Chapter 10: The Edge of the World
I never imagined I would see the end of the world; it seems to go on forever. But I found myself in desperate need of some whales, and they would only speak to me at the ends of the earth.
When I became a father I was only twenty two years old, and it was an unseasonably warm fall day in Kyou. I remember when the nurse put my daughter in my arms for the first time the little dark haired thing just stared up me with large, angry black eyes that seemed about to overflow. She was ready to scream and wiggled against me, but Simon leaned over and gently smoothed the wrinkles out from between her eyes until she was calm again.
“I feel like I’ve seen her before, in my dreams maybe?” I said and touched some of her dark hair.
“Or in the mirror. She looks just like you," Simon laughed, and I looked at him with my eyebrows raised. He was covered in sweat and seemed about to fall asleep, but he still laughed and reached toward my face, pressing the wrinkles out from between my eyes as well. "Let's name her Avery.” Eventually, we decided to call her Eva.
Almost two years later, her brother was born very small and barely alive, with bright green eyes and wisps of curly, shockingly red hair. He struggled into this world on a cold and rainy summer day, eventually blossoming beautifully from the muddy banks of mortality as they cut him from Simon's abdomen. So we named him Ren. His eyes and hair browned as he aged, and though he also looked like me, he at least resembled Simon more than his sister. We hadn't meant for either of them to be born, but Simon decided that he would carry them into the world, despite the strangeness of it for him. After Ren was born, however, Simon had his ability to have children removed.
It’s strange and yet entirely predictable how your life changes when you have a child. I suppose because suddenly all of your petty problems seem ridiculous compared to the immense task of keeping them alive, happy, and healthy. Ren had been born with a rare genetic illness from Simon’s family, and he was nearly blind and had difficulty breathing. When he turned one year old we decided Simon would take him to the Center for a surgery to regain his sight and to find a map that would lead us back to his people on the outskirts. These semi nomadic people were the only ones who knew of an effective medicine for his breathing ailment, though there were meager medicines to treat the symptoms that could be procured from the Center or Middle.
Because Ren had what Simon called “the same DNA” he would also have a passport for the Center. I vaguely knew what he was talking about, but my scientific education had been very obscured by the religious school I attended and then by my selective way of learning only what interests me. In general, I was very uneasy about the plan, especially since Simon left his father on a rather bad note. However, he assured me that while his father wasn't the best man in the world, he would be ready and willing to help his grandchild. It was a few months before Ren's second birthday when we were finally preparing for the trip. Eva was four years old, I was around twenty six, and Simon still had no idea how old he was.
“Bee! Bee!” Ren came running to me with tears and snot already streaming down his face. I knew the source of the tears before he even started stuttering his sister’s name. When I looked outside the flat Eva had Ren’s special ‘baby’, a little rag doll Simon made from old clothes, and she was throwing it up in the air and trying to punch it before it hit the ground. Her dark curly hair was in two adorable little pigtails, but she was dressed in the same boyish shorts and shirt as her little brother.
“Eva!” I said sharply, and she missed her punch, letting the doll fall to the dusty ground. Ren ran to his precious little friend and rescued it before running back to me. “I told you to leave your brother’s baby alone!”
“Oh, Bee,” she pouted and kicked some rocks. "I was just makin him fly."
“Where’s yours? You can punch your own.”
“I dunno.” She shrugged with a pout and started drawing with a stick in the dirt. It wasn't as if she had no toys, but she only ever seemed to want to do whatever it was she was not permitted to do. She was most definitely Simon's daughter. Ren on the other hand was still whining and stuck to my leg. Even after I finally peeled him off, I had to pick him up and pat his back until he calmed down. To alleviate their irritating boredom and apparently excess energy, I decided I would leave early and take them with me to the market instead of dumping them on Simon when he got home.
I remember it was an extremely hot day, and the sun was quickly building up heat under the hair I had gathered behind my head. I only bought a few things for dinner at the market and decided to let Eva and Ren circle around a broken public water maine with some other local children. After getting soaked, Eva took off her wet shirt and threw it near me. I yelled at her to put it back on, but she completely ignored me and kept running full speed around and around the stone clearing. Ren followed her example, but carefully laid his shirt on top of the one she’d thrown. I was feeling very hot and lazy and didn't bother to pick up the shirts.
“Ren, slow down a little,” I cautioned, and he did as I asked. Another boy perhaps a year or two older than Eva seemed to have picked up on Ren’s weakness and decided that when he circled around he’d smack Ren in the back of his head. I ignored it at first, preferring to let Ren learn to fight his own battles. But with the second smack Ren fell on his hands and knees and then sat up and started to cry. I was getting up to get him, but before I’d even uncrossed my legs, I heard a loud, “My baby brother!” and Eva had grabbed the much larger boy by the back of his shirt and pulled him toward her with her left arm, the right one pulled back in a fist. It seemed like slow motion as I watched her not only pull the boy down towards her first, but also swing her arm forward with extreme speed and accuracy as she landed a punch right in the center of the boy’s face.
Ren stopped crying the second he saw the blood pouring from the boy’s nose, and I had sprung into a short run to reach them. Eva had her fist ready to punch the boy again, but I caught it before she could land another hit.
“Bee!” she gasped, apparently astonished to see me. I realized as she stared at us all in shock that Eva most definitely had inherited my uncontrollable bad temper. Ren immediately stuck himself to my leg, balling and calling out my name. I had a rag over the older boy's nose, bending him forward so he wouldn’t swallow the blood. And I could only hold my breath as I saw the boy’s angry mother approaching. This wasn’t going to end well for anyone.
“What’s the matter with that girl?! The little monster!” The thick armed mother admonished and pulled her son away from me. She made him hold his head back, which made me wince. I knew from experience that when you got punched in the face you didn’t want the blood running into your stomach.
“I’m sorry. Eva is a little overprotective of her brother. He is only 23 months old.” Despite how repugnant I found it, I attempted an apology. However, the woman would have none of my ‘excuses.’. Eventually, amongst her blathering she said something about my children not actually being related because in her eyes they were apparently not the same race. After that I was done listening and apologizing, and Eva was holding on to Ren just watching as the fury built within me.
She had pushed me beyond caring about her feelings or social niceties, and suddenly were both loudly trading insults back and forth. I had my arms crossed, bantering on and on with her, and it was just about when she grabbed my wrist that I saw Eva running over to Simon and getting scooped up. She was talking to him in her eerily high, clear voice, recounting the incident and pointing at the woman.
“Where is this girl's mother, anyway? I’m going to…”
“I am her mother. You're going to what?” Simon’s deep gravelly voice interrupted as he looked down at her with a completely blank, unsympathetic expression. He was much taller than her; she was about the same size as me. "Now, take your hands off my husband."
“Bee,” Ren squeaked desperately, practically crawling up my leg. Because he couldn’t see very well, Ren had gotten very accustomed to understanding the tone of our voices, and he knew what Simon's calm, monotone reply meant. The woman just stared at Simon for a few moments, and then finally threw my wrist away with a sneer. I immediately picked up Ren and stood next to Simon.
“No wonder that girl's such a monstrous little dyke,” the woman muttered, and to my surprise Simon moved a hand forward as if he would strike her. I’d never seen Simon even consider hitting a woman and found it very shocking to see. Of course, he did not do it, biting his lip as if rebuking himself.
“My mother never taught me to be kind to the weak,” he said and pushed some of Eva’s wet hair off her face. “You’re lucky I never listened to her. But I do suggest you should tend to your son a little better, so next time he won’t get his nose broken by a girl half his size. Avery, we’re leaving!”
I followed immediately and without a word. A few people were staring at us, but Simon didn’t seem to care. He aggressively picked up their shirts and glared at me. I knew how much he hated it when I let them go shirtless, especially Eva, and I didn’t have anything to say in my defense. We walked for awhile in somewhat awkward silence.
“Bee, wha a dyke?” Ren’s squeaky little voice suddenly broke the silence, and Simon laughed aloud.
“That’s a bad word Ren!” Eva yelled at him, somehow apparently already knowing something of the meaning.
He flinched and looked at me with big, watery green eyes.
“It’s a mean thing to say, so don’t say it,” I replied.
“Is it funny Sai?” Eva asked in confusion, wrapping one of her little dark hands into Simon’s hair, almost like she was trying to sooth him.
“No, Ren just has a funny way of asking questions,” Simon sighed. Eva stuck her tongue out at her brother and pulled down both of her eyelids. He could barely see her and just stuck his tongue out because the noise she was making meant that’s what she was doing. She stopped pulling on her eyelids and smiled at him, before turning and looking to see where Simon was taking us. I remember she kept twisting her hand around and around a lock of Simon’s hair, and for some reason I suddenly had the strangest feeling that Simon and Eva shared something that I could never understand, something that made their eyes seem so dark and far away.
“Bee.” Ren reached up and touched my forehead, trying to press the wrinkles out from between my eyebrows, as if that would make my troubles disappear. Then he snuggled his face into the crook of my neck, and I could feel his labored breaths cooling my sweat drenched skin.
In case something went wrong, Simon decided that Eva and I would not wait for him in the Outer Rim, but instead spend almost an entire month in the Middle. He wouldn’t elaborate on what could go wrong, but he assured me that Eva and I would be able to help him get out of the Center if the need arose.
The idea of staying so long in the Middle made me anxious, not to mention the fact that preparing our Eva for that society was like trying to tame a wild dog. There was quite a lot of biting, scratching, howling, and most of all running. I remember the first time I put a pair of stockings on her I turned around for only half a second and she had purposely used a stick she'd stored in her knotted hair to rip a hole in each of the knees.
“Eva! What the hell!” I growled, but she just laughed at me.
“Well, they are pretty itchy you know,” Simon laughed. He had the easy task of teaching Ren a few words and rules for the Center, while I was charged with taming the beast. When I turned around again the stockings had completely disappeared.
“Eva! Where did they go?” She looked right at me and just shrugged. “That won't get you out of wearing them. Now, let me fix those ponies!” She always wore her hair in two little pigtails on top of her head, but they were often a disaster of knots and debris of all kinds.
“No! Sai!” she screamed and ran to Simon instead. Apparently it hurt when I did it, but my patience for whining was a lot shorter than Simon’s. I wasn’t about to spend all day carefully untangling her curls, and I knew from experience that it was just something she was going to have to get used to. At times I was even tempted to just shave off all her hair because I was sick of brushing the knots and stickiness out of it. But despite her boyishness Eva also seemed to like ‘being pretty’ and we kept her hair long and tied with various shiny little beads and barrettes. Sometimes we let Ren wear them too. Eva also didn’t seem to hate the dresses we bought for her either, just the rules that pretty little dresses bring along with them. Stockings she hated completely, but her legs were so rough and scraped up that no self respecting mother in the Middle would ever let her daughter be seen that way.
“I’ll use the soft brush, get over here you baby,” I said and went and got the soft, white bristled brush Simon used on her hair. She came to me grudgingly and sat on the floor between my legs. I decided to use the rare opportunity of her stillness to continue training her in manners and accent.
“Ok, so what do you say when you want to talk to a woman?”
“Excuse me, lady?” she asked.
“Excuse me, ma'am,” I replied, and she parroted my accent perfectly. She and Ren both had a little of my accent already, so it wasn’t difficult to get her to emphasize the way she spoke. Mostly she just thought it was a funny mocking game; I was sure she’d be surprised when she got to the Middle and everyone spoke like me.
I remember feeling quite frightened the day we left, as I hadn’t been away from Simon for more than a few days in years, and I’d never been away from Ren for more than a few hours since the day he was born. Eva seemed to share my anxiety, and throughout the entire journey she clung to her little brother like it was their last day on earth. I was tempted to let her go with them, but she would be a burden on Simon, and she really was my only comfort in an intense, dry loneliness.
Eva and I stayed at a long term motel not far from the sector I was born in. My identity had been set up as a writer because I already spent much of my time at that task. We were supposedly staying in the motel while our house was being remodeled, and my wife had died during Eva’s birth. We generally kept to ourselves, and if Eva ever mentioned Simon or Ren when another was around I quickly and casually found a way to reveal that Simon was her uncle and Ren her cousin. It was confusing for her, and after awhile she began to seem genuinely depressed and constantly asked me about them. The loneliness started to get to me almost as quickly as it did to her, and I often wondered what we were going to do if they never came back. Or what was going to happen to Eva when her weak little brother could finally bear this world no longer? What would happen to Simon? Or to me? I was sure that I would die immediately if something happened to any of them. The passing weeks were probably some of the longest in my life.
When it was finally time for their return, we were going to meet up at a local library. I received a coded message from Simon two days prior, but I still felt very uneasy and agitated. At least Eva was behaving quite well for once, but sadly she almost didn’t seem to believe me that Simon and Ren were returning to us.
The library in that rather liberal but wealthy sector was massive, and I thought for sure it would be sufficient enough space and material to amuse Eva for the hours we might spend waiting. Because she was only about four and couldn’t really read, she tired of the children’s books after the first hour and wanted to explore the rest of the library. I gave in to her energy and followed her around for perhaps another hour, assuming that it would not be hard to spot Simon and Ren among all these drab, ordinary people. They’d also probably be able to hear Eva’s voice a mile off; she seemed to be the only child in the library, or else the only loud one. I don’t know how she got such a voice, with soft spoken parents like Simon and I.
Her constant, insatiable curiosity though, I completely understood. I stopped and looked through a lot of the books, jealous of the free systems of information they had in the Middle. Imagine what the people of the Outer Rim could do with all that kind of knowledge! I thought perhaps Simon and I could build a free library in Kyou, but the air was really too dirty in cities and Ren could not live there long. Still, perhaps a library or a school in a small town. Simon would make an excellent teacher, and it would be an excuse for him look gorgeous in his reading glasses. My god, when is he coming back?
“Bee,” Eva said, her voice bursting through my hazy thoughts.
“Eva, what did I tell you?’
“Sorry. Daddy, can I go outside?” Even after a month it was strange to hear her call me that, and the way she was pulling impatiently on my dress slacks made me feel intensely adult and traditionally male. It was a rather awful feeling. I’d spent very little of my life in a suit and felt like I was dressed up for some kind of game. Eva was in an adorable, velvet green and white dress, her hair in two white laced ponies on the sides of her head with the stray curls on the bottom clipped up with little pearl barrettes. She also seemed dressed up for a game; only the scuffed knees of her white stockings gave away her inner boyishness. I wonder what gives away my inner girlishness, I thought as we passed by the reflection on a large information screen. My hair was short, and I was wearing small silver glasses that I didn’t really need. I looked away from myself quickly and for just a flash I could see it; it was in the way I move, my femininity.
“Eva, wait just one second. I want to look at this first.” I touched the information screen. Simon had always told me not to go near them, but I was too curious about this electronic information to let it pass by. And besides, this was probably going to be my last time in the Middle. I wanted to see what I could find about myself. Much to my surprise, it immediately popped up with a picture of a younger me, and the name Avery Walker, apparently registering my finger print. I stared at my strange name; I had already been Avery Sotha for five years.
The me in the photograph was smiling, but it was a very tight, close lipped smile, my eyebrows looking a bit pained. I remembered the day they took that photograph; I was fourteen and had just entered into the church as a secondary schoolboy. I was paler than I remember myself being; probably only half as dark as the adult that stood there in the present.
The information section said that I was twenty six years old, missing for ten years, with a classified criminal record. There was also a blinking read caption at the bottom that said if found to report to the police immediately, so I exited the screen as quickly as I could. Perhaps they will think it was just a mistake?
Ten years? Have I really been with Simon for so long? Well, Eva was nearly five… Eva? I looked around, and she was nowhere in sight, my heart instantly in my throat.
“Eva!” I yelled out instinctively and several people stared in surprise. I looked at the ground and quickly started searching for her in a hushed voice. “Eva! Eva!” Where could she have gone? What was she saying to me before? Outside? My heart dropped to the floor as I imagined that she had left the library and was wandering around alone in the Middle, the unregistered child of a criminal. What would they do if someone found her? Surely they would take her away from me. I’d dreamt of her abduction so many times, even before she was born! I couldn’t bear for it to be true and felt on the verge of true panic. I calmly asked a woman working with the books if she had seen a small girl in a green dress come by. She scornfully pointed in front of her; there were two French doors that lead to what appeared to be a lush courtyard garden.
“Thank you ma’am,” I said and practically bolted out of there. “Eva!” I called out, still half hushed. It was warm in the garden, and I was already in a nervous sweat, my dress shirt sticking to my lower back. I wanted to take my coat off, but I was nervous that the sweat had made my pale green shirt translucent enough for my tattoos to be visible.
I was about to turn into the center opening of the garden, when I thought I heard Eva’s high little voice speaking to someone. Turning the corner, I saw her standing on a bridge over a little pond with a small, blonde haired woman. For some reason I was still for a moment, just watching them as the woman touched Eva’s face with surprisingly familial affection. This broke my trance, and I quickly approached, rather outraged that a stranger should touch my child in such a way. The woman looked up when she heard my footsteps, and I froze again, her long lashed, blue eyes already watering with tears as she stared at my face.
“Avery?” she gasped.
I just stared back at her, sure that I was merely in some kind of strange dream. I wanted to say her name, but for some reason I couldn’t remember it. Even though she was my sister, for a moment I had completely forgotten her name.
“Bee!” Eva said and ran to me, wrapping her arms around my leg and staring at my sister.
“Are you really my brother?” the woman asked with a shaking voice and took a step toward us.
“No,” I answered immediately and took a step away.
“No?” She stopped in confusion and looked at Eva. “It has to be you. I thought the girl was you; she is exactly how I remember you, Avery. I am your sister, Alice. Do you remember me?”
I knew there was going to be no convincing her that I was other than Avery Walker, and I slowly said, “Only a little.” She immediately came closer, as if she wanted to hug but stopped just short.
“I thought you were dead. Where have you been for all these years? You didn’t report to your job site.”
“I…” I didn’t know what to say to her. She was my only remembrance of kindness as a child, and I didn’t want to lie to her but couldn’t tell her where I’d really been. “I have been traveling,” I said simply, and she reached up and touched the scar on my face. She was perhaps only 160 centimeters tall, even though I remembered her as so adult and large.
“Far away?” she asked, still touching my face, down to my the emerging scruff of my evening beard. “I can’t believe you're a grown man now.”
“Yes, I have been pretty far away.”
“Is this your daughter?” She took her hand away from my face and wiped tears out of her eyes. She smiled at Eva, her face blushing pink.
“She is mine,” I said, and Alice bent down to look at her. Eva was still clinging to me and just staring wide eyed at this strange crying lady.
“I never thought you would have a child. So you’re not…”
“I am, but it is a complex situation,” I said, and she crinkled her flat little forehead in confusion. Her expression made my stomach twist, because she oddly looked like Eva when she made that face. It is such a strange thing, to be related to someone by blood.
“Has your life been difficult?” She stood up and looked at me again, mostly the scar. I found it strange that it fascinated her so much; I usually forgot it was even there. But I suppose it's not so common to have such an injury when you're upper class.
“It has at times, but I'm quite happy now.”
“Where are you living?”
“Uh, very far from here.”
“Can I visit you? I have a husband, and three children; one is little like this one. Eva is her name right?” I shook my head, and her eyes watered again.
“I’m sorry about what happened to you, Avery. I asked them not to take you away, but they wouldn’t listen to me. It’s not your fault our mother…”
“In the end it was for the best. I prefer my life the way it is now.” I picked up Eva, and she wrapped her legs around me.
The moment seemed to linger, and I swayed a little on my feet and considered turning away when I suddenly heard a familiar voice calling, “Avery! Eva!” It was Simon.
“It's my Sai!” Eva burst and tried to wiggle free from me. I put her on the ground, and she immediately ran towards Simon’s voice. I stayed with my sister, but I could hear Eva laughing as she found Simon.
“Who is that?” Alice asked as Simon approached from behind. I didn’t even have to look at him, but the familiar presence of his body beside me was so soothing I felt at ease enough to put my arm around his. My sister’s eyes widened a little, but her overall reaction was quite calm.
“This is my husband. His name is Simon,” I said flatly, and she looked at him curiously but calmly. “Simon, this is my sister, Alice Walker.”
“Please to meet you,” he said in the flat accent of the Outer Rim.
Alice looked over all four of us for what felt like a long time, and then she smiled and said, “Were you the one that asked me to come help out at this library today? I normally work at the one on the other side of the sector."
"Yes," Simon replied immediately, and I finally looked at him.
He was in a grey suit and a white shirt; Ren was laying on his shoulder with bandages over his eyes, apparently sleeping. I was instantly a bit angry and confused, but at the same time not as surprised as I could have been. This was exactly like something Simon would do.
“What’s wrong with the little one? What’s his name?”
"He was going blind.” I said and reached up and took Ren from Simon, his little squeak of complaint smothered in my neck as he went back to sleep.
“His name is Ren. He had surgery on his eyes,” Simon replied.
“Will he be all right? Do you need any money?”
“He’ll be fine,” Simon said and picked up Eva. “We don’t need any money.”
“That’s good. I’m glad he’ll be all right. ” Alice smiled in relief, and Simon slightly smiled back at her.
We were all silent a few moments before Alice nervously burst, “You know, sometimes our mother would blame me for the way you are, say that I played with you too much like you were another little girl. I suppose sometimes I did almost think of you as my sister, yet also somehow my brother. I don’t think I understood that I was supposed to treat you differently." She looked at me in the face and then looked down at the ground. “But I think that maybe you must have just been different to begin with. It’s like you have a different way of seeing the entire world.”
“It’s not so different,” I said, and she laughed slightly.
“Oh, but it really is Avery. And I have to say…. that I’ve always liked it, maybe even been a little jealous.” I had not expected this response and did not know what to say. After a few more moments of awkward silence, I just said, “We have to go,” and she tensed almost in anguish..
“So soon? Can’t you stay, just until the evening? If you don’t want anyone to see you we can stay in my house and…”
“We have a train to catch,” I answered, and she looked at the ground. It was a bit disturbing, the way she reacted to things the same way that I would. I never noticed how much I looked like her; I was too preoccupied with my difference.
“Will you send me letters? Can I send you letters?” I shook my head, but Simon interrupted.
“We will send you some letters. But they won’t come too often.”
“Thank you,” she sighed and seemed about to cry again. “Avery… I’m so sorry I couldn’t protect you. Our parents, our mother loved you, you know. Probably more than she loved any of us. My father was never a kind man. He died from a heart condition five years ago. Our mother lives alone now, our brothers, Jeremy is married and works for an agricultural trust. The youngest Hunter is studying biology; he’ll be a doctor soon.”
“Oh? A lot happens in ten years.” I smiled at her.
“More so for some than for others,” she said and again touched the scar on my face. “Can I hug you Avery? Even though you’re an adult now? Can I hug you before you leave again?”
“I suppose so,” I said, feeling somewhat bashful. She hugged herself to me on the opposite side that I was holding Ren, and then she lightly kissed both of us on our cheeks.
“Thank you for taking care of my brother,” she said, and suddenly hugged Simon without asking. She pulled his head down so she could kiss him on the cheek, making him blush. Eva looked like she wanted to cry as well and boldly gave this woman she did not know a kiss on the cheek.
I felt so weak and shaky that I almost wanted to faint, but then we simply turned and left her there in that strangely peaceful little courtyard. I never saw her again.
“Are you alright Avery?” Simon asked, putting his hand on my shoulder; we were sitting on a public train and this was the only action acceptable for one man to give another.
“I’m fine. That was just, very unexpected.”
“Are you mad that I asked her to come? She seemed very nice. And she really seemed to have missed you. I’m sorry.”
“No, I'm glad I got to see her. It always felt like a part of my life I'd never gotten to finish. But it also was a strange reminder of how much I like my new life just the way it is.” I tangled my fingers into Ren’s abundant red curls, and he shifted awake for a moment. He was about to go back to sleep, when his hand also tangled itself into my hair.
“Bee?” he asked happily.
“Good morning, Ren,” I said, and he laughed and touched my face before he kissed the familiar scar.
“Hey, give me,” Eva whined and tried to wiggle away from Simon. “Give me my Ren.”
“No, he’s my Ren,” I teased and squeezed him away from her, making him laugh. I often played the same game with Simon, pretending he was only mine. I think that's why she and then later Ren, started referring to him as 'my Sai' as if she needed to remind me that he was hers.
“Eva!” Ren squealed and reached his hands out for her to save him. I reluctantly let him sit with his sister in between Simon and I, and Eva immediately started to peel his bandages away. “Not yet, Eva! No! Not yet!” he admonished and pushed her away, but still held on to her hand tightly. Eva pouted but didn’t say anything, and they both sat quietly, very calmly kicking their little legs against the metals grates below the seat. Simon fixed Eva’s hair a few times even though there was nothing wrong with it and looked at me often.
“We really missed you guys,” I whispered when we were the only passengers left in our car.
“Missed you too, Bee,” Ren replied loudly, though I’d been looking at Simon.
“We did, didn’t we Ren?” Simon laughed, and Ren nodded enthusiastically.
Simon and I sat on our heels in a low, burgundy tent, apparently waiting for someone who could tell us how to make Ren's medicine. I could barely understand what Simon was saying to these strange people, half of it in those odd nonsense words he uses occasionally. Eva was trying to sit next to him but quickly started fidgeting and rocking side to side. Ren was next to me with his head on my upper thigh, drooling lightly as he slept. Ren’s eyes had healed well, but he still had difficulty breathing often. The only the thing that seemed to soothe him was from a very rare plant that grew only in the margins of the world; and so that’s where we were learning to live. But we needed more than we could buy, and though it had taken us over a year of travel to find these nomadic people from whom Simon had been born, they were the only ones who knew how to make the medicine.
A frail old woman with a walking stick hobbled in very slowly and sat on some cushions, breathing in a light, aromatic smoke from a small clay ball around her neck. I recognized the smell of the incense; she must have suffered from the same affliction as Ren. She sat down in the cushion with a labored huff and finally looked at us. She just stared at us a few moments before her dark eyes suddenly widened and she stood relatively quickly, hobbling towards Simon in a rush.
She took his chin in her hand and slowly turned his face from side to side.
“Ana?” she asked very quietly. Simon stared at her for a moment with his chin still in her hand but then nodded slowly. “You changed a lot, didn’t you?” the old woman almost laughed. Simon seemed to relax a little.
“I gave that name away. My name is Simon now. Simon Sotha,” he said, and she just laughed and waved her hand at him.
“Names are only imagination,” she said, and touched more of his hair. “You look like that padre, but not those ayin,” she said. She pointed to her own eyes and then a bit roughly pressed both fingers into Simon’s.
“I know what you say, baba,” he complained and turned his head away, making her laugh.
“And don’t you forget.” She slapped him lightly, but then grabbed on to his head and kissed the top of it. “My syun.” I thought maybe she had called him her son, but I knew that Simon’s mother had died and this woman was far too old to be her. She finally let him go, wiping tears away from her eyes. Next she went to Eva and kissed her on the head, making Eva look at Simon in confusion. Next she hobbled passed me and petted Ren’s hair. Then she came to me, looking at me for a moment before poking the tattoo of the whale on my arm. She looked at Simon.
“Mari,” Simon said plainly and she nodded and kissed me on the head too.
“Avery, this is my grandmother,” Simon said as she pet Ren’s hair.
“Enferme?” She asked and Simon nodded. She blew the smoke from the clay ball around her neck into Ren’s face. Nothing happened for a few moments until Ren suddenly took in a loud, deep breath. It frightened me so I pulled him away from her but she just laughed and patted me.
“Bee?” Ren coaked sleepily, breathing heavily but clearly and deeply.
The old woman mumbled a bunch of other things I couldn’t understand and then pulled something out of her pocket, holding it up in front of Simon and I.
It was a rather large, dark blue flower with tiny, tiny familiarly red seeds that grew on top of its stamens. Simon groaned when he saw it; I wasn’t sure why. Likely it was because he recognized the plant, but also knew it was not to be easily found or harvested. His grandmother went on talking, and later Simon explained to me what she had said.
The tiny seeds at the top of the stamens were what was needed for the medicine. Removing these seeds without pulling off a part of the poisonous stamen or petals, however, was a very delicate procedure.
We stayed with Simon’s people for several months while he mastered making the medicine, and I also learned how to do it in case of an emergency but I wasn’t as good at it.
When we were inside our tent Simon seemed to be perpetually bent over a bright light, carefully removing the little red balls and placing them in a glass dish. He had a magnifying glass that he strapped around his head and then pulled down over in front of his eyes, and it made him look hilariously like a mad scientist feverishly at work on his great discovery. The seeds afterward had to be crushed into a powdery paste and mixed with a few other things before being pressed into a type of incense that Ren would breathe in from a fist sized metal ball.
I quickly grew to like these people, especially his crazy old grandmother, but Ren’s condition was much worse than hers and we had to break away from them and follow a small river along which the flowers seemed to proliferate. And this was how our path lead us into new world.
I had just turned thirty when we ripped open the sky, and ended the world as we knew it.
“I’m taking Eva with me to hunt today,” Simon said one morning, looking at what little was left of the incense we had prepared for Ren.
“Can I come Sai?” Ren asked, distracted from his breakfast of berries and dried fish. We had set up camp near a large stream, so food was abundant but always a challenge to obtain.
“No, it’s too hot for your Ren. When it’s cooler you can come,” Simon replied, and Ren immediately pouted.
“We’ll go for a walk up stream today Ren. I’ll carry you in the pack and we’ll go fishing.”
“Catch me some big fat frogs Ren,” Eva laughed and wiggled her eyebrows at him.
“No Eva!” Ren replied sternly, and she laughed harder. The last time he’d brought home frogs to play with Eva and Simon had roasted them on skewers over the fire and eaten their apparently delicious legs. Ren and I had refused to take part in the ghastly murder of such adorable little things, no matter how delicious they might be.
“Eva, stop teasing him,” Simon admonished seriously, and Eva stopped laughing immediately. “Get your stuff together or you’re staying here.”
“I’m going, I’m going.” She sounded exactly like me sometimes.
“Now,” Simon demanded, and she stuffed the rest of her breakfast in her mouth.
“Simon, don’t forget,” I said and got out a salve that he used to protect his skin from the sun.
“Ugh,” he complained and sat down in a chair for me to rub it on him. It was a bit oily, and he disliked the way it felt on his skin. “Don’t forget to do it to Ren too. And Eva.”
“I don’t need it,” Eva sighed.
“Just because you don’t turn red, doesn’t mean you’re not getting burned.” I told her, and she just rolled her eyes.
“Come here,” Simon demanded, and she complied. She whined the entire time he rubbed the salve on her, and when I was finished with him they prepared their things to leave.
I let Ren finish his breakfast slowly, and tried to read a complex history book that I’d gotten in the last town we’d passed. That had been months ago.
“Can we go out now, Bee?” Ren asked and laid his head on my stomach. I held up the book, and looked at his bored face.
“It’s still pretty hot…”
“I’ll go slow, I promise,” he said, suckering me with his sad face.
“All right, get your shoes on. Then we have to tie up the animals.” We had started using animals and a wagon to travel longer distances, and Ren was very good at helping me tend to them.
We walked for about an hour before I was starting to think that we should head back. The sun was baking hot, and my mind was drifting in odd ways… And then Ren started asking me about the moon, and I felt a strange stab of loneliness in my heart. I helped him pick some stones out of his shoes, and he saved me from some kind of bug that had landed in my hair. Then I let him walk ahead of me a little….
“Look Bee!” he suddenly stopped, and held up a small, light blue ball of glass. He was smiling at me as he burst. “It’s a piece of the sky!”
“Oh yeah, it does look like the one I have.” I laughed a little, wondering if Simon had gotten the blue stone from this area when he was a child.
“No look, look! Look, Bee!” he said and reached beside himself, erasing a small black dot that had been on the horizon. I blinked at him, watching almost in horror as his tiny pale hand trace up the smooth, round surface of the world.
“Ren, come here.”
“Wow, the sky is pretty, Bee,” he laughed and continued touching it.
“Ren, come here.” I repeated, and he finally shrugged and came back to me.
“Avery!” I could hear Simon calling from the distance. I picked up Ren, and squeezed him to me before I turned to look in the direction of Simon’s voice. Eva was running ahead of him with a little spear, and he had some kind of large dead animal slung over his shoulders.
“Simon!” my voice sounded quite fearful, and he increased his speed.
“What’s the matter,” he said as he approached. Eva walked right up to the edge of the world and stabbed it with her spear. Simon blinked at her the same way I’d done to Ren.
“Eva, come here. Get away from that.” Eva pulled out her spear and a few balls of blue glass fell at her feet.
“Uh, I think I broke the sky,” she said and casually came back to us.
“Avery… you see that too right? I’m not just having some kind of heat stroke…” Simon said and pulled Eva to him.
“I see it,” I said, and put Ren on the ground. Ren ran to his sister, and clung to her, apparently having learned to share our fear. I approached the hole in the sky tentively, and was amazed to feel tightly woven glass balls within another layer of smooth blue glass.
“Avery! Don’t touch it!” Simon called out and squeezed the children.
“But Simon, the sky… it’s not real. Eva, give me your spear.”
“No, don’t do it!” Simon said and held her back. She wiggled free from him and brought me her small spear.
“Stand back a little,” I pressed her back until she was standing by Simon. Then, with intense force I pulled back the spear and violent impaled the sky, dozens of the little balls of glass raining over us like hail. There was a loud cracking sound, and then strange, eerie silence.
“Water.” Ren said plainly and pointed towards the dark opening.
“I hear it. The Salzen lakes sound like that,” I said, and touched the edge of the sky as I put my head into a different world. Eva followed me despite Simon’s protests, and we both found ourselves looking at a shore with the strangest night sky I could have imagined. There were two bright moons, and what seemed like thousands of tiny specks of the light in the sky.
“It’s beautiful…” I gasped.
“Woooow,” Eva half laughed.
“Avery, come back,” Simon returned desperately.
“Simon, you have to see it. It’s amazing.” I looked back at him, and held a hand down to where he was practically smothering Ren.
“But what is it?”
“It’s… I don’t know. But look, look at the shore. It’s covered in Ren's flowers.”
“What?” This brought Simon to the opening, and he brought Ren with him. Growing in the moon light of the never ending shore there were thousands of the flowers we needed for Ren, and they both stared at these for several long moments before they finally looked up the glittering, full sky above us. I felt like the moon had lied to me all these years, how can it be lonely in a sea of other tiny little moons.
“It’s the ocean,” Simon’s gravely voice broke into my mind, and I looked out at the black waves crashing against the shore.
“What’s that, Sai?” Ren asked.
“It’s where the whales live,” he laughed, smoothing Ren’s hair.
“Oh, baba says the whales will heal Ren if we ask them.” Eva had already started climbing through the hole.
“Eva, wait!” Simon warned, but I was following her. The air felt strange and easy to breathe, and I stood in the dark on the other side, looking at Simon and Ren. Ren wiggled free, and followed his sister into the moonlight.
“Come on Simon, let’s go ask them.” I gave him my hand, and after only a short pause he stepped through the opening. And then together we walked to the ocean at the edge of the world.
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