Waiting for Anna: Part One
I am the lie-weaver, the illusionist, the trickster, but most of all I am the storyteller--despite the fact that there is no longer any story. It has been swept away by the sands of time, crumbling slowly into erosion until there is nothing left of it but mere legend, myths that weave their tangled threads around young minds at bedtime.
There is no reason any more for me to tell the truth. What is the truth? Is it the memories that even now fade into sepia color inside my heart, their brightness and color seeping away? Is it the fragments that were passed down through generations by the parents and the sleepy children, or is it how events unfolded back in that time long ago and far away?
Or is the truth gone, fragile butterfly wings crumbling into dust? Did the truth ever exist at all? Did any of this happen, or am I making it up?
I cannot remember the answers to these questions any more, old as I have become. I cannot even remember the answers I once gave them. My memories crumble, and my mind seems as delicate to me as the ancient paper of these books surrounding me. One touch, and it, too, might fall in on itself and become just dust.
Still, it feels important to me to record how I believe it happened. If nothing else, it will be something which I can do to push back the shadows that move on the edges of the candles' light, and which move inside me as well. Perhaps there will even be some truth, some piece of wisdom I have missed before, that will come into my mind as I write.
Here, then, I shall set pen to paper and write out a tale which may have happened, or may not have happened, or may be only partially true.
Here, then, is the story of a girl who thought she could do everything. Who almost could do everything.
* * *
"Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the greatest magical show in the world." Dark blue eyes narrow as they sight down a red-furred arm to a paw spread open. "There is nothing up my sleeves." She has no sleeves, but she pushes them up anyway, imagining the snowy-white cloth sweeping up her arms.
A quick blur of motion as the paw moves, twisting around and then back. When it stops, it is holding a leaf.
Trick the eye, fool the mind.
The red Aisha puts her shoulders back and smiles at her imagined audience, somewhere beyond the rough wooden wall she faces.
"You may well ask how I do that," she said, giving the leaf a little toss up into the air with a flick of her wrist. It drifts down, bright red on the dark tan of the straw strewn across the floor. "But, ladies and gentlemen, a magician never tells."
Sarcastic laughter cuts across her next line as she shakes out her paws in preparation for a trick, and the Aisha stops, biting her lip. She turns around slowly.
The blue Kougra leaning in the doorway shakes his head at her, still laughing. "A magician, Anna? If you're so good with those tricks, why haven't you magicked yourself out of this Fyora-forsaken place yet? Gone off to Skarl's castle and made him give you some money, maybe some real magician's clothes? A real magician would be able to do that." He sneers at her, taking a languid step into the room.
Anna flushes, and is glad he can't see it under her red fur. "Don't you have work to be doing, Darren? Or are Mom and Dad just letting you slack off?"
"I should be asking you the same question," her brother answers, wandering to the window. He leans against the sill; he is the sort of person who is always leaning against something, even if it is only the air. "As for the first one, they asked me to find you." He smirks.
"What do they want?" the Aisha asks, glancing out the window at the fields stretching beyond. "I thought they said they'd be all right without me helping them harvest."
"Usually there is a noon meal involved," Darren replies, arching an eyebrow. "They sent me to find out why it was taking so long."
Anna's eyes widen, and she dashes past her Kougra brother into the other room. Darren sighs, shaking his head.
The Aisha collects the food quickly, frantically, and puts it into the dishes to carry out. From the noises, she doesn't drop anything, though she comes close to it several times.
The Kougra stands in the same place and waits until she has left the house to lean over and pick up the leaf that Anna dropped. He weighs it thoughtfully in his palm and watches it for several minutes.
Anna hurries past the window on her way into the fields, balancing the food carefully.
Darren crumples the leaf, convinced it is nothing special, and drops it on the floor.
As he's leaving, he pauses and looks back, but the leaf is still lying where he dropped it.
The Kougra shakes his head at his own silliness and walks away.
Anna is careful after that. She practices her magic tricks still, but only when she can slip off for an hour into the woods, where she knows no one will come to find her--not her parents and not her brother. She works on making a leaf seem to appear in one hand, then disappear and appear in the other; she pulls leaves off of bare branches, and practices the patter and talk that stage magicians use to distract or to draw attention.
The Aisha has no live audience to practice it on, of course--or at least, no more live than the small creatures living in the woods, and they rarely stay to listen to her entire performance--but she practices diligently nonetheless.
As the harvest is taken in and the weather cools, Anna is kept busy more often. She helps her mother with the work of preserving their farm's bounty for the coming winter, and there is little time for her to slip away. But she practices her sleight-of-hand whenever she can: making spoons seem to disappear when her mother is looking for them, stacking seven lids for canning and handing them one by one to her mother, who covers eight jars.
The Aisha is sure at first that her mother will catch her at it, and keeps her tricks circumspect and small, but as time goes on her confidence grows--in the tricks and in her mother's eye not being quick enough--and she starts to let herself do harder things: flashier, and more difficult to pull off, with larger objects and more complicated hand motions.
Once she uses a jar. It is empty, and too large for her hands. Her paws slip as she makes it disappear, and it doesn't vanish. Instead it falls. It shatters on the floor as she leaps back from it. When her mother comes to investigate, she just tells Anna that accidents happen. As the Wocky goes back into the kitchen to get the broom and dustpan, Anna thinks about the way her mother's face went carefully blank. She begins to wonder, but asking now would be an invitation to punishment.
Later that evening, she finds shards of glass embedded in her foot. She pulls them out carefully herself and washes her foot off before wrapping it safely in white bandages. The Aisha doesn't bother to tell her mother, but the her foot starts to swell, and after a week she can't force it into her shoe any more.
She sits alone on her bed, one shoe on and the other in her hand. Anna bites her lip and thinks hard, but she can't think of anything to tell her mother. Either way, though, she knows she has to say something.
At long last, her mind still blank, the Aisha limps to the door and goes out into the main room. Her parents are there, and so is Darren.
She is still holding her shoe, Anna notes vaguely, but her foot is hurting from the weight she has to put on it to keep her balance. She can't feel the wooden floor underneath her feet.
Her mother stands up, her paws pressed to her mouth, and says something, her voice shocked but far away and distant to the Aisha's ears. Anna's father isn't far behind in standing up and exclaiming. Darren just sits and smirks at her, but there is an odd tone to his smirk, like he is worried about her.
Anna opens her mouth to say something, but she doesn't know what she's going to say, and there's a peculiar rushing noise filling her ears. The Aisha closes her mouth, opens it again, and tries to step forward. Her foot gives way, and she tips over, falling face-first.
Already dizzy, she's in no position to catch herself.
Anna faints just before she hits the floor.
To be continued...