FICTION: The First Time After the End

By way of introduction: this is a writing exercise I did for an online writing class last year, trying to combine the assignment with my work figuring out Beyond Porch & Portal. It's not 100% canon because I've made some changes to the mechanics of Yellow's work since, but I think it gives a good flavor for the project.

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The air was cold, October cold, mountain cold—and the smoke of the indifferently-built fire made Yellow’s eyes water. She did not rub at them, however. She did not move or speak at all. Earlier she had fidgeted a little, but now she kept still. She looked more like a piece of furniture than a young person, somewhat smaller than average, with pink cheeks and pink hair and yellow eyes and bony hands. She looked like a chair that just naturally happened to have pink hair.

The people around her were also silent, but it was a different kind of silence. They held their breath until they could hold it no more, and first one, then another sighed. Then they held it again. They were, collectively, like a bruised afternoon sky thick with unfallen rain.

The only person in the room not making any effort to be silent was the woman on the bed. She did not make any effort because all of her effort was taken up with the difficult act of dying.

Neither the woman who was dying, nor the other people in the room, looked at Yellow. She did not expect them to, although they had invited her.

In the curious symmetry of human life, the spell of silence broke only when the dying woman had fallen completely still. Then everyone had something to say—but the loudest of all was the man whose hair looked younger than his face, and he asked the dead woman to do the one thing she could never, ever do.

Yellow moved then, to take the dead woman’s hand and draw her shade from the bed. She looked at the pale shade, and she looked at the people in the room—a long look, one of witness and ritual—but she did not look at the weeping man with the hair younger than his face. Her eye kept skipping over him.

“Are we leaving?” asked the woman’s shade. Yellow nodded. She did not speak until they were out of the house.

“Had you been married long?” she asked.

“Six months,” said the dead woman. “We were trying to have a baby.”

“Oh,” said Yellow. She cleared her throat. “Oh.” After that she was silent again for some time. They walked down to the crossroads, and climbed hand in hand over the stile that brought them into the twilight road that belonged to Yellow.

“Do your kind marry?” the dead woman asked.

“Sometimes,” said Yellow. “But I’m..” she stopped speaking and did not resume whatever she had been about to say. The dead woman was not really curious about it. The shades seldom expressed much interest in Yellow, unless they had been particularly inquisitive in life. This dead woman had a placid air and followed Yellow uncomplaining over the many miles to the last place.

This time it was a lake with a coracle drawn up into the shore. Yellow helped the dead woman’s shade climb into the boat. But the shade made no move to pick up the paddle.

“Would we have had a baby?” she said in a wondering voice. “If I had stayed?”

“I don’t know,” said Yellow. “Nobody ever knows what will happen if they had stayed.”

“It’s easy for you to say that,” said the dead woman, though without bitterness. “You are not leaving your husband. You have never been married.”

Yellow picked up the paddle very carefully and presented it to the dead woman’s shade. This time, she took it.

“No,” Yellow said, as she gave the coracle one last push, and the dead woman dug her paddle into the water. “I have never been married.”

She went home to her empty cob house, and later in the night she, too, asked the darkness—or rather, someone who was not in the darkness—to do the one thing he could never, ever do.

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