I’ve been busy with writing lately; the Trees story (“Can’t See the Stars for the Trees” or whatever I’m currently calling it), so posting here has been a little sporadic. Here’s a snippet from the story:
Right from the start, the boy was a godsend.
Toi and Chadow found him one evening, the sun just beginning to slide behind the night plate, in a paddy to widdershins of their hutch.
They were walking hand in hand, letting the scents of night blossoms and the damp earthy scent of the rice waft over them, when Toi stopped, let go of his wife’s hand, and said, “Did you hear that?”
“Shh,” he said, putting his finger to his lips. Chadow’s face took on a look of mixed consternation at being shushed and concentration on finding the sound Toi thought that he had heard.
“I don’t hear–” she began.
Toi’s face lit up. “That,” he said, pointing to spinwise, into the paddies. He kicked off his sandals, rolled up the cuffs of his loose cotton trousers, and waded into the muck. Chadow watched him go, thinking, My husband will drive me mad one day.
She smiled, watching him taking careful steps, mindful not to commit his weight till he was sure the mud wouldn’t swallow him to the thigh, careful to keep his light-yellow trousers clean.
Then something made him stop cold in his tracks. Behind him, the mud was closing over his footprints, settling back into a flat expanse of dull grey. He turned and looked back at her, over his shoulder. “Chadow?” he said.
“Yes?” Something in his tone made her voice catch in the back of her throat, so that her reply came out strangled and weak. She coughed. “Yes?” she said again, louder this time.
“You’re not going to believe this.” And then he plunged forward, arms flailing for balance, heedless of how much mud spattered on his clothes, of how many plants he trampled.
“What is it?” she asked, but he didn’t spare her a reply.
It was a child.
She stared down into the bundle that Toi held in his arms. He’d waded back out of the paddy, filthy with mud that he’d somehow managed to spatter all the way up to his neck, cradling the metal bowl like it contained the most precious, most fragile thing in the world.
It was a child, a naked baby boy. His smile broke her heart.
“How could–?” Words failed her, failed the situation. How could someone abandon a child in the paddies? How could they live with themselves after?
“He looks all right,” said Toi.
His face and hands, legs and thorax were pink with sunburn. Tiny scars criss-crossed his torso, fine white lines against the bright rash. A thin blanket, tightly woven of some dark material, was attached to the rim of the hemispherical silver bowl, but the baby had kicked it off so that it hung down, worthless for protecting him from the sun or keeping him warm in the night.
“He can’t have been here too long,” said Toi.
His words penetrated the dull fog of rage that had suffused Chadow. She realized that her face must be a rictus, a contorted mask of anger. She could feel the flush all through her body. Her ears were burning.
She forced herself to take a deep breath, a second, a third. She closed her eyes a long moment and whispered Calm calm calm to herself, repeating it like a mantra till it lost its meaning and became a simple syllable to attach her worldview to.
“What do we do now?” she said to her husband.
But he was gazing into the baby’s pale eyes, entranced, and the boy was staring back at him with the solemn face that only a baby can make. After a moment the child giggled, a sound that carried with it a perfect innocence, and Chadow felt tears streaming unbidden down her face.