Tuesday, January 8, 2008


(Another double chapter post today -- connected plot threads plus an eager reader! See below for Chapter Forty-Four.) This is draft one of my sci-fi novel Skene. To read earlier chapters, go to LABELS in the right-hand column on this page, scroll down to the Skene tags and click on the one you want to read. Skene is set on a human-habitable planet in the Alhena star system at least 500 years in the future. There's a considerable amount of appendix material and diagrams also available here as needed:
Map of Riesig (the main island)
Map of The Manage on Riesig
Skene Glossary (Skenish to English)
Skene Cast of Characters
Skene Culture, Calendar, Clothing, and Islands
Map of All Skene
Map of The Lofthall on Riesig


Prl and Speranz got Yoj up early. She went to the kitchen in her schmatta, still groggy, and was waved to the table by Yerush who brought her tea, toast, and the promised eggs. She enjoyed watching the faces of her older children coming down their ladder, looking at her with recognition that she'd spent the night. Even better was the surprise on Bux's face, which she immediately tried to cover.

After breakfast, Yoj grabbed a quick bath, wishing she could take a long time to soak in their large familiar tub. She dressed in the bath room and emerged to find everyone else ready for Market. They walked as a mass of family down to the temporary stalls and stacked crates lining the shops district. The children, sensing indulgence, were each able to persuade one of their emmas into springing for a treat they were usually denied. After marketing, the abbas took the children home, Halling went on to the Lofthall, while Yoj and Bux walked to the allotment center, with an immediate lessening of ease between them. On the way home, Yoj noticed Bux was avoiding the street with Jaln's shop as much as she was.

Back at the Manage, Bux turned to her apologetically and said "I know it's a lot to ask, but I'm way behind on Sheng Zhang work. My own fault, I admit. Still, I need to catch up. I'll spend tomorrow entirely on the children and the tillage if you'll look after them this afternoon."

Before Yoj could answer, Yerush interrupted: "I had a special plan for Yoj to work on today. I suppose we could do it this evening -- "

Qen, however, interrupted Yerush to say "The children will want to play outside, since it's not raining. Bux, you go do your work before you get in trouble. Yoj, if you'll start bread, you can spend most of your time in the study with Yerush. Veida and I will get the rest done."

Yoj and Bux both kissed her in thanks, and Yoj pulled flour from the larder. Yerush hovered nearby, saying "I might as well learn while I'm waiting on you. Explain to me why your bread is so much better than what I make."

Yoj didn't notice Bux leaving. As she explained gluten and air pockets to Yerush, Yerush made vegetable stew. An hour later, Yoj put her sponges aside for their first rise and helped Yerush set the table for the children's lunch. The five, already grimy, escaped quickly after eating back to the front lane. Yoj and Yerush rushed through the dishes, and Yerush carried a second chair into Yoj's study.

Yerush said, in a confidential tone, "Your degree in music is assured. As is a degree in cultural studies. However, I have this fantasy of you joining my tiny department as a gakusha of history and texts, and I think if you could write a treatise or essay -- a long one, mind you -- on a learned topic not covered elsewhere, you could snag a third degree." Her eyes were sparkling, and Yoj noticed how young Yerush looked when she was happily engaged in thinking.

Yoj breathed out. "That's a seductive idea, Yerush. And -- intimidating. But I'd love to try."

"Well, let me intimidate you one step further" grinned Yerush, linking her fingers through Yoj's. "If you write an essay that challenges established thinking -- if you argue with one of my textbooks, for example -- it will go even better for you."

"Argue with the esteemed Nan Yerush?" teased Yoj.

"The Brown Frown, as she's known" teased Yerush in reply. "Yes, I know what I'm called behind my back. I'm betting you've wanted to research alternative viewpoints over the years. I'll help direct you toward texts, and this will ensure nobody can claim you're my sycophant, not if you're questioning me."

"I swear, Yerush, if we could speak lev, you'd figure out a scheme to maneuver them out of their omnivorous ways" Yoj said appreciatively. Yerush laughed hard, her cheeks flushed. Yoj went to punch down her dough, and when she returned, she already had a few ideas in her head. They began debating them with relish.

By the time the bread was done, they had a rough outline for a two-pronged treatise that Yerush said would set everyone back on their heels. "But we need to go find citations and supporting texts in the library" she added.

"Go ahead" said Qen, washing potatoes at the sink. "Halling said she's bringing Qala and Lawa home for dinner, they always come early so we'll get them to cook. Just be back by time to eat."

They were, barely. Their excited explanations of Yoj's ideas dominated the beginning of the meal, until Prl, hearing the brunt of the torrent from her place in Yoj's lap, said in a plaintive tone, "Emma, are you talking Skenish? 'Cause I don't understand your words."

Yoj laughed and answered "I'll switch topics, to something we can all share in. Who has something to bring up?"

Ndege, not missing a beat, said "Mill spit at someone's feet today just like you did on that stoop last week."

Mill's hackles instantly rose, and Yoj cut her off with "Mill, I shouldn't have done it, and you're not to imitate my worst behavior. I don't care why. Is that clear?"

"Yes, emma" said Mill, her eyes burning holes down the table into Ndege's flesh. Qala said "The front door at the Lofthall was left open because the day was so nice, and a robin got into the Main Hall." She began acting out the efforts to catch it, sending even Mill into eventual giggles.

A little later, Veida said "The sugar beets are ready for harvest. The processing center is open tomorrow, and I could order a new flock of ducks and geese next weekend if we're ready by then."

"We're also overdue on turning the compost and scrubbing out the chicken house" said Yoj.

"We did that today" said Qen.

Yoj looked at her and Veida. "I don't quite see how. But in that case, you've earned a day off from the tillage. I'll do the beet harvest tomorrow."

"You can't do it alone" said Bux quietly. "I'll help."

"Sugar!" crowed Dodd.

"Yes, and you three oldest can help with the first part of the harvest" responded Yoj, dimming their excitement.

Halling began "If you want to put it off a day, I could help on Shmonah."

Bux interjected "Oh, but -- Red crabs are coming in full right now, and I heard Bosco is having a festival on Shmonah, with a boil, a few tumblers and jugglers, some music and a crab race. Morrie vaseo begins at 8, and it's a long one because of the double dark of the moon."

All of the children began clamoring to go. Qala looked at Halling and said "You could take the morning off as well."

"Only if you come with us" said Halling. "I'll leave Lmape in charge of the dispatch office, and I can walk to the jichang there every hour or so to call in."

Yoj saw Lawa nudging Qala under the table with her foot, urging her on. "Okay. We'll join you" said Qala.

"We'll still do the beets tomorrow" said Yoj. "We'll all be ready for a holiday after that."

Veida said drily "The chickens need culling as well, but I can help you -- "

"No" sighed Yoj. "You and Qen have been doing more than your share. If you'll watch the kids, I'll do the culling as well."

"With help" repeated Bux stubbornly.

Veida, not quite grinning, said "The forecast is for heavy rain tomorrow."

"Of course it is" said Yoj resignedly.

After dinner, Yoj and Yerush holed up in her study again until it was time for the children to go to bed. She helped tuck them in, telling stories gleaned from her recent reading. Returning to the kitchen, Qala said "You didn't come to the Lofthall last night."

Avoiding looking at Bux, Yoj said "Yeah, I slept here with Prl and Speranz." She cleared her throat and said "I, uh, think I will tonight, too. Since I'll be working long hours here."

Qala winked at her, and Yoj looked down at her hands. Lawa said "Well, then, we'll see you Shmonah for sure." She and Qala stood, gave hugs, and left.

The next morning, Yoj was again awakened too early, and as she sluggishly helped make breakfast, a headache loomed, unaffected by Veida's herbs. By the time she walked out into a downpour, she was in a foul mood. Mill was sent to borrow a wheelbarrow from their neighbors behind them, while their own wheelbarrow was placed in the lane. Yoj began harvesting at the end nearest the greenhouse, yanking beets from the sodden soil and passing them via a relay of children to Bux at the wall by the lane. Bux would strip away the tops and trim each beet suitable for the hopper at the processing plant.

Within half an hour, Yoj was far ahead of Bux. She kept her back to both Bux and the manage beside them, but she imagined Ried watching her, laughing at her stooped over in the rain. Her anger grew, keeping her hot and energized. None of the children tried talking with her after a couple of tries, and their joking with Bux only infuriated her further -- Bux didn't deserve the good will of her children, she'd failed them in a fundamental way.

Once the beet field was a pockmark of slowly puddling holes, Yoj told the children they were excused and went to help Bux with trimming the pile of beets at her feet. They worked in silence. Yoj imagined the memories of Ried that Bux might be conjuring in her mind and wielded her knife savagely, knicking her own knuckles twice.

After both wheelbarrows heaped by several hundred pounds of beets, they slid over the wall and began trying to push them down the soaked gravel lane without tipping over the barrow. It was arduous and slow, even after they reached the relatively easier paving. Approaching the processing center, Yoj saw a line of at least ten people ahead of them. She groaned out loud and stopped to ease her back for a minute. When she joined Bux at the end of the line, Bux said "Why don't you go sit down in a cafe for a while? Rest, drink some tea. Bring me back some tea when you're done."

"Fine" said Yoj shortly. She went to her favorite place, ordering a piece of nutbread to go with her tea. The woman who owned this cafe had been Bux's first lover, which hadn't really bothered Yoj until now. She looked at her sideways today, wondering how far the rumors of Bux's affair had spread and if this woman was among those laughing at Bux's simpleton partners.

She sat in the corner, grabbing one of the books left there for reading by the customers. Reading worked its usual magic on her, and when she surfaced to check the clock, she was dismayed to find more than half an hour had passed. She carried her dishes back to the counter, ordered tea and piece of nutbread for Bux as well to make up for taking so long, and hurried back to the line.

Two people had gone in from the head of line, which was a rapid pace, giving Yoj hope. Bux smiled guardedly at the nutbread, and after a bite said "It's lovely. Though of course not as good as yours." Some people they knew joined the line after them, and they engaged in small talk. Again, Yoj found herself examining the expression and inflection during the exchange, trying to find out if they were in on the gossip. Her ill humor began creeping back.

Two hours later, they were done, with a receipt to pick up 30 pounds of sugar in a few days. At the Manage, Bux went to return the borrowed wheelbarrow while Yoj used theirs to haul the mound of beet greens to the chicken run and spread it there. Bux returned to rake the beet field smooth and broadcast winter rye seeds mixed with sand. There was no point in assembling the duck and goose houses or erecting the fence until the rye germinated.

Inside, the Manage smelled like tomato soup. Yerush had kept it simmering, and there were beanpaste sandwiches as well. Yoj sat down gratefully in Qen's seat, next to Yerush who had a stack of books and papers in front of her, and warmed her stiff hands around the sides of her soup bowl as Yerush showed her what she'd brought home from the library for Yoj's paper. The children had eaten and gone back out front to play. Qen and Veida were on the couch in front of the hearth, picking apart old clothes past mending to be used for making quilts or cleaning rags.

Bux ate silently at her end of the table. Yoj was sure she was avidly eavesdropping on her talk with Yerush, and it gave her a mean thrill to ignore her. When Bux was done, she gathered Yoj's dishes as well as her own, then put the scalding pot on the aga and filled it. She briefly whetted cleavers, set them in a bowl, and gently interrupted Yoj and Yerush at the table, saying "I need to spread a drop cloth. We'll have to pluck them inside."

"Oh, right" said Yoj. She offered her office to Yerush and followed Bux to the chicken run.

At the gate, Bux said "I always feel so guilty when they rush up gladly to me this way, when I'm about to kill a bunch of them." Yoj didn't answer. Guilt seemed like a volatile topic at the moment.

By the time they were done, they had to rush clearing the table area because dinner was ready. They scrubbed side by side at the sink, in the same silence they'd observed all afternoon. Their tension seemed to infect dinner, making it quieter than ever. Yoj passed on dessert, saying she needed a long soak in the tub, if she could go first. Bux just nodded at her.

The third time Speranz came into the bath room to chat with Yoj, letting in a draft, Yoj yelled at her. Speranz was shocked, and left quickly, leaving the door open. Qen stepped over to close it. Yoj ran more hot water and put her head under the surface over and over, holding her breath and closing her eyes against all sensory input.

She had forgotten to bring clean clothes in with her, and she wasn't about to put back on the filthy attire she'd had on earlier. She wrapped two towels around her and opened the door, ready to sprint for the bedroom. Bux was on the floor with Speranz, tickling her and making Speranz scream with laughter. Yoj stepped stiffly around them and shut the bedroom door behind her.

She decided not to put on a schmatta. She dressed in street clothes and went directly to her study. Yerush stood and gave her the big chair, saying "At long last, something for your brain to chew on, eh?"

Yoj laughed in relief, the first laugh she could remember all day. Yerush, at least, understood what made her tick. She picked up her notes and said "Okay, I want to consider the superstitions of the first settlers. I don't see how the gods they wrote about on Yagi or Beras, for instance, could possibly be the same gods the mob on Riesig were referring to..."

Time melted. Eventually Halling knocked at the door, then stuck her head in, she said "I'm going to bed, I'll see you in the morning." Yoj began getting up, saying "Oh, wow, the kids are up too late". Halling waved her back, saying "We put them to bed an hour ago." She came into the room and closed the door gently behind her to grin at Yoj "You've been cranky all day, according to them. I'm sorry you've been overworked -- "

"It wasn't the work, Hall, it was who I had to do it with" said Yoj, anger rushing back into her voice.

Halling looked sad. "Well, there'll be a crowd of us with you tomorrow, you can keep your distance if that's want you need."

Yerush said "I wish we had another weekend day to work on this. We could finish your outline and footnotes, all you'd have left is writing it. I'd gladly stay home and work with you."

Yoj looked at her and said "I can't get enough of it." She turned back to Halling and said "You want to make up for today? Let me beg off tomorrow. The kids will have plenty of other adults, and I'll be in a better mood staying home than I will getting up early one more levvin' day."

Halling was troubled. "Oh, Yoj. All right, if that's what you really want. But you're nuts if you think the kids won't miss you like blazes. For that matter, I'll miss you like blazes."

Yoj got up to kiss her, saying "I know. We need to figure out a way to sleep together again. Just us."

"I can't deal with that right now, Yoj" said Halling, leaning her face on Yoj's shoulder.

"I -- I'm going to go sleep at my cubicle tonight. I need to sleep longer than I've been, and I -- it's hard having to face her first thing in the morning" said Yoj. She didn't mean to push at Halling's limit.

Halling shifted to look her in the eyes, their breath mingled. "Then -- maybe tomorrow night, we can ask Bux to go in with Prl and Speranz, and you can sleep here with me in our own bed?"

"Maybe" said Yoj. "If we change the sheets."

"That deep, huh?"

"Hall -- listen, we'll talk another time. You go sleep. I love you." They kissed, and Halling left.

When Yoj sat again, Yerush looked above them said "We could build a free-standing loft in this room, there's enough ceiling height. And just enough space for your own private bed up there."

"Bed for me and Halling" corrected Yoj.

"Of course" said Yerush. "Or -- maybe we'll have to think of other options. I mean, it's over with Ried now, but who knows what lover she'll turn up with next."

Yoj hadn't thought about that possibility. It seemed inevitable, though, now that Bux had developed an appetite for someone besides her and Halling. Oh, lev, how would they ever be able to live under the same roof? Even for the childrens' sake?

She was so disheartened, she had trouble focusing after that. Yerush gave her a back rub, which only made her sleepy. Finally she gave up, slipping her notes into her pack and saying, "It hasn't been raining for an hour, I'm going to walk to the U while it holds off. I'm so glad we'll have tomorrow together, emma."

Yerush's smile lit up her whole face. "The whole Manage to ourselves! We can spread out at the kitchen table, live off tea and toast."

When Yoj quietly opened her bedroom door to get a clean shati and knickers, she was surprised to see the light still on. Bux was sitting up, writing in her notebook. Halling was sound asleep, facing the far wall, her rump not touching Bux.

Bux's face went entirely soft when she saw Yoj. "Are you coming to join us, then?" she whispered, hope in her tone.

"No" said Yoj, her stomach turning. "Just getting clothes." She looked away from Bux, grabbed what she needed, and left quickly. No good nights were said.

Yerush walked her to the door and gave her a sweet hug. Yoj heard the latch click behind her as she started down the lane. It was overcast, so there was no moonlight, and tendrils of fog played around stoops and the base of tillage walls. She smiled to herself momentarily, thinking it was a good night to glimpse Pale Parsnip People.

After stumbling into the curb twice, she moved to the center of the lane to walk, along deep volcanic gravel which crunched moistly under her bootheels. Very few manages had lights on this late, and that only shone through clerestory windows, not illuminating her steps at all. When she reached the shops district, deep dark was intermittently relieved by bulbs over doors, reflecting grudgingly from pumice cobbles. A pool of yellow around the kiosk was her signal to turn left, toward the Lofthall and U, both of which were large square confidences leaking bright white.

Yoj felt a little unnerved by being alone in the blackness of her lane. She couldn't remember having walked it by herself. There wasn't any danger -- the only threat to her survival lay out in the inky waters. But she realized she was feeling the same sense of remote peril she'd known growing up on Isola. Her means out of that hole had lain here, in this Manage, waiting for her. And now --

Well, now she still had the Manage and the emmas in it. She had her children. Plenty to eat, a good job and the prospect of an even better one. The Lofthall, always, and Halling, ditto. Riches, any way you looked at it.

She'd kept pushing out of her mind the question of what she was going to do about Bux. Now, with Ried removed from the picture and alone in the dark, she faced the possibility that she might have to dissolve her partnership with Bux. It was sometimes done. They'd have to go on living together at the Manage -- no other solution made sense for the good of the family, especially the children. And Halling. Halling would still be partnered to both of them, likely. Halling would find a way back to Bux.

But Yoj wasn't sure she could. She wasn't sure the Bux she'd believed in and loved had really existed. She couldn't fit that former Bux with a woman who would fall for someone like Ried -- if she could love Ried, then how valuable was her love for Yoj? And, an even harder question -- how could the woman she'd chosen as aggie go back to sleep with someone who'd treated their children like shu?

By the time she reached the front hall of the University office building, she was back in full despair. For the first time, her cubicle felt like a bolt-hole rather than a haven. When she opened its door, it smelled musty inside. She left the door open and went to the indoor privy, taking a long time to relieve herself, wash her face and hands, brush her teeth. Back in her cubicle she put on her schmatta. She could still smell Prl and Speranz on the cloth of her schmatta, plus the overall lavender aroma of the Manage, and her stomach clenched.

She lay down, with no one to help her warm the sheets. She thought about Qala, how Qala had been going to sleep alone for two decades, and she felt a gush of relief that Lawa was now there in Qala's arms. One grief resolved.

She tried to read herself to sleep, but she kept looking beyond the page of her book at the cupboard on the far wall. Bux had painted a portrait of Rosz at her loom on the cupboard door, combining a photo of Rosz with a picture of a loom from a book. It was not a comfort to gaze at tonight.

Her thoughts wandered to Pearl Goldfarb. When it looked as if the material future of Skene was about to be destroyed, Pearl and two others had carried a load of precious seeds and records via air to Seda, which was not yet settled or connected by ferry to anywhere else. They'd disassembled their craft enough to drag it into the caverns, now used for silkworm habitat but at that point a hotbed of shu. Somehow they'd created a livable space inside, near the potable spring, and rigged solar panels to provide power, keeping the perishable tanks cold and giving them a small well of light against the mass of shu.

They waited out the peak of the Troubles. She could not imagine how they had survived eight months in such wretched conditions, eating who knows what. Perhaps they had used Danaan's trick and pissed around the borders of their make-shift room. But then Kenneth Chen had gotten pneumonia, and they had no antibiotics to treat it.

In desperation, Pearl had gone out into daylight, climbing the gabal at the western end and flagging down the first aircraft she saw. Her memoir said she had a weapon concealed in her clothing: If the people who landed were part of the criminally insane faction, she intended to kill them. Instead, it was a member of the small band hiding on Yagi. There were enclaves as well on both mining islands, in the valley on Yanja, and growing rice on Beras, all of them trying to keep from being kidnapped or worse by the lunatics on Riesig who were based at the Lofthall. Or what the Lofthall was then, an alien word Yoj couldn't remember.

The trio and their cargo were taken to Yagi. Kenneth died anyhow, but the worst was over; the Riesig bunch was self-destructing. Pearl, then two months pregnant with Kenneth's child, went on to help form the new government of Skene, ushering in stringent reforms. Her child was a leader of the next generation that undid many of those early rules, though not all.

Pearl's oldest child was always identified as being both hers and Kenneth's, which simply didn't make sense to Yoj. An emma was who raised a child, and Kenneth didn't even see it born -- why was she given so much credit? Perhaps it was sentiment on Pearl's part.

According to Bux, Rosz, Yerush and Mwezi were all direct descendants of Pearl Goldberg. Bux didn't find this remarkable; she said the tangled lineage of Skene had much bigger surprises than that. But Yoj found it a near miracle, that the three of them had found each other. And their children were even greater miracles. That line of thought led back to Bux's betrayal of Speranz and the rest. Yoj turned off the light and tried to dredge up good memories.

But all her best memories were of Halling and Bux and the Manage. It was as if she had left home a second time, this time a home she had adored and didn't choose to leave behind.

She suddenly had an inkling of what the first colonists might have felt, when the means to return home disappeared. She turned the light back on and sat at her desk, writing down a few lines. Those lines led to more, and she kept going. Two hours later, she had an extraordinary set of lyrics, one of the most heartbreaking poems she'd ever written, covered with corrections. She wrote a clean copy, read it through one more time, and noticed the clench in her gut was gone. She lay down and went right to sleep.

She was awakened the next day by Yerush standing over her, saying "I know you need to sleep in, but it's rather late, honey." Yerush sat down on the side of the bed, slipping her hand into Yoj's and saying "Did you have a hard night?"

"At first. But then -- Hand me that paper on the desk, there. No, just read it yourself. I'm going to the privy." Yoj slid out of bed, a little embarrassed at Yerush's proximity, and left the room. When she returned, Yerush was still on the bed, leaning against the back wall and weeping softly.

"What's wrong?" said Yoj, curling beside her.

"It's incredibly beautiful" said Yerush, waving Yoj's poem in the air. "You opened a window for me. If you don't make this a song for everyone to sing, you still have to share it with all Skene."

Yoj was extremely pleased. She had a instant of wanting to share the poem with Halling and Bux, before she remembered.

Yerush wiped her face and said "I waited on breakfast for you, let's go."

"I'll take us to the Lofthall, they'll have leftovers" offered Yoj. "But -- you have to leave the room while I dress."

"I'll be at my office" said Yerush, handing the poem back to Yoj.

It was a giddy day. The sky was clear, the air brisk, and Yoj had no responsibilities at all. Back at the Manage, they filled their biggest pot with tea and honey, and plunged into the kind of inquisition and theorizing Yoj fantasized about. One idea led to another, with much insider humor and dazzling leaps of comprehension. When hunger finally arrived again, they grabbed apples and hunks of cheese, unwilling to stop for cooking.

In late afternoon, Sigrist radio came on to announce the usual half-hour deadline for the end of morrie vaseo. Yoj was dragged from her mental eyrie and returned to the Manage. "They'll be home any minute" she said to Yerush. "Should we start dinner?"

"No, let's savor our last bit of solitude" said Yerush. Yoj obliged. Twenty minutes later, the front door burst open and her children shouted themselves into the house, followed by the other emmas and abbas.

Yoj stood up to swing her children into hugs and hear their jumbled accounts of the day. Halling carried a crate of already-boiled crabs into the kitchen, saying "Hard to get tired of these, they're so juicy this year." Qen and Veida gave Yoj and Yerush kisses, but Bux did not speak to Yoj and she did not speak to Bux.

After a few minutes, Yerush gathered up their books and papers and said "I'm taking these to our study. We can continue in there."

"No, I need to be with the kids" said Yoj. Yerush's expression had a tinge of irritation, but she said only "After dinner, then." She leaned over Yoj from behind, saying in her ear "Your mind is gifted, Yoj, don't spend it entirely on duty."

Yoj shivered at Yerush's breath in her ear, and tried to conceal it, embarrassed. She picked up Prl and asked "Who won the crab race?" Prl slithered down to the floor and began imitating the sideways scuttle, her hands held over her head like eyes on stalks, and the other children joined her.

Yoj turned around and saw Veida staring at her from the larder door. It was not a friendly stare. Yoj wondered what was wrong with her. Veida turned to Halling and Bux and said "I'll be back in soon to help with dinner", getting nods from them. She then came to Yoj and said "I need to show you something in the greenhouse, will you step out with me for a minute?"

Surprised, Yoj said "Sure." The greenhouse was not her area of expertise, and why hadn't Veida mentioned it yesterday?

Dodd said "Can I go with you, see what it is?"

Yoj was about to say "Of course" but Veida interrupted smoothly, saying "Not right now, Dodd. It's not interesting to children. You all need to wash your hands, look at your filthy paws."

She escorted Yoj outside and to the far corner of the tillage, not saying a word. Yoj began to get a little uneasy. The greenhouse was quite warm, even with the door standing open. Veida, however, closed the door behind them and turned to face Yoj with fury on her face. Yoj took a step backward -- she had never seen Veida this angry.

"I saw you. I saw what's going on!" she hissed.

"What? I don't know what you mean" said Yoj, bewildered.

"You and Yerush!"

"What about us? You mean at the table?" Was this because she had shivered?

"For 39 years, I've watched when she set her sights on this woman or that. I know what she looks like when she's moving in, I know how she talks. But I won't stand for this, not in our own Manage!" Veida was jabbing her strong forefinger at Yoj.

Yoj thought she might pass out at the implications of what Veida was saying. "You don't mean -- moving in? Are you talking about...sex? Yerush and me?" This could not be happening.

Her horror registered with Veida. Still hostile, but not quite looking any more like she might take a swing at Yoj, she said "Yes, that's what I'm seeing in her. Are you trying to say you aren't aware of it?"

"Oh, waves and ripples, NO!" said Yoj. "You can't be right -- I'm her child, I'm her child's partner, I'm acres away from her sui -- that's not what's going on. We've gotten closer, yes, like we've never been..." She trailed off, her eyes fixed on Veida. She whispered "Please tell me you're mistaken."

"I'm not mistaken" Veida said in a voice now wooden. "I wish I were. But I believe you weren't playing along. You're just that much of a levving idiot."

Yoj sat down abruptly on the ground under the lemon tree. She pulled her knees up and rested her forehead on them, fighting waves of nausea. "How could she possibly think that..." She couldn't even finish the sentence.

Veida sat down beside her heavily and said "She's done other things that are -- over the line. Nothing this egregious, though."

"I thought she liked me, that we had become friends of the mind and spirit!" said Yoj. "I was so -- proud, to have her attention."

"Especially when things are so strained between you and Bux, right?" said Veida bitterly.

"Oh, lev" said Yoj. Looking up at Veida, she asked "What am I going to do?"

"Nothing with Yerush" said Veida emphatically.

"Of course not" began Yoj.

"No, I mean, you don't discuss this with her. No more intimate little talks, and she doesn't get to have this drama with you. I'll handle Yerush -- me and Qen."

"Oh, lev, does Qen have to know?" said Yoj.

"Yes. And so does Halling. You have to tell her as soon as possible. Not tonight, because Bux is here -- Bux must not get wind of this, not even a hint. But tomorrow, you find a way to tell Halling."

"She's going to hate me" said Yoj.

"Why?" said Veida sharply, "You said you didn't know or do anything."

"That won't matter. I should have been smarter than this. And I should have gotten over the shit with Bux." Every train of thought created new misery in Yoj. Still looking at Veida, she said "How can we ever -- be normal again?"

"You will" commanded Veida. "In a few minutes, we're going back in the house and you will absolutely not show a single scrap of this, do you hear me? That is our Manage, my grandchildren in there, and we are not going to let it be destroyed. So suck it back inside you and be the emma. Be the partner Bux believed you would be all this time."

Yoj sat up straighter and started willing blood flow to all of her body. "When are you going to tell Qen and -- talk to Yerush?"

"Tomorrow. Out of the house. Until then, you don't get to look for comfort or any easy way out. You do the right thing, Yoj, or I'll never forgive you."

"You three are the emmas I never had" whispered Yoj.

"Yes, and I'm not the one who has betrayed that trust" said Veida, standing up. "Nor Qen. And especially not Bux. So you just remember where your loyalty lies." She reached out a hand to help Yoj stand.

"Here" said Veida, "Pick a couple of lemons to take in for the crabs. I'll cut cabbage and broccoli. Make yourself useful."

Yoj wished Veida would offer to give her a hug, but she strode out of the greenhouse into the tillage without looking back at her. Yoj got lemons, pulled a head of garlic as well, and after a deep breath, went back in the house. Halling looked up at her, then focused on what was in her hands and said "Oh, great, will you slice those lemons for me?"

Yoj joined in dinner preparations with Halling and Qen. Bux was playing with the children, and Yerush was apparently still in the study. When dinner was ready, Yoj took the hands of the twins on either side of her and looked across the table at Mill and Prl, focusing on her children, as Yerush came in at the last minute and sat down at her place. Yoj did not look at Yerush during the meal, nor Bux.

During clean-up, Yoj found a minute to stand between Bux and Halling where she could say quietly "I need some time with Halling tomorrow. Will you meet the kids after school? I'll be home in time to make dinner."

Bux looked bleak. "Of course." Halling glanced inquisitively at Yoj, then said "After the sinners come in."

"Thanks" said Yoj, leaning in to give her a light kiss on her cheek. She put her hand on Bux's arm, the first time she had reached out to her since -- before. Bux did not look reassured. Nor did Halling, for that matter.

Copyright 2007 Maggie Jochild.


kat said...

a propos of nothing, least of all Skene:

From today's SF Chronicle (a column in it features random things seen and heard in the area)

"And a few days after Derek McCulloch noticed a faux-stenciled poster for the new Rambo movie at the west entrance of the Rockridge BART Station, the opposite wall was emblazoned with a real stencil. It looked just like the movie poster, except instead of Rambo, the face was of Rimbaud, the poet."


Maggie Jochild said...

Way cool.

And I see the connection, Kat -- though you and I are likely the only ones on earth who could (so far). The six degrees of separation here is: Myra supposedly wrote Skene, Myra's daughter Margie dated a guy named Rimbaud but Myra misheard his name as Rambo and made a brief ass of herself... Okay, that's only three degrees, I guess.

I read an article recently about similar guerilla action where folks make convincing-looking alternative labels for real products and plant them in stores. Sometimes it's political (like complaining about food labeling and agribusiness practices), sometimes it's to promote their own wares, sometimes it's just "art" -- and there was one creative soul whose fake label included a bar code that worked at the register, to charge customers hundreds of dollars for things like a pack of gum. Just for the fun of, I guess. But they were striking only at Wal-Mart, which makes me wonder.

kat said...

ah, yes, Rimbaud. I'd forgotten! oh noes!

I've heard about that guerrilla labeling phenomenon....neato!