The Readers

6

“Who is this young cadfly? Shoo! You are shutting out the light!!”

As soon as he entered the threshold of the small and cramped gallery space, an old woman seated near the entry started yelling at him.

“Out, I say! Out!” She was the oldest woman Zerian had ever seen, and he gave pause – her eyes were almost non-existent, swallowed with leathery tanned skin.

“Oh stop, Jahsha, stop!” Another not-quite-as-old woman came out to meet Zerian as he stood on the rug, gaping at the elderly heckler. “Sorry, Sir, don’t mind Jahsha. She is waiting for her escort.”

This other not-as-old woman was tall and on eye-level with Zerian. She had black hair striped with silver, braided carefully down her back, and wore a deep blue robe with black stitching – one of the many colors and styles of robes that were representative of the disciplines studied at the Temple of the Graces.

Zerian knew that the Body Readers were well educated on the nuances of health and how this translated to your field and other bodily systems. Beyond that, nothing else – except that his mother distrusted their practice and did not want him to engage with it. He knew she was somewhat of a traditionalist, and that she had once forayed into discipleship at the temple, but he had never pressed her for more stories. She never seemed to enjoy discussing it.

But suddenly, standing here now in a small dusty gallery with a Body Reader before him, Zerian felt the curiosity of his mother’s past start to rise.

“What is the occasion today, young Sir?”

“I – I came for some consult on my sleep. If you might be able to help and advise?” Zerian kept his voice low as he did not wish to have the unruly elder woman seated nearby hear his personal business.

“Ah yes, sleep diagnostics – you have come to the right place!” She lit up in a warm smile and shook his hand with both of hers. “I can see you right away, if you’d like? Jahsha was my last appointment. What is your name, young Sir?”

“Zerian Ref-Vera. And you, Sira?”

“Please, you can call me Tulla.” Her omittance of her last names immediately made him regret revealing his own.

“Ref-Vera, did you say? You are certainly not from around here! I am not sure I have met anyone from Vera. Do you like Atuva?”

“Yeah, I do. It’s a change of pace, but lots to see for someone like me, I guess.” Zerian managed an awkward smile as Tulla gestured for him to follow her through a back hallway. He hated to give his full name, disclosing his origins and taking him off the table of regular citizen talk. From here on out, everything discussed would be compared in reference to his country roots and Atuva-centric topics avoided.

“Please stand here, on the round rug.” Tulla pointed to the small black and white round rug at the center of the side room she had just led him to. The room was dark, with only two small, narrow windows, shrouded in gauzy midnight-blue curtains that filtered the sunlight. She pulled out a small metal object from a tall stand of drawers once they entered.

“Sorry – I’ve never been to any Reader before. Don’t mind me if I make a mess of it.” Zerian stood on the small rug and made excuses.

“Oh, no issue at all. I’ll talk you through it. We see many levels here – those who have been coming for years, and many more who come only when they need to, when met with dire circumstances,” she glanced up at him with a wink, as she fiddled with the small cylinder in the palm of her hands. She held it up for him to see.

“This is a spinner. It will read your field and take some measurements – then I’ll run the program and get some answers for you – no need to be nervous. With sleep diagnostics, readings usually manifest inside the field itself – no need for direct body readings.” She looked up at Zerian again, who was listening intently. She surveyed his face and space around it. “Your aura appears to be fairly consistent – no visible marks of weakness that I see. What is the sleep issue you are having trouble with specifically? Trouble getting to sleep, staying asleep? Sleep walking?”

“Dreams.” Zerian almost didn’t say it. He almost made up a story about exhaustion and anxiety and working too much, but he blurted it out too quickly.

“Ah – and these are bad dreams I take it?” Tulla didn’t seem fazed.

“Yes, but not really the subject of them.”

“So it’s not about bad dreams?” Tulla paused with adjusting the spinner contraption and searched Zerian with confusion.

“It is. It’s just that – there are none. It’s like…. Nothing. Nothing is there.”

Tulla looked concerned, and furrowed her brow the same as Bess had done earlier that day. “Nothing?” she repeated back.

“Nothing. But it feels like I’m getting pulled around. Or shuffled around. I don’t know how to describe it… I can’t seem to get any rest. I always wake feeling tired. Never rested. But grateful that I’m not sleeping anymore. Does that make sense?”

“Hrmmmmm…” Tulla made a long and low murmur, with no official recognition that she knew what was happening. “How long has this ‘restless’ sleep been occurring?”

“For maybe half of a year. Since coming to the city, actually. At first it was just annoying – every few days. But now it’s every night for the last month. I’m at my wits end.” Zerian gave a half-hearted laugh, as if it was a joke. But it wasn’t.

“And you dreamed plenty back home, in Vera? Did you ever have the same bad dreams there?”

“Yes. Well, no. I mean, I’ve never really dreamed vividly. If I did, I never remembered them fully. They’ve always been vague. But it was never an issue before now. Never like this, where I wake up exhausted.” Zerian recalled Bess telling him about a dream that she had recently during the full moon. He couldn’t believe the monsters she could conjure in her sleep – he had never had such an experience. That he could remember, anyway.

“Well this should set us right,” Tulla said assuredly. “Now, stand straight and hold still.” She adjusted his shoulders a bit, pushing down on one and then the other, and Zerian straightened his neck and looked forward at the masonry wall in front of him, strewn with manuscript shelves and hung with odd instruments. Tulla stood a small distance away, just inside his outer periphery.

“Yes. Just like that. You might sense some uncomfortable buzzing while the spinner takes measurements. It will only take a few seconds.” Tulla clicked the small cylinder in her palm, and threw it up in the air towards Zerian. He winced, but the small device spun to life in a blue glow, and started darting around his auric field like it was connected to it – this way and that, almost too fast for him to track with his eyes.

There was a buzzing he could sense – but very faint. Or maybe it was just the sound vibrations of the machine he was sensing?

Just as the small spinner dashed past his head, it zipped up the crown and flew towards Tulla again. She held out a small metal plate, and the spinner returned to it like a cocoon. She then inserted it upright into the reader on her desk, and a screen of data was projected out from it.

“All done – simple and painless, right?” She smiled and ushered him away from the black and white rug. “Take a seat, I’ll look this over for you.” She motioned to a wooden chair near her small desk and immediately started tilting dials and information on the holographic screen that was waiting for her there. Zerian uneasily sat down.

“Well… the readings look very normal. Robust, actually. And from what I’ve observed, your field isn’t showing the weaknesses that a field would regularly display with the lack of sleep that you’re describing. Usually sleep problems like yours can be seen visually – it is very obvious to the eye, but yours is not… Is this making your everyday routine difficult? Are you falling asleep in the middle of the day?”

“Yes. Well, I am grateful to not be sleeping, really. But I am not feeling myself. I am happy to be awake, though. I feel intoxicated sometimes, or not myself lately – clumsier, not as sharp. But mostly I am just happy to not be asleep.”

Tulla looked quizzical. The data screen in front of her whirred and moved around, apparently betraying the real issue at hand. Zerian didn’t know what else to say. Just make it go away. Please?

“Well, young Zerian Ref-Vera, I think I recommend heading home for a bit. To Vera, in the countryside. See if this episodic dream variance resolves itself. Here,” she collapsed the screen onto a piece of paper and handed it to Zerian. “Take this with you when you go. If there is another Reader in Vera, you can re-test your results and compare. I would be very interested in seeing a comparison.”

Zerian’s heart sank with all his hopes. Running back home was not what he had in mind. He wouldn’t be able to tell his mother about any of this, and especially not this meticulous sheet of magnetic resonance statistics.

“Nothing else?” He managed to request as he stood. “You can’t think of anything else?”

She sighed heavily. “Sorry, no. All the readings looked absolutely normal. Not a strand out of place. Amazing, really. I see a healthy young man before me.” She patted his shoulder and guided him back out to the gallery.

Zerian was in a daze. He was sure this was the solution, he knew it. But nothing. A dead end.

“Is this paid for with your shares then?” Tulla tapped into a holographic screen again when they were in the main gallery.

“Yes, sorry. 0945T,” he recited almost absent-mindedly, and pushed his fingerprint into the screen she presented, which made a blip of recognition.

Tulla seemed to sense his brewing frustration. “You could always try the famous ‘Atuva-tera Tonic.’ Take with honey – you’ll need it! Right before bed. It’s known for it’s soothing properties. Might knock down whatever’s bothering you. You could also try the Luli Chants. I have a dear friend who swears by them, but I’ve never needed to try, you know.”

Zerian sensed her attempt at sympathy. “Thanks. That helps. I’ll try to see about the tonic. Thank you for the recommendation.” He bowed deeply, and she in return.

As he made his way back to the shop, he picked up some of the famous tonic from the apothecary by the canal where it was known to be the best. He walked slowly. He thought of his mother’s promise and wondered what the fuss was all about. A bunch of sophisticated little machines and data lists that were of no help whatsoever.

Maybe this was what she wished to spare him.

Continue to Part 7…

Go back to previous:

Part 1 – Downed with Despair
Part 2 – Z+B I
Part 3 – Z+B II
Part 4 – Anava
Part 5 – The Promise

The Promise

5

Zerian slipped out the back alley and into the throngs of mercantile shoppers and shopkeeps, many of whom were milling about during midday meals. He was nervous, but it didn’t deter him. It needed to be done, no matter what his mother had warned him.

Stay away from the Body Readers. They will not help you, only confuse you. They discarded the old ways in favor of the new. They will misdirect and mislead, and plant ideas that will not bear fruit. This is my only wish.  Promise me, Zerian? Please?

Zerian kept walking, playing their conversation over and over again in his mind. With a determined frown he justified himself to her.

“Mom, don’t worry. I know what I’m doing. They can’t pull the lights out of my eyes. I will be vigilant – please trust me. I need help, I need second opinions…. and you’re not here.”

He shook off the last phrase. It wasn’t her fault she wasn’t here. He was here in Atuva-tera of his own accord.

She was the one who didn’t want him to leave.

*

“I need to do this, Mom, I know this is right.” They were on the side terrace of the small farm house where they lived. Zerian had been apprenticing with Sol for almost five years and had mastered everything he needed to know about the terrain, soil conditions, horticultural varieties and breeding the fruit varietals that enjoyed the sloping hills of Verasco. He needed another challenge – and Sol had presented him with a job opportunity.

It was sunset, and late summer. The air was thick and jeweled, and the sunlight held a deeper resonance than it did in springtime. A weightier glow.

A presence of possibility.

“Sol wants me to open a shop in Atuva-tera.” His smile and enthusiasm were not returned, and her eyes had widened.

He would continue on: “He knows someone who excels at sales, who has worked with him before. We can run it ourselves and stock with Sol’s goods. Isn’t this amazing?! This is just what I was talking to you about the other night! A new challenge – taking things up a notch. This isn’t what I was thinking it would be – but I’m going to do it.”

His mother had worn no expression. She had looked shocked and belied, for whatever reason. He remembers feeling disbelief. What mother would not want her son to be an enterprising business owner? To make a name for himself in a great city-state like Atuva-tera? Was it fear of his wellbeing? Fear of loneliness if he went away?

Sure, they lived alone on the small farm, but she wouldn’t be lonely – she had Peri and Dorvi nearby, and not to mention Lufan from the neighboring farm. Oh, how he would miss Lufan.

The minutes had marched by. She wasn’t responding. She had sat down at the garden knee wall, staring at the distant tree line. He remembered the sunlight haloing her shoulders, her green and gold aura swirling and catching its glimmer.

He remembers coming up behind her and giving her a warm embrace, and how she sobbed into his arms as soon as he did.

“I’m not dying Mom – please don’t act like I am.”  She sighed and laughed lightly, and set her hand on the side of his face.

“Right you are, dear Zerian. I’m just surprised. The day has come. I always knew you would never be happy staying here. I think I had convinced myself that this decision was not expedient.” She sniffled and laughed, hugged him tightly, and sobbed quietly into his arm again.

“Just promise me one thing. Please?”

“Anything Mom, anything.”

*

The canal and adjacent thoroughfares leading to the city center were bright and bustling with activity. He smelled the sting of salt water and sweat in the air as he walked. His shop was in the main shopping veranda – the market place proper, with the most competitive prices and best products from around the known world. A very desirable site, indeed – Sol had an excellent relationship with the city proprietor.

Out of the main business district, here by the sunny canal and green grasses full of horses grazing, there were smaller carts and merchants; restaurant stands were numerous, and offered soups and terrines and skewers of meat and greens galore. All of them competing for the mid-day shopper’s attention, kicking up a lot of noise and selling as hard as they could.

Zerian slipped by them without making eye contact. He walked along the canal for a bit before turning into an older and tighter part of the city, closer to the city center and closer to the temple and citadel. Here were the richer residents of the city, many of them a part of the governing body overseeing day to day operations of the city-state, and many of them also disciples, initiates, and students of the temple on high, the Temple of the Graces.

Zerian wasn’t in the mood to ruminate or sightsee in this part of the city that he had rarely ventured. He turned down a smaller alley, only wide enough for pedestrian traffic, and looked for the small gallery with red marble pillars and the distinctive banner on the outside. He had seen it once before, when delivering goods to one of Sol’s smaller subsidiaries.

The noonday sun was hot and heavy, and tugged his eyelids down. He was growing weary when he caught a glimpse of it: a white cloth with a sun, superimposed on the four cardinal directions and surrounded with an aura. The sign and banner symbol of the Readers.

His heart quickened as he started up the steps, drew a sharp breath, and silenced the promise to his mother.

Continue to Part 6 

Go back to:

Part 1 – Downed with Despair
Part 2 – Z+B I
Part 3 – Z+B II
Part 4 – Anava

Anava

“I’ve been here before,” she whispered under her breath. She stepped through the rocks and moss and cushiony undergrowth carefully. The trees were gallant and tall. Birds chirped from far away and sunlight glittered through canopy cracks, trickling down to reach the dead leaves and rotting trees below. Familiar and foreign, the landscape seemed to welcome her with outstretched boughs and tiny twig-like fingers; reaching to embrace her and lead her home. It was a happy, unsettling feeling. Butterflies in her stomach.

“Wonderful,” a warm women’s voice said over her. “Now touch, interact, this place is only as real as you make it!”

Anava reached out her hand to touch a small fern growing beside her. The deep green leaves were soft and variegated into thousands of tiny jagged lines. Up and down the spine of the fern she moved her fingertips, savoring the feathery lightness. The leaves then began to sway in a light breeze – she looked to where it was coming from, the Northeasterly direction, and closed her eyes to feel the tiny swirls on her cheeks. “The wind started to blow just now. It’s heavenly,” she whispered again softly, as if to herself.

“I feel it too. And your prickly skin – it’s quite cold here!” The voice laughed, and Anava did too – yes, it was cold. She was feeling hot, so the cooler air was refreshing and felt so great on her skin. She smiled and held her hand out to the sky and wind.

“Exhilarating,” the voice stated. Anava smiled wider and nodded her approval. She had been waiting to come here, she finally decided. Or perhaps, this place was waiting for her. Either way, the feeling was mutual. It was as if a dream had materialized before her, a dream that had no discernment or shape prior – only a feeling. A puff of air on a warm autumn day.

This was the embodiment of a homecoming. She let it sink in, and tried to memorize it all. She might not ever return. In the space of a moment, she suddenly fell full of doubt.

“No – Anava! Stay with it!”

It was too late. Anava felt the trees start to crumble like cake washed away with the rain. The sun light faded, and the birds silenced. She opened her eyes in a jolt.

Rana was seated before her, eyes full of sadness and forehead furrowed. Her warm voice had been guiding her throughout the journey, but now she looked cold as ice.

“I’m sorry Rana, I  – I suddenly felt like I would never see this place again. I began to mourn it in my heart as soon as I thought it. I’m sorry for letting that overtake me so quickly.” Anava wrung her hands and clasped them in her lap, nodding her head down in apology. Ah – she had never made it so far before! And she ruined it with a moment of self-doubt.

“Anava, no – that was wonderful! I have no doubt you will be there again. You will see – have faith in your agency. You are quite gifted. Know it in your heart,” Rana reached over and took her hands in hers and kissed her on her crown. Ana lifted a little, knowing Rana had such faith in her. But it was still unnerving. They had been working through this for a year – and how suddenly it had dematerialized in front of her eyes. How one rogue feeling could swing in and unseat so much hard work.

Rana seemed to feel this same thought coursing through her. She pulled back and put her hands on Anava’s shoulders. “Feelings are powerful, Ana – and you mustn’t let them run the show. YOU run the show, and YOU choose the feelings with which to run it. That doubt is powerful – and although it is fine to feel it, and be with it, and comfort it and let it run its course, while you are in dreamtime you have to guard the gates. Be vigilant. You cannot let that doubt in, or it will take over. In dreamtime, you must imbibe pure confidence. Do you understand?”

Anava looked deep into her eyes. They were hazel, and blue at the center. She suspected they had seen so much in her lifetime, and had traveled far and wide and back again. She felt empowered and comforted by Rana’s guidance and eyes and reassurance. It was as if she was her own mother.

“Yes,” Anava squeaked softly. She cleared her throat – “Yes!” she said again emphatically. No better time to start practicing this confidence and swagger she would need.

Rana smiled. “Alright my girl – that’s it for today.” She rose from the rug where they were seated and stretched her hands high. Her gold bangles tinkling as she moved her limbs – bracelets, ear charms and ankle charms. Rana always sounded like a music composition as she reached this way and that, and walked across the room. Like bells calling from another world.

“Thank you Rana,” Anava rose also, and held her hands at her heart and bowed in thanks. Rana bowed in return and left the room, her gown flowing behind her in a glowy daze. It was a misty blue color today, with some intricate knotting and lattice-work. Anava suspected she handmade all her gowns, as she never saw anything like it in the market or in any nearby city.

Anava turned and grabbed her study book and side satchel from the chair at the other side of the room. They met weekly at Rana’s home – a large manor house that was painted in white and constructed from marble, stone, and mason’s mud. It was always cool, but today the meditation room was hot for some reason. Ana suspected it was due to the depth of their session. She had overhead others discussing how difficult it is to keep people cool while they are in dreamtime – this was why they desired to conduct sessions at dusk.

She started out of the porch and into the gallery, where she ran into Rana’s son Ren.

“Hi Ren, good day?”

“Yeah. Great.” They clasped hands lightly in greeting. Ren looked distracted.

“Are you coming to ceremonies tonight? I heard the others discussing leader Soan’s desire to start initiations – isn’t that exciting?!” Ana tried to override Ren’s distraction. He didn’t seem fazed.

“Yeah. I heard. Not sure if everyone’s ready – but should make it interesting. Maybe I’ll just watch, I don’t know if I’m there yet.” He smiled and shrugged and started to turn away.

“What! No, that’s not true Ren – you are being ridiculous. You are ready.” Ana reached out and gave him a reassuring smile.

“Maybe. But not ready enough for private lessons.” He cocked an eyebrow and kept walking.

Anava stopped in her tracks and watched him walk away. So that was it. Her coming here for lessons. She knew something was bothering him lately. But that would mean… Rana wasn’t giving Ren lessons? Her own son?

Ana suddenly felt incredulous. She had assumed this whole time that Rana would have been coaching them both. Ren was a great student, why in the world would she invite Ana for lessons at her own home and not to her own flesh and blood who lived under her roof?

She frowned as she stalked out and onto the winding path back home. This was not a good feeling. This was not how a wonderful session with her beloved mentor was supposed to end. This wasn’t right.

Did she even know Rana?

You don’t, she answered herself.

You don’t.

Keep going to Part 5

Z+B – Part II

3

“There was a story I heard one time,” Bess began, “about a grey-haloed woman who should’ve but shan’t.”

Bess’s favorite story. Again. Bess had some favorite sayings and creative stories, but none as strange and nonsensical as the story of the ‘Doorway Witch.’ She recounted it a lot, and always took the performance very seriously.

“She shat where she shouldn’t, and she ate and she stank. And she pittered and pattered and crook’ed and cranked. She belted and bungled, she jambled and jangled, she shambled and tangled and strangled and sank.” Bess was sing-song with the random tale, and she touched the stone walls and weaver’s goods, and held her hand out to any windchimes on strings as she passed them.

“That grey-haloed woman met the old-dark man, with nothing about him but silence began. They roamed and they wandered, and somewhere strange traveled, across the Medovian land. They wove and they whistled, they picked and they thistled, across the people they met. And the grey-haloed woman would tap each bristle, singing a song until set.”

“Set?”

“Yeah. Set.” Bess glanced back at him over her shoulder. “Like, created? Formed? I think that’s your closest word for it. Ssthet.” She said it slower, fully emphasizing her slight lisp. The story of the grey-haloed woman was a Medoin story, and in the Medov language, so Bess was recounting the translated version.

“Z, it’s too bad you don’t know Medov, you would love it. Isphair fye, Eihler lye,” she smiled back at him. They were descending down the stone staircase to the main fishing port, where they were sure to find some fish monger breakfast.

Whatever it was she had just said, she was probably poking fun at him. “I told you before, I tried years ago,” Zerian shot back. “It’s too ‘jambled.’ It didn’t stick.” He smirked at her, as she glanced behind her.

“Because there’s more meaning to it than you’re used to. The double meaning. It gets lost quite a bit when translated. I bet you would get the tongue if you tried harder. Your name comes from Medov – I would think that counts for something!” Bess took the stairs two at a time. Zerian followed as best he could, trying to keep up. Bess was an infuriatingly energetic morning person.

Then he finally caught and processed the last part of what she said.

“Wait – Bess, what do you mean my name is Medov? Hold up!” He panted a little when they landed at the bottom of the stairs. It was a good distance down to the port from the main city walls. In some areas it was vertical ladders built into the cliffs. Luckily, this stairway didn’t have any. “Bess, you never told me that before!”

“Yeah. ‘Zerian’ – Zeriphyn. Means prophet. Or wait, maybe it’s shitface…” She looked into the sky thinking hard.

Zerian glowered and made to punch her shoulder a bit too hard, but she turned away in time to dodge it and kept walking.

“Yup, definitely shitface,” she said, bouncing ahead.

Zerian exhaled and kept after her. She was too quick for him at this time of day. In the back of his mind, he wondered how he ended up here with her, of all people. Someone so enigmatic and… erratic for him to fully grasp. So unlike anyone else he had known. The wonders of life.

She was pulling a few rings off her belt in payment for some fish in a steamy broth, with something green slopped over the side of the bowl and a poached egg on top.

“So glad you agreed on getting fish, Z. And what a beautiful morning.” She handed him a bowl to sip, and they leaned against the ropes on the pier. The sun was just over the horizon, gleaming on the sea and sparkling on the small waves. Bright orange against the blue. It was heart medicine to be sure. Zerian decided to forget she had just called him shitface.

He mumbled agreement under his breath. The sea was so beautiful at this time of day, and he breathed in the calming salty air. They rarely had time to come down here. Zerian thanked his difficult sleep for the early sun rise view. He remembered vaguely something about falling in his dream. Or being yanked in the dark… Whatever it was, he didn’t feel like he slept at all.

“Mmmm, yes,” he agreed, the warm broth hitting his stomach like a torch. “Good call on the fish. Wish I had slept as well as you.”

“You’re still sleep stumbling?” Bess asked, wiping her mouth on the back of her hand, ignoring the linen cloth that was wrapped around the bowl.

“Yeah. Stumbling. I guess you can call it that. I just can’t stay rested lately. I keep getting yanked around.”

Bess frowned. “Hmm.” She looked out at the horizon and took a loud slurp of her broth.

“What, no wise saying or prescription of toad-sticks that I should be taking?” Zerian was joking, but he instantly regretted the bit about the toad-sticks.

“Sorry Z. Not this time. But it worries me.” She suddenly turned off her playful demeanor and put on her wiser-than-thou hat. “You should see a Reader.” She paused, and they listened to the hustle of the pier. The sea birds crying out above. The thrash of the waves against the jutting rocks.

“Maybe a Reader will give you the toad-sticks you need.” She slurped up the rest of her eggs and brought her bowl back to the merchant, bowing in thanks.

“Sorry about the toad-sticks Bess,” Zerian followed her, trying to finish his bowl while walking. “But do you really think I should seek a Body Reader? That serious?”

“Maybe. It’s been what, a few months now? Or maybe you just need a punch to the face. I can do that if you want.”

She flashed her smile again.

“No thanks,” he shook his head. “So, maybe after we close up today. Or maybe I could take an hour – would it be OK if stepped out midday? I think I know who I can see about it.” Zerian handed his bowl back to the kindly fish merchant, who was now icing some silvery, gigantic fillets while his fish broth bubbled around behind him.

“Sure, that should be fine,” Bess shrugged. They started up the steps back to the city walls. The air was cold and clear, and as he looked back up at the city the sky was still sparked by a few stars. Specks of glitter winking through the dome of blue.

“But I’m telling you Z, you might like the punch to the face better. A little taste of blood is good for you.”

He laughed, but she was probably serious.

Keep going to Part 4

 

Z + B – Part I

2
Zerian grumbled. The hot sunlight was creaking its way into his eyelids, and he couldn’t fight it anymore. He felt so sore and exhausted. He wasn’t sleeping well lately.

He rolled out of his lumpy bed and onto the rug to stretch. He glanced around at his little apartment above the shop. He stood and put his hands at his heart, as he was taught, and said his morning Grace of Thanks for all the living and all the dead.

He could hear Bess playing her flute on her balcony above his. Her apartment was directly above, and just a bit smaller. The tune she was playing was light and jaunty. Intriguing, as she didn’t usually play so happily.

“Good morning Bess,” he called as he pushed aside the woven doorway and onto the balcony.

She quickly stopped playing and he heard some heavy footsteps.

SWOOSH – she had swung herself from the railing above and tumbled onto his balcony, tucking into a roll and landing on her feet. A true nimble gymnast. “Thank goodness you never move your furniture, Z, or I’d be dead.” She was quite solemn – but Zerian had to laugh.

Bess was wearing a leather-tooled top with four strings that tied behind her neck and back. She was always exposing her midriff for all the universe to behold, before being interrupted by her tawny, gauzy leggings and heavy belt that supposedly kept them in place. She was quite a personality, but to Zerian she seemed like a typical portrait of her people, the Medoin, a primarily nomadic nation that took great pride in boldness and barbarity. She flashed him a challenging and charming smile.

Zerian thought he was in love with her once. It was shortly after they first started working together.

He remembered that golden afternoon when he thought he had said all the right witty things, and she smiled back at him. That same charming and challenging smile. He leaned a little closer – edging for a kiss, maybe – hopeful and optimistic as he was. But then time stood still and Bess busted out laughing at him. He was both confused and insulted, and Bess slapped him on the shoulder.

“Z, you had me going – you cannot be serious,” she almost bellowed.

“I – I am. I feel a connection with you Bess,” Zerian stated, almost pleadingly. Then he turned defensive.

“C’mon Bess – are my feelings lying to me? Are you telling me I’m completely wrong? I totally misinterpreted the intentions?” He bristled. He thought this was a sure thing. He felt attracted to her, and her to him – she couldn’t have ignored their chemistry!

“Zerian boy,” she wiped away a tear of laughter, “You are not in love with me.” She stared deep into him. “You are in love with the idea of me. Not the actual me – the idea of me. And you want that for yourself. If you strived to live like I do, and swagger like the Medoin, then you would have figured out that it was never ME. It was always about YOU.”

Zerian remembered that day clearly, and the way it stripped him. He had been incredulous. First of all – he had never wanted to be like Bess. It was arrogant of her to assume something like that.

Or did he?

Also, when did Bess start talking like a fortune-teller or some kind of know-it-all who could see into his soul?

She was always like that – you just refused to see her that way.

But she didn’t know him that well – only a few months. It was all just conjecture.

A few months is enough time, especially if you are a fortune-teller…

Gah! Zerian shook his head and admonished his ridiculous out-of-line thoughts. Back to the present moment. The one where Bess and him were not in love, the one where he definitely didn’t want to be like her, where she was certainly not some wise sage from the temple high, and the one where she was just a good friend.

A great friend, actually.

Bess was still standing before him, waiting patiently for him to gather his foggy morning thoughts (something she did a lot).

“So – ready to open the shop or you want to break your fast first? I’m in the mood for fish.”

She started towards the door without waiting for an answer. Zerian grabbed his shoes and they pounded down the stairs to the street.

Keep going to Part 3

 

A Day in the Life

February 16th, 2016

The alarm rings, and I slowly convince myself to get out of bed. It’s later than expected, so I hurry out of the house, skipping breakfast. Daughter and husband are still asleep.

I rush up the sidewalk as fast as I can towards the bus stop. I see the top of the bus coming over the hill, and I run full tilt to get there in time, lugging my ball and chain laptop over my shoulder. I make it to the bus and check work emails and Facebook and personal email and Instagram while the bus drives downtown.

Twenty minutes later, I exit the bus and walk 6 blocks to work. I notice the time and walk a little faster. I stop to buy a coffee and yogurt – not enough time for anything special. I make it to my desk in time to take off my coat and run to a meeting. Thirty minutes later, I eat my yogurt at my desk and scroll through new emails before another meeting begins.

After some work time, I go to buy lunch. Sometimes I get a moment to write or peruse online articles, but today is not one of those days. I eat at my desk and prep for a 1pm conference call. I put myself on mute and finish my lunch while listening to the call.

A few more hours of work trickle by, while answering urgent emails. An important one comes through: A project I was working on was suddenly delayed. I feel thwarted, as I had been working on it all day. I shift gears and start to work on something else. I get hungry, but am too absorbed in my tasks to get up from my desk.

My phone rings – it’s my husband. My daughter is crying in the background. “When are you leaving work?” he asks. “Could you swing by the store on your way? What do I make for dinner?” I frown as I look at the clock. It’s already 5pm.

“I’m leaving soon, don’t worry,” I say. “Yes, I’ll stop at the store.”

I try to get through the rest of what I was working on, but a few emails pop in that I need to answer. I remember I promised to send an email at the end of the day, but it’s already 5:25, and I need to leave. I decide to write the email from home. I pack up and leave the office.

I walk six blocks back to the bus stop. The next bus comes in 8 minutes. I scroll through email and Facebook and Instagram until the bus comes. I get on and continue scrolling. The bus slowly packs full of commuters and students for 20 minutes. I turn off my phone and rest my eyes.

I ride the bus one stop further than I usually do, and grab some groceries from the store up the street. “Double bag them please,” I say, “I’m walking home.” They oblige. The milk is heavy, but not as heavy as my laptop. I put on my gloves and head out the door.

I walk the four blocks to my house down the street. It’s a little icy, so I take it slow. It’s after 6pm. I’ve been out of the house since 8am. I stop and look up at my house from the street and take a deep breath. I know this is my last silent moment before crossing the threshold into chaos again. My daughter wanting to spend time with me. My husband ready to leave and get out. The dog demanding to play.

Breathe in. Breathe out. The moon was out and shining already.

I climb the stairs, open the door and smile. My time will wait. My life is for them at this moment. I will have to answer and send that email later. I will have time to write and read my book later. I can watch Netflix later. I can run to the store later. I will see my friends later.

My daughter’s face lights up when I come in the house. The dog runs around excitedly in circles. My husband looks relieved.

These days are busy and full and exhausting. It’s hard to be mindful. It’s hard to stay present. But I try. I do it for them, and I do it for me. I can’t do anything else.

The world peers in with loving glances. I am suddenly grateful for my exhausting days. Grateful for my husband and daughter and demanding dog. Grateful I have a moment to stand still in the moonlight. On the outside looking in. Grateful for the world. Grateful for this life.

Breathe in. Breathe out. Love.

Downed with Despair

1

He strung through the vines. Lost in time and thought. Not really connected to the moment anymore. One step on top of the other, but not in reality.

He was beyond.

A heartache with grief for the life he might have known, for the brother and world that might have opened up to him if they hadn’t given him away.

Or lost him? Or abandoned him? Or…?

His thoughts swirled.

No, they were my parents. There had to be a legitimate reason to give their child away.

He wondered if he was older than him, or younger. He never mentioned his age.

Then a sinister thought struck him.

What if I was stolen?

He stopped moving and stood still. A bird faraway called out to its kin – and he lifted his eyes to find sunlight trickling down through the canopy above. Glittering, but filtered.

Kidnapping could be plausible, but his mother was kind, generous and thoughtful. He felt a nagging conviction that she would never be capable of such a thing. To strip a new mother from her newborn babe for her own selfish gain. Never.

But she lied to you. The dark thoughts crept in again.

She did admit that he was not kin by blood – she never hid that fact. If he was indeed stolen, then she would have covered that bit up. Swept it under the rug to excuse any prying questions.

So why did she tell you your parents were dead when they are surely alive??

Perhaps she wanted to suggest he was not kin – trying hard to be truthful – but still intending to obscure. It seems she wanted to hide any thought or hope that he would go looking for them.

Or, that perhaps they did not want to be found?

Zerian was finding more questions than answers. He suddenly lost ambition to keep going, and instead sat down beneath the nearest tree. He felt anger, rage, sadness and frustration wrapped up and intertwined together. A giant knot. But also… a tiny tinge of love? A small thread of connection to them, his lost parents. The people he thought he would never know, but who now were suddenly …there.

But they went on without you! They have another child, a wonderful life! It is obvious they didn’t want you. They gave you up for a reason!

He suppressed a sob, and doubled over in anger. He gave in and screamed so loud the forest hushed.

A worthless castaway? Is that all he was?

A small voice whispered: No! Of course not!

But it was small, and easily subdued by the rage and sadness. There is no room for hope or love in the face of such fiery revelations. Zerian tensed.

Confrontation is the only way to know. 

But another thought seized him – the most powerful one of all: A hopeless despair.

As quickly as he was angry, all he wanted now was to wallow away. He wanted to forget them all, everyone and everything. He relaxed his head into his knees, and rolled onto his side. The uneven undergrowth cushioning him and cradling his broken-ness. He closed his eyes and started to drift. He had been walking for hours, no food, no water. His limbs were weary, worn down by the adrenaline. His thoughts became less definitive, more soft and diminutive.

He dreamed of them. He called to them. But there was no answer.

Only blackness.

*

It was a horrible dream. A tangle of indecipherable things. It felt sharp and disingenuous. He was alone and exhausted and the floor was pulled out from under him. He was fighting something that wasn’t there. He was arguing with someone who wasn’t there.

He felt a kick to the kidneys and was flung out into a ditch. He waited and waited, but the ditch never came. He was falling into it, but endlessly – forever expecting the thud of the ground. Endless expanse and endless stars engulfing him. He couldn’t move, and his panic grew ever so slowly, like a beloved rose, rising to the morning sun.

Suddenly he started – he had found the ground and awoke with a jolt. He exhaled, out of breath. Then he saw her.

Anava was kneeling beside him.

She was staring at him, eyes strong but glassy, concerned and still. Her lips tightened when he locked eyes with her. First he was baffled that she would be able to find him way out here. Then he felt immense and deeper than imaginable gratitude. Honored that she would even consider chasing after him.

“H- How did you find me out here?” His throat was hoarse. He remembered screaming and turned red.

“Oh, it wasn’t any trouble. I just found you a moment ago.”

“Oh.” Zerian cleared his throat. At least she wasn’t watching him sleep while twisted up in a nightmare. Then he remembered his current real life nightmare and grimaced. He wondered how much she knew. Then he felt a pang of anger at her. Jealousy for living a life oblivious – a life he was not a part of but should have been.

“Z, I’m worried about you. Why did you run off?”

Then Anava tilted her head slightly to one side just like Dusti used to do. Zerian nearly lost it, but kept his mouth shut. He knew if he spoke it would all come crashing in.

Her eyes searched him as he sat upright. He stretched his stiff neck and felt a drop of sweat fall from his forehead. Time seemed to slow down. He cracked a few knuckles. “I’m fine,“ he mumbled. “I’m – It’s just – I’m not – You didn’t have to. Really, I’m just – “

Zerian rubbed his eyes, which were probably bloodshot, and looked at her again. His thoughts disorganized, like he was spread all over the place. Spread across everything.

“This is not how the story begins,” she said abruptly, “and it is not how it ends, either.”

Zerian blinked, and then ever so slightly she leaned forward and placed her hand on his heart.

Keep going to Part 2