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Out of Oz, Page 65

Gregory Maguire

  They didn’t know the word for a watermark, but a faint green huzzle of light seemed to radiate from the page—so dimly at first that they thought it a refraction cast by a drop of water balanced upon a nearby leaf. A zigzag—a Z escaped from the O, thought Rain. The edges of the image were blurred, as if they were made of the smallest bits of paper, the kind of airy nothings that fly in the light when the pages of a book are turned. Ozmists of the page, perhaps.

  “It’s almost Elphaba, isn’t it,” said Dorothy tearily.

  “Nonsense,” said Mister Mikko, who had taught Elphaba Thropp in the good old days, back at Shiz. “It’s nothing at all like Elphaba. It’s the soul of a deceased bookworm, nothing more. Let’s get this over with.”

  “She’s not coming back,” said Dorothy, “and I’m not either.”

  Rain flipped through the pages, which were docile enough under her touch. On the Extermination of Pests. No! Dorothy was a hot ticket, but hardly a pest. To Call Winter upon Water. There it had all begun, for Rain: the beginning of a coherent memory of her own life, not just a collection of incidents. For Tomfoolery, Its Eradication or Amplification. Please.

  Was there a spell To Make the Heart Whole, Regardless?

  She better be careful before she mischiefed herself—or Ozma—into disaster.

  She laughed when she saw the next page. Gone with the Wind. Well, Dorothy had arrived via a mighty big windstorm the first time, no? Maybe it was time to call it up again.

  “Are you ready?” she asked Dorothy.

  “Next time I want a holiday,” said Dorothy, “I’m going to try overseas. The Levant, maybe. Or the Riviera. Or the Argentine pampas. Over the great ocean to meet the China people. All this gadding about Oz has confirmed in me a taste for travel.”

  “Overseas. Please.” Rain looked up from where she was bent over the book. She knew herself well; she wasn’t the type to mouth pithy sentiments suitable for crocheting. All she could think of to say was, “Dorothy, next time? Take out some travel insurance.”

  “Right. And I’m going to choose my fortune cookie a little more carefully next time too. Now listen. Rain.” Ever tit for tat with Dorothy. “Before it’s too late? Don’t give up on Tip. I mean Ozma. There’s so much ahead for you still. I wish—”

  “Don’t wish,” said Rain, “don’t start. Wishing only…”

  “And about your grandmother,” said Dorothy. “I don’t know if—”

  “I don’t want to talk, I have work to do.”

  “I just mean,” said Dorothy, smiling painfully, “there’s no need for her to come back. I mean, look. Here you are.”

  Rain glanced around herself miserably. The Lion and Dorothy were gazing at her with watery grins. She wanted to throw a potted geranium at each one of them. “I’m going to send you on your way before you feed me any more of your nonsense,” she barked.

  Dorothy then turned to Brrr. “I used to like the Scarecrow best,” she began.

  He gruffed at her, “So did I. Now are you ready to take some advice from a Cowardly Lion? Make your way safely home. With our royal blessing. But when you get there, don’t surrender, Dorothy. Never surrender.”

  “You didn’t, did you,” replied Dorothy. “Local Lion Makes Good. Well, first thing I’m going to do when I get back is find out what happened to Uncle Henry and Aunt Em, bless ’em. And if San Francisco is in as much of a mess as the Emerald City, well, I’ve learned something from Little Daffy about setting a bone. I’ll pitch in. Singing all the way, of course.” She was making fun of herself to settle her nerves. “We might’ve made a nice duo, Brrr, but courage called you elsewhere.” They didn’t speak again, but it took them a few moments to pull out of each other’s grip.

  Rain began to intone the spell. A small local windstorm kicked up from the cobbles. For a moment it looked like the Ozmists, once again, but it was grittier. An updraft lifted Dorothy in the air as if she were flying high in the elevator she’d never stopped describing to anyone who would listen. All that was left of Toto, as Dorothy snatched him up, was a little pointed turd, which Mister Mikko kicked into the compost. No one had time to say goodbye to the dog. The basket in which Toto had traveled was left behind on the ground, rocking in the force of their disappearance.

  Still, Tip remained in Madame Teastane’s. Maybe, thought Rain, Tip is only waiting until the right moment to steal away. And then what? And then what? Crack open the Grimmerie and—and what? We’d do what? Steal from the truth and lock each other in disguises again? That could do no good.

  But weeks went by, and then months. No message arrived.

  When to stay any longer would be to accept paralysis as permanent, Rain readied to make her departure from the Emerald City. Once the warm weather settled in she would leave by foot. Alone. She sent word to the Cowardly Lion. He replied by messenger. Perhaps he’d experienced one too many good-byes. As casually as sharing a loaf of bread, Brrr deeded Rain the Grimmerie in its blue sack. “You’re the only one who can use it,” he wrote. “It’s too dangerous to have in town. I don’t want to know what you do with it, just don’t bring it back to me. Love, Brrr.”

  A packet in brown paper, done up in string, slid out of the sack after the book. Rain opened it. A medal that said COURAGE on it. Brrr making fun of himself? The ribbon was of ivory silk with a silver thread. No doubt he’d supervised the design. She turned it over. Oooh, fancy, a bit of engraving. RAIN, it said. WHO KNOWS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN TIME PAST, PRESENT & TO COME.

  The matinal hour suited her now. Ever since the day Dorothy had made it out of Oz—safely, one hoped, though if ever a girl was trouble prone it was La Gale of Kansas—Rain found that she preferred to walk the streets as night was shifting toward dawn. Perhaps at that hour a native greenness in the atmosphere hovers below the registration of our easily blinded eyes.

  In any case, before dawn one weekday she put Tay in Toto’s old basket and left it on the doorstep of Madame Teastane’s Female Seminary. “For Tip” said her own note, “from Rain. For as long as Tay allows.” Tay hadn’t fussed at being left on Tip’s doorstep. It was as if the rice otter knew where Tip was, and who Tip was, and what job it had to do. A small job of comfort, if green comfort was possible. Half a comfort. Who could say.

  She walked to Nether How in total silence.

  The next year, when the Grasstrail Train came through and delivered one of those color supplements to the gang at Kiamo Ko, Chistery borrowed Nanny’s glasses and read every panel out loud to her.

  “Oh my,” said Nanny, and “Read that bit again, will you,” and “Mercy!”

  “And that’s that,” said Chistery when he was through.

  “A load of hogswallop,” said Nanny, “but affecting in its way. Is she coming back, do you think?”

  “Elphaba?” said Chistery. “Now, Nanny.”

  “No, Rain, I mean,” said Nanny. “Really, monkeyboy. I’m not moronic. She wouldn’t care to stay around in the Emerald City. Do you think she’s coming back here to live? This is her castle, after all. And something tells me she has that old book that has caused so much trouble.”

  Chistery was humbled by the correction. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I have no clue about Rain’s future. I thought you were asking if Elphaba was coming back.”

  “The very idea,” said Nanny, removing the hard-boiled egg from its shell and settling down to eat the shell. “Besides,” she said a few moments later, “Elphaba’s already come back. I saw her last week on the stairs.” But Chistery was clattering the cutlery. Having gone hard of hearing, he didn’t take this in.

  Candle and Liir lasted another year or so in the house at Nether How, but in the end, Candle decided to leave her husband. Rain wept and thought it was her fault. She shouldn’t have come back; she shouldn’t have brought her endless ache to infect the rooms of the cottage of her parents. She should be the one to go.

  But Candle insisted she herself needed to light out until she could come to some understanding about how she could have been
persuaded, all those years ago, to give their daughter’s childhood away to someone else. She and Liir had never fought again, but nor had they spoken like lovers or even friends. It was time.

  “My childhood was never yours to have, and anyway, you gave it to me the best way you could,” said Rain, sniffling. She’d come to believe this.

  “Liir was frightened for his life, so he was frightened for yours,” said Candle of Liir. “When you were born green, he choked, and hid you away. I let it happen. That’s how it seems to me now, Little Green. Maybe I’ll learn to forgive him, or to forgive myself. Maybe I’ll come back then. I can only see the present, not the future.”

  After she was gone, Liir said, “I’m to blame for more than everything. And if I mention, Rain, that Candle left you first—when you were a newborn—it was for a good reason. To save you. She knew who you were. She had that touch. She knew you’d survive, and she left you for me to find. She had that confidence in you and that instinct to protect you too. Maybe what she’s doing now—for you, for me—is no less kind. Though we can’t see it yet. She does see the present, remember.” He tried to disguise a wince. “I can vouch for that. On some level, as an Elephant, I was dead to her—that’s probably why she couldn’t see the present, see me as still alive.”

  “Do you think she’s gone off to find the famous Trism? Now that you located him after all these years?” Rain couldn’t help herself; it was easier to hurt someone else than to plumb her own griefs.

  “You know,” said Liir, “when I met your mother at the mauntery of Saint Glinda’s in the Shale Shallows, everyone called her Candle. Candle Osqa’ami. She did herself. But I think that was a mispronunciation from the Qua’ati. Her name is nearer to Cantle. It means ‘a part of a thing.’ A segment, portion. Sometimes something that has broken off, a shard. A potsherd. A cantle of a statue, of a shell.”

  “Stop talking about it. Either she’ll come back or she won’t.”

  “You know, I’ve heard only a shell with a broken tip can make any music.”

  Iskinaary said, “I was thinking quail eggs for supper? Or a nice lake trout.” Neither father nor daughter answered him. Rain went out to the front yard and looked at the hills. There was nothing to collect anymore that had meaning, nothing to count or to count on. She walked anyway, dropping fistfuls of nothing, trying to empty herself out of herself.

  They buried the Grimmerie on the slope of Nether How, as close as Liir could remember to the spot where he’d seen it emerging in the arms of that ancient magician. They marked the spot by staking Elphaba’s broom into the ground, thinking it would last the winter. In the spring they would haul some stones to mark the spot permanently.

  When they returned in the spring, though, the broom had taken root and was starting to sprout virgin green, so they left it where it was as marker indeed.

  Another year passed. No word came from Tip. Rain didn’t want to hear news from the Emerald City or, indeed, from anywhere in Oz. She took to wandering the hills around the Five Lakes, and she ventured farther and farther upslope into the Great Kells. Though she had applied by mail and been admitted into Shiz University, she never accepted the position or the bursary and she let the matter slide.

  The world seemed slowly to unpopulate, the winds to speak to her in subtle and aggressive tones that she couldn’t understand.

  Then one day in spring, when the afternoon had a summery clamminess to it though the mountain slopes were only starting to leaf out, she thought again about the shell that had summoned the Ozmists and, perhaps, helped trick La Mombey into giving away the location of the hidden Ozma Tippetarius. The Ozmists had only spoken of appetite for the current day, which was for them the future. One day Rain would be dead too, though she would still be curious about the future. She would be among the Ozmists herself no doubt, eager to know about the children of Ozma Tippetarius, if any could ever be born. The appetite to know ever further what might happen—it was an endless appetite, wasn’t it? The story wants to go on and on. She couldn’t fault the Ozmists for the permanence of their affection for life, even in death. Half dead herself, she felt that affection too, though it had no focus, no object upon which to address itself.

  She took up the shell she’d stolen from Chalotin, that old Quadling seer without feet. She didn’t blow it. She felt the broken tip of it—the breakage that allows it to sing. She remembered someone once saying something like “Listen to what it says to you.”

  She put it to her ear. That same spectacular hush, the presence of expectation, the sound of expectation. A cantle of nothing whole.

  She could make no words out, of course. She had tried for years and had never heard so much as a syllable. She laid it back upon the table. The Goose, who had gone rather silent the last year, eyed her balefully. “Well?” snapped Iskinaary. “Anyone leave a message for you?”

  His question provoked the answer. What was it saying to her? Nothing in words—she’d been listening to the wrong thing. It didn’t speak to her through its hush. It spoke to her through its presence.

  It was saying to her: I exist, so what does that say to you?

  Liir took no interest in the buried Grimmerie. Instead he negotiated with a tinker to hunt out and eventually deliver to the cottage at Nether How a set of eighty pages of blank paper. Then Liir spent most of the month of Lurlinetide binding them with glue and string into a codex of sorts. After some sloppy experimentation, he managed to accumulate a pot of lampblack by scraping the soot from the chimneys of the oil lamps and grinding it with resin and the char of burnt bark. Iskinaary donated a quill, and Liir sat down to write. It seemed to make him happy while he was waiting for—well, whatever he was waiting for.

  “What are you doing?” His industry made her cross.

  He looked up as if from a long distance away. His eyes were green; she’d never noticed that.

  “I’m writing a treatise, maybe. A letter, anyway. To send to—to Brrr. And Ozma.”

  She was insulted already. He was barging into her life, trying to make it better. It was less trouble to be abandoned. “About?”

  “About. About, I guess—power. About governance. About the birds of no like feather who flew together, to make up the Conference of the Birds. About the maunts who decided to govern themselves by committee rather than by obedience to a superior. About Ozmists and their need to listen to the future as well as to the past. I haven’t gotten it straight in my head yet.”

  “You’re angling for a court position? As advisor to the Throne Minister?”

  “I’m only angling to question the rationale of a court and a throne. The justice of it.”

  “Writing never helped a soul to do a thing.”

  “Except, maybe, to think.” He went back to work.

  Rain thought he was too young to be so meditative, and his patience made her impatient.

  To escape the sound of his thoughts scratching along, she stayed out in cold weather and worked on building a fieldstone wall around the asparagus patch. She remembered the polished chunk in the Chancel of the Ladyfish, with that tiny inscribed creature that seemed as much feather as horse. Maybe one day she would set out on a walkabout across Oz by herself and collect that stone. Inanimate objects were somewhat less bother than people.

  She was pausing from her labors late one morning, wiping sweat from her brow despite the rime on the grass and the shelves of ice cantilevering from the shores of the lakes, when she saw a twitch of movement near the broom-tree. Ever wary of some fiend or sorcerer coming by and sniffing out the Grimmerie somehow, she moved closer to check. In the shadows of the tree she startled a serpent of sorts, who proved Serpentine when he reared up, flared his striped lapels, and addressed her.

  “You don’t need to apply that heavy stone to me,” said the Snake. “I mean you no harm.”

  She shifted it to her hip. “I’m afraid you’ve picked the wrong place to digest your breakfast. That tree is off bounds to you. It’s a memorial garden of sorts.”

; “I’m no fool. I know what lies in this grave.”

  Rain didn’t think he was being impertinent, but she had long ago lost the gift of a catholic sympathy. She’d grown up too much. “You’d better move along.”

  “I recognize you, I think. I believe I may have helped your parents degreenify you. I see the spell wore off at last. Most do.” He leaned closer on one of his several dozen snake-hips. “You’re doing all right, then? You made it?”

  “I’m afraid I don’t give interviews, Mr. Serpent.”

  With alacrity he wound himself around the stem of the tree to get a little more height, and then dropped his head from a branch so he could be closer to her. His eyes were acid yellow, not unkind. “Quite wise. I don’t either. I find it does the likes of me no good. Everyone twists your words so.”

  “Are you ready to move along?”

  “Are you? Oh, don’t look at me like that. I’m merely a concerned citizen of Oz. Also I am a venerable if not downright ancient Serpent, and as such I suffer the affection for the young that afflicts the elderly. I can tell what you hoard buried beneath this tree, Miss Oziandra Rainary Ko Osqa’ami Thropp. And as I keep my ear to the ground—little joke, that—I know something of what you’ve been through. What I can’t guess is why you don’t use the tools at your disposal to do something about it. And put down that granite cudgel while I’m talking to you. It’s distracting and not at all polite.”

  She put the boulder down but kept her hands and her heart clenched.

  “I’m merely saying. You have the richest bloodlines for magic in all of Oz. You have the strongest instrument for change this land has ever seen. And you have your own need to answer to. There is Tip, turned into Ozma. You could turn, too. You could be Rain, or you could be—well, I won’t name you. But you could name yourself. Why do you resist?”

  “I think you’d better go.”

  “If I see no future for my own offspring, I eat them,” said the Serpent. “If I didn’t eat you when I was introduced to you as an infant, why would I sink my venomous fangs into you now? You’ve done much good. You’ve helped complete Elphaba’s work, and in a way your father’s work, too. Don’t you deserve a reward? Oh come now, don’t look at me like that. What I’m bringing up is a morally neutral proposition. You think it is purer to be one gender or the other? That it makes a difference? I know—no one listens to a Serpent. And I’ll move along now, as promised. But think about it.”