What I Don’t Know
(November 21, 1945)
It is difficult, but it feels wonderful to move again- to see the world from standing instead of the limited view from a bed or even the lowered angle of sitting. Mama has been here as much as she can be, but it is Granny Birdie who has spent every day helping me to learn to use my legs again. Mama wanted to have been with me, she said it and I believe it, but there was an inquest about the man who died- the one she had to kill to defend the Tree- and she couldn’t be with me as well as answering to the coroner. Whenever I try to write and ask Granny Birdie of it, she says, “Now don’t you worry your fool head over that- he cost you enough, poor lamb.” I don’t have much worry over the inquest- Mama will not be found at fault for defending our home- no one in the family ever has been. I still want to hear all that was said there just to know it.
I also want to know why they wanted one of the Apples in the first place, but I don’t ask Granny Birdie- I know she wouldn’t tell me. They won’t tell me until my powers arise. I thought that perhaps Uncle Liam might have been trying to on a day last week. He had come to sit with me and let Birdie take an afternoon for herself. He brought with him a book I’d never seen before and made me promise not to tell anyone he’d read to me from it. It didn’t have any writing on the outside and it was old- it smelled of must and dust and wisdom.
Cycle 1- What Was
Long ago in a place farther than far, lived the Selppa people.
They were a good and strong and curious people. They sent their children far and wide, hither and thither and yon to seek all the Truths of the Universe.
And some of their children came here to Earth to seek the Secrets of the Dark.
Those children found the Trees with the Apples of Golden Light.
The Selppas saw that the Trees with the Apples of Golden Light needed to be tended to and safeguarded so that the men of Earth did not use them unwisely.
And so, they stayed, making their homes among the men of Earth and keeping the Secrets of the Trees safe. Then, for a time, there was peace.
Yet among these first Selppas was one called T’nepres, who married a daughter of the Earth, and his wife bore . . .
He had only begun reading aloud from The Dainas, when Granny Birdie came in and they argued.
“Liam! By Atalanta’s paws, what do you think you’re doing?” Granny Birdie scolded him as she returned to my bedside much earlier than she had been expected.
“We’ve discussed this. She ought to know,” Liam defended.
“As I recall, the discussion ended as it began- with none in agreement with you about this. Apollonia does not wish to break tradition and tell her daughter. What right have you to go against her?”
“She- Ari- has the right to know.”
“She’s not old enough, Liam. She hasn’t her powers yet.”
“Upon reaching adulthood, every Selppa may learn of The Dainas. You cannot convince me that she is still a child. She gave up childhood the moment she came to the Tree’s defense. She deserves to know what she lost so much for-”
“But, she hasn’t her power” Birdie repeated, “She has no power to justify her having such protected knowledge-”
“I have no power either- neither did Joe. Does that mean that I shouldn’t know The Dainas?” Uncle Liam asked. “Was what Joe – Ari’s father- and Uncle Wallace and my own father- was what they all died for, what generations of our family has died for, none of my business because I don’t have the power? Was it not Joe’s right and Uncle Wallace’s right and Father’s right to know why they faced death? Ari has right to know why she has lost what she has lost and it is ridiculous that she needs to wait months to know in order to satisfy some ancient tradition.”
“That’s enough! You don’t have the right to make this decision- Apple has her reasons, not the least of which is not overwhelming the poor thing,” Granny Birdie seemed to remember that I was in the room- my room- again. “Look at her. You’ve upset her with all this talk of loss and arguments between you and her mother. You best get back outside and see to the winter works of the orchard. Leave the Selppa business to Apple.”
Uncle Liam gave me a sympathetic look, but then retreated. There was only so much he could defy his mother- she was such a strong talker, such a deaf ear. Once he was gone, Granny Birdie told me not to worry over all I had heard, then she sang me a lullaby and the day had been so long already that I drifted off and dreamed of the first Selppas and of T’nepres and his earthly wife and wondered what was so very important about what she bore that Granny and Mama would not let my uncle tell me of it.
My place in the cozy chair by the fireside has become so usual that the adults have begun to forget that I am nearly always here. Just as Granny Birdie and Uncle Liam did when they argued about me hearing about the secrets of the Mystic Tree, they speak things I’m not meant not hear as they walk by or pause in the hall outside the sitting room door. Mama and Granny Birdie are doing that just now, their words echoing off the stone floor of the front hall, making them sound farther off than they are.
“I’m still of a mind to call Detective Thomas and turn him in. He and his lot cost Arethusa so dearly,” Granny Birdie declares.
“Mother, we’ve been through this. Liam saw him- saw him before and after that day,” Mama responds.
“But he lurks about all the time,” Birdie argues. “And if Liam knows so well what that boy’s made of, why didn’t he see what was coming?”
“He sees their natures, not their futures. And Lil likes him as well.”
“And Auntie Lil is the best reference you can give for him? Apple, we’re just inviting more pain if we don’t turn him in. And wouldn’t it be helpful to give Al Thomas something to go on? Maybe he’d turn in the other one and that might even discourage any other Reficuls who might be getting ideas.”
“Mom, we can’t. Nat saved Ari’s life- he took our side when the moment came,” Mama returns. “We can’t repay that with wrath, not against a Reficul. They’re ours, too.”
“Bahh- Apple, they haven’t been any of ours for time long gone. That’s no reason-”
Someone knocked at the door, interrupting Granny. It was Dr. Chow, come to check up on me and blush at Mama and that ended the discussion of why my mother had chosen not to tell the police that Nat had a hand in the attempt to steal one of the Golden Apples and the bullet that caused my leg to be cut from my body. I couldn’t ponder all that I had heard what with Dr. Chow’s visit and him staying for dinner.
(November 22, 1945- Thanksgiving)
We don’t have turkey at Thanksgiving like the rest of the country. Some might call us un-American, but we mustn’t, so we have all the trimmings without the bird. Mama cooks everything that day, banishing Great Aunt Lil from the kitchen to keep her from making something exotic with Mama’s sweet potatoes and pearl onions. This year, Thanksgiving is not the best of days. Mama and Granny Birdie have still been arguing and so have Uncle Liam and Granny Birdie, and Uncle Liam and Mama- all about me. They pretend that they aren’t cross with each other and I pretend that I don’t know that anything is wrong.
Uncle Liam has come down on Mama’s side about not turning Nat in to the police- he says that Nat turning the gun on his own brother- even if it was unsuccessful and wounded me instead- that was redemption for Nat in Uncle Liam’s eye. Uncle Liam has also continued to argue for me to hear The Dainas, but neither Mama nor Granny Birdie has been moved.
I truly did like Nat during the harvest days and, if what Mama and Uncle Liam keep saying is true about him trying to save me, I don’t think I want him to go to jail. I wish I could talk to him- Mama has said that he watches the Shade- that he used to watch the hospital when I was there, but I haven’t seen him, even though I look.
And The Dainas– I’m still curious about what they contain and what they have to do with the power the women of the family gain when they grow close to womanhood, but I have begun dreading knowing it all. If the Tree and The Dainas bring such pain and loss on our family, I’m not certain that I want to know their secrets.
What I wish doesn’t matter. They keep discussing what they each think I would want or what I need, but they don’t ever ask me and bringing up anything about either subject on my slate gets me hushed by Granny Birdie. And so, the holiday table is jumpy and our chatter does not flow in happy circles as it normally would. Instead, Mama is too formal in how she speaks to everyone, Uncle Liam is mostly silent, and Granny Birdie is gruff and bossy- all right, that isn’t much of a change for her. The only saving grace is that Great Aunt Lil keeps breaking into what seem to be dirty limericks, making Granny Birdie scoff at her and both Mama and Uncle Liam snigger. It is too bad that none of us can understand her.