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Today it rained again as it always does, always seems to. Kai heard the thunder boom close by and turned his head, the first time I have noticed that he noticed. He looked out the window at the silver curtain of water pouring off the roof, and so I took him onto the porch for his initiation to the rain, told him what was happening in English, then in French, and smiled at his gaping mouth as he watched the cool torrent rush down. He reached out toward the drops that blew in over us. It is raining. Il pleut.
Every time we look at houses to buy I wonder whether we’re doing the right thing or just selling out, doing the easiest thing. I love it here and I hate it here. I want to show Kai the places I frequented as a child, yet they aren’t the same anymore, don’t hold the same charm. Do all adults say that? Should we move to a woodsy, folksy area with a lake nearby and some Yankee history? We’d be away from friends and family but away from these snobby greedy rich people who don’t know how good they’ve got it.
The other day I heard Peter Walsh say that he heard the Dalai Lama say that all parents should teach their children just an hour of compassion a week and the world would be a nonviolent, wonderful place. This has always been my goal with Kai, to teach him respect and compassion daily, but am I a good teacher when I hardly can demonstrate compassion myself, feel it easily slip away like a soapy glass from the hot dishwater, feel anger and frustration bubble up against strangers who I think are walking through their lives asleep. I’m just a student.
Sometimes I get hit with a flashback of a time when I was much younger and felt truly happy and comfortable, like the first night my family tried Chinese takeout and sat watching the new cable Disney Channel, or a Thanksgiving morning from the 1970s when I was in the shower and washing my hair with Pantene, excited to have my relatives over and eat my favorite meal of the year, or a summer evening at my grandparents’ house, running around their yard chasing fireflies in the indigo light, drinking cold lemonade from jewel-colored metal cups that froze our fingertips.
The first year or two the tiny sugar ants were nonexistent. The third and fourth years a few showed up in May, scouting the kitchen, finding a stray piece of cat kibble under the counter, and they would leave trails for friends, and soon we would have a swarm. He couldn’t stand it, so out would come the dab of poison, and that would be that. Now with the baby I pretty much put my foot down: no poison. So the ants are everywhere, driving us crazy, and no organic remedy works. I just brushed one off my cheek, literally.
I will miss the way the tree limbs are right outside every window here, the way it seems that we live in a tree house. I will miss that I can stroll down the street and enter the park, hear the brook slap the smooth stones and feed around the ducks’ bright orange legs. I will miss having an ice-cream shop within walking distance. I will miss that Kai’s doctor is five minutes away. I will miss having so many kitchen cabinets. I will miss the large walk-up attic storage. I will being able to sit on a front porch.
I will enjoy having a separate room for Kai and all his things. I will enjoy having my own functional office again. I will enjoy being able to walk out on a deck and sit in the sun. I will enjoy planting my own garden. I will enjoy composting my table scraps and dry leaves and new grass clippings. I will enjoy having central air. I will enjoy burning a fire in the fireplace when the weather gets cold. I will enjoy finally being able to host a holiday for all the family. I will enjoy parking in a driveway.
I am desperately trying to get out of this depression, to kick myself out of it, to think of all the positive things about this huge change, but it is so difficult to feel happy, and yet when I think about the many changes that have happened to me in the last 7 years (they say there’s a shift in everything every 7 years) I realize that all things have turned out well, that despite difficult times I am where I want to be; I have been meeting my own goals, so why is it so hard to have faith?
The streets of New York were homes back then. There were so many more people on them. We would cross the George Washington in the early 80s, when I was a middle-school student, go in to see the tiny lights on the Rockefeller Center tree or catch a musical that everyone in school had already seen, and the homeless were there as soon as you got off the Henry Hudson, and even before. You’d never get where you were going without calls for coins, without avoiding eye contact. Was it Dinkins who shooed them all away? How soon we forget.
How can I possibly decide which books to part with? It seems like a sacrilege. There are many I won’t read of course, but just to have them … Our storage space is limited, and so things must go. One book I keep for a passage on how vile coffee is (I have a love/hate relationship with coffee) but to keep a whole novel for that? It seems ludicrous. And isn’t that what libraries are for, to hold these popular and modern novels for you so you can use precious shelf space for classic old hardback editions of
I decided that since certain aspects of our next place are not what I thought they would be, I will throw my energy into other things, like finally finishing this romance novel I have talked about for years. I think I can do it, at least finish writing it. Whether it will ever get published is uncertain. But I still want to finish it. I feel terrible for not attending M’s recent book launches at various book shops but with all that is going on, I just can’t afford the time. How nice it would be to launch a book.
We were just sitting on the porch downstairs, on the side in front of our door, letting K sleep in his stroller after having taken a walk in the bright summer sun, and I looked to the neighbors’ side, where they store things like old sneakers, a child’s car seat upturned, a large plastic horse for a child to ride, the dead plants overhead, and I remembered the previous neighbors, with their tapestry rug under wide wicker chairs and a small table, burning a fat candle, their teen son greeting us as we came home, playing acoustic guitar for friends.
I was clearing out my desk when I found a few collectables stuffed inside a notebook. I have the full set of Star Wars Burger King cards that change scene when you tilt them, and I have no idea how much those are worth. I have tried to look them up, to no avail. Then I found five rookie baseball cards, including cards for Wade Boggs, Cory Snyder, and Kirby Puckett. None of them are worth much at all, which got me thinking that perhaps my entire baseball card collection is not worth anything. Kai will get it all anyway.
I am desperate to get this place cleaned and boxed up, yet as soon as K falls asleep, I crash on the bed, put on the TV, eat something, and fall asleep in my clothes. Are panic and anxiety and stress causing me to pass out? I did manage recently to pick out some books to pass on, so it’s not that I am not doing anything, but I am not doing enough. A few nights I even opened my laptop on the bed and tried to add a few paragraphs to my novel, but I fell asleep on it.
The shuttle took off roughly, causing her to bang her shoulder into the cushion of the bench seat. She leaned back into the slightly giving material, looking for any kind of comfort from the turmoil she was feeling. He was up with the pilot, but she needed space, so as they boarded she had turned for the back of the shuttle, and he hadn’t stopped her. The ship was docked at a portal about 30 minutes away, so she had time to think, time to figure out what was next. She wished she had just told him that first day.
As she merged the words she’d use to explain and images of their homeland, the hold went dark and it felt as if the shuttle started to slow, then drift. Suddenly a thin rose light filtered over the space, and she whipped her head around to the entryway to try to pick up any motion or voices. Gia quickly slipped off her harness and stood, making a quick decision to go to Kona in case something was wrong. As she started through the doorway, Kona was there, finishing a quick step. They stopped short of colliding, and both breathed in.
His expression gave the slightest hint of relief, but she watched him catch himself and adjust to the professional, controlled look he carried every day he checked in with her at work. “We’re on emergency power. The pilot, Chu, set the shuttle on auto, so we’ll go below and take a look.” He stood completely still, looking down at her with wide eyes. She had no idea what to say to him so said nothing at all. “Come with us so I … in case we need a hand.” He stretched his left hand out toward the rest of the shuttle.
“I’ll be fine here. Sir.” She wanted to make it clear that they were back to work, back to the way things should be, would have to be. She kept her arms down tight against her body, as if she were wearing her uniform. The air was warm and still now; she guessed that the low power meant no cooling system.
Kona took a deep breath. “The guts of this thing are tight.” He looked down the length of her body, then his dark brown eyes met hers. “You might be able to access panels easiest of all of us.”
It could have been a lie, but now she was curious. He’d never needed her for anything in the two months that she’d been on the ship. She didn’t know what good she would be in a gauzy evening gown and tall heels, but she would follow orders like a good crew member.
When she saw Chu, it took all her composure not to give a good laugh. He had limbs like a redwood tree and a boulder body. She wasn’t sure how he’d even fit in the pilot’s chair. Kona pulled up a floor panel and lowered himself below.
Only a minute had passed when she saw Kona grab the edge of the floor deck and pull himself back up through the open panel, the tight muscles of his forearms flexing.
“All right, I’ve reset the power pulse. Now we’ve got to hit the main panel switch.” He rubbed his palms on his dress uniform pants as if cleaning off grime. She found him staring at her, and furrowed her brow. Then she looked at Chu, and he was staring at her, too.
“Okay. So hit it.” She’d become too frustrated with him and it was all coming out.
What confused her was that Kona didn’t seem to mind her wise attitude. Or maybe he was too distracted.
Chu spoke in a quiet voice. “He means, you need to hit the switch.” He raised his eyebrows at her glare.
“What kind of shuttle is this?” She didn’t expect an answer, but Kona had one.
“It’s a Tira shuttle.” With her wide knowledge of known species, no further explanation was necessary. Tira were a rather flexible almost insect species, with joints that unhinged -- a lanky group that thought little of others. She looked quizzically at the very nonlanky Chu.
“I’m just filling in,” Chu said, holding up his hands in front of him and backing up against the wall.
She put her hands on her hips and turned back to Kona. “All right, what do I have to do?”
Kona pointed toward the front of the shuttle, to the walkway leading to the cockpit. “There’s a switch under the front dash. You’ll have to scuttle under and reach up to flip it.”
She wanted to refuse, but more than anything she wanted to be back on the ship in her own bed after a long shower. “Lead the way.”
She lowered herself gently onto her back, refusing their help to get to the floor, and wedged herself into the small space where the pilot fit his body to fly the shuttle. This is insane, she thought as she looked for the yellow switch that Kona had described. He had told her that she might have to feel for it instead of look for it, and that turned out to be the case. At a certain point she could not move her shoulders farther back, so she lifted her thin arm over and lightly ran her fingers over the panel.
Her fingers found a thick ridged lever and she knew she had found it. She pushed hard to the right, and instantly felt a jolt fly through her. A loud buzz rang her ears, and the power surged, then all went dark.
The next she knew, she opened her eyes to the same red glow she had been bathed in earlier. She was laying on the bench seat in the hold. Kona was over her. A gentle smile lit his face as she started to lift her head.
“Don’t get up.” He was speaking softly again, as if far away.
“We don’t have power.” She knew his answer but was still a bit fuzzy. She didn’t know how long she’d been out.
“You hit the right lever but it must’ve had a short. Damn shuttle is too old. Chu is resetting the fuse. At least he can do that himself. We’ll be on our way soon.” Kona leaned in a bit, really looking her over. It was almost cute the way he was playing doctor.
“I can sit up. I’m fine.” She pushed herself up off the bench, then felt weak and slowed. Kona hurried to sit next to her.
“Sure you are.” He braced her on her shoulders until she steadied herself, then let go but sat as close as he could without touching her.
She rested her palms on the soft purple fabric covering her thighs, keeping her arms straight and leaning her head down to try to shake her throbbing headache. They sat like that for a long minute, a low hum from the emergency power the only sound. She started building the courage to explain. She knew this would be the best time for the conversation, the only time they would have away from the crew.
“I should have told you,” she started, trying to sound steady but soft, hoping he’d give her time to explain without cutting her off as he normally did. She looked to him to see if he would start to speak, but he was silent, merely watching her with those intense dark eyes, so she continued.
“I wanted to tell you I was Yadi from the day we met, but I was shocked just to see you again …” She could see that he wanted to speak, to ask questions, but she plowed ahead for fear of losing her nerve now.
“And then I realized you were to be my commander, and I knew I couldn’t tell you, not if I were to be treated just like any other member of the crew, given the same assessment and chances as anyone else. …”
He couldn’t hold his tongue at that, and she wasn’t surprised. “I do not play favorites.” He was back to his officious self, defensive and stern. He crossed his arms over his chest.
“You would try not to, but with me there, I … I knew it would have been too difficult to work together if you knew.”
She brought her gaze up to meet his and read his frustration, his confusion at her deception. He pushed forward, unsatisfied with leaving it at that explanation. He seemed to be studying her, even carefully checking her tribe markings. Finally he spoke in a more gentle voice.
“You must be of the mountain. I was last at the mountain just before I left.” He paused as his forehead wrinkled with the force of bringing forward a buried memory. “I came to receive the blessing before heading to the academy. You must have been young, yet you say you know me.”
“Everyone on the mountain knew you. The greatest plains warrior, destined to head the tribe after your father.” She looked out over the hold, her voice rising as if she were repeating lines from a play. “And I was not young. I was 12 when you came for the blessing.” He cocked his head at her to show that she had proved his point, but she continued. “That is only 5 years’ difference. I was not old enough to watch the ceremony, but
had described it all to me.” Oh damn. She hadn’t meant to say that.
It was enough that he knew they were of the same tribe, but now this. She clenched her jaw at her stupidity. This was something he really didn’t need to know. How could she work with him after tonight?
you?” His voice reflected a mixture of force and fear. He leaned back, almost as if he wanted to rise and walk to the other side of the bay, but he held next to her. She couldn’t tell if the red glow on his face was his emotional response or the way the emergency lights came over him.
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