groups. I hate this part, when I know that it might be months before I see any of them again. In the end, it is just Erik dancing and me playing, the two of us greeting the dawn with our last bursts of energy. It is Erik who stops first, pulling up short and walking over to find the shirt that he had torn off in the middle of the dance. He picks it up off the tarmac and gives it a shake, removing the bits of broken glass and grass that cling to it, while I give one last mournful bang to my drum.

We look at each other, both exhausted and glowing with sweat. At rest now, I can finally feel my hands again. My palms are burning and bloody, but I don’t care. Erik looks me up and down like he could eat me up, and then walks over to me, his chest still heaving, and pulls me to him. I lean into him, my heart still beating to the time I had kept, boom, ba doom da, and kiss him hard on the mouth, trying to fill all of the months that we won’t have together. The kiss is still too short; we are both panting.

“See you next time,” Erik says, pulling away. I nod, not trusting myself to speak, and grab my coat out of the hole in the wall where I’d stashed it. He turns me around and kisses me again and then takes off running across the empty tarmac towards the forest edge as soon as he lets go.

I watch him run away from me, and then, purposefully choose the other direction, and begin to run as well.

Day 18

“Good fishing today?” a tall man in a Boston College sweatshirt who was loaded down with gear called out to Cormick. Cormick looked up at him, squinting against the sun. The man was probably about 30, burly, and badly sunburned.

Cormick had been planted on the shore with his rod since five that morning. He stared out grimly at the gray churning surf before replying, “Not a thing.”

Photo by Simo Ortamo via Creative Commons

The stranger nodded. “Overfished around these parts I’m sure.” He moved a few yards down and set up a pink folding chair. Cormick eyed it with distaste. Cormick watched as the man opened his cooler and pulled out a baggy with something gray and solid looking in it. He set his rod in the sand; a nice piece, Cormick thought; broke off a bit of the gray thing as bait, and then cast off. He pulled a book out of his backpack and settled in to wait.

Cormick looked at his own rod. It was probably time to reel in again and refresh the bait. Or call it quits for the day, it was about eleven but the morning hadn’t warmed up at all. It they’re not biting they’re not biting, his dad used to say. It was hard to go home these days though. The house felt empty without Lydia, his wife of 46 years. Cormick stood to grab his rod and noticed that the line on the other man’s reel was bobbing.

“Fish on,” Cormick called out.

The stranger lowered his book and looked at his line. He stood up and grabbed the rod in one fluid motion, and then in practiced motions reeled in a beautiful silver striper. The fish flopped along through the shallow water until the stranger deftly scooped him up and finished him off. He pulled a piece of brown paper out of his bag, wrapped the fish up and tossed him in the cooler.

Cormick watched all this in shock. He prided himself on being a pretty fantastic fisherman, and he hadn’t hooked anything all day.

“Pretty good luck there,” he said, trying not to sound surly.

The stranger looked up. “You’re probably right. Good eating, these stripers.”

Cormick nodded begrudgingly. “My wife used to do the best fish fry in the state. Won awards and everything.”

The stranger began to set up again, breaking off another hunk of the gray stuff for bait. “How’d she do it?” he asked.

Cormick shrugged. “She used to spice the crust. Paprika, little chili powder, sometimes even cinnamon. She just had the touch, you know? And her cornbread… let me tell you, if I could have her cornbread one more time, I could die a happy man.”

The stranger cast off again and then looked at him, “I’m sorry to hear that, man.”

“Hear what,” Cormick said. He’d finally managed to reel in his own hook, and sure enough his piece of bait had been nibbled clean off.

“You said if you could have her cornbread again, I’m sorry you can’t,” the man said, settling back into his chair.

“She went a year ago,” Cormick said. He’d warmed to the stranger by now. He considered offering him some of the suntan lotion Lydia had always insisted he use. “In her sleep, all of a sudden.”

The stranger nodded, staring out at the ocean.

Cormick continued. “I thought that was the worst day of my life, truth be told. But it wasn’t. It was three days after her funeral. I went fishing, to clear my head I guess, and when I brought home my catch she wasn’t there to take it. And I think that’s when it really hit me that she was gone.” He stopped talking and sat there quietly for a minute. “You married?” He asked finally.

The man nodded. “Three years,” he said. His line started to bob again, and he stood up, grabbing his rod.

“What are you using for bait, son?” Cormick asked, curiosity getting the better of him.

The man started to laugh. “Honestly? She’d kill me if she knew. It’s my wife’s pot roast.”

Cormick began to laugh as well. The stranger continued. “It’s the worst damn thing in the world but the fish go for it like bees to honey.” He reeled in another striper, this one bigger than the last. He unhooked it and wrapped it up just like the other. “She does a pretty good fish fry though, probably nowhere near your wife’s, and she does a great fish chowder. But her pot roast man, I don’t know what it is, but it’s like she salts a boot and then makes it even more bootlike. I try to keep us stocked up on fish so she’ll cook that instead.”

“Well, I’m glad to see you’ll be eating well tonight at least.” Cormick said, gesturing at the fish. The man nodded mournfully, and added, “I had to slip out to McDonald’s last night, just to fill up. She thinks I took the leftovers today for lunch. Anyway, I should be getting back, I’m probably sunburned enough as it is.” He began to pack up his gear. Cormick, to his surprise, felt a little disappointed that the man was leaving so soon.

“Have a good day then son,” Cormick said, as the man walked past him. The man paused, then pulled out the little baggy of leftover pot roast and dropped it in Cormick’s lap. “Take it, I hope you have some luck with it too.” He smiled and began walking again.

“Thank you,” Cormick said. He began to pull in his reel to bait the hook when the man turned around again.

“My name’s John,” he said. “We live in the smallish blue house with the purple windows on Ocean Drive? The one across from Clancy’s. Have dinner with us tonight. 7:00. I hope we’ll see you.” He turned and strode off headed back to the parking lot.

Cormick cast off his line and settled back in his chair. I just might, he thought. I just might.

 

 

Day 17

Freya showed up on her aunt’s front steps one evening out of the blue, as orphans are want to do. She carried with her a large backpack containing two changes of clothing, and her mother’s diary.

Moira was not surprised to see her young niece; her arrival had only been a matter of time. She opened the door to Freya, who walked in wordlessly. She wore jeans that were torn at the knees and a ragged brown thin hoody sweatshirt that had been her father’s, a textbook runaway ensemble. She looked rather the worse for wear. The hoody had not been warm enough to combat the chill fall ocean air, but Freya had refused to submit to the cold. She had taken a train, two buses, and a cab ride with a very reluctant taxi driver to arrive, and was exhausted.

Freya walked past her aunt into the kitchen and began to rifle through the refrigerator, looking for something to eat. Moira leaned against the doorway, her arms crossed.

“Where were you staying?” she asked.

Freya grabbed a carton of orange juice and took giant gulps from it. Moira walked to one of the cabinets and pulled out a glass, and handed it to Freya.

“They had me in a foster home. It was stupid. I’d rather be here.” Her foster father’s eyes had lingered on her too hungrily, and his wife had not taken long to notice.

“Do you plan to stay this time?” Moira asked, dropping into one of the chairs at her tiny kitchen table.

“Are you going to make me go to school?” Freya asked. She hopped up on the kitchen counter and grabbed a bag of pita chips which had been sitting on it. She began to eat them by the fistful.

“Do you even need to ask?” Moira said.

“Thought I’d give it a try,” said Freya with a smirk. “I guess it won’t be that bad. I was only there a day last time.”

“Yes, and that went so well,” said Moira, grimacing. “This time you could try calling a little less attention to yourself.” Freya shoved another handful of chips into her mouth and appeared to mull this over.

“I’ll try,” she finally said, swinging down off of the counter. She picked up her backpack and sat across from Moira. She rifled through the bag, pulling out another pair of jeans and a t-shirt and dropping them on the floor. Moira kicked the clothes back at her. Finally, Freya pulled out her mother’s diary and placed it carefully on the table between them. Moira picked it up and began to thumb through the pages.

“I don’t think Mom was crazy,” Freya said. “She had some issues, sure, but I don’t believe that she was crazy.” Moira placed the book back on the table.

“Okay,” she said. Freya stared at her, but her face was unreadable.

“Look, I knew my mom, okay? She wasn’t crazy. Something was really happening to her.” She pushed her chair back from the table roughly and stood up. Her cheeks had reddened and her fists were clenched. Moira could see that she had chewed her nails down to the quick.

Moira spoke cautiously. “So your mother’s diary, she sounds normal in it?” She flipped open to the first page, dated back over two years before. “Freya, she started this when her episodes began.” The scrawled writing on the page looked completely incoherent, full of strange symbols and scribbled half drawings. Any writing was illegible.

“Let’s talk about this in the morning, Freya. I’ll need to call Josefina.” Freya scoffed. “Moira, I’m from Boston, the social workers there can’t wait to unload people, especially kids like me. They won’t even care that I’m gone.”

“Either way, it’s the right thing to do.” Freya grimaced. Moira stood up and began to put away all of the food that Freya had displaced.

“I know you miss her,” Moira said, her back to Freya. “I do too.” She swung the refrigerator door shut. “We will talk about this tomorrow, after school.”

“You don’t really expect me to go to school already, do you? Shouldn’t I be getting used to my new surroundings? Settling in? I am very fragile and emotionally unstable right now,” she intoned, clearly parroting something she had heard from one of the social workers. “Besides, don’t they need my paperwork? Gotcha there, didn’t bring it with me.” She shrugged and smiled smugly.

“Freya, I’ve had you on file with the school since the last time you showed up.”

Freya frowned. “Well, isn’t it nice to be predictable.” She shoved her clothes back into her backpack.

“The bed’s made in the guest room,” Moira said, trying to suppress a smile. Freya left the room glowering. “An extra towel is hanging on the bathroom door for you,” Moira called after her.

After the girl left, Moira stood in the kitchen for a long time, contemplating what to do next. Finally she decided to go to her room. She was about to turn off the kitchen light when her gaze fell once again on the diary on the table. She hesitated, then grabbed it, tucking it under her arm and heading to her bedroom.  She already knew what she was going to find in the book, but she did not know what to tell Freya just yet. She had known Freya’s mother Caitlyn since the day she was born. She had been there to hold Caitlyn’s mother’s hand and stroke her hair and she brought the mewling babe into the world. Although, with Moira’s pure black hair and unlined cinnamon colored skin, it hardly seemed possible that she had been an adult at Caitlyn’s birth.

The moon shone down through her bedroom window so brightly that she had to shield her eyes when she walked in, as if it was there to remind her to keep her promise. She drew the curtains, blocking it out and leaving the room dark. She climbed into bed, shoving her fat cat Rummy out of the way. Rummy gave her a defiant look, then settled back into her spot, curling up as close to Moira’s side as she could. A cool breeze blew through the window, ruffling the curtains. She always left it open a crack so that she could hear the waves crashing on the nearby beach. “I guess I’ve had a nice quiet life for long enough,” Moira said to Rummy, who twitched her tail in response. She placed the book in her lap and ran her fingers along the cover. Caitlyn had been an excellent woman, she had gone too soon. She opened the book and began to read the strange set of symbols that Caitlyn had painstakingly inscribed. Her sharp eyes could make out every word, even in the dark. She read until she got to a detailed sketch of a great black beast, like a wolf the size of a bear. “And so it comes again,” she whispered.

Freya had curled up on the top of the bed in her clothes. She had rarely slept over the past year, as she had bounced around from place to place. And she had been able to sleep, she found herself haunted by dreams of her parents: her charming charismatic father and her quietly luminescent mother. She missed them both so fiercely that it made her throat sore. Moira was a hard-ass, but at least she was a known factor. She was sick of bouncing around while some stranger decided what was best for her. She regretted leaving Moira’s the first time, right after her parents had died. Back then she’d been so stricken with grief that she’d lashed out at everything. She’d arrived in July, and by the time school had started she was a wreck. Her first day, she’d gotten into a screaming match with a teacher, and that had been that. She’d taken off that night, winding up living on the streets of Boston for a few weeks before she was picked up and assigned to a case-worker. It didn’t matter anyway, it would only be one more year before she could be out on her own without anyone intervening. She rolled over on the bed and tucked her arm under the pillow bringing it closer to her head. Outside, the moon shone over the house, bathing it in a blue glow.

And so they both passed their first night together in Moira’s little house. And when they finally slept, they dreamed. Freya dreamt that she was floating. She was being gently rocked back and forth as if she was on a boat. She opened her eyes, expecting to find warm bright sunshine and found instead that she had sunk deep in a pool of brackish gray green water. Panicked, she began to claw her way to the surface, which never seemed to come.

Moira dreamt that her hair had grown so long that she could not stand under the weight of it and her fingernails so long that she could not close her hands. She could feel maggots crawling in and out of her skull. She tried to scream, but her voice flew up and was lost in the sounds of an endless storm. She awoke in the middle of the night to find the light from the moon streaming through her bedroom window, the curtains had blown back again. Her heart felt tight, and she had to sit up, arching her back and shaking her hands. She placed her hand against her heart, trying to calm it. It was beating like a small bird in flight. Her breathing was ragged.  She sat that way for nearly an hour, squeezing her fists open and closed, breathing shallowly, pushing the adrenaline out of her body. Finally, she was able to lie back down and close her eyes, eventually falling back into a dreamless sleep. Sometime after she had fallen back asleep, a large dark shape passed between the moon and the window, blocking out the light. It stayed there watching over her for hours before disappearing again just as the sun began to rise.

Half the world away, a slumbering beast stirred, shaking the ground that surrounded him. Something was calling for him to awaken.

Day 16

Photo by gelinh via Creative Commons

My daughter is unhappy with me. She feels it is improper to ask to have my funeral before I’m gone. But I’ve watched a lot of my friends kick the bucket, and I’ll tell you what. I want to hear all the nice things people have to say about me before I go.

I’m 86. My dearly departed husband left this earth when he was 72, 20 years ago. And I’m thankful everyday that I told him exactly the same thing that I said in his eulogy. Every night, before we went to sleep, I said, Earl, you’re the best damned thing to ever happen to me, and you better know it. And he’d say, Bethy, don’t I just. I think you’re the bees knees. And then I’d fall asleep in the crook of his arm, just like we were still two teenagers realizing how wonderful it is to spoon.

We were blessed with my daughter Effy late in life. We’d tried every which way to have kids, and it just hadn’t worked, so when I dried up, I thought I was going through the change. And then I thought I was getting fat. And then Earl said, boy Bethy, I don’t want to upset you, but something seems to be going on with your body. Your boobs are three times the size they used to be.

So I took myself down to the doctor in Constance, the great brown Chevy pick up truck we had at the time, and sure enough he tells me, Bethany Dillon, you are with child. And was Earl ever surprised. Lord love him, that man went out that night and bought me a jar of pickles the size of which I’d never seen before or since. He built a crib out in the garage, the prettiest little crib I ever have seen. And when Effy was born, all howly and wrinkled, he tenderly tied a pink bonnet on her head and rocked her to sleep in that crib. I still have that thing somewhere up in the attic. I’m ready to throw it all out though; people buy their cribs these days. With safety stickers and white plastic bits. Nothing’s solid anymore.

Effy’s children, all six of them, are nearly proper grown anyway. Teddy, Tommy, Jane, Susan, Lil, and Bastian. I don’t know where the name Bastian came from, she had a nice string of normal names. That one took us all by surprise. But sure if I don’t dote on that boy. He’s 14 now, and the spitting image of Earl that was. Breaks my heart that Earl never got to meet him. Teddy just got married. He found a nice Jewish girl, Rachel. He thought I might mind on that, but I told him, honey, I don’t ever hate about love, and neither does God. I promise you that. Sure if my grandkids come home with nice people, I don’t care who they are or what they look like. I’m pretty liberal, I think. I like that Obama character.

So anyway, like I was saying, Effy thinks wanting to have my funeral service is morbid but I don’t care. She said she’d have a birthday party for my 87th instead, but I’ll tell you what, the flowers you get at a funeral top out birthday flowers every time. And no one gives speeches about you when it’s your birthday. You do get cake though, which is nice. Maybe I’ll ask for cake anyway. I like a good vanilla cake with a custard in the middle. Something soft. My teeth aren’t so good these days.

I’m grateful Effy puts up with me, I truly am. She’s humoring me in this one, despite her misgivings, and I’m prepared for a pretty great event, if I do say so. We’ve invited all of my neighbors; my brother John who’s still with us and thinks it’s a hoot; all my nieces and nephews; and all of the girls I served with in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps who are still with us today. I loved those women like sisters. Those of us that are still kicking around send each other Christmas cards every year. They were a great comfort when my Earl went. And then of course there’s my best friend May-belle, who said it was the best party she’d ever heard of and she was glad she wouldn’t have to cry at my funeral. The two of us are thick as thieves, they say.  I want to go first, because there’s no way I’d make it through a service for her with any of my dignity intact and boy wouldn’t she be laughing at my blubbering from heaven.

I’ve carefully chosen the songs. People usually have hymns, but at my funeral they’re going to sing We’re A Couple of Swells from Easter Parade, because Earl and I must have seen that movie 1,000 times. He loved that Judy Garland. Thought I looked just like her.  And then they’re going to sing Pete Seeger’s Turn Turn Turn, which I think is one of the most beautiful songs that ever existed. I remember hearing it for the first time on an LP that Earl brought home, and just crying like it was written special for me.

See, here’s what no one else knows. I found out two months ago that I’ve got cancer in my stomach. One hell of a way to go if you ask me. So if I’ve got to go, I’m going out with style. I’m not gonna be robbed of my dignity. And so at my funeral, everyone’s gonna remember the me I was before I get burned up by this and lose my hair and my tastebuds. And I’m gonna damn well hear the nice things they planned to say about me after I was gone anyway. I’m gonna sit in a big old fancy chair surrounded by a whole heaping pile of the prettiest flowers you can get, and I’m gonna sing along to all the songs.

And when everyone’s had their say, I’m gonna get up and say two things. First I’m going to tell everyone in that room how much I love them and how much they meant to me. And then I’m going to tell them to go home and make sure they tell the people they love how much they love them. Every damn day. For the rest of their lives.

Because I know that when I go, and the doctor promised me it would be real soon, Earl will be up there waiting for me, and I’ll lay down next to him in the crook of his arm just like old times. And I’ll say, Earl, you’re the best damned thing to ever happen to me, and you better know it. Because at the end of my time on this earth, don’t I know that’s the truth.

And he’ll say, Bethy, don’t I just. I think you’re the bees knees.

Day 15

Photo by nadja.robot via Creative Commons

Bert Crenshaw was the type of man one hardly noticed. He was as non-descript as they come. He had shaggy brown hair, but not shaggy enough to comment on. His eyes were a mud color, bland and dull. He had a job he didn’t mind in the IT department of Poles and Murphy; he got a small sense of satisfaction out of reading over his resolved issues list. He liked football, but didn’t play. He enjoyed the first days of spring just like everyone else. He read, but only the books you see everyone read. In short, Bert Crenshaw was a man who had never had anything spectacular happen to him. He was not the type of man to ask questions.

So when a strange package appeared on his doorstep one Saturday morning, he chose to ignore it at first. Every Saturday morning, he poured himself a large bowl of cereal and sat in his boxers watching cartoons until he couldn’t stand it anymore. Then he would masturbate, take out the garbage, still in his boxers, and pick up the rare mail that he received. On this particular Saturday, he opened his front door to find that he had received several items. He scooped up his mail; a menu from the Indian takeaway down the street, two bills, and an envelope from his mother, sure to contain an article that she had carefully clipped out about a place that he would never go. He barely noticed the box at first. It caught his eye as he stood back up, sitting large and lumpy to the left of his door. He studied it for a second. One corner was banged in, and there were stickers all over it, as if it had been forwarded many times.

He picked up the box and went back inside, closing the door gently behind him. He didn’t want to wake up Evelyn, his downstairs neighbor. She played in a band on Friday nights and stayed out very late. He rarely saw her. He only heard her moving around her apartment in the few hours when they were home at the same time. Sometimes he could hear her singing. She had a rich mellow voice, like warm summer sunshine or the feeling you get when you drink hot cocoa on a cold day. Of course, Bert would not have described it this way. He just thought she had a nice voice, when he could hear it.

The box was neither light nor heavy. It felt solid in his hands. He didn’t recognize any of the names on the stickers. Most of them just said “Forward To” and his name, scrawled in various sets of illegible handwriting. He went back into his apartment, tossed the letter from his mother in the trash and left the rest on the table. He placed the package on the table as well, next to the three empty coffee cups of varying shapes and sizes that were already sitting there, scummy rings of film building in their bases.

He sat back in front of the television and idly ran through the listings. There was a marathon of Law and Order on, so he switched to that. It wasn’t until he was three hours into the marathon that it occurred to him to wonder who might have sent the package. And not only who might have sent it, but why it had such a difficult time getting to him.

He had only lived in two places. 42 Sullivan Drive, the house where he was born and raised. He even lived at home through college to save money. Although, his mother would have kept him home longer if the commute to Poles and Murphy hadn’t been so far. And then there was his apartment now. A good solid apartment. One bedroom, a smallish living room and separate kitchen. No dining room, which was fine with Bert, as he didn’t “dine” per se. There were no dinner parties for Bert.

He had not even travelled. Moreover, he didn’t think he knew anyone who had. No one would who would have sent him a package along such a circuitous, convoluted route. Certainly no one would have sent him something if they didn’t’ know where he lived.

He heard Evelyn moving around downstairs. First the high-pitched sound of a kettle boiling, and then the ding of a microwave. He wondered what she ate. She was a tiny thing, built like a little hummingbird and constantly in motion when he saw her. Her lips were always painted a striking red, a color that stood out against her brown skin. It was hard to imagine that such a big voice came out of such a small, flighty looking girl.

At hour five of Law and Order, he finally got the itch to open the box. He stood up and shuffled over to the kitchen counter and pulled a knife out of the drawer. Carefully, he cut the thick tape off of the box. It was wrapped every which way, as if someone had used an entire roll of tape to go around the whole box. Finally, he managed to get the lid open. He flipped open the box, to find a green packing peanuts. As he leaned over the box, he was suddenly hit with the smell of vanilla, suntan lotion and the ocean on a summer’s day. The smell made him close his eyes. He remembered being a little boy on Rye Beach with his mother and father, begging his father to buy him an ice cream cone. Finally, his dad had given in, walking him over to the ice cream truck and letting him pick out whatever he wanted. He had chosen a plain vanilla cone with a stripe of chocolate on top. He remembered the first cool bite on that hot summer day. The smell in the box was that memory.

He shifted the packaging around, and the smell shifted to coffee grounds and chalk and sweat. He was suddenly hit with another memory. He was 19 and was asking Jane Conway from his Stats class out on for coffee, having finally worked through the bundle of nerves sitting in the pit of his stomach. The classroom was empty save for a janitor cleaning the board. Looking up at him shyly, she had said yes, but he was too tongue tied on the date for anything to happen, and he hadn’t had the courage to ask again.

These memories were painful for Bert, who was, as far as he believed, quite content with his unmemorable life. He almost stopped digging, but then realized he had to know.

His hand closed over what felt like the edge of a book, and he tugged, pulling out a dark blue leather bound scrapbooking album. For a second, he was disappointed. Who would bother to send him a scrapbook? And why?

He walked back over to the couch and sat down again, placing the album in his lap, still closed. He heard the double clinks that meant the hot water was turning on, and a few moments later, Evelyn’s voice rose up through the floorboards and filled his apartment. He looked down at the book. The words “your life” were embossed in tiny gold lowercase letters across the front. He opened it.

Only a few of the pages had pictures pasted into them, and there were no other embellishments. There was a picture of Bert on the beach with his mother and father, holding an ice cream cone. There was a picture of him riding his bike for the first time with his father proudly watching from the driveway. There was one of him from a camping trip two of his high school buddies had talked him into, when he had woken up too early and caught the sunrise. There he was asking Jane Conway out. And winning at trivia night for the first and only time. And then there was one of him hearing Evelyn sing. He could tell that’s what the picture was, because it was him alone in his apartment, only the look on his face was something he’d never seen in the mirror. It was his face transcendent; at peace.

There was no note with the book. Nothing else. Just six pictures of the only moments in his life when he had felt truly alive, like his existence on this planet had meaning. The six moments where he was happy.

He closed the book and brought it back over to the box. The box was ready, and a new name was suddenly inscribed on all of the labels that were stuck all over it. Without thinking, he jammed the book back into the box, and, grabbing a roll of tape, rewrapped it.

He brought the package back downstairs and left it for the postman. Then he went to knock on Evelyn’s door to ask her out for dinner.

Not a short story

For Valentine’s Day, my husband suggested that we do an art project together. We’d been wanting to do a shadow box together for awhile, and we’d bought materials for ten dollars at Michael’s. We were inspired by this guy: http://www.morphicism.com/SearchResults.asp?Cat=47 who actually sells kits to create art like his.

First, we started with a plain shadow box. We made two straight grooves in the bottom and two matching straight grooves in the top. It’s important that the grooves line up. Then we spray painted the box black.

Then, we used an exacto knife to slice sheets of hard plastic into little strips.  Then, we painted the strips. We used my husband’s Warhammer paints. Of course.

Once everything was dry, we put it all together!

The pieces are movable, and we have two extras so we can pop them in and out to change up the look.

Hooray Valentine’s Day!

Day 14

Caitlyn Jacobson was not used to being alive. She woke up and opened her eyes into utter darkness. Her eyes were dry and sandy from disuse. It was painful to keep them open for too long. Experimentally, she tried to move her head. Failing that, she tried to moan, but had no breath to expel from her body. She opened her mouth slowly, her jaw twanging in protest, and took a deep breath before coughing most of it back out. She could feel her blood, thick and sluggish, begin to make its relentless slow march back towards her heart, which pounded, and then stopped, then stuttered to a start again. It was painful each time, as if she was dying, over and over again. But she was alive, as she had been promised.

It had taken Caitlyn nearly a day to dig her way out of her grave. In her will, she had requested to be buried without a casket, a natural burial, but clearly that direction had not been followed, among others. When she finished climbing out, she had had to rest for the whole night. Her hands were scraped and bruised. She had torn one nail off completely. The rest of her nails were too long and brittle, hardened into dark yellow gnarled points; they felt disgusting. She could ill afford the time it would take for her to heal again right now.

Caitlyn needed to find something to wear, and a way to cover her hair. Her hair, though caked in dirt, was white as diamonds, and would make her noticeable, and she did not want to be noticeable. For now, she pulled it back into a rough braid, yanking out great clumps of hair when the knots wouldn’t cooperate. She took stock of the ugly black dress Edgar had selected for her to be buried in. She had always hated the dress. It was wool, and had always been itchy against her skin. Especially now when her skin was still reclaiming its life, it felt tortuous as it rubbed against her.

He had put her in sensible shoes to be buried. She was sure that he had chosen them meticulously, that he had probably picked them out months before she had died. She could picture him standing in the sterile little closet that they shared in their Cambridge apartment, selecting the least offensive thing to dress her in. Whatever would make her seem less insane when people paid their final respects. What an odd final gift, to be given shoes on your way to meet death. But for now at least they protected her from the hard gravelly ground of the city cemetery. The wind rustled through the ancient trees lining the cemetery borders, and Caitlyn could tell that there was a chill to the air, but she could not feel it. She was still disoriented, but was glad that night was falling as it would be easier for her to make her way in the dark.

After a few false starts, Caitlyn was able to operate her legs in a coordinated fashion, and with a little practice, she was able to run. As soon as she was able to, she took off at a speed that sent ice down her spine and joy through her heart.

Caitlyn raced through the strips of woods lining the highway. She feared burning away all of her new found energy, but running at such a pace was too exhilarating to hold back. She was keeping pace with the cars on the interstate. She worried that someone might see her if she drew too close to the road. A woman running in pumps and a cocktail dress, her white hair flying behind her like a sheet in the wind. Her pale skin reflecting the light of the sun like a prism. She stopped only once, at a dirty rusty gas station in New Hampshire. She saw an ancient telephone swinging on a cord as she passed, and doubled back, trying to keep out of state of anyone who might spot her. She called Moira, waiting impatiently as the phone rang and rang. “I’ll kill you if you hurt her,” she murmured to the answering machine.

She found that if she ran fast enough, she could easily clear the few waterways that she had to cross. The intersections were a bit more convoluted. She could only run at sixty miles per hour, she wasn’t invisible. Hopefully anyone who did see her would think they were hallucinating.

Her daughter was in danger, and nothing, not even death, could hold her back.

Day 13

Photo by Ken_from_MD via Creative Commons

A little boy in red and gray striped pajamas stood in front of the lion cage, his face pressed up against the glass fence that surrounded the moat. Little puffs of condensation created circles around his mouth. On his head perched a navy blue skull cap; bits of fluffy blonde hair stuck out every which way underneath it. On his feet was a pair of furry green slippers that looked like they were two sizes too big for him. The lion was in his den, but the lioness was at the edge of the moat, watching the boy’s every move, her breath steaming in the cold morning air. I wondered where the boy’s coat was.

“Hey there,” I called. “You, boy, come here.” The boy turned to look at me, his mouth a giant “O” of surprise, and then he took off, running to the right around the lion enclosure and back up towards the elephants.

“Dammit,” I swore, hobbling after him. My trick knee was giving out on me again. I should have soaked it for another hour last night, but the game was on and I didn’t want to miss it because I was laying in the bathtub like some chick.

I rounded the corner, and saw the boy disappear up the path through the elephant enclosure. Luckily the thing was closed for renovations so the kid wouldn’t be trampled to death.

Idiot kids don’t know what it’s like to be up against something that could really kill them. You think a lion’s the shit? Try facing it alone with no fence on the Serengeti. Not so great when he’s ripping your guts out. You want to really show off, try staring down the barrel of a loaded AKM while some guy screams his head off. Without a moat.

I unclipped my walky from my belt and spoke into it. “Some kid got into the zoo. Headed through the elephants, he’s gonna hit the otters next. Gotta catch him ‘fore he gets hurt.”

A crackle of static came over the walky, and Dwayne’s sleepy voice crackled over the airwaves. “Hurt by the otters?” Dwayne was not the brightest bulb.

“The bear exhibit’s after the otters, Dwayne,” I emphasized the Y in his name. “Bears’ll tear him to pieces.”

“Everything’s a calamity with you Carl,” Dwayne drawled, unaffected. “Oh no, the Dip n’ Dots are melting…Oh no, the monkeys threw shit over the fence again…Oh no, the bears are gonna eat a kid.”

“It happened in San Francisco,” I said, sulking. “Sides, you couldn’t care less if someone came in here and shot all the animals.”

“No one’s going to shoot the animals, Carl,” Dwayne said. “’Sides, I’m packing, so it would be over real quick,” he bragged.

“You ever shot a gun, Dwayne,” I asked. I already knew the answer.

“You know I have,” he said grumpily.

“Shootin’ ranges don’t count,” I protested.

“Eh, what you know. Don’t you have something to clean up?” He chuckled, then cut out again.

I grimaced. “That was low, even for you Dwayne.”

“Well, hero, while you’re yacking with me that boy’s probably getting eaten by the otters.” Dwayne said. “I’ll see if I can pick the kid up on the cameras. When John gets in I’ll send him out to do a once over in the cart.”

I clipped the walky back to my belt and kept looking for the boy. If he’d crossed the elephant enclosure, then he was probably walking up the incline past the red pandas and the rest of the Ursidae exhibit. I circled back around the other side of the path stealthily, hoping to catch him coming round. I caught a flash of blue up ahead of me, and throwing my all into it I sprinted up and caught the kid by the collar of his pajamas.

“Lemme go!” He shrieked, wriggling like a fish on a line. He glared up at me, his little pug nose wrinkled in anger. Up close he was about the age of my son Teague. I wondered how big Teague was these days. It was hard to tell from the pictures that Marybeth sent.

“What are you doing in here?” I asked, holding on to his collar for dear life. “Where are your parents?”

“Asleep,” he said, kicking out and catching me on my bad knee. I gasped, and doubled over, but I didn’t loosen my grip.

“Well, that’s pretty sensible considering it’s 5:00 in the morning.” I countered when I could finally speak again. My leg was on fire. I could feel the bullet inside of it locking my knee in place. I desperately needed to sit down, but the zoo had gotten rid of benches years ago to keep the homeless out.

He stuck his tongue out at me, and I felt the urge to wallop him. But that wouldn’t do. Can’t go hitting someone else’s kid in this day and age, although a few could do with a good spanking if you ask me. I began to haul him over to the administrative building, sending a quick message to Dwayne on the way.

“No,” he yelled again, trying to pull out of my arms, “I want to stay!”

“What’s so important you gotta be at the zoo this early for?” I yelled at him.

“It’s my birthday!” He yelled piteously, tugging his arm out of my hand. He fell back on the pavement, panting. I was breathing hard too, and as the kid didn’t seem to have it in him to get up and run again, I took the opportunity to catch my breath.

“So, what, you’re having a party here today and you want to get an early start?” I wheezed. The kid glared at me.

“No.” His voice dropped and he looked away from me, and I could see tears welling up in his eyes.

“My dad promised to take me here, but last night he said he couldn’t. He didn’t even tell me why.” His voice broke, and he ran his sleeve roughly across his nose.

I thought of all the times I’d promised to go see Teague but backed out last minute. I had no money to take him out and I was afraid he’d be embarrassed by my limp. I coughed, clearing the lump in my throat.

“Kid, I gotta call your parents. I’m sorry about your sob story, but there’s nothing I can do.” The boy stared at me for what felt like forever, then stood up. Without protest, he followed me down to meet Dwayne at the admin building where we called his parents. His dad came to pick him up twenty minutes later, a warm wool coat with toggle buttons and squeaky clean shoes in hand. He walked over to his son and knelt down in front of him. To his credit, the kid didn’t cry.

“Your mom is so mad at you!” he said, gripping the boy on the arms. The kid dropped his head to his chest, and I could see his lip quivering as he fought back tears.

“I’m sorry,” the dad said. “I know today was important to you, buddy. It’s just, I’m supposed to report back to base today…” And then the dad started crying, pulling his son close to him.

Dwayne, who had been silent, looked up at me and then turned back to the pair.

“How would you two like an early morning tour of the zoo?” He asked, too cheerfully. The father looked up in surprise.

“Are you sure?” he asked. “I know you don’t open for three hours…” The boy tugged at his father’s sleeve in excitement.

“Yes,” the father said, tears in his eyes. “That would be wonderful.”

Dwayne led the boy and his father out of the office and I watched them walk away, the boy gripping his father’s hand fiercely.

And for a second there, I thought I felt something.

Day 12

Calliope Jones gripped her brother Tarq’s hand as they raced up the deck to the surface breaker. Their footsteps echoed down the corridor and reverberated above them, causing the light panels to flicker. She saw Nemo Smith peering out of the porthole of 253 as they ran past, and he quickly slipped out of the pod to join them.

“When does it start?” he huffed as he tried to catch up.

“10 minutes,” Tarq said, glancing at the impression on his sleeve.

“We want to get a good spot,” Calliope added. She was faster than both of them and was frustrated to have to slow up for them.

“Why hasn’t the announcement come yet?” Nemo asked, tugging at his shift. It kept riding up as he ran, revealing a white strip of stomach. He was gaunt, like Tarq and Calliope. The power outage in the green house that season had meant hardship for everyone.

“Everyone knows already. I think we might have waited too long.” Tarq said, glancing at Calliope, and she gave him a furious look. Tarq had been composing a sonnet for Luca Gray and Calliope had waited impatiently wanting to go as soon as possible.

They were halfway up to the top level when the announcement finally came. Friend Jorge’s stern voice blared over the loudspeaker.

“The Solstice Ceremony will begin in 5 minutes. Please report to the surface breaker if you would like to observe.”

Calliope could hear doors opening all up and down the corridor.

“Come on,” she yelled to Tarq and Nemo.

This would be her first Solstice Ceremony ever. Children in Stage One weren’t allowed to participate because they found it too overwhelming. In the first years, children allowed to see the Ceremony had grown listless afterwards and some had not thrived.

Three years ago, Tarq, Nemo and the rest of the children in their stage had been granted permission to see the ceremonies. Tarq had come back to the pod telling Calliope stories of wonder. After each ceremony, they would sit on her pad, the blankets pulled to their chins, and Tarq would talk in the dark.

“The sun is warm,” he told her, “and brighter than you could possibly imagine. So much brighter than the lights in the lab.” Calliope would hold her tatty stuffed rabbit closer in her arms.

“And is it green yet?” she would ask hopefully, each time.

“No,” he would say, “Not yet.”

By the time they reached the domed surface breaker, a crowd had already gathered at the front of the viewer. The metal dome was still down.

“It’ll start to open in a minute,” Tarq leaned over and whispered to her. Sure enough, a grating sound began, followed by a loud whirring. The crowd pressed forward. Nemo grabbed Calliope’s hand and edged through the crowd, Tarq close behind. Finally they arrived at the front. The visor was about four inches open and a crack of the brightest white light Calliope had ever seen was streaming through, hitting her toes. She tried to drop to her stomach, wanting to see it as long as possible but Nemo and Tarq both grabbed her elbows.

“They’ll press forward, you don’t want to get crushed,” Nemo said, putting her in front of him. Impatiently, Calliope waited until finally the visor was high enough for her to see. She heard a collective gasp behind her as the land in front of them was revealed and they were all bathed in the golden light of the sun.

“Don’t look right at it,” Tarq reminded her, his hand on her shoulder.

The light touched everything as far as Calliope could see. She pressed herself up against the viewer, taking it all in. Nothing ended in a wall. She’d never seen anything so vast before.

Suddenly Nemo shook her. “Tarq, Calliope, do you see it?” He pointed somewhere off in the distance. Similar cries came from the crowd behind them. Calliope squinted, trying to make out what he had seen, when, like a tidal wave, the chant, “Green, green, green,” began to wash over them. Sure enough, so far away that Calliope couldn’t be sure that she was really seeing it, was the first living thing anyone had seen outside in over fifty years. A small shrub, green and low to the ground, stood out from the otherwise nearly barren landscape. Suddenly everyone began cheering and hugging each other and Nemo was swept away in the celebration. Tarq got a good grip on Calliope’s arm and hauled her back through the crowd.

“I want to see,” she protested, struggling against him. Usually the ceremonies lasted five minutes, just short enough that no one was damaged by the sun.

“Don’t you get it?” He asked. “It’s coming back. It’s all coming back.”

They burst through the edge of the crowd and Calliope stumbled down the hallway, where a few members of the crowd were already running down the hall to spread the news.

“I wanted to see,” she said again, pushing his shoulder.

“You will,” he said, and Calliope realized that he was crying, fat tears of joy running down his face. “We all will.”