Constellations

They call me the Woodwose.

But they know that I am the forest; I am the canopies and the wind and the soil underneath. I have been, ever since I inhabited its heart long ago, and settled in another still, in the heart of the Great Tree.

“I have come,” she says in a voice far too large for her frame, “to purge you, fiend!”

To that I sigh, and pay no thought to the years that the exhale holds. I have heard it a thousand times, from kings and knights and furious farmers alike. I have made their water and their wealth mine, and so have I their harvest and lands.

Their yield is poor this year. Not the fault of rainfall or the sun, but mine. I grow more able to bring suffering upon them, season by season.

Her father owns a nearby land, she says. Her anger is understandable, but she’s a fragile thing. A girl in her homespun skirts and flimsy limbs, with golden hair curiously chopped to her nape. Strange things they are, humans, that a fortnight of starvation could kill them, and yet they defy, and yet they dare.

She comes with a spade, and it becomes clear that no sorcery could flow from those fingertips. She fails on the first day, and she fails on the second. On the third, I ask why, thinking that it’s a redundant thing; because she’s a farmer’s daughter, and I make their crops suffer.

“To be granted knighthood.”

And my belief in the limits of foolishness disappears. It wasn’t a very strong belief to begin with, not with her futile efforts at my sides, digging at roots that recover in instants.

Being a farmer’s daughter isn’t completely irrelevant, I learn on the fourth day, because her mother died. They couldn’t provide what she’d needed; I’d taken their yield. On the fifth, she cries and I can’t distinguish tears from the sweat running down her cheeks, and it’s the bitter, furious kind because she’s miserable and a little broken. On the sixth day, she learns that I forgot the sight of the sky; and on the seventh, I learn that she can chart it.

Days pass, and she brings apples with her sometimes. When she allows herself to rest, she braids flowers into crowns. It grows, that hair, but so do my roots, back into the dirt where they belong. Soon I learn her name, and Constance watches as her efforts become vain.

She listens when I scoff and tell the tales of her predecessors. Sometimes she laughs too, at the knight who promised the heart of the tree but fled when it talked, and the old king who led his men to where the horses wouldn’t follow and tripped into the river while he hailed his call.

When I ask if she’s searching for my weakness in their stories, “Perhaps I am,” she cheekily says. But no, and although I am incapable of emotions beyond sins, no tenderness to be offered to humans, I can see it; that earnestness in eyes that should be set on horizons.

“Find my virtues,” I tell her after months she spends visiting, the secret of uprooting the heart of the woods. Seven, scattered across lands and seas far beyond her little village. It intrigues her, and she asks where, not how. And it is a little charming how willful the weaker beings can sometimes be. At least she, whose eyes bear something I can’t read, when she’s told in which scorching desert my Patience I’d left, and in the depth of which sea my Diligence dwells, and how high the mountain that holds my Humility is.

Then they call for her and she heeds. She leaves on a ship, and the wind brings back news of her when he can. She disembarks, and she finds her first companion, a small monkey, on a strange land I must have journeyed during my old life. It wasn’t so robust then.

She spends the year away, guided by voices and the stars. My virtues are gently awakened throughout, but I can’t possess them yet. She is captured and put to suffering for stealing my Chasity from a land that honored it far beyond its worth, then she escapes unaided. The wind tells me she finds another companion, a boy, and is taught the way of the sword. Beasts become less frightening, and her sobs more courageous and sparse.

Her laughter comes in abundance, and the freckles on the bridge of her nose more defined by the sun. She struggles still, against mountains of snow and ice and furious skies. But Constance grows and flourishes and takes the world by a storm.

I hear her curiosity finds ways to discover me, and seas away my secrets unravel in old myths and tales of havoc. She knows that I once had the freedom she seeks, and that I exploited it. I raged and plundered; I remorselessly sinned until that heart was spoiled beyond the capacity of a body to contain.

I begin losing myself, perhaps as she finds me elsewhere. I grow weaker in the entirety of my existence, their crops prosper and her father writes and sends birds with joy. It appears that it soon would be gone, my vision, but it doesn’t shake me, because the wind sometimes carries her voice, but never the sight of her.

She’s carrying trinkets in the palms of her hands when she returns. Seven of them; little, old things that gleam even in the dead of the night, even to eyes that could see nothing else. I’ve become too weak for the year she spent away to feel as insignificant as it should.

She cries again, and it’s a headache how much she does. “Why have you withered away,” she says, her voice barely wrapped around a sob. “We had an agreement, I was meant to purge you.”

I lie and tell her that it was because she found my virtues that I began dying, but she only weeps harder. “But I have many stories to tell,” she says, and a number of them are about me; small, lost pieces of a past. “You’re not meant to just die yet.”

But I am; because finding my virtues wouldn’t take me, but my own desire to leave would. To leave the tree that took me in when the rest of the world refused is how I am made to die.

She tells her tales as I disintegrate. The bark that kept me for centuries falls apart in the circle of her arms, and the roots that held me dissolved beneath her feet. “Stop crying, you fool,” I say, and it’s met by a mess of small laughs and sobs and persevering stories.

“You never told me your Kindness was swallowed by a Kraken. That took a whole crew of pirates to retrieve, and another band of outlaws, too. And a massive carnivorous flower was guarding your Temperance! I almost decided you could live without it at that sight.”

The Tree vanishes along with all the sorcery that rooted the forest. I feel it in me that it remains behind unchanged, and it could recover and grow without my notoriety keeping it in place. I have lived a burden, and remorse finds its way into me unprompted by the waiting virtues now scattered around her. Her stories are rushed and desperate, and so are her breaths. She breaks a little farther when my past as a human tumbles down her lips. She tells me that she knows and she says it again, that she knows and she knows, and she never says what it is. But it resonates in my body, every piece of the past she unraveled and willfully discovered, that left me with only envy and wrath. I feel it in the form that I undertook, and whether I am a beast or the human I’d once been I don’t know. But I am weaker than I’ve ever been, and even Pride can’t hold me upright against it. My head is cradled in her lap, on the harsh fabric of her breeches. And my eyes are gone, but she shifts me so they’re looking up. Constance pours Benevolence on them, and, “Open your eyes,” she says, “Look at the sky, Woodwose, isn’t it beautiful?”

My sky is green-eyed and freckled.

“That, she is,” I say, slipping away under her tears, “That she is.”


Notes

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100-word story: chow mein

“Grab some Chinese take-out on your way home, would you?”

“You should’ve taken this job if you wanted to eat out, love,” I tell her, and hear her softly laugh through the device in my ear – the voice I sleep and wake up to.

“In paper boxes, please!”

She’s in the same line of work, my partner-in-crime (or against it), and my endearingly insufferable wife.

My breathing is steady, and the din of the city quiets down. I tug between a heartbeat and the next, one silent bullet through the brains of some corrupt politician. A job done. Dinner time.

nonexistent reads

The preteen me, on average, probably finished more books a year than the adult me does. I suppose it is a similar issue some others face, growing up an avid reader then managing to grow out of it. Books by Jacqueline Wilson were my favorite, because there was something so real about them, and although they were meant for a younger audience, they never completely treated their readers like kids. My life as an Arab child was far different from all of the main characters’ of Wilson’s books, but they still were so human, and I remember feeling that she didn’t really shy away from exploring the complexity of emotions and presenting them to children.

I grew, and the number of books I read on a yearly basis took a nosedive (let’s keep comics out of this now, shall we?) I only remember really enjoying murder mysteries during my teenage years, and even those I read very, very few of.

I grew, and tried to get back into reading. My cousin, (shoutout: theyoungdeer) a very, very active reader, especially compared to yours truly, has been lending me all of her favorite picks, and I enjoyed a number of them. But I still haven’t found a book that I’d give 5/5, and I wonder if I ever will.

For the most part, I try to stay away from the angry, all-caps reviews on Goodreads beforehand because I’d rather develop my own opinion (which eventually becomes that angry, all-caps review). I’m thoroughly disappointed by too many new releases, and although I struggle with plots and don’t even consider myself a writer in the first place, I’ve been finding most of my reads mundane and butchered and unworthy of the praise that I find on the back of their covers. Call me a pretentious prick, I deserve it.

But the books I love are very particular, I want them to unravel, to build up and then ease down, to entangle every word put into them and grow complex, then wrap up and conclude like a gift; I like uncomfortably real characters and complicated plots and simple, beautiful writing that flows and takes the reader along. I miss having a book that I don’t want to put down.

and her ongoing crisis

I’ve been using the term “quarter-life crisis” to sum up all of the confusion tumbling around my life.

(It had manifested itself in huge white-rimmed glasses, but I changed out of those into clear acrylic frames last week. They’re gorgeous and I love them, and I’ve been asking everyone to praise them. I don’t care what they really think.)

But my crisis is a bigger one, although I’m at a stable phase. I am incredibly grateful, but it feels stagnant. And really, it’s no one’s fault if it’s not my own.

I think it’s called activation energy, the push you need to do something out of your routine. Reaching out, doing something new, and you don’t ever feel like doing it, but you have to force yourself. It’s that initial leap that’s hard, but I’m not taking it.

I can’t get myself to take it. I am so terribly demotivated, so I’m just sitting with panic building up inside me, watching as my life languidly passes by. I can’t get myself to take it because although I know what I want, I don’t know how to get it. The path branches into too many, and I am crippled by the fear of taking the wrong one and wasting my time and my effort, but what if the wrong one is the comfort I’m sitting in now? Maybe I have been pushing myself, but not hard enough, considering that there are half-done applications sitting around for weeks waiting to be sent. “They’re not good enough,” I tell myself, but will they ever be good enough? Will they just become good enough if I’ve got no drive to improve them? It seems to be a form of procrastination, a foreign concept to someone who tends to worry months ahead. But it’s a destructive one, procrastinating goals that do not have a deadline, milestones in your life that you want to achieve, but that aren’t scheduled out for you.

And I’ve been comparing myself to others, people of my age and younger. It really is a horrible thing to do to yourself, a reflection of a deeper problem and non-existent self-confidence. It does nothing to your motivation; if anything, it just demotivates you further. Your life is your own timeline, Maryam, and the only person you should compare yourself to is yourself. I know it, but the dread comes in waves, and sometimes you can’t help but take a step back and look at the time you could’ve put elsewhere. But I’ve taken it upon myself never to regret anything. I believe that everything does happen for a reason, and that there is a silver lining in it all, even the time that you might think you’ve wasted.

Am I sad? Maybe. It feels like a combination of sadness and indifference that laces my mornings. If any, it’s that blunt kind of pain, that mundane joyless laughter. I do feel bad for it, because I believe that I’ve got no right to be sad. The feeling of guilt that comes with being sad is wired in me, I guess, and I don’t really know whether that’s a healthy coping mechanism (probably not). I feel alone, too, and vulnerable when I talk about it, even when I’ve done so many times in this blog. There’s a lot that that comes down to, as I’ve said in other posts, but I’m just not willing to change to anything but the better anymore, and I’m tired of considering whether my ‘better’ will be catered by others. Take it or leave it. It’ll heal.

So this is a resolution (if anyone’s still reading this? Hello?). I’ll try my best and keep faith. I’ll do it.

(update: The applications were sent!)

Constellations Part 2: The Heroine

The hands that had spread maps before me and dotted them like the night sky now cradled my face, rough and dry and wearing away by age. They held worry and an odd form of pride when too little time was between us and the beginning of my journey.

I have yet to find anything as comforting as the warmth of my father’s hands that night.

He pressed his lips to my brow, and his frame was still as large as it’d been, refusing to bend down to age just yet. He was readily graying, though, and I’d given him grief for it. His eyes crinkled at the sides, lines much deeper than they were many springs ago. I thought it was clear why age had suddenly shown its weight on him. It had started once Mother got sick.

What took her was acute. It spared us no time to come to terms with any of it. A fever, short and sharp and the most horrifying thing I’d seen. Then she passed, taking along the light of her laughter from the life of my father and my own.

The yield had been especially poor then, barely enough to feed us. But the urgency of her illness brought surgeons in nonetheless, as many of them as it could. The cure could’ve been a few villages away, but she was too weak, and the limits of humans caught in a drought glared, ugly and desperate.

They blamed the crisis on the Woodwose, but I know the skies, their force too restless, too great to be controlled by a being. The Woodwose’s roots exploited the richness of our lands, and that, compared to the unbound power of the sky, is a force that people perhaps can stand against.

But my journey was not inspired by revenge; that was that notion that pushed me to dig out his roots. There was the knighthood that I sought, the voice that it all held, one loud enough for the villagers threatened by hunger and illnesses and too much grief.

‘Not revenge,’  I had repeated time and time again, hoping that it would become the truth.

“You really are your mother’s daughter.”

Suddenly, I was brought back to the present, but as young as I had been when the life my father spent laughing under the sun hadn’t etched his lines as deep, back when my mother would bake apples while she answered all my questions, one from every corner of the world.

Who rules the East, Mommy? And the Southern Sea? Where are all the mermaids? Are they pretty?

Until my questions reached the sky, and right until then, she would answer like she’d seen it all.

What’s the brightest star in the sky called, Mommy?

Then Mother would smile and place her hand on my head. “Isn’t that question more suited for Daddy? You know no one knows the skies like he does.” He’d taught me how to chart the stars because I feared the dark.

“Would you grow up like Mommy, Constance? Or will you turn out land-bound like Daddy?

Or better yet, you’d grow your own self. I’m sure of it.”

I’d missed her, so much that it felt like something broke in half inside me, and I was faced with another parting still. The tightness in my throat ached fiercely. I’d promised myself that I wouldn’t, but the sob tore despite it all, and before I knew it, I was a child again, contained in the protection of my father’s arms. My hands grabbed fistfuls of the back of his clothes, desperate, broken things.

I was frightened out of my wits, the world was so large beyond our village, but not once did I doubt my desire to go, to see it and brave its seas. I caught my next sigh and swallowed it, out of the stubborn determination to ready myself for the journey if nothing else.

But what he said about my resemblance to Mother was blurred and muffled by my tears. I didn’t understand any of it then. I couldn’t, until many seas later.

ties worn by time

I’m missing a bond, but I don’t really know whether I miss the person I had that bond with. She’s grown into someone I’m not compatible with, and I’ve done the same. Faulting her for it seems unfair, but there’s pain that lingers after severing ties that you can’t seem to build with anyone else.

I feel it more keenly than I would like to admit, especially considering that I’ve always been that indifferent one. She was only a friend, but it was odd how well we got along, how we’d the same sense of humour, peculiar as it was, and how we connected one level deeper than how we both usually did.

That friendship didn’t vanish into thin air, but we both watched it dissolve and fray. I tried to save it, and maybe, so did she. We’re no more than two distant people now, who go months and months on end without hearing of each other.

I’ve tried putting it into words several times, but I’d always been too worried about wronging her. Please read this unbiased, we both had our shares of being the bigger person and not. I’m still nervous about it, and there are so many things I want to say but I don’t even know if I want to put this up. But it happens, people do change, they grow, and they show you pieces of themselves that you might not like, and they could grow distant then connect to others, and as long as there’s no one who stays behind wallowing away in bitterness, it should be okay.

It still saddens me, though, and I wonder if it does the same to her. Perhaps not, but who am I to say. I’ve reconnected to many other friends, but I feel so severely secondary to all of them, and while they’re precious to me, it seems like that bond was a one-time thing.

I know I’m a pretty difficult person to get along with; I’m harsh and stubborn, I don’t have a redeeming quality that would make others want to befriend me, and I’ve got too much pride for anyone’s good. I think I also blame it on age, this inability to become something a bit more than “just another friend,” and there’s no bitterness in me, but it seeps in at times, some exhausted form of being tired of myself, too much to change. I don’t want to change, there’s no bitterness in me.

The life and writing update you don’t really need

Hello!

So my family’s gone abroad for a vacation, and I decided to stay home. In a community where you’re expected to live with your parents until you’re married, that quiet is more daunting than I thought it would be. Home’s generally quiet anyway, and although I’m not explicitly lonely, it feels like this kind of change gives way to some unnecessary thoughts to barge in.

Work has been overwhelming, and I cannot believe that when I’m finally (legally) able to take a couple of weeks off, I can’t find the right time to do it until the end of APRIL. Yes, I am on the verge of tears.

(Emphasis on verge, since today’s payday)

But writing has been going well, although I don’t know how my pace slowed down this much compared to when I was writing my first little novella (undisclosed, that was cringy as heck ughh). I really need to think up a new title for Constellations if I want to extend it.

I wrote a character introduction piece for my sea witch who isn’t actually a sea witch, she’s just that well informed. There’s something about writing people of color that can serve as my main motivation to write.

(Yes, I am a person of color too, but the people I write are often from other races. There’s so much to learn when you research that, even if you’re not sticking to our real life cultures when you’re writing up your own world)

I think I’m gonna post that under character intro and a flower prompt series I’ve been thinking of doing, one that includes the meanings of flowers or what they signify.

Heck yeah, science people don’t play.