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This is their own story.

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Here: I'll put the undertow into a frame
like a prospector panning for gold
in a segment of water so tiny it looks flat

as my world used to be,
bordered by emptiness & doodled terra incognita.

She'd been having these dreams more often recently.

She was in the desert, in the woods, in a swirling darkness. The setting varied, and when each dream started she always felt like she was just waking up, opening her eyes, attempting to orient herself. (When she did wake up, she would always blink disbelievingly that this -- sheets and pillow and nightstand -- was the real world.)

She was remembering more, internalizing some map, understanding how the land was always the same under the images, that she could follow the same path each time -- even when she didn't actually see a path.

She always found the same woman: sitting, usually on a rock or some outcropping, intent on a patch of water, and when C. J. came within easy speaking distance of her she turned her head toward C. J. and, her face breaking into a smile, said, "You're here."

The woman stood up, took C. J. by the hand, and began to walk with her, into a world that seemed to melt and re-form around them.

"I like it here," she said, as she walked with the woman.

"I would hope so; you helped make it."

C. J. looked at her quizzically.

"By being here. It's different when you're not here."

"Is it better? I mean... do you like it better? I mean...."

"It's different. It's always different. But yes, I do like it when you're here. I like you."

"Thank you," C. J. said, still feeling a little unsure of herself. "Who are you?"

The woman turned to face her, smile bright.

"There are a lot of ways to answer that. And none of them are entirely true. Not here. Let me tell you some stories."

C. J. nodded, not entirely comprehending.

"In Sanskrit, my name means 'Shining,' and in Punjabi it means 'Star.'

"The Hindu stories are my least favorite, though. We know that stars are bright and blinding and burning. And we know that without our sun star we -- and everything else -- couldn't survive on this planet. Kali is like that. And one of her manifestations shares my name.

"There's a lot of wisdom and insight in those stories, but they hurt. There are other stories I'd rather think about. Even though I know I need to learn these stories, too."

She was looking away from C. J. now, and C. J. suddenly felt very awkward standing here in this strange forest, looking down at the back of a woman she had yet to be actually introduced to, wondering whether she should try to touch her shoulder or something to comfort her.

The woman turned, her cheer obviously (to C. J.'s experienced eye) forced. "Now it's your turn to tell me a story about you."

"Why do I get the feeling that you already know everything about me?"

The woman cast her eyes downward. "There's plenty I still don't know about you; believe me."

C. J. reached over and lifted the woman's head up, cupping her chin in one hand. An urge to kiss the woman flitted across her mind.

"When I was a kid, my father used to tell me stories about the great leaders of the past. I think he was always a little disappointed that I hadn't been born a boy. He never said it, but I know he thought a woman would never go anywhere in politics.

"The only time we ever had a female governor was for 12 days in 1998/99 when Lieutenant Governor Nancy Putnam Hollister served after George Voinovich resigned to move on to a position in the Senate." A pause. "We still haven't had a female Senator.

"I think if I ever have a daughter I want to name her Nancy."

"You hurt, too," the woman said softly, nodding in comprehension. "I thought stories were the way to go -- shaping our lives like this space around us -- but I think I'm supposed to teach you about silences instead."

The woman stepped up onto a boulder, her face now level with C. J.'s, steadied herself with her hands on C. J.'s shoulders, and kissed her softly.

C. J. put her arms out to hold her up, hands moving toward her buttocks as she kissed her. She closed her eyes, willing herself to stop thinking, to just enjoy the moment, to not worry about what would happen to that pale blue silk blazer that had just found its way off of her.

She breathed in the cool air, the soft spice of the woman in front of her -- felt soft hair falling on her face, a body leaning into her. She wanted to memorize the feel of these fabrics -- more than that, wanted to memorize the feel of this skin, these curves.

She didn't know how it had happened, but she was lying on a bed now, and glad of it. Her eyes were still closed, and she could feel soft touches, unbuttoning her blouse, kisses on her skin, lower now....

C. J. woke up with her name in her mouth. "Tara," she whispered.