Winging On

Wet Wind at Dawn

part of: The Wanderers

by The Archives of Raynah

related by T’zirth, Twilit Deznahdorean of the First Generation

I leaned gingerly over the edge of the hole in the cliff and looked 150 feet straight down. The sea, pounding against rock for hundreds of thousands of years, had carved a shallow keyhole-shaped cave into the cliffbase. Wind and water had worked a strange wonder with that small opening. An undulating chimney, maybe 15 feet in diameter at its base and 200 feet wide at its top, rose up through solid rock. Wanderers along this high prow of Puerto Rico tumbling out into the southernmost waters of the restless North Atlantic came upon this whirlwind of forces unexpectedly. Even now they shook the earth under my feet. I stepped back as vertigo and an unconscious urge to join with the elemental forces below almost took over and tipped me headlong into the cold, whirling waters.

“Ultra-high gravity zone,” I quipped reflexively to myself. It steadied my mind as I held Jade Dragon back as he too leaned over the edge and peered below, his seven-year old face dense with fascination. Then he looked up toward a single soaring bridge of rock that leapt up and over the cauldron below…a slender walkway over chaos. I could see it in his widening eyes. He wanted to run over it! It was perhaps three feet wide and tilted this way and that dizzyingly (to a mother’s sensibilities at any rate) and was wet and slippery with tangy ocean breath.

The sun was half-way up over the horizon now. The force of the water hitting the rocks below was so great that a fine spray drenched Jade and I as we felt our way through this watching. A long bank of white clouds, tinted purple, blue and orange, urged upward by the alchemy of solar radiation and the eons long, slow wet kiss of the sea, hung, apparently motionless, over the sun’s upturning brow.

“We are in the calm center of the vortex,” Jade suddenly said, looking up at me. His eyes were huge, green and untainted by supposition.

“Are we now, my treasure?” I asked, genuinely probing.

“Well, yes,” Jade replied. “We are watching as all kinds of things happen around us. We are standing here and just watching.”

There was a deep peace in Jade’s face as he put his miniature hands on his sides, dropped his weight back onto one hip, and cocked his head off in the direction of his thoughts. Then he said, “We don’t have to cry like Alma. We just watch.”

I let out a long sigh.

Alma.

She has been on Earth all of eighteen years. Born in Spain. Transplanted here to this untamed Hispanic land that bore little resemblance to the ordered life she had known as a girl.

A strong wind suddenly whipped up out of the sea chimney and swept my hair around my face, shrouding my eyes. “Mischievous Dervish!” I exclaimed aloud, as it swirled up and dissipated somewhere over my head. Calm ensued in its wake.

I had brought Jade to this place hoping he would talk about Alma.

Jade and I came here to spend the summer with some old friends of Eduardo. The rest of our clan was back in Canadia. Alma lived next door in an old, old house with peeling rafters and louvered windows that screwed open. Jade pronounced them, “Proto-tech,” with some awe.

Alma had a hard time understanding Puerto Rico’s version of Spanish. Fortunately I had picked up enough of Eduardo’s ‘Spain Spanish’ that I could communicate with the lonely young woman. We enjoyed sitting on Alma’s wide front porch in the evenings trying to talk about flowers, Spain, the United States—our lives.

Alma had come to this far place as the bride of an airman in the United States Air Force. Her beloved mother had accompanied her. She and Alma had been the two surfaces of a mobius loop of love. I witnessed this tested to the bone. Admitted into Alma’s living room by the young husband, James, I watched as Alma placed a cool washrag on her mother’s brow, her whole being melting down into her in that one gentle gesture. The smell of the sickroom assailed us. Jade was with me.

The old lady had some kind of cancer. She was dying and in enough pain that she sweated and moaned throughout the day. Alma’s touch held her up so she could ride that wave with some kind of dignity. The old woman reached up and grabbed Alma’s wrist. Her grip was tight. Alma just looked into her mother’s eyes, pouring solace down into her. They struggled together, barely breathing. This was hard for me to witness. Too late I realized, Jade was seeing this too. Alma’s husband, cluing in as late as I, seeing the stricken look on Jade’s face exclaimed, “Oh, the child!” He quickly ushered Jade back home, though the boy didn’t wanted to go. I stayed inside and cooked dinner for Alma and James.

Three days later Jade heard that the old woman had died. Many commented that it was a blessing. What he didn’t know was that James had given her a shot that had killed her. No one knew except James, Alma and I. In Spain such things were done to ease the passing of someone old and in terrible pain. James had not wanted to do it. Nothing in his life had prepared him to embrace such a notion. He had fought against it for weeks. Alma had wept and begged, and suffered in her mother’s eyes until he relented.

The last morning Jade ever saw James, he came to take me shopping. His hair was swept up away from his head as though a wind were working it feverishly, though no wind was present. His eyes were black. His hands, stained yellow by the methiolate he swabbed patient’s arms with, worked nervously against each other and reminded me, curiously enough, of dying birds.

Two days later, four young Puerto Ricans, expert swimmers in the violent riptides and undertows of the North Atlantic, pulled his body from the ocean’s heavy embrace. He had walked out along a shelf of rock that punched the ocean square in the jaw. The ocean responded unceremoniously by pounding it viciously with each incoming tide. The place was well-known for being extremely dangerous. Only the most experienced swimmers could navigate it, and then, only at certain times of day and moon. James had jumped in, though he could barely swim.

And Alma. What of Alma? Jade had wondered to me about Alma, left alone in this terrifying foreign land. He liked her. She had always given him candy or gum or cookies, had smoothed his hair back from his face, had kissed him on the cheek, and gazed deeply into his eyes tenderly, many times.

Dressed in black gauze, I walked with Alma’s shrouded form to the second funeral the girl had endured in less than two weeks. Jade sat on Alma’s porch and watched us go.

Later I found that he went into her living room and hid. His description of the events unfolded in me like a movie.

The smell of sickness and death was gone. The windows were open. The dishes in the kitchen were undone. A soft breeze stirred dust on the sills. A bird chirped outside and the leaves rustled their green sound into the room. He looked at pictures of Alma and James in white and black at their wedding. They were smiling. He sat on the couch where Alma’s mother died and wondered if she too were somewhere else now and waiting.

Sometime later he woke up. A car door had slammed outside. Voices rose and fell. He hid behind a chair as the door opened. Alma came in. I was with her and several others—men from the Air Force. They consoled the girl. I hugged her and said “I’ll be back shortly,” in my broken Spanish. Then the door closed.

It was just Alma and Jade.

He crept out from behind the chair.

Alma was standing like a black ghost right where I and the men had left her. A long veil hung past her waist. Her hands hung limply at her sides, one tightly clutching a white handkerchief.

Outside, the car crunched on the driveway and made its crackly way down the street. It faded away.

Jade walked in front of Alma. She did not move. He wondered to me later why she hadn’t seemed to see him.

He walked to her, slowly touched her hand, sought for her eyes behind the veil. She looked down at him. He put his arms around her waist, leaned his tiny body against hers, balanced his chin on her stomach. I could feel how he had pressed his seven-year old innocence up toward her, held her up with his uncomplicated witness. Then Alma reached down and picked him up. She clasped him to her chest with a fierceness that struck him dumb. He could feel her heart beating. Then she began to cry in long hoarse croaks like seabirds fighting or seals dying on some broken shore. Her chest heaved in long waves, croaking and coughing up pain that echoed through him like a soliton, all molecules ordered, staunchly marching through thick and through thin together. He rocked with her instinctively, echoing her movements, just hanging on, riding it out. She went on and on until she couldn’t breathe, until his chest ached and he thought he would never breathe again either. Then she dropped him, fell to her knees, and lay on the floor in a heap of crumpled silk. At that moment the door opened. That’s when I came in. There Jade was kneeling over Alma, petting her, crying now himself, shaking. “Oh my God!” I remember saying softly. I scooped him up, not knowing quite what to do. I had to get the child home, but I didn’t want to leave Alma like this. Finally, I left and gave Jade to our friend Jane and went back to be with Alma.

Four days later the Air Force escorted Alma back to Spain and what family she had left there. Jade and I never knew what happened to her after that.

When Jade had spent one too many days sitting by the window looking out at the front yard listlessly, I decided to take him to see the keyhole cave. It was strangely comforting to me. I often went there myself when troubled. Perhaps it would help Jade.

And here he was, watching the clouds, feeling the periodic Dervish wind, and peace was in his face. The sun had cleared the horizon now. The effervescent colors of its departure from the sea were fading into blue and white. The sea uncoiled violently as ever. Jade’s hair was now drenched.

“Mom, tell me again about how all this began,” he said, suddenly changing trajectories, waving his hand vaguely around, indicating earth and sky.

I paused to scoop some coherent thoughts out of the well of my own churning emotions. “Well dear, scientists believe all matter and energy was somehow condensed down into, oh, less than a tablespoon of space, then suddenly…. BOOOOOM…. some kind of thing happened, it blew up and the Universe as we now know it unfolded.”

“That doesn’t sound right,” Jade said reflectively. “Something’s missing.”

“Probably,” I agreed.

Then Jade looked up at me penetratingly and said, “but what I want to know is where is space? If the Universe is here, where is the Universe? I mean, why is there anything at all?”

“No one knows,” I replied, feeling breathless, scanning the child’s intense little face carefully. “I have often wondered that very thing myself. Maybe someday we’ll figure it out.”

“Oh,” Jade said, looking down at his toes, wet and curling in his sandals.

“Let’s walk out there mom,” he said, indicating the narrow arch of rock wandering through open wind; over surging waves beneath.

I felt my stomach recoil in some kind of reflexive fear. Istarted to say, “I don’t think that is such a good idea,” when it occurred to me, out of the back of my brain, that if we waited for the periodic Dervish wind to pass, we would be relatively safe.

“Take your shoes off Jade. They don’t have such good traction.” I removed my shoes too. “Let’s leave them here.”

Then we waited. The Dervish wind arrived right on time, tossed us about, then evaporated into the widening morning.

We clasped hands and began to walk, carefully picking our way across twenty feet of slippery, tormented rock. The ocean curled and uncurled beneath us.

The rock groaned but held, as it had for hundreds of thousands of years. We made it to the other side just as the wind returned.

“We made it!” Jade crowed. A fierceness burned in him bright. He looked back out at the ocean and saluted. “Goodbye James. Goodbye Alma.” Then we turned and walked back into our lives.”