Part 3 – An anonymous guest installment
The relief turned into familiar panic as she realized that, although she was awake, she was not in her hotel room. It was a blank room. Not one like a padded psych ward, but one not rooted in reality. The blankness swallowed her. It was just space; colorless, formless, and undefinable. She was floating and falling at the same time, being stretched at an atomic level. It was happening again. Her edges started caving in, even one day outside of her controlled routine. Could it really have been only one day? Que thought this is what it must be like to die, but that comforted her, because she had already dined in death’s company. A frequent guest! “Waiter,” she called to her ego, “may I have another drop?” finding it ironic that her ego still served her after death. “Of course,” it said, seductively, as it let another drop fall off of the pinpoint of human existence. Splashing onto her tongue, the drop flooded her system with every memory of every person. She abandoned herself into an unbounded space of non attachment; freedom, a complete release. She experienced every childbirth, lived through every relationship, caught every glance, went through every rite of passage, possessed every hopeful dream, tasted every scent, heard every whisper, worked every job, lived in every home, and cried every tear. But the unshackled purity of it was immediately cancelled out by intolerable pain. The inverted reel spun through this filter of newly wrought suffering.
Then she cried every tear, lived in every home, worked every job, heard every whisper, tasted every scent, possessed every hopeful dream, went through every rite of passage, caught every glance, lived through every relationship, and experienced every childbirth. Suddenly, all space was vacuumed back into unconsciousness. She couldn’t determine if she was alive or not, whether she had been born yet or had already died. It was such a foreign place, but she remembered it somehow. Then, a warm, soothing voice resonated around her. “Que, have you forgotten?” it asked compassionately. “I have,” she replied. “Then you know what to do now,” the voice said. “I do,” Que whispered. And she was sucked back into her body, like a dam breaking in reverse.
With a snap of her closed eyes, she was back. Water dripped from the tip of her nose, she looked up at the hotel shower head savoring each drop of water on her tongue. Then she walked downstairs and grabbed a bagel.
“QUE!” Jesus – I’ve been looking everywhere for you!” Charlie stumbled up to her in the lobby.
“Sorry – I didn’t realize I took so long in the shower.” She glanced down at her wristwatch. “Did you want to grab breakfast, we still have time – “ Que stopped as she looked up into Charlie’s stricken face. “What’s wrong?”
“What do you mean, what is wrong?” A deep sigh twisted his lips. “We are going to miss our flight! Where are your things, aren’t you packed?”
Que struggled to comprehend. “What do you mean, isn’t today Tuesday? Granbury’s installation is in a few hours.”
“No, Que. Today is Thursday and we are going to miss our flight if you don’t hurry.”
“But I thought – “ Que stammered. What had happened? “I’ll go -g-get my things.” Trying to keep trepidation out of her chest, Que scrambled to her room.
Fifteen minutes later, Que and Charlie sat in cramped, caustic silence along US Route 67. A gentle but anxious tap came from Charlie’s deft fingers on the steering wheel, Que knew he was upset. She however, was lost in her own thoughts, trying to pull the shards of her memory together. Closing her eyes, Que squandered in the images of her recollection.
Tastes soured her mouth; vinegar and smoke. A sweet, blue eye winking at her across a checkered table. Yes – these were just yesterday, weren’t they? Rasping sounds of weighted legs, dragging – fragments of screams and a hallway. Que searched deeper as she knew those last few were fragments of extremely familiar dreams. Slivers of the fading dream were revealed to her, none discernible even as she reached deeper, her breath lengthening. Water overwhelmed her, flooded her lungs, her eyes and submerged her body. Her back kissed the sand as she sunk to the ocean floor. Gasps forced her lips apart, unbidden and surely uncontrollable as mouthfuls of warm liquid incurred between her teeth.
“QUE! QUE!” “Charlie was shaking her awake from the driver’s side. “Jesus – what is wrong with you!” Charlie snapped, slamming the driver’s side door. Que didn’t know but looked around at the desolate airport parking lot, blinking in the cyan hue born only of an early Texan afternoon.
“You know you should really set the expected go live or you’ll hear from accounting about it,” Charlie said.
“Yeah okay – Are we still on for the samples call? “ Que’s hands were sweaty but he nodded reassuringly. Charlie walked away whistling; nothing beat the sound of a mischievous melody on a Friday afternoon.
With her hands perched on the keyboard, the call started with simple introductions and Charlie dove into details. Voices on the phone were much deeper than hers, but Que kept up easy enough. Charlie fingered the small lip on a bottle while he spoke. Que stared at the sloshing liquid, watching it swing higher and higher to the rim. Her gaze followed the pendulum sway and she willed it towards the edge –
“Seesh – what in the world!” Charlie popped up on his feet; the dark, wet stain of spilled gatorade spread across his khakis. “Sorry everyone – where were we…” His eyes met her florid complexion and downtrodden pupils. The blush refusing to recede, Que kept her head down and her prints swift upon the keys until the call ended. Click.
“We need to talk.”
Charlie sat in secreted silence next to Que. She didn’t know what to say, or even if she did have something to say, how to say it. The gatorade wasn’t her fault, it couldn’t have been. He was clearly being reckless, mindlessly playing with an open bottle.
“Charlie – I…”
“Don’t.” Sighing, he continued. “Look, Que. I know something happened to you out there. You were barely even cognizant, practically unresponsive, didn’t do any work, and I had to carry it the whole way. Where did you wander off to on Wednesday? Please, talk to me.”
“There isn’t anything to say, Charlie. I don’t know what you are talking about.” Abruptly on her feet, Que stomped for the door hiding her embarrassed confusion.
“Wait – Please” Charlie reached out, his hand finding her wrist. Que turned reluctantly. “I didn’t mean to make you mad. Please, talk to me. Something happened to you, I want – need to know that everything is okay, that you are okay, that I can depend on you.”
“Charlie – I get that you are my lead and it is your job to look out for me. But I’m fine really. I’m sorry about the installation. I’ll work harder next week to get everything back on track. I promise. Just – drop this okay?” Pleading brown eyes met distraught blue ones for a suspended moment of unsaid sincerities.
Her wrist dropped back to her side and Charlie was left to ponder Que’s competency.
Part 7 – An anonymous guest installment
Charlie’s curiosity about Que grew over the following days. He could never consciously admit it, but he was intrigued by how mysterious Que was. Speaking in a controlled manner without thinking, it could have been she already lived through this life. There was something about the way she carried herself; detached but hyper engaged. Perhaps she is woman who always tells you the truth but never shares her secrets. Whatever Que is, Charlie wanted more.
Charlie was late for work; a dog died on Piedmont road and animal control had to come scrape it up. “Not again,” Charlie muttered.
He passed through the marble lobby and he stepped into an elevator. The doors were an inch away from closing as a delicate hand wedged between them. It was Que. “Excited for the company outing tonight?” Charlie asked. “Yea, sure” Que responded, her smile faltering as Charlie glanced away. The rest of the way up was overpowered by a cheap piano rendition of Rock You Like A Hurricane played on the elevator speakers.
An aroma of sticky popcorn floors and wet socks filled his lungs as soon as Charlie entered Fun Zone. It was a long day and he zipped straight over to the bar. After a couple gulps he sat alone at an empty table, staring into an empty pint glass. In his peripheral he saw two more pints placed on the table and Que cozied up in the seat next to his. “Has anyone ever said you have impeccable timing??” Charlie asked. “That’s not what I remember you saying earlier this week! Besides, you looked like you needed another one.” Que winked as she flashed a coy smile. “Yea, it’s been rough one” Charlie sighed. “What’s up?” Que met his gaze.
Days passed in dreary water clogged hours. Curious looks seemed to linger between Que and Charlie, an unspoken suspense in the air around them. Charlie’s charming smiles comforted Que’s reservation but couldn’t bring her to words most of the time. What would she say to him anyway? ‘I like you?’ . Rolling her eyes at herself, she quickened her walk to work in the heavy rain. Ducking under overhangs when she could, Que still arrived at the office late and drenched. Her shoes squeaked moistly as she waddled her way to the kitchen for some makeshift towels.
“Go for a swim before work?” Charlie’s easy gait turned the corner.
“Didn’t mean to but I guess I shouldn’t leave my umbrella back at my apartment.’ Grabbing the paper towels, she started drying off her face.
“Uh – here, you have some leaves in your hair” Charlie’s adroit hand reached up and delicately pulled bits of fading summer green out of her windblown braids. Heat of Charlie’s near body reached her chilled bones and she looked up, holding her breath.
POP – They both jumped and then started to move quickly away from the sink as water sprayed out in high pressurized bursts, covering the cabinets and floor. Charlie rushed over to the sink, trying to stop the leak. “Oh my god – Que, get Molly before this gets worse.” Que rushed out of the kitchen and headed for the front desk before Charlie could notice her undeniably flushed face.
“Oh hey cutie” A lean tail whipped around Que’s legs. Looking down, she gazed into piercing blue eyes and wrapped her hands around a wriggly, wiry body. A rough tongue slid up Que’s cheek eagerly.
“She’s a cutie, isn’t she?” Que looked up and saw a plump woman, holding a clipboard full of paper.
“That she is.” Que giggled.
“She’s usually timid around most folk but she seems to like you.” The pup in Que’s arms settled her head in the nook between her ear and shoulder. breathing through Que’s wildly wavy mane. “She’s up for adoption, if you are interested.”
Puppies of all different types and ages barked from their cages on the sidewalk of the Petco Que was caught in front of. “Oh – “ Que hesitated, shifting her weight from one leg to the other. “I honestly hadn’t thought about it.” Que stroked the pups body, feeling a tiny warm heartbeat against her own. “Um..”
The woman smiled deeply and handed Que the clipboard. Que whispered into her new pup’s ear. “You are coming home with me, Quigley.” Later that night, Quigley curled between Que’s long legs on the couch while Amy Schumer’s skit show blared on the TV, a bowl full of coconut soup sloshing as she laughed. Looking up at the clock, Que popped up. “I’m late!’ Displacing Quigs, Que rushed around the apartment getting ready for the night out with her coworkers. “Alright little lady, no eating the couch; I just bought that thing.” She bent over to kiss the little brindled head. “Maybe Charlie will be there. What do you think? Cute enough to catch his eye?” Quig’s ears perked up as Que turned heel and skipped to the door, her scant skirt bouncing behind her.
She was in the hallway again, begrudging the awfully dull echo her dead legs made as they dragged behind her. Again, her shoes were missing, but she couldn’t feel her tiny toenails clip softly on the linoleum floor. Still, Que persisted to the next door and knocked. No answer. Moving on to the next, she knocked yet again; her hope dying with each knuckle that rapped against sterile white wood. How many doors were there? She peered down the center of the hallway, narrowing her eyes into x-ray vision.
A loud click bounded down the hallway as each door swung open and roaring, foaming waves of water sloshed out. A scream barely escaped her lips before the pungent water pulsed through her teeth and under her tongue.
GASP. Sitting up in sheets covered with vodka scented sweat, Que’s chest rose and fell with gulping breaths. A large, rough hand reached out under the blankets to caress the small of her back followed by a deeply muffled voice. “Que, you okay?”
“Ye-Yes” She stammered. “It was just another dream.” A body turned over to face her, adjusting to pull her into the nook of an armpit.
“Another? Do you have bad dreams often?”
“What are they about?” Fingers tangled themselves in her loose hair.
“Oh nothing, just this and that..” She trailed off, nuzzling closer.
“It didn’t sound like nothing, but if don’t want to talk…”
A long silence penetrated the softly lit loft.
“…mmm?” A sleepy mumble escaped his smooth lips.
“Will you walk Quigley with me?”
Shit. Shit. Shit; Charlie thought to himself. That was not supposed to happen; damn tequila. He stirred a pot of simmering tomato sauce, breaking up the frozen meatballs as they thawed. Anxiety was already building up in his chest and he put the spoon down to lean against the counter. Begging the cabinets for a time machine, he sighed deeply. Fuck.
Yes well, that is what got them here in the first place. He shook his head, trying to teeter himself off that train of thought. Tones blared from his pocket and he reached in to grab the phone. Glancing at the screen revealed Que’s name and he put the phone down, hesitating for a few moments.
Continuing on it’s annoying jingle, Charlie stared down at it ignoring the little splatters of sauce as his dinner boiled along unattended. Don’t answer it, he said to himself. Just don’t. But..
Grabbing at it, the phone clicked – “Hello?”
“Hey Charlie, it’s Que.”
“Yeah – hi.”
“Que – I”
They both chuckled. More silence.
“Que, you go ahead.”
“No no, you started first.”
“Right, well.” Charlie inhaled. “I had fun the other night.”
“But – “
“Oh, uh, you do?”
“Yeah, well I kind of figured, you being my lead and everything… The other night doesn’t really fit there.”
“I guess.. I mean, it’s not that I didn’t enjoy it, or want it..”
“Right, well. Thanks for a good time.”
“Yeah, you too.” Click and a dial tone filled the air around Charlie’s ear.
“Shit, she’s mad.” Charlie said out loud. He wheeled around to face the doleful dinner he would inevitably eat alone over the barren sink.
“Yes – I understand entirely Doctor Wright. The report will always export that way. We can change some of the fields around but for the most part, that is how it looks…” Que looked down at her stress-bitten nails, frowning.
“…Mhm… No, Dr. I’m not sure I can change it that way but let me set-up some macros to make it easier for you to see what you need at a quick glance. I’ll send it over for your review when I’m finished… Yes, no problem. Thank you Dr, talk to you soon.”
Que sighed audibly. Making macros in excel for this particular company wasn’t exactly her idea of a good Wednesday afternoon. She got up from her station and prepared for the next hour or two it will take to bend excel to her will. Opening the bathroom door, she almost ran over Dominque, a fellow co-worker.
“Sorr- hey, Dom!”
“Hey Que, how’s it going?”
“Oh you know… sharpening my macro skills for Grinnish Pediatrics. How about you? I thought you were going to come out with us over the weekend.”
“Oh don’t we all love macros. Yeah, I got caught up with some family stuff. I heard it was a ton of fun, for two in particular…” Dominque raised her eyebrow at Que but keeping her mouth firmly shut, she moved past Dominque into an empty stall.
Hearing the door creak closed, Que relaxed her chest and let a pent-up breath out between her parted lips. Unbidden, her mind wandered to that night, flashes of seduction searing onto the back of her eyelids as it weaved through the hours of early Saturday morning…
Snapping herself back into present, she flushed and continued on to the sink for a nice vigorous hand wash, as if to scrub the burned images of Charlie’s smile away. Que stared absently at her hands following well learned motions of lathering soap, thinking only of the water on her skin. Gradually rising warm water ran over her fingers as she rubbed them together, gently folding one over the next, again and again. Each molecule gathering heat from the depths of the pipes and falling sweetly on her mocha skin, where soon her hands were immersed and she felt the energy vibrations of each atom, each nuclear connection…
“Que – hey, watch out!..” Susan reached across Que to turn the sink handle to off as water lapped over the edge of the sink and splashed on the floor.
“Oh shit!” Que jumped back and hurried to soak up all the spilled water with the paper towels that Susan handed her. Plunging her hand into the overflowing bowl to unstop the drain, Susan yelped and whipped her hand back to her chest. “WOW – that’s really fucking hot. Oh my god.. Ow.” Que snapped up and looked at Susan’s blistering hand and then her own. Susan mirrored Que’s aghast expression when they both realized Que’s hands weren’t even wet.
Que came practically running up to Charlie’s desk; her hair wildly trailing behind her. “Charlie – Charlie – Please, I need help. I don’t – k-know what happened.” Que whispered urgently. “I didn’t’t mean to.. I..’
Charlie grabbed a hold of her hand and pulled her into the empty chair stationed under the standing desk. She plopped down, practically shaking with stuttering sobs.
“Que, what happened?” He crouched in front of her, reluctantly letting go of her hand.
“I don’t know, I was just in the bathroom wash-shing my hands.. And.. and the water..” Her words turned into staggering hiccups escalating in volume that would soon attract unwanted wandering eyes. Charlie grabbed her hand again and pulled her up, around the corner, through the door, and into the stairwell. He turned to look at her grief ridden face.
“Okay, Que.. shhh. It’s okay, deep breaths.” He breathed with her, deliberately slowing down her gasps to semi-smooth gulps until her heartbeat slowed and her chest rose and fell without interruption. “Now, what happened?”
Que’s watery orbs finally met his own with a mistrustful plea. “It’s okay, whatever happened isn’t as bad as you think it is. We can figure it out together, I promise.”
A strangled sigh left succulent lips. “I was in the bathroom, washing my hands, and I just, lost track of time, I guess. I’m not sure what happened, I was like, in a trance, thinking about the water running over my skin. And Susan walks in, I guess, I didn’t even notice her.. And. The water was everywhere, it was overflowing onto the floor. So I pull my hands out and start to clean up the water on the floor when she tries to pull the drain out. The water was so hot, she screamed and when I looked up.. Her.. hands were blistering. I mean, blistering right before my eyes.. And I just..” She pulled her hands up to her hair, running them through the loose strands and back down to field of vision. “Mine weren’t even wet. My hands were just in there.. And, they aren’t even harmed.. I just.. Susan’s were so burned Charlie – “ And her sobs caught back up again in her throat. “It’s m-my fault.. I know it is..”
He took her hands within his and inspected them himself. She was definitely right, her hands were fine, soft and as supple as he remembered. “Hmm. Okay, calm down, it’s okay. Where is Susan now?”
“Molly is taking care of her.. But I couldn’t stay and watch Molly panic like that.. Her face when she saw Susan’s burns..” Tears silently streamed down her stricken face.
“Okay, okay. This isn’t your fault, Que. It could have happened to anyone.”
“No, Charlie.” Que ripped her hands from his grip, stomping her foot. “This has to be me.. All these weird things happening with water around me. Water in an office building doesn’t get that hot. It had to be boiling, or hotter.”
“Que, you are getting ahead of yourself. Maybe they are doing work on the water heater with all this construction happening. I mean, what other things have happened?”
She bit her bottom lip; hesitation radiating from her in droves. “Well, there was the pipe the other day, all the rain that we’ve been having.. My dreams..”
“Ha, Que.. you can’t possibly think that the rain, like the rain in Atlanta, is your fault.” Her eyes narrowed. “Okay, that might have been a little insensitive but come on, Que. It’s Fall in Atlanta, it rains all the time. And the pipe the other day was definitely a freak accident. You can’t blame yourself for any of this.”
Taking a deep breath, she looked back down at her feet. “I know, you’re right. I’ve just, been feeling really weird lately; not getting enough sleep I suppose.”
Resting his hands on her shoulders, he pulled her face up to his. “Are you still having those dreams?” She nodded. “Alright, take the rest of the day off to get some sleep and take care of yourself. Can I call you later tonight? I’d like to hear about these dreams if you are willing to tell me?”
A small nod induced sweet anticipation within the pit of his stomach and he let her go, watching the wisps of her hair whip around the corner and beyond view.
Quigley was more than happy to have Que home early, even with the air of anxiety surrounding her. Each perhaps lost in their own thoughts, they walked side by side down the bustling Buckhead road. Back in the apartment, Que and Quigs curled up on the couch together and fell asleep three minutes into the generically comical episode now plastered on the small TV screen.
Knock. Knock… Knock.
Que woke up abruptly, and looked over to see Quigley’s sleepy eyes struggle to stay open.
Knock. “Que? It’s me, Charlie.”
“Oh – be right there!” Que yelled back. Shit, she was a mess. Detaching herself from Quigley, Que walked sleepily over to the door and opened it.
“Hi, may I come in?”
“Of course, please…” Que step aside and Charlie trailed large droplets of water over the threshold. “Must be raining hard outside, eh?”
“Oh yeah, it’s pretty intense out there.” He turned to face her, a full bouquet in his hands. “I stopped at Trader Joe’s and got these for you.“
Que reached for them, blushing. “Gosh, thank you so much, they are beautiful.” She turned to take care of the flowers and Charlie deposited his jacket on a stool, making his way over to the wriggling little pup happy to see him.
“Hey Quigs – you been watching over mama?” Quigley climbed on Charlie’s lap the moment he sat on the couch, licking his face enthusiastically.
“Quigs – come on. Stop, pretty girl. Can I get you anything?”
“No, I’m alright. Come sit with me Que.”
Plopping down next to Charlie with a pup in-between them, Que yawned, barely making an effort to hide it.
“Okay so – Susan is going to fine. The burns aren’t as bad as they looked. No permanent damage.” Charlie’s comforting gaze caressed her face.
Que cleared her throat. “That’s good to hear, truly. Thanks for checking on her. Did you, uh, come all the way over here to tell me that?”
“No – I didn’t. I actually spent the afternoon thinking about what you said. It does sound ridiculous, to be completely honest. How can all the stuff with water be your fault? But then, I thought back to our trip to Granbury. Remember, you disappeared for a while?”
Que frowned. “I mean, I don’t recall is as ‘disappearing’ per se… I did lose track of time though. I do remember that..”
“Yeah – well. You don’t know where you went during that time, and neither do I. I was thinking – like, maybe something happened there? Maybe you should go to the doctor and get checked out. People don’t lose track of time like that…” Que’s frown deepened. “No, not like that. I mean – not like you are crazy or something. I’m not saying that.”
“Then what are you saying?” Que’s arms crossed defensively.
“I’m just saying that you affecting or controlling water or whatever isn’t possible. You seem to be getting really anxious and upset over it all, seeing patterns where there aren’t any.”
“There is clearly a pattern, Charlie. I’m not crazy.”
“Okay, okay. Let’s look at the objective facts. There is: unaccounted time at Granbury, the water pipe in the kitchen, and the hot water in the bathroom. Is there anything else?”
“Right – can you tell me a little about them?”
Que paused, allowing a trice of uncomfort pass between them. “Yeah. So – it usually starts out and I’m in a corridor. White and sterile, with tons of doors. Not unlike a hospital hallway.” Quigley tucked her head under Que’s hand. “And I’m lying on the floor, unable to move my legs. I crawl to a door and knock or try to open it. Sometimes a person comes out of the doors if they open, and they go to grab me, pulling me down the hallway. Sometimes waves of water come crashing out, drowning me. They are so frequent, they happen almost every night.”
“Come here” Charlie pulled Que into an awkward hug. “That sounds awful, I’m sorry this is happening.” Que rested her head on Charlie’s chest, allowing tears to leak out on Charlie’s checkered shirt.
After a few long moments, Que pulled back. “Do you really think this is just stress or something?”
Charlie shrugged. “It could be.. Who knows. The brain is a fickle thing.”
“Yeah – You are right, it does sound crazy to think I could control water or something… Right?”
With clear hesitation, Charlie nodded. “Right.” A loud crack of thunder rattled the windows and Que jumped, the rain hammering on the glass in out of sync drumline strokes.
“Why don’t we order some pizza? I’m not going outside until this calms down anyway.”
The trip to the most northern hook of Maine was excruciatingly long and arduous. Que hadn’t returned to her mom’s in some time but surely – it was never this aggressively consuming. First, the money she had to fork over for Quigley’s boarding, then the trip to Hartsfield, then time in the air, and now, a five hour trek by bus and foot into the northern wilderness of Maine’s modern forests where a quaint cabin sat among the ancient birch leftovers. Wearily walking in between roughly carved wooden dolls strewn about the ground and crumbled pop cans, Que came within eyesight of her home. Dilapidated and moss covered, she felt a rush of comforting warmth fill her chest with each step closer.
‘Ah, I thought your wabun said you wouldn’t make it back this year…’ Que’s eyes adjusted to the leathered woman sitting silently in the corner of the logged porch, deftly weaving a small basket with heavily knuckled hands.
“Gigja!” Que gasped and bent to embrace the old crow. Long moments passed unspoken between the two women; silence, a comfortable friend.
Gigja was first to break apart and Que kneeled at her grandmother’s knees as a child lingers at the legs of their elders, waiting for stories of old heroes and long gone ways. Gigja placed her hands upon Que’s shoulders and looked beseechingly into Que’s face. “What an e’pite’su’et you have become. Let me look at your years.” And they sat together, gazing at each other for countless trices before interrupted.
“Que – Where my river widens, my love!” Her mother hands full with Kuruk, Que’s four year old brother, stepped through the worn wooden door.
‘Oh my bear! You’ve gotten so big!!’ Que fell into a swift hug, encapsulating both of them at once.
‘Come inside Que, you must be cold!’ Following her mother into the two room cabin, heavily scented warm air assaulted her face and she swallowed the smells of home, her worries oozing away as if glaciers near a hot current.
Later that night, Que found herself sitting next to Gigja within the old lodge among a smattering of other tribal members. Gigja was preparing the ceremonial pipe while others laughed and chatted around her.
“Gigja – I’ve never been a part of these, will you show me how?” Que’s nervousness bled through her teeth more than she intended.
“Gsite’taqann, my precious one. Of course, you are old enough now. When I am finished here, I will pass the pipe clockwise, yes? And he takes the stem with his right hand and the bowl with his left. And so it goes around. When it comes to you, take it as I said, inhale and rotate the pipe clockwise within your smoke, when you exhale. Honor the four directions and exhale deliberately, releasing with intent and prayer. And pass it on to me, where I will dispose of the ash properly.” Que nodded with nervous excitement, Though living in a world far away from her heritage enables forgotten roots, here, Que felt real and finally home.
And so, the pipe was passed when everyone sat down next to each other. Dukas, a young man only two years her senior, was also in the lodge for the first time. He took the pipe gently, cradling the sacred wood that would snap with a pinch of his bear paw fingers and exhaled with loud cough inciting chuckles from the rest of the members. Que took it as Gigja directed, and intently inhaled, the black smoke scratching it’s way down her throat. Closing her eyes, she envisioned the smoke creeping down her throat, into her lungs, and back up to her flatly flared nostrils. Tendrils of grey came out of her, and she opened her eyes to rotate the pipe as she was told. Her eyes squinted – in the pillowy depths of the smoke she just exhaled what looked to be a wave gathered at the edge and rolled across the translucent cloud; picking up spare wisps as it went, rolling with muffled yet audible thunder. Que pulled away and gasped – the wave like structure tumbled through the air to her, caving on itself unnaturally, caustically breaking against her forehead… Que looked up to see all eyes, grave and alarmed, turned upon her.
Gigja had stood up, taking the pipe immediately from Que’s hands – ‘Come, Que. We shall walk.’
Bitter zephyrs had picked up into incremental gusts and Que wrapped the hides tighter around herself, pushing through the bare teeth of winter walking next to her grandmother. They reached the sprawling edge of old trees, remnants of what once was her people’s land, and continued further creating new indents in the mixed snowy ground as they went. Their bleak shadows from a dim dusk followed precariously behind them clinging to the last light of their existence.
Que’s burning questions kept her warm enough to push through the settling cold until the older woman was ready to speak. Mi’kmaq tradition taught Que respect and silence for the tribal mothers and it was this that sealed Que’s lips, determined not to undermine tradition.
“Que – you remember the legend I used to tell you before bed?”
Que rapidly dove into her memories, searching amidst her confusion at the sudden topic change. “You have told me many of Mi’kmaq legends and myth, Gigja.”
“Indeed, we have many. The one I speak of, is about Sabawaelnu, our water spirits. Do you remember?”
“Oh yes – how one of our tribe found them along the riverside and fell in love. He married one right?”
“Yes – it is known. They were married and spent time above water, with our tribe, leading to the birth of their son, Tapei. One day – the halfling wife convinces her husband to visit her family in the lake. Gone a few years under the lake until Tapei’s father grew homesick and wanted to come back to his people. While swimming through the reeds, a great luwetug came up and ensnared his water wife. Go, she pleaded through the ripples. And so – he went, dragging Tapei along towards the ever growing sun and finally the surface. His water wife never returned to him.”
“Okay – but Gigja, that doesn’t answer any of my questions. Why does that story matter? What happened in the lodge with that smoke? Please Gigja – weird things have been happening to me and I don’t understand it.” Que shook the tears out of her eyes, fearing weakness in front of her elder.
“Tapei is my ancestor, your ancestor. We are descendents from those halfway people, the water spirits.“ Gigja’s eyes never wavered from forward as if sensing Que’s slight frustration and choosing avoidance over conflict.
“Gigja – that is legend. We cannot be descendants of Sabawaelnu, we are Mi’kmaq: humans. Those are just stories.” Her voice penetrating trees older than tribal time with disbelief.
“Unbelieving isn’t a choice Que, this is truth. We sing the waterspirit’s song, we know their ways inside because we are their children…” And Gigja’s voice broke loud and clear carrying old syllables and driving the smack of her hands against each other. Que’s eyes widened. She knew these words, these rhythms… Matching her own voice to her grandmother’s, they chanted together adding stomps of their feet against winter earth.
The song broke into a crescendo as the two women faced each other, voices carrying past their shoulders, barraging off trees, and traveling upward to the sky with final, pleading notes.
Puffs of their breath suspended in icy air between them as the final echos of their song dissipated within the low gathering clouds.
“Look up, my Que.” Doing as instructed, her head tilted skyward as snow petals fell gently between the birch stilts, finding their way to Que’s flushed cheeks. Astonished, she looked back at her Gigja.
A deep smile erupted on Gigja’s weathered face. “It doesn’t awaken in everyone. I thought I was the last.”
“But Gigja – this isn’t possible…” Gigja took Que’s hand in hers, purposefully turning her back toward the cabin.
“Indeed it is. Tell me, what has been happening to you.”
Que walked slowly next to her Gigja, outpouring everything of the last few months. Emotions accompanying words rushed out and the snow fell thicker with each step laid and each tear shed. Gigja listened gravely with few nods and even fewer words, grasping Que’s arm gently as they strode together; two Mi’kmaq women among renewed reverberations of their antiquity.