The night was not pleasant. Too many distractions built up from the week meant I didn’t recognize calls and tells until after the window for answering them had closed. My sense of disconnection deepens and I fear I have recognized my errors too late to remedy them.
All night I had dreams of a wanderer trying to come home, but home is no longer there. After many adventures, she arrives at the place where she and her friends would regularly meet, only for the place to no longer exist, her former friends are too afraid of what she has become, or be barred from entering because of the viewable changes that heralded how she survived.
All she wants to do is come home. But there is no home for her to come home to.
After watching her struggle through the fifth iteration of her “life” in this dream, I force myself to appear before her. “Why not just make a new home where you are?”
She looked up at me. Her sorrow is smothering the light in her eyes. “I don’t know what home is.” Her face was marked by so many scars, bandages, and prosthetics, it was difficult to recognize the human she started off as before her journeys began. “When I was a child, home was what I was trying to escape from. I knew it wasn’t a good place, but I didn’t realize how bad it was until I had left it. Now, I am stronger. Now, the people who hurt me as a child can’t hurt me anymore. Now, I can hold my own against them, but that home is gone.”
She lowered her face into her hands (one organic, one cybernetic) “Now, I have to build a home from nothing and I have no blueprint to go by. Now, I have a hundred people telling me how to make two hundred homes that they consider ideal and in each and every one of them, I am excluded because I am not them. Now, I have people telling me I don’t deserve a home because of what I had to do to survive my childhood and to survive the journey it took me to get here.”
She looked up at me again. Half of her face has been replaced by cybernetic prosthesis. Despite the harsh surface coloring, the constructed facsimile was just as capable of conveying emotion as her scarred remaining flesh with one exception.
The living eye was a fountain of tears.
The prosthetic eye was a core of darkness that absorbed anything that touched it. Light. Tears. Warmth.
“I can dance with the past, but how does that help me live in the present? How does that help me prepare for the future? Sometimes…” She sat down on the curb beside her. Her hands dangled from her lap and her head lowered from the pull of weights I could not see but could sympathetically feel. “Sometimes, I question why I’m trying to come home at all.”
I sat down beside her. I heard the implied question, but I had no answers to give her. My mouth was filled with all the homilies and encouragements I have been given, but each syllable felt impotent and useless. When words did escape my lips, they were whispered and unbidden as if something else squeezed the communication out of me.
“Then don’t go home. Leave.”
She turned her head slightly towards me. I saw the reconstructed portion of her face clearly. The matte black sphere that served as her given eye was menacing merely by existing. Her whispered reply was even more subtle than my own.
“They won’t let me.”
Something deep within me understood the conversation we were not having but I was unable to capture the comprehension in words. So I remained sitting dumbly beside her as a mute guardian while her sorrow overwhelmed her manners and she poured out her anguish in loud waves of cries and sobs.
My arm hurts. I reach across my body with my good left arm and rub my aching right arm where it hurts the most. Sometimes I forget it has been replaced. Sometimes it won’t let me forget.
My accuser takes my action as proof of my disrespect towards the ancestors and doubles down on his argument for my expulsion in both loudness and viciousness.
“She is a descendant of [unintelligible] the same way that a [feral dog living in the slums] is descended from wolves! There is nothing worthwhile in her! She is not even whole! She is outcast from her own family, and there is no village or group that accepts her. She is unwilling to bend her head to serve her own kind and save her own ass, how then could she serve you, [Lord and Lady]?”
I don’t realize how cold it is in the room until the unnoticed tears on my face cause me to grimace. I wipe my face to clear my eyes, an action that encourages my accuser to again point out my lack of propriety and blatant ignorance of proper actions. I want to rise up against him and show him just how improper I could be, but my back is weak and bruised and my legs can barely support me kneeling on the ground. I feel as if severely beaten.
Ignoring that my accuser has yet to take a breath between words, I look around. I recognize the interior of the room as being exquisitely made and decorated mud covered walls. The ceiling slopes up to a hole in the roof that is shielded against ingress by birds and insects. That explains the draft. The room is constantly cooled and refreshed as the rising heat from our bodies is the engine of the current.
There are shelves and chests lining the room in a progression of grandeur that increased with closeness to the thrones at the back of the room. The bronze and gold items are clearly worked by expert masters. Bold cloths and neatly trimmed furs announce the wealth of the nation. When I finally looked at those seated on the thrones, I realized that even the smallest and cracked bead from their regalia was worth a thousand of what I could ever hope to achieve in my lifetime.
I had not realized my accuser had stopped speaking. Everyone was looking at me. Most of those watching me did not hide their derision. But those on the throne remained neutral and still to the point where I wondered if they were statues carved of wood.
“Is that all you have to say against her?” He spoke so quietly, I wondered if I had imagined it. The impact of his soft words brought my accuser to his knees as if struck upon the head.
“Is that all, my lord?! Is that all! Shall I call for [foreigners] to witness what she has done in their lands? Her refusal to abide by the natural order or the dictates of her betters above her? There is more, my lord, so much more against her. If my lord but desire, I shall lay all of her sins and errors in plain sight.”
“Failure to abide by whose natural order? The natural order set by those who would enslave her, or the natural order demonstrated by those who freed her? If a man has done wrong, then he must atone for that wrong, but what wrong has she committed to justify the shackles she has escaped from? Why is she being taken to task for the errors committed by those who bred her line of descent or by those who have taken advantage of her? How is that the natural order of things? If it is the natural order of prey to seek relief from the predator, how much more then is it the natural order of those who should have been free from the beginning to seek that freedom now?” She sounded young and old at the same time. Her voice brought several names to my memory but I knew that none of them belonged to her.
My accuser fell beside me and I realized her words had struck him repeatedly in his face as sure as any hand. He pulled himself to his knees and bowed deeply before the throned figures. “[Lord and Lady], she knows nothing of you. She barely knows your names. She does not know what is the proper offerings or the proper respect. She would defile your presence with her own and with the presence of [foreigners] that she dares to find you equal to! What you have sent to her has been treated like a cheap trinket for a bored tourist.”
“For years, we have watched as the time then was not right for us to act. Now, we have chosen to move, and you would punish her for our decision. Where is the natural order in that? You say that her blood link to us is so weak as to disprove if there was ever a link at all. We say any who seeks us as ancestors are worthy to be called our children and any who is willing to listen to us is worthy to be spoken to. Will she be able to treat us as [her ancestor] did? No. Will those who remain in [ancestral lands] accept her as an equal? No. Will we take her in as our own anyway and help her learn a different way? Yes. This is our choice. Who are you to tell us otherwise?”
Their combined voices pressed my accuser into the rug covered floor as if several elephants were stepping on every part of his body at once. He remained pinned there, as their condemnation of his accusations against me continued long after they finished speaking.
I felt someone approaching me from the side. They walked past me, knelt and bowed to the throned figures, then presented a richly decorated box to the figures. The figures did not move but I had the sense they approved of what was presented to them. The servant then bowed again before respectfully backing away then turning to place the richly decorated box before me.
I recognized the box containing the Dust II Onyx tarot deck. The figures silently commanded me to open it. I did, and the interior was the same as my physical copy. Right down to the numbering of the kit.
The second deck signed by the creator.
“Do you understand why you have this?” Their voices held me up and gave me a support to lean my tired body on.
I stared at the interior of the box. I did not answer despite the sudden flowing of tears down my face again.
“Whenever you feel that you can go no further. Whenever you feel that you have no recourse, remember, you have been given more than the second deck. You have been given a second chance.”
My emotions unmade what strength I had spun from nothing and I collapsed. Their words caught me and held me gently.
“You will not be able to go forward using old ways. You must create your own way. We will help you if you listen to us. This deck is one of the ways we will speak to you.”
Their words laid me gently on the ground before them with the opened box lying near my head. I was so exhausted that I could barely keep my eyes open. I wanted to argue that since I found out who they were, that I was ill-equipped to treat them properly. Would it not be better for someone who could give them their proper due to attend them?
“You think that [the wood statues] came into your father’s hands by mere accident so many years ago? Nothing in your life has been hidden from us. We have been waiting, and now we act. We are where we have willed to be. For as long as you are willing to learn, we will teach you what is right and necessary.”
I wanted to ask them why they are acting now when I have nothing to offer them. I wanted to ask them why they are being merciful to a worn-out tool and an overused beast. All I could do was exhale.
“Because you are not as alone as you perceive.”
“And you are loved.”
Their words covered my face and gently pushed me into a deeper sleep.
«The sun is up. Would be a shame to miss the morning.»
I groan, turn over, and pull the blanket over my face. “It’s dark, cool, and comfy. Also, fuck you. Lemme have my weekend, dammit.” I did not want to admit that the multiple dreams I had during the night were trying to exit my head with such force that a headache had begun to bloom. I was trying to forget them. Trying to avoid the implications they carried.
«If you sleep for too much longer, we will miss the grace of sunlight on the trees.»
“And on the cars reflecting back into the room. What part of ‘lemme be fucking lazy’ do y’all fail to understand?”
I burrowed further under the covers. I knew what they were trying to do, but I did not want to acknowledge it. The idea of having handlers again was not sitting well with me.
«You should go relieve yourself while it is still comfortable to do so.»
My bladder responded to the unsubtle suggestion by cramping.
“THAT’S FUCKING DIRTY POOL! FINE! I’M FUCKING UP, ASSHOLES!” I threw the blanket off and stormed to the bathroom to take care of business. Washing my hands after, I paused by the dresser where the wood statues were sitting and contemplated going back to bed. I do have a lot to do today. The impending work week is not going to be soft. And I have calls to answer. “I’m not opening the blinds until I get my coffee.”
«Fair enough. Be luxurious with your coffee. You should treat yourself kindly.»
I side-eyed the statues in a vain attempt to set them on fire. “And why the fuck should I?”
«Because your enemies will not. Why suffer needlessly?»
I scratched my head as I considered their words and what goods I had in the kitchen. “I’ll fucking think about it.” Mocha coffee does sound good right now.
I made it as far as the closed door before the memories of the dreams overwhelmed me. I sunk to my knees trying to keep from sobbing out loud and disturbing my daughter in the next room. “… I can’t.” The two words I whispered contained a volume of meaning.
“… I’m tired.”
«Keep going. Don’t allow yourself to rot on your feet.»
I looked back. Nothing in the room had moved, nor had I expected anything to have moved. The wood statues stood mutely on my dresser. The blinds remained closed. The tarot decks were hidden in the closed drawer. To anyone else, I was completely alone. It took me a moment to realize what kind of rot they were referring to.
Mexican hot chocolate mix goes great with coffee and half-n-half. Much more savory than sweet. One day, I’ll work out what kind of chili to mix with it.