By John Thomas Tuft

She appears out of the mists of the wee hours of the night, stumbling a little as she crosses through the steam rising from a utility grate. It is difficult to assess her age for the streets are hard on the face and feet, the heart and soul. She sings the refrain from “Onward Christian Soldiers” with the ironic glee of a nullifidian, as though the crusades were a vacation taken on the almighty’s dime to rid the world of infidels and immigrants that got in the way of righteousness and, those who believe that they are the chosen arbiters of what is true and right. “They told me you’d be here,” she says with a sly wink. A bottle of Odessa sticks out of one pocket of the green army surplus jacket that is permeated with the odor of sweat tinged with dilaudid and fentanyl. “You like my disguise?” she asks as she plops down on the curb.

“Where are you from?” I ask. She looks me up and down, brushes the graying hair from her face. “I could really use a comb or a brush, you know,” she says with a hint of accusation. Then she looks off down the block, watchful. “I’m from somewhere else. Somewhere not here. You got anything to eat?” I take out a package of always present M&Ms and hand it to her. She scoffs, “Figures.” She pours out a handful and separates them by colors. “You know about Abelard and Heloise, I suppose.” I take back the near empty bag. “That’s what you’re reporting, a love story from the 1100s?” She shrugs. “It’s not what you say, as much as it is what you do.” And she laughs, long and loud at the absurdity of words piled up on top of words while actions speak volumes that remain unopened. “Genuine heartache and religious heartburn. When I get done here, I’m going to go find their son and have me a good sit down! Get thee to a nunnery,” and she dissolves in cackling howls. “Whoops, that’s Hamlet.”

She grows quiet and sits there shaking her head, over and over, as though she has intimate knowledge of their lives. Whispers, “Make Romeo and Juliet look like pikers. I’ll be damned, you humans…” her voice trails off. I wait while she digs in a pocket, pulls out a cigar, lights it and puffs contentedly. “Near as I can tell, your world is divided into harvesters and takers. I know that ain’t what you want to hear. When you don’t value each other, you invent value by taking something. Whether it is land or inanimate resources, you hold it high and say, Look, this is valuable. What will you give me for it?” I shifted a bit. “That doesn’t seem fair.” She blew smoke in my face. “Oh really? Your race has removed themselves so far from a sense of what is true that you spend all your energy trying to manipulate each other. Into what, buying something that don’t even exist?” She spat on the pavement.

“Stock markets, commodity futures, rich people playing games with invented value because they don’t remember how to be useful. And everybody goes along with it, because…well, why does everyone just go along with it? You’re bright, educated. You tell me.”  I hesitate before venturing, “We don’t remember?” She puffs furiously as she goes on, “You drew circles around yourselves, called it a nation. Then said, Hey, look over there. More land. More stuff to take. Let’s conquer that. Called it civilization. Built it with slaves? Sure, why not. Then came up with religion to soothe yourselves. Where I come from, somewhere not here, we call that crazy foolishness.” “We call it history,” I offered. “Don’t make it right, mind you,” she puffs.

“Then after you draw your circle and call it a nation, you demand loyalty if others want to belong. Codes, hierarchies, it’s all enforced ignorance, if you ask me. Give me Abelard and Heloise trying to figure it out any day of the week and twice on Sundays. When I’m done here, I’m going to find Astrolabe and ask him if he ever knew his parents love. Because when it’s all said and done, that’s what you got. And that’s all you get. Each other. But maybe that’s just because I’m from somewhere else, somewhere not here.”

“But what do we do to remember that?” I ask her, unwilling to let her go quite yet. “What do I look like, one of you?” she asks, with some degree of surprise, and stands up to go. “Wait, before you go, can I have your blessing?” My words are out before I can think. A tear runs down her cheek, surprising me. “Don’t you see? You gave me what you had, some candy and conversation. You. Are. My. Blessing. Just remember that.”

And she was gone, off to somewhere not here. Leaving me to wonder if I, too, am from somewhere else.

Words are magic and writers are wizards.