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symbolizes the unconscious, the source of all life;
it is liquid, changeable, formless & powerful.
In olden days when water flowed freely in the Creek, the Monochrome came, shook out the Ragged Ones and built themselves a village.
After the Creek dried up, they stayed.
Drilled and tapped into artesian wells underground.
Constructed themselves a civilization greater than any little stream of water.
* * *
The Ragged Ones scattered and it was over before it ever began. When they heard about the Monochromes they fled. "They have weapons," they told each other. "Shoot to kill. It's their way."
In the beginning the Creek flowed full and dense with life. A messenger, a carrier. All throughout it chirped and creaked and babbled. Filled with itself, flushed with itself, it crooned and cavorted and carried on like mad. It wore a giddy parasol in spring, a garish scarf in fall. In winter it turned itself inside out. In summer it grew languid, easy, lush.
* * *
Chatter, chatter, chatter, how those Old Ones talk. Covering up all that barren emptiness with their quilted words.
"Reva, don't you touch those flowers, don't you dare!"
Reva tumbles over and over and over, head over heels, shekicks her dimpled legs high up in the air and giggles.
"And pull down your shirt, little girl, how many times do I have to say?"
Hans lurks in doorways, watching. Watching and always watching. His inside colour is khaki. Town women stay clear of him. "Look out for Hans," they tell their daughters. "You don't want to get too close." Whispered in the playground, at the candy counter. Poured this way from women into women, girls into girls. That no one should come to any harm.
* * *
This is the way the dust gathers. Here is the place.
Sra's house is filled with cozy crannies. Surrounded by trees, older even than the ancient house, suckling moisture from the earth. Her mother's kitchen takes up most of the main floor. A stove fed with wood makes heat, an icebox in the corner keeps things cold. Water is brought in from the well out back. An L-shaped stairway leads to the second floor with a window at its bend. Narrow stairs lead up to the third floor where Sra lives.
Through her long low window she watches. Birds, clouds, sun and moon, all sliding by. From this attic she can hook her arms around the oak, can hang there from its sturdy limbs. She can scale down it to the earth without stairs or stay cradled by a crooked arm.
In this room Sra dreams and spins. Webs of words, colours. Thoughts washing through her body are her body's blood.
* * *
Water in her bath, a brisk waterfall that plasters her hair to her scalp. Face cloth sponged across bare shoulders, water trickling down her spine and across the hill of bum.
* * *
They play house in the sandy dirt behind the school. Scratch out walls with a sharp-ended twig. "Here's the door," says Sra.
"Here's the baby's room," Imp says. "With good strong walls. And this is their kitchen."
Bear hides around a corner. When they've finished building their little house, he leaps onto the walls and scuffs them out.
The school bell rings.
* * *
Sra bends the truth as some see it from time to time, but she never breaks it. Truth as she sees it is spelled differently. Things inside her own head are different from those others seem to see, hear, taste, smell, touch. Feel.
"The trouble with you is you don't know where to draw the line," her sister says righteously, "between the truth and your own wild imagination."
Sra holds up her scarf. "What colours do you see?" she asks.
"I see purple," Syb retorts. "Naturally. So what?"
"I see crimson with hues of blue. Who's to say which way of seeing is the Truth?"
Syb snorts. "Ninety-nine out of a hundred people would say purple."
"Ah," Sra breathes, drawing the splendid scarf back selfishly around her neck.
* * *
Thirteen candles will light up her cake this evening. She awakens singing inside her head, birthday, birthday, birthday. "What day is it today?" she asks her sister at breakfast.
"It's Tuesday," says Syb. "Eat your porridge."
Sra knifes the solid mass in her bowl. "It's really gross," she says, reaching for the sugar.
"It wouldn't be, if you ate it when you were supposed to." Syb waves her knife warningly. "Don't you even think about more sugar." She takes her own neatly polished bowl to the sink and rinses it.
Milk sits on top of the cold grey lump in Sra's bowl. She tickles it with the tip of her spoon. "Are you sure it's only Tuesday?"
"Of course I'm sure. Stop playing with your food."
Sra waits for Syb to leave so she can dump her birthday breakfast down the toilet.
* * *
Imp comes over after school for party food and Syb joins them for her share of double-chocolate-fudge-brownie cake. She even has a grudging gift, a drawing book with golden stars and moon embossed in a sky-blue cover. "Hey thanks!" says Sra, pleased.
"I bet you thought I forgot," Syb giggles, hugging her like some silly storybook sister. "Fooled ya!"
Syb bursts through the attic doorway and leaps bouncing onto the bed. "There you are!" she shrieks. "I've been looking all over for you!"
Sra picks up her fallen book and smoothes its pages carefully. "Of course I'm here. Where else would I be?"
"Put that down!" Syb orders impatiently. "I've got something really important to tell you!"
Sra lifts the paperback to her face. "So, talk."
"You never listen to anything I have to say," Syb complains.
Sra shuffles her hand over a yawn. "I can't help it if you're boring."
"But this isn't boring," Syb insists. "Remember Alad?"
"That guy you're so nuts about? Captain of the basketball team? That guy?"
"Yeah, him! Alad! The most popular guy in school and I get to go on the hayride with him! Mom said I could! I get to go out with Alad!"
"Stop your bouncing!" snaps Sra. "It makes my stomach hurt. And so does your creepy love life, aside from it being too boring to waste a breath about."
Syb sits up straight. "Sometimes I think you must be made of stone. Why can't you just be like other sisters for a change? Do something normal!"
"I'm ecstatic for you." Sra sniffs. "Not that you would recognize ecstasy."
"I just told you I'm going out with the hottest guy in all of Stonybrook and that's the only thing you have to say?"
"What more do you want from me?" Sra asks. "You never pay the slightest bit of attention to anything that excites me. For example," she gestures to her window, "look out there."
"At what?" Syb asks, straining to see despite herself.
"Do you see that eaglet in my oak?"
Syb sniffs. "There isn't any stupid eagle out there."
"You can't see it because your vision is restricted," Sra says. "All you can see are captains and teams. It's not just me; you could try a little harder too."
Syb gets up and flounces to the door. She tries to slam it when she leaves and Sra giggles.
* * *
"I could hear your whining all the way down the street," says Sra.
"Why don't you mind your own business?" yells Syb. "Mom! Make her stop picking on me!"
Teasingly Sra sets her hand on her sister's forehead. "Maybe you've got a fever."
Syb swats her away. "Don't you dare!" she storms, stomping out of the kitchen.
* * *
Sra packs a picnic. Fresh tomatoes, thick slabs of Mom's homemade bread, juice in a thermos. She sets it in her pack and with it she walks to their meeting corner. Dust shimmers lightly in the sun, sprinkles itself around.
Imp is already waiting. "It sure is hot today," she complains. "Too hot for hiking."
"But we have to go," Sra says, handing her the pack. "I made a special picnic. Here, you take this and I'll lead."
"What else is new?" Imp grumbles, but she shoulders the pack and follows Sra to the ditch that used to carry the Creek now weed-grown and bone dry. They walk along it for a while until they've left the town behind.
Then Sra stops. "Here," she says.
Imp wheezes and drops the pack with a thud. She sprawls down right on a thistle patch then gets up quickly. Sra laughs, uncaps the thermos and leans back on her elbows creasing flat the weeds beneath her. She stares at the creek bed and the dusty sky all around. "There used to be water here," she says dreamily. "This gutter flowed with it. There would be frogs creaking and mosquitos hovering in the air instead of all this dust. There'd be flowers blooming wild, yellows, blues and reds. Just imagine!"
Imp sneezes and digs around in her pocket for her inhaler. She squeaks mist into her throat. "This dust is really bad," she croaks, "for my asthma."
"Yeah," says Sra. "Now that the water has been stolen."
"I don't know about all that." Imp sniffs. "But I do know it's hard for me to breathe."
"I found a dead bird this morning. I opened it with my knife and looked its resides over. After I was done, I buried it."
"Did you say a prayer?"
"What for? I returned it to the earth. That's all it is you know. If I dig there in a couple of months it will have dissolved. It won't exist except as earth."
"I think you should have said a prayer at least. Out of respect."
Sra lifts her brows. "For dirt?"
"Not just that," Imp says indignantly. "For an Animal of the Kingdom."
"You don't really believe in that, do you?"
"I didn't say I believed in it. But it couldn't hurt."
"Do you know that for sure?" asks Sra. "That calling on a god can't hurt?"
* * *
Old Ones in church hunch over hymnbooks. Stained glass sunlight and layers of dark cloth cover them, but they are cold anyway. They are always cold. Imp shivers, tugs her sweater sleeves over her knuckles. Her mother glances down at her and shakes her head. The well-fed man who binds the family sits behind the podium. He holds his Hymnal high. Imp purses her lips and blows him away. On either side of her people rise to sing. She can't help being carried up by their elbows, but sine never sings.
"I don't want to tell you. You always turn everything I say around."
"Trust me," Sra insists.
Slowly Imp exhales. "Okay," she says at last. "You win. But just remember that you forced this out of me. What happens is he creeps into her room at night, he crawls into her bed and touches her all over. I watch them from the ceiling. After he leaves I go back into her body. She doesn't like it but he tells her she deserves it. He says that she is dirty. He says he'll kill me if I tell."
Sra rests her hand on Imp's trembling shoulder. "We can make him stop," she says. "If we believe. We can blow out all the dust he makes."
"We'll hold a special ceremony when the moon is right."
"If you think it would work," Imp says doubtfully.
* * *
She stitches a white robe from old lace and makes a crown for Imp from leaves and fresh flowers. When the moon is full, they walk out along the ditch. When they stop, Sra attaches the wreath to Imp's hair with clips and grasps her hand. "You have to help," she says. "We have more power if it's both of us. And remember, there is no going back. Once it's done, you can't undo it."
"Why would I want to go back?" Imp asks indignantly. "Why would you even think that? It's not as if I like it."
"I'm just telling you, that's all," says Sra. "Now we concentrate and you should say what you want to have happen."
"I'm scared," Imp whispers. She grips Sra's hand and squeezes shut her eyes. "Make him stop," she prays hoarsely. "That is what I want. That's all I want."
"These are the days of calling Isis," Sra intones. Her hand becomes a glowing ember; its flame spreads through Imp and heats her up.
"Isis," echoes Imp.
"Isis," Sra repeats. "We call on You to make him stop." Then she drops Imp's hand and claps briskly. "There!" she says. "That's it! We've done it!"
Imp stares up at the moon. "Do you really think it will work?" she asks huskily. "If that's all there is to it? Don't we have to make a sacrifice or something?"
The dry ditch curves out into the distance like a dark ribbon with white moon rising over. "If we have faith it will," says Sra. "It's up to us." She thumbs the air. "Look! There used to be water in here. You can see from where this gully twists, you can imagine. But now they say it's gone for good. Sometimes with Nature there can be no turning back."
"So you keep telling me," says Imp. "But I'm sick to death of all this dust. It's hard for me to breathe."
"Anyway, we should be going. We're all finished here."
Imp plucks the crown from her head and discards it in the weeds. "Shouldn't you take off your robe?" she asks. "Anyone could see."
"Why are you so worried?"
"People will think you're odd."
"They think that anyway." Sra giggles. "But they can't hurt me; I'm immune."
* * *
"I know what you've been up to," hisses Bear, cornering Imp by the pencil sharpener at school.
She jerks away. "Leave me alone!"
"I saw you two at the ditch the other night," he says loudly.
"So? What's that to you?"
"I'll maybe have to tell someone," he says. "We don't like witches around here you know."
From her seat across the room Sra catches Imp's eye and grins and suddenly Bear grunts, doubles over, grabs his stomach. "What's the matter with you?" asks Imp.
"Nothing!" he snaps, trying to stand up straight. "Fuck off witch!"
"Just leave me alone," she repeats quietly. Then she walks back to her desk, head high, leaving Bear kneading at his belly.
* * *
What makes Imp cold makes Sra angry. Anger sits heavy in her body bowl like thick stew. Tip the bowl, out it spills, out pours all that lumpy anger stew. She runs the track alone at sundown. Her breath colours the air ahead, her feet pound packed dirt beneath. Setting sun casts an amber glow over everything: the track, the soccer nets, her own sweaty skin. Runs the infinite oval to her audience of setting sun clinging to the crisp horizon.
* * *
Misters and Misses gather in the building for their sunset prayers.
Sin among us.
Sin inside us.
Let us pray.