Maybe it wasn’t true. “Come on, Junebug, it’s all right, don’t be afraid.” Grandma took my hand. Inside the house, a late afternoon shadow stretched like a long rectangular arm across the living room carpet. The Coke bottle Daddy used for an ashtray was stuffed with cigarette butts, and sat on the coffee table. Momma’s rocking chair waited for her; I pushed on the painted wooden arm to hear it squeak.
Two applejacks left over from Friday sat in a plate on the kitchen stove; this time of day the house should smell like fresh made sweet tea and supper cooking. I looked on the back porch, but nobody was there either. In the bathroom, I touched the last pencil line where Momma marked my height every year on my birthday. In their bedroom, I lay on the pillow to smell her. My head knew they were gone, but my eight-year-old heart didn’t yet.
Grandma sat beside me, tears rolling down her face; she’d cried a lot in the last two days. “Let’s go find what you want to carry home.”
In my room, I got the cigar box from my closet while Grandma packed clothes in paper bags. When her arms were loaded, she stood at the door. “Ready to go?”
“In a minute.” I went back to Momma and Daddy’s room, looked in her jewelry box and found the silver gum wrapper necklace I’d made for her in school. “Okay.” I stopped at the bottom of our steps and picked one of the red roses Momma had planted in the spring.
“All of the preparations are complete,” the sorcerer said after boldly striding into the cramped room. “Derran is securely established in the village and is waiting for your arrival. As we discussed, he’ll remain with you until we have stabilized our borders and it’s once again safe for both of you to return to Mystandia. He’s an extremely competent swordsman as well as a Master Sorcerer. There’s no other whom I’d entrust with your safety. You may rest assured you are in good hands. I’ll contact you as often as I’m able and will keep you updated on our situation here in Mystandia.”
An uncomfortable silence engulfed the room as the sorcerer’s deep voice rumbled to a close. He studied the young woman huddled forlornly by the fireplace. She was dressed in a tattered brown traveling dress and a dark-green overcoat that had been patched more times than could be counted. Her shoulder length golden hair glistened in the firelight as she stared into the crackling flames. Giving no sign to acknowledge the sorcerer’s words, she absently turned a small purple and silver glass orb in her left hand.
“It is time, Haeleena,” the sorcerer murmured softly. He’d put the journey off as long as he dared. She couldn’t linger any longer.
Haeleena looked up at him as a tear glided down her heavily freckled cheek. The war had destroyed both her home and her family, and it was now forcing her to flee from the only world she’d ever known.
Richter looked up at the opening in the earth sixty feet above him. As his muscles ached, Sion shouted down at him to hold on, and he heard another sprite voice shout in the distance, “Your lord! I must speak to your lord! He has to know!”
The chaos seed hung there, battered and bruised. A stack of prompts flashed in the corner of his vision, waiting to be read, including one that had the clear, pulsing border of an absorbed memory. None of this interested him at the moment, though.
Despite everything that had just happened, despite all of the things that were waiting to be done, and even despite the mystery of what he had ‘to know,’ there was only one thing on Richter’s mind. He sighed heavily in frustration and pain, then shouted up to his people looking down at him, “Would you hurry the fuck up! I’m literally hanging off a cliff down here!
All that kept him from falling to his death was one hand clutching the hilt of his short sword. The weapon was jammed into the wall of the pit he hung over. As he had fallen, Richter had managed to desperately plunge the clear green blade into the stone as he fell. To be honest, he hadn’t actually expected it to work, but luckily the fey metal had been up to the task.
As he swayed slightly in the air, he swung his other hand up with a pained grunt. His muscles felt like they had been stretched and seared, and his free hand was shaking slightly as he came down from the battle high. Despite this, he was able to grab a small shelf of stone. Now somewhat more secure, he breathed out slightly in relief. That feeling didn’t last.
An internal voice told him, no screamed at him, not to, but Richter just couldn’t resist looking down. Both arms extended above his head, he twisted his neck back and to the right. Beneath him, a sea of black satin Dark magic undulated and hinted of hidden monsters.
Gazing at the pool of pitch-black magic beneath him, fear began to worm its way through his heart. That internal voice sat back, smug, and said, ‘See, dumbass? You shouldn’t have looked.’ The voice wasn’t getting any argument from Richter anymore. He kept staring for a few seconds, afraid that a creature of the Dark would rise up and attack him, but thankfully the level of roiling liquid began to drop.
Whether it was because the spell duration had elapsed or whether it was because the Witch Doctor had been killed, Richter didn’t know. Even if he did, though, it would be safe to say that he gave absolutely zero fucks.
Doctor Yumi Daikokuya kneels in the tidal shallows, in the shelter of the shima—the coastal rocks of the Kuzaki peninsula where she was born.
Her head lies half in the water, as though straining for a whisper. As her tears dissolve in the sea, it occurs to her that the sea, in its turn, dissolves in them, each drop absorbing all the majestic sadness of the Pacific.
“Umi wa gyōsan no Ama no namida ga fukuma rete oru.” The last words she heard her mother say, so long ago.
“The sea holds a multitude of Amas’ tears.”
That rustic Mie-ken dialect she struggled to shed like a snake skin after her departure. Suffering its itch all through university, then Osaka Medical College. So awkward she thought she sounded to her professors, the big city students. The handsome residents who invited her for coffee and ice cream. So much the daughter of a sea woman.
She lets the salt water fill her nose.
So much an Ama.
As hard as she once pushed her mother from her mind, she labors now to remember her. Dirty complexion, lined by the sun and salt. Hands mottled with the scars of sea rocks and shellfish spines. Graceful as a minnow in the freezing water. But stooped and waddling as she shouldered her catch up the beach each morning to warm her sinuses by the fire before starting back down. Already old, more than twenty years ago.
The eldest dive longest, and deepest, Yumi remembers.
The few Ama that remain in Kuzaki are all old now. Hundreds once dove the coast, its treasures buying them a freedom enjoyed by no other women of Asia. Independence from convention, government, husbands. In prolonged cold water immersion, a woman’s body is her advantage, a physical inheritance that can be passed from mother to daughter. If the daughter wishes to follow in that life.
Of all the events that happened in the months after I met Sol, the first I remember is the day he sent me twenty-five roses. The bouquet was the first gift I received from him – in fact, the first flowers from any man. When Sol didn’t call me after the incident in the library, I worried that my angry outburst had given him second thoughts. For three days, I waited in agony for his call. I blamed myself and once again regretted how I often acted without thinking.
My mother was at home that afternoon working on a dress for a wealthy client in Westmount. Thinking back, I imagine her kneeling on the floor cutting out a pattern with her large shears, her tongue poking out to the side from between her lips. The doorbell rings. She stands and smoothes her house dress, wondering if it is Mrs. LeClerc, our next door neighbor. Opening the door, she sees a truck with a sign ‘Robichard Fleuristes de Montréal.’
“Fleurs pour Rebecca…ah,’ the delivery man examines the invoice, “Wiseman. Signer ici.”
Of course, I don’t know if the man hesitated, but in my imagination he does. My mind always enhances my memories until sometimes I can’t remember what is real and what I make up. I blame this exaggeration on my life-long habit of reading one or two books a week.
My mother tried to act as if nothing unusual had happened. I could see she was excited, but guessed she had a new commission for a dress. “Come,” she said and taking my hand, led me into the dining room. I smelled the roses before I saw them. The bouquet filled a deep blue vase in the middle of the table. The late afternoon sunlight, coming through the windows, seemed to illuminate only the roses. The red color of the delicate petals was hypnotic.
“From Dad?” Had I forgotten my parents’ anniversary?
She looked at me as if I’d asked a stupid question. “No, they’re for you. From Sol.”
My mother laughed, clasping her hands under her chin in delight. “Of course. How many Sols do you know who’d send you flowers?”
My hands trembled as I took the card from its place between two roses. I was annoyed I couldn’t be calm and sophisticated as if this gift were only to be expected.
A rose for each day of our budding friendship.
G. F. Smith
“My feet are cold; it’s cold outside!”
“No, it’s over seventy degrees outside, Dad. Your feet are cold because you put your shoes in the freezer again.”
“Freezer? What on earth are you talking about? Why in the world would I put my shoes in the freezer?”
“I don’t know, Dad. Why would you put your shoes in the freezer? You tell me,” she said, looking between the busy road and her father.
“Well, I…don’t know. I wouldn’t have a clue.” He looked at her, caught her worried glance. He suddenly felt sadness, a fleeting sense of remorse. Something sparked in his mind, but then he forgot what it was. He turned away and looked out the window. Something wasn’t right, but he just couldn’t figure it out. His brow tensed and wrinkled.
Sarah Frances Whiting drove carefully after dropping her father off at the Merit Ptah Medical Center. Her mind was inundated with thoughts of him, his apparent worsening condition, his stay at the center for tests, as well as her forthcoming job interview, which she was en route to. The clearly insane drivers in Los Angeles were not helping. As soon as she turned on to the street, she was nearly rear-ended by a pokey-haired, suit-clad man intensely multi-tasking on his smartphone.
“Watch what the…watch what you’re doing!” she grumbled, as she switched her attention between the rear-view mirror and what was in front of her. The driver behind her was getting a little too close as traffic inched and stopped, and her car’s rear proximity alarm was making Sarah edgy by blaring every twenty or so seconds.
The alarm sounded again and Sarah snapped. She slammed the gear shift into park and leaned out of the window.
“Hey, you mind keeping your eyes on the driving!” she yelled, scowling.
The man heard the remark and looked up with a defensive frown. He held both hands up, Smartphone still in hand, and presented a what’s the problem? air of innocence. He then shook his head with annoyance and within seconds changed lanes, mumbling, “Crazy bitch, you lost your mind?” out of the side of his mouth as he increased his distance.
Sarah Whiting rolled her eyes and bit the inside of her lip.
She turned onto the highway.
After two hours of driving she arrived at the campus’ tree-shrouded parking lot.
She was cutting it close on time.
Sarah exited the high-mileage, 2047 two-seater, Praxis-Sport. She grabbed her backpack, reaching into it as she stood up. She shut the door with her slender, athletic hip, hurriedly turned, and as she walked, pinched her streaked, light brown hair back on both sides with small clips.
She was barely going to make it.