Tara emerged from a small and homey cottage on a pond abundant with carp and toads. Although the toads were larger than most fish, they were cuddly as if they were descended from slimy teddy bears. The green grass was plush and pillow-like; she never had the need for footwear in this place. Her favorite rabbit was nibbling on the cabbage that she grew in her vegetable garden on the side of her sparkling cottage.
He was very Peter Cottontail looking, with his light brown furry body and white fluffy nub of a tail that flickered as it moved. She did not mind when he did this; her veggies seemed to grow faster than she could pick them almost to the point of over population. Seeing the rabbit nibble on the green leaves tempted her to go over and see how her garden was faring on this lovely day.
The rabbit, being a sketchy creature by nature, fled into the forest and into a log that descended into his subterranean lair deep within the dark wood. She watched as he scampered home and couldn’t help but giggle when the rabbit’s pointy ears and bright eyes were still visible from inside the darkness of the log. Guess he forget about his ears, she thought happily. She admired his innocence for a moment, and then turned her focus on her vegetable patch.
It seemed to grow every time she took a gander at it. The cabbage grew bigger than her head, the scallions exploded out of the ground, the carrots overlapped its brethren, and gigantic clusters of potatoes practically screamed to be pulled immediately and thrown into a pot.
Next to her cornucopia of vegetables was her fresh herb garden, which she never picked, as it always amazed her that something could be so plain yet so beautiful. For her, a freshly dew soaked bush of rosemary or mint appeared and smelled more sublime than the finest long-stem roses.
After admiring the life she had created and maintained over the past years, she went to the top soil that lay beneath her rain runoff pipe from the cottage to fetch some Stickyworms. They were large worms no longer than her pinky but as thick as her thumb. Stickyworms resembled ‘Caterpillars’; an insect she saw in a book left over from the old world. She thought back to her book, ‘Creatures of the Pre-Calamity’, finding hard to believe that worms were once not much thicker than yarn and frogs were as tiny as her frail little nose.
How did anything survive being so small? She thought. She dipped her fingers into the sludgy black mud and picked six nice fat Stickyworms and held them in her cupped palm, from which they were overflowing. She ran back to the front of the cottage to grab her handmade fishing rod; a thick wooden shaft, glossy line thread, and a reel fashioned out of a large copper spool. Her mother had taught her it could be used for many things like a pen-mate, or a toy for their pet weasels, or even to thin bread for bread sticks before baking. She had been told by her mother that doctors use the wooden spools to hold open the mouths of their patients.
She sat at the edge of the pond with her pole and began to tie a fresh hook to the end of the line. After a brilliantly small knot she attached the gargantuan worm to the end. Should catch a fatty, she thought as she cast her line and sat waiting for a nibble. As she sat, she looked at the reel that so much reminded her of her mother, seeing as how her mother was its creator.
Oh Mom, she thought as she closed her eyes and pictured her mother’s sweet face those many years ago…
Since Tara’s father passed in her first year of life, she had never really known him. She usually didn’t think of him much. But her mother, Rina Bordague, had been an amazing woman. She had been a sculptor, a painter, an alchemist, and a blacksmith. Which of these things she was, depended on what was needed in the town she was in at that time.
Rina traveled all her life since she was of the working age of twelve. She ran away from her parents and escaped the hostile continent to the west once called ‘America’, hopping a cargo ship to the eastern continent to start a new life without the mutated demons there.
Rina would spend many years exploring many things; men, towns, and herself. But that changed when Tara was brought into this world when Rina was a mere twenty. Rina knew it was time to slow it down, especially without a husband or father for little Tara. From what Rina had told Tara, she had taken her little daughter through many areas of the continent, working jobs she excelled in and doing what she had to in order to earn money for her ‘plan’.
When Tara was ten, they acquired the deed to a moderately sized chunk of land and after about a year of hard work, they had built a beautiful cottage next to the pond. By the time Tara had entered her teen years, they had turned that cottage in the forest into a haven for the two of them complete with a sustainable food source.
Rina had taught Tara everything she needed to survive as to assure that Tara wouldn’t have to earn money the ‘dreadful way,’ as she would often put it. Tara later learned of what her mother called the ‘dreadful way’, which meant selling her body for money to degenerates. Tara would spend the next few years learning to fish, maintain plant life, preserve clean water, and setting traps for small animals such as boars, wild fowl, and rabbits (the ones that weren’t cute).
“Mama? Why am I doing this?” Tara would ask her Mother and only guardian, “Is it because you will be old someday?”
When Tara would ask this, her mother would not answer; she would just get watery-eyed and turn her head or simply change the subject. At fourteen, Tara finally learned why her mother was teaching her such things; Rina was slowly dying. When her body failed, Rina felt it was time to tell Tara. In those final days, Rina explained all bad things to her daughter.
“Don’t be sad,” she said as she started her talk, “The one thing that kept my spirits high all through my life was something that my mother told me. She said ‘Always remember the good times and not the evil or the disparaging’ and those simple words have held me calm all this time. Even in the times of sickness and pain”
Tara sat there in a chair next to her bed during her final moments, the bed she had built at her mother’s request. Now she knew why her mother poked and pushed her to make it perfect. The smoothness of the support beams, the articulate heart shaped posts, and the extra-soft stuffing of the mattress made of pure cotton from the cotton fields in the east. Tara now understood that was because it held significance to both her mother’s last minutes and Tara’s memory of who her mother was.
As for the chair; Rina spent what seemed like forever working on it. First chopping the tree, then peeling the bark, carving of the oak and sanding it, and then waxing it. The last thing was painting the little angels on the legs, which were practically invisible unless you were really looking for them. Yet, when she went to sit in the chair she heard a sound rarely heard in her house.
“No!!! That chair is not for sitting and I damn well mean it! Do you understand me?!” she yelled as she gripped Tara’s arms so tight her bones could feel it, but Tara could not respond, just quivered an affirming nod.
This moment at the end of her mother’s life was the reason for the creation of that chair and Tara finally understood.
Her mother had always been the strongest person she knew, but lying there insipid, frail, and shivering fiercely made her appear weak and it broke Tara’s heart. Her mother was slowly drifting away as she told Tara things she had been saving for this very moment. Tara learned that her mother had been graced with ten years when she was only supposed to last less than five. But God had graced her with the extra time for Tara’s sake was her belief.
“I want you to just listen,” she said sternly to Tara, “Don’t interrupt. I knew my time would expire before I would get to see you become a woman and fall in love one day. That has been the hardest part; that I will never see you get married like I had wished I had done. But I console myself that I have taught all I can and I regret only that I can’t teach you more. Although you appear to be a meek person, you are strong on the inside, which will allow you to blend in when necessary my daughter. And come what may come, you are special my darling in ways I can never explain. As my fuse begins to diminish, I recall something more that you must know. Your father is not dead, at least not as far as I know; he made a choice to not accompany us in the arduous trial that has comprised our lives. You might see it as abandonment, but I never blamed him. I loved him very much and I regret not giving him a son, but I don’t regret you. I know you must have many questions, but I will not allow you to ask because I have no intention of dwelling on such things. This is our time together and nothing will taint our last moment; knowing my disease will just associate it with death for you. I will not tell you your father’s name, as it will just fill your heart with anger and sadness. If you choose to seek him out, he has a scar on his right arm from a knife fight.”
Rina sighed but didn’t speak another word and Tara honored her final wish. Rina laid back and Tara stayed by her side the last two hours of her life, holding her mother’s hand tightly.
Tara would wait twenty-four hours before burying her mother behind the cottage. Her mother’s grave site was topped with a headstone that was blank except the emblem Tara carved, an angel in tears bringing a halo down to the grave. She would visit the site every morning as she drank her herbal tea and talked of her day and plans.
Tara opened her eyes after her memories dimmed only to see a ripple rapidly fleeting from where she was sitting and her fish line unraveling. She leaned forward onto her knees and gripped the reel lever stopping the dissipation of line, but it yanked her violently into the chilly water causing the insects and frogs to scatter.
The cold of the wet water awakened her burst into her consciousness. She looked around quickly only to find herself still in Lock’s place. It was almost dawn as she could see the sun’s first flare slowly creeping up from behind the mountain. She deeply exhaled to clear the dream and looked about the room.
She spied Lock leaning back against the steel door they entered through last night. He was sound asleep with his arms crossed atop his sword and knees. His head listing sideways on his intertwined biceps as he softly snored. She shifted slightly and felt the thick cotton blanket that covered her. She looked at it atop her and looked back at Lock and smiled, perhaps he is not as cold as he seems, she thought.