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The green couch was soft under Jana. She let it hold her, let her weight fall down through it until she felt as though she were floating. Her feet rested lightly on the floor, barely brushing the long, wooden planks. It was warm here, in this room. It was warm and the air was heavy with age and the dusty sighs of a hundred bodies that had dwelled here and passed on. This creaky, swaying house was brimming with the echoes of life and the clangs andsqueals of the living. Her family breathed around her, separated by stairs and doors and walls, but Jana could hear them all. She listened, letting her mind drift from consciousness to consciousness, kissing lightly the aura of her mother whose mind turned to meet hers.
Bria was on the back porch with Helene considering the sunrise. Helene. Jana hovered in the recesses of Helene’s loss, seeking access, a door into the suffering so that she could ease it without bonding the way her sister had. Jana knew the paths her mother had wished existed. She did not know why these doors were open to her when they were closed to her mother’s deep experience, but she knew that, just as her mother could never refuse to walk them, walk them Jana must. Here was a way in to Helene’s heart, and Jana had the key.
She began by making an apology to Helene’s spirit, aware that she was entering the inner sanctum without permission. When the spirit lashed at her, Jana whispered prayers for peace and an end to suffering. She called on the Creator, trusting in His aid, and began to patch the raw holes that dotted Helene inside and, even as they were repaired, seemed to break apart and bleed anew. Jana worked this way tirelessly as Helene and Bria spoke words that wormed through the air between them.
The ceremony to be tied had been small. Just Helene, Alan, and Helene’s parents. Alan’s parents hadn’t wanted to be involved. They disapproved of young marriages and, although by some miracle most of Soel hadn’t realized it, they had skipped town shortly after the knot was in place saying Alan was a man now. He had chosen his lot. Alan would have liked to offer Helene a life outside the Fishbowl—she knew that—but his parents had effectively bound them to this place just as surely as his heart was bound to hers.
Helene wasn’t bothered. She enjoyed going through the motions of teenage life with her peers. She loved the thrill of sneaking away with Alan in the dunes where they would love each other quickly and quietly. She loved the feeling that the earth moved with them, the sand coiling around them in a protective wall. There was a certainty in that circular cutout of open sky. Infinity stretched above them, and they would lay on their backs to count the stars or argue over which were satellites and which were organic explosions.
The night they’d been caught in the deep embrace, Alan had given her a smooth circle pendant. At its center was a hollow that gave it the look of a ring, but Alan had looped a strap of hide through it so she could wear it near her heart.
“Did you make this?” she had asked, wondering when he would have found the time or the curious stone it was carved from.
“No,” he’d said. There was a secret. A place further into the dunes, beneath one of the docks that he wasn’t to show her. Someday. It would get them out of the Fishbowl—across the seas, even. They would be able to choose whatever life they wanted. “What do you think of life in the stars, Helene?” She loved to hear him talk of being one among them.
Helene clutched the pendant and stared out her bedroom window into the sky. Another sunrise. Another day to add to the count without Alan. It was strange that she felt healed in a way, despite the ever-present sadness. She wondered at herself, the guilt growing daily, that she was recovering so easily from losing the love of her life. The burden of the knowledge of terrible. A betrayal. Helene pressed the pendant against her heart, her nails biting into bare skin. If she couldn’t cry for him or die for him, she could bleed.