42 (rough draft)
“Dreams,” Mahin said in a smoky voice, a tenor coming from a mouth too young to possess the depth of eroticism. “Dreams, Air, are the reality we can escape to when this world threatens to crush us.” Mahin cupped Arianna Sandalwood’s face in small, dark hands. “Sit,” she charmed, like a snake into a basket.
Her sister, a sister for just over a year, a sister from a strange world captivated Arianna, four years older than eleven-year-old Arianna. She dropped crossed legged to the grasses, weeds and wildflowers, Mahin stooping, then standing, watching down, backing away, Arianna eager.
Fifteen feet away, Mahin’s black eyes owned Arianna. “Not long ago, in the darkness of my soul, I dreamed of this moment, imagined this moment, challenged God to save me or kill me.” With crossed arms, Mahin gathered fists of tee shirt hem, sweeping the material off, over her head, the tee shirt dancing though the air, resting on the grasses, Mahin’s maturing breasts revealed to the summer sun’s attention, her rubbed mahogany flesh glistening under the loving rays.
Arianna drew a hard breath.
Mahin smiled. “In my home, I can reveal nothing.”
“This is your home,” Arianna promised.
“For as long as you can keep me,” Mahin answered, dropping her denim shorts to her ankles, kicking the pants to join the tee shirt. Naked, she reached to the sky, her body lanky-to-elegant, small hands, arms and legs comically long. Her round face perfect, dark, rubbed mahogany, eyes black, ancient eyes reflecting wisdom no child, no adult should possess, black hair glistening back to the sun, swimming around her face and shoulders as she danced.
When Joe Sandalwood, Arianna’s father, announced she would be getting a sister, Arianna thought a baby, specifically, a white baby, a baby with a face like hers, and face like her father’s. She bristled a bit when she learned her new sister would be older than her and nothing like her. Joe, good at reading body language, took careful measure.
“Now, Arianna. You must understand that I did not go looking for a sister for you.”
Arianna narrowed her eyes at the photo. “I know, Dad. I get it. I expected a baby, like, you know, you and Mom had planned three kids. When I killed Mom –”
“Arianna,” he cut her off gently.
She shrugged. “I get all that, Dad. I really do. She died having me. I killed her. That’s a fact.”
“That’s a narrow rendering of the facts.”
“I get all that, too, Dad.” She looked up from the photo. “She died for me, Dad. I killed her. Same thing. I keep that close to my heart, to remind myself how precious I am, how everything I do is important.”
“A testimonial to your mother.”
“Yeah, like that.” She looked back to the photograph. “She’s not like us. Mahin. What kind of name is that?”
“It’s Persian, means like the moon.”
Arianna rolled her eyes. “I meant –”
“I know what you meant. Arianna means very holy.”
Arianna laughed. “Sorry.”
“I’ve not sheltered you for a good reason.”
“Sure, Dad, in case you die, I’m not innocent and naïve.”
“I wouldn’t put it that way.”
She shrugged again. “It’s okay. I’m not sheltered. You’re going to tell me something, eh, someone sheltered would not want to hear?”
He chuckled. “You have your mother’s sharpness.” Joe Sandalwood searched his daughter’s eyes and then her face. “Uncle Cooper is involved in an investigation that’s really taken a turn. Did your cousin say anything?”
Arianna blushed. “About what his father is doing?”
“No, not really. Well, that he’s knee-deep in something clandestine.”
Joe snickered. “Do you even know what that means?”
“That means, Dad, we shouldn’t be talking about it.”
“You have your mother’s sharpness.”
“You just said.”
“Yes, I did. Mahin was kidnapped and sold.”
Arianna narrowed her eyes. “Uncle Coop bought a kid?”
“Your uncle rescued a child: Mahin.”
“You’re talking the sex-slave trade hinted about across the media now and then, but no one really reports anything. I’ve been reading about it.” She looked hard at her father. “Slavery. Today. I don’t get it, not at all. I really can’t believe it goes on.”
“Uncle Coop can’t tell me much.”
“Clandestine, Dad. All I really find on the Internet are blogs here and there that come off sounding like crazy people.” Arianna stared long at Mahin’s photo, the photo held by the corner. “How long?”
“I mean, Dad, how long ago was she sold into slavery?”
“How old is she?”
Arianna stopped breathing.
Older women, women that knew nothing but being owned, taught Mahin the dance, the women accepting their role, their place in the universe, still secretly teaching Mahin, preparing her for the day she would be free.
“They dreamed you here,” Arianna whispered to herself, watching Mahin.
Mahin stopped, extending a hand, Arianna working to her feet, looking one way and then the other, not needing to, hidden in the forest on the back lot of her father’s property. She dropped her tee shirt, shorts and underwear to the grass, stepping to Mahin, coming alongside.
Mahin swept her arms to the sky, Arianna following, Mahin’s small, dark feet floating, Arianna following.
The sun watched down.
Thin, his face almost drawn, fifteen-year-old Cooper Applewhite pushed his black bangs off his forehead, glaring down at his dinner plate as he dropped on the chair. “Really, Mom?”
“Don’t take that tone with your mother, Coop.”
Cooper displayed an outreached palm. “I can fix my own plate, you know. It’s not like I’m a kid anymore.”
His mother smiled. “You’re so lucky I recall being a teenager and how it feels to express independence. Maybe I don’t fix your plate because I feel you’re a child, but because I love you and wish to do something for you, be of service to you.”
“If we were to look for ways to be of service to others, imagine how different the world would be?” Cooper’s father added.
“You know I hate Brussel sprouts.”
“Brussels sprouts,” his father corrected.
“Brussels. There’s an s on it.”
“Well, Dad, I still hate them.” Cooper sat back, crossing his arms.
“You will eat them,” his father offered the edict. “Your mother took the time to cook them and put them on your plate. You will eat them.”
“Well, guess what? You’re going to sit in that chair until you do.”
“Well, guess what,” Cooper mocked, climbing from his chair. “Look. I’m out of the chair.”
Mr. Applewhite began to rise threateningly, stopped by the gentle hand of his wife.
Cooper made a point to slam the backdoor of the farmhouse as he stomped to nowhere but away. “Brussels sprouts,” he said under his breath. He wanted to go back. He wanted to sit at the table and apologize. He wanted to eat the Brussels sprouts, that his mother would be pleased.
Then, he knew, his father would puff up, giving his mother that see, see look of victory. “Smug bastard,” he proclaimed to the barn, some fifty yards off the house.
The Applewhites were not farmers, occupying the house. Neighbors performed the farming of corn and wheat this year. Cooper Applewhite senior enjoyed the solitude and isolation, Cooper junior did not, which could be the reason he choose not to like Brussels sprouts.
Cooper nestled away in the hayloft and his solitude, knowing they’d not be able to find him, if they were to come looking, something they wouldn’t do. “He’ll come back when he gets hungry,” he imaged his father saying.
He wondered about the threat, the Brussels sprouts sitting on the table for days, life frozen until the sprouts were consumed. He puzzled why eating sprouts was so important to his mother. “Why is it so important to me?” He shrugged to hard-edged shafts of sunlight cutting through the back windows. “I’ll wait until they go to bed and then go back to the house. If my dinner is still sitting there, I’ll eat everything but the sprouts.” Maybe I’ll throw all that away and eat the apple pie that’s in the frig, he thought.
Cooper Applewhite did not like being treated like a child. He also did not like acting like a child. Somewhere in the vagueness of thought as his two selves wrestled, he realized he had fallen asleep in the loft, pushed in a cubby created by the stacked bales, sitting, his chin on his knees. The sun long abandoned the day.
He was not alone in the barn. Still defiant over nonsense, he vowed not to be discovered.
The three bare bulbs far overhead came to life. Cooper thought it odd no one called his name, assuming someone, likely his father, was looking for him. He’d stand at the backdoor and bleat my name. He could hear feet touching the earthen floor, pausing, moving again, pausing.
Cooper held his breath. He’s listening for me. He wanted to look over the loft, to see who was there, but sat frozen instead, eyes closed tight. Eternity leaked by, which was only thirty minutes, Cooper frozen in the loft, someone standing like a statue near the door.
Then, the three bulbs gave up their light to the switch clicking. Cooper still didn’t move, not hearing the person leave.
Thirty more minutes in the darkness leaked by. The door finally gave up a creak. Cooper, fighting stiffness, leaned forward. Just before the door closed, he glimpsed a tall figure against the moonlight, trench coat inappropriate for the weather, odd derby.
Quitting the loft on unsteady legs, Cooper approached the door carefully, thinking the stranger lurking just outside, Cooper playing a drama in his imagination. Eye to the crack, he saw the figure some fifty yards up the rise to the house, backlit by the stars and retreating moon, watching the barn. Cooper froze again, barely breathing, watching for thirty minutes.
The stranger melted away, disappearing.
Cooper waited another thirty minutes. A car engine broke the silence, idled and then Dopplered into the distance.
Cooper Applewhite sat motionless on the hard wooden chair watching everything, seeing nothing. People busied around him, even those people with nothing to do, stoic, hard faces, talking in whispers. People, with a whisper, would glance at Cooper.
A woman had offered him coffee corrected by a disembodied voice. “He’s a kid. Maybe he wants a pop.”
“Would you like a pop?” the woman then asked, hands on her knees, her face much too close to his.
He did not see the face. “What kind?”
She rattled off a list, adding, “Anything you want,” on the end.
“Coffee, then,” he answered because the man said he would not want coffee.
“How do you like it?” the face asked.
“It’s okay.” His voice hung in the air like an early summer morning fog.
“I mean how do you drink it.”
Cooper, distracted by why he couldn’t think, couldn’t see and couldn’t understand his environment, didn’t understand the question, thinking of only one way to drink coffee. He tried to turn his head, just a little. He tried to move his eyes, focusing on her face, looking at the face much too close to his, but couldn’t. He wanted to ask what his options concerning coffee were, but couldn’t form the sentence.
“Here,” the disembodied said, a bottle of Green and Clean Spring Water floating in the air. “Everyone likes water.”
The woman took the bottle, twisting the lid free. “Yes, yes. Here Cooper. Drink this.”
Cooper pondered why he couldn’t blink. He wanted to look around, to examine his environment, to figure out where he was. Nothing made sense. He wanted to take the bottle, to maybe take a token sip, that the face would back away. “Police station,” he said aloud, his voice more like a moan. He wanted to repeat the words, knowing he could do better.
“Yes, Dear. This is a police station. I’m Patrolman Janet.”
Now, he did blink. He wanted to point out that she was not a man, realizing the water bottle was in his hand and he was drinking, the woman in the police uniform backing away, still watching.
“I think he should be in the hospital.”
The disembodied voice now owned a body. “He’s in shock. I saw it a lot in the war.”
Even without looking directly at her, Cooper saw Patrolwoman Janet roll her eyes. Cooper knew she did not believe disembodied voice was ever in a war. With quick reflection, Cooper knew she was correct: disembodied voice was lying.
However, I am in shock, Cooper thought. He fought for his memory, to figure out why he was in the police station, wrestling with the sense of not being in his body, his body taking another guzzle of water.
Dad had me arrested because I wouldn’t eat the sprouts?
That made no sense in any reality.
He wanted to ask Janet, but he didn’t want Janet to bend over with her face in his ask if he were a five-year-old.
Drawing a deep breath, reason gave him his body back. He held his right hand forward, palm out. “Why am I here?”
Janet stepped, coming up short because of the hand, watching down. “What do you remember?”
“You are Patrolwoman Janet.” His dark, almost inhuman eyes held hers.
“Well, yes, but that’s not what I meant.”
“You said Patrolman.”
She blinked repeatedly. “Did I? I don’t think so.”
“You did.” Cooper looked past Janet. “You were never in any war.”
“You said you saw a lot of something in the war. You were never in a war.”
“Well, kid, I beg to differ.”
Cooper shrugged, waving his hand dismissively. “A simple Google would set the record straight, but that really doesn’t matter, only in that you’re basing a medical evaluation on experience you don’t have.” He put a finger to his chin, considering the ceiling. “I would have guessed shock, too. Shock.” He looked back to Janet. “Something really bad happened?”
“I guess I don’t remember because my stupid brain derailed my memories to protect me.”
Disembodied voice opened his mouth, stopped by Cooper’s traffic cop hand. “I think Patrolwoman Janet is correct. I should be in the hospital with actual doctors around me.”
“The detectives need to speak to you.”
Cooper narrowed his eyes. “My parents are dead.” Saying it didn’t make it any less abstract. “If they were alive and hurt, they’d be in the hospital and me, too.” He looked from Patrolwoman Janet’s eyes to disembodied voice’s eyes. “Am I under arrest?”
“Eh, no.” Janet glanced at disembodied voice.
“I want my phone call.”
Janet bit her lip. “The detectives need –”
“Phone call. Now.”
Disembodied voice shrugged. Patrolwoman Janet presented her phone.
Cooper paused on the last number, looking up. “Do you mind?”
The two cops stepped back, but not far.
Joe Sandalwood answered the phone with, “Do you know what time it is?”
“Coop? What’s wrong?”
“I don’t know details. Something really bad’s happened.”
“Okay. What do you know?”
“I’m in the police station. This is really weird. My brain’s in hyper drive.”
“Hyper drive? What do you mean?”
“I was in shock, I guess. I was aware of my surroundings but couldn’t interact.”
“That sounds like it.”
“I reasoned my way back?”
“I have no idea. Anyway, I’m like super aware, hyper intuitive.”
“I’m still not sure what you mean.”
“I think the people around me believe I’m a mind reader.”
“Deep breath, Coop. Tell me what happened.”
“I don’t remember. Pieces are missing. I think Mom and Dad are dead.”
“I’m on my way.”
Cooper, sitting comfortably on the grass in a tight circle of three surrounded by trees in the cove looked from Arianna to Mahin and back. “It’s all like a dream and I can’t seem to make it real.”
Mahin smiled softly from her dark mahogany face. “Memory, what we accept as our memories, is not unlike a dream.”
“I guess. I step outside myself and look back. Mom and Dad are dead. I should be devastated, yet here I sit as if nothing’s happened.”
Arianna bit her lip. “I bet that’s why the cops looked hard at you.”
“Oh, because I didn’t scream out no, no and blubber? I’d agree with that. I repeat: I step outside myself and look back. I am kind of creepy.”
“I killed my mother.”
“I know, Air.”
Arianna rolled her eyes. “I know you know, Coop. I’m reminding you. I killed my mother and I’m not all boo-hoo is me and stuff.”
“That was eleven years ago.”
“Still, it’s with me everyday. People think I shouldn’t be so, what’s that word, Mahin?”
“Stoic about it.”
Mahin floated her hands in front of her, palms up, demanding attention. “I watched my mother and father murdered.” Her hands rested on her knees.
Arianna’s eye went wide. “Why? I don’t mean why did you watch. I mean why did they get murdered.”
“I knew what you meant. My sister and me.”
“You were how old?”
Mahin held Cooper’s eyes. “I was four, my sister eight. The men wanted us. My memory is more like a dream. My father demanded my sister take care of me. I’ve thought they didn’t need murder my mother and father. They could have just taken us. But then, I would want to find my way home.”
Cooper blinked repeatedly. “They murdered your parents in front of you so you would know you had no place to run.”
“Yes. That, and I’m sure so my mother and father would not search for me.”
Arianna mimicked Cooper’s blinking. “Slavery. Today. In the world. I really can’t believe it.”
“That’s what Dad was working on.”
“That work is how he came to, what was the word?”
“Rescue, Mahin.” Arianna nodded hard. “He rescued you.”
“Yes, Rescue.” She looked to Cooper. “Though I was educated because men require companionship as much as sex, my education is not complete.”
“I don’t think anyone’s education is complete, but I follow you.” Cooper examined his hands. “They wouldn’t show me the file.”
“There’s a surprise.” Arianna’s sarcasm was not lost.
“I saw Mom and Dad dead. I mean, when I went back to the house. Memory, not even like a dream. More like snapshots.”
“Snapshots?” Arianna narrowed her eyes.
“I was going to ask the same.”
“Still photos as opposed to video.” He looked from Arianna to Mahin and back. “The papers say the authorities are reporting that their murder is one in the string of violent home invasions that’ve plagued the state for the past five years.”
Arianna smirked. “That sounds like a quote from the newspapers.”
“Pretty much.” Cooper rolled his shoulders. “I told them. There was one man, not a group of people.”
“The man in the trench coat.”
“Yes, Air. The man in the trench coat.”
Mahin worked to her feet, fists gripping the helm of her tee shirt. “Do you mind if I dance?”
Cooper blushed. “I like when you dance for me.”
“Oh? Sorry, Coop. You are mistaken. I do not dance for you.”