Aimless: Birthdays and Butterfly Wings

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It’s time for my annual birthday rambles, and I feel, this year, to write about change. Of course, we always hear, “Change is good.” And I’ve tried to believe it. But somewhere along the lines, I’ve experienced changes that bring challenge, perhaps more often than not, so while my faith asserts that “Change is good,” my nervous system sometimes responds differently.

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But this year of change, my faith was affirmed. Moving through so many changes, deep and lasting, I’ve felt protected and guided. Change is good, and life is, too.

It’s the time of my second Saturn return. Those of you who’ve lived through your first Saturn return, which comes around the age of 28 to 30, have experienced the restructuring this astrological transit brings. The second return, for me, has been as significant, as life-altering, as self-shifting.

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Some stories of change:

Over Christmas break, I felt inspired to get some plumbing jobs done that we’d been putting off. Both were more than I could tackle on my own: a leaking shower valve and a leaking kitchen faucet. A plumber fixed the bathtub, cutting through drywall and leaving a patch-up and tile job for us to complete. I’d picked up a replacement faucet for the kitchen, and we had someone from Home Depot come to fix it, only after twenty minutes under the sink with his flashlight and monkey wrench, he poked out his head to say he couldn’t do it. We’d need a new kitchen: new counters, new sink, new cabinets. We knew that day was coming, but I’d been hoping to postpone it for another six years, until I retired, so as not to have to take time off work. But the time had come.

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It’s a big change, getting new cabinets, a strong new counter, a deep double sink with a goose-neck faucet. We’d lived without hot water in the kitchen for nearly a year, and a drain that needed frequent plunging. And now–everything works! It wasn’t the timing I would have chosen, but it was the timing that was right.

Saturn returns to demand restructuring: If things don’t work, this is the time to get them fixed. Change. And it’s turned out to be good.

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Another story of change:

Not long after we discovered we needed a new kitchen, but before the work had begun, a crown on one of my teeth fell off. I was worried, fearing a root canal or extraction. But the dentist cemented it right back on. “It happens,” said the assistant. They took X-rays, anyway. “They look good,” said the assistant. But the dentist found a dark spot in the X-ray at the base of an old root canal, next to the tooth where the crown fell off.

“That doesn’t look good.”

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He referred me to the itinerant endodontist, who’d be there the next month. The endodontist didn’t like the look of it either. He drilled through the crown that had fallen off to give that tooth a root canal. We scheduled another appointment for more investigation for the next month.

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Work began on the kitchen, meanwhile, and we were without kitchen counters for a few weeks.

Then, the day before the scheduled endodontist appointment, I received a letter in the mail notifying me that the dental office lost their lease, unexpectedly, and had closed. Just like that. They referred me to another branch, but I could keep my same dentist and endodontist. A string of complications and cancelled appointments, then I finally got the recommended appointment with the endodontist. The kitchen was almost, but not quite, done.

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I arrived for the appointment on a bright Saturday morning after a drive along the river wash through early spring air that smelled like yellow palo verde blossoms and sage. As I walked into the building, the dental assistant rushed out. “Are you Cathy? We’ve been trying to call you! Our water-vac system broke. We have to reschedule your appointment.”

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I relaxed into the news and rather than feeling bothered, worried, or irritated, I felt waves of relief. This wasn’t just relief at not having to sit in the dentist chair that sunny morning: This was the relief of a timing adjustment. I was being redirected, protected.

I never was able to schedule an appointment with my previous dentist or with the endodontist. When the new office was finally able to see me, it was with a new dentist. She sat beside me, looking over my records and the copious notes taken by the other dentist and the endodontist, shaking her head. She closed the file with finality.

“All right,” she said. “I’m your dentist now. You’re going to be OK.”

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I had never thought I wouldn’t. What had those others written in my file? What were their concerns that they hadn’t told me?

I had a chronic dental infection, going back over a decade, maybe two. This, in spite of regular visits to the dentist for the past 16 years, and in spite of thousands of dollars of work having been done (even with insurance). My new dentist sent me to an oral surgeon. Three extractions later, the infection is gone. It’s a major change, and it’s good.

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Through all this, I never worried. Each cancellation of an appointment felt like a gesture of protection. On the morning of my first visit to the oral surgeon, I felt complete peace wash through me. I could hear the universe whispering, and I knew that all of this had lined up to bring me to that particular doctor at that particular time.

I felt immediate relief once the procedures were done. It’s taken a while to heal, and several weeks of good rest and self-care to completely knock out the infection. But now, it’s gone. I’m well.

Saturn returns to demand change. Things need to be restructured. What do we bring with us into the next era? Not old kitchens that need to be replaced and not old dental infections, either.

We’re entering something new: We need to be new, too.

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A third story of change: My boss, whom I loved and who built our fragmented team into a collaborative group, recently left. We felt heartbroken. Those of us who’ve been there through the past six changes in supervisors felt cynical and worried: Here we go again.

But our new boss, who started two weeks ago, seems, so far, to be even better for the dynamics and individual autonomy of our team than the old one. The habits of gossip and blame-shifting that our old supervisor overlooked or contributed to have stopped. We’re in a better place.

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My work partner of nine years retired. We redesigned the job description, and another team member moved into the new position, and now I have a compatible, smart, hardworking, intelligent new partner, who likes me, to boot!

Our work team is adding to new employees, and someone needs to move to make room. It’s my work partner and I who will be moving into the new office. But change is good: the new office has better natural light, more privacy, and will hold just the two of us, rather than a crew of six.

Over the past decade, I’ve seen so much change, personal and professional. I’ve tried to find the good always, even when the change was hard. Often, the good was that I was building strength and resilience in spite of hardship and challenge.

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But this year, all the change–and it’s been substantial and significant, as well as completely unexpected–has been overwhelmingly positive.

Most people I know who follow astrology hold superstitions about Saturn: the energy is stern and demanding. The changes brought about, while perhaps for the overall good, are painful.

But that hasn’t been my experience, not with the first Saturn return, which led me to grad school and a new life as a professional. Nor has it been my experience this year with the second Saturn return, when so many things that were ready to be let go of (leaking faucets, dingy counters, crumbling cabinets, chronic infections, gossip in the workplace, overcrowded offices) are being sloughed off.

Change is transformation, and maybe that’s why, sometimes, it’s scary and dreaded.

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This year, I gave myself over to change. I trusted the energy associated with Saturn. I trusted that loving, guiding, peaceful protection that I felt, whenever I was still and quiet.

I know I’m not the same as I was a year ago: I’m moving into this new era, the last, or maybe, next-to-last Saturn eras of my life. And I’ve left behind that from the past which doesn’t benefit me, which doesn’t belong.

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I gained trust again. I gained such deep gratitude and love. I know the feeling of being protected and guided. In this next era, not all change will feel welcome–of that I can be sure. But I won’t fear it. I’ve felt the benevolence of the universe. That’s what I trust.

Some birthdays see us from one year to the next. This one, for me, is a portal I’m walking through. Can you get younger as you grow older? I think so. For life is always new.

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Forgotten Art: Meadow – Kaitlin 12

A letter to Kaitlin

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Dear Kaitlin,

It’s been a while since we’ve written. So much has happened in our family–and in yours, too, I’m sure!

Congratulations on Reese and Brooke’s graduation! And even more congratulations on their wedding!

And, is it time yet to congratulate you on your divorce? (Does one even congratulate a friend on a divorce or offer condolences?)

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Well, since the divorce paves the way for you and Leroy to get married , I will offer congratulations. So, congratulations!

Norm feels terrible because he really laid into Newt when he found out about Newt’s past with you. He was furious when he answered Newt’s letter. I told him maybe it’s best to work through the feelings first, and then correspond, but that minor detail hadn’t occurred to my brother. I hope that Newt is OK. I mean, he’s got enough to deal with without having to deal with my raging-bear mode brother on top of it!

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How are all your kids and grandkids? Everyone healthy? Everyone happy? How is Ben doing?

We are great. Jena has grown into a big, confident, know-it-all five-year-old–and we love so much that our hearts burst! She has a terrific attitude!

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Nothing can stop her. I’ve read a lot about how girls lose their confidence when they enter middle school, and Mizuki Suzuki and I are already doing research to find ways to beat that trend with our girl. I hope she carries this strength with her all through her life.

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Remember when you first wrote me, years ago, and my house felt confusing and full to me with just one little two-and-a-half year old in it? Well now our home seems to be always full of children!

Jena is so out-going and friendly. She brings home loads of friends after school! It keeps me busy making cookies, slicing apples, and brewing hot chocolate! I love it.

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Mizuki Suzuki loves it, too.

Sometimes in the evening, I’ll see her sitting in the living room with one of Jena’s toys.

“Our house has space for more children. Don’t you think?” She used to always say.

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I always thought of your old two-room apartment, and how you filled it with children and teens. And I have to agree: Our home does have room for more.

And it looks like we just may be getting another!

One of my other pen pals told me about another group of refugee children who need homes. She’s sending me the contact information for the agency in charge of placing them, and I have a feeling that within a few months–if not sooner–we will have another little toddler, originally from somewhere very far away, filling our home with laughter and cries!

My life has changed so much, dear Kaitlin, from knowing you. You’ve shown me how to look outside of myself and notice others. I have always cared, but I have never known how to be caring. Now, all I need to do is think of you and how you are, and the road is clear to me.

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Thank you so much for changing me, Kaitlin. When the person I am now looks back on the person I was when I received your first letter, I can’t help but chuckle wistfully, the way we do at our younger selves. I have grown so much, and so much of it has come from knowing you.

Wishing you all the best, and sending you so much love!

–Meadow

<< Meadow’s Previous Letter

Septemus 31

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Dear Sept,

You’ve developed a funny habit of checking the sinks. Fortunately, we’ve only got two, the kitchen and bathroom. You will stop what you’re doing–even if you’re deep in concentration. Then you head to the sink.

“OK! All good!” you say, when you see that the faucets are off.

“You don’t have to check them all the time, son,” I said.

“I know, Pops,” you said. “I’m just making sure.”

All right. It’s not a big thing. No cause for concern. And likely, you’ll grow out of it. And even if not, there are all sorts of people, all over the world, who check that the faucets are shut off. I bet half of them haven’t even been through anything close to what you’ve been through. So, one little quirk. It’s not such a big deal.

You also keep singing other people’s songs. Some of them are heartbreaking.

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Mum is hurting, don’t know why~
Come back, come back.

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“Don’t leave me.
Not alone. Not you, too.
Come back, come back.
Stay with me.”

“Whose song is that?” I asked you. While you were singing, I saw a flash of a little indigo girl.

“It’s Panda,” you answered.

“Is she? She’s not… is she imaginary?” I asked.

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“Of course not!” you answered. “She’s my sister. What makes her mom sick, Pops? Do you know? If something happens to her mom, can she come live with us?”

Oh, man. We’ve got such a little house. I’m not sure if the agency would approve of our taking in anyone else. I’m sure they’ve got their reasons for spreading out all you kids, keeping you all separate. I know they had their reasons for not giving me the contact info for the other parents.

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But what if something happened to me?

Where would you go?

I wouldn’t want you to go back to the agency. I’d want you to be with someone else who knew about you kids, who understood you, who would be patient with you and let you be yourself, without interfering.

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“Sure, son,” I said. “If something happens to Panda’s mom, or to any of your brothers’ or sisters’ parents, we can take them in.”

I could talk to Geoffrey. I’m sure he’d see my point.

“Oh, squeegee,” you said. “And anyway, she’ll be OK, right? Panda’s mom?”

You started singing softly, so I could barely hear.

“It’s safe, it’s safe now.
There’s time and wolfbane!
There’s tea and tisane…

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“For little girls
and Mamas
And sisters
and Papas.

“Don’t worry
little Pandas.
It’s safe. It’s safe.”

Oh, I will do all I can. That’s for sure.

Love you,

Your pops.

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Author’s note: Panda’s song was written by Thymeless. And what’s happening with Panda’s mum? Read Pandora’s Box to find out!

Vampire Code: The Shape of a Heart

Sylvia’s father strode home just as she came down the hill and around the bend.

“Papa,” Sylvia said, “where’ve you been?”

“Out,” he replied.

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She shrank from his glassy gaze.

“Out where?” she asked, but she didn’t really want to know.

“Out and about,” he said with a chuckle.

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She followed him inside.

She didn’t know how her ma could tolerate Papa when he was like this.

“Ah, my bon bon!” her mother said.

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Sylvia left them in the kitchen, and she turned up the stereo to mask her parents’ kissing sounds.

“Our parents are weird,” she told Zap.

“You’re weird,” Zap replied.

“Not.”

“So.”

“Now children, children,” said their mother, joining them in the parlor. “How was your first lesson, my dear?”

“It was,” Sylvia thought for a moment, “not what I expected.”

“Did he scold you?” Her mother asked.

“Of course.  I don’t dress proper.”

“Didn’t I tell you?”

“Yes. But I’m not changing. He taught me anyway.”

She bore her mother’s gaze. She thought, perhaps, she looked different. Maybe she glowed.

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“Take your dish into the kitchen, dear,” Ma told Zap.

When they were alone, she looked again at Sylvia.

“I suppose it’s too soon,” she said at last.

“For what?”

“For your dark form to emerge.”

“Oh, gross, Ma. I don’t want a dark form.”

“Of course you do, dear. It’s becoming. Why, look at your father.”

Sylvia shook her head. Her mother’s dark form didn’t give her shivers the way her father’s did. But still, the thought of veins standing out on her forehead, of her eyes rolling back to show the sclera, it turned her stomach.

“Did he talk to you about, you know, your first drink?” Sylvia’s mother asked.

“Who, Papa?”

“No, silly. Your teacher. The count.”

“Ew, no, Ma. Gross.”

“It isn’t,” her mother said. “Not really. It’s rather… enchanting.”

Sylvia made a face. “Did you ever?” she asked.

“Why, yes,” replied her mother. “I thought you knew.”

Sylvia hadn’t even wanted to think about it.

“It was long ago,” continued her mother, “before I met your dad. It was sweet.”

“For you,” said Sylvia. “But how about for the other?”

“He said it was ‘bliss,'” said Ma. She smiled.

“I have math homework,” Sylvia said.

She went upstairs to her room. She felt foolish and giggly. It was all so sordid! To think of her mother in that way! Sylvia would be a vegetarian forever.

She opened her textbook to Hannah Fry’s chapter and continued reading about the mathematics of love:

“…actually, having people think that you’re ugly can work to your advantage.”

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A mental image of her dark father flashed before her eyes. Of course. She could plot out the algorithm of attraction between her mother and her father. The mornings they withdrew to spend the day in the cellar together did seem to correlate with his dark nights.

She shifted awkwardly and tossed aside the math book.

Her mother’s old textbook was better.

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Zap joined her with his primer.

“Did you know alligators eat their prey raw?” Zap asked.

“Well, they can’t cook, can they?” Sylvia replied.

They fell silent, each lost in wonder. While Zap read about the predators of the swamps, Sylvia learned about matters closer to home.

No direct correlation has been found between personal power and transformation. Melanation derives more from the activation of specific glands in the neocortal area that are stimulated during hyperactivity in nocturnal roamings than it does through the harnessing of energy through bidirectional breathing.

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So she could learn and even develop without having to undergo transformation!

“I’m sleepy,” said Zap. “Will you ask Ma to tuck me in?”

“Sure, bug,” Sylvia said. “Ma?” she called.

“Up here!”

She heard faint music coming from the garret.

“Ma? Zap’s ready for bed?”

“Just a minute, darling,” their mother called back.

Sylvia climbed the stairs, and the music grew louder, a gypsy violin playing a wild, mournful tune.

Her mother danced in a shaft of moonlight. Eyes closed, she tilted back her head.

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Sylvia watched a moment, and then, while the veins on her mother’s cheek slowly darkened and swelled, she turned and retreated downstairs to tuck in her little brother herself.

The books lay scattered in the study. She picked up her mother’s old text, the leather cover feeling warm and worn in her hands. On the mantle, a cheerful teddy bear sat, holding a plush red velvet heart. Her father had bought that for her mother three Valentine’s Days ago.

Sylvia still remembered how her mother blushed when he handed it to her.

“Oh, Zolty,” her mother had said. “You remembered!”

“Of course, my darling,” her father had whispered, but not softly enough to prevent the children from hearing, “I could never forget what you called me when you first gave me your heart.”

“My bear,” her mother had sighed.

Sylvia smiled now, in spite of herself. It was foolish and embarrassing and awkward. But it was also a little bit sweet.

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Three Rivers 18.1

Eighteenth Sim of Thirty Sims at Three Rivers

AN: Haley Salinas is a former NPC gardener whom I moved into a lovely home built by pronterus.

18. A toad sings in summer rains

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Each day, when Haley Salinas returned home from work, she stood before the boxwood and impatiens in the front border and whispered thanks. She had so much, and the memories of the time when she had nothing smack in the middle of nowhere lurked in the shadows, too keen and just a trigger away.

Over the years, the demarcation between everything and nothing had become a source of safety. The sharper she drew the line, the safer it felt.

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She invented rituals to keep the line in place: the whispered prayer of gratitude; the three strides across the front porch; the glass of water before she changed out of her work clothes.

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She had learned, through the years, to check in with herself. Most days, she could laugh. She had so much.

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Some days, when she checked in, she found her nose against the line, with nothing staring her down from the other side. On those days, she’d drink another glass of water or brew a pot of coffee and then she’d do something: paint, garden, swim, go for a walk, go to a meeting.

Those days weren’t often, and this was another reason for thanks.

One evening, arriving home from work, she met Janet outside.

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“What are you doing here, so far from home?” she asked.

“Canvasing,” replied Janet. “Your next-door neighbor?” she said, gesturing towards Hank Merril’s house. “He’s a registered Green. But we’ve never seen him at any of the events. You know him?”

Haley had to admit they’d never met. “I see him coming and going,” she replied, “but I don’t even know his name.”

Haley wasn’t sure she wanted to know her neighbors. She found comfort in anonymity–and she suspected her next-door neighbor felt the same way.

Haley remembered her manners and invited Janet in. Doing so, she forgot the moment of gratitude, forgot to count the strides across the porch, forgot the glass of water.

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“Your home is lovely,” Janet said, “beautiful and comfortable.”

All at once, the gratitude, the strides, the waiting glass of water rushed in upon Haley, and she breathed out, “Thanks!”

There’s more than one way to keep a line drawn, she realized.

“Have you been following the Three Rivers council meetings?” Janet asked, as they sat in the living room.

She hadn’t.

“The budget talk for next year is looking scary already. They’re talking about cutting funding for community projects.”

“Oh, they’re always saying that,” said Haley.

“This time gardens are on the list,” said Janet.

“They wouldn’t dare! Community gardens? Do they realize how many low-income families our gardens feed?”

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“That’s one of the reasons the fall elections are so important,” Janet said. “That’s why we’re trying so hard to reach out to each voter. Now’s the time we can use the help, too, while we’re organizing the campaign.”

It didn’t take long for Janet to persuade Haley to help out more, including convincing her to reach out to Hank Merril.

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That’s how Haley found herself on Saturday afternoon fixing supper for her next-door neighbor. She had to smile, thinking that they’d lived next to each other for nearly six months without speaking a word. But the moment she introduced herself, they fell into that deep type of conversation that sometimes happens upon first acquaintanceship. He could be a friend, Haley thought. Or maybe even something more.

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She’d brought home fresh tomatoes from the Willow Creek gardens, which she’d worked at the day before. All that humidity in Willow Creek created tomatoes that were so sweet, so juicy!

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Over supper, she and Hank fell into an easy conversation. He knew a lot about gardening from a horticultural point of view, talking about the genetics of sweeter tomatoes and little known organic compounds in heirloom carrots.

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More than once, she found him gazing at her. She had to work hard to find a way to describe his expression without using the word “puppy dog.” She finally settled for tender. He looked at her with a tender smile and soft laughing eyes.

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“I haven’t seen anyone since becoming sober,” he said.  And with that, she understood the familiarity she felt with him.

“How long has that been?” she asked.

“Six months and fourteen days,” he replied.

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“Ten years for me,” she replied. She showed him her ten-year medallion. “Ten years, two months, and twelve days.”

“That’s a lot of ones and twos,” he said.

So that was that. You don’t 13th Step a Beginner, she reminded herself, not that she needed reminding. She’d had it drilled into her, along with, “two sickies do not make a wellie.”

She was working on her own wellness. Most days, she had it. But there was that thin line, and on the other side, nothing always waited. For Hank, she knew the line was even sharper.

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“Cup of coffee?” she asked, as she cleared her salad bowl.

“Sure. Got any honey? I like it with honey and soy milk.”

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She looked at him from kitchen archway. All that baggage. She could see it clearly now, for she carried her own matching set. She kept trying to put it down, and next thing she knew, she was carrying it still.

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Rain began to fall, summer rain, carrying with it the scent of creosote bushes and mesquite pods: bitter and sweet. He watched the rain fall out the dining room window.

“Can you hear them?” he said as she pouring the coffee. “The spadefoot toads. Singing for their mates.”

It was like notes in an arpeggio.

“I’d better go,” he said, when the rain let up.

She woke early the next morning and sat on the back porch. The toads in the pond still sang–three of them, from what she could hear.

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Once the sun rose, she’d venture down to the edge of the pond to find the clear jelly filled with black eggs lining the rocks and rushes. By afternoon, the jelly will have dissolved and each egg will have unfurled into a tadpole with a strong black tail.

New World Symphony: The Midwife of Childhood

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Jaclyn came over first thing the next morning.

“Twins, huh?” she said.

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“Yeah,” said Cathy. “I thought you were going to be there! Aren’t you the midwife?”

“The midwife of childhood,” said Jaclyn. “I sent onezero to help with the birth.”

“And she did a fine job,” said Cathy. “But holy cow! That was so hard! My back still aches. I can’t wait to get back on the yoga mat.”

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Jaclyn shook as if lightning jolted through her.

Asta pas ta rolley!” she said. “That’s one powerful earth shudder.”

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“You OK?” Cathy asked.

Zowa ka bunga! Did you feel that? The magnet poles just did a somersault, and now the topsy turvy has gone top-right again!”

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“What are you talking about?” Cathy asked.

“Never mind,” replied Jaclyn, excitedly. “No time for explanations, not that there are any and not that you’d understand them even if there were! Let’s get in there and finish up this putting-right-of-everything that’s already been put-to-rights!”

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The nursery lay nestled in the quietness of drowsy babies with breath that smelled like breast milk, and Jaclyn settled into the peacefulness of the still morning. Oh, the rightness was even more right than it had ever been!

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She well understood the responsibilities that came with her position of ushering these babies into childhood. It was a forever type of bond, with lessons and apprenticeships that couldn’t be rushed.

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It was up to her, the fate of each one, and these two, created from the mixing of brightness and shadow, would stretch the very lexicon of rune that she knew.

But she wasn’t worried. What she didn’t know, she would invent. All it took was a quiet mind and an active heart.

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She listened. Way far off, fairies sang, too faint for words to be distinguished, but she could hear the feelings.

A dark oak
stands 
at a bend in a road.

A stone well
waits
in a garden node.

Bring the two,
Mix them well,
Music and moonlight
and a silver bell.

Now the doubling
Twice combined
Ends the troubling
Of those entwined.

Peace and madness,
Trouble and sight,
Stir with gladness
Make all right.

The infants transformed in pas de deux.

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Florinda looked like a child from Jaclyn’s own home, with her shock of copper hair. She would learn fast, this little one.

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Sparkroot smiled with the glee of a wizard’s apprentice.

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At this moment, neither child knew anything but the happiness of this wide world, the golden meadow, the bright morning, the sparrow’s song, and their mother’s love. They were freshly hatched from rune.

Jaclyn knew she couldn’t protect them from broken hearts, the cruelty of others, the boredom of busy work, or the sadness of friends, but she could help them remember this.

She cast a quick spell, spoken softly, so only their hearts would hear:

Morning always
as at night
stars in flowers
moon like a kite

Freeze this moment
Hold it dear
Sorrow, tomorrow
Remember here.

The children smiled wildly, then danced out of the room.

“Look at you,” Cathy said, when Sparkroot skipped up to her in the hall. “Such a little sparkle you are!”

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