Thursday, April 8, 2010
Every Thursday, I post a very large photograph of some corner of space captured by the Hubble Space Telescope and available online from the picture album at HubbleSite, followed by poetry after the jump.
by Gabrielle Calvocoressi
Come down to the water. Bring your snare drum,
your hubcaps, the trash can lid. Bring every
joyful noise you've held at bay so long.
The fish have risen to the surface this early
morning: flounder, shrimp, and every blue crab
this side of Mobile. Bottom feeders? Please.
They shine like your Grandpa Les' Cadillac,
the one you rode in, slow so all the girls
could see. They called to you like katydids.
And the springs in that car sounded like tubas
as you moved up and down. Make a soulful sound
unto the leather and the wheel, praise the man
who had the good sense to build a front seat
like a bed, who knew you'd never buy a car
that big if you only meant to drive it.
Wednesday, April 7, 2010
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
Map of Saya Island, Teppe and Pea Pods Environs After Development
Skene Character Lineage at Midway Through Pya Novel
Skene, Chapter One (With Cultural Notes in Links)
Maar rose on Sju with Pyosz and carried the radio back to their bedroom while Pyosz went to milk. When Pyosz returned, Maar was making plum pancakes with hazelnut butter on top, a stack already keeping warm in the aga. Pyosz helped herself to several, sitting at the breakfast counter with a pitcher of fresh milk.
"How'd it go?" she asked.
"Your emma didn't like what I had to say." Maar was chewing her lip. "She finally said she'd talk to Yoj, and maybe Qala. But she insisted on publishing that volume."
"Yoj will take it to the next step" said Pyosz confidently. "Did you tell her about Thax? And that one of your second cousins is who has a baby with a sib?"
"I did. She knew about my cousin, but of course not about -- I didn't tell her Thax's name" said Maar, looking embarrassed. "She wants you to call her. She also offered to be the one to explain things to Thleen." At Pyosz's raised eyebrows, Maar added "No way, it has to be me telling Thleen about what our emmas did."
"And me, I want to be there, too" said Pyosz.
Maar pour four more rounds of batter on the griddle. "Last night on the last run of the ferry from south Riesig to Argile, the open water stretch along the West Tendril, a leviathan bumped the ferry hull repeatedly. Couldn't quite turn it over, which Halling thinks is only because the reef keeps out all but juvie-sized levs. It was sketchy morrie vaseo, so Sigrist radio reported it as an error on the faryaste's part to be making the run at all."
Pyosz had stopped eating and was willing herself not to get sick. "But it wasn't error?"
"Halling thinks it was calculated aggression by the levis, pushing an envelope. It was two-moon dark last night -- well. night before last for us."
"The faryaste okay?" asked Pyosz.
"She was carrying home a family with three children. They all got wet and one of the little ones busted her lip falling against a railing. The faryaste has quit. I don't blame her one bit" said Maar grimly.
"Shit, shit, shit" repeated Pyosz softly.
"Thing is, I haven't heard boo about it from Mill or Oby, which means they don't know yet. Prl assumed we all knew. So when I'm done here, I'm heading in to the Lofthall to talk with them" said Maar.
"Thleen was counting on you fishing with her today" reminded Pyosz.
"I'll get back soon as I can" said Maar shortly. "Don't tell her about this, she doesn't have to know."
The rest of their day was busy. Pyosz and Qala were canning nonstop, Maar caught up on laundry and mopping in between games with Thleen, and Lawa helped Pank and Tu haul deadfall from Saya's woods to Herne. No call came from Skene.
The next day, Shmona dinner was on Teppe. As food was being set out, Vants said to Mill "A chunk of cliff broke off this morning on the southwest cliff here. Emma was out on a ride and heard the crash into the bay below. I can't see any real damage to the surface up here, but I wonder if other edges are friable."
Mill looked at Maar and said "We should do a clean-up with the mezi, in case there are still fissures from the shaping we did last year. You might want to look over other of the Pea Pods, too, and Saya."
Maar said "How about if I take Dekkan, give her additional experience doing airborne precision with the ray?" The need for such precision went unspoken but the adults were briefly silent as Mill nodded and Dekkan looked somber.
Abbo said "Remember that time, Maar, when you and I scaled the cliffs near the sand beach on Saya? Just ropes and toeholds, but right before we reached the top, a good-sized chunk came loose and missed Maar's head by a whistle. I thought she was gonna fill her knickers." She chuckled and punched Maar's shoulder.
"When was this?" demanded Mill, beating Pyosz to the question.
"I was still in high school, we snuck over here while Ferk was asleep one afternoon" grinned Abbo. Her expression turned to a slight leer as she winked at Maar. Pyosz glanced at Maar and saw fury on her face. It took her a moment to register why: Thleen and Ziri asked, almost simultaneously, "You climbed that cliff from the bottom? With only a rope?"
"That cliff" was a sheer 15-meter drop to jagged boulders and swift current. Lawa said "Shitwits, the both of you", making the two children blink. "We'd have never found your bodies."
"I am most earnestly sorry for my stupidity and for betraying your trust in me" Maar said to Mill and Oby, with slow emphasis. Abbo snorted and Ziri looked speculative. Maar's cheeks remained red and she avoided Abbo.
Half an hour later, Thleen stood from the children's quilt on the floor and started for the kitchen, carrying her plate. Ziri was close behind her. Maar waved down Thleen, saying "What do you want seconds on?"
"Nothing, we're going for pie" said Thleen, her jaw defiant.
"You don't get pie until you eat all your chard and asparagus" said Maar.
"I don't like chard or asparagus" said Thleen.
"You eat it all the time" began Lawa, but Maar jabbed a finger at Thleen and said "All you've touched is potatoes, chicken and corn. I'n getting really tired of your crap about food, you show no gratitude for how good you've got it!" She was shouting by the end, and conversation elsewhere had stopped.
Thleen abruptly tossed her plate onto the table, knocking over glasses and catapulting a spoon into a dish of red sauce with rufous results. Thleen screamed "We've got all the food in the world, why do you keep making me eat tillage rejects? Other people treat me lots better than you, Su was right about you trying to make us look different from who are are."
Maar's face went patchy bloodless or crimson, and she stood abruptly, her chair falling over. Thleen involuntarily took a step backwards. In the next instant, Qala had an arm around her shoulders from behind and was dragging her toward the kitchen door. Ziri soundlessly subsided onto the quilt, and Lehen began daubing at sauce splatters with her napkin as Moasi muffled a laugh. Once Pyosz heard the door latch, she said quietly to Maar "Sit down, honey. She always freaks when you get mad at her, we'll fix it later."
Maar dropped into her chair as if her knees had given out. She shot a single glare at Abbo and picked up a stray spear of asparagus, adding it to her own plate. Meamea said loudly "I like chard" and suddenly everyone was laughing wildly.
Once outside, Qala let go of Thleen and stood blocking the door. Thleen's chest was heaving and she ran one hand through her hair agitatedly, looking very much like Maar in the gesture. Qala said quietly "Where do you want to go?"
"What?" asked Thleen, fear in her eyes,
"I'm here to listen to you, but I figure you want to get away to talk. Where would you like to go?"
"Oh. Through the pasture, to that tip where you can see Shu real good" said Thleen. Qala began strolling north and Thleen breathed in and out heavily as she joined her. Once they were down the stone steps and approaching the first gates to Vants' pens, Thleen said "She's a turd. I hate her!"
"She behaved badly" agreed Qala. "I understand why you're mad."
"So you're not taking her side? You just said, she behaved like a turd" said Thleen, walking backward to look at Qala's face.
"I'm not taking her side" replied Qala. "Although I think I do understand some of what pushed her over the edge. Not your fault, you didn't ask to get yelled at like that."
Thleen wasn't ready to hear anything about understanding Maar at the moment. She grimaced and opted to climb over the gate rather than open it. Qala waited to gain access in a less strenuous manner. They stopped to pet kids before walking on to island's end.
Thleen hunted for stones to hurl over the cliff while Qala sat on a flat boulder, enjoying the retained heat which came up to her rump and thighs.
"I'm still hungry" Thleen finally said. "She better levvin' save me some levvin' pie." She cut a sideways glance at Qala to see how this double use of the L-word was going to land. Qala said only "Always plenty of pie. That's why it's called Pya and Pyosz, you know, because of all the pie."
Thleen let herself grin. She chucked two more rocks and said, with waning ferocity. "She needs to get OFF me about how I eat. She didn't used to be such a turd about it." She turned to look directly at Qala, who said "Are you asking me what I think?" After a pause, Thleen said "I guess."
"Well...things have changed, for one thing. And for another, she felt really bad about herself today, something that came up."
Thleen stopped scuffing her otos through the edge of the grass. "What?"
"That cliff-climbing stunt she pulled with Abbo. They did it without the right equipment and without telling anyone where they''d gone. If something had gone wrong -- well, Maar realized how irresponsible she'd been." Qala waited and still didn't see comprehension in Thleen. "Four years ago is when it was. How old were you then?"
"Imagine you being who you were then, six, and one night your emmas getting a call telling them Maar had vanished without a trace. Or maybe Abbo survived and told them what had happened, but there'd still be no body to bury. Like Moko. Imagine never having her in your life again, what your life would be like now. None of us would know you, either. She was incredibly stupid to take that risk with your future, and she knows it. I can promise she's beating herself up about it inside."
Thleen was stunned. She came to sit near Qala. After a minute, she asked "Did siba choose Pyosz as a partner, then, because Pyosz would be a good emma to me?"
Qala gave a boom of laughter. Thleen loved it when she was able to make Qala laugh. Qala's thin curls fell to her shoulders, and when she laughed they would sway back and forth.
"No, Maar and Pyosz fell in love like bajirt, no stopping it" said Qala. Bajirt was an ancient Skene word which meant the inevitability of high tide. "But of course Pyosz would fall in love with you, too, if she had already chosen Maar, because you and Maar share so much good in your characters." Qala saw Thleen was again ready to admit her bond with Maar.
"Why would she have done something stupid, then? The cliff thing, I mean."
"Because she was lonely and homesick and there was nobody looking after her, certainly not feckless Abbo. She wanted some version of fun to distract her from how bad it hurt, every minute of every day, to not be with you. She knows she got lucky. And I forgive her for being so stupid because she learned from it, she went on to get a good life for herself, a family, and bring you here so she doesn't have to ever miss you again. Mistakes are useful when you learn from them."
Thleen turned for a moment to look back over her shoulder in the direction of Vants' Manage. "I don't see why that made her yell at me about the chard."
"Ah. Well, she was of course aware that having heard this story, Ziri was going to suggest you and she try climbing the cliff as soon as you can sneak away, and Maar was sick inside with worry, feeling like it was partly her fault. Sometimes worry comes out cattywampus, you know. We'll figure out a way to fix that for her, me and you. But about the food thing..." Qala trailed off, studying Thleen's face.
"You've really grown this summer. I think maybe you're old enough for me to tell you some adult information. But grown-up knowledge is often a burden, you can say no if you want."
"Is it about me? Me and Maar?"
"Then I want to know."
Qala moved her oto so it rested lightly against Thleen's. "Okay. You haven't had quite enough to eat. Probably all your life, you've been slightly undernourished. Not just in quantity, you know, how much was on your plate, but also in what you were given to eat. Maar was doing everything she could to give food to your family, but this last year she realized that wasn't working, not quite. Since you came here and began growing, she's realized how deprived you've been. And she's so mad about it she can't think straight, and she's also scared it may have affected you for life. Like how healthy you'll be as a grown-up, how strong your bones will be."
Thleen's voice was hollow. "Are my bones okay?"
"Lawa and I have talked it over, and we think you're going to be fine. We turned things around just in time. Whew." Qala made an exaggerated sound of relief and Thleen imitated her with a giggle. "See, Maar grew up like you, without access to all the different kinds of foods she needed. When she got to the Lofthall and the good canteen there, she taught herself to eat differently, to eat stuff that maybe wasn't her absolute favorite, because she had to make sure she was healthy. For Skene but especially for you. And then she came to Pya, where she had access to even better food, and then Pyosz began teaching her to cook, and then she got Owl Manage and Saya for her own, to give you. So she wants you to have the chance she didn't years and years earlier than her."
"I eat good, you all say so" argued Thleen.
"Mostly you do. But on the mining islands, greens are hard to come by. Potatoes and onions and carrots, they keep longer in transport and we have lots of those. Plus fish and rice of course. And cheese and milk since Pya began producing. Humans, though, we need a little bit of everything. Including leaves of plants, not just roots and fruits. I'm like Maar, I had to learn to eat differently when I left Exploit, and now I'm old and strong, so I'm glad I did."
"What about stuff I don't like? I hate the taste asparagus puts at the back of my throat" said Thleen.
"You really don't like it, say so before it goes on your plate. Like olives, we don't make you eat olives. I myself don't care for parsley or oysters, so I don't touch them. I'm not wild about broccoli but it's tolerable, so I do eat that. If Maar hadn't been so upset, if you could have told her about the asparagus, I know you'd have finished your chard because you actually do like chard, I see you eat it raw in the tillage when we're weeding."
Thleen shifted spit from one cheek to another, unwilling to admit Qala was right. She thumped her oto against Qala's a few times before saying "How come on the mining islands we eat different?"
"Our land is dirty from giving Skene all the metals and minerals it needs, and nobody from other islands made sure we got the greens we deserve. A mistake Pya is not repeating" said Qala.
Thleen's voice dropped to a whisper. 'Su said our emmas stole food from Maar."
"Your emmas made some mistakes. I think if you ask Maar, she'll tell you what you want to know. I'll remind her you're old enough now."
"Su said there's lots better food at home, now that I'm gone" continued Thleen.
"She's right, but it's not because of you, it's another reason. Ask Maar" repeated Qala.
"Why didn't my emmas see how hungry I am?" Thleen's voice was barely audible.
"Because they had been hurt in ways which clouded their thinking, and they didn't have anyone else to help them" said Qala.
"Maar tried to help. They woudn't ever listen to her" said Thleen.
"Not everyone is as smart as you are" said Qala. "We must be gentle and kind to those who are dumber than us." This got another giggle. Thleen had shifted so her hip was now alongside Qala's.
"They gave me up" she said softly. "My emmas."
"Not willingly. Maar had to fight for you. Fight mean and dirty, eventually, to get you loose for us on Pya."
"Really, and I think maybe that's a story you are not quite old enough to hear. I'm pretty sure Su doesn't know it, either. I'll leave it to Maar to decide. You ready to face her again?"
"Yeah. I'm sorry I threw my plate."
Qala brushed off the backs of her thighs as they began walking. "I accept your apology if you promise not to do it again. And you need to apologize to everyone else at the table. I think you got red sauce on Lehen's embroidered shati, you might offer to help her wash it."
"I don't want to go back to school tomorrow. I mean, I do, I get to be with Nan Dodd again and see Ziri every day, but I'll miss fishing and climbing in the orchard and all that."
"Speaking of climbing" -- Qala seized the opportunity -- "Let's ask someone who knows about rigging to give us lessons in rock-scaling, like Pava, maybe. We can start easy, on the escarpment. If I get you expert training, will you promise to never go on the cliffs around here without an adult spotter? You'll have to be the mature one with Ziri, you'll have to be smarter now than Maar was at 17."
Thleen straightened her spine. "I can do that."
"I thought so."
Inside the Manage, Thleen made a decent public apology before filling a plate with salad, chard, a single spoon of corn, and more chicken. Maar motioned her to the table to sit beside her and whispered something that made Thleen look glad. She said "I know, siba. Me and habibi have a plan about the cliff thing, you don't have to worry." Maar looked around in surprise at Qala. When Thleen was done, Maar said "I saved you a wedge of that lemon pie, it's at the back of the coldbox." Thleen knocked over her glass of tea in her haste to reach the kitchen.
Four days later, Lawa was reminding Thleen repeatedly to set the table while Maar finished gravy, Pyosz dressed a salad, and Qala applied ointment to a gash Cha had just received from Curds for approaching the wrong feeding bowl. Thleen had been awarded a position on one of Pya School's two kickball teams, which was unusual for a second grader to achieve. Ziri had also tried for a slot and didn't make it. Pyosz imagined that the angst on Kacang this evening was equal to Thleen's triumph and need to show them all the maneuvers she had used in her try-out.
When the radio buzzed, Pyosz stepped around a darting Thleen to answer it. As she licked mustard-emulsified oil from one knuckle, she said "Oh hi, emma. Yeah, we're about to sit down to dinner, if THLEEN EVER SETS OUT THE SILVERWARE...Really?...You know you don't have to ask, ever...It'll be great to see you, and I'll have clean sheets on your bed...Okay, then, we'll be at the jichang."
Thleen had stopped running and was standing at her elbow as Pyosz clicked off. "Emma's coming for a visit" she said. "On tomorrow's huolon." As Thleen burst into a jig, Qala said "What's the occasion?"
"She needs to talk with the whole family" said Pyosz, looking at Maar. She added to Maar quietly "Yoj's suggestion."
"Care to tell us more?" asked Lawa flatly. Maar seized Thleen's shoulder and shoved her toward the utensil drawer.
"I would but emma intends to reveal all in her own way" said Pyosz apologetically. Lawa exchanged a glance with Qala before carrying a pitcher of tea to the table.
After dinner, Thleen once again tried to get out of her schoolnight bath and early bedtime. Maar said "I'm cranky today. I'm going to let Pyosz be the one who helps you tonight." Thleen blinked twice and said "Okay. But you'll kiss me goodnight, right?"
"Always." Once the bathroom door was closed, Maar retrieved the green volume from their bedroom and motioned Qala and Lawa into the large hearth chair. "I see no need to indulge Prl's love of ceremony" she said, handing the book to Qala. "She's about to distribute this in all Skene, and if you're like me, you need some extra time to think about it." Maar left them to go finish cleaning the kitchen.
Half an hour later, she heard steady swearing from Lawa. Drying her hands on her hips, she rejoined them. Qala's brown eyes seemed to be all pupil. "Is this what you and Pyosz fought about last week?" she asked Maar.
"Mostly" said Maar.
"Your emmas are going to think you're involved with this, that you've betrayed their secret" said Qala.
"I know. They're not entirely wrong, I'm part of this family now and all of us are going to be seen as complicit" said Maar. "Yoj was right to insist we get advance warning."
"This time" muttered Lawa. "And what about Thleen, set apart from you and her other sibs like this? Some red-nosed kid at school is going to tease her, repeat what they've heard at home, and I'll have to go down there with an axe handle -- "
"Dodd will figure out how to circumvent it" said Maar. "And we'll enlist Ziri in the effort, Ziri's loyalty is formidable."
"We watched Pyosz go through being seen as different" continued Lawa. "It's not fair on a child -- "
The bathroom door open, releasing steam and the smell of gardenias. Wearing only a towel wrapped around her head, Thleen scampered upstairs, her skinny buttocks still rosy from hot water. Pyosz followed more slowly, not noticing the green book in Qala's hand.
Maar said "Do you need to talk with me more right now?"
Qala said "No, we need to chew it over together. You go on upstairs. Get as much sleep as you can." She handed the book to Lawa so Cha could claim her lap.
Nioma wasn't off work yet by the time Prl landed. She looked exhausted and distracted. Maar and Thleen shouldered her bags and she leaned on Pyosz's arm to the ferry. Once home, Pyosz had to milk and Thleen talked a streak as Prl unpacked and pretended to listen to her instead of waiting for a knock at the front door.
The knock came and when Pyosz came in for dinner, Prl and Nioma were sharing a hearth chair, kissing passionately whenever no one looked their way. Which everyone except Thleen were trying to do.
Prl lasted two songs on the porch after dinner before Pyosz said "Emma, you look spent, go on to bed. We'll get you up in time for Market Day, Thleen has a stall there she's itching to show you." Thleen was rewarded with a later bed hour, and only the adults were aware of the cool formality between Qala and Prl.
Copyright 2010 Maggie Jochild.
Tuesday, April 6, 2010
Sunday, April 4, 2010
(Click on image to enlarge.)
In September 1977 I moved to a lesbian land collective in Durango, Colorado. With my arrival, there were five us living in the Wimmin's House, two dykes with goats outside Pagosa Springs, and two more women in another direction on land which had once been a MNS collective. My move had been ardently encouraged by one of the Wimmin's House members, Sapphora, as part of a house power struggle I was clueless about.
I was 21 and combating suicidal feelings as a result of having been brutally dumped by my lover of five years, Astrid. Overnight Astrid had taken our daughter and moved in with a woman who had been in my conscious-raising group and used my confidences there as ammunition to court Astrid. Leaving Texas and my former community had come to feel necessary to my survival.
Sapphora had promised me a job working with her in a Durango bakery and deli, the New York Bakery. After I packed up everything and moved, I discovered the job wasn't actually available. I had been in college for four years (though I took incompletes the final semester when Astrid waljed out and never did get my degree) and had only sparse fast food work experience. Durango is a tourist town, and there simply were no jobs available during the winter months.
Sapphora had run away from home at 14 and survived on the streets, eventually becoming a heroin addict from which she was rescued by a cult. She lost the cult when she came out as a dyke, and she often operated from a base of desperate dishonesty. She was glib, smart, working class, and not concerned with what I might do for income.
Another working class woman in the collective, Mary, sussed out the situation and read Sapphora the riot act, telling her to help me find work or else. Sapphora was head of the night shift at the bakery, which was really just her and a young hippie man. They came in at 10 p.m. and made all the doughnuts and pastries that went out all over Durango. At dawn the bakery owner, Brad, came in and used the same facilities to make bread. Somehow Sapphora got the hippie boy fired and me brought in, lying about my experience. I didn't find out about it until weeks later.
The bakery was well over 100 years old, a long narrow brick structure on Main Street in the middle of downtown. There was a scrap of empty lot beside it that was used for parking. It had tall, stamped tin ceilings and uneven wooden floors, with a late 1800s feel to it. Sapphora and I had the place to ourselves, but we had to work at a hard pace to get everything done each night, especially since I had no baking skills whatsoever at first.
I was healthy and strong, however, and determined to win Sapphora's approval. We'd show up, turn on the doughnut fryers, don long white aprons, and put a cassette in the dough-flecked boombox we played at full blast in the back room. Every night, over and over, we listened to three tapes we'd made from LPs: One of Cris Williamson and Meg Christian, one of Alix Dobkin's two albums, and one of Fleetwood Mac with a little Linda Ronstadt and Emmy Lou Harris thrown in. I still can't hear "Landslide" or "Blue Bayou" without feeling like I can smell yeast.
I learned to mix 100 lbs of raised dough in the giant Hobart mixer in the middle room, after carrying a bag of flour that weight up the steep narrow stairs from the basement. I rolled it out on a conveyor belt, cut the raised rings, crullers, and bearpaws, and set trays to rise in the proofer while I mixed 50 lbs of cake doughnuts in the Hobart again. I'd fill the hopper over the fryer and pump out three dozen into the vat of oil at a time, turning them with long sticks and burning myself with splashes eevery night. As those cooled, I mixed a second 50 lbs of old-fashioneds and fried them as well.
By that time, my dough had risen. Sapphora had been busy shaping cinnamon rolls, danish, and eclairs from another 100 lbs of raised dough. I began frying my trays while she baked hers in a room-sized rotating oven in the middle room. A massive contraption could glaze four dozen items at a time with confectioners icing, and we took turns using it. All the maple and chocolate icing had to be done by hand, along with sprinkles and filling the eclairs. By the end of the first week, skin was beginning to peel from my hands and arms because of exposure to icing, and I thought I'd never eat another doughnut as long as I lived.
But I loved the muscles I was getting, that $65 a week I took home, and working nights. I slept until noon and had the house to myself each afternoon, when Sapphora left for town to do her schmoozing and everyone else was still at work. I read everything I could get my hands on about lesbian-feminism, classism, wicca, peer counseling, vegetarianism, anti-imperialism, and living on land. I wrote long journal entries, one or two poems a day, and letters to my mama. Astrid, shocked to the core that I had left instead of waiting for crumbs of her attention, actually agreed to let our daughter come visit me for a week at Christmas. I began to think I'd make it.
Sapphora and I would take a break halfway through our shift, firing up the grill and raiding the deli for anything that struck our fancy. The Wimmin's House was vegetarian and I was doing my best to adopt that lifestyle, but Sapphora secretly ate meat whenever she could. We wolfed down prime rib, ham steaks, pork chops or whole roasted chickens every night, along with artichoke hearts and home-fries slathered in sour cream. Despite my gorging, I steadily lost weight, which my other collective members attributed to the quinoa casseroles and sprout-heavy salads we had for House dinners.
Except on the drive to and from work, Sapphora and I didn't do a lot of talking. The music was too loud, for one thing, and we were also very busy at work. The back room where we did most of our tasks was open to the long middle room, and we kept everything but the front cafe area all lit up because it was chilly in there despite the fryers and ovens, and light helped us ignore snow and ice outside threatening our commute back into the La Platas where we lived.
When I noticed a flicker from the middle room in my right peripheral vision as I was chopping out doughnuts on the massive butcher-block table in the back room, I turned to look but saw nothing. It happened again a few minutes later, and again my direct gaze showed an empty middle room. I said nothing to Sapphora and forgot about it. For that night.
But the next night, and the one after that, I kept seeing motion across the middle room, a sense of something moving very fast at an angle from the ovens toward the far wall. It was nothing I could catch in time to get a clear look. By the third night, I had figured out it would stop by the time we took our lunch break at 2 a.m., and it wasn't starting until after midnight. I was scared, confused, and too embarrassed to bring it up to Sapphora.
A few nights later, I was frying with my back to Sapphora, who was cutting cinnarmon buns from a long roll with a bucher knife, working at her usual clip. Over the music I heard her yell "Son of a BITCH!" I wheeled around and saw her holding one hand with the other, blood dripping onto the floor. "I fucking cut my hand" she said, her pale Irish face even paler. I helped her to the grotty bathroom, where we washed her wound, decided it didn't need stitches (not that we had insurance anyway), and I bandaged it thickly.
She hesitated when it was time to walk back into the middle room. "I saw something" she said, her cheeks going pink. "I been seeing something in that other room. It caught me off guard tonight at the wrong moment."
I stared at her. "I've seen it too" I whispered.
"Don't shit me."
"I'm not" I said. "It darts across the room, right? From the ovens?"
"Yeah" she said, her blue eyes huge. "Right to left, over and over. For the last week or two."
"Not before? Not when you worked with the guy?" I asked.
"Nope. And not when I've helped Brad on the day shift, but then it's a zoo then in the middle room, anyhow. What -- what do you see?"
I swallowed. "Something -- it's not an animal. It's like a person, a short person. But not solid."
Sapphora nodded. "Whitish. And fast, she's really fast."
"It's a woman" said Sapphora. "I'm so fucking glad you don't think I'm making this up, everything thinks I lie about everything."
I didn't know enough about her yet to respond to that one. "What are we going to do?"
"Don't tell anyone else" she said emphatically. "I don't want this getting back to Brad. Or the collective."
"It's a ghost, right?"
"I'd say so. Let's do some research about the building, maybe at the library." Sapphora pronounced it as libary. "And try to get a better look at her."
"She only comes part of the night -- shit, my doughnuts!" The smell of burning had just reached me. We went back to work, temporarily cheerful from the relief of a shared visitation. On Saturday I went to the library and dug around but turned up nothing -- I didn't have my research skills yet. Sapphora went to the bakery for her check and chatted casually with Brad, finding out when the building had been constructed and examining a few old photos he had of its interior from the turn of the century. We learned the ovens had not been in place long, another room used to occupy that space, and the far brick wall next to the back door also used to have an opening into a section of the bulding that had now been torn down, where the parking lot was now.
We had verified for ourselves the path taken by the ghost. It was, in fact, a woman, short. older than 40, with her hair tied back in a bun and wearing a dress to her ankles with an equally long apron over it. She was see-through and seemed oblivious to our presence. She emerged from the ovens at a near run, her thin shoulders hunched and her arms in front of her as if she was carrying something heavy, something not visible to us. She scurried across the room and melted into the brick wall.
Sapphora said she thought the ghost had been pulled forth by our "woman energy". She professed to not be scared of it any more. But I sure as fuck was. I didn't go into the middle room without stopping to look at the ovens first, to make sure I wouldn't collide with her. Or whatever such an interception would be -- the idea of her passing through me made me sick to my stomach.
A couple of nights later, Sapphora asked me to mix the custard for the eclairs. This involved carrying a 50 lb bag of yellow "mix" up from the basement, dumping it in the Hobart with a few gallons of milk from the walk-in, and standing at the giant floor mixer to turn it off and scrape down the bowl sides intermittently as the custard congealed. It was hypnotic watching the two-foot-long beaters rotate, and I stood there, leaning against the top of the Hobart, mesmerized and forgetting that the ghost's track went right beside me.
Until I felt a chill and a swish on the left. I was looking down, and I saw her feet, the hem of her apron and dress, pass inches from my own feet. Her shoes had high tops and were buttoned up, presumably black leather although the only color to her was grey-white, semi-transparent. Her apron corner gave a small flip from motion as it vanished into the bricks beside the Hobart.
I stood up, icy from terror. I walked numbly into the back room and said "You have to finish the custard."
"She walked right by me. I'm not going back out there." Sapphora laughed at me but went to turn off the mixer herself.
A week later, disaster struck. Brad announced with the off season, he didn't have enough pastry orders to justify keeping us both on the night shift. Come mid October, he was moving Sapphora to bread-making at dawn with him and I'd have to do the night shift on my own.
"I can't" I told Sapphora, pleading. "I don't know if I can handle the load, for one thing, but mostly I don't want to be alone with that thing."
"The load will be cut in half, no sweat, and she's no threat, she's just doing her job every night. She doesn't know she's dead." As if that was any comfort.
I didn't have an alternative, I was lucky to be kept on the job at all. I started entering the cold middle room from the back door each night trembling with fear. I made sure I had no reason at all to leave the back room between 1 and 2 a.m., and Sapphora was right about the work, pastry orders were cut in half. I had Alix and Stevie to keep me company, and I began grilling myself minute steaks at 2:30 each night -- never got tired of steak. My not-quite-opaque coworker kept to herself, running her trays across the room during her witching hour.
A couple of weeks later, past midnight, I heard pounding on the back door. It was the two dykes from Pagosa Springs, who had stayed in town for a performance and were going to crash in town because the roads were so bad. They decided to come visit me and cadge some coffee. They served themselves and returned to the back room where I was frosting maple raised with deft twists of my wrist. Pauley stood leaned against a shelf and Sue hopped up to sit on the end of the butcher block table as they told me about their evening's entertainment.
All of a sudden, Sue swore and leaped down from the table. "Somebody's here" she hissed, looking around for a blunt object.
I wasn't sure what to do. Sapphora and I had steadfastly kept our secret. But Sue was a loose cannon, and when she picked up a heavy rolling pin, I said "There's nobody out there."
"Yes there is" she whispered, "they were heading for the bathroom, I think."
"It's a ghost" I said. I told them all about it. They kept waiting for the punchline. Sue began to look wall-eyed, and when Pauley saw the ghost again a few minutes later, they abruptly left. Our whole circle of friends knew about the ghost by noon the next day.
I gained a little cachet among those who believed the ghost was real for my guts at working alone with it each night. I kept to my avoidance and it was just another part of the schedule, like timing the rising of dough.
Until one night in November, when I sat down at the little staff table in the middle room at 2:45 for my usual steak and potatoes. My back was to the ghost's path but I was a dozen feet away from her trajectory and the active hour was past. As I lifted a forkful of food to my mouth, I heard a long exhaled breath directly behind my right ear.
Nothing there, of course. I carried my food to the back room and ate standing up. Before I left that morning, I stood in the middle room and said into cold air "You can't come up behind me. I need this job and I can't do it if you scare me. Find another way to communicate with me if it's absolutely necessary, but really, I'd rather not have anything to do with you at all. Please."
In the spring, after thaw, Sapphora, Jude and I left the Wimmin's House to move to San Francisco. For all I know, the ghost is still pounding the floorboards on her slanted scurry from one non-existent room to another. Or maybe she was released when we stopped playing women's music every night.
Copyright 2010 Maggie Jochild.