For the past week, Gortaithe had not been himself. He was restless and jumpy. He kept barking into the empty night even though Maria assured him that everything was fine and, when that didn’t work, commanded him to be quiet. When they walked in the laneways, he wouldn’t relax. He alternated between pulling on the lead and hiding behind Maria. Today was no different. A truck backfired and he pulled so hard that Maria had to let go of the lead or fall over. Worse, he then ran off.
What on earth is he doing? thought Maria. She ran after him. She heard growling and snarling up ahead. The truck backfired again and then all was quiet.
Maria ran to Gortaithe. “Oh my God,” she shouted, “no, no.” He was lying in the laneway; soaked in blood, lifeless. Standing over him was Galahad, also, streaked with blood. Maria couldn’t understand what had happened but, right now, all that mattered was getting help for Gortaithe.
“It’s too late,” said Galahad. “He has gone.”
“No,” insisted Maria. “He can’t go. It’s a mistake.” Maria went white. “Bring him back,” she demanded of Galahad. “Bring him back,” she screamed. Gortaithe and Galahad disappeared and all that remained was the warm blood spread over the cobblestones.
Maria ran up and down the laneways calling Gortaithe. Perhaps, she had imagined the whole thing. The laneways were empty. When Maria got home, she rang the council and lost dogs home in case someone found him. She went into the laneways again. It was getting dark. She had to go home. She closed the curtains, sat on the lounge, and didn’t move all night. Sudden loss has a way of immobilizing us.
Maria stirred on the lounge. Someone was at the door. I must have fallen asleep. The doorbell rang again. Perhaps, news of Gortaithe.
“Erdo!” said Maria. It was Erdo Kapus from the Leleks. Erdo reached out to Maria and hugged her. She clung to him and cried, “It’s my dog. I’m afraid he has been killed.” Maria first visited Erdo, her mystic teacher, when she was eighteen. She saw him a lot in those first few years but less so once she moved to the back hills into Charlie’s shed. She had not seen him at all in her two years in Eraldus.
“I know,” said Erdo. “That is why I have come. Let me come in. I have brought you some food from my garden.” Erdo’s food was not just nourishment for the body. It had healing properties. Nevertheless, Maria hesitated.
“Oh, I can’t eat,” said Maria. Erdo ignored her and walked to the kitchen as if he knew the house well.
“The dear old house hasn’t changed that much since your great aunt Rose lived here,” said Erdo. “It got a little run down in her later years but I see you are doing a fine job of fixing it up again.”
“You knew my great aunt?” Maria was surprised.
“Of course. We all had a crush on her but she loved us all the same. Once, I almost convinced her to come back with me to the Leleks but, in the end, she said that it was unnecessary. I tried to tell her that I thought it was necessary but Rose was not the sort of woman one contradicts.” Erdo laughed affectionately. There were many questions that sprang into Maria’s mind but Erdo busied himself with putting the kettle on. He then put a vegetable pie in the oven.
“Galahad did not kill Gortaithe,” said Erdo. “I know you are remembering that Galahad warned Gortaithe not to cross him but that was just a harmless warning.” He pulled out some homemade biscuits from his bag. “We’ll have these with our tea,” he said. “It was Rose’s sister, Evanora, who killed him. She has been lately walking up and down the laneways here in Eraldus. Gortaithe would have sensed her looming presence.”
“Yes, he had been acting strangely for a week,” said Maria.
“Gortaithe ran into Evanora in the laneway and lunged at her,” said Erdo. “Evanora shot him. Galahad came as quickly as he could but he was not fast enough. Gortaithe died instantly and Evanora disappeared back into the Shadowland. Because Gortaithe died protecting you, Galahad was allowed to take him back to the North Country.”
“Is he in the North Country now,” asked Maria excitedly, “with the wolf pack?”
“Yes, he is.”
Maria was thrilled. He will love it there and he will be free. Another thought crossed her mind. He can visit me in the laneways like Galahad does. Galahad often brings some of the male pack.
“No, he cannot come,” said Erdo reading Maria’s mind. “He has much training to do. He cannot move between dimensions. It is a learned skill. Also, Gortaithe’s pull to this world will be strong for some time yet. His attachment to you and his belief in this reality would make it difficult for him to leave this dimension. However, he would not be able to stay here. He would end up in the middle of the dimensions. He would be stuck in the dividing line.”
Erdo suddenly changed the topic and chatted, instead, about his recent forest visitors/students. He then got up and indicated it was time to leave. As he walked to the door he said, “Gortaithe is not the only one whose path is changing.” Maria looked at him. With that, he was gone.
“It’s me, darling,” said the early morning voice on the other end of the phone.
“Hi Mum,” said Maria.
“Happy twenty-sixth birthday,” said Lucy. “I was going to post your present but I, also, have preserves for you which are too heavy to post. I made them from the last of our orchard’s fruit. I saw Farkas the other day and asked him if he would drop them to you as he is travelling back and forth from Waldmeer, at the moment, for work.”
“What sort of work?” asked Maria.
“Oh, who knows,” laughed Lucy. “You know Farkas. He is so private. Dad says he might be a drug lord.”
Maria laughed. “I don’t think he is rich enough to be running a drug ring.”
“Well, you never know,” said Lucy. “Remember old Mr. Perkins in the hills? We all thought he didn’t have a cent to his name and we, often, gave him things. Then when he died, we found out he left a fortune to an estranged relative who, also, had no idea of his wealth.” Lucy laughed at the memory. “Anyway, to be serious, Farkas did reluctantly agree. Goodness only knows when he will turn up.” Lucy paused. “We hope you know how much we love you.”
“I do know,” said Maria. “I love you too. I could not have asked for better parents.”
“I remember when Maria turned eighteen and was working here in the cafe with you,” Farkas said to Lucy as she handed him the box of preserves and the present.
“Yes, that was eight years ago,” said Lucy. “You had not long been in Waldmeer then.”
“That long? It seems like yesterday,” said Farkas not wanting time to pass so quickly. He was now in his late forties. A few more lines but the same searching eyes. Since his winter in the North Country with the wolf pack a few years ago, he could see and remember more of other dimensions. However, his recall was still very sporadic and unreliable. Sometimes, he thought he was drunk and that’s why he thought about such things.
Maria was sitting in her lounge room looking into the green, still overgrown garden. A candle was burning. She watched the flickering light as it cast its mystery around the room unsystematically. I wonder how much of Amira is in me by now and how much of Maria remains, she thought. One of the flame shadows subtly changed its shape and formed a face.
“It has been a long time since I spoke to you in the Homeland asking if you would be willing to enter Maria’s body as the Advisors had asked.” It was Milyaket, Keeper of the Vastandamine Forest. “I told you that, at first, you would recall Maria’s life, experiences, and preferences as if they were your own. Gradually, you would start to hear Amira’s voice. That would begin the transition from Maria to Amira. A slow transition was less stressful on both you and your Earth parents. The transition has come to an end. Maria will no longer exist in this domain.”
“What does that mean in practical terms?” asked Maria for once having a practical thought before any other, perhaps, because it sounded like it was a life and death issue.
“Your questions will be answered more easily in the Homeland,” said Milyaket. “We want you to lay your head on the lounge, breathe in slowly, and as you breathe out we will gently take your soul with us.”
The next morning, on the way to work, Farkas pulled up at Maria’s house. He walked to her door with the box from her mother. This box weighs a ton, he thought. How many preserves does one woman need? Maria’s front curtains were open and he could see her resting. However, she did not stir even after he rang the doorbell numerous times. He put the box down and tentatively walked around the back. The door was not locked and so he walked in. Maria was unconscious but alive. He could not get her to wake up but she didn’t seem to be in pain or even disturbed. She looked quite peaceful. He didn’t have any idea what could be wrong. He decided that the quickest option was to take her to the hospital himself.
At the hospital, Maria was put on a drip and numerous monitors and Farkas was told to ring her closest relatives. He rang the cafe because that was the only number he had. A stranger answered the phone. When Farkas asked to speak to Lucy he was told that, sadly, Lucy had died peacefully in her sleep. He was also told that Lenny had been given such a shock on his wife’s passing that his heart condition flared up and he was now in Waldmeer Intensive Care. The woman asked what it was that Farkas wanted. He told her that it was nothing, thanked her for the information, and hung up.
Farkas felt at a loss as to what to do. He left the hospital telling the nurse he would return later. He left a message in Gabriel and Charlie’s letterbox, knowing that they would let people know about Maria. Lenny never did find out about his daughter. Not in this dimension, anyway.
A few days later, Farkas remembered that he had left Lucy’s box on Maria’s front step. He drove there and took it inside. He opened the birthday present. It was a cushion that Lucy had embroidered. A note was pinned to it. Maria, dear, I found this saying in one of your books that is still here on the bookshelf. To be honest, I’m not exactly sure what it means but I kept thinking about it and it ended up almost embroidering itself on the cushion. Farkas held the cushion to the light. It read,
As you release, so shall you be released. Forget this not, or Love will be unable to find you.
He wasn’t sure what it meant either but Maria would know.
“Your mother made you this,” he said to Maria when next he visited the hospital. Maria was silent, of course. “You will like it,” he added. He put it next to her head. He mostly visited the hospital late at night when no one was around. The night nurses at the desk tried to get him to fill out the visitor’s forms but he always made some joke and kept walking.
“You haven’t filled out the visitor’s form,” called out a particularly officious, older nurse as he was leaving the floor. “Look here, young man, you have to give me information about your relationship to the patient.”
Farkas smiled at being called a young man. He continued walking and said over his shoulder, “Write that I am her brother.”
Maria arrived in the Homeland and was bright and happy. That’s the thing about the Homeland. Once you are there, everywhere else seems miserable. Milyaket explained to Maria about her mother’s passing and her father’s imminent passing.
“Would you like to help them cross over?” asked Milyaket.
“Of course,” said Maria.
“The Advisors have asked you not to speak to them but simply to transfer your love and calm assurance that all is well. They are both confused by the transition and need time to adjust,” said Milyaket.
Maria was able to help her mother and then, a few weeks later, her father over the bridge into their new state of mind. There was much for them to come to terms with. Maria silently walked with them, holding their hands – the hands they believed they still possessed – until they were more accustomed to life in the Homeland.
On Maria’s last day in the Homeland, Milyaket told her that when she returned to Earth, she would have aged twelve years in terms of biology and demeanour. “People who already know you will assume it is the result of the mysterious ‘illness’,” said Milyaket. “With time, they will forget what they thought you were and relate to what you are now.”
That means I will be the same age as Gabriel and Charlie, thought Maria. I wonder how they will react to that?
“As you know, you will be returning as Amira, your natural self,” said Milyaket. “However, like all souls that go to Earth, you will not be in your pure form. Your purity will be substantially dulled by entering Earth’s lower base atmosphere. It will be a process of recall.”
Several weeks after being admitted to hospital, Amira woke up. It was still dark but the morning was not far off. There was enough light in the room for her to work out that she was in a hospital. She pulled out the drip and sat up. Once she had adjusted to being vertical, she carefully put her feet on the ground and then slowly walked over to the window. She recognised the city landscape below her. Home was not that far away. She left a note on the bed saying that she would be back in the afternoon to check out of the hospital properly.
Some of her clothes were in the cupboard. She pulled them on unsteadily. She walked hesitantly down the passage, past the desk, and out the glass sliding doors of the hospital. No one stopped her because no one seemed to be around. It was wonderful to be outside. She stretched her arms and back which were coming back to life.
I’m so hungry, I could eat a horse. She smiled. That was one of her father’s favourite sayings when he got back from being on the fishing trawler. I don’t know about a horse. Even non-vegetarians probably wouldn’t want to eat a horse. This bakery has lights on inside. She looked through the window and one of the bakers opened the door and said he would serve her if she liked.
“Thank you so much,” said Amira taking away a bag of three croissants, a loaf of bread, and a bottle of milk. She ate all the croissants and drank most of the milk. Now she could think again. As she travelled on the bus to Eraldus, she tried to make sense of what had happened. How long had it even been? She did not know. She remembered sitting on the lounge in her home and Milyaket visiting. After that, she had no recollection of here. She did not know how she got to the hospital.
She could recall more of what happened in the Homeland. However, she had a feeling that most of what had been conveyed to her in the Homeland would take a while to resurface in her mind. She did know, very clearly, that Maria was now gone. She knew her parents were safe in the Homeland. She felt no sadness at her recollections. In fact, she felt happy as she gazed out of the bus window at the city houses with occasional early morning lights on. Mothers of little children, shift workers, early risers, restless sleepers, and senior folk who don’t need as much sleep anymore. I am so blessed. Everyone is so blessed, she thought. As she stepped from the bus, she realised that sunrise was quite close. The growing light made the footpaths clear.
“Hi, Maria,” said Jack, the paperboy, who was out delivering on his bike. “I haven’t seen you for a while. Where have you been?”
He was a boy. No one would have troubled him with whatever had been happening.
“I was having a little holiday but I’m back now,” said Amira.
“Okay, great,” said Jack riding off as if it didn’t really matter one way or the other. Fourteen-year-old boys have much more important stuff to think about.
Amira called after him, “By the way, my name is Amira now.”
Jack momentarily stopped the bike, “My friend’s Mum is called Amira. She says it means one who speaks. What are you going to say?” said Jack thinking he made the best joke in the world.
Amira laughed, “Whatever I am told.”
“I’m not calling you ‘Amira’,” Gabriel said adamantly as they were driving to their class. “You already have a perfectly good name.”
“Okay,” said Amira tolerantly. “It’s up to you.”
“And also, Maria, to be honest, I am not really enjoying the person you have become in the months since your hospital stay. Frankly, you used to be much nicer.” Amira couldn’t help smiling but she covered it by turning to look out the window.
“I’m just getting older,” replied Amira. “We get more frank as we age. Perhaps, we are less tolerant of stupidity,” Amira added jokingly. Gabriel didn’t laugh. The only reason Gabriel stopped complaining was that they pulled up at the dance class. He was having trouble adjusting to Amira. It was a good sort of trouble. The sort of trouble that makes us grow. The sort of trouble that brings the possibility of fertile, beautiful moments.
This was their fourth dance class. Gabriel had originally seen an advertisement for the class and asked Amira if she would like to go as well. Like most women, Amira jumped at the opportunity. They were having mixed success. It wasn’t the dancing. They could both dance. It was other issues.
“You are a man and you can dance. That’s double points,” said Amira realistically. “You are going to be inundated with dance requests by all the women. You have a right to do whatever you want but I don’t want to dance with other people and I don’t want to sit here by myself. So if you are not going to dance with me, I won’t come.” Gabriel’s response was a very reasonable affirmation of his intention to do as Amira asked. He was a reasonable man. However, the requests were mounting each week. She would remind him, “I’m not coming if you leave me for ages.”
“Okay,” Gabriel would say momentarily glancing at her. “I’ll try.”
Hmm, thought Amira. ’Try’ is not what I’m looking for. However, the dancing would always save the situation. It wasn’t all of the dancing. Much of it was spent with Gabriel telling Amira what she was doing wrong. It was the moments; the precious moments. The moments when no one was complaining, blaming, thinking about past hurts or the fear of future ones. It was those moments of simply being present to another person. Those moments of being grateful. Gratitude for another being; gratitude for life. Those moments made their relationship.
Amira now had a car and was able to visit Waldmeer every weekend or so. She loved being home so regularly. Besides, there was much to do in caring for another house and garden. She put an ad in the local paper saying that a healer was available once a week in Waldmeer. She made the ad small hoping that the conservative folk would not see it.
Early on, Amira felt her parents in the house occasionally. “Please don’t feel you have to visit,” she said to them knowing that they would find a change of dimensions difficult and tiring. “As you can see, I am perfectly fine. I might not look after the house quite like you, Mum,” she said with a smile, “but it’s passable, don’t you think?” She added more seriously, “You both have other things to think about now. Don’t look backwards, look forwards. Besides, I will soon enough be with you.”
Many of Lucy’s friends no longer went into Waldmeer Corner Store and Cafe. Amira didn’t go in either. One day while in the other Waldmeer cafe, Amira saw Farkas sitting in the corner reading the paper.
“Do you mind if I join you for a moment?” said Amira.
“Maria, hello,” said Farkas. “How are you? Are you better now?”
“Yes, completely better. I haven’t had an opportunity to thank you for taking me to the hospital. I eventually worked out who my ‘brother’ was.”
“Well, the nurse was so insistent to know who I was,” said Farkas explaining nothing. He didn’t mention that the reason he said he was her brother was because Galahad had once told him that Maria was his sister under a different name. Everything about that was confusing but Galahad was a male of fewer words than Farkas.
“I have a new name now. It’s Amira. Do you like it?”
“Amira? Amira, yes, yes, I like it. I like it very much. I used to have a friend called Amira.” He struggled to recall who that friend was exactly. It was not only Farkas who could not remember his long ago association with Amira. It was Amira too. As a human, many things disintegrate when one enters the Earth’s atmosphere. Memory is one of them.
“We are closing now,” said the waitress.
They walked out of the cafe into the late afternoon. It was the end of winter. They could hear the ocean rolling in; unrelenting and unconcerned with the fast fading light.
A seriousness grew over Farkas’s face, “I hate winter. Sometimes, I hate Waldmeer.” He might as well have said I hate myself but he stopped before those words had a chance to come out. Amira touched his hand.
“Please stop hurting yourself,” said Amira. “That voice you listen to is no friend. It promises so much but when has it ever given you what it promised? When has it ever given you any happiness longer than a fleeting moment? It has your destruction as its goal, not your happiness.” Farkas put his hands in his jacket. He didn’t want to hear such words but the trouble with words like that is, once heard, they become implanted in our mind. There they grow whether we like it or not. The road is certain for anyone who ventures near it.
“It’s not as dark as last week when I was here,” said Amira. “The days are definitely getting longer. The cold will be gone soon.”
“I’m glad you are better,” said Farkas looking at Amira. “I’ll go home now.”
“Yes,” said Amira. “So will I.”