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Xenolith, Page 77

A. Sparrow

  Chapter 65: Destination Sinta

  For a while, Frank’s heart behaved as if the arrhythmia had never happened – like a puppy feigning innocence after shredding the sofa to bits. He slapped two fingers on his wrist to make sure. One beat followed another in a calm, even cadence.

  Then it stopped.

  He waited for the beating to resume. And waited. The air drained out of the room. He gasped and slid off the stool. His visual field closed in like the walls of a cave.

  Tezhay dropped to his knees beside him. “You okay?” Tezhay’s words sounded hollow, distant. Harm rushed over, alarmed.

  Frank’s body gave no hint that the stillness in his breast would be anything but permanent. His senses fizzled. The room receded.

  Out of nowhere, an intense contraction erupted, as if a uterus had replaced his heart, and he made up for lost pumping with a clench violent enough to squeeze out twins. The beat resumed, fibrillation and ectopy intact. He breathed fast and deep. The world swirled back open. His head pounded.

  “What happen?” said Tezhay.

  Frank propped himself up on his elbows and rested his head against the built up rim of the fire pit. Time slipped. His breath returned and he lifted his head to find three sets of eyes staring at him. Sibara handed him a bowl of water. Frank took a sip and choked on it.

  “This … Lizbet,” he said, voice raspy. “Is she … mertvo?”

  “You feeling better now?” said Tezhay.

  “Answer my question! She alive or dead?”

  “Why you care so much about this one?” said Tezhay.

  “Why do you think, dumbass?” Frank dragged himself back onto the stool. “This Lizbet might be my wife.”

  Tezhay smirked. “How you know?”

  “Her name, for one thing,” said Frank, snidely. “And the timing matches up. I lost her in May, 1991. The fourteenth, to be exact.”

  “I thought you say she go to Piliar,” said Tezhay, taking the shingle from Frank and passing it back to Sibara.

  “You’re the one who told me all exiles go to Piliar.”

  “I say no such thing,” said Tezhay.

  Frank sighed, exasperated. “So, is she alive or what? No mertvo?”

  Sibara glanced at the shingle. He flipped it back into the pile with a flick of his wrist, muttering in a combination of Russian and Giep’o.

  “Zhevoy?” said Frank. “What does that mean?”

  “Kovalev no make mark for one year,” Tezhay relayed. “But when this card last have mark, she is good. She was alive.”

  Frank tingled with a buzzing warmth. For a moment, he worried it might be another sign of cardiac failure. But he remained alert and strong.

  “But one year is long time,” said Tezhay. “We don’t know if Venep’o take her like Kovalev. Sibara say she stay near Sinta. A place with some very bad fightings. Cuasar kill some people and burn farm because of Nalki. Is not safe place.”

  Frank retrieved the shingle from the pile. “What about all this other stuff written on here. Dates and numbers. What’s that all about?” He passed the shingle back to Sibara, who accepted with annoyance. He turned it toward the light flickering from the hearth and recited its contents in a mechanical sing-song.

  “Is spouses and childrens,” said Tezhay. “Visits to Kovalev. Things like this.”

  “Children?” said Frank. “And spouses? Plural? Is my name on that card?”

  Tezhay consulted with Sibara.

  “Is it?”

  “No,” said Tezhay. “But maybe this not your Lizbet. Is maybe someone else.”

  “Well, what else does it say on the shingle? Give me details.”

  “It say she has … had … two husband, one wife.”

  “T-two? And a wife?” Frank had difficulty imagining Liz as a polyandrist.

  “One husband is … dead. One may be prisoner. Wife is okay.”

  “Well, yippee for that, I suppose,” said Frank. “These husbands of hers… were they exiles?”

  “No. Both Giep’o.” Tezhay sucked air through his teeth. “Bimji … this one name is familiar … not common for Gi. I think maybe I once meet a Bimji. He was Nalki.” Sibara spoke over Tezhay’s musings. “Ah, but the wife … is new wife … only one year … and this one is exile.”


  “Four,” said Tezhay. “Two dead babies. But two live to grow up, according to Kovalev.”

  “Jesus. How old are they?”

  “The girl … maybe sixteen years now. Boy … almost twenty.”

  Frank’s heart pounded more than it skipped now. Sweat misted his brow and slickened his palms.

  “My God. That boy … that boy could be mine,” said Frank. “The timing’s about right.”

  “His name, Tom,” said Tezhay. “And the girl is Elee … Elly … something like this.”

  “Eleanor,” said Frank, under his breath. “That was Liz’s mother’s name.” Frank’s feelings wandered, unable to fix on a single emotion. They included joyous disbelief, for having found her; jealousy, over her infidelity; anxiety, over her safety. He felt an intense urge to see her, while they both lived. The possibility of coming so close and having it all go for naught, mortified him.

  All those years, all those relationships; while Frank had lived practically a hermit. But how could he expect her to drop into such a harsh environment, surrounded by an alien culture and not reach out for human comfort, for love? She had no other recourse but be absorbed. Liz had gone native. What choice did she have?

  Tom. They had discussed baby names, but Tom or Thomas had never made the short list, nor would it ever, had he been consulted. He wondered how she came up with that name. There were no Thomases on Liz’s side of the family.

  Could he really be this Tom’s father? Was it possible she was pregnant when she vanished? Considering such loaded possibilities was almost enough to stop his heart again, and for good.

  Frank had difficulty imagining Liz spending a lifetime in a place like Gi. Though, she had adjusted admirably to life at Rio Frio, Frank remembered how she insisted on accompanying any and every errand to San Ignacio, no matter how trivial or tedious. She would devour and hoard any newspaper that showed up at the mission. Day after day she would intricately and obsessively plan their stateside leave, even though Christmas was many months away.

  It must have driven her to tears to realize her plans would never be consummated, that she had forever lost any possibility of touching base with her old school friends, replenishing her licorice supply or restocking her collection of paperbacks. He couldn’t imagine how she had handled nearly two decades in a place even more austere and alienating than backwoods Belize.

  And here, unlike Rio Frio, she had had to endure it all without him. He liked to think at least that his presence would have made some of these deprivations bearable.

  Harm’s chin began to droop and he slumped on his stool. Sibara flipped Liz’s shingle into the pile, got up and led the groggy child to one of the hammocks hanging along the wall of the hut. Harm slithered into one and curled up, asleep in seconds.

  “Is it far?” said Frank. “This Sinta?”

  “Not as far as we walk already,” said Tezhay. “But I don’t think for your health, for safe, is good for travel right now.”

  “I’m fine. Just show me the way. I’m good to go.”

  “No. You stay here some time with Sibara. When things become quiet and you feel better, then he can show you.”

  “When things become quiet?” said Frank. “When will that be?”

  “I don’t know,” said Tezhay.

  “Maybe never?”

  “Maybe. But I no think so. Not never.”

  “Listen. I may never feel better than I feel right now. With my heart the way it is, I may not have many days to spare. I need to go to Sinta soon. Will you or won’t you take me?”

  Tezhay stared into space, avoiding Frank’s eyes. “You can come with me. But you must understand, this is place of war. If we have trouble
, I will leave you behind. I can’t take care of you.”

  “Just point me in the right directon. I can get there on my own.”

  Something crashed and clanged outside Sibara’s door. Angry voices ran out. Someone wailed. Objects thudded into the wall.

  Sibara hustled over and slid a heavy wooden bolt over the door. Water began to drip through the thatch into hollows carved into the clay floor, which in turn fed into drainage channels to a central pit. Sibara, apparently knew his leaks well.

  Frank fished Liz’s shingle out of the pile yet again. He noticed a thin stack of fine-grained shingles, bleached almost white, bound in a black ribbon. The top shingle carried carefully-inked Cyrillic script with almost calligraphic scrolls, flourishes and borders. It looked like a title page, something that Kovalev considered special. Frank tucked it inside his jacket to save it from the fire, the least he could do for the legacy of the man who helped him find Liz.