Descending from the mines back into the village, the all too familiar path, uneven and tattered with patches of mud, leads us back into the random assortment of dingy, aging dwellings. Void of any sense of architecture or craftsmanship, they reflect a culture in decline. Even as a child I loathed the incessant smell of burned out embers and grease permeating this place.
This village is one of the few left that are a part of THE NATURAL CAUSE, a community of those who resist the 'deplorable' temptation of immortality, remaining true to the human form as 'nature’ intended. Ironically, the ideology of the culture appears to be leading to its own natural demise. Those with any sense of ambition have fled, leaving behind only residents who are content to live in the ways of the past. And every year there are fewer and fewer of them.
On the way out to the field behind our house, we stop at the well to gather water. I immediately begin to wash the mud from the soles of my boots. Serene hoists up a bucket of water while instructing, "I'll take one inside while I get the sheers. You fill the jugs."
Watching Serene walk away, I cringe, picturing myself, 5 years from now, having to lug water up to a house for a man that I have absolutely nothing in common with.
How did Mother do this for all these years? She’s so free-spirited and creative. How did she end up here? I start to rehearse what I will say to her… “… Mom, I know it is tradition for us to marry when we become THE AGE, but I do not.” No, no. It needs to be more compelling. “… Mother, I cannot possibly bear the…” geesh, now I sound like Serene. Maybe she would be supportive if I simply ask for it to be postponed. “Mom, I just need one more year…” humph. She’s going to see right through me.
Looking for the right approach, I think back to a moment where my Mother’s powers of persuasion helped Adam.
I had just turned 15. About that time, Adam was beginning to keep his sketches secret. This behavior began to hurt me. Growing up, we had always been outsiders together; sharing our secrets, our dreams. The complications of puberty brought a wash of new senses; occasional feelings... and occasional feelings of shame. As much as I was tempted -- knowing the rock where Adam hid his sketches -- I respected his need for privacy. Serene on the other hand, did not...
"It’s forbidden!!" Father yelled, Serene had hand delivered Adam's secrets to him. Father paced the kitchen area of our house. Adam and I had our heads down at the table. Serene stood excitedly, eager to see what Father would do next.
My mother tried to calm father down, "He is just a boy."
Father shook his head, "Don't be naive. These are not the drawings of a boy!!” and threw a stack of sketches on the table.
My eyes sagged while drifting over to Adam's humiliated face as we all looked upon the intimate works of a coming of age, young man__ fully exposed; a myriad of sensual female figures, accentuated by beautiful curves in graceful, and perhaps provocative poses.
Father pressed on and tore into Adam, "Where did you get these ideas?"
Ironically, father was unconcerned about the sexual nature that the sketches conveyed. Instead, his concern was for a different threat. The works appeared to depict the anatomy of female NoBodys!
Serene chided, "You should tell his dad!"
Mother softly interjected, "Serene, get in your room." Serene hesitated in a moment of defiance and looked to father as a subtle means to convey that she would only listen to him, which forced mother into a rare moment of raising her voice, "Now!"
Serene pouted momentarily before realizing she was in danger of becoming part of father’s ire. She marched towards our bedroom and fired a parting shot, “We do not house, those who espouse.”
Ever the voice of reason, mother quickly offered a reminder, “But we are also tolerant.” Even though spoken to Serene, mother’s message was really meant for father, trying to calm him down.
As father took a breath to resume his interrogation, mother raised her hand in a motion to stop him. She would facilitate a more graceful approach. “Adam, dear…” mother picked up one of sketches, carefully selecting one that wasn’t inflammatory, “… sketching landscapes is one thing, but wow, progressing into figure drawing…” her tone became curious, if not complimentary, in appreciation for the style, “…well, these are definitely much harder to draw, no?”
Adam cast my Mother a puzzled look, welcoming any glimpse of mercy.
She continued, “I seem to recall that when you were younger, your strokes were jaggedy. It appears that you have developed an affinity for smoother strokes; sleek, elegant proportions. You know, you might want to take on another challenge in drawings used for construction. You’re good with math. Plus, what you draw actually gets built.” She was intentionally changing tact to a gentle tone as she touched one of the sketches, “When did you come up with these designs?”
Adam slowly confessed, “I don’t know… a few months ago.”
“And what was it that inspired you?”
Adam knew there was no acceptable answer to this question. He dropped his head and admitted, “There was a book.”
“Someone gave you a book?” Mother said while shooting father a quick look, both appeared relieved that Adam didn’t have personal contact with NoBodys.
“No…” Adam admitted. He was still trying to hide the full story, “I found it on the way back from ZENA?”
Father erupted, "You've been traveling beyond the eastern mines!!? Above ground!!?___ Why would you do that?”
Again, mother interjected, “Where is this book? Who else knows about it?”
“No one,” Adam replied. “It’s hidden at the top of the cliff face, under the arched, leaning rock.” Adam was defeated. We kept all kinds of supplies on top of the cliffs, it was our sanctuary.
“Okay.” Mother turned to father, relaxing her body language to suggest to him that the ‘threat is contained’; insinuating that he should also calm down.
Father maintained his role as village overseer, “We cannot have our youth exposed to these kinds of images.”
“Well then…” mother turned her back to father and began to gather up the sketches from the table, secretly slipping one into her blouse before rolling the rest up together. She then turned to hand the collection to father, and told him exactly what he was already thinking, “These will have to go.” Suggesting that he dispose of both the book and the sketches. As father paused, still contemplating discipline for Adam, mother gently grabbed Adam's shoulders, and stood protectively over him, "I think it’s best that we keep this within the walls of this house.” She knew the ridicule that would await Adam should word get out in the village that Adam had done such a thing. She smiled at father and affirmed his position, “You’re right…”, using his own words as leverage, “We cannot have these kind of images__ and there’s no need to get everyone in an uproar."
The tension in the room subsided as father folded the sketches into his coat, grabbed his gloves, and headed out to dispose of the forbidden book.
Upon father’s exit, my mother’s demeanor changed. She instantly became playful. Her eyes lit up as she pulled Adam’s sketch out from her blouse and sat back down at the table “Adam, this is wonderful!” She injected a dose of confidence back into his spirit “You’re developing a clear sense of style.” Her compliments nurtured as a means to remove any shame, “Don’t you think, Caress?”
With a beautiful smile on her face, mother was pulling me into the moment. “Um hum.” I agreed.
As a result, Adam gently nudged his leg against mine under the table. It was a splendorous touch, a simple form of bodily contact that told me he was relieved to be free of his secret. My father’s scorn had served as a confessional for Adam, and his appreciation for my mother’s tender grace was instantly transferred into a return of his affection for me. My heart leaped.
With the playful flick of my mother’s eyebrow, her eyes affirmed that she was quietly aware of it all. My longing for Adam. His normal feelings of sexuality. The distance that had grown between us. My mother had unveiled an unseen, warm blanket of maternal power, with an eloquence that instantly repaired it all. It was a beautiful display of what mother can be. And united the three of us with an unspoken bond.
"Caress!" Screaming from inside the house, Serene’s terror, “Caress!” rips me back into reality! I immediately run to the house.
Bursting through the front door, I find mom lying on the floor, her clothes soaked in sweat, her eyes in a daze. Frantic, Serene looks to me with panic in her voice, “What should we do!? What should we do!?”
I sweep down onto the floor, lifting my mom’s head from the hard, wooden surface. Removing my vest, I quickly bundle it up with my other hand and gently place it under her as a pillow. “Caress?” Mom’s faint voice whispers.
“I’m here.” I reply, brushing back the wet, matted hair from her face.
Her voice strains, “The fever’s back…” Unlike earlier episodes, my mom moans with agony, “… it’s__ got me.”
Wiping the sweat from her forehead, I can feel the heat radiating. I snap my fingers toward the bucket next to Serene and yell, “WATER!” It splashes around as Serene frantically tries to slide it over, forcing me to lunge for it to prevent it from toppling over.
I thrust my shaking hands into the water, trying to carefully cup portions over mom’s hair. My quivering voice tries to reassure, “It’s okay.” But I fear that I may be trying to reassure myself. With a deep breath mom exhales, the cool water appears to be having an effect.
Seeking further relief, she begins to pick at the buttons of her own shirt. The stifling collar is constricting her swollen neck. I struggle to assist. My shaking hands fumble as I try to unhook the buttons. In an act of desperation, I grab both sides of the shirt and pull, and pull, unable to rip it open.
“The scissors!” I yell to Serene as I thrust my hand towards the kitchen, commanding Serene to help.
As I continue to strain, unable to rip mom’s shirt open, I am forced to watch Serene fumbling through the kitchen. “I can’t find them!” Her frazzled voice crackles over the sound of drawers being repeatedly open and shut.
I jump up in frustration, “gahh,” running into the kitchen, jerking at the drawer that holds the scissors. With a fierce determination I rip the drawer completely out; the far end falling downward, showering the entirety of its contents onto the kitchen floor. I watch the assortment of spoons, forks, ribbon, string, yarn, cascade out in all directions. Spotting the scissors as they bounce towards the living room, I quickly sweep them up and dash back to mom’s side.
I start at the base of the shirt, taking care not to cut her, and chomp the blades upward. With the ends now cut apart, I drop the scissors, grabbing hold of each side to tear outward with might, ripping through the remaining buttons, each of them shooting outward into the air.
Finally, a breakthrough, as mom is able to take in some good, deep breaths.
“Yes,” I encourage her, “Just breathe.” I quickly sweep throughout the house to open all the windows as a means to continue to cool her down.
With a useless shock still frozen on Serene’s face, I gently command her to be helpful, “Get father,” taking care not to incite any more panic, “Get__ Help__ Now.”
As Serene runs out the open door, I take a moment to collect myself.
I grab a ladle from the kitchen and kneel down to spoon the cool water, slowly trickling small doses into mom’s mouth. A soft breeze starts to flow through the house and I can see her eyes becoming more lucid.
“Caress?,” she cries.
“Yes, I’m here.” Lifting her wrist, I softly purse my lips to the back of her hand.
As she begins to return to her senses, she squeezes my hand, looking deeply into me with a shuttering seriousness.
Desperate to help, my voice reaches, “What__ What can I do?"
With her calm voice, “Listen to me. There isn’t much time,” she begins to instruct, “Over there__ in the cupboard,” motioning across the room, “the package.”
I jump up, run to the cupboard and open the cabinet door.
“Up top.” She directs my attention to the shelf less visible, where I find a long narrow box, covered in brown paper. “That’s it. Bring it here.”
Rejoining her on the floor, I hold out the package, but she pushes it back towards me, “I was saving this for your birthday.”
My body stiffens in disbelief, frightened in the implied relevance while she struggles with her life. I plead, “Serene is getting help right now!” fearing any thought of my mom giving up. I desperately turn my head toward the front window, "They’ll be here soon!" hoping to get a glimpse of someone…anyone approaching.
"I know, I know." She peacefully acknowledges, grabbing my arm to get my complete attention, "I want you to open it now.” Mom's commanding grace brings me deep into the moment. Tears begin to crawl down my face as I relent to her wish.
Carefully unwrapping the paper, I uncover a box. Inside lies a nest of cotton encompassing a beautiful wooden flute.
"Remember?" Mom smiles, "When you were a little girl?"
I wipe several tears from my welling eyes as I recollect sitting under the dining table as a child.
Mom shares our fond past, “You would serenade while I was cooking. I would stop and close my eyes___ just listen.” The pleasure on her face carries the undertone of savoring the memory for the last time, “You were so little. Do you remember?”
“Yes.” My chest sags in an avalanche of emotion.
“As young as you were…” She continues, “I felt a color of wisdom in you. And I was curious to know just what you were thinking. Words weren’t big enough. You just__ took to music. It was your language. It was your… Truth. Even that young, the truth in your expression___ So happy.”
I break down crying at the thought of the joy bestowed by her. She needs to know, “It was you mom.”
She gently touches my shoulder and says, “Your little melodies__ allowed me to feel what was deep within your heart. And look at you now..." her eyes gleam, "All grown up, becoming THE AGE___ That little girl, becoming a beautiful woman.”
The stillness of the moment begins to evaporate with the rapid clamoring of approaching footsteps.
She adds, “Life goes by so fast," putting on a brave face as her eyes begin to glaze over, "Listen to your dreams. Follow your heart."