Monday, October 10, 2011


By the time Pyosz had finished spinning the laundry, Szeko had found her again and pleaded to help push fabric into the wringer. She loved watching items come out flat and stiff on the other side. Pyosz had to keep a seabeak eye on her, to be sure little fingers were not still between the rollers before she pushed the wringer button.

Pyosz insisted Szeko remain behind as she carried the heaping basket to the barn, where she began shaking out the clean rags to hang in the drying rack area. This time of year, there was no competition from fruits or nuts for this part of the barn. However, one of the blowers wasn't coming on. She wrote a note for Su to check it and left it on the bed in the claustrophic metal cabin Su still claimed as her residence on Saya.

Su was now head mechanic in Raki's speedboat business, and had flourished under the responsibility. She was single, and a beloved sibemma to Thleen's children. She generally appeared for weeknight dinners, and kept all things electrical or mechanical in order on Saya as well as nearby family-occupied Pea Pods. She wasn't much of a talker, or particularly insightful, but Pyosz had learned to depend on her presence for what it was.

Pyosz spent the rest of the morning mucking out the barn and bringing down fresh hay from the mow. She made a warm mash before calling in her herd. Massive clouds had gathered and she expected the afternoon would turn rainy. She felt Bolt's undersides and thought she could detect restlessness within. Bolt was standing in a way Pyosz recognized as pre-labor. Pyosz rubbed behind her ears and said "I'll be here tonight, new emma, we'll get through it together."

Prl, Neoma, and the three older children of Thleen and Ziri trooped by on their way to the ferry. Lawoj, at 11, declined the outing and Pyosz told her she had to scrub the porch, then, before holing up in the study to read. Lawoj read for pleasure, and Pyosz could not begrudge her that. Ngus, now, Ngus read like a waterspout, sucking up all information around her. Last summer Dodd had tested her before entering third grade and announced she was proficient at a gakusha level. She suggested Ngus consider skipping the rest of Pya school and instead attend college.

Pyosz and Maar had argued about it for a long time. Maar wanted her to have a "normal" life, with friends and outings and "Yes, even kickball games if only as a spectator!" she had shouted. Pyosz, primed by Prl, argued for allowing Ngus to follow her special bent wherever it led her. Her propensity for music and mathematics already made her unpopular with most children her age.

Eventually Ngus, paler than any of them, with red-gold frizz and Pyosz's eyes, had settled it by calmly asking to "Let me open the doors my mind is knocking at. I need to be happy." The Polytechnic readily granted her admission, with a scholarship.

However, the University in Skene also offered a place for Ngus there, behind Pyosz and Maar's backs, and Ngus enrolled by mail. When she told them, she said the linguistics program in Skene was far advanced, and that was what interested her most.

"Linguistics?" shrieked Pyosz. "I thought it was maths and music!"

"Much the same thing, really" mused Ngus, and when Prl chuckled, Pyosz wheeled on her. "I'm not letting a 13-year-old move into those dorms on Skene, I know what kind of crotch-munching goes on at night."

Ngus said "I asked Speranz if I could live in their Manage. She said I'd have to share her bed, but they'd feed me and look out for me. The U is giving me a private cubicle for study. I think I can get my degree in three years, maybe two, if I apply myself. And you know I will."

Pyosz didn't like the sound of that cubicle, dimly remembering stories her abba Bux had told her. But in the end they relented, and Ngus had flown away to Skene with her emmas sobbing on the tarmac below. She returned at midwinter holiday with excited stories about gakushas who adored her and the Archive contents in Skene. She was not noticeably thinner or paler, and she said Speranz snored but was otherwise quite nice to her, so Pyosz found no reason to bar her return. She did apologize to Prl, however, for leaving Skene at 20 to take over Saya Island.

"It drove me nearly mad. But Ngus is too much of a child, still, to get into the kind of trouble you faced" said Prl. "She'll be back. Seems like nobody leaves Pya for good."


Pyosz was late for lunch, guiltily grateful the only little one present was Pothl nursing silently at Thont's breast. She told the young adults "Kidding will start tonight. I'll be sleeping in the barn."

Thont, with dark rings around her eyes, said "Does it hurt them like us? Birthing, I mean."

"I can't answer that. It does hurt, yes, but animals tend to let pain flow through them. Their pupils get very dilated and they look a little ecstatic once it's over and a tiny jelly-legged kid of their own is there between their feet." She saw Thont look down at Pothl with awe and smiled in reminiscence.

Ziri cut through the sentiment to say "Everyone is coming here tomorrow for Shmonah dinner, are you baking this afternoon? Because we're low on bread."

They were always low on bread. Pyosz sighed and said "I suppose I will, then. Anyone have free time to help?"

Thleen shook her head guiltily, and Ziri said "I have to mop two stories and wash diapers." Pyosz had found her baking job somewhat onerous since Yoj's death. She said now "Then I'll turn on the radio to keep me company."

She started several sponges as Thleen did dishes. She then called the Lofthall and managed to speak directly with Maar. "I know you're busy, but I'm out of buckwheat and we could use some things for tomorrow. If I call in an order to Gitta's, will you swing by there on your way home?" Gitta's second-oldest was now running the grocery, but it would forever be Gitta's.

Maar distractedly said "Okay, I guess so. Listen, how did Szeko get that gash on her forehead, Thiri's version lay all the blame on you?"

"Thiri is a broody pullet. I've got to go, we'll talk later." Pyosz added under her breath If you don't fall asleep first.

As Pyosz began shaping loaves and rolls, Ziri returned to the kitchen and cleared her throat. "Ah, Pyosz, since you're about to be in the barn all the time, I was wondering -- have you finished that platter I asked you to make for my aggie?"

"Oh lev, Ziri, I forgot." Pyosz felt stricken. Two months ago she and Ziri had spent a couple of hours in her studio creating a design of dewlet-dropped grape clusters and split boiled eggs for Meko, who had populated next-door Kacang Island from her one womb. "When is her birthday?"

"San." Ziri looked resigned. "It's okay, I can select something from what's already made -- "

"No, Ziri, that design is too beautiful to miss. In fact, I was going to ask if I could use it later on, after she's had it to herself for a while." Pyosz felt a surge of love for Ziri, who had meant to inherit Kacang for herself. Instead, she was now a backbone at Saya, while her siba Koben gleefully claimed Kacang.

"Listen, after I put these in, I can save the pies for later. If I set the timer, will you come pull them out and place them on the racks to cool? I'll go do the platter now, I really want to." Pyosz suddently felt wild to be in the sanctuary of her studio.

Ziri hugged her and said "And you can fire it tomorrow maybe?"

"I'll fire it tonight." She washed her hands, set the timer, and hurried out to her studio.

But after she pulled clay from her bucket and warmed it by long kneading, she paused, looking down at the mound on her wheel. The peace around her gave her room to remember, and she burst into tears.

Not quite two months earlier, her sibemma Mill had died from a swift, vicious strain of pneumonia which had stalked Pya that winter. They had lost Oby three years earlier from a burst appendix. Mill retired from the Lofthall, throwing her support behind Maar who easily won election, and spent her days managing the fields on Arta Island. Her grown grandchild Ehall lived with her as the intended heir of Arta. Some in the family had grumbled about Ehall being tardy in calling for medical help, but Briel quashed that talk, saying Mill had become frail and easy prey for illness.

Pyosz increasingly found Ehall reminded her of Abbo at that age, and wondered what shaped such a personality in their midst. Ehall tended to brag, she met responsibility often with little grace, and she visited her emmas on Dou much too seldom for their happiness. Her aggie Ngall, Pyosz's closest cousin, had told Pyosz "It's as if Arta Island is her identity. Didn't Yoj write something about how that problem would become more pronounced in Pya?"

Pyosz was further disturbed by Meamea, the middle child of the Heaps, moving in to cohabit with Ehall. Meamea had retained her sweetness despite growing up with overbearing Ziri and manipulative Koben, and Pyosz worried that Ehall dominated her. She found their decision not to partner made her anxious for Meamea's future.

But all that grief and worry was overshadowed a week later, on the winter solstice. Qoj, her cousin via Dodd and Briel, contracted a night flight with one of Maar's favorite young lighters to photograph constellations at annual midpoints. She did this regularly and had accumulated a vast scientific database which made the astronomer in Skene green with envy. This night, however, something completely failed in the lighter engine, and despite heroic efforts by the pilot, they had crashed in a fallow soybean field in the middle of Dvareka. They were both killed instantly, and a fire burned the craft down to struts.

Shock reverberated through all Skene. Dodd had to be hospitalized for a week to keep her partly sedated and taking in nutrition. Uli, Qoj's partner, took indefinite leave from her job to look after their 12-year-old child, Ulodd. The Lofthall altered schedules and mourned their dead.

Even worse, under Maar's rubric, was that no one understood what had gone wrong with the lighter engine. It was one of a new model manufactured in Pya, with a modified power relay, and after a year of trial in all circumstances, this engine had been installed in every new craft on Skene, including the huolon which flew Ngus back and forth from Pya to Skene. Maar was not an engineer, but she carried a roll of schematics now with her everywhere she went, trying to find a glitch which might prevent a future failure.

Su had looked over the diagrams at Maar's request one evening, and finally said "I can't find a flaw. The fact is, it could be a freak malfunction. They do happen. And you have exponentially more evidence for the success of this model, with only one incident of trouble."

Pyosz had stood up from the dining table where they had been sitting and said "One incident of trouble. That's how you refer to the horrific death of my cousin?" Her hands were trembling, and Maar reached out to hold one, but Pyosz jerked away.

"That's not all all what I meant" began Su. Pyosz was by then halfway out the door. She didn't return to the Manage until everyone else was asleep. When she slid in under the covers next to Maar, she stayed on her half of the bed.

Now, weeping in her studio, she thought Nothing has gotten better since then. There are no answers, and no security to be had. She cried until she had to stop and blow her nose. Her eyes, at least, felt clearer, and she began reworking the clay to loosen it again.

She was able to finish the platter and glaze it before milking. Bolt turned down her serving of oats, which was the final sign Pyosz needed. She hurried through dinner, made a snack box plus an insulated carafe of tea, and grabbed blankets before walking back through sleety dark to the barn. Bolt was on her front knees, straining and looking a little panicked. Pyosz calmed her down and began singing what she thought of as her goat song to the rest of the herd, who were restless and looking frequently through the bars of Bolt's stall.

Bolt delivered before midnight, a smallish dappled grey kid that Pyosz helped towel dry. She was, blessedly, a doeling, so Pyosz picked her up and kissed her cheek before whispering "I name you Flood, may your waters flow forever" before helping her find Bolt's teat. Mildew bleated demandingly from the pen, and Pyosz went to let Mildew sniff her hands. "New citizen of Saya" Pyosz told her. She made a nest in clean straw, drank her tea, and dropped off, her shoulders aching from the effort of not remembering Qoj.

© 2011 Maggie Jochild


Blue said...

I've been reading this to Rocky (minus the "crotch muncher" bit, though it made me chuckle). We're very much enjoying it so far. She says, "it's a good book, please send chapter three. I'd like to see a ton of more stuff about Raki. Thanks for making me a speedboat captain!"

Maggie Jochild said...

Tell her more Rocky coming up! And of COURSE she is the speedboat sheng zhang!

C. Diva said...

Yerush-->Mill (as a teenager)-->Abbo-->Ehall?
thanks for this.