“Bring her in. Set her things over there.”
“You’ll take her, then?”
“For now, yes.”
Melina stared at the scrap of a girl huddled just inside the doorway. A scrap of a girl who, to hear her sister tell, had killed their father without seeming to realize what she was doing, and certainly not how it was being done. A frightened thing, paralyzed by the display of a power she hadn’t known she possessed until she had, in her need and her fear, called it forth and thrown it out toward the thing that frightened her more than the use of that power could ever frighten her. She hadn’t spoken yet.
“I don’t… I didn’t know what…” Her words tumbled over themselves as Briana set the small pack of her sister’s things in the corner where Melina had pointed. Clothes, mostly, and mostly rags at that. Scraps for a scrap, Melina mused to herself. But even for that, she did not disregard this girl. If even half of Briana’s jumbled account were true, disregarding the girl would be a mistake, a mistake her father had already made and paid for dearly. A dull sheen from the pack caught her eye. “What is that?”
“That? It’s… well, it’s just a pebble, but she’s fond of it, she wouldn’t leave it. I’m sorry, I…”
“Bring it to me.”
The completeness of Briana’s lack of understanding of who and what her sister was made itself plain when she picked up what she called a pebble and carried it to Melina, carried it without thinking anything of it, feeling anything from it, held it as she would hold any other piece of rock. Melina cradled it in her palm for a moment, then wrapped her fingers around it, absorbing the warmth that emanated from it, closing her eyes to better see the pictures of memories it had to show. Blood, laughter, fire, a woman with black hair, the pictures swirled in her mind’s eye and told her more about the scrap in the doorway than even her own sister knew about her. She opened her eyes and laughed, an odd premonitory laugh. “I’ll take her. You did the right thing, bringing her here.”
“Then she’ll be all right?”
“She will, in time.”
“May I come to see her sometimes?”
“Not yet. For her sake.”
“But I… she…”
“She must unlearn a great deal before she can begin to learn again. For now, she must forget.” A flicker of sympathy passed through her heart and was banished as quickly as it flared. There was no other way. The child must forget. “I’ll send word when you may see her again. But it will be a time, perhaps a very long time. She’s young, so perhaps she will forget quickly. But she must forget.”
The girl in the doorway watched this exchange, listened to the words without hearing them, spoke not at all. It was a nothing, all of this, the fire and the knives and the being taken away, all a nothing, a spot on a blank space waiting for a hand with a cloth or a snowfall to wipe it away or cover it, make it disappear. Her sister’s tears were a lie, her mother was baking bread, her father could not be remembered for he had never been. She felt her head would burst with all the non-things it contained, the pain in her hands returned and brought with it memories of other things that had never been, could not have been. She closed her eyes. Her mother was baking bread. She would think only of that.
“She’ll…You’ll take care of her?”
“I will do what’s best for her, what she needs.”
The words comforted Briana far less than she had hoped to be comforted, but try as she might she could find no other answer. Melina was the answer. Her sister would stay here. She walked to the door and knelt down next to the dark-haired bundle leaning against the frame.
Dull eyes opened and peered out from beneath a fringe of bangs, waiting for the words to continue.
“I… Anya, I have to go now. You’ll stay here, with Melina. She’s… she’ll take care of you, she’ll help you.”
More words in the nothing, more spots just waiting for winter, for washing, for the hand of a god or a mother with a cloth. More things to not remember had ever been.
“I love you. Always remem- always know that, always try to know that, Anya. You need… something, something that I can’t give you, but I love you, I’ll always love you, know that, please.”
A flicker of a memory, like the flame of a candle left too close to a window, only waiting to be extinguished by something larger.
Melina watched them, looking for the resemblance between the two and finding none save their fair skin. Briana was a stocky girl, sturdy and solid, little in imagination but dependable, agreeable. Melina thought with some small measure of contempt that she would make a good wife someday. The other was slight, seeming to be little but knees and elbows and eyes, eyes that were the color of the sky at midnight on the coldest night of winter, capped by a mop of unkempt hair that just missed being black but still somehow missed being brown. Briana was an afternoon in autumn, she was the harvest. Anya was the time when the earth lay still and silent, the thing that could not be seen as it readied itself to be reborn.
“You should go now, Briana. She must rest, and she will dream, I must ready myself and the house for that.”
“Ready… dream? I don’t…”
“No, you don’t understand, if you did you would not have had to bring her to me. Her dreams will no doubt bring more of what you saw today, she will not be able to help that. She has brought something to the surface. It has been within her all along but now it is where she can reach it. It waits, and when she sleeps she will not be able to contain it. Go now. In time, I will send word to you and you will see her again. Until then you must trust me.”
Briana reached out for Anya and held her close, stroking her hair and crying as though Melina’s promise could not possibly be kept, as though she would leave and that would be the end, her sister would be lost to her forever. Melina said nothing. It was for the best if Briana did forgetting of her own, she had seen far too much already.
“Anya, I love you, I’m sorry. I don’t know what else to do.” She placed a last kiss on the child’s forehead and stood to leave. “If there is anything… if you need… if she needs me…”
“I will send word. Go now.”
Briana stood in the doorway for a moment longer, took a few steps away, then turned to look back at Anya again, still huddled where she had been the whole time, not moving, not speaking, her eyes closed again.
“Briana, before you go, tell me, how old is she? Young, I can see, but how old exactly?”
“Four, just four last month.”
Melina felt a shiver deep within her mind, like a memory of a thing she had tried to prevent happening and had been too late. Andreas was dead, that would not be changed, dead at the hand and the will of a daughter who understood so little of her own strength that she had hardly left enough of him to be worth burying. All that could be changed now was the thing that the child might do next. She nodded at Briana, who took a last helpless look at Anya and then made her way out the door, closing it softly behind her.
return to Story Telling
return to Words