The Golden Apple Tales- Book the First- 1. Arethusa (5)

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Winter Doors
(December 21, 1945)

While Thanksgiving was odd and strained, the Winter Solstice was my real homecoming. Aunt Lil made some unusually spiced stew and clove bread. Uncle Liam served the first of this year’s batch of apple wine (others would have called it cider but Uncle Liam considered that too harsh a name for the sweet spirit he brews for holiday use). The day was unusually warm, at least at the Shade, and we ate at a circular table under the Tree. I suspect that Mama might have created a protective bubble of a sort around the Tree by sheer will, affecting the weather, so much did she want to create a happy day for me.

My power arose during the quiet lull between Thanksgiving and Solstice, at nearly the same time I began walking well on my new leg. I am now as close to normal as I am ever likely to be. I am hopeful of returning to school in the new year but Granny Birdie seems to think I won’t be allowed.

I have read the Dainas.

I would tell the tale of them if it were something I could manage to make sense of, but truly, it isn’t. And, that is of a strange sort of comfort to me, as each member of my family, save Lil, came to me one by one on the day I read them and confessed not to know their true meanings either, but all that one really needs to know to honor the family and our traditions is that protecting the Tree is worth more than anything else in this life, and seeing that the Dainas are passed on to each new generation comes a close second to that.

And, of course, I am now invincible.

I am invincible in the presence of the Tree. I am stronger as well- the faint buzzing tingle I have always known when at the Shade- in the Shade of the Tree- bloomed into a bliss, a euphoria, a nirvana- strength searing though me with such force as to be nearing pain. It woke me in the dead of night, when the moon was full and when I cried out- or tried to, thrashing about and hissing, both my mother and the Tree offered comfort. I slept nestled amongst the Tree roots, caring not for the cold- in truth, not even feeling the cold- for three nights. I could not eat, nor drink, though Granny Birdie tried to make me.

And then, as quickly as it had come upon me, the thrall of blooming faded to a bearable prickling at the backs of my eyeballs and itching on the tips of my fingernails. While it is fantastic, there was so much less to the great secret, than I had imagined. I am not an average girl- I am Selppa, but I am an average Selppa and a maimed one at that.

***

As much as I can now walk, I am nothing like quiet about it, no matter how I try, and so I am like the belled cat. This, along with the fact that I am now considered to be a grown woman have made it so that I no longer overhear what I am not meant to hear very often. The exception to that is when I have settled in my chair, quietly reading or sewing and I hear the soft whispered words between my mother and Dr. Chow in the front hall as he arrives or leaves. He has continued to visit our house regularly, always making a point to stop with me a while, even though everyone knows it is my mother he most wants to see. I am not upset by this in any way. My fondest wish would be for him to join our family and bring my mother joy. Perhaps it is because I never knew my own father that I don’t mind, but I think it is more because he became so much one of us in so little time. It feels as if he is meant for the Shade just as much as any Selppa.

Dr. Chow was not able to come for the holiday meal, as he was working at the hospital, but now, as I sit mending a seam, I can hear the motor of his car coming up the drive. The headlamps flash in the window and I try to hurry my stitches so that I can set my work aside finished before he comes inside. My hands slip and I drop my thimble, so I get down on my knees to search for it in the dim lamplight. After a moment more of searching, I sit on the floor to reach behind the chair. I must go only by feel as that part of the floor is all in shadow.

I hear my mother walking eagerly to the front door. She must have heard Dr. Chow arriving, as well. I turn to see her unlatching the door as loud footstomps echo outside on the porch. He is there. I can see him through the opened door, his smile warm, even as his cheeks are ruddy with the cold and his thick dark hair is speckled with snow.

“Wego! You shouldn’t have come in this weather,” Mother scolds, but her tone is welcoming.

“The storm’s not as bad as it looks,” he replies as he steps inside and brushes off the snow. “And, what’s a little blizzard compared with not seeing you?” he says in a low tone, meant just for her ears.

“Wego!” Mother mock-scolds again.

Dr. Chow starts walking further into the house- back towards the kitchen, but my mother catches up his hand in her own and stops him. Then she, strangely shy and maybe even blushing, points above her head to the swag of mistletoe that hangs from the door lintel.

I know then that I should make some noise to let them know that they are not alone, but I fear that they will worry at seeing me on the floor, thinking perhaps that I had fallen. And, if I am truthful, I’ll admit that I want to see them together like this- relaxed and happy. They try to be formal with each other when they know that I am watching.

As my mother points up, Dr. Chow asks, “I didn’t think your family kept any Christmas traditions?” But he steps in and pulls her close to him anyway.

“Ah, see how little you know.” She puts her arms around his neck. “The Christians took their tradition from ours. Mistletoe is sacred to us.”

“Well, I learn something new every day with you, don’t I?” Then he kisses her full on the lips as if they were in a picture show and he has just come to her rescue, and I am hopeful of a spring wedding this year at the Shade.

(January 2, 1946)

While I am happy for Mother and Dr. Chow, and also that the conflicts amongst my family over me have calmed, there do remain certain troubles in our lives- namely Detective Thomas and Nat the Reficul. Detective Thomas, instead of being satisfied by the findings of the inquest, has become even more angry and determined to hound our family, especially my mother. And Nat continues to watch the Shade. Between the detective’s frequent visits to the house and the reoccurring arguments between Granny Birdie and Uncle Liam over what, if anything should be done about Nat, I find the quiet of my room more and more appealing.

Now that I am managing the stairs much easier, I can go down them for meals with the family without worry that I’ll be too tired to retreat to my room again afterwards. I don’t need stay always in the chair in the living room all day, and so I do not. I have also begun exercising Stayman again, although our walks are much shorter- a few laps around the house instead of going all the way down to the cider mill. Ladon, our poor, faithful, old dog, usually comes with us, limping along on the leg that was broke in the same attack that wounded me. Three of a kind we are with our limping gaits.

We had a visitor for lunch today, Dr. Bergsten from the university that sits a few miles from West Stratford. He is a professor of physics and he is somehow a particular friend of Great Aunt Lil’s (he has been since before I was born, I am told). To watch them communicate is comical at best. She speaks in odds and ends of gibberish to him as she scribbles down what looks like mathematics with letters in the place of most of the numbers and he answers her in half English and half German as he adds his own pieces of letter mathematics to her page. Then she always has to correct his work, scratching out some and replacing it until they come to agreement on which letters do and do not go in which places on the paper. Afterwards, Dr. Bergsten tells us all silly stories of his boyhood home and how he misses the people he’d known there and then.

Once when I was much smaller, I asked him why he did not just take a trip back and see them. He just gave me a crooked smile and said, “How blessed you are not to know why I cannot, little one.” Later that day, after he had left, my mother pulled me up onto her lap and told me about the war and the Nazis and why we should never let ourselves be like them- not even a little bit, not for anything. Aside from that day, I always enjoyed Dr. Bergsten’s visits.

I have just made the top of the stairs after lunch and I can still hear the professor and Lil dukeing it out on paper, trying to decide where the E goes and the c goes. There is a heavy knock on the door, one that is all too familiar and, though I cannot see her, I can hear my mother sighing before she opens the door to greet Detective Thomas. Normally, I would retreat to my room all the faster, knowing that raised voices were just a few minutes away whenever the policeman comes to the Shade, but something in how defeated my mother’s voice is as she says, “What can I do for you today, Al?” makes me stay.

“Not going to invite me in then, Apple?” he says snidely. As much as I want to somehow help Mother with Detective Thomas, and despite the fact that I am now invincible (and the courage I showed trying to protect the Tree), I still find the policeman more than a little scary, and mostly, I still feel like and eleven year old girl, so I can do no more than sit down on the topmost step and listen as my way of supporting my mother.

“Unless you’ve got legal papers that say that I must, I respectfully decline, thank you.” The door squeaks on its hinges as Mother begins to shut it. Then, I hear the resounding thump of Detective Thomas stopping the door with one of his large hands.

“Then I’ll ask my questions from the cold front stoop,” he insists.

“All right, what are your questions about?” she asked, dejectedly.

“A man named Wallace Mickelson. I understand you knew him.”

“You know that I did. He was my husband.” Her answer is a quiet one, but not without rage. My father isn’t an easy subject for her to speak of in the best of moments.

“How long ago was it that you killed him again? Nine years?” the detective pushes.

“Detective Thomas, my husband’s murder case has been closed for nine years. The man who killed him died the same day.” I can feel my mother seething with shock and anger at the policeman’s words. The change of her power is prickling in my cheeks and behind my eyes and in my fingertips.

“That’s right, you killed him. But really, Wallace died before that staged attack on this house, didn’t he? You sacrificed him, along with your brother and father in one of your cult’s rituals and blamed it on your other victims- all six of them.”

Mother is about to do something- something big and dangerous, but the indignant voice of Dr. Bergsten cuts through the thick air. “Who are you to treat this fine woman this way? A woman who has lost, a woman who has suffered, a woman who has survived?”

“Listen old man, I don’t know who you are, but-” the policeman responds, only to be cut off by the professor.

“Who I am? Who I am? Who I am shouldn’t matter- I am someone who cannot stand for this thing you do to this woman- coming here again and again to harangue her and accuse her. You hide behind your badge and the power of your position. I have known men like you. Men like you must not be abided- not by anyone with a heart and a head and breath in his lungs.” I don’t mean to move, but as the Dr. Bergsten is talking I am drawn down the stairs- I have to see what is happening.

“And so, I will not let this stand,” he continues, stepping in front of my mother to point his finger in Detective Thomas’s face. “You will leave this place- this sacred place and you will not come back here for anyone else.”

“Are you threatening an officer of the law? I can take you in just for that.”

“Ah! Now we come to who I am! Who I am! I am a man who you cannot abuse with the power of your position- I am a man who can have your badge taken. This you will see when you are powerless to come here anymore!” And with that, he slams the door in Detective Thomas’s face.

Once the door is shut, Great Aunt Lil, who has also come out from the dining room, lets out a happy whoop and kisses the professor on the cheek. Mother, on the other hand is standing there stunned and breathing hard, still crackling with unspent power. A short moment later, a vase that is sitting on the small table next to the door shatters and whitest sand that once was glass showers over all of us.

Part 6

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Categories: fantasy, fiction, serial fiction | Leave a comment

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