An evening of Myth and Poetry
February 1, 2017 in Trinidad, CO
©2016 Annette Meserve
First light ignites the edges of the peak, this peak and its twin behind it. Blankets of early spring snow glow copper and rose in the sharp morning cold, glowing the color of safety, the color of gratitude, the color of promise; a halo around craggy heights in a clear, pale sky.
Dawn advances quickly, a radiantly fierce line moving down the slopes of the rugged rocky mountain, reclaiming the land for the inhabitants of day.
In the valley below, the village wakes to muted colors in a constantly shifting palette of deep blues and greys, wakes with clouds of breath puffing over bulky, hand-stitched comforters, gathering courage to step onto cold floor boards, hastily grasping for heavy woolen dressing gowns and thick stockings, pulling nightcaps over numbing ears.
Kindling is stacked just so in the hearth, over handfuls of dried grass. Heavy logs are perched, a flint is struck, and then struck again, struck a third time and a precious spark is thrown. Wisps of smoke curl around and through. Blow gently, encouraging, not too strong lest the spark go out. Another careful breath and suddenly a bright flame leaps into being. Then there are many, withering tinder into thin glowing lines, orange-yellow tongues licking at split wood.
Hands rub together in the growing warmth and a kettle is hung.
Sound travels on the frigid air, a door creaks and boots stomp on a front step trying to bring blood to already freezing toes. A rooster greets the sound, crowing his hopes and expectations to the man who will liberate the flock, who will clear ground for scattered grain, who will pour liquid water over the solid ice in the pan.
The man will do these things with joy in his heart. Every morning, every day, he has fed these chickens; the chickens, the goats, the horses, the pig. Every morning he wakes next to his wife, puffs of breath a testament to one more peaceful night, a night in which the Shadows didn’t come, a night in which there were no fires in neighbors’ rafters, no screams in the darkness, no ominously vague forms moving through the streets, no torture, no lost daughters or wives.
He will look up at the peaks while he makes footprints in the snow, back and forth from hay shed to barn, from well to thirsty animals. He will watch the golden line flowing from summit to valley, he will see the sun flare in the thin top branches of pine, of cottonwood, of juniper, and he will think to himself how blessed his village is that the Ghosts haven’t come since he was a boy, even living here, on the edge of the Barbarian’s domain, living without protection from the High Tector’s forces.
The Beasts haven’t come to this village but they have come to others, and the man will recall traveling entertainers reporting brutal attacks.
He will nod to a bleary-eyed lad huddled at his post, waiting for his relief, waiting for another young man from another household, who is only now gathering his mittens and hat, being handed a warm mug and a biscuit from his mother or his grandmother or his auntie.
Looking at the boy, the man will remember his youth and the coldness of the watch, staring into the moonless dark, every house corner and barnyard seeming to harbor the hulking tattooed forms of evil Nazca.
It’s easy to let fears, instilled since childhood, run away with the imagination, for a heart to tighten and beat faster at remembered charred remains of a family’s house, of two missing cousins.
Still, this morning, with the sun finally finding his back, bent over to scratch the dog’s ears, this morning is for rejoicing, they’ve woken safely, hail and hearty, able to feed livestock, to wave to a grown son across the road, to come gratefully back into a warm kitchen, to a wife and a hot bowl of porridge.
She is bustling around, humming brightly to herself, her round ruddy cheeks beaming. Among breakfast bowls and spoons, beside the butter dish, propped against the milk pitcher, there is a package. It is small and it is wrapped in rough brown cloth tied with heavy twine, it carries a tag addressed to her and it is untouched.
She will not open it too soon, will savor the brief contact with her twin, will revel in the knowing that the annual caravan survived the journey to the colony, to TemplOeste and back, that her own tiny precious package of shiny new straight pins was delivered.
They will eat and she will not glance at the travel-worn present, but she will imagine the hands that wrapped it, once again imagine what her sister must look like now, so many decades later, imagine her life, serving in that Tector’s castle, the castle they call ‘Templo.’
But the suspense will take her before the porridge is gone and she will sigh and her husband will understand. He will gently lift the grubby thing from its place against the pitcher, will reverently hand it to her for he knows the pain of his wife’s heart. He knew her fear that her twin would be taken or killed, forced as she was, west into the territory of the Shadows, shamed with the others, no longer a citizen of Usa, but still Mercun. He knows his wife’s sorrow that she will never again be together with her sister.
The string is cut, brown cloth separates, and a miraculous pool of light blue fabric spills out onto the scarred table. Spellbound, the two are staring, unsure of touching such a fine thing and the sunlight through the window touches it first, turning the blue translucent, bringing out sparkles as if on the surface of water.
Entranced, she will pick it up. She will hold her breath as she ties it around her bouncy grey curls, adjusting it for her ears, tugging it against the nape of her neck. She will smile at her husband and he will squeeze her gnarled fingers with his own.
She will brush away the tears that have not yet fallen. She will sigh a practical sigh, will cover her head and her shoulders with a woolen shawl, knowing she can’t show this wondrous gift, knowing that her neighbors would ask questions, the officials might come. Maybe they would come all the way from the High Tector in Forcolin, come from far to the north, at the base of another set of paired mountains, come from where the long mountain range meets the vast plains, officials coming to investigate such a piece of finery in this poor household.
The man will watch, as his wife brushes at her face again, pulls the shawl low on her forehead, grabs the handle of a pail, and opens the door onto the cold morning, a tingling gust blowing into the kitchen as she leaves. He will wish he could spare his wife her pain but will know he cannot and will allow her her time alone.
The woman will walk through the golden sunshine of early morning, the air filled with ice crystals glinting in the daybreak and the glittering will remind her of the sparkling in the blue. She will reach under the coarse wool and will touch delicate softness, will touch her sister’s hand.
She will pour the kitchen slops into the bucket for the pig and then she will be still, leaning on rough fence railing, listening to satisfied grunting. She will remember the letter, crinkling in the brown wrapping, will tug the small paper from her sweater pocket, will read her sister’s greetings and news.
Letters before have always said how the Ghosts have not found them, how the Shadows have never come to the colony and she will wonder now at the sanity of a Tector willing to call the attention of the Nazca, will catch her breath in renewed fear for her sister and for a young woman she’s never met.
She will squint up at the brilliant white face of the eastern mountain, its equally brilliant western sister peeking over its craggy shoulder, and she will touch soft fabric again, her tears falling into snow.
©2016 Annette Meserve
The Appearance of Terrible Things
It starts as a frustration, really, a frustration that leads to a question, "What if the collective of human kind could step out of the destructive cycles that have characterized our history?"
A multitude of questions follow but they finally boil down to the one, next question, "How could we do it?"
And so the novel, The Appearance of Terrible Thingsis born. Well, I say 'born' when what I really mean to say is that it barges into my office, sits down on my chest and threatens to not get up until I write it.
So this is how I meet two young women, Nimah and Ronnie, one born to privilege, one born into service. Soon, their circumstances take an alarming turn and together, they are thrust into a world they never knew existed. Surrounded by magic and technology, they are forced to shift their understandings of history, of culture, and of reality itself.
Nimah's mother, Pilar, sees her own place not as privilege, but as responsibility, doing her best to guide her people through the perils that are her husband's politics. Through an unlikely friendship and an old wounding she must find peace with, within society's restrictions, or change those restrictions altogether.
Like the girls, Pilar is soon presented with a reality that cannot possibly be, but that is right before her eyes and may hold the key to her country's future.
The Appearance of Terrible Things is currently in rewrites after having undergone the diligent scrutiny of a horde of generous beta readers.
Look for a publication date coming soon.