In a land of noon-darkness and damp, of mornings that sway between syrup-bright and pigeon-grey and evenings of thick velvet, a traveller feels a tug at the hook in her heart.
Home, chimes the tug. Home, home. And like an unspooled clue she winds up the labyrinth of her self to answer it.
She folds oceans into hours, pens hours into thoughts, pins thoughts to the sight of a tilting moon shining a blue light home. Home is the sharp sheet of a frozen sun against the eyes, the taste of cold air crackling into the throat, the solid stud of ice beneath boots, a musical weight in measured steps scraping the ground beneath them; home is the white whirl of a granulated sky spiralling against lips and cheeks, falling in small kisses against a wrist unguarded.
Home! she exclaims to friends, but frowns to see them sighing. Home! she exults to strangers, but finds their faces shut as doors.
The sky is where it should be, and the ground; the air is as it should be, and the light. But rot twists through familiar streets in slithered tendrils, a livid limning.
She has missed her home, but returned to find it missing.
Where are the homes of my heart, she asks one and all, the hearths of my joy?
Gone, they growl, gone.
Where is the place where books were perfect, where happy decades spanned an afternoon?
Gone, they grumble, gone.
Where is the place where steps spun up to sacred spaces, where women flew and fought with swords, where I was younger than I knew and older than I thought?
Gone, they gutter, gone.
She takes inventory of her losses, lists absences like tasks. Her past is a city dissolved, and she struggles to taste its traces on the wind. There is so little left of it—but she is a traveller.
And travellers always carry with them pieces of the home they left.
She treats the gaps like furrows, traipses her city with gardener’s gait, blasts the rot with wind-blown kisses and salt into the bargain. She pulls places from her pockets, peppers her plots with memories, builds in the barren spaces between moment and monument until she has seeded her city with structures stripped from recollection.
She crushes home into the mortar of her palm, trails crumbs of it in her wake, knows she cannot have it whole again, but here is a chance, a chance. A page ripped from her favourite book speared along a branch; a smear of honey across a windowpane for luck; a rowanberry tossed into a fountain for a wish. Her memories mix awkwardly as her vowels, travel-stained and stretched and unsuited to their foundations, but she hopes.
It is a winter garden; it can only grow in thought. She cannot stay to watch over it. She is a traveller, still, with an ocean to unfold, a moon to untilt—but she is a raveller also, and the city’s skein is sewn through her as sure as season follows season.
Come summer, she will return.
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Story copyright © 2014 by Amal El-Mohtar
Artwork copyright © 2014 by Paula Arwen Friedlander
Amal El-Mohtar is the Nebula-nominated author of The Honey Month, a collection of poems and very short fiction written to the taste of 28 different kinds of honey. She is a member of the Banjo Apocalypse Crinoline Troubadours, edits Goblin Fruit, an online quarterly dedicated to fantastical poetry, and currently lives in Glasgow with two black and white cats and their pet Glaswegian.
Paula Arwen Owen (artwork) is an illustrator and graphic designer from New York who works in hand cut paper silhouettes and collage. Her fantasy and horror illustration work has appeared in magazines such as Mythic Delirium, SageWoman, and Goblin Fruit. She has illustrated book covers such as Immigrant by Cherie Priest and The Button Bin by Mike Allen. Paula’s artwork, prints, and greeting cards are available through her website and in retail stores.