So the characters I created for the last #fff won’t leave me alone and I don’t know enough about them to write a whole long tale. I’ve decided to use Elisha’s triggers to see where these characters take me and who else they introduce me to along the way.
More about Flash Fiction Fridays: http://www.urbanfolktales.blogspot.com
My heart was beating like a bird sewn into a shirt pocket. I watched Michael’s mouth move as he tried to explain how the vessel that would shortly land in front of us worked. A strand of his auburn hair came loose from the tie at the nape of his neck and every time he spoke or turned to look out beyond the glass in front of us, it swayed and caught on his lip or ear in a manner far too distracting.
The soft lights of the viewing gallery spilled into the darkness in the gap between where we waited and the launch pad that lay maybe a half kilometer away. A red light flashed intermittently with a green one communicating a Morse-coded message into the night sky. The Milky Way filled the horizon beyond the platform.
Michael coughed softly, a nudge that it was obvious I had stopped paying attention, before continuing his lesson in gravity fields and anti-gravity fields and how the disc could fly upside down allowing us an unparalleled view of New Amsterdam lit for the New Year without any of us feeling like we were upside down. I sipped a flute of ersatz courage, thinking for the thousandth time that I had been born much too late. Perhaps I should get a tattoo of St. Clarke’s aphorism, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,” on my thigh. Everything seemed impossible to me, doubly so that this scientific genius was with me to ring in the new year.
The lights of the landing pad flashed a solid green as the disc neared and then settled on the small circle of steel and tarmac. Even from here it was clear the vehicle made no wind or sound. The long grass glowing in blued LED light stood as straight as sentinels.
A woman’s cultured voice filled the waiting lounge asking passengers to meet the shuttle outside the main entrance. I sat my glass on the mica-topped table between our chairs and pulled my wrap tighter against the slight chill of the September air. Michael looked back at me as we made our way to the small line of people boarding the open shuttle. He was excited and even then I could tell that his excitement was as much for the ride and for himself as it was for sharing this with me.
The flight attendant asked if we would like him to take a picture of us before we boarded. Michael nodded and pulled me to him. I could hear the soft click of the camera eye as Michael turned to kiss me. When Michael received it later that night, he immediately turned the small screen for me to see it as well.
We looked like too people who had all the time in the world. It was the happiest, best picture of us taken. Michael never shared it with the many interviewers who clambered to speak with him over the years and asked for publicity shots. I understand from a mutual friend it is still in the same silver metallic frame in his office.
My father always said art would be the thing that saved us. When I was very young and he left my mother and me, that was the last thing he’d said to me. At ten, I was at a complete loss as to what he could possibly mean. He was a nanosurgeon and my mother was the head of the global seed library. I couldn’t understand what our lives had to do with art.
The books arrived monthly after he left. Always on the twentieth, the day of my Januar birthday. They were old-fashioned things, even then. And the ones he sent were especially old and smelled faintly of vanilla and wood smoke. Though the gloss had long worn from their comically out-dated dustcovers, the information inside was clearly his way of explaining himself.
The first book had been an illustrated guide to moss and lichen from all over the world. I slept with it, ate breakfast pouring over it, and dreamed of lying on the floor of a forest cradled on the fronds and leaves of a million tiny plants. Lesley, my mother’s assistant, had to tape the spine back together before the next book arrived. He shook his head as he handed it back to me and said something about little girls being given treasures beyond their understanding.
The next one arrived and I had to dig through my mother’s closet to find a bag to carry them both. As the months passed and the number of books increased, it was clear to me that I needed shelves in my own room, separate from my mother’s library. Lesley oversaw their delivery and installation and sat in my reading chair as I carefully shelved every book my father had sent in order of its arrival.
He rose to leave as I shelved the last book. “Maybe you do understand the value of these things your father sends.”
Lesley was always the person to bring the package to me when it arrived. He started to wait until I’d opened it to see for himself what my next book-based obsession would be. I think now that he wanted a head start for the barrage of questions that would meet him when I had finished.
I was sixteen when the last book arrived. It was The Mill on the Floss and to this day, I have no idea why my father sent it. On the twentieth of the third month after it arrived, Lesley poked his head in my room. I was sprawled on my bed, rereading the end where Tom and Maggie drown in the flood through sobbing, wracking tears.
“Boss wants you to come to library…” he stopped as soon as he realized I was crying.
He crossed the room and sat on the edge of the bed and awkwardly patted my arm. “There haven’t been flights to Paris in weeks. I’m sure in the next few days all the missing deliveries will arrive.”
I sat up, embarrassed now that Lesley could see my swollen cry-face. “Why this book?” and “Why was there never a note?” were the two questions Lesley couldn’t answer.
Mar hissed at me the way one would hiss at a cat clawing into the expensive sofa fabric. She combined her verbal admonishment with a look full of daggers.
I hadn’t meant to touch it. But, my gods, how can one resist feeling the brush strokes of a painting the world believed lost in the Fire? The colors had perhaps faded but the gold leaf gleamed where Klimt had burnished it onto the figures in The Kiss. There were other precious works in this newly discovered cache but none of them captured me like this one painting.
“I promise I won’t touch it again. Not until I’m suited up and properly ready to clean it.” I bowed slightly to the woman who was the elected leader of our gild.
Mar nodded her head in approval but it was impossible to miss the smile that played across her lips as she watched the other restorers stand in awe as we all had our first long look at paintings by Picasso and Monet, Klimt and Munch, that no one alive had ever seen before, aside from stored images.
I could have easily stood in bliss in this room for hours but breakfast had been hours ago and my stomach rumbled audibly.
Mar laughed. “You should eat. There is much to do.” She beckoned with a flick of her wrist and I followed her out into the courtyard and toward the commissary.