Month: April 2013

China Island

I’d already saved Laurence Saunders a number of times over the years, small insignificant salvations. On December nineteenth, I managed to save him twice.

That last day, Laurence slipped unnoticed from his home sometime between noon and three p.m., the three hour space between the meals-on-wheels delivery by Mrs. Heflin and the arrival of the nurse’s aide. Despite the tragic circumstances, no blame was ever cast on either woman. After all, Mr. Saunders had been found wandering numerous times before.

No one considered my involvement, not even once: not the police officer who coordinated the search and rescue, not the other neighbors on our street, not even the dogs they eventually brought in from the mainland, though, perhaps, they would have if they’d bothered to check my boots.

Laurence was my closest neighbor, his front porch no more than forty feet from mine. Five years ago I’d watched his wife’s coffin carried down the steps of that front porch after the wake. Later I’d watched him sit on that same porch for hours, alone, day after day, only the fraying of his bathrobe marking the passage of time.

With his wife, Suzie, gone, I was his only companion. Laurence and I were separated by forty feet, two walls, and a growing silence that neither of us could shake. For me, the silence shouldn’t have felt any different from when Suzie was alive. But it did.

I had never been one of the Saunders’ flock of visitors. The August barbeques with the overflow of pick-up trucks and coolers full of beer had always seemed like just so much unnecessary noise. Since Suzie’s death, that kind of noise had gradually ceased. Laurence started losing people’s names about three years ago. Started losing other words about a year after that. Now that the silence had infected his house, few visited anymore.

I watched, I listened, and, at night when Laurence fell asleep in front of his flickering TV, I slipped in and turned out the lights. It felt good to be needed.

Ten years ago I’d left my husband, Peter and his three basset hounds back in Portland and moved across the bay to China Island and Aunt Eveline’s old clapboard house. The twin occurrences of Aunt Eveline’s death and the demise of my marriage felt somehow linked. My true path finally revealed.

“Good luck, Sarah,” My ex-husband had said on that last day, shaking my hand as we stood outside the courthouse. He seemed almost relieved to see me go.

Eveline’s death offered me a new beginning. Between the house and an old savings account, she’d left me enough to almost squeak by. And somehow or other the island always provided.

Then December nineteenth arrived and Laurence Saunders wandered into the woods.

Those Who Do Not Reap

The world is water.

From horizon to horizon, water. Trade winds go from west to east, and carry weather and fish with them. Wind and weather bring us news of the world, in the form of all manner of things that float. A string of islands are our own, we and the cousins. Fifteen islands, from tiny Ike to the largest, Yuhime. Ours is the northernmost, Liipil, an island that catches the winds, the volcano beneath dead as our ancestors. As you go south, the land becomes more active, and the cousins become more numerous.

The world is water, and we are at its center.

The youngling who had been assigned to the northern heights plummeted into the village, calling shrilly. “Wings! Wings! The ikei are returning!”

“From where?” I asked, straightening from my crouched position over the morning’s treasures.

The youngling pointed with one wing. West by north. “Did you see which they were?”

“Sun behind them.” That would be no, then.

“Find Lilleloi, tell her,” I told the youngling. “She’s in the fields.” Without further comment, it crouched and leaped upward, beating wings frantically upward. I watched the youngling’s attenuated body and great wings catch the breeze and soar upward, sun glinting off of waxy leaf-scales. I wrapped up the day’s gather into a large leaf and carried it in one arm, using the other to help me climb up to the platform where I stored the sea-treasure I had not yet completely studied.

After putting my work away, I swung down, landing heavily at the base of the great starflower tree that the platform was built in. “I’m getting too old to do this,” I muttered. I was going to have to start climbing down rather than swinging, soon. I had years yet before I would be too heavy to use the platforms altogether, when I would have to have those younger than I fetch and carry from the platforms.

Not too old yet to run, though. I trotted through the village, joined by younglings and adults, down to the landing field. We’d fired it less than a month ago, before the winter rains had made it far too damp to burn. It was a good and welcoming landing place for the ikei, our pelagics who spent most of their time at sea, circling the world with the trade winds, following the great sea-herds of whales and fish. It was better than we had managed some years, when the summer had been far too wet for the burn and we’d had to settle for clearing the field by hand.

Kii and Liiloka had brought food with them, voyage-fruit and sweet tik-tik, and we settled down to eat and wait. A flock of younglings arrived, swirling down to land lightly, grabbing and squabbling over tik-tik. A few stretched out, settling to turn the leaf-scales on their backs to the sun.

Kii stumped over to me, her massive body and her fronds of lichen making her seem like a particularly mobile boulder. She held a quarter of a voyage-fruit out to me, and I accepted with a murmur. “Anxious?” she asked, her voice low as distant surf.

“Every year,” I said. “Every year I think is going to be the year that Thiol does not return.”

The elder snorted. “Foolish to get attached. I try new ones every year.”

“He makes fine eggs,” I told her. “I haven’t had one be fallow since he became my favorite.”

A Fairy Tale

The chorus of “Happily ever after” roused me from my stupor. Even from the living room I could hear the bored edge in Elise’s voice; it was as predictable as Kari’s enthusiasm or Allan’s singsongy tone, and as strained.

Storytime was finished. I headed to Kari’s room to say goodnight, but paused outside the door when I heard her speak. “Daddy,” she said, “is that how it was for you and mommy?”

I held my breath, sincerely wondering how Allan would answer. But it was Elise who answered: “Of course not. Mom’s not a princess.”

Kari laughed, but Allan didn’t miss a beat. “She is to me,” he said.

I crept away as quietly as I could, unsure whether the sound I suppressed was a sob or something more like bitter laughter.

Leavings and Remains

Homework Assignment #22: Write About Your Family
by Meoquanee Minawasinons (age 7) – April 28, 2079

My family is my two older half-brothers and my two older sisters and my dad and my mom and me.

Sansuka and Sasrutha are old old men, Dad says they would be 26 now. Sansuka is a geomancer and he works in the Deep Fishing Mine in Wattlesburg North. He writes us lots of letters that come in by carrier pigeon because he says they’re faster than the Internet. He calls me baby and gives me piggy-back rides when he visits. Dad says Sasrutha went to Toronto to be with his boyfriend and ended up being a travel writer. He has been everywhere except Mars and always sends us copies of his articles with his very own notes inked in. He writes under a fake name because he doesn’t want the places he’s visiting to know he was there. Except they do, they just don’t know that he talks about them after.

My oldest sister is Keezheekoni, I don’t remember much about her. Dad says she left right after the government had the airtrains put in and maybe she is travelling like Sasrutha, except liking it more and that’s why she doesn’t write to us. Sasrutha always ends up getting a mango worm in his head or needing money for bail, his articles are pretty funny.

Ominotago we call Minnow and she is only four years older than me but she calls me baby-baby, which I like when Sansuka calls me that but not her. Dad says she was used to being the baby and doesn’t like that I’m younger than her, which is silly. I’d rather be older, but not as old as the twins because Sansuka is losing his hair already. Also we call her Minnow because Ominotago means ‘nice voice’ and she sounds like a cat being stepped on. At least I think that’s why we call her Minnow. It’s why I call her Minnow. Sometimes I call her Fishbreath.

Dad says he used to be a no-good layabout before he met Mom, and then he became a good daddy BOOM like that. He grew up in the Tooth for a Tooth War, in the Wild Eagles tribe, but he wasn’t kidnapped like the other kids. He was actually born into the tribe, but he doesn’t remember who his parents are because none of the adults were very good at taking care of kids. That’s why the war ended so badly, because they were all hiding in the Northwest until the leaders finally said, “Oh wait we’re actually pretty stupid and we have no idea what we’re doing.” That’s what Dad says happened. He says they were just a bunch of angry kids and if they had just stayed in the North and been angry all by themselves instead of stealing people’s babies, nobody would have cared. Except they did and some people died and the government couldn’t always figure out which kids belonged to which parents and sometimes they thought the parents didn’t even want their kid back. That’s why I have an Aunt Ying even though she’s not really my aunt, but Dad says she didn’t have anyone else to be family with.

He was trained up to be their storyteller except I don’t think his tribe would like the stories he’s ended up telling about them. He also says Wild Eagles is a dumb name but they chose it because they got tired of news reporters mispronouncing their own language at them. Dad tells stories to the tourists who come up by airtrain now.

Mom’s from Sri Lanka and she married a bad man and she had Sansuka and Sasrutha there but she didn’t want to stay with her husband so she came to Canada instead. And the government found out she was a terramancer and told her to go north and make the hinterlands (where we are) better for tourists. Dad says she must have been a fertility goddess too because she kept popping out babies way after he thought they wouldn’t need protection. I don’t know what that means.

Mom’s a zombie now. She cut herself about a month ago when she was making dinner and we didn’t think it was bad but the next day it went all green and by nighttime she was dead. She and Minnow and Dad and I had all piled into the truck and drove to the hospital fast as we could but it’s really far and the doctors say she would have probably lost her arm anyway.

She had signed up to be an organ donor so we stayed at the hospital overnight while the doctors took out her eyeballs and heart and things. They sort of stitched her back up and we drove home. Minnow and I went to school like always in the school bus but when we got out Mom was waiting to take us home. Minnow started crying and got on the bus, but I let Mom pick me up and she ran all the way home with me on her shoulders. She’s a lot faster than the bus because she doesn’t have to stop at all the houses.

Tammy Gabriel saw Mom drop me off at school the next day and started yelling, “Your mom eats brains! Your mom eats brains!” over and over until I threw rocks at her. When I got home I told Dad about it and he said Tammy’s just upset because her dad died in a mining accident last year but he stayed dead. So the next day I told Tammy I was sorry for throwing rocks at her but if she ever said anything bad about Mom again then next time I would make her eat them. The end.

The Adverse Possession of Madeline Greene

There is a legal doctrine called adverse possession whereby one man – in absence of legal or moral claim – may come to own the property of another. In its simplest terms, it requires only that the trespasser take hold of the land and cling to it as long as possible. By sheer force of will and the passage of time, he can take the ground right from under your feet.

Perhaps this principle is a vestige of our flag-bearing forefathers, who declared themselves founders of a land that had already been found. As a child learning American history, this irony had troubled Madeline. She could not understand how something could be discovered that was already known, anymore than something that was seen could be unseen, heard be unheard, or any sensory phenomena be erased from memory.

It was only as she grew older that she began to appreciate the duplicitous nature of existence and even observe the dichotomy within herself. She was twenty-four, therefore above the age of majority but uncomfortable identifying herself as an adult. She was neither tall nor short, neither thick nor thin, and hair that was neither straight nor curly but rather overtaken by a slight wave and frizz. Even her eyes were unable to reach a definitive conclusion as they alternated between gray and blue depending on the light and time of day.

As physically unobtrusive as she was, Madeline was even more nondescript as a personality. At work she was an office automaton, her desk serving as a way station for memos and reports that passed under her purview without remark or notice. In the few social events that she attended, she invariably found herself standing at the edges of conversations, listening and nodding but utterly ambivalent about whether to participate herself.

In short, Madeline Greene was sure of nothing except that she existed and about even that she was beginning to have her doubts.