“The God-Seed” by Claire Humphrey
Walking up Genesee Road in the country dark, I thought I was seeing the northern lights. Rose-coloured streaks, twisting upward, half-obscured stars on the far side. I stopped and threw my head back to look. Then I smelled smoke and I knew.
My parents’ house was burning.
I ran, boot-tongues flapping, bookbag jostling on my hip. I pumped my arms and opened my throat and windmilled to a stop at the top of the hill, where sparks gouted from what used to be the dining room window.
They were inside. Had to be. They’d been sleeping when I left, in their sofa bed in the TV room, sound all the way down. Their god slumbered there, under the floorboards. They barely left that room these days.
Never would, now. I knew. I knew. They’d been saying goodbye for months.
I still went in.
Red flame on the hallway ceiling and blue through the kitchen doorway. Floor hot through my boots. Smoke of plastic, wood, paper. Smoke of paint curling off the plaster and firing in tiny licks. Something rich and sweet like incense. Smell of burning hair inside my nostrils.
Smoke around my head. When I looked down I nearly fell. Caught myself with a hand on the blistering wall. Reeled back and stuck my hand in my mouth. What was I–
Right. The TV room door had fire coming out around the edges. I kicked it.
A hammer of air knocked me down. In the room, inferno. I crawled backward. Nearly forgetting which way.
Outside. Sprawling on the crisping grass. The heat of the house a radiant aura withering all the budding leaves. I crabwalked, coughing, all the way back to the road, and sat huddled at the cool line where the dew started.
No one came. We didn’t get many visitors, up there on the hill, two old professors and their one weird kid.
After a while the roof fell.
Just before dawn, when you could see the pillar of smoke against the paling sky, I heard the fire hall siren kick up, two miles below me in town. I crossed the road, into a stand of tamarack, worked my way between the springy branches.
The tanker roared up. The Volunteer Fire Department, eight men and two women, uncoiled hoses and aimed jets of water. Soon they were nearly obscured by billowing steam.
I think I went to sleep for a while, with my shirt pulled up around my face against the sharp-edged tamarack leaves.
In late afternoon the firefighters left the site. First the auxiliary tanker from the next town over, then the regular tanker, then the chief’s pickup. Everyone in their heavy coats, all slump-shouldered and runneled with watered soot. I waited until the sound of their engines faded, and then the lighter vehicles of the police officers and the coroner. Then I crossed the road.
The threshold was still visible, a line of half-bright aluminum buried under a haystack of char. Beyond it, the floors had mostly caved in.
A blackened beam angled down into the steaming mess of what had been the root cellar. The beam felt solid enough when I kicked at it, and no longer very hot. I inched my foot down it, and then the other, balancing with a sleeve-wrapped hand on the sill. Halfway down, the lower end of the beam crumbled and I slid into the cellar.
I fell on one knee, arm hooked over a joist, bringing a cascade of rubble down around me, and a cloud of ash.
I spat black sputum. My eyes ran. Some of this ash would be the remains of my parents. They were in me now, their molecules, deep in my lungs.
Afternoon light rayed down through the steam. It fell on the drifts of ash covering the baked earth of the root-cellar floor.
The god had slept here. Over the years it had been walled in by shelves of canning jars. Those were gone; I thought I saw bright glass shards among the cinders.
I began in the corner farthest from where the stairs had been. I had not visited the god in many years. Maybe it had moved in its sleep. I quartered the floor, sifting the ash with my hands.
Slow work, and I was thick-headed; my eyes watered so that I could hardly see, and I went by feel, gritty ash or powder or heavier cinders, down to the still-warm packed-dirt floor. I had to go back now and then when I went crooked. My hands grew filthy, and my cuffs. I tugged my sleeves up with my teeth, tasting smoke.
I found it, finally. A rounded slippery pebble in the ash. The god-seed, smooth-shelled, pearly grey-purple like a cyst.
I swallowed it right away, though it was still hot to the touch.
It tasted of fire. Its shell was hard as ceramic. It lodged just behind my sternum. For a moment I could feel it sticking there, my flesh constricting around it, trying to expel it. When I coughed, though, it did not come back up; only more of the foul smoky phlegm which coated the back of my throat.
Wood-ash, bone-ash, the ash of books and upholstery and wallpaper and all the layers of my parents’ lives. And the ash of the old god, drug-sweet.
I found my bookbag in the ditch, where I didn’t remember dropping it. Wet and filthy, but mine, and unburned, and there was money in it.
My mouth was dry. I trudged with the sunset behind me, glowering and cloudless, casting my lean shadow up along the road. My body looked right that way, hipless, with stovepipe legs. Only I knew how weak those legs felt.
In the twilight I folded up at the roadside and rested my head on my knees. My lungs ached, and my head. I thought about hitch-hiking, but no cars passed.
Before I got up again I unbound my chest wrapping and did it up again tighter. My breath stayed shallow then and I didn’t cough as hard.
I made it to the Syracuse Greyhound station sometime after midnight. A single attendant drowsed behind the wicket, glasses off and dangling from a librarian’s beaded lanyard, pen drooping from a crown of braids. I came close. Her nametag read LaTanya. I opened my mouth to wake her and saw myself reflected in the plexiglass: scorch marks in my hair, and striped tear-tracks through the dirt on my face, though I did not remember weeping.
I stepped away quietly and found the restroom. Picked the men’s today, because of the way my shadow had looked. Paper towels and pink industrial soap didn’t even come close to wiping off the scent of burning. I scrubbed my face until red patches blotched the white. Under my eyes wouldn’t come clean, stayed ash-grey. My jeans were torn at one knee, and filthy. When I blew my nose, I marred the tissue with streaks of murky blood.
At this end of Syracuse, a mile away, was the 24-hour Walmart. After the hours of walking, one more mile sounded like heartbreak. I went anyway, before LaTanya could wake up and see me; took it in short little stages, sitting on the curb now and then.
The people in the store gave me looks. I found the boys’ department and picked out black jeans, grey undershirts, briefs, sport socks, a hoodie and a work shirt. Doubled over coughing. When I straightened up, a woman was there, hesitating, hands out, as if she thought I might fall. Maybe the looks weren’t all for the usual reason.
The woman told me the pharmacy department was over there. I leaned on my cart and shuffled over and found tensor bandages, cough syrup, bottled water.
Because of the nice woman, I paid for everything. Took my purchases into the changeroom and put myself back together, all the layers of me, down to the skin.
Back in the Greyhound station, LaTanya was awake and doing sudoku, and she sold me a ticket to New York City.
All through the ride I slept, woke up dizzy, drank water, slept again. Dreamed of the fire, mostly, the start of it, a tiny spark shorting from a wire somewhere to fall upon a dry scrap of newspaper, or a breeze blowing a tea-towel across an untended candle flame. And my parents, curled together like bears, hibernating, never waking.
They’d told me this would come. Laid the groundwork when I was still a kid, with stories about phoenixes and their miraculous rebirths. When I was a bit older, they got me a hamster, so that I could learn how not everything comes back from death.
In the last months every day had been a goodbye. Every time I went to the library or the grocery store.
I felt like that should have made it easy.
Manhattan: I walked some blocks from Penn Station and then I had to sit down again. I picked a bench beside the dog run in Madison Square Park. The path was slick with rot-brown petals. The city dogs minced and shook their paws. In the air, a sick-warm scent of greasy hair or cloth: I imagined a rug-merchant trying to clean the stains of fifty years from what had once been a jewel-bright kilim.
New York had grown older since my last visit, old and nearly infirm. New York, which should be ever-new.
I felt the god-seed slowly scorching away the moisture in my cells. I felt the feathers of hair at my temples beginning to grey, and the calcium leaching from my bones. Couldn’t remember if I’d made myself eat anything since before the fire.
I watched a little Bichon, runny-eyed, struggle down the path on arthritic stumps. Beside the fence, its owner puffed her inhaler; from her jacket-cuff protruded a crumple of used tissue.
The signs were wrong. The ticket was one-way, and now it was used up, and I had less than a hundred bucks left, most of it in ones, rolled up in the pocket of my jeans.
And the god-seed burned in my chest like indigestion. It grew hotter the longer I carried it. I coughed to ease it, and the back of my throat stung.
Nothing for it but to move on. I planted my boots and made myself stand and walk toward 28th Street.
I went with the flow of the crowd, down into the station: black stairs stained with spilled coffee, steel rail dulled with the sweat of a thousand hands. Maybe one of the stations would look right. Maybe the god-seed would have a way of telling me.
Against the grimy tile, the woman looked sweet and light: wheaten hair and ballet flats and a skirt the colour of peach-blossom. She looked like spring, a storybook spring, not this season of polluted fogs and wilted blossoms.
She boarded the downtown 6 and seated herself on the balding synthetic plush, leaning her head back. I sat down two seats away and looked at her profile.
She glanced over at me, blinking, brushed the back of her hand over her cheek, looked away.
23rd Street. I coughed until I saw the woman looking at me again, and then I found the cough syrup in my bag and sipped from it like a whiskey flask.
That didn’t make her stop looking.
I hid my face in my cold hands until the heat of the god-seed warmed me up again, and then it was too much and I had to spread out my arms along the seat, tilt my head back, sweat on my temples and neck.
When I opened my eyes the woman was right in front of me. She’d been crying, I could see it: damp tracks down her face, and her eyes looked sore.
“You don’t have to go alone,” she said. “I’ll walk you there.”
“Where?” I said, and the word caught in my throat.
“You’re headed for the Bowery Free Clinic, right? I used to volunteer there, I know the way…”
I shook my head, pressed my hand to my chest.
“Hey,” she said. ” I just hate seeing someone hurting. Let me help?”
She made it sound like a favour I’d be doing her. She was crying again.
I didn’t have any better ideas.
We got off at Bleecker. I stumbled a little on the platform and she held out her arm to me. The weave of her cardigan was so light I thought it might snag on the blisters on my fingertips.
She led me up the steps and through the Bowery, sobbing into her palm, fingers spread over her eyes. Up here the god-seed felt lighter and my lungs eased.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I’m sorry. I just need a minute.”
I felt like an asshole for even letting her see me.
I sat her down on a bench outside of a bookstore coffee house, told her I would get her a tissue, and came back out with a pile of napkins and a chamomile tea for each of us.
She blew her nose on a napkin and used her damp hands to smooth her hair out of her face. She took a sip. “Nice,” she said, husky, and took another.
The taste didn’t really go with the aftertaste of cough syrup, but I agreed.
“Right,” she said. “Where did this day go off the rails? I just let a street kid buy me a tea. Let me pay you back at least. …I mean. I didn’t mean… Are you?”
I shook my head, and crossed my arms over my chest under her sudden scrutiny. She added me up quickly; I had no idea what sum she reached. When she realized she was looking, she closed her eyes; the lashes looked wet still.
“Solveig,” she said, and after a minute I realized it was her name.
“Avis,” I said. I extended my hand and she took it. I could feel her wondering how hard to grip.
“You’ve lost things, Avis.”
“I haven’t, either,” she said. “I have to remind myself of that.” She shook her head, a tiny, fierce movement. It drew the eyes of a young man passing us on the sidewalk, an artistic type in a Che Guevara t-shirt; he looked at her hair, her shoulders, the turn of her wrist. Then he looked at me, and looked away.
Solveig did not see him at all; she was twisting her ring, a white-gold band graced with two hands holding a crown.
Was that a sign? The ring, a binding and a promise? Only it was on the wrong hand, and reversed. Did that signify, as with a Tarot card?
Solveig saw where my eyes were directed, and said, “Not divorced. Just… not engaged any more.”
“Not living on the street,” I answered. “Just not sure where I’m headed.” Behind my sternum the god-seed pulsed hotly for a second. The universe, I have heard, will die in heat. I blew on my tea instead of taking another sip.
“Not the Free Clinic on Delancey?” she said. “Um. Sorry. I guess I assumed… you know, I saw a lot of the clients when I helped out there, and you looked…”
“Like a stray cat?” I said.
“Oh, my God,” Solveig said, looking at me with a curious light in her face. “You’re my sign.”
“What do you…”
“Do you have plans right now?”
I shook my head, quelled the burning in my throat with a heroic swallow of tea.
“And – are you feeling okay? I mean, on the train, you didn’t look so hot.”
“Asthma,” I said. “It’s fine.”
“Then you’ll come with me?”
I had no idea where she was going. I said yes.
The cat shelter was out in Brooklyn, on the crappy side of Prospect Park. It was called a shelter but it was a house: the foster-mother of the cats lived there with all twenty of her charges, and the place was furnished with scratching posts, litter boxes, cat trees, a bare table, a shredded sofa. No television. The foster-mother said the cats were very entertaining.
Solveig stood in the centre of the kitchen, where the cats’ dishes lined the edges of the room and the counters and even the window sill. She closed her eyes. The lids were violet-veined, rubbed thin.
“Stand with me, Avis,” she said. “I bet they’ll like you.”
I stood a careful two feet away, and looked down at the precise placement of Solveig’s ballet flats on the linoleum.
Her legs were well-shaped but thin; she was not an athlete. Her neck had the look of someone on a perpetual diet, fine sinews wiring up under the skin whenever her head moved minutely. She didn’t look like a very relaxing person, but the cats liked her more than they liked me; only one came near me, and cowered back with parted jaws when he smelled the soot on my boots.
Solveig drew many: first a fluffy ginger, with heavy shoulders showing he’d been neutered late, if at all; he ghosted past with his tail up, and retreated under the table. Then a spunky little calico miss, plump and round-eyed, sniffing carefully at the toe of Solveig’s shoe. Then a half-Siamese, lacking the elongated bones of the purebred but blue-eyed and brown-pointed all the same, stood upright on its hind legs to scent the hem of her skirt.
Solveig shivered at the brush of whiskers against her bare calf.
Just then a big-boned silver tabby shouldered into Solveig’s ankles. Tail thin and straight, but for a kink at the end. Green eyes, which he shut as he butted his face into Solveig’s leg.
“Oh,” she said. “This one.” She was already kneeling down, tucking her skirt decorously, rubbing the silver tabby’s forehead.
“Oh my God,” she said. “You’re so cute. Aren’t you? Yes, you are.”
Everyone talks to cats the same way. It doesn’t matter how smart you are, how big your portfolio is, how many people look at the ground when they hear your title.
Solveig spoke to this cat, and picked him up, and held him against her breast, and let him nuzzle his face into her ear. The face she turned toward the foster-mother was alight.
It was at that moment I thought I understood why she had been so sad.
Solveig invited me back to her apartment. On the train we sat side by side with the cat-carrier between our feet. Once in Manhattan again, we stopped at a Walgreens, where she bought litter, a tray, a catnip mouse, a bag of Iams and several cans of tuna.
She seemed to think I’d known the whole time. Intuited it, somehow. She thanked me for turning up when I did. I was a sign, to her; but a sign of what?
And I still didn’t know for sure, until I saw the bassinette still unassembled in the corner of her main room, and the stack of shower gifts with the cards still attached, all the wrapping pink or yellow, printed with rattles or rocking-horses or little lambs. And Solveig’s thinness, the tendons in her wrists, the sharp arch of her clavicle.
“It changes everything,” Solveig said, pouring me a glass of white wine. “You can’t wait to meet this new person, this person you already love more than anyone. And then you lose her, and you can’t go back to what you were doing before. You just can’t.”
“I think I know,” I said, crossing my arms over the god-seed; it ached as much as it burned, now, as if it would force my ribs open like doors.
“Do you?” she said.
“Not like that,” I said. “You’re right.” The wine was sour, like fresh rhubarb, green and mouth-wrenching.
My parents had been old and ill, cancerous, frail, for many months. They knew they would die with their god, and so they told me, and so I knew to look in the ashes for the seed.
I grieved with them while they were still alive to share the grief with me. Once they were gone, it was my time to act.
I did not know what act followed the death of an unborn daughter.
“People keep telling me I’ll have another chance,” Solveig said. “And I guess I will, probably, someday. But she won’t.”
She took a sip of her wine and went to let the new cat out of his cardboard carrier. He stretched his back legs, extended his whiskers, and began a tour of her apartment, beginning with the food dish.
“I’m going to call him Boots,” she said.
The cat had no boot-like markings.
“Like Puss-in-boots,” she said. “Lucky.”
We watched Boots explore. He kept his belly low to the ground at first, and he paid a great deal of attention to the bases of the cupboards, the radiator, the doorjamb.
With the god-seed heating me, I began to find the apartment too warm. I took off my hoodie. Solveig watched me. Beneath the hoodie I wore a white work shirt over a grey cotton t-shirt over a white ribbed tank top; I did not think Solveig could see past the first layer.
“Avis,” she said, and clinked her glass against mine. “Thanks for keeping me company.”
We both drank, but I couldn’t swallow. The wine stung the back of my throat. I coughed it back out into my cupped hand.
“Sorry–sorry–” I opened my mouth to get more air. My chest throbbed like the ribs were breaking.
“Whoa,” Solveig said, reaching for my arm. “Avis–”
I shook my head: back off, stand down. She leaned in closer and I reeled away against the wall.
“Hey. Hey. It’s okay, I’m not going to hurt you,” she said, hands up. “Asthma attack?”
I nodded because I could not push any breath out past the knot of heat.
“Have you got an inhaler?” She was already rummaging in my bag.
The god-seed was not meant to live in flesh. I could feel my hands tearing at the buttons of my shirt, as if they could tear right through and wrest it out.
They weren’t working right. The fingers were cold. Solveig was leaning over me, blurrily close. When did I lie down?
“Should I call an ambulance?”
I shook my head again, again.
“I’m not sure I should listen to you,” she said. “Can you try breathing with me? Can you try that?”
Her hands were doing something; taking one of mine, pressing it to her chest. “Feel? In… Out…”
Too slow. I struggled.
“In… yeah, that’s right. Out…” She took my other hand, linked it with hers, rested it over my own lungs. “Hey, that’s good. That’s better.”
It was. I shut my eyes to focus. It was.
Solveig’s hand on my chest made a calming motion, and then stopped. “You have bandages,” she said.
“That’s not,” I whispered, and stopped, and tried again. “Please don’t.”
“I didn’t realize you were a woman,” she said.
“But you – you’re… not a boy.”
I shook my head. I was dizzy still, breath slicing in whistles around the god-seed.
“Oh,” said Solveig, and unjoined our hands.
She sat back a little, tucking her skirt around her legs. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I was worried. When you fell down.”
My elbow throbbed, and my hip, and the god-seed in me. It hurt as much as before, but it hadn’t managed to erupt through the wall of my chest, or scorch the breath out of me.
The new cat, Boots, wandered up to sniff at my face. His pupils opened wide in the shadow. He put his nose to mine and his whiskers tickled my cheek.
Solveig reached over to scratch between his ears. She didn’t look at me. She said, “Are you feeling any better?”
I shrugged, and struggled up on one elbow; the dizziness didn’t get worse, if I went slowly. I slouched against the wall and started buttoning up my shirt.
“Can I call someone for you?” Solveig said, after a moment. “Because I. I don’t know what to do for you.”
I shook my head.
“No partner?” she prodded. “No friends in town? Parents?”
“My parents are dead,” I said. I thought of their bones mixed with the bones of the house, the char of them soiling my clothes and hair and the inside of my lungs.
She didn’t touch me, this time, but she brought me a box of tissues and a glass of water, and she stopped asking me questions.
She went somewhere else for a bit and came back with a towel.
“You should take a shower,” she said. “It will help your breathing.”
Her bathroom had seashells placed along the windowsill, and several kinds of aromatherapy bath gels. I used the least fragrant one, and watched silty grey swirl off my skin and down the drain. The smell of smoke strengthened, particles trapped in my hair, but Solveig was right, the damp heat made it easier to get air into my lungs.
When I came out, the apartment was dark except for a lamp by the sofa, where she had set out a pillow and a blanket and a bottle of water. I drank the rest of my cough syrup and laid myself down.
I woke up with Boots settled across my shirtfront. He was sound asleep, not even purring, just wheezing gently through his nose.
Too hot. Too heavy. I rolled over and dumped the cat on the floor and coughed until I tasted blood.
Solveig came from somewhere and put her hand on the back of my neck. I could see the bottom of her dressing gown: satin, bright dragons and lilies, and then my eyes watered too much to focus.
“This isn’t cool,” she said. “I’m taking you to the clinic.”
“I know you don’t want to go but it’ll be fine there, really. They’re good people, they won’t be weird to you.”
“That’s not… I don’t need…”
“You need something. I can’t believe you’re going around without an inhaler when it’s this bad. Seriously–”
I sat up, threw off her hand, wiped my mouth. Breathed slow through my nose like she’d showed me last night. “Got to do something first.”
“Whatever it is, it can wait until you’ve got this under control–”
I shook my head.
“Jesus!” she said. “Would you just let me do something for you? That’s all I want – I just want to fix something – I just want one thing to go right for a change…”
And she was sobbing silently with her hand at her throat and her mouth like a tragedy mask and all those tiny sinews standing out, and I thought to myself that maybe I was being an idiot here, and maybe she was the sign I was supposed to read.
She took me to the clinic on her Vespa. Dressed herself in jeans and desert boots and a cropped jacket and a scarf like a French girl’s. She gave me a helmet, too, and buckled it under my chin for me. Settled me behind her on the seat and told me to let her know right away if I wasn’t feeling good enough to hold on.
I thought the god-seed felt better, with my front pressed to her back, and the wet Manhattan air and the watery sunlight angling over us between the buildings.
The Free Clinic included a soup kitchen and a shelter and a lineup of shabby people waiting for someone to look after them, and it made me sad. Solveig waved a hello to them, though, and inside the clinic area she knew the receptionist. We sat on a pair of hard chairs and looked at pictures of red carpet outfits in Us Weekly and we could have been there for six hours if the air freshener in the waiting room hadn’t been so offensive that it started me coughing again.
It was a bad one. Blood. I tasted it in my throat and I gagged and spat it out and shut my eyes so I wouldn’t have to look at it.
Solveig was still on the hard chairs when the doctor walked me out.
“Smoke inhalation,” I told her, waving my prescription. “Making my asthma worse. I didn’t even know that was a thing.”
She raised her eyebrows. “But you get smoke inhalation from being in a fire.”
I shrugged one shoulder.
“I think I want to know the whole story,” she said. “After we pick up your meds.”
I didn’t tell her about the god-seed. I told her about my parents, a little: that they were old and ill, that I knew I was going to lose them.
“Oh, Avis,” she said.
“They left me something,” I said.
“Like, an inheritance?”
“A last request.”
We were sitting in her kitchenette, at her breakfast-bar, on high steel stools. My mouth still tasted awful, blood and the residue of my new inhaler, but I was washing it out with lemongrass tea. Boots had made a spot for himself on the windowsill, dislodging more of Solveig’s shell collection.
“You’re going to do it,” she said.
“Because you want to? Or because you have to?”
“They were good parents,” I said. “They had this, this thing they believed in. Not my thing, really. But it mattered a lot to them. And I’m kind of stuck with it.”
“Isn’t that how it goes,” Solveig sighed. “Honestly, having a kid is such an optimistic thing to do.”
She was sniffling again. I squeezed her hand. We sat there drinking our tea, watching the shadows lengthen over the courtyard.
“You were right about taking me to the doctor,” I said. “You fixed that thing.”
She nodded, wiped her eyes.
Below the blanket of medication, behind my reinflated lungs, the god-seed still sat like a coal. When Solveig left the room I ran my fingertips over the spot, over the layers of shirts and wraps, imagining I could feel the warmth seeping through.
Was kindness a sign? What language was I meant to be reading?
Syracuse had felt closer than home; Manhattan closer than Syracuse; Solveig’s place closer than Madison Square Park. But there was nothing more than that, nothing concrete. No lightning blazing down to indicate the god’s home. No neon cross. No sudden star.
How far was I going to travel, hoping for a sign that had not yet come?
I found Solveig’s phone on the kitchen counter, beside the coffee maker. My parents’ lawyer was named Edelman, and he had a voice like a TV game show host. He sounded genuinely thrilled that I hadn’t died in the fire. He told me what my parents had left. It wasn’t all that much, but it was enough for what I had in mind.
I started packing my bag. It didn’t take long. By the time she came back I was tying my boots.
“You’d better not be going far,” she said.
And was that a sign, too?
“You’ve done a lot for me,” I said. “Got to do something for myself now, I guess.”
“Fair enough,” she said. She picked up Boots and cuddled him to her chest. “You’ll keep me posted.”
“Yes,” I said.
“If you were a girl, I’d totally give you a hug right now,” she said. “And if you were a guy, I’d probably shake your hand.”
“What are you going to do, then?”
She shrugged, set the cat down. Kissed my cheek.
I found a place, a shared apartment in Brooklyn, with three roommates – a Buddhist nun, a dance teacher, and a violinist. I found work at a used book store. Edelman called to check up on me a few times. I met Solveig for tea twice a week, before her yoga classes.
I still don’t know what worked. What finally came into alignment. I don’t know what I did right.
It just happened, one morning. The weather was changing and it felt like a hot one and I was considering how many layers to wear and whether I was starting to need a haircut. I had to work at eleven and I was on my way downstairs; our apartment was on the fifth floor.
And it came over me in a hot tremor: the sign.
I ran down the rest of the stairs, all the way down, into the basement where the laundry machines were, and the hydronic system, and the door marked Staff Only.
In the little alcove beside that door I stopped and clutched my hands to my chest and tried to take a breath.
The god-seed knocked me on my knees and I saw orange light and felt the coal in my chest launch up through my mouth.
It hurt. And that was all.
The seed lay on the cement floor before me, shiny with my saliva. I reached out to pick it up.
Before I could touch, it sizzled its way through the floor. It left a cylindrical drill-hole the diameter of a plum, and the smells of burning paint and incense.
A bare thread of smoke rose from the hole. I squinted down into it, and saw nothing.
I waited for a while. The smoke stopped quickly. No sound, no light.
Finally I left it and went to work and the next time I went downstairs, maintenance had patched the concrete.
The god didn’t tell me what to do next. Whether I should stay: in Brooklyn, in this apartment. Whether I should wait for the seed to grow into something. Whether I should worship.
All that happened was this: Solveig met a guy named Omar who managed a bakery, and she lost some of that reed-thin look. My violinist roommate landed a spot in the quartet she’d been hoping for. My lungs got better and I started running again.
In Madison Square Park, the trees began to flower, and in the dog run, I saw a puppy so young its eyes were still blue.
All that happened was this: Summer came.
About the Author
Claire Humphrey lives in Toronto, where she works in the book business, and writes short fiction and novels. Her stories have appeared in Strange Horizons, PodCastle, Fantasy Magazine and several anthologies. She is also the reviews editor at Ideomancer.
She can be found online at www.clairehumphrey.ca.