Saturday, December 26, 2009


To begin reading this sci-fi novel or for background information, go to my Chapter One post here. To read about the background of the first novel, read my post here, which will also direct you to appendices.

For more detailed information, posted elsewhere on this blog are:

Pya Dictionary from Skenish to English (complete up to present chapter), with some cultural notes included
Pya Cast of Characters (complete up to present chapter)
Owl Manage on Saya Island, original plans
Saya Island Eastern End After Development
Map of Pya with Description of Each Island
Map of Skene (but not Pya)
Map of Saya Island and Environs When Pyosz First Arrived
Skene Character Lineage at Start of Pya Novel
Skene, Chapter One (With Cultural Notes in Links)


Pyosz was sharing a bowl of ice cream with Thleen at Thina Bowl when she saw Vants come in the door. She waved, calling "Come join us, cousin!"

But Vants was not returning her grin. Pyosz set down her spoon as Vants knelt beside her chair and said quietly "There's been an accident. You need to come home."

"Who?" said Pyosz. "What happened?"

"The factory where Nan Bux went to settle the dispute -- there had been a struggle earlier and a stack of machinery was unstable -- I'm so sorry, Pyosz, they say she died instantly."

"Not abba, tell me it isn't abba!" Pyosz's voice had risen.

"We need to go home, everyone is waiting for you" said Vants, her voice breaking.

Emma...Halling and Yoj...thought Pyosz.

"I don't understand" said Thleen in a panicked voice. Maar stood and dropped coins on the table, telling her sibs "Pick up your things, we need to leave. Quickly and quietly, I'll explain outside." Her face was impossibly pale. Pyosz wasn't sure she could stand, but Vants' strong arm came under her elbow and eased her upright. Chairs scooted out of their way as they filed to the front door, whispers already loud.

On the sidewalk next to the fish docks, Maar said "I'll take them back to Chloddia, but we'll come -- "

"Oh no, please don't leave me!" begged Pyosz. "You need to come with us, all of you, please."

"Come where?" said Thleen. "What did Vants say about Bux?"

Maar picked her up and said quietly "Nan Bux has been killed in an accident. Her family is just finding out. If we go to their house, it is to grieve with them, to be as kind as we know how to be. Can you do that, or should we go home to grieve on our own?"

"She's dead? She's really dead?" said Thleen in a tone that matched what was inside Pyosz's head. She burst into sobs, saying "That's wrong, siba, can't you fix it just this once?"

Maar began walking away from the view of those staring through the window. Tears streamed down her own face as she murmured "I'd give anything to fix it." Vants helped Pyosz keep taking steps, and Pyosz felt an arm slide through hers on the other side -- Adon, looking ashen and almost adult.

Later she wouldn't be able to remember the walk up the lane, only that copper door suddenly appearing in front of her and her coming to a halt: Everything was changed on the other side. But Vants swung it open and she heard Yoj's wails, and that pulled her inside.

In retospect, it really wasn't fair of Pyosz to have insisted Maar come with her. The Manage was in chaos, and it was all Maar could do to contend with her own sibs on top of her grief. The coroner was still there, seated at the table filling out a death certificate in her ornate copperplate. Ndege and Gerra were both present, and Gerra was on the radio making funeral arrangements with Yanja. Iro and Ektr were also at the table, too shell-shocked to move.

Yoj roamed the living room, yelling a stream-of-consciousness refusal to accept this loss. Prl was on the couch with Halling who registered no emotion at all, and Dodd sat on the floor, leaned against a wall, weeping onto her knees. Speranz was on her bed with the door open, Tlunu murmuring beside her.

Mill seemed the most approachable, sitting beside the coroner. Pyosz sat down across from them and said "What happened? Are you certain she's -- gone?'"

The coroner said patiently "I am certain. She was carried to the hospital but was pronounced dead on arrival. Danaan said she never moved, not a flicker, after -- there was a tall stack of turbines on pallets which had been disturbed by an earlier search and fracas, though no one saw the imbalance. Nan Ethicist reached out a hand while walking to steady herself, and the top portion of the stack fell directly onto her head. She would not have even known it was happening, she had no time to cry out."

She was crushed, then. Pyosz fought the need to vomit.

Halling's voice came from the living room. "Whoever caused the argument which took her there and left things in disarray, they are directly culpable. I want their names, I intend to file charges and have them exiled." There was a wholly unfamiliar venom in her voice.

Yoj sucked liquid back in her throat to say "You will not."

Halling stared at her in what Pyosz now recognized as rage. "You cannot stop me. Someone must pay, she deserves more than this. She had just levving retired, she had decades to go in peace and happiness, I can't stand this!" She was screaming by the end.

"I can't either, but killing another won't change a thing. And if I can't stop you, Bux will, she would never ask for exile for an accident, you know that about her" choked out Yoj.

"I don't know what she thinks, I need her to tell me, I always need her -- " Halling's shrieks turned into sobs. Prl pulled her close. Yoj did not go to her, however. She just stood in place, tears still pouring silently down her cheeks.

They're broken now thought Pyosz. An essential piece is gone and they don't know how to fit together any more. She ran out the back door and made it to the privy before retching.

When she went back inside, Pank, Tu, Lawa and Qala were just arriving, having been located by Vants. Maar filled them in quietly, Thleen silent on her shoulder. Tu and Lawa went to Halling. Qala wrapped herself around Yoj. Pank began making tea.

"Where are Danaan and Rark?" asked Pyosz. "And my cousins?"

"At the hospital sitting with the remains, Danaan and Rark" said the coroner. Mill added "Abbo has gone to Pomar and to collect others in the family."

The coroner cleared her throat and said "I've arranged for Nan Ethicist to be carried to my office for washing and wrapping this afternoon, and visitation for family this evening. I -- strongly recommend you allow me to do the preparation, and that family not view until I am done."

"What do you mean?" asked Dodd stupidly. "We're who she wants for the final rites -- "

Pyosz said "Because it fell on her head, is what you're saying? That she's been hurt?"

"Yes. Not a memory you need to retain" replied the coroner. Yoj began wailing again.

"I don't care, I want to clean her and put her in linens" said Pyosz. "I'm her direct descendant, it should be me, I can handle it." It came out of her mouth before she thought about it. All heads swiveled to look at her. I killed Echo and cut her apart, I already have memories no one should carry she thought.

"I'll go with you" said Pank firmly. After a moment, the coroner said "All right."

"No, wait" said Halling. "We can't let you, child, we have to be there, too -- "

"You can sit in the anteroom until I've done the hard part" said Pyosz. "Then I'll call you in to finish and say goodbye."

Qoj came in the front door, gasping, and Dodd stood to embrace her. Prl left Halling and came to Pyosz, saying "Are you sure?"

"I am, emma. I don't want to but I do, if that makes any sense."

"You're just like her" said Prl. "She helped her own aggie die so the burden wouldn't fall on Veida or Qen. You have her iron love in you." She and Pyosz began crying together.

After drinking a cup of Pank's tea, which was fortified with something more than milk and sugar, Pyosz said to Gerra "The funeral is when tomorrow?"

"Noon" said Gerra. Pyosz remembered briefly this woman had captured her emma's heart, but she didn't care about that now.

Pyosz said to Prl "I don't have my funeral silks with me, do you have an extra set? Or any whites that might do?"

"Not that would fit you" said Prl.

Maar spoke up. "I have mine, I left them at the Lofthall here in my locker accidentally after -- "
Szebel died finished Pyosz, turning to look at Halling.

"But then what would you wear?" asked Prl, as if she were one of the family. "No, we'll buy Pyosz a set off the rack, the store downtown will open up this afternoon to accommodate community need."

"Then I'll go buy them for you" said Maar. "I know your size, I'll get what you want." She stood and motioned to her sibs. "We'll be back later." She kissed Pyosz tenderly on the cheek and repeated "I'll be back."

Pank stopped her in the living room and dropped coins in her hand, gesturing to herself and Tu. Silks for them as well. She called out to Maar and said "Wait -- Mill and Dodd..." Who were out back talking with Ndege and Speranz about funeral details. Prl carried more coins to Maar, who said "Not for Pyosz, I'm getting those" as she picked up gold from Prl's palm.

Casseroles and soups had begun to arrive with stunned neighbors. Pank made a light plate for herself and Pyosz, sitting down beside her to say "Refuel for the work ahead." Pyosz whispered "Can I really do this?" She saw Prl's reddened eyes go wide. "Yes" Pank whispered back, and Pyosz picked up her fork.

Two hours later, she and Qoj took Halling between them and led a long procession to the coroner's establishment downtown. The family was settled in the waiting room, folding chairs being brought in to accommodate them all. A samovar of tea was on a corner table, with cubes of sugar and a large pitcher of cream next to a plate piled with pastries. Sugar for shock thought Pyosz. She squeezed Prl's hand and followed the coroner into an adjoining room.

A round-bellied form lay on a table, covered by a sheet. Small stains had leaked through the sheet. The coroner and her assistant filled basins with hot water. Pyosz and Pank were handed large plastic aprons, which Pyosz tied on with trembling hands. It was so cold in the room, wisps of steam rose from the basins.

Pyosz went directly to what had been her abba's beautiful head and pulled back the sheet. She remembered later saying "It's better to know than to see what my imagination was creating inside." Someone at the hospital had made a start on cleaning. Still, they had to refill the basin twice before the area from shoulders up was washed and dry.

Pyosz rinsed her hands at the sink in an alcove and returned to say "We can't wrap her like this. It will be clearly misshapen, I can't let my abbas face this."

Pank handed her rolls of linen and scissors. "You're the shaper of clay, use cloth instead." With Pank's murmured feedback, an hour later she was satisfied with the wrapped contours that lay before them.

"They must be crazed with the delay, we can let them in now" she said, drained.

"No -- take off that apron, wash your hands and arms again" said Pank gently. The helpers whisked soiled items out of sight and refilled the basins before the antechamber door was opened. A chair was carried in for Halling. Prl looked at Pyosz first before turning her gaze to her aggie.

Halling had one gnarled hand on Bux's foot, and bent over to kiss her instep. Yoj tucked petals from Isola Fling roses into one of Bux's hands and a sprig of Motu Fling lilac into her other. Dodd dropped rosemary from Bux's Manage into the basins of water. Every child and grandchild had a chance to touch Bux's hand and say words of love before Yoj and Halling began slowly washing her legs, arms, belly, and ginny.

Pyosz got another chair from the antechamber and sat in a corner. Prl came to stand beside her, and Pyosz leaned her head against Prl's hip. When Bux was dry again, Dodd and Mill stepped forward to hold up arms or legs, tilt Bux to one side or the other, as Halling and Yoj passed wrapping linen between them.

When Bux was entirely covered except for her hands, Ehuy and Ngall carried in their children. The baby's hand was pressed against Bux's and Ngall whispered to her "Habibi will love you for always." Ehall didn't want to touch Bux, even with Ehuy's gentle coaxing. She kept saying "Why doesn't she wake up? How can she breathe with that cloth over her mouth?"

Pyosz had been Ehall's age when Qen died. She wondered if Prl or Yoj had murmured the same explanations and reassurance to her that Ehall was being told now. Finally, Ngall took Bux's hand in her own, weeping hard, and kissed its back, saying "I'll never forget you." Ehall burst into tears and lunged forward in Ehuy's arms, placing her small hand on her emma's and habibi's both as she cried out "Never forget you."

The front doors were opened for visitation, letting in a chill to match that of the washing room. Halling, Yoj, and the five children returned to sit in a row in the antechamber, blankets on their laps, tea refreshed often. Pyosz was overwhelmed by the line of people who streamed in to pay their respects. It wasn't merely homage to an important personage, most of the visitors seemed to be racked by sorrow.

When Maar's face appeared, Pyosz motioned her to come join her in her corner where she sat vigil over Bux. Maar kissed her again and whispered "I have to help my sibs through this, then fly them home. But I'm returning to Riesig to sleep. I'm flying shuttle in the morning to take folks to Yanja from all over Skene."

"We don't have an extra bed at the Genist Manage, but you could have the couch, it's long and soft" said Pyosz.

"I accept" said Maar. Pyosz stood and went with her, to guide her sibs through the farewell process. Thleen wailed, and Su turned to bury her face against Pyosz's shoulder, unable to stop her sobs.

At 8:00, the front doors were closed and Pyosz rallied herself for another carry. Yoj, however, went back to Bux's body, spreading her hand on the covered belly and saying hoarsely to Halling "I don't think I can leave her, she so hated to sleep alone."

"When we first became lovers, she would beg me to stay another five minutes in the mornings, she'd say the fish could wait, Skene could wait, she'd gone so long hoping we'd turn and love her.." said Halling.

"She didn't have any of that old longing left" said Prl, Her emmas looked at her, startled. "She was utterly contented and sure of you. She was one of the happiest women who ever lived, didn't you listen to all the people who came tonight? They loved her because she was confident and full of hope, from her life with you."

Still, it was a sharp pain to step out onto the street. Maar was waiting for them at the Manage, with Danaan and Rark. Danaan was haggard, her lips chewed raw. "I wasn't looking her way, if I had been -- " she began as soon as Halling was inside the door.

"Nobody blames you" said Mill, a little curt. She got Halling settled. Dodd took the radio and stepped into the larder for a scrap of privacy. A few minutes later, Pyosz overheard Dodd say urgently "You've never lied to me, Briel, and you need to trust me now, tell me even if you don't want to: Would she really have died right away? Did she suffer?" Pyosz froze, watching Dodd's back. When she saw Dodd's shoulders relax and Dodd whisper "Thank you. Thank the stars", Pyosz found she could breathe deeply again.

Mill and Dodd were bowled over by the funeral silks Maar handed them. Each of the five outfits she'd selected were distinct and a perfect fit for those she had shopped for. Pyosz wasn't surprised, she knew about Maar's ability to choose garments. "I hadn't even thought about it" said Dodd numbly. "Here, let me reimburse you -- "

"Don't worry about it, it's my gift to my sibs" said Prl. Mill gave her an awkward hug.

After an hour, Pyosz went to Halling and Yoj, sitting in silence on the couch, and knelt before them. "You need to sleep. Which means going in to that bed in there. How can I help? Massages, sleepy tea, draw you a bath? And if you can't face being alone, I'll stay with you, like I did when I was little and you used to roll over on me during the night, abba." This last was directed at Yoj, and drew a ghost of a smile from her.

Yoj and Halling looked at each other. "I don't know how to do this" Halling whispered.

"How can you?" said Pyosz. "But you do have each other, wounded as you are. And look at the family you created, crammed into these walls."

"Bux, it was Bux who gave us family" said Halling.

"You gave each other family" said Prl. joining in. "She relied on you for every dream she had,"

Halling's eyes were fixed on Yoj. "Don't you leave me. Don't leave me alone. I know that's unfair for me to ask, but I'm not strong enough..."

Pyosz felt ice in her belly at the shameful hunger on Halling's face, the desperation on Yoj's. After a minute, Yoj said "I won't. I'll never leave you."

"Come on" said Pyosz, suddenly angry with Halling and forcing herself to go against it, "I'll help you to the privy, abba."

The two of them shut the bedroom door ten minutes later, refusing help getting undressed or being tucked in. Tu was sagging against Lawa, and Qala said "We all need whatever sleep we can find." Qoj and Mruch offered to walk Mill to the Lofthall. Vants accepted Dodd's offer to share the overhead loft. Ngall, Ehuy, Gerra and Ndege had left an hour earlier.

The walk to the Genist Manage was silent. On the kitchen table were more offerings of food and condolence letters. Prl began sorting through them while Qala made tea.

Maar turned to Pyosz, pulling her close to say "All right, we have to keep you from going so far you spike a fever. So, tell me: What was it like?"

Prl wheeled and Qala looked as if she were ready to interrupt. Pyosz, however, had no intention of sharing the details of what had been underneath those linen wraps. Pank knew, that was enough. She understood that wasn't what Maar was asking.

"It helped a lot to have something to do" she answered. "It was ghastly, but it was a job I could do for her, for my family. Now I don't know what to do. I can't help what's happening to all of us."

Maar said softly "And what is that? What's happening to you?"

"I'm the youngest" said Pyosz, panic starting to knock at her chest. "Abbo doesn't count, and even my other cousins -- and I only have one emma, my aggie, who just lost her aggie, I'm all the blood line she has left -- I don't think I can face...I feel like I'm a goat trapped on an island, just counting the days to random, unavoidable slaughter. Or, even more, I'm that poor rabbit, sooner or later I'll be the last of my kind -- " She began sobbing, gasping out moaning breaths. Maar held her tight, saying "I know, I know."

Prl swept in behind her, her forehead pressed against Pyosz's neck, weeping "I won't leave you, my darling, not for a long long time." But it was not a credible promise, not with what Pyosz had just seen done to Bux's fragile body. It was the crying, voicing the unspeakable, that Pyosz really needed. She scrubbed herself out and relaxed against Maar. After a minute she said "Is Thleen all right?"

"She's sleeping with her abba tonight, she'll get what she needs from that" said Maar. "Tomorrow she'll attend her first funeral, but it's with this family, she'll hear what she should hear."

Prl leaned around to look into Maar's eyes and ask "You'll be there for her, right? When the time comes, you'll make sure she's not alone?"

With a jolt, Pyosz realized Prl was not asking after Thleen.

"Of course" said Maar. "She already knows that, she wouldn't have been able to tell me about it if she didn't know I'd be there."

Pyosz heard Lawa make some small sound behind her. "You get first dibs on the bath tub tonight" Pyosz said to Maar. "I'll start the water and make a bed for you on the couch."

"I need to use the privy" said Maar, grinning exhaustedly.

"I'll go with you" said Qala. Pyosz scrubbed her face after starting the tub and dropping gardenia salts into the steaming water. Prl had already spread her best sheets and quilts on the couch when she got there. Pyosz hugged her and said "I'm so glad I'll be with you tonight."

She was surprised that she slept. She woke up shortly after dawn with the sense of having had a nightmare. Her mind kept trying to remember, even as she stretched and wanted to go back to sleep, until reality hit as if she were hearing the news for the first time.

She wanted to wake Prl but couldn't face Prl remembering also. She eased out of the room into the dark kitchen and sat in the chair against the sideboard, her knees pulled up under her schmatta, listening to the aga shift and pop as she thought about Bux.

Pank was next up, shuffling toward the back door and jumping violently when she spotted Pyosz's shadow in the corner. "You scared the piss out of me, almost literally" she complained as she comtinued on. After she returned, she fried sausage while Pyosz made biscuits and sliced oranges, the two of them working in silence. Maar and Tu joined them half an hour later, and the sporadic conversation they all had was still in whispers.

Maar left and Pyosz carried a tray in to Prl, now able to face what this day was going to hold.

At 11:30, when the sinner circled to land at Yanja, Pyosz looked down on a sea of white silk. Maar had two electric carts ready. Her sibs were somber in their unworn clothes, and Thleen's face was puffy from crying.

Pyosz later didn't remember much of the funeral. She kept looking at Yoj and Halling, who had no light at all in their eyes. Once they reached the lava fall, with Bux's body waiting on its pedestal, she felt utter bewilderment again. She turned to Thleen beside her and picked her up. The small, wiry body wrapped around her and Pyosz whispered "I think abba Bux's is here among us, can you feel it?"

Thleen nodded solemnly. She remained in Pyosz's arms, while Maar stood between her other two sibs, her arm around their shoulders. Each of Bux's children spoke, and in addition Mill read a statement from Api. Every Sheng Zhang who had ever worked with Bux had words to offer, as well as guild heads, gakushas, and assorted citizens. Pyosz had decided she didn't want to try to distill the maelstrom inside her into coherent speech.

Yoj and Halling stood together and talked in fragments of their love for Bux. Or perhaps it wasn't in fragments, perhaps it was that Pyosz's attention came and went. She wasn't able to focus until Prl moved to face them all and deliver the final eulogy.

"The woman we return to Skene today, who spent her entire life in joyous service to Skene, is my aggie Bux la Yerush na Qen + Veida. Her aggie was Yerush na B'ruch na Melli. Her aggie was B'ruch na Lusa..." Prl continued on, quietly reciting complete lineage details for 19 generations before Yerush, never hesitating, until she said "And her aggie was Pearl Goldfarb, ancestry unknown, immigant to Skene in year zero." It was an extraordinary capsule of Skene history, all the more remarkable because clearly Prl carried it around in her memory, a definition of who she was in relation to every other human who had ever lived here.

Into the hushed silence, Bux said "We will never see the likes of her again." She had to pause, to swallow a sob. "But 500 years from now, one of her descendants will read about her and wish she had known her. We, here and now, we are lucky enough to have heard her laugh and felt her touch. We are blessed by her memory for the rest of our days."

Pyosz looked away as Bux's body was dropped into the lava. She was frantically worried by Halling's stoicism, Yoj's distance. She kept a grip on Thleen as they returned to the funeral home. She was impatient for them to return to Riesig, to get safely behind the copper door and fall apart.

Except once there, nobody fell apart. After pathetic attempts at eating, they subsided into silence which no one knew how to break.

Until Dodd climbed heavily into the loft and returned carrying her fiddle. Mill looked at her in disbelief, and Ndege said "What -- what are you doing?"

"I'm going to play aggie's favorite song" said Dodd stubbornly. No one could find words to stop her. But as her bow hit the first notes, Halling broke into sobs and dropped her face on Yoj's shoulder. Yoj embraced her, and Dodd went on into the full melody, tears soaking her cheeks. Pyosz cleared her throat and began singing, and those who could joined her.

After several song, they switched to telling stories. Pyosz sat down on the floor, Adon pulled down beside her, Su next to her and Maar on the end, and listened, sometimes laughing and crying at the same time. During one break, she leaned forward and said to Maar "I'm not going back to Skene tomorrow, I can't. I need to stay here another week, help them face -- this new kind of life."

"We'll take care of Saya while you're gone. I'll be back in a week to fly you home" said Maar. Tu, who was eavesdropping, nodded at them all. Thleen sighed and pushed back tighter into Pyosz's lap.

Copyright 2009 Maggie Jochild.


Blue said...

Well crap. That just stinks. But I suppose an elder had to die, one of these days. Beautifully written, as usual.

Maggie Jochild said...

I saved it till after the Midwinter Holiday.

I feel like I've betrayed an old friend. I let Qen and Veida die off my watch, so to speak. But this batch of elders are even more beloved to me.

Blue said...

me too. they were the heroines of the last novel, so maybe we know them better...?