Her grandfather had lived in this cottage most of his life. That much she knew. This cottage was much older than he ever was and he had added the limited wiring there was by himself. The shack nearby (no errant personality) with a generator helped with things like clothes washing, the stove, and giving her warm baths. He had managed to live all on his own until he reached ninety nine years old.
He had passed away a couple miles down the road, visiting the grave of his wife. He fell asleep in front of her grave and never woke up again. Salma figured he must have lived a full life. He’d gone full circle.
A book fell off the shelf and hit her on the head. Salma saw bright lights for a few moments, managing to stumble into one of the armchairs. She blinked away tears, refusing to sob no matter how much she felt like it. It felt so stupid, not wanting to give a house satisfaction.
But Salma was tired, hungry, frustrated. She was done with this place.
They commanded attention, leaving spectators breathless in their presence. Mi didn’t expect anything less. Dressed all in red, the crowd could still see the stains of the blood on them. Somehow, despite having returned from battle, despite the blood of their enemies and of their friends upon them, they all stood tall. Not as though they had suffered a heavy loss.
Mi dipped their head down before Jahan could see them. They shouldn’t have bothered. Their red cloak stood out in the cooler colours worn by the rest of the crowd. Jahan would break formation, they know. They shouldn’t have come, not right now.
“What are you doing?”
They stared at their boots, instead of looking up to see how many people Jahan pushed aside. The crowd had moved, giving them space. Mi’s boots looked the same as ever. They had only managed to pull on the boots and put on the cloak. The rest of their outfit was not the same uniform. “Standing in support.”
Then came the part which made her remember she couldn’t treat this like any piece of property.
The door slammed in her face. Tears sprang to Salma’s eyes, hand over her left arm. Fortunately, hitting her arm had saved the nose on her face from being flattened. Like it had the last time. Salma had been counting the occurrences of this particular transgression (it was now five).
Why had she remained for so long? She hadn’t wanted to live here in the first place. But what else could she do with this building that now stood in her name? Considering its attitude, Salma doubted she could sell it. Staying here was impossible. Perhaps the cottage wanted to be left alone. She could return to the city.
Cities had electricity enough for a dryer, which meant her clothes wouldn’t all end up in the dirt outside. Salma opened and closed her fists a few time before returning outside to pick up her dirtied laundry.
Very often she lies there, horizontal
Everything screaming at her to change her posture
Reaching for the strength she still lies there
Trying in ways that no one can see
Internally grappling with the fact
Caring doesn’t always come easy to her
And no one can fight the battles for her
Let alone help her get up
Salma was a city girl. From living with her parents to alone as an adult, she had lived only in the city. The notice that her grandfather died had come out of nowhere, mainly because Salma barely remembered the last time she had seen him. A long time ago. She hadn’t remembered the cottage he had lived in for most of his life. She had been here once before. It was brighter then, but it might have been in the height of summer.
She remembered her grandfather as grumpy. But he had also been strong. She had always reached upward and he had given up his frown to bend down, pick her up, and raise her up into the air. She remembered him holding her up for a long time, much to her childish delight.
Everything else was too vague. Her memory gave her flashes, nothing more. Salma didn’t find the point of thinking back on it too much. He had given her, out of everything, his cottage and all of the belongings that were not specified as belonging to others. After a week, asking officials to help find where on the map the address might actually be, she found this place once more.
The cottage moving fast she had started to get used to, but the birds? It was as if they knew. She startled a couple into the house and there went the rest of her morning. She tried to direct them all back out the window. Even if wild animals hadn’t trekked all over her food, it was cold by the time she returned to it.
Salma let out a wordless sound of anger and slammed her fist into the wall. Nothing responded.
She had come here a month ago and as far as she was concerned, that was one month too long. Laundry couldn’t be ruined, could it? Salma hadn’t had a problem doing it before, the cottage and it’s limited electricity allowed for a washing machine and the cottage had yet to do anything terrible to the cycle.
Salma pulled her clothes out, wet yet clean. At the very least she had that. Salma left the miserable confines of the house and went to where she had set up the laundry line, hanging everything up to dry. Happy with that attempt, she went back inside and dared to eat a few granola bars. The cottage couldn’t ruin those.
What is happening is wrong, make no mistake. I watched the Official the other day, hovering around what was once the entrance to the Vault. Whether or not she had been suspicious of the spot, I couldn’t tell. I did my best to stay away from her. But now it didn’t matter either. She could be as suspicious as she wanted, there would be nothing to find.
So magic remains hidden here. I wonder often about that old man, where he could go now to still be a magician. The young woman, who had continued her studies despite how life has become. The young boy, without a place in order to harness his power, might be discovered by someone if he doesn’t learn how to conceal it. The Librarian, without his child, without the rest of his Library, forever sealed away.
I am the only one who hadn’t lost anything like that. I don’t have any magic.
Odd is the moment when all doors are closed
Perhaps it is the lack of sight?
Peeling away the fake doors, unopposed,
Or are they real outside of your mind’s invite?
Readily I decide which of these doors
To treat as permanent fixtures against my progress
Until the struggle against it is fighting of many wars
Needless for some, but for the rest I obsess
I must agree that some doors must stay closed
Transient until the moments I can remain composed
Yet most of the time I digress
No one could know anything was different. Whatever reason the Keeper had, I would not endanger the Librarian by letting anyone know that something had happened. I returned to the library to spend all of my time there as I usually did.
I couldn’t cry. Even more than that, I couldn’t lash out when I saw the Official. Not that I could. She terrified me.
And that would be it, wouldn’t it? Because of fear trapping us, the Keeper is gone. Because of trying to stay safe, they are just as dead as they would have been had the Official found them. Our own fear is just as dangerous as the actual violence that the state threatens upon us. There is no going around this. It was a hard lesson to learn.
To make something of this lesson? Even harder. Despite knowing what has been sacrificed in order to learn this, that doesn’t make the fear go away. Knowing better actually might make it worse.