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Like Reeds in Summer

Does my family name matter? I gave it up when I joined Ceres Edelman's house to become her willing slave, one of many men in her service.
I was sworn to testify in my own words, and my deposition only recounts what I witnessed. Forgive my awkward ways. I was never videotaped before.
I was born in a land by the sea, where the myrtle and the rockrose grow. A poet taught me my letters, though later on the words were lost, smothered by time and the mindless toiling. Until I met her. I was a simple worker in one of the Starbank Inc. factories when I came under the influence of the woman who stands accused today.
As a C-class employee, my job was to cut tiny screws with a lathe. Whether the width of the screw pitch was this or that, I didn't know. Someone else plunked numbers into the pad, and I simply threw away the defective screws.
I saw her for the first time when she took the position of Head of Personnel and interviewed the staff. By meeting the factory workers, she was testing their submissiveness. She picked her slaves that way.
I knew nothing of this. When she called me to her office, my heart stopped for a second or two. Mine was a protected job, given my physical disability, though I could have been reported by the foreman for a fault I hadn't noticed. I dragged myself up to the executives' floor, and each step sent twinges of pain up my twisted legs. My feet were constricted in special shoes, and these orthotic devices only added pain to my deformity.
In her office, light engulfed me, so bright my eyes ached--we had no windows in the workshops, only lamps directed to the machines. Her smile was so luminous the room could have hosted a small sun.
"Good morning, Sielen," she said. "Take a seat." Her voice immersed me in a field of wheat, stalks brushing against my waist. Her scent filled my head. Maidenhair fern, and orange.
I didn't hear a word until she asked, "So tell me, Sielen. Are you satisfied?"
I kept my head hung low; my mind was cracked ground. As I said, I'd forgotten how to speak in an articulate way.
She rose. If you have seen cornflowers on their thin, almost leafless pink stalks, how they resist the wind more than supple oat, then you'll know what I saw, towering over me, rosy and blue and golden.
That woman's presence stripped me of my ability to think. I realize that, when I agreed to enter her personal service, I wasn't in any way capable of making sound decisions: I couldn't choose what was best for me. Ms. Edelman, I am told, brought me to her mansion out of pure selfishness, not to save me. I wasn't able to see how she was taking advantage of me.
Why did such an elegant, beautiful lady pick me, a short, plain, paunchy man with not one but two clubfeet? I think she chose me because, while at work, I sat on a stool, playing the oboe to make time pass between two interventions on the machine. The foreman let me play because of my infirmity.
In her office, she told me, "I heard you play." She paused, lifted a hand to her throat. "I had forgotten... the music."
The oboe has a mellow, soothing voice. Maybe you've seen pictures of ancient vases: my instrument's ancestor is that double reed sea-eyed youths fingered to ingratiate the goddess who blessed the earth and made fruit swell with nectar before the hunchbacked Vulcanus began to build his furnaces.
As I was saying, she took me home.
Her manor rose on top of a small hill, bathed on a side by a river where small boats glided, propelled by longshafts and oars, and surrounded by other low hills placed like the steps of an old theatre, which abounded with fruit and vines. Every room, she told me, opened to the sunshine.
Mute with awe, I hobbled down a hall like a nave.
Ms. Edelman went to sit on a green cushion. "Play, Sielen."
I played my instrument on an insistent five-note scale. The notes unfolded and expanded into visible whirls. The columns, statues, carved walls, and corbelled ceilings absorbed the sounds, every surface acquiring a sheen that dispelled the dust. And as the mansion shed its husks, the lady of the house sat immobile, attentive, like a roe deer poised to flee.
After being dismissed with a graceful gesture, I was left to my devices. I lumbered for hours across the vineyard, fingering my instrument, and the grapevines sprouted new leaves, tendrils and clusters of grapes.
Behind me her dress swished like silk gliding down marble steps. I swiveled and took in the wheat-crowned tall woman.
"Thank you, Sielen. My vines are thriving now. I was never very good at winemaking."
"I... love wine."
She considered me for a few instants. "You can't walk well with those shoes. Take them off."
I felt heat on my cheeks. Shame at the thought of uncovering my misshapen extremities. I obeyed, though, and took a step with my twisted left foot. My heart thumped in my chest as I felt a sharp pull on my ankle. I tensed, anticipating a wracking pain that did not come. Unbelieving, I saw the foot rotate while the tissues connecting to the bone elongated. I set my right foot on the ground, and it straightened, too. I took a second step, a groan of joy escaping from my throat. Soon I was ambling with no effort. I could leap and run, making clopping sounds with my hardened soles on pebbles and stones.
At sundown, I found her standing on the wide balcony that circled the towers. I approached to inhale her scent. In the encroaching darkness, her skin had the wave of the evening itself. Dusky skin shock of fair hair, black moon wearing a crown of clouds. I knelt by her side and she opened her arms.
A week after, as I leaped down the driveway, the double gate swung open. I stopped in my tracks. I'd never tried to leave, but I understood that I had never been free to go until now. For the first time since I came to the land of the billowing fumes, I could do whatever I wanted.
I stood there, words rushing in my veins and desire lighting up my mind. Outside, nothing was real. Inside, everything was possible.
I pivoted on one foot, turning my back to the gate, and ran into the jungly part of the garden, where the servants gathered around the fires, and danced and fell.
Summer ended and autumn changed the garden colors. Restless, she wandered the paths, wilted petals covering her feet. She no longer left the manor to go to the city where the towers of Starbank Inc. punch through the clouds.
Those of the servants who drove to the stores came back with tales of accusations against the Lady: too many people, all Starbank's employees, had left jobs and homes to live here. Ms. Edelman was rumored to be the head of a cult. Wild parties. Alcohol. Drugs.
She enjoined everyone to leave before the police arrived. Only a handful departed.
When I heard automobiles draw near, I ran up the spiral stairs. She stood by the French window in her drawing room. From a distance, the dark-suited officers that stormed the garden were warrior ants.
I asked, "What will happen to you, my Lady?"
"They'll keep me in one of their prisons."
"Will you come back?"
She was trying to reassure me, to protect me from sadness and hurt. That is when I knew she had learned to love again. Even if her season was over. Or maybe because her season was over.
She moved away from the tall window. "You'll be free."
"Free from what?"
"From me. Sielen, my dear Sielen, you'll be able to hate me."
"Why should I hate you, my Lady?"
"Because I stole your love, and I didn't have the right to do so. You should have been free to choose, whatever the season. Forgive me."
The double-panel door fell in with a crash. A rabble entered, men and women in black suits and ties, overlaid with Kevlar vests. They seized her, cuffed her and marched her, unresisting, away.
When they came for me, I followed them because I hoped to learn where my Lady was, foolishly expecting to see her again.
For months I have been waiting in this cell.
Does my family name matter?
My illness is gone. The doctors tell me I am in my right mind, perfectly cured. I am free, now. And I choose to love her.
I trust her because to love is to trust.
Now I will take off my prison apparel, for such is my pleasure. Watch the walls of this cell disappear. The ceiling has become a vault of winds.
Do not say a word. Listen.
Listen to the rustling of reeds in summer and the moorhen's chuckle as we stand with ankles in water, your shoes soaked through, my cloven feet firmly set on the clay riverbed.
Your prisons crumble, steel structures falling. Where the concrete towers stood, rows of yellow stalks wave and bow over poppies that blaze like little red lamps in the dusk. The world is more alive than it ever was as my Lady forever treads her fields by the sparkling sea.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, December 5th, 2014
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