First, Last and Only

Several years ago, a newly-made priest gave the homily to a group of eight year olds who were about to receive their first Holy Communion. It’s a very big day for the eight year olds, and the priest completely recognized that. But he wanted them to know that it was a bigger day even than they knew.

He quoted a superior of his, who had told him to say every Mass during his priesthood, as if it were his first Mass, as if it were his last Mass, and as if it were his only Mass; as if he were only ever going to pray “I will wash my hands among the innocent, and compass thine altar, oh Lord; I will hear the voice of praise and tell of all thy wondrous works. For I have loved the beauty of thy house, and the place where thy glory dwelleth.” and “Cleanse my heart and my lips, oh God, who didst cleanse with a burning coal the lips of the prophet Isaiah,” and “For this is My Body,” only once in his entire life. (By the way, these prayers all do occur in the Traditional Latin Mass, and they are some of my favorite prayers. One of them occurs in every Mass, and that is the consecration.)

He told these children, who are not yet old enough to drive, not yet old enough to be confirmed, not yet old enough to go on long bike rides by themselves, that every time they received the Eucharist, they should receive it as though it were the first time, the last time, and the only time they ever would.

He took what he had been told a little further.

But I’m going to take that further yet.

We are warned by Christ in the Gospel that our time on earth is very limited, and we don’t know when it’s going to be over. So why do we act like there’s going to be tomorrow to do the things we know we must do?

I’m going to challenge you (and more importantly, myself) to remember these words. First, last and only. Every chance you get to be kind, to be selfless, to do more than the bare minimum, do it like it is your first, last and only chance to do these things, because it could be. The next three days chronicle Christ’s last meal, his agony, and his death on the cross. The day after those celebrates the complete triumph over death and the devil of Christ’s Resurrection on Easter.

Will you be ready for him to come to you?

Live the next few days like this will be the first, last and only Easter you will ever live. Don’t waste these days.

Be ready.

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Liebster Award

YUP I’VE BEEN LIEBSTERED AGAIN. Lookie thur. By the delightful Writefury (thank you so much, dear) and by SprinkleSquink (you dear awesome person, thank you!)

so you know what this means! Content without me trying. Woop Woop.

Also since I have to tell 11 (or since I’ve been nominated by two people, I might do 22) facts about me, I’ll be able to fill you in on a bit of life stuff that’s been going on with me.

SO the rules are to answer the 11 22 questions, write 11 22 facts about you, nominate 11 people, and ask 11 questions for those people to answer. Also to thank the people who nominated you. (thanks again, both of you are awesome!)

So. Let’s start with the questions.

Writefury’s questions:

  • Which fictional characters do you think you’re most similar to?

Um. I don’t know. I guess maybe Anne in Anne of Green Gables because Anne is not always as slow to anger or as humble as she should be and neither am I. Anne also wants to teach and so do I. Frodo because Frodo isn’t always strong enough to bear the ring and I’m not always strong enough to bear my own burdens, but Frodo and I both want to do the right thing and help people. John Austin possibly (I want to be like John Austin immensely) from Madeliene L’Engle’s books, because he has to be the oldest and wisest in the family and even though I have older siblings that’s the way I feel sometimes.

Maybe Ivonova from Babylon 5 too, because she’s in charge of taking care of so many people and taking care of people is a huge element of who I am too. Of my own characters, probably Phoebe (from Four boys and a gallon of chocolate ice cream) is the most like me. Arden is probably the one of my characters who I aspire to be.

As for other characters I aspire to be, Adam Eddington again from Madeliene L’Engle, Sinclair from Babylon 5, Edmund from the Chronicles of Narnia, Winter from the Lunar Chronicles, Barbara Gordon (as Oracle! Fight me, DC!), and Frodo Baggins. (He was bound to come in twice.)

In short I don’t know that I’m nearly as good or wise as a lot of the characters I’d like to be like. So yeah.

  • Tell me about a very vague story idea you have

A girl who is doomed to be a hero instead of being ‘fated’ to be one. How would it change how things work? So that led me to thinking about what if she had to kill a dragon who was actually her friend, but who had gone berserk and couldn’t be stopped any other way. So yeah, I might write that someday.

  • A movie that really surprised you with how good it was?

Zootopia. I didn’t think it was actually going to be that good because Disney had disappointed me so often in the past. But it was fantastic.

  • A popular thing you hate?

I’m gonna be honest. Katie Perry.

  • A popular thing you like?

The Lion King.

  • Last song you played on repeat?

“He lives in you” from the Lion King. So great. I saw a dance to it once and it was amazing and I have chills just thinking about it.

  • Three good things about your week so far?

I got a scholarship offer for the fall which might pay for my Fall quarter completely. I finished my first informative speech for speech class. My mom got me a super pretty new dress for Easter. I got to get together with my best friend on Sunday. (did you say it only had to be three? No. No you did not. Besides, the earlier ones struck me as kinda sad because I’ve been sorta down today. And last one was probably the best thing that happened in the last week.)

  • First fictional couple that comes to mind, GO.

Leia and Han Solo.

  • A weird animal you’d like as a pet?

Dunno if this counts as weird, but a greyhound. If that isn’t weird enough for you, a penguin.

  • Sum yourself up in one gif.

<p><a href=”https://giphy.com/gifs/fallontonight-game-of-thrones-wink-oh-no-frBEtuoEepdHFeKafE”>via GIPHY</a></p>

That’s the one.

  • Tell me a story of one time you had ninja reflexes.

Just one?

<p><a href=”https://giphy.com/gifs/community-spiderman-telltale-11qAyKz9AbFEYM”>via GIPHY</a></p>

Since you insist. So I caught a spoon with my knees when it was falling towards the floor.

That’s it.

Squink’s questions

  • what is your least favorite soup?

Creamy veggie. Cannot eat it on account of my milk intolerance and all the cream.

  •  if you were an animal what would you be?

Quite possibly a koala.

  •  if a weasel ate a cupcake and then puked on you what would you do to it?

It would depend on the day I was having. I’d probably just be concerned honestly. Probably I’d 5ake it to a doctor.

  • how do you like your potatoes best?

…Baked, maybe? When you get a really good baked potato that’s done all the way through but not overdone and you cut it up and eat it buttery and salty… that’s delightful.

  • were you to drop all comunication with your loved ones and become an undercover chef in a foreign country for twelve years what country would you go to?

Busting out the big questions, are we?

Rome, most likely. I could visit the Vatican and go to Mass every day, and have a pilgrimage roundabout and stuff. And that would be as good an excuse as any at the end of the twelve years when I called home to say “hey you know what I’m still alive”.

  • snakes. Do you like them?

They’re alright. I’m fond of them probably because there’s a character in one of Madeliene L’Engle’s books (this post probably wins the most Madeliene L’Engle mentions of any post I’ve written so far by the way) and that character is named Louise the Larger and is a snake.

  • name something that is too sugary for you.

This peach and white chocolate shortbread desert my brother made once. It was so sweet it was gross.

  • do you like holes in the knees of your pants? Why or why not?

For visual affect? No. When the jeans are so worn and old that they’re soft and comfy? Sure they can have holes, and those will still remain a favorite pair because they’re so soft. But when you garden then you can get itchy knees from kneeling on bare knees.

  • favorite restaurant?

There’s this fantabulous Ramen place my sister and I go to occasionally and the soup they make is so good that you could die happy eating it.

  • if you had to change your hair color to any color in the rainbow permanently in exchange for being able to turn invisible except for your hair, what color would you change your hair to?

Violet.

  • pick one dog breed to sacrifice for the lives of humanity. What breed would you pick?

Sorry but I have no respect for Chihuahuas and they’re gone now.

Now 22 facts about me:

  1. I’m attending community college and living at home.
  2. I’m working towards an education degree.
  3. I still dance ballet about six hours a week.
  4. Our ballet performance this year is the theme “Random Holidays” and one of my dances is National insect week. Two of the girls are bugs and the rest of us are beach ladies and the girls playing bugs look so inhuman while performing.
  5. My favorite tea to drink at almost any time is Bigelow’s Plantation Mint Tea.
  6. I need to finish “Four boys and a gallon of chocolate ice cream” still and I haven’t forgotten and I still plan on finishing it. I’ve just been super busy and have had trouble finding time to write in recent months.
  7. My hair is extremely thick.
  8. I like bananas.
  9. I draw.
  10. I got my driver’s license a while ago.
  11. I like brown sugar in my tea more than I like white sugar or honey.
  12. I make most of the birthday cakes in my family and am currently making one for the big bro.
  13. I am one of four kids.
  14. I made myself a 50’s style black dress with a sweetheart neckline and it’s kind of my pride and joy.
  15. I made my little sister a bunch of long-sleeved tee shirt and turtleneck dresses over the winter because she grew a bunch, and unfortunately those will soon be out of commission for a while because it’s springtime here.
  16. The first draft of my philosophy paper (which my dad helped me edit) came back to me from my professor unmarked which means I can just leave it exactly as it is and turn it in 5 weeks from now as a final draft.
  17. I’m taking Introduction to Philosophy and my teacher is awesome.
  18. I am 5’6″.
  19. I tutor my little sister in math.
  20. I kind of prefer running to walking for a long on-foot trip simply because you get there quicker and walking quickly hurts my calves more than running does.
  21. I have a speech to deliver and the first draft of a paper due in the week directly after Easter so that’s kind of cramping my holiday plan style.
  22. I have nose bleeds and those are tedious.

Now for 11 nominations.

  1. anyone wearing green.
  2. anyone eating soup for lunch today.
  3. anyone drinking lemonade.
  4. anyone who likes rubrix cubes.
  5. anyone who dislikes country music.
  6. anyone whose favorite Spring flower is a crocus
  7. anyone who had to look up crocuses to know what they are
  8. anyone who has thirty minutes of spare free time right now to do this with.
  9. anyone who has had a nosebleed in the last month.
  10. anyone who loves barbecue
  11. anyone who is excited for Easter!

11 Questions!

  1. What’s your favorite story about you when you were little?
  2. What is your beverage of choice?
  3. A good book you recommend I read?
  4. A good movie you recommend I watch?
  5. Do you read comics?
  6. Which character have you created who is most unlike you?
  7. Which author do you borrow most from stylistically?
  8. Which color is your favorite to describe when writing?
  9. Do you prefer hard copy books or digital books?
  10. Do you listen to audio books?
  11. Do you have a favorite smell? If so, what is it?

My Triumph

“Hold,” I said to my enemy;

“Hold! What hold have you on me?”

And as my enemy’s chains wrapped

Around my bloody shoulders

I found no hold he had on me

For my spirit was not chained, but free!

I am not myself triumphant for I

A weak-willed weakling am

But in myself, not of myself, I yet have the glory of man.

My soul yet rests within my heart

And heaves as my weighted lungs draw air:

I am not defeated by his chains

By the foul words to me he arraigns

Not even by my own treachery

For my Lord is more loyal by far than me.

I am the poorest, weakest one

Who ever stood the earth above

Nor fouler traitorous words have been whispered

Betrayals before the council itself;

But while my spirit is yet unbroken

Stilll I may rise and try the strength in me woken!

“Hold,” said I, and the spell over me broke;

“Hold,” said I, and my little latent strength awoke.

I could not break the chains myself

Yet I resisted long enough

That rescue came for me, and He

Swept the tearing chains off of me

And I

Was free, and freed again.


This was born from the triumphant words of Henley’s Invictus; “From out of the night that covers me, black as the pit from pole to pole, I thank whatever gods may be for my unconquerable soul.” I was also reading G.K. Chesterton’s Heretics and Orthodoxy and both of them have such triumphant tones, as though man is such a glorious thing in spite of everything.

And I guess what I get from both of these things is that human beings are a glorious invention even if they have failed their purpose in a truly dire way. And I wondered how this related to me, and how this related to humility, because triumph seems to clash with humility so much. This is what I came up with. Triumph is the end result of a true humility, a strong purpose, and a long, unyielding effort to serve. That triumph of man is almost completely separate from anything to do with us personally, and everything to do with the God who became man. Christianity is just such a glorious thing.

I love you all. I truly mean that, if any of you are wondering. Whether I know you, or whether you are passing by, I love you, and I hope you are blessed today and always, and I hope you will be happy and well and full of rejoicing now and until time ceases and eternity begins. Thank you for being here for this moment with me.

The Lay of Lancelot

The Lay of Lancelot

Rebuke me not, you who saw my fall!

Have you not also fallen, fellow sinner?

Comfort me with thoughts of redemption

From the weakness by which I betrayed him to win her.

 

Tell me naught of what I did in life;

All my glories he surpassed by simple kindness;

Tell me of my King, who died forgiving me

Tell me I can be forgiven for my foolish blindness.

 

Oh, that simpler glory might have been mine!

Had I but quested in my castle’s ground

Had I but lived as I had ought to live

A greater, better glory would me surround.

 

How proud was I of my untainted virtue!

How pleased was I with my renown and fame!

Yet here I lie, beside my king, a failure;

Yet here I life, without a virtue to my name.

 

You must judge, my judges, mercilessly;

Ascribe my failings carelessly on the scroll

But let me make one claim in my defense;

Let me place some small excuse on the roll.

 

I loved, not wisely, but well as I knew how

I fought, not valiantly, but yet I tried;

I failed my king, sunk my queen in infamy

But God, yet I repented before I died.

 

This is not enough to earn forgiveness, well I know;

It says but that I failed, but that I tried

I can earn no forgiveness, desire now no glory

But God, I tried again before I died.

 

Know this, you who read the here inscribed

That Lancelot du’Lac for himself penned

A more tragic and pressing story

Than that would have been made by any friend.

 

Yet these were not his final words and thoughts;

Of better things he wrote, and for them prayed

Yet of all words of his I read, these only

In my failing memory have stayed.

 

His mourning for a simpler life he made good

He overcame the bitter, wrenching pain

He found humility, and love, and God

And found some glory even in his shame.

 

No glory named he for himself, nor claimed it

But others who knew him saw it on his brow

In his own failing he found his own redemption

And we hope he is with Arthur, now.

 

Farewell, dear knight, be well and whole again;

Find peace, find rest, find love divine

In your suffering you have won your crown

Now pray, pray for me, I may win mine.

the windy walk

The wind blows down the path

And flirtatiously blows up my skirts with a laugh

Humorous and daring,

Flickering and sharing

To try to tempt me to delight

To discompose my seriousness into bright

And breaking laughter

With no fear of any consequences hereafter.

The wind is barely present

Ruffling feathers of the pheasant

But still it stirs my hair

Seeing struggles under there

To quiet me to simplicity

To throw me easy forcefully

“Oh come now, it can’t be that bad;

Today is not a day to be sad.

Look at the ripples on the lake

The joy in them, for joy’s own sake

Here the birds flirt in the trees

Life is short enough for ease.

Longer lives can bear some hurry

Immortality alone can bear with worry;

Forget your subtleties and thorns

Nature for you itself adorns;

Do not tarry;

Be merry!”

It blows me out along the street

“Smell the flowers, see the fleet;

Look around for your own pleasure;

Nature is a finer treasure

Than what you could ever find

In the pains of your own mind.

Do not tarry;

Be merry!”

Lifting wings I had forgot

Were slipped on me as though second-thought

Not wax, wood and feather

But instead will weather

Flesh, sinew and muscle

To stand out the tussle

With the air

And then, without care

I am lifted in flight

By the wind, with the paper-light

Leaves that have fallen

The smell of the pollen

Is caught by the sun.

I am alone and one.

“Do not tarry;

Be merry!”

So I swept along the sky

Gaily rollicking to fly

And my dreams went far and near

And myself was not here

Till at last again I landed

With the joy I had been handed

And the wind gently departed

I wished it good-bye and started

My way down the lane

Again

Dancing but not walking

The cat butterflies was stalking

And together we leapt in similar manner

Touched and nearly pained in joy of grandeur

And my weariness left me

Free.

“Do not tarry!

Be Merry!”

And the wind blew along

And sang its wind-song.

My Little Sister

A description of my little sister for you, because I’ve been insanely busy and haven’t posted in a hot minute. I’ll have to post a diary entry to tell you all what’s been up with me, but that’s for later. Now, on with the portrait of the smol!


She looks like an elf in an old fairy story. Her impish, dimpled face is alternately brimming with delight or drowned into misery at the change of the wind.

Her hair is a massive brown halo, curling in some places and merely standing up in others, messy and electric and driven. Her eyes are softer brown than earth, more intense than milk in coffee, like hastily brewed tea in the bottom of a pale cup. Her nose is small and freckled and kissable. Her lips are a wild rose, vivid pink, petaled apart by laughter. Her skin is soft and nearly babyish, like warm bread dough of fine-ground flour under your fingers; pliant, smooth, resilient. Her clothes are a second thought, thrown on whatever repair they may be in.

Her thoughts are so anxious and rapid that it is hard to catch them; like butterflies they flutter, as she stammers out the same word several times before capable of feeling out the idea to describe it. She flusters easily, like a wild hare. She darts and runs, screams riotous laughter or just screams, in distress or for interest. Her love is fierce and waspish, declarations almost snarling, almost yelling her affection, arms thrown about something to squish it and be sure that it is there.

It is March, though, and maybe she is allowed to be mad.


Hope you liked it! I love you all, and God bless!

Four boys and a gallon of chocolate ice cream V

When I dream, I dream of a little girl crying because North didn’t come.

 

North is sitting in a mass of frost. Around me it is summer. Everything around us is summer. But on the grass around him, hoary ice has built, and cold wind blows so that I can feel it feet away through the summer chill.

His arms are round his knees. He gazes straight ahead. Crystalized tears slide off his face in perfect, pearl drops that slide to nothingness where they fall on the grass.

I set the groceries mom sent me for on the pavement, and kneel before him. I reach out and touch the back of his neck the way I would with someone ten years younger than he seems, and thousands of years younger than he is. He looks up at me and the same tears continue to freeze as they fall, and his face, already gorgeous, is so unreally, shattering lovely that it’s like someone has reached in my chest and caught my heart in their hands and is waiting for permission to take it out and keep it.

My breath snatches, but I grip tighter and shake away the haze. “North, what’s wrong?”

“I made you cry.” His words are so soft I scarcely hear them.

I do not know what to say. I say with my movements rather than my body. I draw him closer to me with the hand on his neck and curl myself around him, tucking him away from the world.

“I didn’t mean to make you cry.”

“You didn’t. Not on purpose, anyway.”

“But you were crying and I was the reason.”

“Just because you were the reason I was crying doesn’t mean it’s your fault I was.”

North shakes his head against my shoulder. “If I was the reason, whose fault can it be but mine?”

“No one’s.” I say this more firmly, because I can tell he won’t believe me unless I’m very, very sure myself. “It isn’t anyone’s fault. Is it your fault I care for you? Not really. Is it the world’s fault because of the way things are? Is it God’s fault? I guess you could say it’s God’s fault, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to blame him because he probably knows better than I do. Hell, you could probably say everything is God’s fault and that would sort of be true but it wouldn’t be fair. You can hate and blame God for everything. You can hate and blame yourself for everything. But hating and blaming yourself for everything is really just a more artistic way of thinking you’re the center of the universe.”

North stares up at me almost incredulously.

“Yes, I do mean that. By blaming yourself, you assume you could have changed something. By blaming yourself for everything, you assume you could change everything and that means you think you’re the center of the universe.”

North touches my face with a fingertip like he’s checking to be sure I’m real. “You’re incredible, Phoebe.”

“Thank you,” lightly. “But truly, North. Sometimes in life we can’t assign blame, because we’d sort of go crazy if we tried. We have to accept that things are, and then work within our parameters to change them if we can, or live with them if we can’t. And someone else crying isn’t always something you can do much about. Case in point.” I reach out and catch a freezing tear with my left palm. I shiver as it melts.

North looks a bit ashamed, an odd expression from a creature of ancient years and untold powers. For once it seems he does not know what to say, how to respond to me.

“North, I love you enough that I don’t blame you for crying about you.”

North freezes in my arms. He raises his chin very slightly to look me in the eyes.  “Phoebe…”

“I love you.” I want to get the words out before he can stop me, before I can stop me. “I do, North.”

“I know that you do.” This again is very quiet. “I know it.”

“Then why—”

“Because I have parameters, like you said. Because I cannot hold you forever. Because the day will come when you will find parts of me you do not like and then you will hate me.”

I sit back from him a little, and wonder. How can it be that all things come back to the same problem of not feeling loved? Not believing you can be loved?

“North—”

“I love you, Phoebe.” His eyes are so intent, so set upon me, that if they were fire I would catch because of the pure focus of them. “I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you.” Every time he says it it’s softer, and every time it’s more certain than before.

I close my eyes. I breathe.

“Do you not believe me?”

The ache in my chest is like a bomb going off. “I do.” But he doesn’t hear it.

“If you think I can’t—”

“I know you can, North. I know you do. I know you loved my Grandmother, too.”

“Yes.”

“Not quite the same.”

“Not at all the same.”

Silence.

“Do you hate me now?”

I open my eyes to look at him.

“Because you know I let her be hurt so when I loved her. Because I hurt things.”

“Oh, North.” I pull closer again, sit leaning my head against his, one arm around his slim shoulders. “Love is of little value that bends so quickly.”

“But justice—”

“Doesn’t apply here. You aren’t human, North. You have your marching orders, and you have to obey them, even when they hurt things and people. And you aren’t purposely hurting people. You’re doing things that end in hurt, without wanting to hurt. And even if you fell a thousand times, you could still be loved. Love is in it’s purest form when it loves what it shouldn’t be able to.”

North looks at me. “Can you forgive me? I know it’s too late for Grace to forgive me.”

“I forgive you. But—she did forgive you.”

“What?”

“She told me so much about how you could be hurt by demanding of the wind. But she told me the wind is gentle when you ask. She might not have learned to love you. But she certainly learned to forgive.”

North bites his lip. “I’m sorry. Sorry for all of it.”

I work my fingers in with his. “I know, North.” I lean into him, shoving him a bit. I want to say something that will make this better. “I kind of have known you for a little while.”

This pulls a little, tiny smile to the edge of his lips. “I guess you have.” He glances over to where I’ve set down the groceries and raises an eyebrow. “You probably have to get those somewhere.”

I sigh. “At some point, anyway.”

North leans over to kiss my left eyelid. “I will walk with you.”

He doesn’t lift the groceries—I don’t know if it’s because they would pass through his hands or because he doesn’t know how to ask if it’s alright. He lets me carry them instead.

“North?”

He looks at me, carefully.

“It will be okay.” So trite. How do words like that ever help, anyway?

He smiles at me a little, his eyes softening till they’re almost like East’s. “If you insist.”

Gravitation

There is a weight

Which some people have

A gravitational pull

And you slide towards them without even realizing it

A comet flying on course until

Stars so small and so enormous change where you’re going

And change you beyond recognition.

But though they might pull you off course

Or into things and relationships you never suspected

Could exist

They are so grounding

That you hardly know you’re there

Until you’re with them

You hardly feel real

Until that weight drags you back to the surface of you

Drags you to consciousness.

So though it is difficult

To let the pull take hold

It is, I think, worth it.

It is better,

(is it not?)

To be directed towards the stars

Than to skim through space lonely

Weightless

Incorporeal

Unreal.

Four boys and a gallon of chocolate ice cream IV

Not sure how long this is going to continue. It’s already almost six thousand words? But it will probably end before thirty thousand. That’s as much of a guess as I’m going to make.

Hope you enjoy!


The twins are in bed sleeping by the time Lauren’s home. I find the lemonade and pour her a glass as she collapses into the oversized easy chair which sits misplaced in the kitchen. “How was work today?”

Lauren pushes her hands through the dirty blond curls of her hair. “Hectic. But that’s just life. How were the twins?”

“You know they’re always angels.”

I set the glass in front of her and she hugs me a bit awkwardly around my waist without getting up. “You’ve been such an enormous help with them since Edward’s accident.”

“Hey, I live to serve.” I sit down next to her. “Is the job working out?”

Lauren nods. “I like the work. I like the kids I’m working with, and it’s paying the bills. I just—I really wanted to be a stay-at-home mom, you know? Edward and I had all these plans. We were going to try adoption this year, you know. He’d just gotten the raise and we’d paid off the mortgage on the house and—adopting sounded perfect.” She twirls the glass of lemonade on the table. Drops of perspiration melt off the pitcher and I trace my finger in the darkness of the water on the table.

“It would have been amazing. Nate and Dora would have loved having more siblings.” I say this because I have to say something other than sorry. It would’ve been the millionth time she’s heard it to date and its sort of ceased to mean anything for her.

She smiles at me. “You’re starting to be like a sister to them anyway. And Lucy’s been around so much and your Mom has too. You’ve been amazing.”

I grip her hand. “I just wish we could do more.”

“What are your plans this fall?” She asks, sipping the lemonade and pushing away the previous subject.

I feel like my shoulders should be around my forehead to express how few my plans are. “I kind of want to—stay at home for college. But at the same time—I don’t even know what I want to study. The most working I’ve really done has been just mostly looking after kids for you and Mrs. Bernard and that summer bussing tables at the café.”

“What do you want to do?” She asks, studying me carefully.

I form the plan as I say it out loud. “I want to drive somewhere I’m needed. You know, just get in the car and drive till I find some place I’m pulled to stay. I’d just pack clothes and some cash and just head out with my cell phone and not come home until I’d figured it out.”

“Figured what out?”

The tears are on my face before I know they’re coming. “Who in the world I am.” I bury my face in my elbows. “I just want to understand. I don’t get it. Where am I going, what am I supposed to do? How do I get there?”

Lauren’s hands are light on my shoulder. “Oh, Phoeb.”

I push the tears off my face. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to dump on you like that. I just really don’t have any plans and everyone else has so many. What I want to do seems so impossible.”

“It’s not.”

“That’s what makes it seem most impossible of all. I could actually do it; therefore the thought of doing it terrifies me.” As I say it, I find out that it’s true. After all this time I could shift the terms of the deal so I don’t have to live at home. I have enough money saved up that I could just go somewhere looking for something instead of staying put and going to college. I could do something because I choose to do it, and that is terrifying.

“You know, Ed used to tell me that when you’re scared of doing something it’s often because that’s what you’re meant to do, but you’re not sure that you’re meant to do it.” Lauren smiles. “I was scared of having kids. Edward wanted them, and I did too, I was just… Terrified. I’d watched my mother go through so many miscarriages. I’d watched my parents lose my sister when she was nine and got cancer. I didn’t think I could survive it.” Lauren gets up and starts making herself a sandwich. I watch the practiced motions. There’s something mesmerizing about seeing someone do something they’ve done a thousand times before. There’s a weight behind every motion, a thoughtlessness that informs you that this is second nature. It’s the difference between watching a beginner turn a pirouette and a Prima turn one.

I’ve watched my mother write letters and admired the curves she makes on the paper, but what I find more beautiful is the skill of her hands and the total lack of obvious effort. This was the same grace and ease.

“Do you remember the first time you made a sandwich?”

Lauren looks at me like I may have lost my mind. “Not really.”

“Neither do I. I don’t remember the first time I ran a mile, either. It’s sort of like problems.”

“Problems?”

“You circulate around them. You go over them a thousand times, solve them again and again and you turn around and there’s the same problem right there for you to try to solve over again. You don’t even remember the first time you had the problem.”

“And it’s the same basic problem under almost all the others, and you keep going back and trying to fix it and it comes back looking no more fixed than before. I see what you’re saying.” Lauren leans over me to kiss my forehead. “I know it feels like the sun will stop rising and the wind will stop blowing if you fail, but trust me. The fate of the world does not depend on this decision. And any decision you make, you can reverse.”

I wondered if that were true; and if it were true, why Grandmother hadn’t been able to do it.

“Oh, hon. Go home and sleep. Things will look better in the morning.”

 

It was days before East stepped into my bedroom through the window, grinning at me like he always had when I was about seven or eight and had no idea what it meant for the wind to visit me. He sat at the end of my bed and waited for me to talk to him.

I sat at the top of my bed and waited for him to say something to me.

“You’re late,” I said at last.

“Am I?”

“North said we could talk about the deal in the morning. It’s been mornings and mornings.”

“But he didn’t say any specific morning, now did he? And that’s North’s fault. I’m not here to renegotiate the deal because he hasn’t asked me to.”

I shrugged my shoulders at him, a silent ‘why’ implicit.

“Phoebe, do you remember as little as all that? Do I have to have a reason to want to talk to you?”

“You always did have a reason.”

He quirks an eyebrow at me. “Really?”

“I wanted you to come.”

His face becomes graver. “Then perhaps I am here because you wanted me to come.”

I lie back. “Why did I want you to come?”

He sets his chin on his knees and wraps his arms about himself. His eyes are like the ocean. You never think the waves will be big, but they are, and you could drown in them. “So you won’t be alone.”

I want to ask him why he hasn’t come all these years then, but I pull a sweater up off the floor from where it’s lying incongruously by the head of my bed, too hot for the summer, and ball it up in my hands. I sit up a bit, my stomach muscles aching from all of the wiggle dancing I’d done with Nathan and Dora during the day. I throw the sweater at his face.

“That’s just rude.” He slouches under the sweater, and I can practically that he’s plotting revenge. He bursts forward to land almost on top of me and start tickling me, laughing maniacally, sweater still hanging off his head.

He’s still got the advantage, like he had eleven years ago when I was a child and he and South and West could quiet my fears by a word. We finish at last, both laughing hard, unable to stop.

We end up lying side by side, tension eased between us. “Hey, East?”

“Yeah?”

“Why didn’t North ever come?”

His voice becomes softer. “What do you mean?”

“Why did he never come to see me when I was little?”

East is quiet so long I think he isn’t going to answer. “He did come.”

I turn to stare at his profile. He flicks his head over to the side to look at me. “He did come, Phoebs. He came all the time.”

I frown. “East, I think you’ve made a mistake about the person who he visited. Whoever it was, it wasn’t me.”

East looks steadily at my chin, refusing to meet my eyes.

“Why do you think it was me?”

East looks above my head this time. “If he hadn’t come to see you, Phoebe, none of the rest of us would ever have come. It may not—seem like it, but North is much more concerned with humans than the rest of us are. He doesn’t just see you all. He notices you. We don’t notice you most of the time, insensitive as it sounds.” There is something like pain in his words and the set of his mouth. He isn’t ashamed of what he’s telling me. But he is sorry for it.

“But I don’t remember him.” I say out loud.

East meets my eyes this time. “Most babies never do.” East stretches out his fingers with great care, touching my arm as though he might break me easily as a china doll.

“But you don’t visit most girls.”

“North doesn’t love most girls—I should say any girls, or any boys—the way he loves you.” His eyes slide off into that distant look, a million miles from everything. “I remember how softly he blew around this house, how often he would go inside. I asked him why, and he brought me in to see you. You were only about two or three, but you already spoke so very well, and you saw us both right away. To most we’re shapes and shadows—but we were flesh and blood to you. I remember seeing you through North’s eyes, then. Seeing how lovely you were.” He closes his eyes and his eyelashes brush along his cheeks. “Why didn’t you stay a baby forever, Phoebe?”

There is a tightness deep in my throat that feels like tears, and I want to remember this. I want to remember the feeling of North’s arms close round me, dancing with me the way East did in so many memories. I want to see the human parts of him. But like ashes they drift away from my grip. “Is it so bad that I’ve grown up?”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“Because he has to let you go.” This is a whisper.

I open my eyes, tears slipping out against my will, and see the same tears overflowing East’s eyes.

“I can keep you, South can keep you, West can keep you, because we don’t love you like he does. But my brother never does anything by halves and he loves you so completely that it scares me. He can’t keep you, Phoebe. You need to be free.

My voice breaks around the word. “Why?”

East’s perfect tears, beautiful tears, with none of the redness of human tears, no sobs to fiercen them, slip out over his face and onto my pillow, where they fade into nothing, no wetness gathering there. “Because this imprisonment is killing you. Of course you are meant to have a home. Everyone is meant to have one. But we’re shackling you here.” He lifts up his finger to catch one of my tears on it, where it shines and shines like a jewel. “And also you’re going to die someday and he isn’t. You can settle down and have children but he can’t give you children because he’s not like you. He isn’t like us. But he’s not one of you.”

My shoulders start shaking and my chest hurts like nails are being put through it. I shove my hand over my mouth to stifle my sobbing. East pulls me against him, once again with that strange carefulness which I never noticed before. North wasn’t careful with me when he held me at the solstice. He held me like it was second-nature. East holds me like he’s holding a stranger.

But he also holds me like he’s holding a long-lost friend.

“I want to remember,” I say through the gasps. “I want to remember.”

East rubs the tears from my face. “I know.”

Four boys and a gallon of chocolate ice cream III

“Why did you make a deal, Grandmother?”

It is our last lesson when I ask her, though I do not know it.

She stares at me for a long time. “I do not know that you would understand, Phoebe.”

I blink at her. “But—isn’t that our magic? Don’t we always understand?”

She reaches out, which is rare, and actually touches me, which is rarer. Her thin, large knuckled hand presses against my cheek, cold radiating out from it into my warm skin. “We see, Phoebe. But understanding comes from here—” She presses her hand against my heart. “Not here.” She presses her hand to my forehead, where she says my magic rests.

I frown. “But then how do I understand?”

Grandmother gives me a look I do not understand. “You were made with a heart large enough to comprehend. But that heart will also be large enough to hurt.”

I still do not understand.

She sighs. “Come sit with me in the oak, and I will tell you all of it.”

Grandmother pulls me into her lap, her slender, bony fingers poking deeply into my skin as she adjusts me. I have never sat in her lap before. I wonder if anyone else has.

I no longer remember how she told it. I remember the story. I do not remember the words or her voice or her face as she tells it. All I remember of her face is the picture I have of her, and the expression of her eyes, which were so expressive that I still have never forgotten them.

It was a dry year, and it had been dry too long for anything to grow. Dust rose in curtains and pennants, obscuring the soft motion of heat at the horizon, catching in the children’s eyes and leaving them hot, stinging and dry. Grace was twelve, and she didn’t remember the last time it had rained. Her father had brought them to the city so he could find work, but even in the city there was little water.

And Grace knew a secret. Her parents’ money had run out, and they were gradually falling deeper in debt.

But that was not the worst secret. Grace’s mother was dying.

Grace’s sister with her soothing hands, who could ease aches and make bruises fade, couldn’t have helped even if she had known. Grace wanted the capability to heal—wanted it desperately, so she could give drink to the parched earth, smooth the lines of worry round her father’s eyes, and most of all so that her mother would live.

But Grace had no magic that she could see.

All she could do was to see, and she saw too much. She saw despair and she sank herself, without even realizing it, until the surface was so far above her that she was drowning with no way up or out. She walked out into the country one night, far after she had been put to bed, far after her parents would check. The dust scuffed up under her feet and made her choke and cough, and the water she had brought—there wasn’t enough of it. She walked, and she walked, and she walked. Finally she was alone, and lost, and all she could see was open sky, merciless, starry, and she yelled, agonized, at anything listening.

She screamed her pain and anger and loss and that she was without point and could not do anything, and that her father was lost, her mother was dying and worst of all she could not make it rain. She could not make the sweet gifts which the grandmothers and grandfathers spoke of return to her home.

She was powerless.

She screamed this, too, until she was hoarse, and furious because no one had answered, she kicked over her water, and all of it spilled out into the cracked and thirsty soil, and left her lost, exhausted, sore and with no water to ease her aching throat.

This did not stop her and she was too angry to be afraid. She walked further, yelled more.

And for another whole day she walked until she collapsed, dizzy, thirsty, crying.

A boy swept down from the heavens from the east, and then from the north another came, and south and west they came to surround her and ask why she protested against the world itself, why she accused that whom had made her of injustice.

Tears drenched her face and she cried out all the unfair things.

East touched her face in soft sympathy. South looked grieved. West swirled the dust around in his hands and stared at the horizon, his face ancient and inscrutable. North alone spoke.

His eyes were hard and cold, and his words were without mercy, and he cut away at all her disputes and arguments until all she could sob was ‘because.’ Worst of all, there was no triumph in him when he reduced all her protests to nothing. He looked older than all the others and kneeling before her, he took her face in his hands and told her that the state of the earth was not responsible for men, but the state of men for the earth.

She saw no kindness in him as she cried out all her agony and begged for aid.

His eyes became instantly darker and he forbade her to ask.

But she demanded.

My Grandmother’s deal was made.

 

  1. For tribute given and accepted four times a year, the following shall belong to the girl and her legacy:
  2. That rain shall always fall at command.
  3. That the home shall always be hers.
  4. That the orchard shall always bear fruit.
  5. That storms shall not destroy the girl nor any of her family.

 

The next day, my grandmother made it rain.

A day after, the first tribute was taken. The heart-rate monitors ceased pulsing, and cried out long until the doctor silenced them.

The storm flooded the long dry country. The house in the country was dry. The people who had owned the house were absent, on the road, and the water swept them away and swallowed them up. But the storm did not touch Grace though she stood in the center of the flooding and tried and failed to help.

The waters went down. It rained, and rained, and rained, and the drought had broken.

But my Grandmother never made it rain again.

 

It is raining when I wake. The clouds are gray overhead and the lightning cuts the sky asunder again and again. My head aches. North has refused tribute. I stare up at the storm, and then I deliberately open the windows. I want to know if he will send in something to hurt me, to prove he can, to prove that the deal is broken.

The Grandmother of the story would tell me not to tempt fate. The Grandmother who told me the story—what would she say? I do not know.

I stand at the open window and put out my hands in the rain. It is warm, as summer rain is always warm.

“Darling, why is the window open?” Mother stands in the doorway of my room, hands folded in a dish towel. She walks across the room, pulls my hands inside, and dries them with the towel she’s holding. “Do you object to me closing it?”

“I just wanted to test a hunch. And of course you can close it, Mom.” I look up at her. In the framed context of my room, she still belongs. My room is carpeted with an old carpet rug in a purple, golden and cream design that Grandmother apparently brought from Italy and wanted to give me, and the walls are painted amber gold—not yellow gold, but rich, earthy gold. I have a map of the world spread on one wall, and on the others photographs of buildings, bridges, statues, faces, hands, clothespinned on netted purple thread, or framed by Cyprian’s clever hands and leftover cedar from the deck. My bed is very low, covered in a crazy quilt I sewed myself the year I made quilts for Lucy, Cyprian and my parents for Christmas.

Mother closes the window, her brown face lit pale momentarily by a branch of lightning, highlighting the firm lines of her jaw and too definite lines of her forehead and nose. She flicks the lock and pulls me up off my knees to wrap an arm around my waist and draw me toward the kitchen. “Your father and Lucy are already gone.”

“Is Cyprian up?”

Mother laughs. “Is he ever when he doesn’t have to be? But it’s summer, darling. Let him sleep.”

“While I slave away, studying and stuff?” I smile at her.

“Well, you are nannying for Lauren from eleven. Are you comfortable going to pick the twins up in this storm?”

She sits me down at the carved kitchen table as she talks and puts sausage, a muffin and strawberries on a china plate in front of me.

“But of course.”

“Cocoa or tea?”

“What kind?”

“English Breakfast.”

“Eh. Cocoa. Thanks for breakfast, Mother.” I lean up to kiss her.

She wrinkles her nose at me. “After me getting up and slaving over breakfast, ‘thanks’?”

She winks, tells me to eat, and moves around the kitchen, humming happily. I stare after her and wonder what it would have been like if Mother had taken up Grandmother’s bargain instead of me. I imagine her opposite each of the boys in turn, trying to figure out what she would do when she saw each of them.

I can’t seem to picture it. With all of her poise and grace and everything, I still can’t imagine her in that position. It belonged to Grandmother and belongs now only to me it seems. Come to think of it I can’t picture Lucy presenting tribute four times a year. She would always wear something ceremonious if she did—probably her ancient green kimono.

I’m still thinking about it when I’m dressed and in the car to pick up the twins. Rain runs in little rivers over the wind-shield. Considering my activities four times a year, I’ve always considered the name “wind-shield” painfully ironic.

The twins are in the car in what feels like seconds and making a lot of noise and soon drowning out most thoughts I could be having about what part of my deal am I going to renegotiate and how.

“What would you ask the weather to do if you could?” I ask the backseat, flicking the little mirror attached to the rearview so that I can see the twins better.

Nathan smiles at me. “Sunshine, all the time!”

Dora sticks out her tongue at him. “So boring! Summer is awful enough without lasting forever.”

“Summer is the epitome of the year!” Nathan flashes back, pronouncing epitome like i-pet-me.

“What would you ask for, Dora?” I ask, to preclude argument.

Dora studies my eyes in the mirror. “I don’t think I’d ask for anything. I think daddy would call it out of my office.”

“Department.” I correct automatically. “Thanks, Dora. That actually—clears something up a little.”

Nathan starts begging for the radio to be on at this point. I let them pick the station—something pop and Disney feeling—and the conversation in the backseat, the need to pay attention to the road, and the minty voice coming over the radio drown out all the thoughts in my head and leave me in peace.