autotelic, autistic, assonance-hole©.

narcissus 5

the week before autumn’s end she spent carefully arranging the braided flower crowns, refreshing them with raindrops collected each morning and storing them in moss to preserve their freshness. the morning effort complete, she set out for the far rapids, the place near the falls, where that which she sought might be found.

they were heavy, but she carried them with a smile, mind filled with images of his surprise and glee to find them, to see them carefully decorated and tenderly placed… there… all his favorite things gathered together where he might fully enjoy them.

placing them carefully, she left once more to gather the crowns, all but skipping to think of the certain delight with which he would greet them.

she trundled into the small clearing, arms overflowing with flowers, unable at first to see… gingerly setting them down by the stream, she rose, only to stop short at his unexpected presence.

he stood flush from brow to breast, almost crackling with energy, eyes like chips of ice, boring icicle anger that followed her, his voice a hiss of hatred, “what are you doing? what have you done? you’ve ruined EVERYTHING!”

his heavy step toward her, hands raised and flexing as if to strike, or perhaps strangle, she stepped back reflexively and tripped into the mound of flowers behind her. going down hard, she struggled to regain her balance and stand, but it was too late… he towered over her, cold and cruel and uncaring, leaning in to rasp again, “how could you ruin this for me?”

struggling to understand, she carefully, slowly rose to her feet, glancing beyond him to the place where she had set the other two stones, perfect matches to the one he so loved…. shaking her head in confusion, she stuttered, “i don’t… how have i… aren’t they the same? are they not what you want?”

for a moment, she thought he was going to actually attack her. the hate in his eye leapt like a physical thing, clawing invisibly at her mind, spirit, and heart as his words joined in… eager lash, whistling harmony that drew gouges without care or notice, “you stupid fool! you’ve ruined it all! can’t you do ANYTHING right? how did you even manage to put them there?”

all but panting with rage, he swung away and raced back to the bank by the stream, hands thrusting out as if to show her some error, “just LOOK at it… ”

she did. the three stones, perfectly balanced, created a small eddy between them… a persistent ripple that whispered soflty as the water rushed over them. she turned a blank look to him, “i… i don’t understand… i got them for you. so you would have them all. they were all that was missing… and see…?” eager to show him, she turned and ran to the flowers, gathering them and turning to smile, “here… one from every place you walked… i collected them all… and have kept them safe and alive for you…”

her smile faltered at his snarl, “god. you are SO stupid. how can you not see that you have ruined it ALL?” she shook her head, lost and hopelessly unable to understand, “how have i ruined it? i brought them all to you… for you…”

but he was already turning inward, speaking as if he spoke not to her, but to some watching deity, some judge on high, “you see?!? you see?” then, suddenly, swinging on her with such vehemence and intensity that she almost fell backwards again, his spittle landing on her cheek as he ground out the words, “i don’t want them from YOU. i don’t want your posioned touch on them. you ruin everything you touch. don’t you see? you are unclean… imperfect… unable… pointless… hopeless… oh gods… how did i ever think i could stand to look at you? be near you? how can you not see, not know?!?”

he snatched the garlands from her arms, threw them to the ground, danced a mad, stomping dervish on them, grunting between panting breaths as he did so, “ruined… tainted… you… kill… everything… you… touch…” looking up, chest heaving, he spat at her, “why are you here? why did you ever come here? you’re not wanted here. why can’t you just… go… away?”

she couldn’t manage tears. and she realized she had lost the last drop of blood some time ago. looking down, she was not surprised to see the new gouges simply hung open… nothing left to spend.

he stared at her a moment more, then, spun and made as if to return to his precious stream… only to stop there, snarl once more, kick great clods of dirt at even that, and then, sprint into the night… leaving her standing there, quiet… still… alone.

she wasn’t sure how long she stood there. perhaps she would still be standing there had not another presence shook her from the catatonia. a soft whooshing, a low and odd noise that might have been a soft call… she shuddered and slowly looked up to find a grey owl perched on the branch beside her.

the amber eyes glimmered softly, as the owl fluffed itself briefly and began to preen. from the direction of the stream, behind a tree near the spot where he so often would rest, a voice beckoned, ‘come, child… there is something here for you.’

stunned and empty, she shuffled slowly to the bank… and from ’round the tree, a young girl appeared… a longbow casually slung over her shoulder, grey eyes steady and strong turned upon her… ‘come here, look and see what i see…’

she sighed. how many times had she sat in this spot, looked at this place, this stone, searching for an answer? the girl nodded, but reached out her hand, commanding, for all she was gentle in it… moving closer, she took it, and they settled by the stream.

‘look there, child. what do you see?’

“nothing. the stream. the rocks.” her voice was flat, lifeless.

‘no, that is not true. look again. what else do you see?’their faces rippled and shimmered in the eddying pulse of water, shifting and changing until she couldn’t tell one from the other, “i see our reflections.” the soft voice challenged, ‘do you?’

“well, i see what would be our reflections, but for…”

‘yes…?’ the voice was so soft… so tender… the girl moved her arm ’round to cradle the trembling woman. “am i so blind?” she reached out a hand to touch the three, perfect stones softly… letting the water flow over her hands, letting the last of her own brine flow with it for a time… understanding at last.

‘not anymore.’

she woke under the oak tree. it was cold, winter was coming. she remembered a place where a fire was still tended, where welcome was genuine, where compassion lived. she stumbled from the cubby in the oak and rubbed her swollen eyes, turning to begin the walk home. she got three steps before it occurred to her… and slowly, she returned to the stream. retrieving the two stones, she wrapped them in the straps of her pack, and hefted them with a groan onto her back.

when he returned, if he returned, let him have his perfect, pristine, unmarred view. she and her tainted offerings would no more impose on his deepest, most heartfelt need.

no, she was no longer blind.

returning home, she placed the stones as markers in the garden, and set the ruined garlands about them to turn to seed. there was yet beauty in them, for all they were deemed ruined elsewhere. let the seasons come, let the rain come, let time come, and perhaps the truth of it would make itself known.