ONE AND A HALF | RETURNS | ANIIK
She is rocking, she is being rocked, she is curled into someone’s arms and there are tears and she cannot tell whose they are and the light cutting in from the window in great gold blades hurts her and she is blending in with them as if she is a ray, a blade herself, something glinty and fiery and nowhere near soft at all.
She opens her eyes slowly without wanting to. Lately, what she sees on waking makes no sense. She doesn’t remember her mother’s face, her room, even her own name. What happens when she falls asleep feels more real, or as real as her waking life.
Why do dreams feel real, anyway? she thinks, touching her cheek. Like right now. Why do I feel terribly sad and scared and like one of my cheeks is tender and raw?
Her mother sees her wake and her face, always wrinkled into worry and furrowed into deep helplessness, relaxes with relief the way bunched clouds slip off the suns without warning.
And then just as quickly, they return.
“Don’t tell me it was just a dream,” she says sternly. “You go somewhere else. You stiffen. You stop breathing. It’s dangerous. The only reason you came back this time is because I spoke over you. Don’t ask me how I remember it. It’s been decades.”
Aniik turns over into the pillow and closes her eyes. “It’s a dream, mom,” she mumbles. Do not contradict me she wants to say, even though these are not words she uses.
“Do not contradict me, Aniik. We must talk about this. Get dressed and come into the kitchen.” It’s quite late.
“It’s already quite late. Eleven o’clock.”
“I knew you were going to say that.”
“’Don’t contradict me.’ ‘It’s late.’ I heard it right before you said it.”
Her mother sighs. “See. This is why we must talk. Come to the kitchen. I’ll make you pancakes.”
Once again, it doesn’t feel like their kitchen and Mom doesn’t feel like her Mom, but she knows better than to say anything anymore. She rubs her eyes. “When did we get a new dining room table anyway?”
Her mother turns and leans against the sink, observing her carefully. “We didn’t.”
Aniik tries to hide a frown.
“We’ve had it for years. Aniik, I swear, it’s getting worse. Have some milk.”
“Mom,” her words are muffled as she rubs her eyes. “I’m eleven. Warm milk is for babies.”
The room is silent, waiting for her to adjust.
The outline of the fridge, for instance. Slowly memories play themselves out around its edges, like silent scenes in a movie. She sees each memory. They are tendrils of familiarity attached to the edge of the metal door and swaying gently, emitting pulses of past scenes that leave the ends of their strands and enter her brain, like a shared synapse.
She is peeking through the kitchen door. Her mom opens the fridge and pulls out two bottles of beer and hands them to two dusty men dressed in tattered brown clothes who are seated at the kitchen table.
In the dining room at the glass table – the one she walked by earlier this morning and was expecting to be wooden – she sees herself and her dad. He’d just gotten back from Eucaria and brought her a deck of oracle cards. She watches as her father’s hand pulls the cards through the table to its underside.
“What’s that?” she points to a symbol etched on the back of each card.
It’s “The Luxe Godhead.” I bought these at the Bazaar there. I’ll take you some time. It’s a circus.
(This is what it looked like when she drew it later:
insert pic of LG logo drawn by Annika)
“Luxe Godhead? What?”
“It’s what’s coming.” Her father scoops up the cards. “Let’s go get some food.
The scene fades. She’s reached some indescribable tipping point at which she receives enough of these memories to bring the room, her Mom, and all the objects back to familiarity.
“Your gifts are developing, Aniik.” Her mother sets down her plate of pancakes and takes the seat across from her. “What happened earlier. It’s called telepathy. Mind-reading. It’s no surprise. Your family on both sides have the gift, and really that’s just the beginning. There’s many more to come. They typically begin right around your age. Here. Butter.” Furian pushes the butter dish toward her daughter. “But there are things that are happening to you I’ve never seen before. I’m not sure I’m going to be able to help you next time. Whatever is going on when you sleep – it’s getting too dangerous.”
“What do you mean you spoke over me?” Aniik lazily spreads butter over her pancakes.
Her mother sighs. “Aniik. Can we stay focused, please? It’s an incantation I learned at school years ago. Listen…” Her mother looks directly at her. “You need training…and guidance. Supervision I can’t give you…I forgot the maple syrup.” Her mother gets up and goes to the fridge, which shivers with years of memories Aniik senses have reached their end. “Do you remember Jacob? Dad’s friend?” Her mother says from inside the fridge. She grabs the maple syrup and brings it back to the table. “He has a school. The most gifted kids from all the systems go there to be trained. They know how to deal with this kind of thing. Plus, you’ll meet girls there just like you.”
Aniik doesn’t hide her frown this time. “I’m not going anywhere. I don’t want to leave Corine. She’s the only friend I have. I mean... I’m the only friend she has.”
“Sweetheart. Corine is a nice girl, but she’s not like you. You need friends who—“
They both turn their heads at the same time at the sound of whistling coming up the sidewalk. A large silhouette appears in the kitchen doorway.
“Jacob. You’re early.”
“Am I? So sorry.” He beams at Aniik. “Aniiiiiiiiik,” he grins widely and holds his arms out. “YOU are one special girl.” He strides up to her and before she knows it her tiny body is enveloped in a huge bear hug and Aniik suddenly feels as if she’s greeting someone she loves dearly and has missed for years and who disappeared, just like her dad, inexplicably, and without a trace.
But Jacob’s nothing like her dad. Her dad is bony and quiet and melancholy, in a poetic kind of way. She steps back and frowns.
“Aniik. Your manners.”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” she mutters, eyes on the ground. “It’s nice to meet you.”
“It’s ok,” Jacob nods to Furian. “She’s split-sensing.” He turns to Aniik. “I’ll explain it all to you on the ride…Speaking of which, we should get going. My truck’s outside. You ready?! Oh, here.” He thrusts an umber-colored glass jar into Aniik’s hands. “It’s honey. From the school. Our very own cook makes it. He’s got a whole colony of gravebees out back, how cool is that.” Jacob steps back and grins and shifts back and forth on his heels, his meaty hands hooked over his belt.
Aniik suddenly feels a spike of terror and a surge of rage and fights an overwhelming impulse to throw the jar of honey on the floor and watch the glass shatter and scream and scream and scream at the top of her lungs.
Maybe mom is right, she thinks. I do need help. This is nuts. I’m going nuts.
“It’s ok,” Jacob says softly, and points to the jar. “Try some.”
Aniik unscrews the lid, dips her finger in, lifts it to her mouth and sucks on the dark nectar, letting it melt on her tongue. It’s the most delicious taste ever. It hints of drowsiness and oranges and chocolate lillies with a twist of caramel finished off with the slightest aftertaste of sunset. She reaches in for another scoop and Jacob puts out his hand.
“Careful, now. That’s not just any kind of honey. It’s actually a potion. Gives you crazy dreams. Portals into other dimensions. One dip won’t hurt but a few more and you’ll be traveling through some wormhole to Eucaria and I’ll have to come barreling after you and I really don’t have the time. Not today. In fact, we really should get going. Are you packed?”
“Packed. Jacob. I just barely told her about the school. She’s probably in shock. I thought you were coming tonight.”
“I was. Plans changed. I have to be back before dusk. We’ve heard from En.”
Her mother’s face changes. Falls and rises at the same time. “I’ll go help her pack.” She guides Aniik through the kitchen door and down the hallway. Aniik glances into the dining room and glimpses a large, strange-looking clock hanging on the wall opposite the table.
“When did you buy that?” she asks as her mother hurries ahead of her toward the spiral staircase up to her room.
“Buy what, Aniik? I haven’t bought anything new in this house in ages.”
“That weird clock on the wall, with lines instead of numbers.”
Her mother stops mid-way up the stairs and stares at her.
“I swear. I saw a clock.”
“You did not see a clock.”
“I did. I’m not lying. I’m not playing.”
Her mother shakes her head and sighs. “There’s no goddamn clock.”
“I see it,” Jacob intones from the kitchen. His voice sounds like a moonbeam covered in mahogany.
“Jacob,” her mother sounds exasperated. “Really?”
“I do.” Aniik can hear the grin in his voice. He appears in the doorway. “It’s called a Roman numeral clock, Aniik. You’re not going crazy. It’s just showing in from another Time, a time when, well -- ha ha! -- they needed clocks to tell time.” Aniik turns to look at her mother and sticks out her tongue. “When she sleeps, she picks up on other dimensions, other landscapes of consciousness, hell, possibly even parallel universes, and when she comes back, wherever she’s ‘traveled to’ in her dreams, so to speak, it carries a resonance, or a residue. It’s like overlaying pictures on top of each other. She sees through Time.” Jacob shrugs and beams at Aniik again and winks. “Like I said, little lady. You’re a very special girl. Now, go on up and pack. We’ve got a long trip in front of us.”
Furian turns and slowly walks up the spiral staircase. Aniik follows, and as she rises with each step she feels something stir in her heart like a blade of truth waking and beginning to glint in the sunlight.