“I’m your wife this time,” Faay was saying to Puut.
“Looks like I don’t have to kill Aab, though,” said Puut.
When it seemed that everyone had read the script, Bllom signaled with his index finger and the table grew quiet. Everyone listened to Bllom; he was not a power hog, nor was he the oldest soul among us, but he was a natural leader and highly intelligent.
Bllom gave a summation of everything we’d learned from our most recent performance together, how our actions had sharpened our wits as well as our sense of mutual responsibility. Aab had learned how personal crime felt from the victim’s point of view; Puut had put his sister Faay’s welfare ahead of his own gain; Faay had learned what maternal feelings were, having to take care of Bllom, who was handicapped this time and managed to go the whole 9 years of his run without talking, just seeing, signaling, sensing, and receiving all manner of unconditional love from parents, special teachers, and pets such as dogs and cats, lizards and snails.
“How does that rhyme go, ‘Snips and snails, and puppy dogs’ tails…” Bllom was saying now, relishing how blessed he’d been to be simply a boy with pets.
I drifted asleep before he got to my part, but it doesn’t matter because I’m pretty aware of how well or not I did, and anyway his comments would be just a recap, not the total dissection I’d just been through with the Director. When I awoke again, everyone was hunched over the table, creating possibilities and blocking in actions for their new characters. One must be careful, as the glass table top is very thin, very fine, and still liquid enough that tapping one’s finger onto it creates a ripple effect, changing everyone else’s plans along with your own.
“Yes, you can,” Aab was saying to Faay who wondered about her ability to withstand 6 weeks alone in an empty prairie.
“I really have to abandon her?” Puut said. “Seems kind of harsh. I mean, it says here it’s miles of inedible grasses, wind blowing non-stop, and the sun hitting her like arrows.”
“Yes, well, it is karmic,” said Bllom. “She abandoned you when she was your father in Renaissance Italy, remember that?”
“Yep, I do. She, I mean he, was a baker and I remember the horrible anger scene just before he left, scattering bowls into the fire, making flour pop and explode, little children running everywhere, the baby lost…”
“Well,” Faay said, “I did that angry-man role so well I totally scared myself, even.”
“That was the point, wasn’t it,” said Bllom, patiently.
“So who will play the Red Man who rescues Faay from the dry prairie?” Aab asked, pointing at me, one eyebrow raised.
But I drifted off again, and when I returned to consciousness, Bllom was reassuring Faay about snakes and rabid prairie dogs.
“You can do it,” he said, as Aab had said to her earlier.
One thing about our group, we support each other unconditionally. This will be our 10th or 11th drama together, and it is about to take us into early America where trading has just begun and Indians are on the move, roaming the grasslands on horseback, following the herds. There are occasional surprise attacks by white bandits, but Faay will not have much in her wagon that anyone would want -- she and Puut, who will leave her stranded, are basically transporting only themselves and a few books and kitchen goods, no treasure.
I could see where this was going; it would be a Red Man who would try to save her from a White bandit. Faay would experience, first, betrayal from Puut whom she had betrayed in a former life, and then she would learn, in falling in love with a Red Man, how to venture outside her own culture, and then I suspected she would promptly lose him, or he lose her… I poked my head under the table and read the other end of the glass - yes, he loses her. That meant the role would go to either me or Aab, as neither of us had learned yet how to be kind or gentle, much less lose someone we loved.
Now Faay looked into the glass and I followed her gaze into the story:
Sage grouse make their way to the river for food and stay, pecking and circling in a kind of sacred dance. Badgers occasionally get close then back off. The woman sees a coyote, an elk lost from the mountains, mule deer, and the prairie dogs, endless prairie dogs.
A pair of ravens, flying from somewhere, land in a nearby cottonwood tree. Ravens scavenge for insects, grain, fruits, already-dead animals. The woman wonders if she will have to scavenge a dead animal, and how she might do that. The highlight of her day is when she calls to the ravens and discovers that they can imitate the sounds of a human voice. “Help, help, hellp” she twitters tentatively. “Xulb, xulb, xulllllb,” they reply.
“That sounds pretty severe,” I said, stretching and moving closer to her. “Like you almost have to go nuts.”
“Oh, you’re awake,” Faay said, then called to the others, “Zils is here now. He’s lucid.”
The group welcomed me back and Bllom mentioned something about a celebration they’d planned for me that evening. “But first we must decide who will be the kind Indian and who will be the white bandit, you or Aab.”
Aab and I have chased each other around for five lifetimes already, one killing the other in Egypt, Mongolia, Canada, on a volcano in Hawaii, and in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. We have learned much about fear, fight strategy, the uses and abuses of territorialism. In our most recent life, Aab shot and ran, thinking he’d killed me, but I survived and was mentored by a priest (Bllom, after his run as the child poor in intellect but rich in pets).
I wasn’t aware of what Aab did with the rest of his life, but I did not think my “conversion” by Bllom on a missionary island would qualify me to be more ready than Aab to start learning the mysteries of tenderness.
“Can we look into the story a little more?” Aab and I asked. I put my finger onto the glass.
One afternoon he scoops her up onto his horse and takes her several hours’ ride to the hunting camp of his clan. They crouch at the edge, near some trees, and watch from there as a great Sun Dance takes place. Red men become black as they careen through ashes from ceremonial fires. The drumming and singing is strong, staccato, spirited.
His horse is quiet as he holds the white woman and they watch the great Dance. She knows the celebration is about thankfulness. It is well into night by the time they get back to her wagon.
“How does it end?” asked Faay, and I knew she’d waited to ask this until I was fully awake so that she could look at her demise with all of her friends around her. She put her finger on the glass:
The bandit is in a crouch and the moment he notices her, he leaps and tosses a squirming wad of something at her face. She becomes a living Medusa as an angry diamondback wriggles and bites. She reels backwards, stumbling for the stream, pulling the snake from her.
“A woman!” the bandit exclaims, but he has already shot. Then, in the next second, he falls, with an arrow to his neck.
The Red Man knows there is no medicine bundle strong enough to bring her back from both the bullet and the snakebite. He tries to soothe her as poison and blood mix with the water in the stream.
“Oh!” shouted Faay. “I knew I should be afraid of snakes!”
“Ah,” said I. “So we need not only kindness and love, but also to be a crack shot with a bow and arrow.” Aab and I looked at each other and shrugged our shoulders exaggeratedly, each of us trying not to show how much we wanted the part. As usual, from our pre-incarnated point of view, we did not realize just how much we were biting off, or how we could suffer – everything always looks do-able and exciting from here. So, even though I had only minutes earlier convalesced from my previous role, I found myself shouting, “I’ll do it!”
“Now, you realize you cannot decide completely by yourselves,” proclaimed Bllom, who was the closest of any of us to becoming a director, and who dearly wanted to choose for us.
But that would have been against the rules. We were to choose for ourselves, as long as we had the blessing of the Director, whose job it was to make sure we would return -- with our souls intact, our experiences absorbed, and our love for one another expanded.
At the end of the evening celebration, during which we laughed and sang and merged our spirits in great cheer, a figure clad in purple and white, carrying an onionskin blessing, came in with the go-ahead. It was one of the Director’s assistants, and he gathered us back at the table to make some minor adjustments to our scripts. He stretched his long arm across the glass and made a few scratches with a gnarled fingernail. The glass wavered then settled. We read the changes and agreed.
He gave us his blessing, and as my skin turned red and I traveled through an umbilicus to a wonderful new womb, I wished I could remember him and the members of my group during, and not just in between, my lifetimes. However, as it was our 10th or 11th drama together, I thought it likely I would sense some kind of kinship as we ran through our scenes.
Glass Table by Anna Marie Laforest
(published in The Broadkill Review, 2012, Milton, Delaware)
There they were, all the people I love most, gathered around the glass table, reading their new roles and variously laughing and trembling at the words. Now and then one of them would shake out the script, which was hand-written on very thin paper like the onionskin of an overseas letter, and smooth it with their fingertips, or another of them would bring the pages up close to their eyes, forgetting that they did not need glasses any more.
I was also at the table, my script in front of me, but I had not fully recovered from my last role, and so I sat with a heavy head in my hands, my elbows on a pillow in my lap, and waited. I was still quite sleepy and knew I’d drift in and out while they talked.