“Then would you read a Sustaining Book, such as would help and comfort a Wedged Bear in Great Tightness?”
"Right, and who are you?" The pixie-haired, androgynous-looking woman turned her sharp brown eyes on me after nodding the others into her home. Her well-muscled shoulders were bare beneath a leather tunic, and out from under camouflage cut-offs poked a pair of strong legs girthed in muddy military boots.
Rebel's home was carved out of a hill, like a hobbit's. Except mammoth. The size of a museum.
I cleared my throat and said in a pert, small voice, "My name is Lora Rivera. I am an aspiring writer." I smiled and extended my hand. She declined to take it.
To be clear: I was dreaming.
Rebel's bright eyes took in my schoolgirl appearance and white tennis shoes. "Follow me."
We entered through the waterfall and passed into her home.
|Photo credit to Filip Kulisev's Amazing Planet|
Everywhere, I saw art, living, twisting, branching art crafted of plant matter and earth, windows made of spun spider silk, light spilling in from great cracks between smooth boulders, slender shafts of warm sun filling the halls of dirt and foliage with the yeasty golden smell of growing things.
In the real world: After the State of Arizona cut our funding, I was given notice of my separation from Aviva Children's Services where I have been writing children's biographies for the past three years.
My divorce will be final April 28, in a month and a half.
Without family, I am suddenly living alone in a newish town, with an upside-down house and a great load of debt. No credit. No job. I am not writing.
I wanted her approval.
My hand snagged a root that was growing wildly out of a wall. A large portrait fell to floor, cracking the frame. Rebel swiveled.
"Oh!" I bent to pick up the portrait. "Oh, look, I'm so sorry."
Rebel squatted beside me. The portrait was of a young woman, an artist-hunter whose face was set in profile. She had a bow drawn to her cheek. The arrow was a feather-fletched pen.
"The frame's broken," I said. My shoelaces were untied. Shame spread over my cheeks and neck.
Rebel took the portrait and held it against the wall. The root I had touched came alive, snake-like, or like a sea serpent waking from some dark depth. The end of the root sprang out and lashed the portrait against the wall. Then, the wall opened and consumed the piece, canvas and frame, until what was left was raw dirt.
Crumbled clumps of grassy earth lay at Rebel's feet. She picked up two clumps, and handed one to me. Her nails were short and grubby, but smooth and well-trimmed.
"You're the writer," she mused. "You and Art, y'all aren't really tight, are you?"
"I'm an aspiring writer," I repeated, sure of only that one thing. Where had the portrait gone? I felt lost, confused. I held out my portion of dirt. "What . . . ?"
Rebel took the second handful and pressed it to the wall. Sweetly, I thought. Her hand to the wall, as if to a lover's cheek. The clump of earth stuck there. The wall sucked the dirt into itself and seemed to murmur, seemed to pulse, grew still again.
She looked at me. "Now you."
I obeyed. The blank wall felt warm under my fingertips. It felt alive. Not like a pencil, a bit of dead wood veined in gray graphite, capped with rubber.
"You didn't make any of this, did you?" I gestured around at the mossy arches, the leafing vines forming figures like statues in the doorways.
Rebel smiled tightly. "I don't fight what I know I can't win. You coming? The wall'll figure out what it wants to be soon enough."
"You just gotta stop staring at it," she said.
I am an aspiring writer. The mantra was comforting but felt out of place.
Rebel looked exasperated. "You like people breathing all over your creative process? No? Didn't think so. Come on, then."
I turned toward the soft sound of her leave-taking boots. Mushrooms and flowers spiraled up around her feet. I thought, from farther on, I could hear the sound of water trickling among rocks. The quiet was rich, sleepy, and I felt it like a full stomach, like a truth, or permission.
"I am . . ." I said aloud. No one seemed to be listening. Rebel's footsteps had grown still in the corridor beyond. "I am . . ."
I couldn't remember what I was. What I was supposed to be.
I went forward into the living house, into its warm glow.