Auld Lang Syne
Sweet and pungent.
Old fingers probe a stomach, as though the swollen flesh were a pocket full of the best rye.
There is a jar full of crunchy turquoise colored leaves. A veil of dried apple grass.
A ring of thick Quilylonian turnips, yellow-green and fat, hangs from a low wooden beam darkened by stains.
So many stains.
Her fingers touch his prostrate form and feel along his flesh.
“I knew you for so long,” she murmurs, taking a moment to stare at his face and brush his hair with her bony fingers. “…but you did not know me, almost, though it has been only a short time since you left your granddaughter with me and told us to run. It is a conundrum, to be sure!”
Weaving her thin elbows underneath his head, she settles his limp upper body at her breast and twists slightly so that he leans back into the crook of her arm.
Then she places one of those hands inside her greyish belt pouch and pounces about. She is searching for Arkytior’s old wooden spoon. After some digging, her hands grasp the smooth polished stem of the eating utensil. She folds her palm over it, takes it out from her pouch and sets it to the stark grey-wood bowl she found earlier in the spatial cupboards.
From the bowl’s circular confines, the stifling aroma of meat stew wafts up- it’s rare young Dornbeast mostly, plus some yellow waxy vegetables, the greyish meat having been chunked and marinated with just a dash of pepper and sautéed in mineral-rich Telachtian fish oil. The eyes of the Dornbeast, containing the metal Bizmuth, an elemental ingredient in Gallifreyan vitamins, have been dried, salted and stuffed with a tasty berry wine cheese of white color called Furlishke.
“If you don’t wake up I won’t be saving your portion, sweet one.” She cackles as she cups his chin and forces his mouth open. “Every child I have reared has eaten for me eventually, and you are no different. I know you can hear me, though you walk the Great Land, so open your mouth and feed that little bud of yours!”
The sleeping man is pale against her chest. But the tight cloth bandage she wove around his side is not so soaked through as she thought it might be; it shows only a small patter of vermillion now, rather than the great wet splotch of yesterday that stained the under-rug. Still, the dark crescent bruises beneath his shut eyes have failed to disappear.
Singing to herself a little hymn, she sets the full and sloshing spoon to his lips, which lag, then open just enough.
“That is fine, my Lord! A little further and we shall have all this good supper down your gullet where it belongs! I haven’t stocked us this well for it all to go to waste on a lazybones…”
Then, as she watches, his jaw slips down, and he is blinking bleary green jewels on the floor of the house.
Her hand flies forward, and soon his mouth is shut again, only this time his teeth close reflexively on a wooden spoon full of…
“Oh, thatsh… thatsh… thatsh damn good!” he yammers, speaking around the spoon with some difficulty as he rolls his tongue around, curling the muscle around and over and through every bit of meat and vegetable. He savors every drop of broth with closed eyes and a humming sound made deep in the back of the nose-mouth passage.
She raises her hand and thwacks his hair with a quick slap. “Watch your language! I won’t have that child learning your foul habits!”
The injured man just stares, dangling the spoon from his lips like a confused pack animal.
“You’re Mamlaurea!” he manages with narrowed eyes after choking down that first big monstrous bite.
Then his hand smacks to his forehead, leaving a red palm print and two crossed eyes.
“Ow- that was stupid of me; I’m still weak from Kenny’s mission statement.” he groans, setting the spoon down shakily back into the bowl perched in her frumpy fingers, albeit as he sways like a reformed teetotaler atop his pile of rugs and pillows.
When he trusts himself enough to open his eyes again, she is still there, holding the bowl in one hand and waiting, unsmiling but bright eyed as a shark in her silks of yellow and grey. “Harumph! Dense as always and full of talk! As if I could be anyone but your loyal nurse, old fool! Rest yourself. The food will keep indefinitely; the notion of this place was your whim, after all.”
He laughs then, heartily and wide and high. And for her, his flighty peridot eyes hold the welcome sparkle of spring water. “You know, you haven’t faded a bit since then, you sweet old thing...” he breathes, reaching out to cup her wrinkled brown face, and then his face darkens as he considers the question he must ask her.
His shoulders slump. He takes a sagging breath, then opens his mouth. “Do you know what year it is on Gallifrey right now?”
The old nurse stiffens and stares, turning her neck on its collar like a questioning bird. “My Lord Other, have we bruised our head as well?”
He stabs out with an elbow, grabbing her chin, immobilizing her entire body with just one feather touch on a pressure point.
Her lovely grey eyes spiral wide and she freezes. But she does not flinch.
“Think, woman!” he cries, panting as the wound breaks open again and bleeds, forcing too much orange-red into the nice puddle of colorful fabric goods she’s made into a bed for him. Then suddenly he is seething at silent space, remembering gentleness only when the first sob of many escapes her lips. She sags, a sack in his hand even as he loosens his grip on her jawbone.
“Might you a modicum of forgiveness, loyal my Mam… I have been ill for a long time and have just begun to recover. But I need to know what year you think it is. And after that I’ll sleep again. So please?” he whispers it, holding her against his own chest now as she shivers and trembles like new leaves on a winter tree.
“The last year of the Dark passed not two centuries ago, my poor master,” she squeaks, sniffling into his clothes as he pets her straggle-haired, balding pate.
“It is not, Mamlaurea. So much time has passed since your teleport failed to transmit and became stuck. It is the Restoration, now. The Dark Times have been gone for at least a millennia, and I…”
What is this now? No quivering lip, no shine of the eye rolling unconscious down a red, wrinkled cheek? Perhaps she is all right with it, then. She’s playing it stalwart, then… his shriveled old apple doll from the good old days.
“And you, my Lord?”
He sighs and eases back down onto the rugs and pillows, and shuts his eyes against the thin veil of light from the overhead lamps full of oil.
She goes to him after a year of moments passed between eyes and the wall, and sets her face against his chest, finally to be comforted by the rise of his two hearts, and says nothing.
“… I jumped into the Loom to escape the assassins, knowing I was going to my death. And I was reborn. I’m called the Doctor now… but I remember… all the fragments of myself were scattered like seeds within that great machine-but they came together again. Now let me sleep. I’ll consume that lovely stew of yours later. Be sure and save me some of the cheese, eh?”
As the Doctor sinks away under the settling fog of his thoughts, the old nurse cracks her knuckles one by one, reveling in the only familiarity left, the touch of one’s own skin. She sets herself down on her knees by his side before the banquet she’s brought to bear, as if preparing to feast. And then she wails, crying out her confusion with silent lips, that her soundless screams might reach the heavens of this new, strange era, and be heard.