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The first time Qynhelein Reoder remembered seeing the little boy was when she was just six years old. He appeared shortly after her mother died, and Qynh often wondered if her mind had somehow produced the apparition in response to the horror and shock of that terrible afternoon.
Qynh remembered lying on her back on a quilt beneath a towering cottonwood tree, with a trunk so large she could stand on one side and stretch her arms about it and her brother, Mahres, could stand likewise on the other side and they could not clasp hands with each other. They were on the banks of the Thiar River on a midsummer's afternoon: her father, Deog; mother, Evonne; Mahres and Qynh.
Evonne brought along a picnic lunch of red pears, butter cheese, bitter bread, and honey. Deog had closed his blacksmith shop in the bustling seaside township of Lyhndale for the day and Qynh remembered him laying on his side on the quilt, smiling at her, a long, green whip of witchgrass tucked between his teeth.
Evonne strolled down to the river's edge, lifting up her skirts above her knees and dipping her toe into the brown water. She was a Gaeilge Elf; her arms and legs were lean and preternaturally long, her bare toes elongated and prehensile. Both attributes were holdovers from the days eons before when her Gaeilge ancestors had dwelled exclusively among the tree tops of the arboreal southrealm, relying on long, strong limbs and their feet as much as fingers for grasping and climbing.
Evonne wriggled out of her skirt and underslips and tiptoed out into the river, giggling, clad in nothing but her undergarments. Deog whistledwolfishly after her, and she frowned at him without really being sore as she splashed water in his direction with the flat of her hand.
She danced out from the shore until the water met her mid-thigh and then she hooked her arms above her head, pressed her hands together and dove beneath the surface. Her head popped up some lengths from the riverbank and she bobbed there, laughing, the sunlight flashing off the water as it rippled in concentric circles around her throat.
Qynh remembered lying on the quilt, turning her eyes from her mother and looking directly overhead. She spied a large, black crow in an upper tree bough that seemed to be staring directly back at her with tiny pinpoints of scarlet light instead of eyes.
She stared up at the raven, mesmerized by the glow of its eyes, and then her father's voice, sharp with alarm startled her from her reverie. Qynh remembered Deog springing to his feet and staring out across the surface of the water; her mother had dived down, her feet splashing against the top of the water playfully in her wake but had not yet come up for air.
"Evonne!" Deog called, with a sharpness and alarm to his tone that had immediately drawn Qynh's attention to the river. He plodded out into the water, holding his arms out at crooked angles as if he did not want to get them wet.
Still, her mother did not resurface.
Deog screamed her name, swimming out to the point where she had vanished, his powerful arms pulling him through the water. Qynh watched him open his mouth and suck in a whooping mouthful of air and then he dove after Evonne, searching for her.
She had plunged too deeply into the brown depths and her arms had become entangled in a snare of submerged driftwood, the rotted remains of a mighty oak's root system. Her arms had been trapped and she had been unable to wriggle free. It took Deog seven tries, each time his head breaking the river's surface, his mouth wide and gasping and then ducking down once more, before he finally wrenched her poor, lifeless body from the drowned tree.
Two days later, when they lay her mother upon her bier and men from the village gathered to carry her to her pyre, Qynh stood in front of the mirror in her bedroom and tried to braid her hair by herself for the first time in her life. Evonne had always twisted the plaits for her, binding each in place with colorful scraps of ribbon.
Qynh could not complete the task alone; her fingers were yet too small and not yet nimble enough, and it was at this precise moment that it struck her that her mother was gone, her soul had traversed beyond the physical world and made its way into the golden realm of Tirmaithe. She burst into sobs that wracked her tiny body and drove her to her knees.
"Why are you crying?"
Qynh looked up, startled by the soft, tentative voice. The room was empty; no one stood before her. She crept to her feet and looked into the mirror, dragging the cuff of her sleeve across her cheeks to dry her tears.
She saw a little boy in the mirror, like a phantom standing behind her, with enormous blue eyes the same hue as her own, and a tangle of dark hair, just like hers. He looked to be her age and he regarded her with such pity that her breath caught in her throat.
"Please do not cry," the little boy said.
"My... my momma has gone away," Qynh whispered. "She will never be back and now I am all alone."
"No," the boy said. He pressed his hand against the mirror; it was as though they stood in two rooms separated only by a wall made of glass. "I am here. You are not alone."
Copyright © 2005 Sara Reinke
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