Science Fiction Speculative Fantasy

Gjtgrj stood in front of the door, one fist raised, knowing he should knock. Night was falling, the sky was threatening rain, and cold air was already seeping through his cloak. He let his hand fall against the wood soundlessly and closed his eyes.

Perhaps there is a park nearby, with a hollow tree. Perhaps a tree opens itself, hollow and dry, nearby. A tree, hollow, opens itself. A tree opens itself. A tree opens.

The door shifted under his hand and Gjtgrj opened his eyes. A man stood in the doorway in front of him, lean and tall, with sandy brown hair and circles under his eyes.

“May I help you?” asked the man.

“I am sorry to trouble you at such a late hour,” replied Gjtgrj. “I am a stranger to this land and seek shelter for the night.”

The man blinked a few times, mouth ajar. “Um, well, I’m really sorry, but it’s late and well…” 

Gjtgrj felt the eye on his neck close in embarrassment. The man stared at him, eyes dropping down to Gjtgrj’s neck then back to his oversized head.

“Daddy daddy who’s here?” A little boy dressed in pajamas ran into view, stopping suddenly and gaping at Gjtgrj. “Hi! Hi!” The child turned to his father. “Daddy it’s Gahjetgerrjo! Like on the holo!” 

This child knows who I am! Who I am, this child knows. I am this child. I am this child who knows. Who knows.

The man shook his head slightly. “Who?”

The boy threw his arms around his dad’s legs. “Gahjatgerja. He’s a poet and he’s visiting our planet and he’s a wanderer and he lives all over and writes about stuff. He was on my holoshow this morning.” The little boy beamed. “Come in!” He fumbled a twisting movement with his hands, then said loudly, “You are welcome to shelter!”

Gjtgrj bowed low, relief coursing through him. He stood tall and raised his huge head to its full height, then performed the intricate hand gestures that meant gratitude in his own race’s language. The child had made an attempt to signal welcome with his clumsy movements but had actually said something closer to “planet-side vehicular transportation”. No matter. Intent counted more than literal meaning.

Planet-side vehicular transportation as opposed to welcome. Welcome transportation opposed to planet-side. Transportation is welcome, planet-side. A planet-side welcome.

The man looked at his son, then extended a hand towards Gjtgrj. “I see. I’m Darl Turwel. This is my son Bitl.”

A voice rang from another room, drifting out the front door and soaking into Gjtgrj’s sound receptacles. “Darl, who is it?” A woman came into view, her brown hair escaping from its bun.

“Um, a wandering poet, apparently,” said Darl.

“It’s Gohjetgerja!” crowed Bitl.

The woman’s eyebrows raised, and a smile broke across her face. “Gahjeetgerjaa! Oh goodness! You’re all over the news. Come in!” She ushered him in, pulling him past Darl and into a living space filled with soft furniture and warm air. A staircase rose along one wall and there was a kitchen visible through an open door.

This whole room is full of warmth. The warmth is whole. All is warmth and wholeness. Warm and whole.

“This is my wife, Zerlis,” said Darl as he picked up Bitl. “And it’s time for you to go to sleep champ.” 

“Daddy, no! No no no no!” The little boy squirmed in his father’s arms.

“Now dear, bedtime,” said Zerlis.  “Gahjeetgerjaa will be here tomorrow morning. You can show him how well you can make your bed.”

“I can make my bed!” exclaimed Bitl. “All by myself.” He wiggled around in his father’s arms until he was hanging upside down. “I can show you now!”

“Nope. Now is bedtime. Come on. I’ll read you the Booker and the Beisl,” said Darl.

“Twice?” asked Bitl.

“Yep,” replied his dad. 

“Goodnight Gahjootgerooo!”  The little boy waved wildly as Darl carried him upstairs.

“Good sleep Bitl,” said Gjtgrj.

The child is full of energy and life. He brings so much to each moment. Energy and life bring each moment. Each moment brings too much. Brings too much.

Zerlis motioned towards the kitchen. “Are you hungry? We have some pot roast and fresh pie. Wait, do you eat meat?” The woman stopped and frowned slightly.

“I eat all things not moving,” replied Gjtgrj. “A meal would be most welcome.” 

He followed his hostess into the kitchen, tucking his head low into his neck in joy as he savored the bright paintings on the walls.  With the exception of the vibrant art, the room was plain, especially  compared to the lush décor of the living area. 

“What beautiful work,” he commented, standing before a particularly vibrant piece.

“Thank you,” said Zerlis. “I studied painting when I was younger.”

Gjtgrj nodded. He sat down at the small kitchen table as she bustled about the kitchen, pulling food from the coldbox and warming it up. Her movements were precise, small brushstrokes, self-contained and economical. The extravagant paintings hovered on the walls around her, in stark contrast to the efficiency of her actions.

She is living inside herself, with little left to give. She is giving herself the little inside. She is inside the gift. She is living inside the gift. She is living inside. Living inside.

Zerlis put a plate in front of Gjtgrj, piled high with roasted meat and vegetables, then sat opposite him at the table. He ate quietly, making his movements as succinct as possible to show honor to his hostess.

“He’s down for the night. I think,” said Darl, coming into the room. He sat down heavily. “That boy is non-stop,” he grumbled with an edge of pride in his voice.

“I am grateful to him, and you, for sheltering me this evening,” said Gjtgrj.

Darl leaned forward and put his elbows on the table. “So, let me get this straight. You’re a famous poet but you what, wander around and just knock on people’s doors at night?”

“Darl!” said Zerlis. “Please forgive him Gjtgrj. He doesn’t really follow the news.”

“Who has time to watch the news? I’m either at the build site or I’m watching Bitl.” Darl ran one hand through his hair. 

Gjtgrj noticed the dirt ground under his host’s fingernails. “You are accurate. I am a Heredo. We are a traditionally nomadic race. Usually we wander our home planet, but I have chosen to make the galaxy my home. As such, I rely on the kindness of strangers for food and shelter. I have found that I learn much more about life and the wonderful people in this galaxy that way.” He bowed his head slightly. His hands wanted to explain further, but he knew his gestures would not be heard.

He works with his hands, in dirt and mud, and brings only exhaustion home with him. Hands bring dirt and mud, and exhaustion. He brings only mud and exhaustion home. He brings only mud. Brings only mud.

He finished his meal, and then savored the feeling of warm water on his hands as he helped with the dishes. The three of them talked far into the night, about construction and color, children and the life of a nomad. Gjtgrj slept on the couch in the living area, surrounded by soft colors, gentle fabrics. 

He woke suddenly the next morning, bewildered by a sense of heaviness in his legs. He felt hot, nearly sweltering, and the air was thick. Gjtgrj opened his eyes to see Bitl, hair wet, face freshly scrubbed, sitting on top of him. 

“You’re awake! Momma! He’s awake!” Bitl beamed and scrambled off Gjtgrj. “Are you hungry? We’re having turnovercakes! I forgot and made my bed already but I undid it so you can see me make it. Wanna see me make my bed?”

Gjtgrj sat up, rubbing his neck eye. He tried to breathe but couldn’t seem to inhale properly. Zerlis came into the living room and started opening the windows, one by one. Cool, fresh air swirled in, clearing away the staleness, and Gjtgrj was finally able to take a deep breath. 

“Sorry about the heat,” said Darl as he came downstairs. “We thought leaving the heater on would keep you warm down here but it got ridiculously hot.”

The heater overdid its job and I am grateful for the fresh air. A wind swirls in and winds its way into my lungs. Heat was given when fresh air was needed. Heat is here where wind is needed. Where wind is needed.

“I am grateful for the morning. Come, Bitl, please show me how you make your bed.”

Years later, when Bitl was at university, he came across a book of Gjtgrj’s poetry in a small bookstore off campus. He remembered the wonderfully odd overnight visitor, with his huge head and weird eye in his neck and bought the book on impulse. 

Back at his dorm room, surrounded by take-out containers and haphazardly piled books, Bitl sat down on the one cleared off chair in the room and started to read. He was baffled by the poetry, which made no sense to him, but kept going. Halfway through the book, he turned a page and felt a shock of delight. There, in print, was his name, as a title to a poem.


A tree opens

Who knows

A planet-side welcome

Warm and whole

Brings too much

Living inside

Brings only mud

Where wind is needed

Bitl shook his head. He had no idea what the poem meant, but he felt sad, and happy, wistful, and defiant, all at once. He got up slowly, looked around his room and then carefully, deliberately, made his bed.

June 05, 2021 01:59

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