Vi stepped into the Attic. She didn’t have to look at the clock to know it was at least thirty minutes past her assigned start time. She’d overslept. The baby/nightmare made sleep impossible. This thing was too persistent to be imagined. Had Cecilia had a child before Vi? Who had come between them even before she was born? Whoever she was, she wasn’t going away easily – but neither had her last illusion.
— Vi where were you when you felt the lumps?
— I bed. With Cecilia
— I put my head on her shoulder
— No Vi. Not Cecilia’s lump. Yours.
— When did you fist discover the lump in your breasts?
— Vi do you remember?
— No. I guess it was always there or
— or never.
Dr. Locke sat where he always sat, behind his desk pushing his marker across a formerly unmarked control sheet. His immutability was beginning to not surprise her. The printer played background rhythm to her approach. As she approached his desk, he dropped the marker and looked directly at her.
“Ms. Moon. Glad you could join us this afternoon.” click click clack
She took the list from his hand unsure if she should apologize, or get to work. As she began to move toward an empty cart, he spoke.
“You don’t like it here Ms. Moon?” click click clack click click
“Of course I do. I enjoy working here.”
“What do you enjoy most regarding your employ?” click click clack click
“The solitude is nice.”
clack click click “The solitude? But you are surrounded Ms. Moon.” He pulled the sheets from the printer. “These underappreciated manuscripts of our collective past sit in direct opposition to any claim of solitude.” He absent-mindedly brushed his palm across his damp forehead, but his focus remained on the white sheet of paper he pulled from the printer. A wide red smudge followed his hand. “This is reprehensible. How could they? This must be a mistake.” Locke picked up a phone Vi hadn’t noticed before. Had it always been there? “Dr. Shamus, this is Dr. Locke from the Attic. I need to talk to you. I just received a report that cannot be right. The Dhuoda of Septimania’s Liber Manualis is going into permanent storage. clack click click How is that possible? click click clack click click Dhouda’s handbook for William? click click Of course I have continued to edit the pull list. click clack click click I understand, but these bean counters don’t understand the importance of each of these voices. Can you define culture? What would we be if we only valued the popular? clack click Dr. Shamus please let the record show that this is under extreme protest, and the educational pursuits of our student body will surely be hindered by this blatant censorship. click click clack Good Day Dr. Shamus.” Dr. Locke placed a large red asterisk next to The Dhuoda of Septimania’s Liber Manualis and handed it to Vi. “Forgive them for they know not what they do. Ms. Moon. Be sure to bring this book directly to me. Do you understand?”
She nodded, and he returned to scanning and slashing as if she disappeared alongside his need for her. The rhythmic clatter of the printer continued to provide an external heartbeat to his protestations.
Vi pushed the cart into the elevator and pushed the up arrow. Despite his eccentricities, Vi admired Locke. There was something in his essence she wanted to copy. He seemed at ease. Certainly not with all things external; the external world seemed as foreign to him as this place felt to her, but his ease with his singularity. Was that it? He stood alone, but he wrapped solitude around himself like bulletproof glass. She pulled his book first, placing it in the corner of the cart. She was alone here too, but she also had a mother that had been sliced in two. Any bloodline so easily disjointed by a surgeon’s scalpel had to be questioned. Is that who the dream baby was? The question. The wheels of the cart stopped suddenly. Something had wrapped itself around the wheel well, stymieing rotation. She moved to untangle the front wheel and bumped into a chair someone had failed to push back beneath the desk. Still exhausted from a restless sleep, she sat down. She spotted it, just as her eyes began to close. Another E. Moon. This one was Brenda first. Brenda E. Moon. The Mycenean Civilization. Vi rested her head on her hand as she read Brenda E. Moon’s take on the Myceneans. In the dark cool recesses of the Classics, she read of a civilization long past and drifted off.
Her father was God-like, faceless, completely capable of making a world in eight, if not seven days. His hands felt rough as he marked her face with the symbol of their line. The Lamb. She stood in place naked above his people, their people, multitudinous as the desert sand. Her kinswomen came first, gently painting her naked body. The red clay felt cold against her exposed skin. She stood at the mouth of the ravenous volcano, her kinsmen a brown wall behind her. Her father, a distant God in crimson and gold robes, below. It waited for her. Her sacrifice would mean the survival of a people. The crops would be plentiful, fertilized by her spilled blood. Only through her body would they survive, and though unwilling, she knew the choice wasn’t hers to make; had never been hers to make. Her father with no face and every face nodded, and she stepped forward.
She woke lying face down in the book. One of the crushed pages had left a mark across her cheek. She still had half her list to complete. This time he didn’t startle her. He sat at the center of the Archaeology section like before. But now he stood out, a greek among dinosaurs; his gold jersey emblazoned with crimson greek letters across every empty space. Stubble had replaced the sheen on his shaved head.
“I almost didn’t recognize you without the black.”
He looked both at her and through her. He stood as he had before and gathered his things.
She didn’t know why she needed to keep him there, but the thought of watching those Greek letters receding moved something at her center. “Don’t leave.”
He placed a yellow legal pad into a backpack.
“Guess it all worked out for you.”
He zipped the backpack closed.
“The party. The chain.”
He placed the straps across his shoulders.
“I hope I didn’t make it harder for you. I was trying to help you carry it. The chain.”
He stopped. “That was you?”
Vi nodded and sat down at the table.
He looked toward the exit sign, removed his backpack from his shoulder, and sat back down. He pulled the legal pad back out and began to write again as if she’d disappeared with his identification of her.
She watched him write without lifting his pen or looking up. “Are you writing a paper?”
He stopped writing as if he just realized she was sitting across from him. “No.”
“No.” He looked up from the notebook. “A letter.”
“To whom. My father.”
“Does your father like words?”
“No.” He placed his # 2 pencil into the crease of his legal pad. “Actually he likes to brag that he’s a man of very few words.”
“Then why are you giving him so many?”
He smiled as if sharing an inside joke to an insider. “Because I like words.”
“You could have fooled me.”
He laughed then. Not a full laugh. He laughed like someone not used to laughing. It reminded Vi of her attempts to smile when she first reached campus. The sides of his mouth softened. “You like words?”
She nodded, suddenly unable to claim any words for herself.
“Diasporic condition. Imagined community. Familial legacy.”
He laughed again. “What does any of that mean?”
“Nothing and everything.”
He smiled, and something inside of Vi lifted. “Are you hungry?”
“Can I feed you?”
The thought of the baby and her unrelenting hunger flashed into Vi’s mind, but she still responded with only a moment’s hesitation. “Yes, but I have to take the cart back first. Will you wait?”
Vi grabbed Locke’s book and the entangled cart, but left Brenda E. Moon’s Myceneans behind. When she emerged from the Attic, the boy was waiting for her. She almost thought she’d dreamed it, but she hadn’t. They walked to Skinner’s Chicken Stand at the bottom of the hill. Ironically, their mutual love for words became swallowed in silence the moment they sat down across from each other. He ordered a chicken dinner for two, and once they’d rendered the remains to bones, she spoke again. “Why did you pledge?”
“For my father.”
“You must love your father very much.”
He shrugged. “Can you love something you don’t know?”
She laughed. “Of course.”
“Of course?” He smiled. “Of course. Would you like to hear my letter?”
I hope you are well. I have done what you wanted. I have crossed the burning sands. I am branded G-Nu. I have fulfilled your legacy. I hate it here. I miss my room, my home, and mother. I don’t like it here. I don’t know the people. They don’t know me. I don’t like it here. I have done what you wanted so please send me back to where I was before I was here. Send me back. I want to do what I was doing before what I am doing now. It is hot here. Very hot and I don’t like hot places. Send me back to where I was before I was here. How is mother? Is she still away? I would like to be away with her. Send me back to where I was before I was here. I do not belong here. I do not belong here. These people are foreign to me. I am foreign to these people. They smell different. They talk different. They eat different food. They read different books. Send me back to where I was before I was here. I REMEMBER. No matter how long I am here I will never forget. My memory is long. Longer than any amount of time you can keep me away. I remember mother’s face. I remember my room. I remember my home. I remember. Please send me back to where I was before I was here.
With the love of a son to his father,
Perrion Alabaster Cannon VII
Vi didn’t know what to say. She understood wanting to go back. But Before was already gone. There could be no return, but she didn’t want to be the one to tell him that. She didn’t want to see his face go back.
“Perrion the Seventh. You’re one of seven.” She breathed sound into what she had known in soundlessness.
“Call me Perry.”
“My name is Viola Ikewke Moon. One of one. Call me Vi.” She sucked on a chicken bone. “So your father asked you to pledge?”
“No. He didn’t have to ask. I just knew he wanted me to.” He lit a match and touched it tenderly to the edge of his letter. “Our family history is well-documented.” He said it with another man’s voice and face. “We have been a part of north Georgia for centuries. In Albany for the last hundred.” They both watched as the page turned blue and then red and then black, crumbling onto the table.
“That must be wonderful. To be born into so many.”
His first face and voice returned. “To know my great grandchild’s name before I know my child’s mother.” He took a bite of Vi’s chicken. “It doesn’t feel wonderful. It feels like a cage.”
“If it’s a cage, why do you want to go back?”
He shrugged. “It’s where I’m from.”
“Where you are from.” She understood.
They walked back to his room in Lincoln’s Hall and without asking she went in with him. She reached for his arms to place them around her, and he cringed. Before she could steady herself to back away, he grabbed her arm. He pulled the jersey over his head with one hand, exposing a block of white gauze across his heart that was seeping pink. She dug at the edges of the tape, and by instinct, he moved away and then back toward her. She didn’t want to remove anymore of what the Gamma Nus had already taken, but she had to see what lay across his heart. It was pink and wet. The greek symbols that were emblazoned across his jersey had burned through to his chest. Vi kissed it. He shrunk back.
“It won’t heal covered up.” She knew scars. She took off her shirt and placed his hand on the question mark circling her breast. “Nothing between us. ”
“Nothing between he us,” he repeated, pulling her toward him.
After, she slept. No baby. No drowning. No tears. Just sleep.
From Summer of the Cicadas, copyright 2016 by Cole Lavalais. Reprinted with permission of the author and Aquarius Press/Willow Books.