Thursday, January 3, 2013

January 3st Excerpt

(Now that I have come clean on my ridiculous story, I might as well start posting some excerpts.

I sometimes feel as if I should be writing incredibly deep, gently spiritual stories, but I assure you, I don't. I write emotional love stories with a strong fantasy element.

There are spiritual elements to my stories, but because they are personal, I doubt anyone else could spot them.

Speaking of elements, this story contains all the elements of my theme: there is displacement, inexplicable love and growth into a stronger sense of self.

This scene is much, much longer than anything I've ever shared on my blog, but it contains all of the above ingredients.)

There was someone in the parlor full of light, full of south facing windows overlooking the lawns; there was someone climbing into the darkened loft. It was the monster that had lived in the housekeeping closet. It was the homeless man on the street corner, stretching his broken hands out.

He must be mistaken, because he was calling someone else’s name. Poor girl, thought Beatrice. Poor lost girl, with some silly, whispering name. He must have misplaced her in the ocean.
The thought of the ocean, cold and dark, filled her with fear and then he touched her. She jerked up and away.

“Don’t touch me,” she snapped, her accent crisp and clear. She spoke with the easy authority of someone absolutely in the right.
Aumanil leaned away from her in alarm. Something in his posture, dimly lit by the lamplight that came through the opening to the loft, was familiar to Beatrice. The looming shape evolved into recognition.

That moment of recognition expanded out into all the other moments when his face and form had moved from monstrous and strange, to dear and familiar. It was like looking down a hallway of mirrors, and seeing a glimpse of him in them all.

“I’m Beatrice,” she told him, desperately, slipping back into his own language.
That is your name!” Aumanil exclaimed softly, understanding then her dismaying behavior.

“I remembered it. I told you I don’t want to!”
“Does it change so much?”

“Everything! You don’t know me.”
Beatrice felt suffocated by the dark, by the stuffy smell of the attic space and the thatch above. She knew the cold outside barred her escape, as did her lack of resources. There was nowhere for her to go, not outside and not within her, and no longer in the warmth of Aumanil’s physical presence.

“Maybe I will come to know you.”
This response took Beatrice by surprise. “How? You have no words for my old life. I cannot begin to... I don’t know who you are. This is all wrong!”

“I do not think so,” Aumanil said, his voice level.
“What will we do now?” Beatrice asked miserably. “Oh, I want I never had..." Beatrice stopped and blushed. “I’m sorry, Aumanil.”

“I knew this would happen sooner or later, Beatrice.”

The sound of her own name, blurred by his lyrical accent and the depth of his voice, sent a shiver down her spine. She had a hard time focusing on the rest of what he said.
“We will do as we planned. Unless you wish to return to your first family, now that you remember them.”

“Do you want you had never met me?” Beatrice whispered.

“I cannot want that.”
“But if you had a choice?”
“I did; I chose you.”

“I don’t know what to do!”
“For now, you will sleep. Tomorrow, maybe you will know more.”

“I’m going down… I must wash my face… and… something.”
Aumanil moved aside without comment. Downstairs, it was dim and quiet, Dorothy’s bed curtains were closed. Beatrice sat down with relief on the kitchen chair and put her head on her hand.

She fingered the lobes of her ears, feeling the holes that had been pierced in them, remembering the feel of pearl earrings that had once hung there. She had sometimes worn long strings of pearls; they had fallen over blouses of lace, trimmed with ribbons.
Beatrice began taking down her hair, untwisting the thread of coral and ivory. They caught in her hair; it took her a little while to get them loose. Finally she yanked and the ornament came free, along with strands of her hair.

Near tears, she coiled the string on the table and began taking out the hairpins. Her motions were jerky and uncoordinated. She washed her face and changed slowly into her nightgown and walked over to the ladder that rose into the darkness of the loft space.
That is my husband, she told herself firmly, and not a monster.

But a little voice insisted that he could not be her husband, and that he was indeed a monster. He was a monster of the deep, a creature of fairy tales and poems.

I know him, she insisted. She drew to mind his face and the sound of his voice.
She put her hands on the ladder, to remind herself of what was real and present. It was cold in the cottage now and she shivered in her thin nightgown.

Even if it was done for the wrong reasons, it’s done now, she told herself. I have married him. I married that creature in a sea cavern somewhere along the coast lines of the boreal sea. He kept me alive.
She could not stop the thought that came right on the heels of that one- he had kept her alive only because he wished she was someone else, his true mate, the one he could not save.

Regardless, she told herself firmly, what’s done is done.
Her first sight of him wandered into her mind, the sight of Aumanil pulling himself up into the cavern by his muscled arms, soaked with icy seawater and steaming. His tail had appeared grotesque to Beatrice, massive and ugly, a weight to hold him back. The sight had made her ill, she remembered.

Don’t be a coward, Beatrice told herself. You have never been a coward.

As she said this, she knew it was true. She had been game, was the word. Always game. A good sport.
She began to climb the ladder. It was much warmer in the loft, which trapped both the heat from below and from Aumanil’s body. The smell of him, of warm iron and salt water and something like blood, was very strong in the enclosed space; Beatrice wondered that she had not noticed it before.

“I thought you would not come back up.”
Aumanil’s deep, slow voice came out of the darkness further away from her. She saw the shadows shift as he sat up.

“I almost didn’t,” Beatrice admitted.
“You could sleep with Dorothy again, if you like.”
Beatrice lifted herself gracefully onto the loft and sat poised on the edge, her legs dangling below.

“I thought about that. I thought you might not mind that. I don’t know what you are, but you are good.”
Aumanil smiled in the dark. “What a day it has been,” he said.

“Yes. I’m sorry about the stew.”

“I didn’t mind trying it.”
“Next time, we can save out pieces to keep raw.”

“Next time, I must bring the feet.”
A smile broke out across Beatrice’s face. She looked down, the smile fading away as her thought moved on.

“I think,” she said, enunciating carefully, “that I married you, so… I am married to you. I don’t know how I can live in the ocean and I don’t want to. I’m sorry about that, but I don’t. I don’t like being wet.”
“That’s nothing new,” Aumanil said, his voice warmly resonant.

“You are very good,” Beatrice said, gratefully. “And I think,” she continued, keeping her voice steady, “I think that I did not like my first family… I can’t remember all of them, and I don’t want to. Not yet. But I don’t think I liked them. I don’t think they were good like you are.”
“I’m sorry.”

“I don’t think I want to visit them; not yet. I think I’m… I think I have so much, because of… Dorothy and because of you.”

Aumanil made a soft, low sound of pleasure. Beatrice's hand went nervously to her throat.
“Are you cold?” he asked.

Beatrice drew her legs neatly up from the ledge and crawled into the bed, groping forward with her hands. Her eyes had become accustomed enough to the dark that she could make out the quilts and the lighter sheets, but Aumanil was only a bulky, dark outline further away.

“Perhaps we should begin again,” Beatrice said, once she was sitting up in the bed.
“How so?”

“Well…” She held her hand out toward him in the dark. “Hello. I am Beatrice Cornell. What good to meet you.”
Aumanil laughed. His laughter was deep, resounding and rich with relief. The sound of it vibrated all through Beatrice.

“Goodness,” she said faintly, in English. She felt her hand enclosed gently in his long fingers.
“How happy I am to meet you, Beatrice Cornell. I am Aumanil.”

“Oh, how interesting… That is,” she continued, switching to his own language, “that is a good sounding name.” She paused. “You kept me alive in the water. Thank you very much.”
“I understand now,” Aumanil said, smiling. “You really mean to begin again.”

“Can we?”

“I was so sad to hear that your wife died soon from now. She was so young. It was terrible.”
“It was terrible,” Aumanil agreed, his voice quiet. “Sometimes it seems like a terrible dream, but I am awake. Sometimes it seems as though it happened years and years ago and sometimes it seems as though it happened yesterday.”

“I can understand that. I have many terrible dreams, me. They get me wrong all the time.”
“I wish it was not so for you.”

“I notice that we are in this rocky place,” Meena continued after a moment. “Is this your home? Do you have another name?”
“I only have one name,” Aumanil said, confused. “I notice that you have two.”

“The first is for me, the second is from my family, my father’s family.”

“You don’t have a second name?”
“No. But my father’s name is Kesuk.”

“Oh. Does he live near here?”
“Not so far away… from my summer camp.”

Aumanil was not accustomed to imagining things. His thoughts kept returning him to reality.
“So this is your camp?”

“Ah… yes. Yes, I use this for storage or for shelter if a storm comes. Here I prepare the furs.”
“How many have you hunted this year?”

“This year? I have… one caribou, several seal and walrus. The year before, I had a polar bear.”
Beatrice could hear the satisfaction in his voice. “The fur of the polar bear is the most beautiful,” she said, admiringly.

“Do you think so?”
“Yes, these furs are beautiful.” Beatrice patted the quilt that covered her.

Aumanil had to laugh. He felt as if he had suddenly reverted to being three years old.
“So, I notice that you have a fish tail.”

“Oh? You noticed that?” Aumanil couldn’t help but tease, his voice warm and rich.

“It’s very… strange, for me,” Beatrice told him firmly.

"I'm sorry I frightened you that first time."

"It was only the first time. Why does your body change? How can it be so?"

"When I am within the mother ocean, my body is made by her. That is the first body. When I leave the mother, my first body is unmade. I take the second, one that is like yours."

"Do you think... was our kind one time the same?" Beatrice asked, fascinated.

"The stories say so. Then our kinds took different paths."

“Thank you so much for saving my life. I was a stranger to you and not your kind.”
“You reminded me of my first wife, who died,” Aumanil reminded her, compelled to be honest.

“Did I? Do I look like her?”
“No. Not at all. You were dying in the water, as she had.”

“Are you sorry, now that you took me from the ocean, and I am not she?”
Aumanil paused, wondering how to answer this. “I am happy you are alive, and happy to meet you, as you are. I wish I could have saved my first wife, but I could not.”

“You really do like me?” Beatrice asked in a small voice. It seemed amazing to her, that he should.
“Very much.”

“Even though I’m not your kind?”
“That's not who you are.”

It was late at night. Beatrice knew she should be tired, but she felt wide awake and curiously alive. It occurred to her that she truly enjoyed Aumanil’s company. Being with him was like sitting up with a good friend.
“I wish…”

“What?” Aumanil asked, leaning forward.
“I like you so much,” Beatrice admitted in a rush. “But I’m frightened of the ocean now. It’s cold and I can’t see in it. When the shark came, I did nothing for you! I didn’t…”

“You did do something for me. You did just what I told you to do; you let go and remained still. And Beatrice, the equatorial ocean is very different from this one. Those waters are clear and warm. When we are there, you will not have to enter it, if you don't want to. I will make you a home on the shore.”
“You think that life will be easier for us there?”

“I am certain that it will. I know the oceans, Beatrice, and I have gotten to know you. It will be easier for you there.”
“It’s kind of you.”

“I love you.”
Beatrice looked toward the dark shape of him and then away. “No, no,” she said, blushing. “That’s too soon. We aren’t there yet.”

“Where are we? Are we still in the camp?”
“Yes,” Beatrice said, sitting up straighter and folding her hands on the quilt. “Are there questions you have for me?”

This took Aumanil by surprise. He was accustomed to thinking of her without any memory and no desire to consider her past; he was accustomed to taking her just as she was. He sat back and gave the question serious consideration.
“What were you doing so far north that late in the year?” he asked her, after a moment.

Beatrice lifted her arms in a sudden, strong gesture as though she could physically push the question away.
“No,” she whispered urgently. “Not that one. I don’t want to.”

“Meena. Beatrice. I’m sorry. Forget that one,” Aumanil whispered.
“Ask something else, please. I don’t want to know the other thing. I don’t know what I was doing there… I do remember… being on a boat, a little. I think I used to do that.”

“Was there some game you liked to do on land?”
“I used to do all kinds of things,” Beatrice said, her voice warming to the subject. Then she realized how difficult it would be to describe them to him.

“Never mind about that. I don’t have the words for all that. So,” Beatrice said, getting back on track, “I see that I will be staying the winter with you.”
Again Aumanil burst out laughing at the oddness of her game. “As you see,” he said, spreading his arms.

“What will we do, all winter?”
“There is not much to do,” he informed her. “You are too weak to do anything and you cannot talk to me. Sometimes you won’t eat.”

“You were good to care of me, when you did not know me.”
“What would I be, if I left a person to die?”

“I notice that you are wearing teeth around your neck.”
“These show some of what I have taken as prey.”

“I think not many of your kind have ever taken as much.”
“Not many, no.”

“I notice that you are telling me many stories that I can’t understand.”
“Those are sacred stories to help you heal.”

“You must want me to live very much.”

“When do you like me?” Beatrice asked shyly.
“When you sit up like a little baby bird, all mixed up and hungry, and you cannot decide if you are angry at me or afraid of me. I like you then.”

Beatrice blushed. “That’s… no. When really?”
“The first time you say my name in your voice, saying it wrong and so soft and light.”

“No,” insisted Beatrice sternly. “It can’t be then. You did not know me then.”
“I liked you, even so.”

“Do you like others so easily?”
“No. I choose almost always to be alone.”

Beatrice felt both frustrated and flattered. “But… when did you know me and really like me?”
Aumanil tried to think back to a suitable point, and then he remembered. “When you open the bed and invite me in close to you, even when my body has not changed. You climb into my arms as if I am your bed, and ask me for a story. You touch my face and say my name. Then I knew that I loved you. And I knew you then,” he said, before she could protest otherwise.

“Do you think… do you think, we would have loved each other, no matter how we met?”
“It must be so.”

“But I’m not that kind of… young woman,” Beatrice insisted.
“What kind of young woman are you?”

“I don’t fall in love,” Beatrice said earnestly. “I like the outdoors and I like reading by myself and I like to do my own thing. I think men are… they are… Oh, I don’t have the words! I like men when they are far away, but when they come close, I see they are different from what I thought before. But if you are a human man, and I met you, I will like you.”
This was a strange concept to Aumanil. It was impossible for him to imagine being human, but for Beatrice, it was an intriguing idea.

“You will be strong and quiet and funny, if you are a human man,” she informed him.
“If you think so…”

“Yes. And you will do something by yourself… What will you do?"
She thought of him briefly as a train conductor or as a mountain climber with specialized gear. She imagined him in a business suit, taking the train into the city to work for the bank or the firm, sitting behind his desk or behind his paper, one leg crossed over the other, his pant leg creased perfectly, his shoes polished and neatly tied.

Beatrice laughed merrily.
“What?” asked Aumanil curiously.

“Oh,” she said happily, “Oh, nothing. It’s just funny, you being human.”
“Where are we now?” Aumanil asked, his voice low.

“Well,” Beatrice looked down and shrugged, warm with anticipation. “I have been in your summer camp now some time and I am better now. You like me and… I like you. You must think about the future.”
“I think I must return you to your people,” Aumanil said in a worried tone of voice.

“No!” Beatrice cried, disappointed. She sighed. “I know that’s what happened. I made you keep me.”
“I wanted you to stay with me.”

“At first you didn’t!”
“I did! But I don’t think like you think,” Aumanil told her, just then realizing it. “I think only about what is real, what I have done, what can be done. But you think about… anything. Anything could happen, for you. You can be anywhere, at any time, so you saw you could stay. It was possible for you.”

“I see,” Beatrice breathed. “Yes. We are like that.”

“So, try it again.”

“Now you see it is possible. So… try it again, like we were then, only now you know.”
Aumanil attempted to rise to this strange challenge. “Um…” he began, uncertainly.

“I will begin for you,” Beatrice interrupted, taking pity on him. “So, here we are on the ledge and it is so warm in the sun! I stayed with you over the winter and I have liked you and you like me and now we will decide what to do before the waters get cold. Will we separate our ways, Aumanil? What will be done?”
“No, never,” he said, his voice resonant with love. “If there is a choice, I do not choose to leave you. But you? Will you stay? Even though you know… this is my home and you do not like to get wet? What about you, Beatrice? You don’t like the ocean. I think it’s not possible for you… Your life is on the land. Maybe it’s better for you to return…”

A note of anxiety crept back into his voice, as the reality of what had happened, and was happening, intruded into his thoughts.
“I see that it will always be like this,” Beatrice said, with unexpected tenderness. “You will always worry, and I will always insist.”

“What do you want to hear from me, Beatrice?” Aumanil asked humbly.
“You say, Beatrice, I love you and I want you for my wife. We will live in the equatorial ocean, where the water is warm and you will make friends with the southern kind and they will be like first family for you. Our children will play in the shallows and we will eat roasted fish and raw fish and watch the stars at night and if you miss your first family, we will ride with the whales back to the coast, for you to see them. And I will walk across the land with you, even though I am frightened, because you crossed the ocean for me.”

This picture so enchanted Aumanil that he could not speak.
“Can you say that, Aumanil?” Beatrice asked meekly, trying to make out his expression in the shadows that hid him.

“Beatrice,” he breathed. “Beatrice, I love you. You are my wife, my flesh and blood, my other self. I want you to sleep in my bed always and to have our children. I will take you down to the equatorial ocean where the water is warm. I will keep everyone safe in the shallows and you will have anything I can bring you to eat and the southern kind will certainly love you and when you want, I will take you across to the land to be with your family and I will stay with you while you are there. I have done so; I am doing it.”