The place was all at once a still, crescent-shaped pool beneath a massive gold-leafed willow, a dusty store with shelves and racks and closets overflowing with every item imaginable, a set of impossibly tall, echoing hallways paved in intricate marble tiles, a tower that looked like the inside of a ribcage, a fire escape or a tiled roof, a rocky point overlooking a swath of perpetually stormy ocean off the coast of some lost New England town, nothing, and nowhere.
Somewhere nearby, a wolf laid in the shadow, watchful. It had been there for years. It would be there, forever. Not far from it was a pale-skinned, silver-haired man with iceblue eyes, and a man beside him in twin black braids, bells in his hair. They had been there for years. They would be there, forever. Near to them was another pair, light and dark, both with full lips, wide eyes, holding hands, holding breath. They had been there for years. They would be there, forever. And near to them was a man in a rumpled suit, with too-blue eyes. Alone. He had been there for years. He would be there, forever.
They all stood outside the circle, and watched, silent.
In the circle itself was a woman — no, several women. They were one and many, all at once. She/They looked at her/their hands and steadied them, breathing in, breathing out. She was ravenhaired, whiskylocked, redheaded, greythreaded, bald. She had constellation eyes, navy eyes, green eyes, blue eyes, too-blue eyes. She had scars. She was perfection. She was a disgrace. She was winged. She was crippled. She was fertile. She was barren. She was gorgeous. She was hideous. She was full of life. She was on the verge of death.
“It’s time,” she said, and her voice was smoke and fire, sultry and seductive, pure and purring, full of hope, full of despair, full of a thousand notes of both harmony and discord. She turned her face to the sky, to the earth, to her companions, to herself, and then down at the odd collection of items surrounding them all. Her hands, capable or broken, depending on the moment, the facet, picked up each memory, each moment, each shard, and turned it over and over. She looked at it. She took it in.
A bronze medallion, bearing a five-pointed stair. “For John,” one of the women said, nodding in remembrance. Her starfield eyes welled with tears as she said, “He changed again. Gone away.” Many of the others nodded, murmuring words of comfort, assurance.
The next thing picked up was a silver claddaugh ring. “That was mine,” a redhead said, looking down at her hands. “Dunno where I lost it.” The others promised her all was well.
And the next, a handful of bottlecaps. “They flutter like an eyelash against your cheek,” one of the women said, laughing delightedly. “Isn’t that supposed to be butterflies?” another woman asked. “Same thing,” the woman with the bottlecaps whispered.
Each item was beloved, touched, looked at, exclaimed over. Each woman’s hands cradled something sacred.
One of the redheads nodded and smiled, watching everyone else. She had nothing in her hands.
She had everything in her hands.
She had everyone else in her hands.
She embraced them/it/everything tightly, and breathed them/it/everything in.
And then she let go.
When she got up, the place was more everything and nothing than it had ever been.
When she left, she took it with her.
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