Wednesday, August 16, 2017

the Pool


It was the hottest day of the year. I was trudging just north of Newbury lamenting the fact that I was miles away from a cold ale, when, to my delight, I saw a well shaded pool hidden in a quiet glen. You can hardly blame me for stripping off my dusty, sweaty clothing and plunging in, can you?
Who knew that it would have no bottom? No mud, no reedy roots, only water going down and down, through  flickering lights shot through with all manner of colours. They were colours the like I’ve never seen before and you haven’t either.
Why did I keep swimming down? I had no choice! The water drew me down like a lover whispering. All I could do was relax into that irresistible embrace.
Of course I passed out after a minute or two but I didn’t swallow any water. I didn’t drown or how could I be sitting here?
I wake up on this platform, all covered with silks and embroidered pillows like Aphrodite’s own bed. There was some sort of soft music playing, interlaced with the sounds of birds singing. I could smell spicy wood burning on a fire that I couldn’t see. There were sunbeams filtering through the leafy branches of tall trees growing all around my resting place.
I’m was as naked as the day I was born except for a silver chain with a gold coin hanging on it. I picked up the coin and immediately dropped it as though it were red hot. It was my face on the coin! I shut my eyes and tried to think.
“How long you’ve slept, my lord.”
It was a musical voice but pitched low. I opened my eyes to see a breath-taking woman standing before me. Her eyes were a deep blue and her hair raven black and lustrous. She was lovely beyond words to describe her and she was covered from head to feet with small, bright golden feathers, leaving only her face bare.
 “Why am I here?” I asked.
“To break the curse,” she said simply.
“How do you know?”
“It is your face on the coin, is it not?”
“What is the curse?”
“Death.”
“How may I break the curse of death?”
“You do not know?” her voice betrayed amusement, as though I were making a little joke.
“I don’t know anything.” And that was very true. She pursed her lips in thought.
“You must speak to my father,” she said.
“I must have clothes.”
She smiled at this, “Of course, my lord. Forgive me. I thought you preferred to go unclad.” She picked up a silken sheet and draped it around me. Obviously her feathers functioned as her clothing because she hadn’t the faintest idea how I should be covered. My cheeks were red as berries as she hung a species of toga on me.
She took me down a hallway into a huge mirrored room with a massive fireplace. In front of the fireplace, his back to us, stood her father, all covered in dull, black feathers. I suppose, given his daughter’s obvious comeliness, I expected to find a handsome, kingly man with a regal profile and a noble bearing. What I saw was a fat, bald man with a turnip-shaped nose and teeth that showed a cavalier distain for dental hygiene. He was holding a joint of roast meat and chewing vigorously and messily. He got right to the point.
“So! The Savior who destroys Death, eh? You don’t look much like a Divinity, in my professional opinion!”
Talk about the pot calling the kettle black, I wanted to say. His daughter was appalled: “Father! The sacred Pool delivered him! His face is on the Coin!”
He just picked his teeth and frowned as though I was a sleight of hand artist and he was trying to figure out under which cup I had the peanut hidden.
“Humph,” he uttered finally, peering at me down the expanse of his unshapely nose. “How will you do it, pray tell?”
That was the question of course. How does one destroy Death? The poets say that Death is a necessary as Life, that we cannot see Light without the backdrop of Darkness. I doubted that he was interested in such philosophizing though.
At that moment a handsome young man rushed into the room, saw me and threw himself at my feet, kissing them vigorously. I leapt back greatly startled.
“Get up, foolish boy!” yelled the fat man. The young man stayed on his knees and whispered, “But it is Him, the Banisher of Death!”
“That remains to be seen,” grumbled the fat man. I was in great sympathy with him.
“We must take him before the Council,” said the woman. “They will bring us clarity and discernment.”
“That’s the first reasonable thing you’ve said today,” nodded her father still munching at the meat.
The Council consisted of about sixteen patricians, old and wrinkled and (like everyone else) dressed completely in feathers, gold, silver, blue and black. Half were men and half were women. They were seated at a long horseshoe table covered with scrolls and candles.
After hearing my tiny story and the testimony of my beautiful benefactor, I was asked to leave while they debated the issue. I sat out in the hallway my chin in my fist and wondered what would befall me.
After enough time to imagine a few gruesome possibilities, my golden-feathered beauty came for me, her face wreathed in smiles. She all but clapped her hands. “They will see you now, Wonderful Deliverer!”
The entire Council rose to their feet when I came in and bowed deeply to me. “Behold the Savior!” they chanted.
“Please!” I said, my hands raised in supplication. “I don’t know how to do the thing that you want!”
A grizzled woman with a snaggle-toothed smile raised her arms as though declaiming an ode, “Surely you know the oracles! You must overcome the Ferryman!”
“But who is this Ferryman and where can I find him?” I asked plaintively. There followed a long discussion of things mythical, theological, geographical and not very practical. I will summarize: the Ferryman was Charon whose job it was to ferry the dearly departed souls from our world over the river Styx into the dark stronghold of Hades. Remove the ferry service and you have effectively solved death. Sadly, the Styx, as the boundary between life and death, was not exactly in a place that you could find on a map. It sounded more like it was in a dimension like time. It was expected that He whose visage was on the Coin (me, that is) would be able to do this profoundly mysterious feat. As to how the Ferryman could be mastered, this would no doubt be revealed in time to the Glorious Savior (still me). Not exactly comforting stuff, I thought.
I wanted to tell them that they had the wrong man, that I was ruefully human and entirely without the powers associated with divinity but…
But why was my face on the Coin? Let me be clear here, the face on the coin did not merely look like me in the right light if your eyes were squinched just so. It was me: pock marks, shaggy eye brows, aquiline nose and all. God alone knows why or how.
They threw a great feast for me that night and made numerous speeches of gratitude declaring my various great (potential) feats and my glorious (fingers crossed) qualities. It was as heady as the wine they kept pouring into my cup. By midnight, I reckoned that they might well be on to something. Maybe I really was their savior!
By dawn, carrying on my head the wicked spears of a first class hangover, a more realistic self evaluation came to me. I was doomed.
The last thing the Council had mentioned was that I was to go with three others: a priest, a virgin and a little black donkey. The virgin for purity, the priest for wisdom and the donkey for humility.
To my delight, the virgin turned out to be none other than my rescuer, the golden Beatrice. To my chagrin, the priest was her fat, gravel-mouthed father, Pollux. The donkey had no name so I named him Sylvester.
Everyone from Beatrice’s village came early to bid us farewell. We were wreathed with garlands of bright white flowers and crowned with laurel. They took us to the great gate and ushered us into the  wide world.
“Where to, O most noble Saviour?” said the priest with a sneer that belied his words.
“That way,” I said, pointing toward what I thought might be south. We trudged under a laughing blue sky.
“This is the way to the river Styx?” asked my Beautiful Bea after some time had passed.
“Who can know?” I shrugged. “We seek another dimension! How does one get to such a thing?”
“Only one way that I know,” muttered the vile priest. “You must become as one of the dead.”
“How do you do that without tasting death?” I laughed scornfully.
“You cannot find Styx without losing your life; all the scrolls are clear on this,” he said, ever the pedant.
“Is it true?” gasped Beatrice.
“Ridiculous,” I grumbled.
“It is not ridiculous; it is the obvious thing that you do not want to see,” said Pollux.
“How about you?” I said to the donkey, stroking his long nose. “What do you think I ought to do?”
Sylvester brayed comically and then began to speak. “Well, my masters, I’m merely a foolish donkey,” he said, “but I wonder if it is not possible to feign death and thereby attract Charon?”
“A ludicrous idea!” thundered Pollux. “Who would take the advice of a beast? Listen to the voice of wisdom and experience: I have a sharp knife and I am well practiced in the sacrificial arts. Just lay down on the turf and I’ll have you in the Underworld before you can blink!”
“I like Sylvester’s idea much better than yours!” I said to nods of agreement from Beatrice.
“Think for a minute!” said the priest in a more honeyed voice. “You speak of overcoming Charon but how will that happen if you cannot go to him? Charon doesn’t come to the dead, their ghosts go to him.”
“I fear he is right,” said the donkey humbly.
“If he dies then you had better kill me too,” said Beatrice, her arms folded across her chest and her lips pressed tightly together.
“And me,” said the donkey.
“And you must kill yourself too,” said Beatrice. “He must be accompanied by wisdom, purity and humility. You heard the Council.”
Pollux’s face fell into disarray. “I don’t like the thought of cutting my own throat nor my daughter’s,” he muttered.
“Poison then?” suggested the donkey. “We passed a flowering hemlock plant just a few minutes ago.”
We looked at each other. The priest shrugged. We walked back.
We all plucked several leaves and started to eat.  I found the hemlock repulsive and difficult to get down.
“How much is enough?” I gagged.
“More,” said the priest.
“Much more,” added the donkey.
You don’t want to know what it feels like to be poisoned, I assure you. Let me simply say that after a number of unpleasant moments all went dark. What was soul in me left my poor old body and started to drift toward a dim light in the distance. I felt no pain, no hunger, no stress.
I was being pulled to the dim light in the same way I was pulled into the depths of the pool a lifetime ago. I could feel something that felt much like warm water come flooding through my being. I glanced at the coin and it was glowing dimly.
I could hear moaning all around me like the sad dirge of mourners. It was like being trapped in a weary monologue by an elderly relative, full of complaint and invective. I joined a long line of ghostly figures all fluttering like creaky moths to the flame.
Charon was a tall gaunt figure who was directing ghosts into his boat. The river, itself was as black as oil and cold-looking. Where were my traveling companions? Maybe they were slower to die?
I got into the boat and sat on a wooden seat. I felt an paddle prod me and I looked up. It was the Ferryman himself.
“Your coin?” he whispered in a sepulchral tone.
“I only have this one,” I said, lifting my coin to him.
He glanced at it, nodded and went to the next ghost. When he had satisfied himself, Charon picked up his long paddle and started to stroke for the dark shores of Hades.
When we were at the midway point, I could feel a warmth on my chest. I glanced down; my coin was beginning to burn. I lifted it up and it immediately started to grow. The weight was crushing and it soon fell from my hand back onto my chest. I cried out but my ghostly body was gaining in brightness to match the coin. I felt myself becoming something substantial, like my bones were taking on sinew and flesh, and then skin. But, understand me, not the mere flesh that had dropped from me on the other side of the Styx but a glorious body, an angelic body!
I was now too big for the boat which started to sink. Charon growled  and threw down his paddle. He lunged for me and would have thrown me overboard save that I was now bigger than him and as heavy as a golden statue. Then the boat went down, down, down...

...Down, down, down as though the black, oily waters of the Styx had no bottom.
I surfaced  into the little hidden pool.



Monday, June 8, 2015

The Turbulent Tale of Timmy the Tortoise

Turbulent Times for Timmy Tortoise:
 A story for the Very Young or Naive

Everything Timmy Tortoise did was slow. He talked slow, he walked slow and when he thought at all, it was slowly. Good thing that Timmy was an actor.
Hiram Hare was quick at everything. He talked quickly, hopped quickly, ate quickly and made quick decisions. Hiram was Timmy’s agent. (An agent is a person who tells you that they love you every day. They help you to get acting jobs and when you get paid, they get to have part of the money.)
One day an email arrived on Timmy’s tablet with a loud ding.
“Garsh,” said Timmy, like he did every time the tablet made a noise. He opened the email. It was from Hiram. He read it slowly and thought about it for about half the morning. (The best word for thinking slowly is “ponder”. It might explain the word “ponderous’, but maybe not.)
“It’s a job,” said Timmy at last. “Garsh.” (Timmy also said “Garsh” when he was confused. He said “Garsh” a lot.)
Timmy’s cell phone rang. It was his agent. “Well, whatdayathink, babe?” (Hiram called all his actors ‘babe’. ‘Babe’ doesn’t mean baby in Hollywood. It means something else but nobody is sure what. Hollywood is where people make movies with lots of car chases and explosions.)
“Garsh, Hiram. I think that doing a western will be...”
“Yeah, yeah,” said the impatient agent. “It’s good box office to do a horse opera.”
(Hiram used a lot of slang words that nobody needs to understand. Just pretend that he is a typical adult.)
“But...” said Timmy.
“Now, I know that you’ve never played a lead before...” said Hiram quickly.
“Yeah, and...”
“I know that you’ve never done a love scene with an A list actress...”
“Sure, but...”
“But it would be great for your career, babe! Shooting starts Saturday, Universal, lot 6. I’ll courier over the contract and your script!”
“Hiram!” said poor Timmy, but the agent was already dialing another one of his actors.
Timmy was scared. He did not know how to ride a horse. He did not know how to kiss. He liked doing voices for cartoons and commercials for McDonalds. He wasn’t sure that he could do the movie. “Garsh...” he said again, wandering into the field next to his house.
“What’s the matter, Timmy?” It was Clementine the Cow, Timmy’s best friend. She always helped him when he was confused or scared.
“Aw, Hiram wants me to do a movie!” said Timmy.
“Why Timmy, that’s good news, not bad news!” said the cow.
“Yeah but, garsh!” said Timmy. “It means learning how to ride a horse and kiss!”
“That does sound scary,” said Clementine. “But I can help you.”
“How?”
“Well, I’m no horse but I think if you learn to ride on my back, you can figure out how to ride a horse.”
“How about the kissing?”
“Well,” said Clementine. “Kissing is like using a straw to drink milk. You make your lips go round like an O and then you put them on the mouth of the lady. Then you make smacking sounds, like you’re really enjoying the milk.”
“Garsh, Clemmie, you’re a jean-yuss!” said Timmy. (Timmy probably means “genius” which is a very smart person like your grandpa.)
And so they spend a happy afternoon with Timmy practicing kissing and riding.(But not at the same time.) By dinnertime, Timmy thought that he was a pretty good rider and Clementine said he was. (He was a pretty good kisser, except that sometimes he forgot to make an O and he slobbered on Clementine instead of kissing.)
Just then the courier came with Timmy’s contract and script.
“Garsh!” said Timmy. “Lookit all the lines! I’ll never learn them all!”
“Now Timmy,” said Clementine. “Let’s just start with page 1.” (Clementine was good at being calm.)
Timmy turned to page 1 and read his line: “Now you just wait a cotton-pickin’ minute, Black Bart!”
“That’s good, Timmy!” said Clementine. (Clementine was also good at being nice.)
“But why is it a ‘cotton-pickin’ minute’?” asked Timmy. “Minutes can’t pick cotton.” (Timmy was also nice, but he didn’t understand colourful expressions.)
“It’s just how people in the West used to talk,” said Clementine.
“It’s hard to remember lines if I don’t understand them,” said Timmy.
“Just picture a clock with the minute hand picking cotton,” suggested the wise cow.
“Garsh,” said Timmy, shutting his eyes and picturing the clock.
Soon Timmy was sure of all of his lines even the ones that sounded stupid to him. Clementine and he paused to have a glass of water with lime juice. Clementine said that it would be good for his throat.
Just then, Timmy’s phone beeped. It an incoming email. “Garsh,” said Timmy. (Did you guess he was going to say “garsh”?)
“What is it?” asked the cow.
“It’s from Holly Helio, the actress,” he said in a very small voice.
“She’s very famous,” said the cow. “What does she want?”
“She wants me to do lunch so we can go over the script,” said Timmy.
“Garsh,” she said. (In Hollywood, “doing lunch” or “taking a meeting” is when famous people poke at salads and try to impress each other. It’s just as boring as it sounds.)


Timmy stepped into the expensive restaurant and sighed. There was not a single hamburger on the menu and he was feeling hungry.
He saw Holly Helio sitting at a table wearing very big sunglasses. (In Hollywood, nobody ever takes off their sunglasses, that way people will know how famous they are. This means that they can never read menus. Maybe that’s why waiters have to tell you what the specials are.)
“Garsh,” said Timmy sitting down beside the famous actress.
“Darling,” said Holly turning her face so that Timmy could kiss the air in front of her face. (In Hollywood, people are always kissing the air and calling you “darling.” It’s a super friendly place, but not really.)
The waiter came by and spent ten minutes telling them the specials and how much he would love to work with Holly someday. (Everyone in Hollywood wants to be an actor, especially the waiters. Maybe that’s because being a waiter is not fun at all.)
Timmy sadly ordered the same kind of salad that Holly did even though he didn’t know what rocket or arugula was. She smiled at him with all her teeth.
“Now darling, to business,” she said, pulling out her script. (I won’t tell you what she said for the next hour because it was very boring.) Timmy started to feel very tired but he kept on nodding his head because she was a famous actress.)
“Now darling,” said Holly finally. “What do you think of Hugh’s choice of Mark to direct?”
Timmy’s head was in a whirl. Who was Hugh again? He just nodded because Holly immediately said that she loathed Mark. (Loathing is when you don’t like someone very much. You can tell when someone loathes you in Hollywood because they call you darling a lot. It’s confusing.)
“Don’t you think that Kenny is a better choice?” said Holly brightly.
Timmy nodded again. Kenny sounded like a nice name.
“He should be out of rehab in time...” said Holly pursing her lips. (Rehab is a nice place where Hollywood people go to relax and learn how to be nicer.)
“Garsh,” said Timmy, wishing that he could go and get a burger.
“Look at the time!” said Holly. “Must dash, darling!”
---
Timmy sat at McDonalds and had two cheeseburgers and a large fries. For the first time that day, he had a big smile on his face. He was smiling because his tummy was full of burger but also because Timmy had made a decision. He would tell Hiram Hare that he was not going to make the western. He would say, “Hiram, I just want to do cartoons and commercials!” Hiram would understand. Hiram was his friend.
.

“Are you kidding me?” screamed Hiram Hare
 “Garsh Hiram, I...” said Timmy.
“You can’t be serious, babe! This movie will put you on the A-list in this town!” (In Hollywood, they have a special list of very important actors. This is the A list. When you are a really good actor, but not as popular, you are on the B list and you make less money. It’s like when the teacher puts you in the Eagles reading group instead of the Mud hens.)
“Is it the money?” asked Hiram. “You say the word, babe, and I can get you more!”
“No...it’s just that....” said Timmy.
“Think of the EXPOSURE!” screamed Hiram. (Exposure means that everybody knows who you are. Or at least what your publicists say you are. Publicists are nice people who smile a lot and are always talking on their cell phones. They tell everybody they know how nice and smart you are. They keep people from thinking that you are just as ordinary as they are. If you do very bad things, they tell people that you are going to rehab because you are very tired. They have to tell lots of fibs.)
“I don’t care,” said Timmy. “I don’t want to do anything but commercials and cartoons!”
“You’re serious,” said Hiram in a very sad voice. (He was saying goodbye to all the money in his head and all the nice things that he was planning on buying.)
“You’re a good agent, Hiram,” said Timmy. “But I gotta be me.”
MORAL: Always be who you are. Don’t try to be something you are not. (But don’t try this in Hollywood or everyone will think that you’re stupid.)



Friday, March 20, 2015

Pruning a poem


 

 

O beautiful tree in your mantle of purple

What dead bones are you hiding

What cross-stitch  branches

What mare’s nest of twisted lanes

Like the medieval alleys of Vieux Nice?

 

Do I dare disturb your apparent sanctity,

Tear of your whorish petticoats

Like Jeremiah’s thundering Lover?

 

Will you trust that pain and nakedness

Will serve you well

That sun and air will cleanse your hidden shame?

 

O, there is beauty deep within

That calls out to be unlocked!

 

The shears flash in the March sun

As the healer pulls out tan branches long dead

Fingers rake through your brown leaves

Trapped in entwining limbs

The lopper bites green wood too

Restoring form and balance

And revealing the true you

O Acer, bleeding and still

Ready for a new day

New growth

New hope.

 

MARCH 20, 2015

Monday, September 1, 2014

The Rescue




               To His Majesty, the King:

               Sire, it's not like I don't have enough on my mind already, you know. Between the hobgoblins, the Giants' Guild, and the Turkish assassin ring, my hands are full to overflowing. Not that I'm complaining, your Majesty.

               Faithfully etc.

                Oz.

------------

               To Oswald, Baron of Little Much, Head of His Majesty's Secret Service:

               My dear Oz,

               It's just that she's so charming and I'm beginning to miss her rather dreadfully. Oh, be a sport, Ozzy! I'm sure that your Second (what's his name-Sir Rampant?) can take over your projects while you go out looking for her.

               I never should have invited that cad, Gregor to court. I should have known he would have fallen in love with my dear Prudence and spirited her away. These black magicians have no sense of decorum!

               Anyway, it's most likely that you'll find Prue on his island fortress. What's it called again? Death Island, or Skull Island. Something like that.  Good luck!

               Henry Rex.

               PS: Do kill the blackguard, if you can; there's a good fellow!

-------------------

               Your Majesty,

               I am leaving Rampant with clear instructions on dealing with the Hobgoblins, Giants, and Assassins, but knowing him, he'll try to engineer a coup in the Service before I'm gone an hour. I don't trust him and you shouldn't either, Henry. Honestly, why did you put Prudence's brother in such a position of responsibility? I don't trust anyone of the Queen's family as far as I can throw them.

               Oz

--------------

               Ozzy, old man,

               You worry too much. I quite realize that Rampant (what a ludicrous name!) is not to be trusted, but you know how persuasive my Queen can be! I need her, Oz. She is my Juliet, my East, my honey-tongued Scheherazade! You've got to rescue her. Take your fastest flying horse! I'm counting on you!

               H.R.

               PS: When you kill Gregor, don't forget to make it lingering and painful!

-------

               Henry:

               Has it occurred to you that this is the seventh time that your Queen has been in need of rescuing? Far be it from me to impinge a lady's honour, but.

               Oz

--------

               Oz:

               But what? But what? Exactly what are you driving at, my loyal Baron? Prue loves me! She says it to me every day. Except, of course, when she's feeling blue or out of sorts. Rescue her! Leave now! No more terse little notes.

               Henry Rex, Lawful Monarch and King by Divine Right.

               ------=-------

               Henry,

               I can't believe you're playing the Divine Right card with an old friend like me. That's cold, Your Majesty. Remember when I rescued you from the Black Knight when he ambushed you when you were only a callow prince. Remember how I uncovered the nest of baby thieving ghouls who had designs on you in the crib. Look, I'm not even going to mention your stag.

               Oz (your oldest and most faithful friend)

-----------

               Oz:

               You're killing me. I'm sorry for pulling my God-given status on you but you know how it is. I just want my angel back! Have a heart, oldest and truest friend! I beg you to go and bring her back.

               Hank.

----------

               Hank,

               I know this is going to sound like I'm just making excuses not to go after your Queen but my flying horse has a bad case of the shivering withers. I suspect the Hobgoblins have a hand in it. The horse witch that I'm consulting assures me that she should be flight worthy after a short course of medicinal herbs. "Give it a week or two but not three," were her exact words.

               Oz

========

               Oz,

               You're killing me! Why not just take the royal barge?

               Hank.

++++++

               Hank,

               I have an issue with sea-sickness. Really.

               Oz

++++++++++++

               Oz,

               She's back! Turns out that she stowed away on the magician's boat, "for a lark"! She was just feeling her oats and seeing if I still loved her! What a woman!

               Hank

____________

               Hank,

               What a woman, indeed.

               Oz.

              

              

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Under the Stars




               Even though it was years and years ago, I remember the scene like it was yesterday.

               I was maybe three or four years old. Old enough not to need to be picked up and carried but young enough to enjoy it when I was. My father had me perched on his broad shoulders and he was pointing out the night sky to me.

               "There," he said, his finger outstretched, "Do you see that pinpoint of light, Stella? That's where you came from. You're not from here, do you understand?"

               I said that I did, because at that age, adults were always right. If my father had told me I was a cow, I would have agreed with him and believed it to be true.

               When I was older, I reasoned that my father was just yarning with me, as people are wont to do with the very young. That was before I turned thirteen.

               Nobody told me that turning thirteen would change everything.

===

               I woke up at the crack of noon like any self-respecting freshly minted teenager on a summer day. I crawled out of my bed into the bathroom. I turned on the water in the shower, stepped in and let the hot water pound my back. I stretched like the cat does, arching it until it felt supple and loose. I let out a moan of satisfaction and washed my hair.

               I stepped out of the shower and shook my hair out. I reached for my toothbrush and glanced at myself in the mirror. I froze. What was happening to my eyes? My irises were darkening and turning a dark purple with a metallic sheen. I wanted to cry out but I was, at the same time, fascinated. And then, just like that, they faded to their usual light blue. Was I dreaming? I left the bathroom with my head in a whirl.

               My mother called me into the kitchen to help with the chores. I said nothing about my eyes to her. If she noticed that I was unusually quiet, she did not remark upon it. She has never been one to speak a paragraph when a word will do and I'm sure she enjoyed the stillness. We chopped potatoes and shucked corn together while I pondered what had happened to me. Finally, when all of the kitchen work was done, I nerved myself to question her.

               "Mum?"

               "Mmm?"

               "I wasn't born on another world, was I?"

               "Why would you ask such a thing?" She looked at me like I was being very silly.

               "It's something Dad told me when I was little."

               She crossed herself, "Your father, God rest his soul,  was a great one for foolish talk."

               "Oh."

               Should I mention what happened to my eyes? I wished that my father was still alive. I could have talked to him. He was my touchstone, my Merlin. Something in my mother's eyes made me doubt her. Like they were haunted or something. I asked to be excused and went back to my room to stare at myself in the mirror. My eyes stayed stubbornly blue. I told myself to snap out of it and went outside to get some fresh air.

               I walked into the woods behind our farm. At once, I could hear a whispering.

               "A human walks among us!"

               "Get the children into the tree!"

               "Does it have a dog with it?"

               "No!"

               "It comes this way!"

               "Hide!"

               What was I hearing? Were some children playing a joke on me? I spoke up. "Who is there?"

               "Don't answer her," came a hoarse whisper from a thicket circled by alders off to my left

               "Do you think I'm an idiot?" came the reply.

               "I can hear you whispering," I said angrily, afraid that I was being played for a fool.

               "Impossible!" cried the first voice.

               "You might as well come out!" I said, striding right to the thicket.

               Out tumbled a pair of squirrels looking extremely nervous. I gaped at them in astonishment.

               "You're not kids," I said stupidly.

               They shook their heads vigorously.

               "How is it that I understand your speech?" I asked.

               "Why do you ask us?" said the bigger of the two. "We've never known a human to speak the language of the Wood!"

               "But you're speaking English," I protested.

               "What's that?" asked the smaller squirrel.

               "It's the language that we're all speaking!" I said.

               "We're speaking Woodish!" said the bigger squirrel. "And so are you!"

               "But I don't know your language," I cried.

               "You're speaking it!" said the smaller squirrel pertly.

               "Oh."

               "Now, if you'll excuse us, we have nuts to hide!" said the bigger one. Off they went chittering into the branches.

               I walked deeper into the Woods. I picked my way over to the small stream that ran through the woods. I sat on the bank and let the water run over my feet. I pulled my hair out of the braid that I'd put it in and shook it. It always made me feel free to do that, like I'd let my hair out of cage or something. I pulled it to my eyes and inspected the ends for splits. It was doing something odd. It was moving like a living thing, pulling itself into serpentine bends and loops. My scalp tingled with electricity. And then the hair turned colour, darkening into a burnished ebony. Sparks fizzed slowly out of the ends of my hair, like the strings of bubbles in Grandfather's champagne glass on New Year's Eve.

               My brain began telling me things like a tiny computer link had just been connected.

               "Gaia-Rah-Non," said my brain. "Your report is due."

               I saw, in my mind's eye, a writing that reminded me of Sanskrit and hieroglyphics without being either of them.

               "What report?" I asked.

               There was no response. It felt like my connection had been dropped, like cell coverage in a tunnel.

               I sat down under a fir tree to think. I felt like a person stuck in a labyrinth who finally sees a way out. But out to where, and out to what? I remembered a dream where  I was lost and alone and suddenly my Dad came up to me and held out his hand to show me the way home. I cried in the dream and I cried now. Oh Daddy! How I need you now.

===

               She knows. Shit. And now I'm going to lose her.

               I remember the day she came to us so well. I was walking restlessly in the cool of the night; I simply could not sleep. Ever since the doctor had given me the negative prognosis, I'd felt like a stranger in my own skin. What was this body that I thought I knew so well? It was a traitor, refusing to give me what I wanted so much. Jamie told me to relax, to trust God but it was always so easy for him. He was not the one with the barren womb.

               I told him to divorce me and find a woman who could give him children but he had just looked at me with those big wounded eyes and said nothing. I burst into angry tears and then fell into his strong arms.

               Later, I wandered far afield like some woodland sylph, yearning for some kind of rest to come to my racing mind. I could see the stars through an opening in the canopy of the trees where a big fir had taken a lightning bolt. I lay down in the grass and looked into the heavens. I  prayed, if bitter questioning and  accusation counts as prayer.

               I saw a star change its color just for an instant. It was giving birth to another star, like a cedar fire spitting out a spark. The freshly born star was moving toward earth, streaking like a comet. It came toward me, slowed down, and then hovered in circles around me. You can believe that I was paralyzed with fear.

               It burned brightly and released a silver sphere which floated on the wind like a dandelion seed. I ran after it.

               The sphere set down gently in a meadow between the wood and the village. Its silver skin turned transparent and then began to open as though it was a germinating seed. I saw, nestled in a bed of textured fabric, a tiny baby. Her eyes were like grey pearls; her hair a waving mystery of dark, curling knots. Her skin was like glass, clear enough to see veins and capillaries just under the surface. I touched the baby and as I did, it began to change. I could see her eyes turn colour until they were the mirror image of my own. I gasped and snatched away my hand. Her eyes began to return to their original alien hue. I touched her again; her eyes transformed again and this time her hair did too until the baby was crowned with the lanky dirty- blond hair with which God saw fit to bless me. Her skin turned the colour of roses and cream and lost its glow. I beheld my child. For she was my child, given to me by the holy angels of God.

               I took her home and showed her to Jamie. I told him that she came from the heavens like Baby Jesus. I told him that we would call her Stella but that she was never to know that we weren't her natural parents. He was stupefied and called me presumptuous. I didn't care. I had my Stella and I would never give her up. She was my gift from God.

               I went to St. Patrick's next Sunday and had her baptized in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. I faithfully attended Mass every Sunday thereafter.

               What did we tell people? Nothing. It was none of their business.

+++++

               I decided that I had to have it out with my mother. At the very least, I needed to hear the truth from her own lips.

               She was in the kitchen drying dishes. She had a faraway look in her eyes. I picked up the other towel and started helping her.

               "Mum?"

               "I lied to you," she said abruptly. "Your father was telling you the truth." And then she slumped over the sink and started to shake. I could see tears run down her cheeks into the dishwater.

               I touched her shoulder but she wouldn't even look at me.

               "You'll always be my Mum," I told her. She turned to me and rubbed her eyes. Then she pulled me into her arms and hugged me fiercely. She told me about how I had come to her.

               "I always thought that God sent you to me," she said quietly.

               "But why am I here, Mum? I mean, what's my purpose here?"

               "I don't know Stella. You should ask God."

               "What if God isn't God from where I come?" I wanted to know.

               "Shame on you Stella! You know from your catechism that God is God of everywhere."

               I shrugged. It was all so confusing. I thanked her for telling me the truth and went back to the woods to think. Maybe I'd ask the squirrels for advice.

+=+

               What do I tell her? That she is Jesus to my Mary? A saint, sent down from Heaven to lead us in returning to you, Lord? Why else would you have sent her? And I've done my part, haven't I, Lord? Raised her in the fear and admonition of the Lord, I did. Took her to Mass every Sunday, even after you took my Jamie away from me. Made sure she attended parochial school from pre-school to the present.

               I turned to Holy Scripture and read the passages that I knew so well: the Magnificat of Mary, the baby Moses hidden in the rushes, and Eli's counsel to the young prophet Samuel. I pray and pray and pray. Are you listening, Lord?

===

               What would you do, Jesus? You were from somewhere else, weren't you? How did you handle walking with humans when you were Other? Did you want to just go back home? Something in me just wants to talk to my own kind, whatever we are. I feel so lonely.

               Well, this was getting too morose. I needed to walk; maybe I'd hike to the top of Cassiar Hill. The view from up there always gave me more of a perspective. I started up the trail stopping every now and again to pop a ripe blackberry in my mouth. I could see bear scat but it wasn't fresh so I didn't worry about it.

               The hike was helping. There's something about working my muscles that calms my anxious thoughts. I pushed aside the branches of a Douglas fir which hid my secret trail to the lookout. I came from the restful dimness of the trees into the bright sunshine and a great view of the flatland to the south. I could see all the farmers' fields spread out like a patchwork quilt. I breathed deeply.

               I saw a turkey vulture glide on a thermal just below me. I sighed.

               I sat down and let the sun warm me. I looked down at the traffic rolling along on the highway far down below. My brain started clicking again as though a connection was once again reached.

               "Are you there, Gaia-Rah-Non?"

               "I am," I said. I noticed that my hair was sparking again. I picked up the ends and I noticed that my skin was turning transparent again.

               "We have not had a report."

               "A report?"

               "Your progress on that little planet."

               "I really don't know what you're talking about," I protested. "I've received no instructions."

               "Nothing?" echoed the voice dully. "Your operating system should have given you ongoing instructions from the day you landed there."

               I assured the voice that I had not. Then, a silence, as though a conference was taking place that I was not privy to.

               "What have you been doing since your mission began?"

               "But what is my mission?"

               "You were sent as our eyes, Gaia-Rah-Non."

               He went on to lay out for me the plight of my people, clinging to life on a decaying world, desperate for a new start on a world that could sustain us. I was to learn all I could about Earth to enable an Exodus.

               "It was only today that I have heard from you," I said.

               "Then you have done nothing." The voice was flat and empty.

               "Nothing."

               "Please understand Gaia-Rah-Non, our time is extremely limited. You have the span of two moons to infiltrate the corridors of power on your planet."

               "This is not possible," I said. "I have the body of an immature female. On this planet, an  immature female generally has a very low status. Here, important decisions are the property of males who have reached middle age."

               "Then we must give you another body," said the voice decisively. "Prepare for transformation."

               I tensed myself. The skin on my hands were flickering so that they appeared now transparent, now pink but that was the extent of my transformation.

               I reported this to the voice.

               "This is not good Gaia-Rah-Non!" Another pause while my voice consulted with the others. "You must do what you can with the body of an immature female. All our hopes rest with you."

               "Understood," I said for want of a better word. I understood the problem but I had no solutions. I pictured myself addressing the United Nations and pleading for my dying race. They would laugh me to scorn, of that I was certain. How would humans react to our Diaspora? Would they revert instantly to the fear of the unknown and annihilate us? Of course they would. They have no problem slaughtering each other, choosing to see differences in ethnicity, religion or politics as more critical than shared humanity. What would they do with us, an alien people?

               One of us would be a curiosity, worthy of study, but several million of us would be perceived as an unacceptable drain on planetary resources.

               I needed some help. And then God sent me a mentor.

                A black bear came trundling through the fir trees and started in on the blackberries. He didn't notice me in his greed for the ripe fruit. I cleared my throat and he turned to me.

               "What are you doing there?" he mumbled, his nose a glossy purple.

               "I need advice," I said.

               "I don't have no truck with humans," he said.

               "Ah, but I am not a human. I'm from one of those little fires in the sky."

               "Little fires? Do you mean another planet?"

               "Um, well, yes."

               "Planets aren't fires, you know. Good thing. Otherwise our feet would get pretty hot," he chuckled.

               "I need advice." I was desperate.

               "Tell me everything," he mumbled, continuing to chew berries from the canes.

               I told him everything. He stopped eating and peered at me long and hard.

               "That is quite a tale," he said.

               "It's true!" I cried, my voice high and stretched.

               "I'm not calling you a liar," he said.

               "Can you advise me?"

               "Nobody looking at you would think that you were anything less than completely human," he noted. "You might tell your people to blend in, instead of appealing to human mercy. Go in camouflage. That's how lots of we animals survive."

               "But there are so many of us!" I protested.

               "You must choose places to come which are away from the cities and towns. Tell your people to come to the forests and deserts, the rocky places and tundras, the high plateaus and the steppes. Once you have garbed yourselves appropriately, what is there to prevent you from filtering into the more promising areas?"

               "We only have two months."

               "Then you had better get started," said the bear tartly.

               +++

               Her eyes were troubled; her body taunt with a secret she had no strength to bear alone. Mothers know. I patted the seat beside me on the couch. She was able to say nothing for a few minutes. I contented myself with marveling over her porcelain skin and expressive eyes. How could she not be my child, when she modeled her human body and face after mine? Every mother should have such a daughter.

               "Mum?"

               "Honey?"

               "It's beyond terrible!"

               "Tell me..."

               She poured out her story. So my little Moses in the Bulrushes was all grown-up and being called to lead her people in an Exodus.

               "How can I help?"

               "Help me research places that I can direct them to," she said. "I need to know latitude and longitude."

               "You'll also need to explain to them how we reckon latitude and longitude," I said.

               "How do I do that?" she squeaked.

               "Show them your atlas," I said. "They'll understand quick enough."

              

               ===

               There is a simple way to say it, but of course it is terribly misleading by its very simplicity. We did it. We infiltrated the planet even as the bear said we must.

               And now we walk among you. We are your hairdressers and traffic cops, your professors and architects. We have won no Nobel prizes, for we must maintain our masks.