Sun 1 Jan 2012
Mother doesn’t trust us anymore. She won’t let us leave the house. You just stay there where I can keep an eye on you, she says. No, you can’t go play in the yard. Don’t you move.
We’d noticed her starting to change a while ago. It worried us. When had she become different?
Bicky said she hadn’t. He said Mother had always been spiny-skinned, and the rest of us had just grown old enough to notice, was all. Besides which, she was teeter-wobble in the head. Anybody with so many kids had to be, Bicky said. It was just a fact. We thought Bicky was full of kak, and Verrie told him so to his face. Mother had always been hug-again, until recently. Verrie said he remembered tickles and kisses. He looked at us, and we nodded. And what about the squeezie-dolls, and the blankets crocheted out of for-real unraveled sweaters? Only a few of us nodded that time. Verrie still had his blanket. It was yellow partway and a bluey-gray the rest. Hill had one, too, but he had cut a hole in the middle and used it as a poncho now. It looked stupid, because it didn’t even reach down to his belly-button. Squeezie-dolls were harder to remember. Maybe Coy had had one. Maybe Nardo had broken it.
You can’t be sentimental, Bicky said. We’re doing something important. If Mother tries to stop us, we’re going to have to be hard.
Maybe if we explained it to her, Hill said.
She won’t listen, Bicky said. She’ll be scared. She’ll lock us in the house. Maybe do something worse.
We held this meeting under the sourbark trees, where Mother’s eye couldn’t reach, back when she was first starting to get suspicious. It was after the fourth or fifth time we’d met with the gray kiddies. We knew we weren’t supposed to go near them. We were supposed to run away if we saw even one. It wasn’t because they were gray, Mother explained. It wasn’t because they had six fingers, or eyes that were too big and too round. It was because they weren’t really people, and real people needed to stay away from things that looked almost like people but weren’t.
The gray kiddies didn’t talk. Not like us. They made sounds, but the sounds were only whistles and a chit-chit-chitter. And sometimes they tried to bite us. And they smelled like carrots that had gone black and oozy. And they kept running off to grub up these little plants with fat, ovalish leaves, and when they started chewing the leaves they wouldn’t listen to anything Bicky said. They can’t understand us even when they’re not chewing those leaves, Hill said, but Bicky said that wasn’t true. It was the gray kiddies who’d showed Bicky what he’d been doing wrong, when he was trying to scrape out the new light. One of them had just run out of the trees and poked a finger right into the hole and chit-chit-chittered and then run off again, but for a second the light came through really clear. Only for a second, and Bicky hadn’t been able to see what that gray kiddie had done, but after that Bicky was on fire. He was flying in the clouds. He couldn’t shut up, even after we were all supposed to be in bed and asleep. We got to get them on our side, he said. We got to train them, you know? To help us. Because I think the only way we’re going to do this is together.
The new light was a little scary. Verrie said that was only because anything new was scary. But the new light was very silver, and hot. And it was in the ground. We all knew from the stories that light was supposed to be in the sky. That was the old days, Hill said, before the clouds changed. And everything on the other side of the clouds, too, for all we knew. This is a different light, he said. Wouldn’t it be good to have a different light, a new light? There was only so much wood we could burn. There were only so many candles we could make. There were only so many batteries we could charge up with pedal power and endless cranking.
We can’t let Mother know, Bicky said. Believe me, all of you. She wouldn’t understand. Old people are like that. It’s just a fact.
So we tried to be careful, but Mother grew mistrustful anyway. We didn’t think she knew exactly what we were up to. She would’ve been a lot more spiny-skinned if that had been true. Locked us up, like Bicky said. At least yelled and switched our legs with sliver grass. Cried. It was so bad when she cried. But all she did was watch us, and watch us, and watch us. And then, today, she tells us not to leave the house.
You stay right there, she says. Don’t you move. No, you can’t go out to play. I want you where I can keep an eye on you.
And she takes off her eye, the one she wears around her neck on a yellow-metal chain, and hangs it on the big hook in the center of the wall, and goes outside. Maybe she’s going to the market, and will be gone for hours. Maybe she’s only going to pace around the yard, and slam back into the room in a few minutes.
That eye doesn’t work, Bicky says. Look at it. It’s all dull and rusty. I bet it hasn’t worked for years. I bet it never worked, and Mother just made pretend that it did.
We all look at the eye. It doesn’t wink, it doesn’t twitch, it doesn’t make any clicky sound. It just hangs there.
It used to work, Verrie says.
Bicky shakes his head.
Coy says, It does. Mother saw me take some red-dog jerky from the bin under the counter. So she made me kneel in the corner with my hands on my head for ever and ever.
She smelled the jerky on your breath, Bicky says, and you were in the corner for ten minutes, tops.
Good thing she doesn’t have an ear, too, Nardo mutters. The rest of us hold our breaths, wondering, What if she does? What if she does and she never told us? We don’t say anything, though. The older boys don’t like it if we interrupt.
Bicky stands up. He’s not allowed to do that. Mother said Don’t move. Bicky’s face is hard. Not spiny, but like the kind of glass that’s hard to break. The kind you have to hit over and over again with a rock to crack it. We found a piece of glass like that once, about as big as Nardo’s foot. Mother took it away from us before we hit it more than a couple of times.
The rest of us stay where we are, sitting on the floor of the big room. The littler ones quit shoving each other and play-wrestling.
What we’re doing is important, and, and, good, he says. We can’t let anybody stop us. The gray kiddies are going to be waiting. If we don’t show up, you think they’re going to hang around?
Nobody says anything, because we all know the gray kiddies are unpredictable. Sometimes they act like they understand everything Bicky says. Other times they throw rocks at us, or worse, and whistle really loud until we have to slap our hands over our ears. Sometimes the gray kiddies are at the place where Bicky started scratching in the dirt, and sometimes they’re not. Could be it wouldn’t matter at all if we missed today. Could be, if we missed today, the gray kiddies wouldn’t ever go back there again.
We’ve been working with the gray kiddies for weeks and weeks. We’d scraped up a lot of dirt. And now we get the new light for two or three seconds at a time, when everything comes together perfectly. It’s better when there were more of us than there are of them. Then the gray kiddies are calmer, mostly. Less biting and whistling and throwing muck.
Bicky stands up, right in front of the eye, and says, Come on. We’re going to the place.
We can’t, says Hill. Mother’ll know. We can’t march out right under her eye.
I’m going, Bicky says, and looks at us, all of us, one at a time. Quickly, though. Glance, glance, glance. He doesn’t linger on any of us, not even Verrie. Who’s coming with me? he asks.
We’re all frozen.
Can’t you see, Bicky says, and his glass-hard face takes on a glow. We’ve come so far. We’re really starting to work together. The grey kiddies are learning. And we’re learning, too. I’m learning.
He is swaying us. Even though the new light is a little bit scary, we want more of it. More than two or three seconds worth. Even Nardo, who was curious to see how hot it really was and ducked under Bicky’s arm and stuck his face right up against it, and got a blister on the tip of his nose, never said he thought we should quit.
We’re not scared of the grey kiddies anymore, despite how they like to jump on us. Grab hold of our shoulders, wrap their arms around our necks, make us give them piggy-back rides. That’s when they’re not rushing off to find the fat-leafed plant they like to chew. When the new light shines, they make a sound that’s not a whistle or a chit-chit-chitter. It’s more like a hoot. We think they like the new light. It can’t be because they like Bicky so much that they keep coming back to the place.
Gray kiddies, Mother says, and she’s standing right behind Bicky, she hasn’t come slamming it at all, but slipping in, a wind-shadow, barefooted and dark and swift, and we all know, know, know in our bones that however old and rusty and dead-looking her eye is, it for damn sure works, and she probably does have an ear, too, maybe hidden in the back part of the eye.
She’s not carrying anything, no sliver-grass switch, no axe handle, not even the Big Spoon, but she’s the farthest thing from hug-again that we have ever seen. If Bicky’s face is hard glass, then hers is stone, craggy and weathered, like the side of a mountain. I used to have daughters, she says. Before all of you. I used to have daughters, but they died. And now all I have are stupid, stupid boys.
We have heard this before, but never in the daytime. Before today, she only said it at night, when we’re all meant to be asleep. Sometimes she says lovely, lovely boys, but not often.
Bicky is still standing up. He is almost as tall as Mother.
We think the new light is important, is good, the way Bicky says, and now Mother will take that away. We can’t jump up and run out of the house. She’s standing right there. We can’t push her down. We can’t hit her. But we don’t want the new light to be lost. We don’t know what to do. Some of us start to cry.
Bicky hasn’t moved. He doesn’t want Mother to see his face. The hard glass is starting to crack. Mother, we found something, he says.
You’ve been playing with wild things, she says. Dirty things. Dangerous things. Her voice is thin and dry, as if she has not had a drink of water for a whole day.
We found something, Bicky says again. His voice is breaking, like his hard glass face. Something good. The gray kiddies are helping us learn how to make it – how to keep it – how to use it.
They’re not people, Mother says. How many times do I have to tell you? You can’t play with not-people. Not-people can’t be your friends. Even if they look like children. Even if they look like little girls.
Some of us glance at each other, surprised. We hadn’t thought the gray kiddies looked like little girls. They didn’t have penises, but that didn’t make them girls, did it? They were gray. Their skin was gray, and their hair was gray, and they had a lot of hair, on their arms and legs and backs and fronts and faces, too. And they bit. And they smelled like rotten carrots. And they whistled and chit-chit-chittered. And hooted sometimes.
We’re not playing, Bicky says. We’re working together. We’re teaching them –
You can’t teach them anything. They’re not people.
Why does that matter so much? Bicky’s shaking now. You don’t know what we’ve found.
I don’t care what you’ve found.
You don’t know what we’re doing –
What you’re doing is dangerous! Mother shouts. If you play with not-people, they will make you not-people, too!
Everybody goes very still. This is the first time we’ve heard that.
Suddenly Verrie speaks, surprising us all. Are they not-people, Mother, or new people?
Like the new light, Bicky whispers. His back is to Mother. Only we see his lips move.
Mother answers Verrie. Not people, she says, her voice gritty, stones rubbing together. People live in houses. People plant gardens. People crank batteries. People make clothes. People trade their goods. People have schools, even if some children don’t want to go. People talk.
People cut wood and build fires, Bicky says, to us. People boil fat and strain it and boil it again and strain it again to make candles. In the daytime, people walk and sit and talk and eat in a grayness twice as gray as the gray kiddies’ skins. At night there is only blackness, and little flickers of flame.
That’s the world, Mother says. If you’re going to cry about the world, you won’t stop until you’ve turned to dust. Now I’m going to send you to bed without any supper, and if there’s any backchat, there won’t be breakfast, either.
We look at each other. Bedtime isn’t for hours and hours yet. It would be awful to have to lie still and do nothing for all that time. And what if the gray kiddies are waiting for us, at the place? Maybe Bicky is right and if we let the gray kiddies down, they won’t trust us again. Maybe all the biting and the jumping and the hair-pulling and the kak-throwing is the gray kiddies’ way of being friendly. They bite and jump on each other, too. And they’re always throwing things, when they aren’t chewing those leaves. Or it could be that the biting and the jumping and all of that is the gray kiddies trying to drive us away, and if we don’t come back to the place, they’ll take the new light for themselves.
We found something, Verrie says. Can we tell you what we found?
No. I don’t care what you’ve found.
It’s something good, Verrie says.
There are no good things left. We used them all up. Now go to bed, all of you.
It’s something new.
New things are never good.
That’s when we’re sure Mother is wrong. Some of us are crying, because we love Mother, we really do. We remember tickles and kisses. We remember hot soup and long stories on cold winter nights. We remember lullabies and laughing in the garden, Mother making funnies about how the vegetables used to be big, and all different colors. We don’t all remember squeezie-toys, but there were many times she came back from the market with old, torn sweaters. It’s not her fault we wore out the blankets, or lost them. Bicky is wrong about Mother always being spiny. She’s spiny now, but that’s because she doesn’t understand.
Bicky doesn’t glance behind him. Who’s coming with me? he asks again.
Don’t you take a step, Mother says. Don’t you leave this house.
Can’t you trust us? Verrie says. Can’t you trust us a little bit?
And he stands up.
And Coy. And Nardo.
And some more, and then some more.
There are so many of us. She cannot stop us all. She can grab some. She can knock some of us down, drag us to the sleeping room, lock us in. But not all of us.
She doesn’t answer Verrie’s question.
Her stone face is cracking, like Bicky’s hard glass face cracked. Most of us have stood up, but Bicky is still trembling, though he’s trying to hide it.
He turns a little, but not so much that he can meet her eyes. We have to go, he says. We’ll be back.
Do I have to lose my boys, too, Mother says, and her voice is sand. All my lovely boys.
And we say No, no, no. Not all of us say it. Not Bicky, not Verrie. But almost everybody else. More of us are crying, and Bicky glares at the weepers.
Then Bicky says something very mean. You can have a couple more litters, can’t you, Mother? Maybe you’ll have girls again. Lovely girls.
We can see her face, though Bicky can’t. He’s looking at the door.
There is dust in her wrinkles. There is sand on her lips. The time for girls is over, she says. Can it be true? we wonder. Sometimes Mother says things just because she’s sad, or mad. Some of us have been to Underpass Settlement. There were girls there.
There must have been girls there.
Bicky walks around Mother and heads for the door. We follow him. Mother doesn’t try to snatch up any of us.
The gray kiddies are waiting at the place. They are not jumping around, or chewing leaves, or chit-chit-chittering. Some of them are sitting around in a loose circle. They whistle when they see us. A few of them are scraping away at the ground, but not where Bicky has been scratching, not where he first found the new light. The gray kiddies are scratching a short distance from there. They don’t whistle. One of them hoots, twice.
They don’t look like girls. But they don’t look like not-people, either. They used to look like not-people. The first time, when one helped Bicky, we were all scared. We knew we were supposed to run away.
Maybe they are new people, like Verrie said. Maybe they’re not not-people, and not new people either. Maybe they’re just what they are. But we’re not afraid of them anymore. We come closer, slowly. There are more of them than there are of us, this time. That’s usually trouble, but the gray kiddies seem calm. The ones sitting down whistle softly. Some of us say Hi, and wave.
What are you doing? Bicky asks the ones who are scraping and scratching in the different place. He looks at the excavation we’ve been working on for weeks. It is long, and wide, and shallow, because we have to move the dirt very carefully. The four or five gray kiddies digging a short distance away are digging faster, and deeper. They hoot. All of them this time, not just one.
Bicky takes a step toward them.
Wait, Hill says. Wait till we know what they’re up to. It could be anything. It could be a trick. A trap. He goes over to our excavation, and peers into it with a worried expression. He crouches, and puts a hand in, moves it the way we’ve seen Bicky move his, but there’s no new light, not even a teeny flash.
The gray kiddies sitting and waiting jump up. The ones digging hoot, and half of them sit down again. But the other half race to our excavation.
Don’t move, Bicky tells Hill. Don’t be scared. They’re not going to hurt you.
The gray kiddies jump on Hill, and jump over him, and pat his back, and bop-bop him on the head, and they’re chit-chit-chittering now, but not too loud, and they don’t pull his hair. One of them jumps on his back again and clings there, and three of them wrap their six-fingered hands around his left arm, and two more lower their hands into the hole we’ve been making for weeks, and they nudge Hill’s shoulder, and the new light suddenly bursts alive. Hill lets out a cry and squeezes his eyes shut. The gray kiddies whistle, very very loud, but for the first time ever, the sound doesn’t hurt. Our ears must’ve gotten used to it.
The new light is silver. That’s all right. It’s always been silver.
The new light is hot. We can feel its warmth from the little rise, where we’ve all been hanging back, all of us except Bicky and Hill. That’s all right. The new light has always been hot.
The new light doesn’t fade out in two seconds, or three seconds, or five seconds. We are counting our breaths; we are counting our heartbeats. The light glows steadily. The gray kiddies drag Hill away from the edge of the wound we have made in the ground; he has to scuttle sideways, on his knees and palms, because they won’t let him stand up.
The silver light continues to shine. We look around, at each other, at Bicky, at the world. We can see more colors than we have ever seen before.
The gray kiddies pile on Hill and hug him tight. He doesn’t protest; he doesn’t try to push them off; he doesn’t call for help. His eyes are still shut.
Hill, Bicky says. Hill. Did you see what they did? Do you understand how they made it work?
The silver light keeps on shining. The world is so full of colors. We hardly know what wonder to look at next.
The gray kiddies are still gray, though. The ones digging in the new space, the space they picked out, hoot at Bicky.
Verrie says, Mother said no new things are good. But she was wrong, wasn’t she? This is good.
Bicky’s face is not hard glass, but it is not peaceful, either. His cheek muscles twitch. He is not smiling. He is breathing hard, though all the rest of us have caught our breaths, after the long run from the house.
I think so, he says. I think this is good. Hill, are you all right?
Yes, Hill says, after a moment. Just a little…shaky.
The gray kiddies hoot at Bicky.
My turn, Bicky says quietly, and we see that he is scared. This is good, he said that it was good, but this new thing is newer than even the new light, and all of us are scared, too.
Bicky walks to the new place where the gray kiddies are scratching and scraping. They do not touch him. He kneels down among them, but does not put his hands into the hole. He stares down into it for a long time. What’s this, he says, but he isn’t talking to anyone, not the gray kiddies, not us. Maybe himself.
The gray kiddies make their six-fingered hands into fists, and thrust them down through the air. Miming hitting? Striking? One puts its hands together, as if holding something big and round. The others keep swinging their fists down through the empty air.
Hit it? Bicky says. Hit it with a rock?
They all hoot. They all hoot loud.
Me? Bicky asks. I should hit it?
They hoot louder. Two of them start jumping.
Verrie, Bicky calls. Get me a rock. A big one. A heavy one. Coy, you help him.
Bicky doesn’t tell the rest of us to do anything. Should we be standing guard? Should we find rocks of our own? Sticks? The only sort of wood we can’t burn is the wood from the sourbark trees, but we’re not allowed to play with any branches that drop off, even if they fall by themselves. But we worry that we are going to need weapons.
Because people are going to come. The silver light keeps pouring out of the hole. People are going to notice that. They are going to come to see what it is. Maybe they’ll be scared of it. Maybe they’d try to cover it up again, throw all the dirt we’d scraped out and piled up back in the hole. For sure they’ll chase the gray kiddies away.
The gray kiddies who are still sitting down slap the ground with their six-fingered hands and chit-chit-chitter like crazy. The ones all on and over Hill are hugging him like he’s the most hug-again thing ever. They’re pulling his hair, but not really pulling it. More like stroking it. They’re biting at his legs and arms and back and face, but not really biting. Play-biting.
Hill pats some of the gray kiddies on their backs. We don’t blame him for keeping his hands away from their faces. Even if the gray kiddies are only play-biting, their teeth are sharp.
The new light is so bright now we can see the dirt under our own fingernails, the petals of the little white flowers (they are white, really white) that grow close to the ground, the scars on our knees, each other’s eyelashes. We look up, and let out gasps. The new light not only spreads across the land, but rises, too. It rises so high it hits the clouds, and is reflected back down again.
The gray kiddies who are still sitting down wave at us who are standing where Bicky and Hill and Verrie and Coy left us. They have never waved before. But we waved first. Did they learn it from us? We wave back. They whistle, and point at the sky.
We don’t whistle. We nod, and point at the sky, too.
Hill is hunting around for a big rock, with Coy at his heels. Bicky hasn’t yelled at him to hurry up once. Bicky’s still staring into the hole the other gray kiddies have dug. Some of us can’t stand it any longer, and call to him. What is it? What do you see?
Something different, Bicky says. Something new.
Like the new light?
Like it, but not like it.
The gray kiddies with Bicky tug at his shoulder, point to us, then point to themselves, then the gray kiddies with Hill, then the ones sitting down. They bend over to look down into the hole, the way Bicky was doing. They look at him again. All these weeks and weeks, when we tried to talk to them, to teach them easy words like stop and get off and dirt, they made like words were no more than the sounds of water lapping against a boulder. Now they are acting like it was summer feast, the day when there was no trading or working, only dancing and singing and games, and clowns rushing around pulling faces and pretending they couldn’t speak, only pointing and gesturing and making shapes with their hands. The gray kiddies can’t have learned that from our people. They have to have thought it up all by themselves. Not-people, or new people, or whatever they are, they aren’t stupid.
We have to share, Bicky says. Us and the gray kiddies.
We understand that. It sounds fair.
There’s not going to be enough for everybody, Bicky says. We’re going to break it into little pieces, but some of us are not going to get a piece. Some of them, too.
That doesn’t sound so good. For sure the older ones are going to get all of the share that’s coming to us.
Verrie finally comes panting up, lugging a rock twice as big as his own head. Coy’s following him. We bet Coy hasn’t done anything other than tag along, but he’s going to get a piece of whatever the new new thing is, just because he’s there.
We look at the gray kiddies who are sitting down. They’re probably thinking the same thing we are.
Bicky looks at the gray kiddies with him, and says, All right? He means the rock. The gray kiddies pat it all over, and hoot softly. Then two of them take one side of it, and Bicky takes the other. Back away, Bicky tells Verrie and Coy. They’re not happy, but they do it, though they don’t come all the way to where the rest of us are.
The other gray kiddies at the new spot reach into the hole and lift out something that we can’t see. It must be small, despite the fact that it takes four of the gray kiddies to bring it out of the hole and set it on a flat bit of ground. Whatever it is, it’s heavy, but we figure that because it’s so small, when Bicky hits it with the rock, he’ll break it into two piece, or four at the most. We ready ourselves for disappointment.
Bicky and the two gray kiddies holding the other end of the rock look at each other, and they all nod at the same time, and they bring the rock down with all their might on the small thing we can’t see. Then they do it again. And again.
Meanwhile, some of us notice that there are more gray kiddies, many more, more than we’ve ever seen before, hiding in the trees at the bottom of the hill. Maybe they’ve been attracted by the new light, which is shining and shining, like it’s never going to stop. We hope it’s never going to stop. We look behind us, to see if any people are coming, too. Yes. We can’t see them yet, but we can hear a rumble, the rumble of angry olders, scared olders, excited olders.
Is Mother with them?
The light is so bright we can see the sweat on Bicky’s face. The gray kiddies don’t sweat. Or if they do, it’s hidden by all their hair.
Bicky and the two gray kiddies lift the rock and bash it down. We don’t know if they’ve noticed we’re going to have company soon.
Suddenly there’s a flash, not like when the new silver light shot out of the excavation we had scraped and scratched over for weeks, but a soft yellow flash, that doesn’t dazzle our eyes or make us flinch. Don’t be scared, Bicky says, but he doesn’t have to. We’re not scared. We haven’t been scared for a while, except maybe of what the olders are going to do when they see the new light. They’re going to be mad. Most of them think like Mother, that nothing new is good.
We want to know what this other new thing is, the small thing that Bicky and the gray kiddies have broken.
Remember we have to share, Bicky says, and everybody nods. He and the gray kiddies set the big rock aside. He’s sweating, but he’s smiling, too. If you don’t get a piece, don’t cry about it.
We are too far away to see how many pieces there are, but we can see the soft yellow light.
Are they hot? Verrie asks.
No, Bicky says. They’re not hot. Don’t be scared.
He lets the gray kiddies go first. One of them scoops up two handfuls of the pieces of not-hot yellow light, and races to the gray kiddies who are sitting down. Were sitting down. They instantly jump up and whistle and chit-chit-chitter and climb on each other and pull each other’s hair and act like they’re about to leap out of their skins.
Two handfuls, we think. That gray kiddie took two handfuls. There’ll be nothing left for us.
Then Bicky bends down and fills both his hands, too.
Then he walks over to us. He doesn’t go to Verrie, or Hill, or Coy. He comes to us, and says, Now behave like people. No jumping or shoving or punching, all right?
We stare at him. We are so surprised we don’t know what to say. He waits until we all nod, then begins giving out tiny, tiny pieces of soft yellow light. He puts one in the middle of each of our palms, until there are none left. He’s right, the pieces are not hot. They are all about the same size, like a pinky fingernail, and just as thin. Some of us don’t get one, but nobody cries.
Those who didn’t get one can’t help asking, Will there be more?
I don’t know, Bicky says.
The rest of us can’t help asking, How long will the little lights last?
I don’t know.
What about the big light?
I don’t know. But it’s good, isn’t it? And the gray kiddies aren’t scared of us anymore, and we’re not scared of them.
It’s good, we agree.
Verrie and Hill don’t look happy, and Coy kicks the ground, but they keep their lips closed.
The olders are coming, we tell Bicky.
Yes, he says. Come on.
We all go down and hide in the trees. The gray kiddies have disappeared, all of them. We never noticed them go. We can still smell them, the ones who were hiding in the trees before us, but that’s all right.
Close your hands, Bicky tells those of us who have a tiny piece of yellow light. We do, but some light leaks out. We’re in the trees, though, far at the bottom of the hill, and when the olders arrive, they all stare and point at the big silver light, and shout at each other.
They do that for a long time.
We look for Mother, but we don’t see her.
The olders argue and make loud about the new hot silver light, but we can see some of them looking around in wonder, too. At the colors, so clear and rich now. At the grains of dirt and blades of grass. At each other’s faces. At their own skins. Even far down the hill, hiding in the trees, the new silver light reaches us.
Bicky, Verrie says. Bicky.
Bicky is lying on his stomach, propped up on his elbows. He looks like he’s dreaming with his eyes open.
What, he says.
What do we do now?
Wait here until night.
I mean after that. Bicky, I mean what are we going to do next?
Bicky doesn’t answer. Maybe he doesn’t know. We all understand what Verrie means. The new silver light illuminates the whole hillside, but the hillside is not very close to where people live. The olders must have seen the reflection in the clouds and come to investigate, but even if they all finally decide that this new thing is a good thing, they can’t take it back with them. The little pieces of soft yellow light some of us are holding tight in our closed fists are good, too, beautiful little lights that we can carry around. Some of us whisper that we need to make little boxes to put the pieces of yellow light in, so we won’t lose them, and some think they can get hold of wire, good wire, and make frames or something like little cages, and then wear the pieces of light around their necks. But not everybody got a piece of yellow light. We want more.
We want more hot silver light, and we want more soft yellow lights. There might even be other kinds of new light that we can find. Us and the gray kiddies.
We want more.
Wait, Bicky says. Just be quiet and wait. He sounds tired.
More olders come, and some olders leave, and some more come, and some others leave, and all the time we watch for Mother, but she doesn’t come.
Night comes. The new silver light shines even more brightly in the blackness. A few of the olders have stayed. They sit together, not talking, just watching. We sneak around them, quietly, carefully. Keep your hands closed, Bicky tells those of us who have pieces of the yellow light, so we make our way home only by the glow that seeps through our fingers.
Mother hasn’t locked the door. She hasn’t put out any food for us, and we haven’t eaten since breakfast, but at least she hasn’t locked the door. She’s in her own room, with the door closed. We hear her in there, crying.
Go to bed now, Bicky says. Come on, all of you. We’ll talk to her tomorrow. And if any of you lose your pieces of light, I’m going to kick the living crap out of you.
We do what Bicky says. We all go to the sleeping room, and lie down. Some of us with pieces of yellow light open our hands. The light is beautiful, golden, wonderful.
Put those in your pockets, or your pouches, Bicky says. It’s all right to sleep in the dark. Come on, we’re all tired.
We obey. And we are all tired, and most of us fall asleep right away.
I wait until I’m sure everybody else is asleep. Absolutely, one hundred percent sure. Then I creep out of the sleeping room, slowly, slowly, carefully, carefully.
I go to Mother’s room. I open the door. She never locks her door, no matter how spiny she gets. She’s not sleeping. She’s sitting on the floor, with one candle burning beside her.
Mother, I say. Mother.
She doesn’t answer, but I come into the room anyway.
Her head is down. She doesn’t look at me.
I take her hand, and turn it, so her palm is facing up. Mother, I say, this is for you. I put my little piece of soft yellow light in her hand. I wait, while she looks at it, and looks at it. I say, It’s a new thing, and a good thing. It’s yours, Mother.
She doesn’t say anything.
I kiss her, and she raises her other hand, and touches me lightly on the cheek. But she still doesn’t say anything. I want her to say something, but she doesn’t. She keeps looking at the little piece of light.
I go out, and close the door. I hear something. I think she’s crying again.
I didn’t want to make her cry, and I almost cry, too, but then I think that maybe Mother needs to cry tonight. Some of the olders on the hillside cried, too. Tomorrow will be different, I think. Tomorrow will be new. And some new things are good.
Tomorrow will be new and good, I tell myself, and the almost-crying feeling goes away. I tip-toe back to the sleeping room.
That was nice of you, Bicky whispers.
I’m scared for a second, but only a second. Bicky’s not mad. He sounds hug-again, and Bicky never sounds like that.
She’s crying, I whisper back.
It’s all right. Go to bed now.
I go to my place, carefully, so I don’t wake anybody up, and I lie down. I wait for sleep. When I wake up, it will be tomorrow.
Copyright 2012 Patricia Russo
Patricia Russo’s first collection, Shiny Thing, is available from Papaveria Press.