One afternoon, shortly before Naavre was born, Whisper dropped by Seb’s when I was watching Octy and November. We hadn’t seen Whisper since she and Manny broke up the year before, though we’d heard that she’d moved to the bay.
I was so glad to see her. We didn’t want her to feel awkward around us. Manny might be cloned from the brother of Sept’s sko, but to Sept, all the bubigotogo were his siblings. I’ve always felt a strong connection with Whisper.
We took our tea to the back patio while November napped and Octy ran along the beach with the dogs.
“I’m glad you’re here, Whisper,” I said.
Since the break-up, Manny had refused all contact with us, burying himself in his studies. I felt relieved that Whisper hadn’t taken the separation as hard.
“I’m glad to be here, too,” she said. “I’ve been settling into my house and observing everyone from afar. I felt like I needed to give everyone enough time to… stop disliking me.”
My heart melted.
“Oh, gosh! How could anyone ever dislike you, Whisper? You are the definition of all that’s wonderful!”
“Well, you know,” she said lightly. “Breakups. Generally family dislikes the ex. Especially so when the ex does the dumping, and I know Emmanuel was close to Sept. But thank you for saying that. I think you’re wonderful, too!”
“Manny’s been out of touch,” I said. “Sept writes, emails, texts, sings those inside songs. And we hear nothing. We’re giving Manny space, but we want him to know we’re here to support him, too. It’s been hard. Anyway, I think Sept’s always felt as connected to you as to Manny–I know I have! More so, even.”
November began to cry. “Time for a feeding!” I said. We went inside.
The sink was overflowing with dishes, and when I finished with Novy, Whisper and I worked together for a few hours, cleaning the house, bathing the dogs (who always seemed to return filthy from every beachside expedition), preparing supper, helping Octy with his homework. I enjoyed the quiet, relaxed company of another woman.
“Thanks, Whisper,” I said when we settled in for a break while the rice cooked. “I don’t think I’ve ever had such a nice time doing housework before!”
“You’re welcome! I’ve enjoyed spending this time with you. I haven’t had much female company as of late. My dad, he stayed with me for a little while after I moved here, and then Zaidi and I spent a lot of time together while he was here. Other than my interaction with those two, I’ve mostly been alone. Not lonely, but alone!”
I hadn’t realized that Zaidi and Whisper knew each other. I knew that Zaidi had just left for a mission, though neither Xirra nor Sept had told me much about it. Whisper’s eyes lit up when she said Zaidi’s name, and I wondered how much there was between them.
“I like Zaidi,” I said, remembering his vigilance the afternoon Navi dropped by with the cookies. “He always seems ready to help out.”
“He’s super helpful! He has such a servant nature and a kind soul. Zaidi is absolutely one of the most fascinating people I know.”
“He’s cute, too, no?” I’ve always thought, both in and out of disguise, Zaidi’s one of the most handsome men I know.
Whisper’s lips pursed into a smile. “He’s very visually appealing.”
And that was when I first began to think of Whisper and Zaidi together, in the same sentence, in the same phrase, in between the commas.
Octy and Mop tumbled in, both hungry. Whisper and I laughed as she dished up Octy’s supper. I realized that this would soon be the pattern of my domesticity–conversations punctuated by hungry kids and hungry dogs!
“So what’s next for you, Whisper? Are you settling here for a while?” I was imagining her as auntie to Naavre and Santi, thinking how lucky these children would be to grow up with her in their lives. At the time, I wanted to surround our children with everyone kind, strong, wise, courageous, so that they would grow in safety, nurtured in shelter within a world that felt, to me, at that time, very threatening.
“I don’t know about settling,” she replied. “My house will be my sanctuary–my home base. I plan to travel because I want to see the world. All of it. I crave movement and color, so I don’t think I can live an overly stationary life. The idea of more school seems constricting. As of this very moment, I’m satisfied with painting for the Rebellion.”
“What kind of painting are you doing for rebels?” I asked.
“Mostly murals in public spaces and canvas paintings for private residences. To show people where it’s safe. You might have seen some of the pieces around. Things by The Concertmaster? That’s me!”
“Wait! You’re The Concertmaster?”
I thought of a Concertmaster mural near the ferry station in the city. A yellow chrysanthemum, slightly left of center, filled nearly half of the composition. Petals dropped in a Fibonacci spiral. Impressed into the yellow paint, in intaglio fashion, lay the code, for anyone who could read it, providing the coordinates, in longitude and latitude, of safe houses. One pair of coordinates led here.
“Your work is exquisite,” I said.
Octy interrupted our conversation. “Mallory is going to have my uncle,” he said. He was fascinated by family connections, but he kept inverting the relationships.
“You will be the uncle, Octy,” I said. “The baby will be your niece or nephew.”
“Are you excited for your little one to come?” Whisper asked. “Do you know if it’s a boy or a girl?”
“We don’t know! We have hunches, but we’re not sure. What do you think? Boy or girl?”
“I can find out if you’d like.”
I wanted to know. I closed my eyes and relaxed.
“You’re having a boy!” she said.
“I knew it!”
The morning sickness, all the way through the pregnancy, was so severe, and I’d read it’s usually worse with boys. But aside from that, Sept and I both had the feeling Naavre was a boy. We talked to him all the time. I thought I could sense his feelings, his little emotions, and Sept was sure he heard him humming, deep inside of me.
Sept would be so happy to find out our intuitions were correct!
Octy recited the litany of relations: cousins, siblings, brothers, sisters, in-laws, on and on.
As the words swirled around us, I felt them spin the magic of family. Something relaxed in me then. This tiny knot at the back of my heart that twisted tight late at night, when I worried that Naavre might grow up in a world without polar bears, or when I feared that one day the luminescent plankton that shimmered when Santi played her violin at the edge of the cliff on moonlit nights would be come still–that knot that twisted when I remembered the steel hate of the voices of the rioters at the Willow Creek park, when they shouted, “Shove off! Move on!”–that knot, that heart-noose, untied itself in the warmth of Octy’s words, in the presence of Whisper. In my father-in-law’s kitchen. I had a family.
And Whisper, Octy, Lemon and Mop, November, and Naavre, they were part of it. If someone were to ask me what I’d done that day, I could reply, “I spent it with my family.”
While we waited for Seb to come home, I pulled up a game he had on his computer. We’d boycotted this particular game at home, after the developers tweeted some xenophobic comments regarding a recent patch, but Seb still had it on his machine. I was slightly hooked on it, and it was hard to resist playing when it was within reach.
“I can”t believe this game!” I said. “These two are drawn to the hot-tub like… well, like me and Sept, if I’m to be perfectly candid!”
“The hot tub?” Whisper laughed. “I’ve never… not in a hot tub. Then again, I’m not experienced in that area! I never felt the desire to have sex, not until recently, so I never have.”
“Hi, peoples,” said Octy, walking through. “Little kid here! I gots ears!”
Just then, Naavre kicked my kidneys.
“Ooph! There’s not enough room inside for this kid and all the rest of me for much longer!” I said. “I kinda like being pregnant, for the most part, but the inner squeeze is something I could do without!”
“I can only imagine!” Whisper said. “You only have a little while longer until he’s out! Do you plan on having more biological after this one?”
“My hormones say yes, but my environmental ethics say no. We’ll see who wins out in the end!” I laughed, knowing full well that the rebels had some say in it, too. Xirra and Teko talked so often about the ecological benefits of genetic diversity that sometimes I felt they looked upon me and Seb as their personal petri dishes.
We stayed talking so late, long after we’d read Octy his bedtime story and given November her last feeding. When I finally got home, my mind was full from the conversation, and my body tired from the walk.
Stillness surrounded me while I rested on the porch, and I carried it in with me when I went upstairs to find Sept.
“Hi, byu! Hi, Naavre!” Sept greeted us.
We sat together on the edge of the bed. I told him about Whisper’s visit, about her being The Concertmaster, that she and Zaidi were becoming a couple, and that Octy was going to have a nephew.
“I knew it!” Sept giggled.
“About Naavre being a boy?”
“All of it!”
“You didn’t tell me,” I said.
“No,” he replied. “I didn’t have to. I knew you would learn it all, when the time was right.”
“The time is right,” I said to him.
“I know,” he replied.
Author’s Notes: Did you read about the special visitors from Ny’s story “Whisper” that would be showing up in this and the previous chapter? We’re so excited they were here! 🙂 We’re still smiling. Ny and I co-wrote this chapter, with Ny contrinbuting some of the plot elements, including what’s been going on in Whisper’s life and the concept and details of The Concertmaster. She also wrote all of Whisper’s portion of the conversations. Thank you, Ny! I’m so happy Whisper and Zaidi are neighbors and family!