Blogging from A-Z: N is for Norman (Kifo Island Chronicles)

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Norman glared at  the young woman’s backside, scandalously dressed in a business suit, as she strode down the walk and out into the island sunlight.He wanted to tear the documents up, the same way he had the ones she’d sent him, back home. Sent him? No, she’d had them served, all official and proper-like.

Both times.

Norman wished he knew what to make of it. In all the years they’d been married, Alma had never defied him in even the smallest of ways. She had promised to honor and obey, and she was a woman of impeccable integrity.

At least she had been -

Until the Devil, disguised as a beast called cancer, had invaded her body and taken her soul.

Norman supposed some people would think he was crazy. Most people today, though, were held even tighter in Satan’s grip than Alma was – many so long, they couldn’t even see the Deceiver working in their lives, giving with the one hand, and taking with the other. But Alma could see, before the wasting sickness.

“It’s Lucifer’s doing,” he growled, clenching his hand into a fist  . The thick pages crumpled, but resisted him, as though Satan was in the paper, maybe put there by Alma, when she put her name to them, and signed her soul away.

Did Alma know that she’d been duped? Would it even matter to her, or was she too far gone to damnation?

He looked at the stiff legal documents; they poked out of his fist as though still fighting him. He could tear them, like he’s done with the first ones. He could burn them, but fire was Satan’s favorite tool.

They were hot in his hand, damning him to a life alone.

He opened his fist, and the crumpled ball dropped to the floor. He kicked it into the corner behind the door, wanting to curse – but he wouldn’t let the devil have his tongue.

“Satan, you are fallen!. You were cast out! Tempt me as you will!  I will be stronger than Job, and, even though you have taken my wife, you will never have my soul!”

It felt good to shout, to shake his fist at that ruined proof of his wife’s disobedience.

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WIPpet Wednesday: Francois’s Story

Hi there! Welcome to WIPpet Wednesday -K.L. Schwengel’s weekly blog hop which encourages writers to move their WIPs (works-in-progress) to publication by posting excerpts related to the date.

This month,I’m offering up a taste of my Blogging from A to Z April Challenge. So, today, please allow me to introduce another of my Kifo Island Chronicles characters….

Let’s all give a gentle WIPeteer welcome to Francois Thierry!

Francois is a 45 year old scientist who has lived several years on Kifo Island. He is researching clinical aspects of dying, death, and grieving. He has always been reserved and detached, and he’s nearing the end of a quarter-century long study, and is, at the beginning of this excerpt, looking forward to wrapping things up, and moving into the next phase of his work.

However, life and death have come to have new depth and meaning…

And now, on to the WIPpeting!

WIPpet Math:

Today is April 16, 2014.

  • Today’s math…
  • 16(for the date) + 4(for the month)=20;
  • 20 +1 ( in honor of the one Palindrome Week of the year!; and because it finishes the thought…) =21.
  • Voila! 21 sentences!

“I didn’t ask for this!”

Francois stared at the tidy stack of research notes, and the blank space on the form; the place where he was intended to record, in specific detail, the circumstances of the death he had witnessed an hour ago.

He hadn’t asked that he be any part in this death, or any other, beyond his role as a clinical observer.

4,987 deaths, before this one. He’d recorded the manner and time of each, faithfully, objectively.

Only 13 deaths left to take account of, including the one fresh in his mind. He’d intended, when he sat down, to update the file, and tick it off his tally. But he couldn’t do it.

Francois squeezed his eyes closed against the tears that were blurring the print on the stack of files – pages that held nothing at all of the people they were meant to define.

He’d gutted real lives here, leaving nothing but statistics and the particulars that differentiated one from another. He kept only those that applied to his own research, as though they were nothing more than this.

He turned away from those pages, and thought of the old woman in the hospital bed, her breath growing shallow, the sorrow he hadn’t expected to share in. He hunched his shoulders against the pain, the memory – for the first time in his life, Francois truly felt the grief and permanence of death.

He couldn’t pretend she was nothing other than part of the running tab at the head of those notes, in his computer, on his phone… in his mind.

Francois wouldn’t sterilize her that way – he could still feel her struggle to breathe, to say everything she felt needed saying, the worries she carried with her through whatever passage she made, when her breathing stopped -

Worries that he couldn’t ignore, now. Somehow, through no logic this damned useless research could define or quantify, her worries had become his own.

What will happen next? Will Francois be able to finish his research progress, now that he’s emotionally involved? Will he regain his detachment? What affect will his emotional involvement have on him, as a scientist, and as a human?

Want more Kifo Island Chronicles posts?

These posts are the seeds of a project that will germinate over the next months, so input is especially valuable. No need to feel shy; I’m a friendly sort, and will keep my talons sheathed…for the most part.

Want more WIPpets?

 

And now I leave you with a song that echoes the sudden personal cataclysm Francois is currently experiencing…

 

 

Blogging from A-Z: L is for Linwood (Kifo Island Chronicles)

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“Linwood? That you, Linwood?”

Linwood turned slowly. No, it wasn’t Father, and the accent – not an accent that belonged to the Canyon, but one he’d heard, and knew. He tried to dredge up a memory, but his mind stubbornly twisted everything, back to the Canyon, and his young wife, waiting at home – waiting for him …

“Linwood? Are you all right? Come and see the new foal Pequita dropped, just yesterday.”

The words were as half-familiar to him as the air, or the sound of the water. As Water Whispers sleeping – but how could she be sleeping, when her chest neither rose nor fell?

Linwood shook his head, to clear it, or to deny the shadowy memory, or maybe both.

He looked at the small, dark, wiry man, wizened with great age. He seemed somehow familiar, and yet not. Everything was half-known; nothing was as it should be.

Havasu Falls, Havasupai Reservation, Arizona. Photo by James B. “Chef Bluebeard” Burton

He walked on – or shuffled. He could not make his legs and feet move – but was he not the finest dancer in all the Southwest, leaping higher and spinning faster than any other? Was that not how he had first wooed Water Whispers, and then, while the afternoon ripened, hadn’t he taken her to a hidden side canyon, behind a sheltering wall of tumbled boulders? Had they not lain together upon a huge, sun-warmed rock until the stars looked down on them from above?

He was looking for flowers – or the water. He wasn’t sure which.

Why wasn’t her chest moving, when he’d left her? Why was her hair silver, and not the deep blue black, smelling of sunshine and desert air, that he loved to bury his face in each night?

Linwood decided not to think about it. No. He would gather flowers for Water Whispers, and visit the pools. And, when he went home, he would give her them to her, and she would put them in a clay jar on the sandstone table. They would walk together to bathe and splash in the turquoise pools, and her hair would be gleaming in the sun, and he would leap and spin and dance for her, before they walked to the side canyon, and the sun-warmed rock.

Linwood walked on, losing himself in the dream, but, beneath it, was the vision of his wife lying in their bed, still as the rock cliffs, chill as the night air.

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Blogging from A-Z: K is for Karina (Kifo Island Chronicles)

 

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The phone was ringing -again? Still? – when Karina walked into the cottage that still smelled like Mother.

“I should have had it disconnected.” She made a face probably better suited to someone a dozen or more years younger. The phone responded by ringing again, as Karina kicked off her loafers and wiggled her newly painted toes against the smooth cool sandstone floor. Maybe it was already too late to pretend she hadn’t heard it, but Karina decided to try. She’d come home with the thought of a cold glass of raspberry lemonade and a long bubbly soak with candles and music, and she wasn’t going to let them rob her of it.

“There’s just too many of them,” she said to Mustafa, as the large grey tabby wound himself around her ankles, purring loudly in greeting. “If I keep answering every time the phone rings, I’ll never have time to do any of the things I need to do – let alone anything I want to do. But why am I justifying myself to a cat?”

She stepped carefully around him, and went to the phone. A quick glance at the answering machine said that there were already three messages – and she’d only been gone an hour or so. Before she could talk herself out of it, she pressed the mute button mid-ring.

The immediate silence was soothing – and a weight she hadn’t gotten used to carrying yet.

Karina soaked in the large whirlpool tub with Enya echoing gently through the cool and soothing space. Mustafa perched in the window, purring and grooming himself.

She tried not to think about the phone, or her siblings, but still ended up leaving the bath after only fifteen minutes or so. As she pulled on her robe, Karina looked at Mustafa, who was now draped along the windowsill, sleeping in the sun.

“Maybe it takes practice to learn to relax.” Her voice was muffled by the towel she wrapped around her head.

Karina tried to ignore the phone, which sat there in silent accusation, and the beckoning of the “5” that flashed like an indictment on the answering machine screen. She poured another glass of lemonade, feeling the warm relaxation of the bath fading into the beginnings of stiffness -

The machine engaged, again – and, after her own calm greeting, a flood of Russian so fast and shrill that Karina could focus only on the voice – Svetlana, again. It was the tenth time, today, at least, and the sun was hours from setting.

Karina glared at the machine until it cut her sister off, the stiffness becoming a hot lightning bolt of pain, arcing up her neck, through her head, and down to radiate across her shoulders. The flashing “6” seemed to burn itself into her eyes, an unspoken curse.

The machine engaged again, and Svetlana picked up right where she’d left off.

“7.” The machine flashed.

And her message again, and, again, that shrill Russian.

“8.”

Karina put her head in her hands. It hurt to touch it. She felt tears starting, and tried to stop them – it would hurt to cry against the tight band of pain. The greeting, the Russian…

“9.”

Mustafa came to leap up on the back of her chair and rub against her shoulder. Karina sighed as the machine engaged again. “I was wrong,” she told him. “It doesn’t take practice to learn how to relax – it takes being part of a different family.”

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Blogging from A-Z: J is for Josiah (Kifo Island Chronicles)

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The bell on his studio door jangled cheerily, and, when Josiah looked up, there were two girls, the oldest maybe 17, but with a stressed look of haunted avoidance in what might have been bright blue eyes. The other, a Polynesian beauty, was maybe a year younger, and focused directly on him.

“Excuse me, sir,” she said, before Josiah even got his mouth open to give a greeting.

“Good morning”, he said, with a smile. “How may I help you?”

The fair girl stared around the room, almost as though seeing none of it; maybe she didn’t. The other held to her arm, propelled her forward gently. “Come on, Marilyn – you said this was what you wanted.”

“But if we talk to him – then it’s real.”

The words struck Josiah uncomfortably, as though they held a deeper message; one she hadn’t intended, and one he’d rather not hear.

“It’s real whether you ask him or not -”

“Ophelia, please don’t – ” Now, she spoke as if pained, putting a hand up between them as though to ward off the words. She tugged her arm, but not strongly enough to free it.

“Will it help Mauve to pretend that you’ve got no reason to be here, Marilyn? Will it help you?”

The blue eyed girl looked at him in a flinching way. “I like your sculptures,” she said, in little more than a whisper, then bowed her head and stared at her feet, clad in scuffed suede sandals.

“Thank you. Feel free to look around, touch, and ask me anything.” He gestured to the refreshment table set in a corner. It was ringed with plants and his garden art. It was a refuge, a place where people could take in the sculpture, consider special orders, or just rest and relax. Most businesses here at Kifo had something like this; many of their guests needed both space and special attention. “Help yourselves to coffee, tea, or juice, if you’d like.”

Photo credit: Jenny Kaczorowski; courtesy WANA Commons at Flickr.

The older girl almost pulled the other now, and they murmured softly to one another as they settled, going about the small business of pouring, sweetening, and stirring.

Josiah thought that it would be better to move about the shop than to settle back to work. So he brought out his feather duster and lemongrass cleaning spray, and wandered here and there while maintaining a posture he hoped the girls would see as open and receptive. He made sure never to turn more than halfway toward or away from them – something Corinne had shown him, a way to neither confront nor ignore uncomfortable guests.

The fairer girl hunched over her cup as if in pain, her eyes darting here and there, as though she half-suspected someone or something would leap out of the greenery and attack her. The other sat, calm, but also poised for motion, too.

He was wondering if he would run out of things to fuss over when the older girl said, in a softly broken voice, “I was told you made sculptures to order…”

Josiah nodded and came a half-step closer. “I do.”Instinct told him to say nothing more, to let her decide what to say, and how.

“I have a baby daughter.” It was almost fierce, the way she said that, with the most energy she’d shown since she walked in, and, now, she looked at him directly.

Josiah wondered how he was supposed to answer that, so he nodded and said, “May I sit with you?”

She nodded, biting at her lip, then almost hid behind her hair and her teacup.

He pulled his chair a little away, so that he could sit sideways, and not confront her. The dark girl mouthed, “Thank you,” but stayed still and quiet – waiting, now, to see what Marilyn would do.

“Mauve is dying.” A catch in her throat, and tears in her eyes. “Will you sculpt her, while she’s still alive? Will you make my baby an angel?”

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Blogging From A-Z: I is for Iris (Kifo Island Chronicles)

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Iris cried into her pillow, which smelled of the ocean and Grandma Glady’s lavender oil. She tried to pretend it soothed the burning welts on her back, buttocks, and upper legs. She’d tried to stand still, to not move, so that all the blows would land where they were aimed – but the pain and fear got too much, and she’d tried to run, but Howard had chased her, pinned her into a corner, and lashed out, all the while panting the way the men had -

No.

She wasn’t going to think about that. It was done.

But a part of her wished she was back in her nest. Even when Mama cried, Iris knew to stay still and silent; no one ever knew she was there, and she was safe even if Mama was not; and that was the way of their life, and always had been. Iris had known that all she needed to do was be still and silent, and she would come to no harm.

But everything had changed in the moment Mama told her to come out and meet Howard, who would be her new father.

Howard, who watched her like she was some tender morsel here only for his pleasure.

Howard, whose voice was loud and hard, whose face turned red when he yelled at her, pressed in too close to hers, so that there was no way to escape, with his spittle flying into her own face, cold and disgusting.

Howard, whose big hands could lash out at any moment, with or without warning, for anything she did, or any other reason, even when it had nothing at all to do with her. Ever since Mama died, he seemed to be after her, every time there was anything at all to use for a reason.

Now, tears and pain set her heart to a faster beat, pounding out, “Run-a-WAY! Run-a-WAY!”

Howard was gone, now, though – and Iris, the welts stiffening and oozing where the green switch had torn her skin – knew that there would be more, unless she did something. There was no one else to do it; it must be her, and it must be now – now, while Howard wasn’t here to stop her or hurt her.

She couldn’t undo Grandma Gladys getting sick, or Mama dying, but, maybe, she could do something about Howard.

If she was brave…brave enough.

Was she?

Photo by Shan Jeniah Burton.

Was she brave enough to stay here, where Howard could whip her again- or worse?

She almost cried out when she rose, the wounds throbbing. But that might wake Grandma Gladys, or the nurse who stayed with her. So Iris bit her lip hard, tasting more blood – more blood, because of Howard! – and hobbled as quietly as she could to her window. The bungalow was all on one level. It hurt to fold herself through, but not as much as those lashes had; and not as much as she thought he would hurt her, sooner or later, if she stayed here, timid and afraid.

No – if she was going to get away, and save herself, she was going to have to be braver than she’d ever been.

Iris took a deep breath, and slipped into the shadows and around the corner of the house.

 

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WIPpet Wednesday: Donovan’s Story

Hi there! Welcome to WIPpet Wednesday -K.L. Schwengel’s weekly blog hop which encourages writers to move their WIPs (works-in-progress) to publication by posting excerpts related to the date.

For the last several weeks, I’ve been sharing Henry and Tisira’s story, from my WIP, Chameleon’s Dish. I know several are you are eager to know what’s going on with them, but here’s the thing…

Henry, Tisira, and Nockatee are still missing. All searches reveal nothing…all pleas that they return have gone unanswered. I thought I heard some wingbeats and simian chatter; but there’s no concrete evidence of any wrongdoing…

So, until they’re found, I’ve decided to offer up a taste of myBlogging from A to Z April Challenge. So, today, please allow me to introduce another of my Kifo Island Chronicles characters….

Let’s all give a big WIPeteer welcome to Donovan Nash!

Donovan is 21, and an albino. He came to Kifo to help others; he has known grief, and wants to give value and joy to those who come to say farewell to the dying. He is especially good with children, who respond to his gentle and respectful openness. Often, the children brought to Kifo are lost in the adult concerns surrounding them; Donovan gives them attention and experiences that offer diversions from the sorrow surrounding their visit.

And now, on to the WIPpeting!

WIPpet Math:

Today is April 9, 2014.

  • Today’s math…
  • (for the date) + 4 (for the month)=13;13-2 (for my second Kifo WIPpet) =11.
  • Voila! 11 sentences!

Donovan noodled with the clay, rolling and coiling, making something that might be a basket, a bowl, or a cup. Corinne went to sit with the old woman, and they chatted quietly.

“Did you know that ‘kifo’ means ‘death’, in Swahili?”

“Yes, I did.” Donovan kept his eyes on the clay. He could feel her working up to something, testing him with it.

“My grandma Gladys came here to die. She’s very old – ninety-nine! – and she has Parkinson’s disease.”

“I can’t think of a more beautiful place to die, or to be with someone who is.”

“I’m going to need some friends,” Iris said, very quietly, reaching to place her small dark hand on his larger pale one. “I think you might do.”

 

What will happen next? Will Iris and Donovan become friends? Will that be enough? Are there hidden risks neither can be prepared for?

Want more Kifo Island Chronicles posts?

These posts are the seeds of a project that will germinate over the next months, so input is especially valuable. No need to feel shy; I’m a friendly sort, and will keep my talons sheathed…for the most part.

Want more WIPpets? Check here, this and every Wednesday.  There are a variety of genres, styles, and stories available here at WIPpeteer Hall…belly up to the smorgasbord, and take your pick!

And now, I bid you farewell, with a sweet song to celebrate a new friendship…

 

 

 

Blogging From A-Z: G is for Gladys (Kifo Island Chronicles)

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“We need to talk, grandson.”

The little girl only winced at the large, vise-like hand clamped into her flesh, and clenched her teeth and her small fists. No tears; no emotion.Gladys wondered, sometimes, if they’d all been wrung from her.

“Later,” Howard growled, and his hand tightened on Iris’s shoulder. The child drew her breath in quickly, and her eyes glazed over into nothingness. Going into herself, she called it, but, to Gladys, it was a little like a death. The death of all that she cherished in this little girl.

“Not later, Howard. Now. Let Iris go with Donovan, and we can talk over lunch. I don’t have much time left to me; it seems foolish to wait, and you would not want to be taken by surprise when my will is read.”

Howard’s stare shifted to her, and Gladys wondered if he knew that he licked his lips. Since he was a very small boy, himself, that had been the way to catch his attention – through his avarice.

“All right, then. We’ll talk over lunch, and she can go with the freak.” He wasn’t happy just letting go of Iris, though; as he pulled his hand away, he used the other to shove her, so that she had to catch herself sharply on the back of the chair with a grunt. She recovered and slipped away, without a look back. For now, she was safe.

And Gladys knew that she had done the right thing, no matter what Howard thought of it.

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Blogging From A-Z: E is for Exuberance (Kifo Island Chronicles)

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Exuberance spun out of the twirl. The man was still watching her. She sashayed over to the bar, swishing her skirt, and stood with her bared back to the table where he sat. She felt his stare making suggestions she wasn’t getting enough, these days.

“May I buy you a drink, pretty lady?” He was beside her now, leaning on the fake driftwood bar; a middle-aged man, neatly dressed. He looked like he took good care of himself, other than the broken vessels on his cheeks that said he was a drinking man.

She smiled, and he smiled back.

“I like cosmos.” She let a hand reach out to almost brush his. The man’s eyes followed it, and Exuberance’s smile got wider as he hurried to catch the bartender’s attention. She flipped her hair over her shoulder, as he ordered drinks – her cosmo, and a double scotch, neat, for himself.

They toasted to nothing, and sipped. After a minute or so, he said, “Do you only dance alone, or -”

“Are you asking?”

“Yes. Will you dance with me, -?” He left a space for her to say her name, and he leaned in close. Exuberance just breathed him in for a few breaths. He smelled of good scotch, suntan lotion, and expensive cologne; the smell of easy money and luxury.

Photo by Lynn Kelley Author, courtesy WANA Commons at Flickr.

It had been too long since she’d had either.

“I only give my name to people who give me theirs, first,” she answered, and this time she did touch his hand. He caught it, brought it to his lips. They were soft, and lingered just long enough to tease her. His eyes glittered in the low lighting.

“You can call me Howie,” he said, with a crooked grin that made promises – promises Exuberance thought she might let him keep.

“Hello there, Howie. I’m Exuberance.” She grinned. She hadn’t had a night this exciting in months; maybe longer. Suddenly, she felt alive – even exuberant enough for the name she’d taken. “Yes, I’ll dance with you.”

Howie was smiling, too. He had a nice smile, and that glitter in his eyes got her imagining. “Exuberance. What an unusual – and fitting – name.”

He kept her hand, and led her out onto the dance floor just as the music changed to a hot Latin beat. They nearly ran into another couple; a silver-haired man with a very young girl, maybe not even out of her teens. They clung together, kissing and swaying, as though they didn’t notice that the slow dance was over.

“Shameful,” Howard said, looking back over his shoulder at them. “He must be three times her age, at least.”

“They seem happy.”

He scowled. “It just doesn’t seem right,” he said.

Instead of arguing, she whirled out onto the floor, pulling him along until he wrapped his arms around her, bringing her hard against him before spinning her away.

Howie was a good dancer, and, when the next slow song came on, he pulled her in close, his arm just a little tighter than she liked – but it felt so good to be held by a good-looking man with money that she pretended she was comfortable, and gave herself to touch and motion happily.

They danced until they were breathless, and then headed back to the bar. After one drink, Exuberance excused herself to go “to the powder room” she said, like she was a fancy lady. When she got back, Howie had already ordered another round.

“Thank you,” she said, as he wrapped an arm around her and kissed her. He tasted of scotch, and his mouth was hungry on hers. She sipped the drink, then let him buy her another, and another, although she had a rule about stopping at two.

Photo by Lynn Kelley Author; courtesy WANA Commons at Flickr.

She was a little giddy when he bent to brush her hair from her ear and whispered, “Would you like to go get something to eat? I know a very nice place, secluded and quiet, up the beach. Very, very classy.”

“I know the place – you mean the Oyster’s Treasure? Howie, that’s the most expensive place on the whole island!”

“I’m thinking it’s going to be worth it.” The glitter in his eyes was brighter now. Was there a shadow in them? No, she decided. It was just the drinks catching up with her.

Exuberance shoved the doubt away, and teased, “And if it isn’t?”

“Then I’ll have to take you again,” he said, and his smile this time said all the things his words didn’t.

Exuberance let Howie lead her to the door.

 

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Blogging from A to Z: D is for Donovan (Kifo Island Chronicles)

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NOTE:  The last line of this piece contains two relatively mild curse words. Those offended by profanity might wish to avoid it.

Donovan went, blinking, into the studio proper, which smelled of damp clay and the fresh flowers Corinne kept scattered around the space. The shades were drawn to create some darker patches, where he could sit out of the sun, and empty except for a tiny elderly woman, delicate, but with a definite air of strength, and a small, painfully thin, dark-skinned little girl.

The woman’s hands trembled as she kneaded her clay with the practiced ease of someone who had spent a lot of time baking from scratch. The girl’s brows creased into a frown as she used sculpting tools on – a slightly lopsided vase. It was tall, fluted, and quite ambitious.

Corinne went over to them, putting a hand on the elderly woman’s shoulder and leaning in. “Gladys, Iris, I’d like you to meet my friend, Donovan.”

“Hello there,” Donovan said, walking to a shadowed table two away from the one where they sat, and reaching at once into the lidded bucket where Corinne kept fresh clay. It was easier to connect with people if he was busy with something of his own; the clay was cool and refreshing in his hands as he rolled a handful into a ball, then squashed it to begin again.

Photo credit: Mennonite Church US; courtesy Flickr Commons.

“You’re an albino, aren’t you?” Her voice was soft, and unusually accented. It wasn’t a question; she was too sure of herself.

“Iris -” started the woman, warningly.

“Yes, I am.” Donovan said. “Most people your age don’t know that.”

“I read a lot, and watch things.”

“Iris!”

I don’t mind, and I’d rather answer questions than just be stared at.”

“Me too,” said the child,, and she came halfway round the table, watching him. “You’re blinking a lot. Does the sun hurt your eyes, even in here?”

“Yes,” he told her, simply, kneading the clay. She was silent as he rolled another ball, then took up a knife and sliced it in half before rolling out a snake. “Why don’t you put your sunglasses on, then?”

“I wanted you to be able to see my eyes. People sometimes get nervous, when they can’t, and I’m hoping we can be friends.”

“You can put them down, if you want. I’ve seen your eyes, now.” She pulled out a chair across the table, and rested a knee on it. Donovan wondered what made her so cautious, and put that shadow in her eyes. Experience and instinct said that it was something deeply rooted, and nothing to do with the woman she was with.

Photo credit: The British Library; courtesy Flickr Commons.

“Can you still see your clay?” Now she looked directly at him; the sunglasses seemed to offer her as much protection as they did him. Not a child who enjoyed being the subject of adult scrutiny, then.

“Well enough. I’ve had dark lenses since I was a baby; I’m used to them.”

Donovan noodled with the clay, rolling and coiling, making something that might be a basket, a bowl, or a cup. Corinne went to sit with the old woman, and they chatted quietly.

“Did you know that ‘kifo’ means ‘death’, in Swahili?”

“Yes, I did.” Donovan kept his eyes on the clay. He could feel her working up to something, testing him with it.

“My grandma Gladys came here to die. She’s very old – ninety-nine! – and she has Parkinson’s disease.”

“I can’t think of a more beautiful place to die, or to be with someone who is.”

“I’m going to need some friends,” Iris said, very quietly, reaching to place her dark hand on his pale one. “I think you might do.”

Donovan smiled, and put his other hand on hers. It was bony, but strong and sure, sandwiched between his own. “With honor,” he told her.

The front door jolted open suddenly, and the child crouched into the space beneath the table as Donovan, caught in a shaft of full sunlight, tried to shrink away from the painful assault.

Corinne, her voice kind and unruffled, said “Please close the door quickly -”

A man’s voice cut her off. “Gladys! Where the hell’s that damned stepdaughter of mine?”

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