Days of the Week

Shay sometimes felt that she had two sets of eyelids. Like cats. This feeling was especially pronounced early in the morning, every morning, when Shay’s daughter would pry open one or both of her eyes and ask, as if she were already a bitter middle-aged woman, “Is it Saturday?”

Ame was a happy girl overall, but she liked weekends, and nothing Shay could do seemed to help Ame remember the days of the week. As she tucked her in, Shay would say, “What day is it tomorrow, honey?” and Ame would say, hopefully, “Saturday?” and Shay would say, “No, honey, what was today?” and Ame would think, and think and then triumphantly name the day, pleased with herself. Then Shay would say, “So that makes tomorrow…” Without fail, Ame would repeat, “Saturday?”

At least she was right once a week.

Shay wondered why her daughter was obsessed with Saturdays rather than Sundays. They were the same thing to her, weren’t they? Days when she didn’t have to go to kindergarten with all those poopy-heads (Ame’s words, discourage but as yet snuffed out by Shay).

No, Shay knew, this wasn’t quite right. On Saturdays, Ame got to go to work with her.

Shay worked in the administrative office of a zoo. It was a small zoo, not a particularly good one in terms of humanitarian concerns (the tiger lived in a cage, not an enclosure, and was stationed far too close to the birds so he was always agitated and pacing to and fro, even though turning around was an ordeal for him because he’d grown longer than the original cage-designer had anticipated). But it was a happy little place for the parents and children who came there and the occasional tour group that found itself in the small west-coast city that had little of historical, or even contemporary, interest.

It was a good job for Shay. She had her Associates Degree and knew it had been an absolute waste of time to get it, as no one cared about anything less than a BA. The bank didn’t want her, the doctors’ offices didn’t want her (not even the chiropractors), and she couldn’t face another benefit-less job at a grocery store since it reminded her too much of being a teenager and living with her parents.

Shay sometimes wished she still lived with her parents. But they were living the good life in Florida now and believed it was the height of parental support to fly her and Ame out there once a year for a rainy and hot Christmas with them.

What confused Shay about Ame looking forward to Saturday so much was that they rarely went out to see the animals. Saturdays were a busy day for Shay, because the phones would be ringing off the hook. Teachers and tour guides worked during the week and Saturday was the only day they could call to book their tours and buy their tickets. The zoo was closed on Sunday.

What Ame usually did on Saturdays in the small, cinder-block-walled, windowless office that was Shay’s inner sanctum at work, was draw animals in chalk on the floor. It was easy to wash off and Ame was forever running out of paper when she drew at home, so when Shay discovered rather by accident that the cold stone floor (chic in the ’70s, she was sure) worked like a chalkboard (the accident involved her getting a cup of tea for a frazzled teacher who had a new pack of chalk in her purse which spilled out when she burned herself on the too-hot tea and instinctively flung everything away from her), Shay figured that she’d buy some of the big sidewalk chalk for Ame and let her roam around the office with it.

Ame drew animals, but she also drew roads. She drew animals walking down streets, across cross-walks and high-ways and up and down shallow public park stairs. She had a sense of direction that she allowed into her art and which Shay found immensely comforting.

My daughter will be something, Shay would think on Saturdays, and know she was thinking in clichés. But then, every morning, when she felt her second eyelid being pried up from her eyeball along with the first, outer one, she would wonder how Ame would ever be anything if she didn’t learn the days of the week.

Soot

Prologue

A cry split the cold morning air. The child, who only moments before had been chasing the pigeons, had fallen down and scraped her hand. She lay where she fell, propping herself up on the uninjured hand and looked aghast at the scraped palm on the other. The scrape looked at first just like skin that had peeled off, but soon little droplets of blood oozed out and began to trickle down to the child’s wrist.

Her wailing hadn’t ceased, and within a few minutes the stone courtyard where she’d been playing was full of people balking at the tremendous noise she was making. A woman scooped her up, ignoring the blood smearing across the white cloth of her apron and took her inside. The stone courtyard emptied as people grumbled and then went back inside the large stone building and got back to work.

“Hush, now,” murmured the woman soothingly in the child’s ear. “There, there. ‘S alright. ‘S just a little scrape.” The child had stopped her wailing by now and had subsided into hiccuping whimpers, tears still streaming silently down her face at the subtle, pulsing pain in her palm. The woman’s face was averted from hers as she put the child down on a wooden stool beside the fireplace, and the child took this opportunity to look at the blood on her hand again. Tentatively, looking quizzically at the redness, she stuck out her tongue and licked it. The taste was strange and metallic, mixed with the dirt that had stuck to the blood. She shuddered a little.

The woman bustled around her, moving around the fireplace, fetching a basin and water and setting it over the fire to heat. Absentmindedly, she patted the child’s matted hair between motions. She got a clean cloth from somewhere and, when the water was hot but not too hot, she took it off the fire and placed the basin beside the child. She dipped the cloth into it, wrung it out, and then tenderly washed the child’s scraped hand. The warmth stung, but the child was calm now, her big eyes fixed on the woman’s face.

“There, now, y’see?” the woman said, taking the child’s other hand and washing it as well. “No more tears now, there’s a good girl. Don’t hurt so bad now, do it?” Her eyes finally met those of the child. The woman gulped.

The child’s eyes were black. The woman couldn’t tell where the pupil ended and the iris began. It seemed like the child had only extremely large black holes set within the whites of her eyes. For all that, she was still only a child. Maybe two years old, three at best. She was skin and bones, almost, although her cheeks retained the roundness of a baby and had a healthy pink flush to them. The child’s hair color she couldn’t make out for it was too filthy and matted, bits of twig sticking out of it here and there making it look as though a bird had idly built its nest there one morning while the child still slept. The child’s limbs all looked to be working and normal, if too thin. The woman thought to herself, instinctively, that the child was probably full of lice and that she needed to be scoured immediately.

But then she met those eyes again. The woman bit her lip, thoughtfully.

“You got a name, child?” She asked abruptly.

“Thea.”

“Ah,” the woman said. She bit her lip again, hard. She looked around her, making sure they were alone and that no one had heard the child utter her name. No one in the large, bustling kitchen had been paying them any attention. It was near supper-time, and they were all busy. She would be told off for not helping tonight. The woman brought her mind back to the child before her and came to a decision. In years to come, she wondered whether she’d been taken on by a fit of madness or whether it was just that the child was much too thin for comfort.

“Your name isn’t Thea. Y’hear me, child? Your name isn’t Thea. You’re gonna be my daughter, and you’re name’s gonna be-” she hesitated, thinking. “Your name’s gonna be Soot, cause o’ your eyes, little one.”

“Soot,” the child repeated. “Soot,” she said again, touching her small nose.

“Soot,” the woman agreed.

Insert-Thriller-Novel-Name-Here: Preface

Most stories begin with a person. Some stories begin with an object – an enchanted ring, a lone chair in a meadow, strange stuff like that.

This here story begins with nothing. Not an object, and not a person. It begins with absolutely nothing, that is to say, just a vast, empty space, all contained inside a small test tube. The test tube is full of nothing. Vacuum. The absence of matter – all matter, liquid or solid or gas.

I sat there watching that emptiness and I tried to understand it. Tried to comprehend the meaning of total, utter emptiness. I couldn’t really understand it, no matter how hard I stared at it. This was when I was a young boy, seeing  vacuum in the science lab for the first time.

Now, I feel as if I am facing an uncomprehensible loss, and now, as it was then, I’m staring at what is in front of my eyes and I cannot understand this emptiness, this lack that I’m facing.

How could I have gotten myself into this situation? How have I screwed myself over like this? Not for the first time, I wish I could turn back the clock…

I spend all my time between calls at work scribbling in my notebook. I was going to try to write some dialogue because I must practice that, and instead I wrote a weird preface to a cheap thriller novel about someone who’s lost everything due to something or other. Ah well, the creative mind takes us odd places, I suppose.