IN AN OCTOPUS'S GARDEN, Voyeur Tips.

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IN AN OCTOPUS'S GARDEN (19 August 2008)

Miko woke up, and she felt her eyelids flip open. It was a moment before her vision came fully into focus, finally showing her the familiar view of the ceiling.
Things hadn’t gotten any better; if anything, they were worse.
It, whatever it was, had been slowly building for several days now, filling the air with that same stuffy heaviness that comes just before a terrible thunderstorm. Something was going to happen, and happen soon. The Clanfather had been out of the house even more than usual, doing whatever it was he did beyond the fence every day, and there had been much coming and going of others.
At least, this appeared to be the case from her rather limited vantage point.
She rose, absently pushed her long black hair out of the way and she knelt down again on the spotlessly polished wooden floor, her knees together, her back straight. A long centering breath. Then she slowly and meticulously rolled up her sleeping mat, pulling the strings and the knots very tight and pushing the resulting bundle up against the white plaster of the wall, a firm shove, using both hands. She studied her work for a moment, her hands resting on her thighs. The symbols stitched into the mat lay now in a neat row, rather resembling a row of blocks in a printing press, waiting to be inked. Everything square and properly aligned. Behind her, on two other sides of their quarters, B’Linda and Daisy were up and awake as well, making their own beds. It was clear that they felt it as well, the nameless taste in the air, for they were very silent, with none of the giggling and jokes that usually were tossed back and forth in the morning. They couldn’t be as neat as Miko in the end, but they tried, with sheets and blankets pulled and tucked very tight. Even the most psychotic and twitching of drill instructors would have been pleased.

Miko rose in a graceful motion, and looked around the rest of the room. Nothing else had changed during the night. The semi-darkness of the garden waited beyond the window and its simple white curtains. The smoothed black oblong of the radio sat on its shelf by the door, its cord snaking its way over to the room’s only electrical outlet. B’Linda’s bonsai sat in its square clay pot. Daisy’s poster was in its usual place over her bed, behind the glass and inside the wooden frame. Miko looked at ‘her’ shelf. Still empty, daily wiped free of dust. As she did every morning, she wished in a vague way that she could think of something that she wanted to put there.
Breakfast. As always, they ate around the large communal table in their robes, the three of them and Andrea, who was looking even more tired than usual. (The Clanfather had promised to get her some help very soon, like B’Linda now had Miko and Daisy...) Instead of cheerfully humming as she usually did, Rosa made silent trips in and out of the kitchen, carrying the bowls and the cups. Miko ate. Rosa’s work was as delicious as always, but it ended up tasting like ashes in Miko’s mouth. She chewed and swallowed. She sipped at her tea, again using both hands to hold the cup. As ultimately tasteless as the rest, but at least it was warming.
There was no sign of Lorelei. This was not unusual, but Miko was nevertheless grateful for small favors; watching the bird-woman eat was unsettling at the best of times.
Bathing. Breakfast finished, the three of them went up and then down together, Miko bringing up the rear in the line as was proper, padding their way to the pool in the basement. On this day, every drip of water, every splash, sounded like a shattering earthquake, and they finished scrubbing and shampooing one another as quickly as they possibly could. Before dressing, though, Miko stood as she always did for a moment, with her back to the long dressing room mirror, craning her neck so that she could look at the tattoo that spread its gaudy wings across her shoulder-blades, twirled its tail down around her spine.
She never got tired of looking at it like this, getting a strange little forbidden thrill when she did so, which was odd, because the Clanfather had never said or even hinted that she or anyone else couldn’t look at it. In fact...
In fact, her memories began with her birth on a cushion up in the Heights of Heaven, hearing the Clanfather’s voice thunder through her, then feeling... his... touch... against... her... skin... So delicate, and yet so masterful... He had been touching the tattoo, probing it for something. She still had no idea what.
It was the only time in her short life that he had ever really touched her, and she craved the sensation more than almost anything. She would have cheerfully sawed off all of her own arms and legs with her trowel, if it meant he would touch her again. Even just for a moment.
Birth. Again she thought of that first day of all days, and her gaze followed the lines of the tattoo. These moments in front of the mirror, she could almost admit that perhaps it had actually been a re-birth. The feeling the tattoo provoked, and the fact that people weren’t normally born with the things already etched on their backs... Had she been somewhere else, been something else, before joining this Clan?
No. You did not ‘join’ a Clan, except with the union of a sperm and an egg. You were born into a Clan, and you stayed in it, and you lived for it, until you died for it. Of that much she was certain, as she turned away from the mirror.
She got dressed, pulling on her functional but well-made and well-fitting overalls and gloves and boots. Like so many things in the house, there were an emblem stitched onto the overalls, just over her left breast. It seemed to throb softly and sweetly against her skin... Her hair always dried quickly down here, and she tucked and pinned it up, so it was entirely hidden under the hat’s wide brim.
Last of all, she went to the large lighted table, shoved up against one wall, where the tools lay. The empty collection of pegs, where Andrea’s sword spent its nights. B’Linda’s rake, almost looking like queen’s scepter. Daisy’s shears, a warrior’s weapon. And Miko’s trowel. Just a trowel. The sight made her happy. She lifted the clear plastic lid, and the purplish fumes came wafting out, making her pleasantly dizzy for a moment. She picked the trowel up, or maybe it almost jumped into her hand and slid into place against her palm, fitting even through the leather of the glove.
Up. Down. Out into the garden.
________________________________________
Out into the garden, out with the plants. Cool and sweet and calm, except where the crows endlessly shifted and muttered in the trees. She breathed in the air. This helped as it always did, but the thing, the event, whatever it was, was still there, hovering. B’Linda appeared and gave out the first assignments for the day, reading from her battered clipboard. (More symbols there, scrawled on the back.) In addition to the clipboard, she was wearing some extra protective gear; she had do some work with the special plants, the ones that they kept under tight lock and key in the very back of the greenhouse. Miko was sent to plant some seedlings, carrying them a wooden tray. (Symbols once again, painted on the side.) She knelt down at the base of one of the enormous holly plants and began to work.
The better part of an hour slipped breezily by. She had just moved on to the next holly bush, when something prompted her, a gentle but definite poke with a mental stick. She stopped and looked up, looked around, still holding her trowel.
She blinked in surprise. There was a man. This was rare enough, here in the Clanhouse, but out here in the garden, unheard of. He was approaching, walking towards her but still on the far side of the Clan’s spiky black fence, the fence that forever separated order from chaos, light from darkness, purity from stain.
He arrived at the fence. He studied it, touching its metal here and there with a carefully extended finger. Then he came over, vaulting with easy grace. Easy, but still, there was something about his movements that suggested deep weariness, even exhaustion. Miko studied him as the alarms sounded, spreading outward in rapid ripples across the networked garden, racing up into the house. The crows began to gather.
Despite the fact that the Clanfather was who he was, the center of the universe, towering and perfect, she could admit to herself that he was not entirely... graceful... not in the strictly physical sense. The Clanfather sometimes came across as if he had been... badly assembled. Apart from this, however, the intruder resembled him. Tall and thin, with a receding hairline, especially up around the temples. The hair that remained was still thick and vigorous, an untidy black mop. As black as her own hair, even, although it was clear even from this distance that their ancestors hailed from opposite ends of the planet. The intruder wore black and white clothing, (a tuxedo, that was the word) and had on a rather archaic evening cape which flowed smoothly around him, settling into almost granite-like stillness whenever he stopped moving.
He was carrying something in one of his long hands, a silver-colored shaft.
He stopped again as soon as he came over the fence, and stood for a long time, as statue-like as his cape, looking up at the Clanhouse, ignoring the crows that were now circling him. Miko sat and waited and watched. Her hand shifted its grip on the trowel, and then the trowel shifted as well, changing shape, becoming more streamlined and... efficient...
And fitting even better than before...
The building was dark this early in the morning; the sun had to climb quite a ways into the sky every day before it cleared the green hills east of the city, and then the trees that forever surrounded the structure. It was dark, but as always, in the highest of the Heavens, a light burned, bright and steady, an unwinding eye that never slept. They all stood in silence. Then the eye did not blink, but it... changed. Dismissed him. the alarms quieted. Not stopping, not falling asleep, but watching. The clusters of crows settled back in the trees, but stared down with unblinking black eyes. This man was not what everyone was waiting for, he was merely a distraction. The overall pressure continued to build. The trowel shifted back.
The intruder turned his gaze, seemed to see Miko for the first time. He again hesitated, then strode towards her on long legs, careful to avoid stepping on both the new growths and the swirls which made up the Traps. At one point, a green tendril tried to slither out of the undergrowth and wrap itself around his leg, but he brushed it away almost absently. The motion made her notice his shoes: they were black and had obviously started the night with a high shine, but now they were somewhat scuffed and had mud smeared on them, sickly gray mud from the graveyard. They made crunching noises as he finally stepped onto the white gravel of the path by which she knelt on the jumpsuit’s well-padded knees.
Miko felt any last scraps of immediate concern melt away, and she turned back to her digging.
Crunch crunch crunch. Silence. The man was standing near her, and an odd fried smell came to her nostrils, an almost electrical taste. He spoke, as nice as a male voice could be when it didn’t belong to the Clanfather, only scratching a little at her edges of her brain.
“Good morning.”
She peeked up from under the straw brim of her hat. He had a large black smudge on one side of his narrow but well-formed face, as if something dirty had slapped him there.
“Good morning.”
“Am I disturbing you?”
“No, you are not disturbing me..” She took one of the many seedlings from the tray beside her and gently nestled it into the hole which she had dug, using both hands.
He squatted down next to her, balancing easily on the front of his feet. His cloak still somehow looked elegant, even as it dragged in the gravel.
“Would you mind if I asked you a few questions?”
Automatically, she glanced again at the house. At the light. There was no objection.
“I have no objection.” She took between her fingers a scoop of the fertilizer from the proper cup and sprinkled the grains in a loose circle around the seedling’s roots, before slowly pushing the black dirt back in on top.
“Thank you.” He smiled, a bit awkwardly. “First of all... well, what’s your name?”
“My name is Miko.” She picked up the trowel again and started a new hole, a careful twelve centimeters from the first.
“Just Miko?”
“Yes, just Miko.”
“I see.” His tone indicated that his words might be a lie, and she felt the need to elaborate.
“Now it is simply Miko. Once...” She frowned, feeling an abstract puzzlement for a fleeting moment. Birth and re-birth.... The handle of the trowel was very slick and cool. She resumed digging. “...once, long ago, I believe there may have been a woman with more.”
“Ah.”
There was a long silence, and yet again she looked up at him.
“Was there anything else you desired to ask me?” She was not annoyed, but rather curious. And maybe even just the tiniest bit hopeful, in a cool and shady corner of her mind. He somehow seemed like an interesting man, and as much as she enjoyed conversing with the other Clanmembers, it was rather nice to be allowed to talk to someone new. It had been quite a while...
Not since she had been born, now that she came to think about it.
He tipped his head sideways, and squinted his brown eyes.
“Have we met before somewhere, Miko? You seem familiar.”
“I do not know if we have met before. What is your name?”
“Oh. Of course, I’m sorry. My name is... Roger. Just Roger, I suppose.” He offered her his free hand. She shook it gravely with her free hand. It was safe enough, wearing the gloves.
“Hello, Roger.”
“Hello, Miko. So. Have we met?” He absently rubbed away the dirt she had left behind on his fingers.
She shrugged a little. A flickering. He seemed to fit somewhere for a moment, in a room filled with people dressed much as he was dressed.
“It is possible that such a meeting occurred. A very long time ago. Before...”
“Before you came to work here, I imagine.”
“Work?” She considered then blinked. “Yes. I suppose that would be one word for it. I had not thought of it that way before.”
“Do you like music, Miko?” The question seemed a sudden irrelevancy, but she answered it.
“Yes, Roger, I like music very much.” She picked up the next seedling. “B’Linda and Daisy and I enjoy listening to KMCN on the radio in our quarters every night before we go to sleep. The classical music station.”
“From the university. Yes. I know it well.”
“And sometimes we play music for the seedlings, in the greenhouse.” She pointed at the low-slung glass structure, which was just visible off in the distance. “It helps them to grow.”
“Who are B’Linda and Daisy?”
“B’Linda and Daisy are the other women who have been granted the privilege of tending the Clanfather’s plants. They were already here when I was born.”
“Daisy? A gardener named Daisy?”
Again she stopped and blinked. She smiled a moment, before she could stifle it.
“I had not considered it before, but yes, a gardener named Daisy.”
“What did she do before she came here?”
“I have not asked. I imagine she was miserable and unhappy.”
“Like yourself, I imagine?”
“As I said, I was born into the Clan. There is no before for me.”
“I see. And B’Linda?”
“I believe... I believe B’Linda tended plants even before she came here.”
“Ah. Always get an expert if you can, I suppose. And the Clanfather? Is that Mr. Black?”
This one was particularly easy, and the answer flowed smoothly from her tongue.
“His totality is complex, and it requires many names. But he is the Clanfather, and that is the only name that truly matters.”
“Clanfather... Are there other Clanfathers, besides Mr. Black?”
Another pause. Easy questions, then bizarre ones... There were more faint echoes in her mind for a moment, which quickly faded, or perhaps were neatly sucked away, like grass clippings pulled up into the bag of the enormous mower they used on the lawns.
“Yes. I believe so.”
“How many? Do you know?”
“There are...” She tapped her spade against the ground, a slow steady beat. Counting. There was a rock or something there, producing a clicking sound. The names came, very slowly, pulled out of some long-disused storage bin in the back of the shed of her mind, and she quickly counted them before they were withdrawn from her. Rat, Lotus, Shining Cloud... “There are thirteen of them. Thirteen others. But-”
“Yours is the only one that matters.”
“Yes, Roger. I am glad that you understand.”
“Do you know what I am?”
“Yes, I know what you are.”
“Am I a Clanfather?” Asked very cautiously.
“No.” The thought amused her, and she had to suppress another smile. “You are not a Clanfather. You are... an important personage.”
“And how do you know that?”
“You would not be here at this moment speaking to me if you were not.”
“And what do the Clans do, exactly, that these thirteen Clanfathers lead?”
“Each of the Clans... has a secret. More than a secret. A purpose and a darkest of taboos. Or so I believe. Such things are not discussed, not ever, but I remember...”
Remember.
More sucking, leaving a cool, swirling emptiness.
Bliss.
“Secrets? These Secrets of theirs aren’t the same as... no. If I’m not a Clanfather, obviously not. But what-” He abruptly snapped his neck around and looked at a point off in the air somewhere, suddenly seeming to be listening to an invisible voice. She recognized this action; she had seen the Clanfather do it as well, on occasion. “But they must be like-” Pause. “What?” Pause. “Oh. Thanks. I see. As usual, you’re being such a big help, Sparky.” Open sarcasm; that was very different than the Clanfather. His attention went back to her. “But guess I do see, Miko. In part.” He twisted the flute in his grip. He rubbed his eyes and went off an another sudden tangent. “I like music too. That was why I asked, a minute ago, if you were wondering. That may be where we met.”
Music?
For some reason, she felt the sudden urge for the first time to look closely at the thing he clutched in his hand.
It was... a flute? Or perhaps some kind of instrument like a flute. She wasn’t entirely sure; she didn’t know much about music...
She remembered.
She remembered sitting in a garden, a different garden, smaller but far more elegant, with the gravel tortured into strange swirling shapes. Sitting in an afternoon sun, sitting with an elderly man who wore a robe and a long white beard, sitting and learning how to pluck with ivory picks at a... a rectangular instrument with strings and... pieces that slid back and forth...
Before this particular memory could be sucked away, she felt a deep urge. She snatched it and stuck it into that same dark corner as before. She had to cram and stuff to make it fit, but fit it did and later, later, when there was time..
All this in an instant. She brought her attention back to the present. The instrument she was now studying seemed a little large and long to be a flute. Very solid-looking. There were many stops, inlayed with ivory... or something like ivory... and perhaps other precious materials. It was beautiful, and beautifully made, and it shimmered bright silver in the light...
But it was still practically dark...
Beautiful...
Shimmer...
Brighter and brighter...
And behind it all was a tune, no a voice, a silvery voice singing, playful and teasing and oh so delicious...
There was a sharp snap, almost an electric shock, shooting up her arm from the trowel, which was once again streamlined and vicious, trembling in her hand with sudden eagerness. Much like Roger before her, she blinked and twitched, violently. The crows were once again shifting in the trees, flapping their wings restlessly. Roger lowered the flute so that it was more or less out of sight behind his leg.
“I am sorry, Miko. I’m still learning how all of this works, you see. It’s been a long and painful road, and I’m still on it, plugging away with no real destination in sight. Or so it seems sometimes.” He fingered the stops on the flute. “And do you know what’s most depressing of all?”
“I do not know what is most depressing of all.”
“I got myself into this. I’ve been pulled in much deeper since I’ve come to this wretched city of yours-”
“It is not my city.” She spoke without anger.
“I stand corrected. But back at the very beginning of it all, too many years ago and several thousand miles away, it was my choice to get involved. I chose poorly, I guess.” He studied her. “I wonder if the same was true for you.”
“I was born into the Clan. I live for the Clan until I die.”
“Oh, yes. Of course. So you said.”
“Do you play that?” She felt greatly daring, asking someone beside B’Linda or Daisy a question. She pointed in the general direction of the flute, careful not to look at it again.
“Play it? I suppose, as you say, that would be one way of putting it.” He cleared his throat, lifted the instrument to his lips, blew a couple of careless notes, his fingers dancing. The sounds were clean and pure, as silver as the thing that produced them. They came together in a gravity-defying waltz, floated up into the air on glistening, featherless wings, circling, circling...
He glanced at the trees and the crows all the rest and he slowly lowered the flute again. The sound died, sucked away, the wings crumpling to dust and then nothingness. “No. Better not, I guess. This isn’t the time or the place. But hopefully someday I will be able to play for you, Miko.”
She felt a strange warm flush in her cheeks.
“I would enjoy that.”
He looked up at the sky, frowning slightly. Than something more fundamental changed in his expression.
“Oh well. I see that it is finally time.” He blew one more note, long and forceful, almost shrill. Alarms sounded again, and this time, there was also a familiar golden flicker.
________________________________________
Roger turned with a small start, but Miko just sighed and bent back over her plants. He had seemed so nice...
Lorelei was standing on the path, her talons curled, her violet eyes blazing.
Roger straightened up. Something creaked in his legs.
“You must be Lorelei. I’ve heard so much about you.” He offered his hand. “My name is Roger B-”
“You are not welcome here.”
Her voice... Miko somehow resisted the overwhelming urge to get up and run. After all, there was no place to run to. If Lorelei wanted to find her, after finishing with Roger...
She tried to shrink down into the dirt.
Roger picked up a new train of thought, but still spoke as if he hadn’t Lorelei’s words.
“It’s been a hard night for all of us, Lorelei, and I imagine that the day isn’t going to be a whole lot better.” He lifted the flute once again, slowly, very slowly. “You’re in pain, aren’t you? And I’m sure... I’m sure that Mr. Black cares for you, but that’s not enough, is it? It will never be enough.”
Lorelei was watching the flute, staring at it as it moved back and forth. Roger repeated himself.
“It will never be enough. I have a friend, you know who can maybe help you. Maybe only a little, but still... Two friends, really. It’s been their job to help people, for a very long time now. To fix... no, to heal them, and to make them better. They helped me once.” He smiled and cocked an eyebrow. “You wouldn’t believe how much better they made me. I’ll bet that Mr. Black wouldn’t object if you asked to see them.”
Miko stared in disbelief. Roger should be reduced to bloody shredded ribbons by now. That was the way it always worked with Lorelei. She had seen it, that awful night when...
When?
The memories refused to come. It had been before she was born, and there was no more room in the corner, and to be brutally honest, this was one thing she didn’t really want to remember.
But this was Lorelei. And she was just standing there quietly on the path, swaying back and forth a little, watching the flute with her violet eyes opened wide...
She likes shiny things.
Miko wasn’t sure where the thought had come from.
A serious weakness. I didn’t realize that Lorelei had any weaknesses.
She looked at the flute again herself.
“Think about it, Lorelei. Ask him. He’s been in the city a bit longer than me, and he should know who I’m talking about. When things have... well... quieted down a bit. For the moment. Ask him. Maybe you shouldn’t even ask him. Just do it. Now, calm and relaxed.” He snapped his fingers. It was very loud, almost like a gunshot, and Miko trembled, waking up, calm and relaxed...
Shimmering...
How long had they been there?
Lorelei shivered all over as well, and blinked. When her eyes refocused, she glared at Roger, but it was her usual low-level simmering glare, not the death-stare, not the violet pits.
“I said you’re not welcome here.”
He bowed, without a trace of irony.
“Then I’ll be off, my Lady. I think I’ve done what everyone has required of me. Please give my regards to Mr. Black, the next time you see him.”
He turned and walked away from them, this time heading up the path towards the front of the house.
They stood and they watched him go. Then Miko felt Lorelei’s glare shift to her, and she hastily turned back to her seedlings.
She peeked up one last time. Just as Roger was disappearing around the corner of the house, he looked back one last time.
Not at Lorelei, but at her.
At Miko...
Then came the scream, from somewhere inside the house.
________________________________________
The scream.
It was...
It...
It shattered the air. It was a howl, pain and anguish and release, going on and on, impossibly. Somewhere nearby, a window blew out, loudly. Miko dropped her trowel, she actually dropped the trowel and clapped her hands over her ears, curled up even tighter then before. Lorelei was gone, another golden flicker. The scream went on and on and on, and crows were exploding around the house in an enormous cloud, forming deadly symbols in the air with their bodies and other windows were breaking, and
Miko’s brain was being cut in two and
It stopped. Cut off sharply, and with it, the pressure was gone. The storm had passed, all in an instant. The sun peeped up over the trees, and spilled into the garden. Colors appeared, followed by butterflies, flitting about the flowers.
Miko uncurled, very slowly, and looked around. Peace. Serenity. She suddenly felt happy, happy all over, happier than any time she could remember, other than those moments immediately after her birth. Because for the moment, the Clanfather was touching her again.
She picked up the trowel and got back to work.
Somewhere nearby she could hear the sound of Daisy’s clippers.
________________________________________
The rest of the day was quite uneventful. After planting seedlings, she helped B’Linda in the greenhouse for a while, then started in on mowing the lawn, back and forth, cutting the patterns deeper and deeper...
Around noon, Rosa (humming cheerfully once again) brought out the wide metal tray with the legs, carrying on it their usual lunch of sandwiches and pieces of fruit and tall glasses of chilled lemonade. This had seemed... strange... food in the early days of her life, but now she found it all quite tasty. They ate together under the shade of the biggest of the trees, the tall black monarch that that dominated much of the back yard. They once again giggled and told jokes. Towards the end of the meal, Daisy wiped her wide smiling mouth with a paper napkin. She leaned over and nudged Miko playfully in the ribs.
“I saw you, you know.” The blonde woman spoke conspiratorially.
“I do not understand.”
Daisy looked over at B’Linda, who was ensconced in the only chair, a piece of white wickerwork, as was proper. Daisy cupped her hand to one side of her mouth and pretended to whisper.
“She was talking to a man this morning. Just before... you know.”
“Ooh, really? You gonna get yourself in trouble, girl.” B’Linda flashed her mouthful of white teeth, which was matched by the neat circles of her glasses catching the sunlight.
Miko flushed brightly and ducked her head, grateful for the hat’s brim. She spoke almost in a whisper.
“He was very nice. His name was Roger. He plays the flute.”
“Uh uh uh. Gotta watch out for them white-boy musicians. They’ll break your heart.”
Daisy nodded solemnly.
“Always on the go. Discard you in a second and off to the next town once the gig is done.”
“He told me he made a mistake once.” Miko fiddled with the last crust of her peanut butter and jelly sandwich. “I feel sorry for him.”
“We all make mistakes, girl.” Then any trace of levity dropped from B’Linda’s voice, and her dark eyes went soft and far away, off to the house. “Except for Him, of course.”
“Yes.”
“Yes. Except for Him.” They all said it, all at once.
They floated together for a moment in the worship and the bliss. Then Rosa reappeared to collect the tray and the leftovers. They cleaned up and got back to work, taking the appropriate scraps to toss into the compost heap by the greenhouse.
________________________________________
Miko came into the house, last of all after the other two. As was proper. As always after her day in the Clanfather’s garden, she was tired and grubby and content. She took off her hat, and let her hair spill back down around her shoulders, and was walking towards the stairs that led up to the basement, (so to speak) when Tabby appeared, picking her way carefully but confidently down the same steps.
Tabby?
Miko stopped, a bit puzzled for some reason. But then, Tabby was sort of hard to pigeonhole, if you thought about it, beyond being a Clanmember. Not a full person, exactly, certainly not a cat, and not at all like Lorelei... Miko shrugged. Tabby was Tabby, unique and individual. Like them all.
And she had always been there in the Clanhouse.
Always.
Bliss.
Just like Miko.
She smiled and shifted the hat to the same hand that was holding the trowel. She patted Tabby on the head, and Tabby made a pleasant little trilling noise, looking up intelligently at Miko with bright green eyes. Then she went on her way, heading in the direction of the kitchen, no doubt to beg some food off of Rosa.
Miko sighed happily and went to take her bath, and to get ready for bed.
________________________________________
A few days later, they were all getting ready for bed. The radio was on, and there was a concert by the city Symphony filling the room, coming live from some place far beyond the fence called the Panopticon. Something by Mozart. It was quite nice, and Miko was humming along with the music, when Andrea suddenly appeared in the open doorway, lugging a enormous package wrapped in plain brown paper. She smiled and handed it to Miko. Miko looked at it in surprise as it towered over her, long and skinny.
“It’s for me? From... from the Clanfather?” Who else would be giving her presents?
Andrea shook her head, smiled, shrugged.
It wasn’t from the Clanfather, but it was all right. She disappeared as silently as she had arrived.
The other two looked at her, the curiosity burning in their faces.
“Well, girl, you gonna open the thing, or do we have do to it for you?”
Miko’s immediate impulse was to meekly hand the package to B’Linda, as was proper. She resisted it. She straightened up, and looking very smug, marched regally to her mat. There she sat cross-legged, with the package now balanced more or less on her lap. It was rather heavy. She savored the moment, feeling its contours. Long, almost as tall as she was, and rather thin. Nicely wrapped, done up with neat lengths of twine. There was a small card attached, which Miko plucked out and opened.
For Miko
No name, no other hint. Written in black ink, with a firm hand. She passed the card to the other two, and pulled at one of the knots. It fell smoothly apart, and them the paper came apart as well. Inside...
Inside was a long thin box, hollow, made of wood...
paulownia wood...
...with strings stretched across it, and wound tight, the extra lengths curled up like the eyes of an owl at one end. Beautifully shaped and crafted, the pieces fit together without glue and were expertly carved, as was proper... inlayed decorations on the outside flowed. The interior herringbone pattern rippled...
The others stared at it, as with great concentration, Miko put the object down on the floor in front of her, setting the one end on the small legged stand that had also come in the package. She then picked up the sharp ivory tsume and slid them onto the proper fingers. They fit perfectly, and she flexed her fingers.
Maybe it wasn’t ivory at all, but something even rarer...
“What is it?” Daisy.
Miko made adjustments, sliding the ji which held up the strings. Plucking. Tuning, trying to decide what she was going to play...
“It is called a...” She closed her eyes for a moment, and the word came. “A koto.” It sounded strange but right on her tongue, giving her the same thrill as looking at the tattoo...
“You know how to play it?”
Miko plucked at the strings, tentatively at first, then with greater assurance. Her fingers moved back and forth, back and forth...
B’Linda silently turned off the radio. As was proper.
“Yes.” Miko looked at the single picture tucked into the corner of her mind as she played. A garden. A smiling blind ghost with a long white beard. “Yes, I do...”
At last...
Something to put on her shelf...

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