Looking closer, I saw quaint painting by steady hands under furrowed brows, I heard symmetry of sound from throats and hands on strings, and saw dance, they called it.
Looking closer still, I heard amorous squawking by lovers wronged and not, I saw lofty seductions and stark betrayals, brutal slayings and happy resurrections. I saw brother helping brother, brother leaving brother, brother trusting brother, brother killing brother, or at least so my inductor explained these things to me. I could not feel them for they had no real pattern.
So I turned to him and I said, "What's the point?"
"You should try it with one of these," he said, and brought me down and over to a long rack of their body things. We moved down the line of glistening skin (still cooling, he told me), until we came to the very end and a firm and strong male (he told me), cooled and in a white tunic. "Take a deep breath," he said, "and trust me."
So I took a deep breath and trusted him.
At first it was all wind, then everything seemed to happen at once. It was too fast, too many too soon. Every little thing, until now simply a pattern-less something to me, sparked its own little internal response. It was like walking around with weather. Hail everywhere.
Just walking—the inductor nowhere in sight, by the way—my feet kept talking and talking about weight, about the street, its coarseness, about temperature of stone and smoothness of marble, about ticklishness of grass, about the slippery cool of water. Kept talking and never for a moment stopped talking about watch out for the curb this and careful where you step that. It was a strain, but I managed to listen—to listen to my feet and my feet only through the din of thousands, perhaps millions, of other voices proclaiming their own little responses to their own little things—the better to hear what my feet were about.
As they talked of warm brick, cold brick, just right brick, hot brick, you need shoes, of hot sand, you need shoes, of sharp rocks, you do need shoes, of what a relief a balm would be if I'd only listen. Then, once I found shoes, they talked of shoes that were too tight, too loose, too wide, too narrow, too hot, too airy, too soft, on and on and on about shoes. Nothing but shoes. I threw the shoes away to shut my feet up about them.
But I was getting good at hearing them, I was getting to know them. They began to feel like mine although I knew they were just on loan. I still heard too, but ignored as best as I could, the other voices, the other thousands, perhaps millions. Those other many tiny mines exploding constantly, everywhere, sparked by everything. From my hands about textures, from my nose about smells, from my knees about pain, from my tongue about salt, from my ears about what these reefs and reefs of vibration surrounding meant, from my eyes about light, and light reflecting and mixing, and re-reflecting.
Through all this, I still listened, as best as I could, only to my feet, who now said, none to gently, that they hurt, they really hurt, and would I please sit down for just a while, perhaps on the stone bench over there, by the side of this grand marble avenue, by the many, many feet rushing about. So I sat down, and my feet were pleased, they said.
I sat for I don't know how long. My feet didn't say much for the first time. Maybe they were resting just like I, so I listened elsewhere. To my ears. To the throats of birds, growing as they approached, swooped near and fading as they rose again, telling each other who knows what, and constantly. There is wind among them, air caressing feathers and swooshing away as wings wave to gain altitude again, still singing.
The sandy shuffle of sandals on polished marble, of hundreds of feet out from under almost only blue robes belonging to half as many heads solemnly proceeding this way and that. Each foot made its own little sound touching down on and taking off from the whitish stone, but my ears much preferred to mix them all into a susurrus breeze which was very soothing and which lulled me into wondering just what could have happened to the inductor.
I have eyelids. They fell and I didn't see. They have muscles I can use and they opened again. For every thing there is a reflection and it enters the eyes.
I saw the changing deep blue of the many robes rustling by, changing as the light fell differently from crease to moving crease and it was a symphony in blue with only the occasional frowning white parting the blue ahead of him. And the birds again, seeing me seeing them darting to greet me as if we were acquaintances, which maybe we were, I don't remember.
But most of all I listened to the ocean—that is what I called it, this vast inside water—sounding again and again and again in response to every little response by ear and eye and hand to every little thing perceived, and now I knew what the inductor—where was he anyway—had meant, for I came to realize that the ocean was the heart of it all, was at the center, was the marvel of everything. The very thing he wanted to show me.
I saw a man and his child sitting on a bench similar to mine but across from me, on the other side of the marble avenue. They were too far away for my ears to hear what they said, but my eyes saw. The man sat tall and erect in blue, in a robe blue like the sky, his hair was white and his face was furrowed, like a mountain side from far away. He had long hands. The child, she was a girl, was dressed in a tunic of the same blue, not of body length however, no, like a little dress, with a white ribbon around her waist. Her pale knees were breathing and her hair was the color of straw, sparkling in the yellow sun. They were talking.
The man looked stern, spoke loudly, I could tell by his face and hands. The girl talked loudly back. The man's long hand came up fast, like a reptile, and whipped across the girls face. She stopped talking and stared a breath or two with large eyes at the man. Her eyes were very blue and began to glisten as with water. The man looked away. I saw it clearly and every movement reflected in my ocean, and when the hand struck it jolted me so hard from below that I almost rushed across and struck the man in turn. He had not struck me, still it was reflected and demanded I act, like a rising from within. It was a marvelous thing, this ocean.
Then, as I saw the girl's eyes fill with moisture, and as I saw the first large tear set out down her distant cheek, my ocean sang again: cross the avenue and embrace her, it sang, comfort her, take her away from him. I rose and took two steps toward them when I collided with someone almost my size, stern, also in a white tunic. I stopped and he looked at me as if I had slapped him and not the man in blue, which I hadn't slapped either.
Then without a word he continued. I stepped backwards to the bench and sat down again. I saw the two across the avenue and my ocean still sang, though more quietly now. I no longer had to embrace her though I still wanted to, very much.
The ocean, heavy now, still pressed to say: rise, rise and walk, but now I could tell the difference between it and me and I did not want to rise and walk, so to soothe it, I instead made myself look away, to not notice her, to look up at the buildings soaring straight up only a casting distance behind the two still sitting, girl still staring. Straight up, perhaps two thousand stories, perhaps more. They build them very tall in these parts, so I hear, or so my inductor had said. I began to count rows of windows but I lost count after five hundred and some. The man and the girl had left when my gaze returned to the first row to start again with one.
My ocean spoke again. This time about birds I had seen counting my way up the side of the white building. Birds sailing darkly against white across my line of vision, almost distracting me at three hundred sixteen, three hundred seventeen, three hundred eighteen, gone again by three hundred nineteen. But here they were again at three hundred sixteen, three hundred seventeen, as memory. As dark at first then as bright wings flashing in the sun. Not the birds singing, no these were larger and white and mute from altitude, bright and happening all over again. I listened to the ocean, heard its song, marveling even more. Memory. It was indeed amazing. Really. Stunning. I would have to tell the inductor. But first I would have to find him.
My feet were awake and wanted to move on. Quietly at first, just a suggestion, then loudly, a demand. I had to listen. And so I stood up and we set off again. But I found I could stop listening to them now, I found that I could let them mutter on as they pleased. Instead I listened to my eyes, and to my ocean's reflections of what entered them. Birds again, mostly gray and black against the sky, swirling in unison like a cloud of birds, many, many, and screeching softly through many throats above me, then behind me, then almost by my side before they soared again even higher, and I thought of patterns but saw none.
No patterns, but something else, something warmer than that. A fusion of glad and sad, rising from the surface of these internal waters and filling my eyes, glad to see the dancing cloud. Glad despite the lack of pattern. Sad because of lack of pattern. But mostly glad. Glad because the ocean said so. My eyes were glad and I felt glad too. Marveling still at the magic waters inside, which seem to give everything a meaning.
I came now to the end of the marble avenue with the towering buildings at my back. I stepped down into dust and my feet objected, since I had discarded their shoes, but not too much. I kept walking, following a single stray bird, separated from the cloud still dancing among the rising stories somewhere behind me, following it as it darted left, then right, then up as if to say: come; but always away, engendering new reflections, new murmurs in my ocean, a yearning to see where to, which was more than curiosity—curiosity I knew, this was more than that—it had color and temperature this curiosity, it was a yearning. So I left the city behind and set out through the dust after the single bird.
A thicket almost too far away to have color received it and it was gone. I stopped and turned around. The two thousand story spires sparkled in the sun, now sliding down the northern sky, but slowly. I looked again for the thicket but could not make it out among the galaxy of thickets far away. I thought of turning back, but did not. Perhaps I would find the bird again. I walked in its direction.
I never found the bird, I never found the thicket. But the road led on and with the setting sun the day grew cooler and I enjoyed the land. I walked the rest of the day and a night, and almost yet a day when my feet complained again, this time with certainty and I looked around for a place to rest. Here there were no benches, nothing. Only dusty road. Looking back not even the tallest of the spires were visible above the horizon. Only dust and grass and rock to either side of the road. But there was a house, small and yellow, against the hills down the road. I told my feet to be patient and walked on.
I came to a wooden door, dark, oak, shiny from many hands. It was closed and knocked. I heard feet moving inside and someone came to the door. It opened. There stood a young woman about my height, clad like the many in a blue tunic, with a white belt gathering the cloth at the waist. It could not be the young girl that the man had struck, I knew that, but my ocean sang briefly of her. This woman's hair was black and ran straight back into a horse's tail which stretched half way down her back. Her eyes were dark and set deeply in a nearly brown face. Her nose was stately and straight above a large mouth, lips partly opened to let the white of clean teeth shine through. She looked at me but said nothing. Something else moved behind her. Something small. A child. Perhaps two. Nothing else.
Still she said nothing. She scrutinized me, her eyes did not blink. She looked at my face, at my tunic. Still she said nothing.
She held the door open and shifted her weight from one leg to the other, still she said nothing.
"Good evening," I said. "I am new here. My feet are complaining."
She heard what I said and shifted her weight again from one foot to the other, then turned around and whispered something I could not make out to the one or two children inside, which now, as they moved again, I could make out as two, one with light hair, one darker, atop blue little tunics. The yellow sun was now far down the sky, though bright still, and the inside of the house was all shadow, or mostly shadow.
"New?" she said as if she didn't mean it. "How come you have a white tunic then?"
I looked down at the cloth I found it white again. "I don't know," I answered.
She didn't reply and again we stood facing each other without talking. I noticed how loosely the blue of her tunic hung on her long body, and how her breasts were almost visible. My ocean began to sing.
Less a song than an invasion.
The entire ocean seemed to come alive and swelled and swelled throughout. Warmth rushed to my loins and into a limb I did not know I had which in response rose up and out, bringing with it my white tunic into a little, or not so little, tent ahead of me. She noticed.
Her lips parted for what would probably have been a scream had she been alone, then I saw blood rush to her cheeks and I knew she thought of children as she drew a quick breath and backed into the room a step.
"I am new here," I repeated, looking down on the rising and licking my lips for they had gone dry despite so much internal water. "This has never happened to me before. I'm not even sure what it is, that is happening to me."
It was evident that she didn't believe a word of this and instead she took a second backwards step into the dark interior and slammed the door shut. I heard a latch slide into place, emphasizing the slamming. A dry silence arrived. I did not even hear feet inside, as if they all were still too, listening for me to move as I for them.
I looked down again. This thing had now risen to fully erect and I knew where it wanted to go. It was all the ocean sang about. But the door was closed. I looked around for somewhere to sit down, but I saw no such place. The ocean swelled and swelled and kept swelling I almost fainted with the need to place this thing into somewhere I knew, don't ask me how, the woman possessed. I touched the tent. It jolted with electricity.
It was all very strange.
I thought of walking farther, but my feet would have none of it. This was what I have since come to know as a dilemma. Slowly the tent subsided and the ocean began to recede, tiny bit by tiny bit. I knocked on the door again. It sounded very loudly into the quiet all around.
"Go away," she said from just inside the door.
"Look," I said. "I only borrowed this thing. I don't know how it works. I don't know why this happened," I said. Truthfully, although both amazed and happy that it had.
"Go a-way," she said.
"My feet want to go no farther," I said. "I will try to make it not happen again."
"Go a-way," she said again.
"I promise," I said. "I will try to control it."
"Look," she said, closer to the door now, "I don't care if you wear white. I'm not opening this door."
"Please," I said.
"What did you say?" she said.
"Please," I said again.
I heard the latch slide back and saw the handle turn. The door opened a crack, then a little wider. I looked at her and then at what she held in her hand which was of blue metal and pointed right at my ex-tent.
"You cannot be a white," she said.
"I don't know what you mean," I said. "But I know I cannot be a white, as you say, because this is not really mine at all. I'm just trying in on."
"You've stolen a white tunic?" she said, eyes quite wide now.
"No, no. The whole thing. This," I said and lifted both of my arms and then pointed them at my legs to indicate the whole of the body.
"Have you eaten fertilizer?" she asked.
"No," I answered.
She took a long, hard look into my eyes and said, "Guess not."
My ocean started to stir again and I began re-counting storied windows to distract myself. Looking for white birds, three hundred sixteen, three hundred seventeen. I smiled at her, my best smile, a I'm completely harmless smile.
"For a little while," she said. "To rest your feet. And don't forget this," she added, meaning her metal thing, a weapon.
"Thank you," I said.
"You're definitely not a white," she said.
"I know that," I said. "But what makes you sure?"
"Please," she said. "And thank you. Will never cross their lips."
"Because they arrogant bastards," she said.
"Those who wear white?" I said, catching on.
"They are arrogant?"
"And you. Blue?"
"Freeholders," she said.
"Freeholders?" I wondered.
"Yes. Blue tunics. Greens are serfs. Blacks are rulers. Whites are the aristocrats, the real bastards. I've never seen a Black."
"The inductor wore gray," I said.
"Who's the inductor?"
"He showed me this place, gave me this, this thing, this body."
"This is a joke, right?"
"No, it's true," I said, but saw that she had started to examine my eyes again. She thought something was pretty wrong with me and motioned towards shutting the door again. "He lent me this tunic," I added, and saw her relax a fraction, although the weapon remained still and alert and pointed at me.
Then she stepped aside. "For a little while," she said again.
I stepped inside. At first I could not make out much, not even the children which were probably hiding somewhere else in the house, then as my eyes adjusted I saw the table, two benches, a stove, an oven, a large kitchen. I walked up to the bench and sat down. My feet sighed and I with them.
"Better?" she asked.
"Much," I answered.
Then neither of us spoke for some time. She remained standing with the weapon trained on me. I heard the children move about behind a large blue door. They seemed impatient. Then I heard one ask, "Has he gone?"
"No," said the woman. "Be quiet."
What spoke next was my nose. And it spoke directly to my stomach and from there to the ocean within. Something was cooking on the stove and now my stomach began to burn for what the nose could smell. The ocean moved about and fanned the flame and finally I had to stand up and walk over to see and smell from closer up.
In a big pot simmered a stew of vegetables and meats. The aroma rising into my nostrils and down into my stomach was almost as vibrant as the tent had been. It demanded not only a feeling but an action from me. I had to bring this stew into my mouth and I had to swallow.
"Hungry?" she asked.
"If that's what you call it," I said.
"Call what?" she asked.
"The stomach fire."
"Stomach fire?" She laughed. "Good one," she added.
I saw her relax a little more with her laughing, but not so much as to put the weapon away. "I guess you would like some stew?" she said.
"Yes," I said. "Please."
I saw on her face that she asked herself whether to dare. I still was not safe. Then she decided in my favor. "Very well," she said.
She called to the two children behind the door, Lint and Freckle were their names. They entered the large kitchen cautiously. I saw how they had gotten their names. Lint was a girl with the same color hair as the little girl across the avenue, like straw, shining almost of it own. This is the hair I had seen in the dark from the outside. Freckle, a boy perhaps a little older than his sister, was all freckles and red, bushy hair.
"What's your name," said the woman, looking at me.
"Leaf," I said, and that really was my name.
"How come," she asked.
"You don't look like one," said Lint.
Freckle, curious too for my reply, seemed to agree.
"Where I come from," I began, still truthfully, "names are more like patterns than things. Besides," I added, "our leaves are sure to be quite different than yours."
"How different?" asked Lint.
"Well, for one they are much larger."
"The leaf I made to find my name covered most of a city, perhaps an ocean."
The woman could tell I was not lying. She looked a me with steady eyes and put her weapon down. Then she sat herself on the other bench. "You are not from here, are you?"
"No," I said.
"It's true then?"
"There are other places."
"Yes," I said. "That is true."
She still looked at me closely, but did not say anything. My tent was slowly resurrecting and I moved to conceal it. To stop my ocean from invading again, I focused on the smell, now quite filling the room. "My stomach is still burning," I said.
"Oh. Yes," she said. "Lint?"
Lint knew what to do and walked over to a cupboard that held plates and cups. "Is he staying?" she asked.
"For supper, yes," said the woman.
Lint handed four plates to Freckle who began to set the table. The process was repeated with cups and then with spoons which she found in a drawer. The woman ladled much of the stew from the pot into a large bowl which she placed on the table. The two children looked at her expectantly. "Our guest first," she said, and indicated for me to help myself.
I did and then for some time I'm overcome with eating. They looked at me eating at twice their speed. It was wonderful.
The woman then made a tea which she poured into the earthenware cups on the table. It was rich and hot, and I felt it fill me not unlike the ocean, only more gently.
"So," said the woman once she had asked her children to clear the table. "Where exactly do you come from?"
I took another sip of the dark tea, felt the cup warm my hands. I held onto the cup and looked at it for some time before answering. Truly, I wasn't sure how to explain.
"I'm not from here," I began.
"You mentioned that," she answered, and took another sip of her own tea, which she also seemed to savor. The children had stopped what they were doing and now turned to look at me, intent on my answer.
"I'm not really from any where," I tried.
She didn't answer. Nor did she understand.
"My home is not really a place," I said. "It's more of a, a state, a condition."
She still did not understand.
"I'm a visitor here," I said, which was a step back.
She shook her head. "Look, you don't have to tell me, it's fine. Tell me instead what you're doing here."
"Well, that's just it," I said. "I am visiting. The inductor brought me."
"Who is this inductor?"
"Well, he is," how do you describe him? "a guide of sorts. Knows of many places. Introduces you to them." For a fee, but I didn't say that.
"So, your on vacation?"
"No, not really. I'm just looking around." Which was the truth.
"Where were you born?"
Well, that's just it. I wasn't. But she would not understand that either, so I lied. "In a city."
"Yes. No. Not in Wealth. In another city."
She laughed at that. "What other city? There is only the one."
"No, I told you, there are other places."
"In the desert?" She looked a little incredulous.
"Yes," I lied.
"There are no cities in the desert."
"Yes there are," I said. "At least where I come from."
"That doesn't make any sense," she said.
"It's not really a place," I said again.
"You said it was a city."
"Not as you know it," I said.
"More as one that you carry."
She shook her head again, and smiled. Her long hair was working its way out of the horse's tail and my tent stirred again. She was a very beautiful woman. "You're telling tales," she said.
"Not really," I said, not knowing what else to say.
"Would you like some more tea?" she asked and stood up.
She smiled again, not used to 'please' coming from someone in a white tunic, I guess. She sailed more than walked to fetch the pot with tea and my tent rushed back into full force. I had to begin counting stories again. The swelling of the sea was everywhere and she was more beautiful than anything I had ever seen. If only she would like to receive the tent, or the thing underneath.
She stooped a little to pour the tea and I noticed her breasts again, loose within her tunic. I smelled her skin and her hair and her breath, the air was so full of her that I had to close my eyes to endure. I knew I must not act, not unless invited to, no matter what the ocean sang. No matter how proud the tent, which fortunately was hidden under the table.
She sat down. "You're wondering what I'm doing here alone with two children," she stated as if this was the thing on my mind.
"No," I said, truthfully.
She heard but chose to disregard my answer. "I was married once," she said. "But he chose the white tunic instead."
She could tell I did not quite understand.
"He was offered the white tunic in the city. You've noticed I wear blue."
"Yes," I said.
"Well, white can not marry blue, or stay married to blue."
She took me for an imbecile, at least momentarily. "Why not? It's the law, that's why not."
"So, he left. Two years ago now."
I didn't know what to say. So I asked, "What is your name?"
This seemed to surprise her a little. Whether it was at my asking or at her not having told me before I don't know. "Oh, I'm sorry," she said. "My name is Agate. When I was a girl I had cloudy irises, like marble. You can still make it out, but they are much darker now, of course."
I leaned towards her across the table and looking closely I could make out the swirl of color within the dark of her eyes. You had to really look though, but it was beautiful.
"That is very beautiful," I said. Again truthfully.
She didn't answer. Instead continued, "So he left, just like that. We have not heard from him since."
"That's a crazy law," I said.
She looked at me with alarm. "You mustn't say that," and she motioned with her eyes back over her shoulder towards the children.
"Ah," I said.
"And your tunic," she added, almost under her breath, "you must return it as soon as you can. If they find you with it on, and it's not yours. . ." She didn't go into specifics, but I got a good notion both as to who 'they' were and what would happen if 'they' found me. Again, I also wondered whatever happened to the inductor.
As my tent had subsided again, I felt I could rise with impunity, and be on my way. I really should find the inductor and get back. I swung around and stood up. And sat down almost immediately from the pain, the shout really, issued by my feet. I winced and grunted.
"What's the matter?" Agate asked.
"My feet," I said.
"Let me have a look," she said and came around. I looked down at them with her, at the dusty toes slightly discolored. She kneeled to take a better look, and again I saw her breasts, clearly. The tent began, or threatened to begin, but with the help of my painful feet I managed to keep it dormant. Agate lifted one of them to look at the sole. I winced again and she whistled softly. "Not much used to walking," she said.
"Is it bad?" I asked.
"Cracked, and some blood," she answered. "I really should wash them clean, and I have some balsam that will help."
I didn't answer, for now that they got all the attention they apparently craved, they were all pain.
She was quiet for a while, then said, "You shouldn't walk farther tonight. You can stay here."
"Really," I said. "I should get going. I need to find the inductor. I had expected him to follow me, but I haven't seen him since I came."
"As you wish," she said. "But let me clean them first."
This she did, with warm, soapy water. Then she dried them with a soft terry towel. Her balsam was green and smelled of pine. It was very cool and my feet drank it with delight. I battled the tent twice while this was going on, her breasts were too inviting to ignore, like little mountains to nestle down between.
"Like new," she said and stood back to admire her ministration. "See if you can stand now."
I did, and could, but not unpunished. My feet did not want to go anywhere tonight. I sat down again, again with a groan.
"Bad, huh?" she asked.
"Not good," I said. "But much better," I hastened to add.
"I still say you stay the night, I'll make a bed for you on the floor. You'll be better in the morning. Your inductor will just have to wait." She poked fun at the word inductor.
"I guess," I said. Still wondering what had happened to him.
She cleared the table of the bowl that the children had left, and of our cups and the table cloth and climbed a short ladder to the attic, visible from below. I followed her progress and saw strong, brown legs under the tunic. I looked away lest I be overcome again.
"Hey," she said from atop the ladder, "give me a hand with this." She was battling with an unwieldy mattress, half visible over the attic edge. I stood up, winced again, but bit down the groan. I reached for and received the awkward thing. It came down on top of me and I went down with it, smothered.
"It goes underneath," she said, her voice smiling. I fought my way out from under it and said, "I see." She smiled again.
She found a blue sheet and a blanket along with a green pillow. "There, this should hold you."
The makeshift bed looked absolutely inviting and I was of a sudden overcome with sheer fatigue. I had not slept since I arrived, had in fact not even heard about sleep till then. Now it came upon me with a vengeance, and I knew all about it. Again, it seemed, originating from that vast internal water. My eyelids drooped and my vision blurred. I sat down, first on the bench, then on the mattress. The last thing I saw was Agate moving into her room, weapon in hand. She turned and said, holding it in plain view, "Just in case you get any ideas." She didn't quite smile.
I didn't quite smile back, lay down on the mattress and for all intents and purposes vanished, which, of course, again, was very strange.
I slept for a good part of the night before I started to dream, and the dream was all ocean, all images of tall buildings and many Agates walking up and down the marble boulevard with her two children, hand in hand, one in each. All with breasts. I knew, although I was dreaming that the tent was rising again, and I could even smell her near me through it all. I could feel her finding that limb and holding warmly. I opened my eyes and looked directly into hers. "We must be very quiet," she said.
It knew exactly what to do, I was only along for the ride and I hung on for dear life. When it happened, when the explosion took place, I thought something was seriously, wonderfully wrong with me, and I rolled back in amazement, no, shock was more like it. My breaths came deeply and often, I was shining with sweat. So was Agate who smiled very nicely and ate a piece of my ear. Then we were off again.
It happened twice more, each explosion was pure ocean. It was miraculous, the most amazing invention ever. I would have to thank the inductor, he was absolutely right. I looked into Agate's eyes again and saw within them her ocean, now receding same as mine. She was breathing quickly too, smiling still. "That," she said, "was wonderful."
"Yes," I said. It was all I could muster. I had to tell the inductor about this. He would already know, of course, or would he? Also I would have to tell, well, the others about this.
Then she slipped away and back into her room and outside I could see the pink of early dawn. I fell asleep again and did not wake up until Freckle poked me with a stick and Agate told him to stop.
I stayed seven days and seven nights at Agate's house. Waiting for the inductor to find me or to appear, at the same time wishing he wouldn't, for each night was a new amazement. The ocean had no bottom, there was no limit, or rather, it renewed itself so quickly that before it let you notice it had receded it was back again, full force. This was called making love, I deduced from her whisperings.
Each night was also sleep, this strange nothing that swallowed you whole and did not let go until the dawn came knocking on the panes. That obliterated but did not eradicate. One moment you're there, the next you're swallowed. Must be the ocean again, part of it, I thought. I still think so, although I'm no longer altogether sure.
On the morning of the ninth day I told Agate I had to go. She asked, was I sure, I was welcome to stay. I said I knew that, and that I really wanted to, that I really liked Lint and Freckle too and would miss them as well as her, but I had to find the inductor who by now would be quite worried about me.
"Who exactly is he?" she asked, not for the first time.
"It was he who brought me here," I said, indicating the sky and the earth with a sweep of my arm.
"Did you tell him you were coming here?"
"I haven't spoken to him since I arrived."
"How do you know where to find him?"
"I don't know where to find him," I answered. "But think I may have a better chance in the city."
She looked sad, I could sense her ocean rising to fill her, and with that rising my own rose too and I already longed for her, even before I had left.
"If you don't find him," she said. "Please come back."
"I will," I lied. Well it wasn't a lie, but I didn't know that then. "I will."
I said goodbye to Lint, who cried a little too, and to Freckle who was a man about the whole thing. His ocean was filling him too though, I could tell.
I looked back twice, and both times I saw her, the first time with Lint and Freckle, the second time only with Lint, looking back at me making my way away from them toward the city. Then I rounded a small hill and there was no looking back. Neither was there any inductor.
I saw the city from afar early the second day. It glistened in the distance. It was covered by a transparent dome, in lieu of gates, which now began to withdraw into the earth. It was a beautiful spectacle. Still no inductor though. I retraced my steps and left the dust for the smooth marble and entered the city. I even found the bench I had initially rested on. But I saw no inductor. Neither was he to be found in any of the many cafes and restaurants I entered, men and women in blue robes stepping aside to let me through. I entered the tall buildings and looked at the thousands of people milling around, mostly blues, one or two whites. No inductor.
I would have to leave without him, then. It was not what the agreement stated, we were to enter together and leave together, after all, this was his Universe. But I've entered and left Universes before, unaided, so figuring I had performed the due diligence called for in the contract, I let go.
Nothing happened. No windy reversal, no upward chute, no exit into colorless cool. I was still here, dressed in a white tunic. I tried again, and let go completely. Nothing happened. Then I pushed, but it pushed right back, and harder, and my head began to hurt a little. I pushed harder still, willing now to split the skull to get out, but it only returned the favor with lots of interest, and I thought the pain alone would drive me out. But it didn't. I was in a vice, made harder by my own efforts. I tried to let go again, to really let go this time, to relinquish everything, to simply let go.
But nothing happened.
And that was many, many, many days ago. Years, says Agate. I made it back to her house as I had promised but not intended, and for each turning of the world I am less and less sure how I actually came here.
Lint is a young lady, beautiful and fresh. Freckle a strong young man. Me, I don't seem to age much, but Agate has a wrinkle or two where there were none. We still have some amazing nights, in her bed now, I helped put the mattress back into the attic.
Now and then I try again, to let go. But nothing happens. I've even asked Agate once or twice if she remembers how she got here, but she just looks at me strangely and I drop the subject. At times I am very homesick, but I realize there is nothing I can do about it.
For a while I expected him to return, the inductor, to take me back, but I've never seen him. I'm no longer sure I would know him if I did. He could be anyone, perhaps even Agate, I've thought on occasion.
Rowan Wolf was raised by trolls in Northern Sweden. The last few years of high school she worked as a part-time journalist. As luck would have it, she had quite a few articles and stories published while she still lived in "the old country."
Ms. Wolf left Sweden in 1969 for Africa and England. She liked Africa, but preferred England in the long run. She says she loves the language.
She left England in 1979 for the US, and lived in New York for a long year. Though she would not want that un-done, Rowan does not think she'll do that again. She stills go back to Sweden quite often, and says it is a magical country with a less than magical social structure.
Rowan now lives in the Los Angeles area, where she makes a living with a great vitamin company. She writes stories and songs (mainly stories nowadays) in her free moments.
She is quite convinced that the internet is the future of publishing and she has had many stories published on line over the last few years.
She says she thinks internet literary editors should be canonized, or at least heroized.
Visit Rowan's web site
Read another story by Rowan: At the Soups
Published by permission of the author.