Linda A. B. Davis
Zella wondered silently who the naked, sleeping man beside her could be this time. His name as well as his face had faded somewhere around the fifth tequila the night before. She thought his name started with a "J." Joe? Jack? Maybe Jason or Jeff. Or Jacob, or Jerry, or Joshua.
Well, hell, she thought. She really had to pee, and the name was refusing to worm its way into her pounding consciousness. Zella was afraid to move without it, afraid to face this someone in the light of day without even a stupid name to attach to his stupid face.
Jimmy? Jarod? Justin?
After a long moment, Zella sighed. It was no use. She was going to have to go for it. She couldn't lay here forever, her bladder a victim to a faulty morning-after memory.
She eased herself out of bed ever so slowly, trying not to look his way. Maybe if she didn't see him, he wouldn't see her.
The bitch of it all was that while Zella didn't remember his name, she did remember thinking that she would like to see him again. He had been sweet and had seemed not to notice her expertise with the whole pick-up routine. Or maybe that's what being an expert was all about - making them not notice. Either way, it worked for her.
After her visit to the john (another "j" there, thought Zella, but still not the right one), she found her clothes artlessly tossed over one of the wooden chairs by the window. Zella dressed quickly, in a hurry to be away from this hot and smelly room. She was stuffing her pantyhose and shoes in her purse when Zella felt the hairs on her neck raise. She turned, expecting to see J-man awake and watching her.
Instead it was a girl, about fifteen from the looks of things. Her light brown hair framed a delicately powerful face. Her lips were pursed in strong disapproval of some sort and Zella was instantly ashamed without knowing why.
The girl's eyes were a vacuum for Zella's whole being, drawing her in as inelegantly yet effectively as dust up a Hoover. Her eyes were an awesome hazel color, partially slate blue and partially amber, the two colors intersecting at points unknown yet obvious. Zella shook her head to reclaim herself.
Zella should be concentrating on how the girl got there, she knew. And while the thought did cross her mind, she was haunted by the feeling that she should know this young woman. She was vaguely familiar to Zella, and Zella wondered if the hangover was affecting her memory past the point of not knowing the name of the still sleeping J-man.
The girl spoke. "You can do better than him, you know."
"I don't know," Zella replied, tilting her chin up, ready for a fight. "Maybe I can't. Maybe he's the best I can get."
Though Zella hadn't really meant it - she'd only said it to buy herself some time to think - the girl's reaction was unexpectedly passionate.
"Ramas all," the girl said loudly and perched her hands on her hips. J-man stirred in the bed behind her. "I wasted my lifetime visit on this? How stupid could I be?"
The girl paced the small area between the bed and the bathroom. She looked Zella up and down, quickly taking in the straight brown hair, dark honey-colored eyes and sparsely freckled skin. Her words sounded stilted, like a foreigner who was fluent but on whom the language would never sound natural.
"I thought I could help," she continued. "But not if you possess such a defeatist attitude. You obviously have no self respect anyway or you would not be sleeping around like a cat in cycle. I am such a fool to think that I could matter. Ramas again."
Zella's own passions were now rising in anger. "Who the hell are you to judge me?" she asked in a harsh whisper. "Who the hell are you anyway? You have no idea what my attitude or my life is like! Maybe I like sleeping around. Besides," Zella paused for effect and crossed her arms. "I'm really good at it."
Zella started for the door. She was halfway across the room when she heard the girl's muffled sobs. She turned around and saw her crumpled into a corner. Zella's heart twisted until her own eyes were teary. The girl looked so young and alone. Zella knelt down next to the girl and touched her shoulder.
"Look, honey. Do you need a ride? I can help you get wherever you need to go."
The girl looked up. Her red-rimmed eyes were glazed with tears. "I did not mean it to turn out this way. I really came to help you."
"Help me with what?" Zella asked.
"With your marriage."
Zella blinked. "With Chuck? We've been divorced for years."
"I know," the girl said with a sniffle. "But it shouldn't be that way. You only left him because you couldn't handle the pain or the memory of your daughter."
Zella yanked her hand back and stepped away from the girl, startled by the sudden and unpleasant turn the conversation had taken. "What do you know about Elizabeth?"
The girl reached over and took Zella's hand. "I know she's dead, but not all is lost. I came here to tell you that she lives on in a certain way."
Zella started to ask her in what way, but as she met the girl's eyes for more than a glance, she suddenly knew. She should've known immediately, even as ludicrous as it would've sounded to her skeptical nature.
"Elizabeth?" The name escaped Zella's lips with a life of its own.
The girl smiled weakly. "Well, no. In my world, you named me Kata. And your name is Fiama."
"In your world? In what world?"
Kata took a deep breath. "You have no reason to believe this except for the fact that I am here. And you must believe that I am who I say."
Kata stopped to wipe her eyes and then continued. "It is a parallel world. About a century ago, our scientists started discovering the existence of other worlds, parallel worlds they suspected. They were able to link to them visually but never able to make contact. Then they found yours. Not only did they find a way to make contact, the scientists were able to create a bridge, a dimensional bridge. We have been visiting in secret for several decades now."
Zella glanced back at the bed to make sure she didn't see herself still asleep next to J-man. She couldn't believe he hadn't awakened yet, and Zella wondered if she herself was really awake. Maybe it was another hangover anxiety dream. She turned back to Kata.
"Why visit now?" Zella asked. "This," she said as she waved her hand to indicate her seedy surroundings, "has been my life for years. Why now?"
"I could not visit earlier. I was not of age. We have to be sixteen, and we only get one visit in our lifetime. Anything past one round trip and our metabolic rate gets advanced to a fatal level. There are those who would try it either early or again, so we have operators to enforce our travel laws."
Zella was touched. "You used your lifetime visit to try and help me?"
"I had no choice with myself," Kata said. "It saddened me to watch you throw your life away like this when your husband loves you so much. My own father has been dead several years now, but I remember what he meant to my mother."
Zella thought about this. How different would her life have been if Elizabeth had lived, if Zella's own grief hadn't chased away the one person who understood her pain? How different would Chuck's life have been had he not lost first his daughter and then his wife? And what course would Elizabeth's life have taken, being raised by parents with their own separate but loving influences?
And then to think that her private misery had been viewed like a soap opera where the tears weren't real, where the actors were paid to appeal to a voyeuristic audience, made Zella feel violated. She had to consciously fight the urge to take her anger out on Kata who was the only person in their perverted little world to help. As naive as her decision may have been, Kata was at least trying to do something good.
"How often do you watch?" Zella asked.
Kata squirmed. "We can watch all we want. We have displays in our homes."
Zella was confused and assumed it showed when Kata paused to explain. "Our civilizations parallel on certain levels only. For instance, mine advanced in the communications area faster, but yours has better medical technology. We watch your world and take what we can, like penicillin. More of us would try to give back, but the government has strict controls on these visits. They do not want us to change your world past what they consider appropriate." Kata frowned. "They consider very little appropriate. The operator who let me through was a friend of my father's when he was an operator. He falsified the purpose of my visit when he heard my story."
Zella sat silently for a while. Kata was quiet as well, probably sensing that Zella needed some time to digest this information. Not unlike how Zella had stood in front of that baby crib so many years ago digesting the fact that her newborn daughter was no longer breathing. Elizabeth's body was already somewhat rigid, so there wasn't any point in Zella hurrying the acceptance process along. She had held Elizabeth and rocked her as if she was only asleep, saying good-bye in the only way Zella could.
The following despair had been utterly overwhelming. For months after that, every time she saw a baby in the park or the mall, Zella wondered if that baby would wake up tomorrow. And of the dozens of babies Zella saw, she knew that chances were that not all of them did wake up one day. Was it the boy in the blue carriage just finding his fingers or was it the girl in the yellow dress feeding contentedly at her mother's breast? Would the loss throw that mother inside of herself like it had Zella, or would that mother accept it and move on with her life? These thoughts consumed Zella's attention until she herself wanted to be the one not to wake up.
A soft beeping interrupted Zella's thoughts. Kata reached up to her ear and touched what had appeared to be a pear-shaped, ruby earring. The earring was obviously a microphone as well as a receiver. Kata spoke in a soft voice, her words sounding guttural and ancient. Apparently, Zella figured, Kata's world had followed a different language influence as well.
Zella's attention was then drawn to what had at first looked like a tattooed armband a few inches above Kata's left elbow. Zella had thought it was two branches intertwined, but now she could see the branches slowly undulating in opposite directions. They were actually vipers she decided, wrapped around each other like lovers in the midnight moonlight. A tattoo that moved? It was more of an apparition. Zella made a note to herself to check the tattoo later for implants.
Kata's voice had begun to sound agitated, rising in volume and intensity. She started crying again, covering her face with her hands. After about ten minutes, she ripped the earring from her lobe and placed it into Zella's hands. Kata rushed into the bathroom and closed the door quickly.
Zella wondered what this could possibly be about. She spoke hesitantly, holding the earring unnaturally close to her lips.
"Hello?" It sounded sparse under the circumstances, but small talk seemed silly.
"Hello, Zella. This Fiama, Kata's mother." Zella sucked in her breath. It was the other her. She briefly considered being sick.
"I will not take long," Fiama said. Her voice sounded tinny and far away, so Zella held the earring closer to her ear. It picked up noise better than it projected it.
"You probably will not want to talk to me when I say what I called to say." Fiama sounded reluctantly resigned to an unpleasant task.
"Okay." Zella's response was simple still, but hey.
"I have canceled Kata's return trip home."
Zella gasped. "Why in God's name would you do that?" she asked.
"She should have told me she was going. I would have stopped her from going," Fiama said. There was pain in her voice. Zella knew that she wasn't calling to ask Kata to pick up a quart of milk on the way home. Fiama was struggling to speak, sounding choked and breathless.
"It's okay to for her to come" Zella said, trying to be assuring. This was, after all, herself as a mother had things turned out differently.
"I'm glad," Zella said continuing, "if truth were to be known. It'll be some time before I understand everything that's happened today, but it's really okay."
There was a pause and Fiama spoke. "It is as far from okay, as you call it, as it can be. You do not understand. Ramas, Ramas. How do I say this? This is not the first half of the trip for Kata. It is the second."
"Her second?" Zella repeated. "That means that she would've started from this world." Then the truth hit Zella. Her vision blurred and the bile started to rise in her throat. She clenched her fists until she felt blood wetting the tips of her fingers. Zella finally spoke in a deadly whisper so that Kata wouldn't overhear.
"You took her, you bitch. Your Kata died, and you replaced her with Elizabeth. You left your dead baby in my crib!"
Fiama sighed. "I did," she said. "But you are the one person in the universe who cannot completely blame me. I am you in this world, and you would have done the same when faced with the temptation."
"And that's your excuse?" Zella asked. "What kind of chickenshit excuse is that? Never would I take someone else's baby.".
"You did," Fiama continued. "You see, we are the same people, reacting the same way as the other would in any particular situation. You can however take comfort knowing that you would have done the right thing in the end. When I discovered Kata's location, I confessed my crime to my government in order to have them override Kata's return."
"Well, that's just dandy," Zella said, hoping the sarcasm was evident over the gap of unknown distance. "But you're not doing it for the right thing. You're doing it because Kata will die if she makes another trip."
"Yes, but you see, that is the right thing. The right thing is not about you or me, as unfair as that may seem. It is about our daughter."
"My daughter, you mean."
"As you wish," Fiama said. God, this woman was arrogant, Zella thought. Was this really her? Was this the person she was capable of being?
Fiama spoke again. "Kata will need a home and a family. She will need you to put your life right so that you can tend to her. Tend to her as a mother would." Fiama paused. "And you might as well destroy the transmitter. My government is voiding the link.
Zella thought about this proposition. "Funny, huh?" she said. "Funny how the daughter you stole from me ended up here anyway. Maybe God does have a sense of humor."
At having the last word, one of her biggest faults Chuck had always said, Zella opened the nearest window and threw the pretty red stone straight out into the Wednesday morning air. It glittered in the bright sun and cast tiny, red reflections on the tree leaves outside.
Zella heard Kata, no, Elizabeth, sobbing through the door. She knew how the girl felt, to have her world ripped from her and not know how she was going to go on. She knew what it was to never run out of tears.
Zella walked to the door slowly, knocked softly and said, "We need to talk, Kata."
The door opened just enough to show one of Kata's eyes, spectacular even through the innate sadness. It looked past Zella. "Send him away first."
Zella couldn't remember. "Who?"
Jonah! That was it! Jonah, Jonah, Jonah. She mentally lifted the name to the god of itches that couldn't be scratched. Jonah. But it really didn't matter, Zella thought, whether he was Jonah, Fred, or Edgar. That was her old life. Kata was her new life.
She walked over and shook Jonah's shoulder roughly. "Wake up, wake up, Jonah. The manager called and your car's being towed. You've got to hurry."
Jonah was up instantly and babbling as he dressed hurriedly. "Sorry to run, Stella. Gotta go. I've got your number. I'll call." And he was gone, the door shutting sharply.
Zella chuckled softly. Jonah had slept contentedly through a parallel world visitor, but was up immediately at the prospect of damage to his car. And after all that worry about his name, he didn't even get hers right.
Now how about her own priorities? Zella's number one priority was currently heartbroken over the betrayal and loss of her mother. Her second priority was someone she'd ignored for many years now, herself. And then priority number three, Chuck. He should know immediately.
Zella started for the bathroom, eager yet afraid to begin being a parent after all these years. This time it would mean more than changing diapers and making formula. She wouldn't have the years of practice and knowledge from which most mothers of teenagers benefit. But then who cared? Zella was a mother again. She would figure it out, like all good mothers do.
Linda A. B. Davis lives in Pensacola, FL with her husband, daughter, three dogs, cat and bunny. She markets thermal analysis instruments to laboratories in her day job, and writes mostly science fiction and fantasy in between the crazy times. She also thanks Steve and Erica very much for allowing her to pursue her dream of writing for fame and fortune as they step over the laundry and cook their own dinners.
"Motherworld" is a memorial story for Linda and Steve's first daughter, Sheila Rae, who passed away at birth.
Published by permission of the author.