“Oh?” The other women turned as one towards Hessa. Hessa, in her own turn, had shaded towards a sickly pale green color.
Deborah found both of her hands going over her stomach protectively. “What is it, Hessa?”
“I think I found something out. I think I found another time it happened.” She smoothed the pages with both hands. “I think it happened to great-great-great-Aunt Pearl.”
“Great-great-great…” Deborah counted on her fingers. “That was the one who… vanished, isn’t it? Her diaries went missing with her.”
“I don’t think she vanished, Debs. I think someone vanished her. I think the Grandmothers vanished her.”
“The Grandmothers?” Deborah found herself looking back and forth between her cousin and sisters. “You mean her contemporaries?”
“Oh, relax, Debs. We’re not going to vanish you. We’re your friends, you know. This isn’t like the cousins over in Johnsonville.”
Deborah swallowed, hard, and found herself grabbing and clinging to the hand that Linda offered. “So you don’t mean Aunt Pearl’s sisters and cousins, anyway.” She looked up at Hessa, to find that both Hessa and Danielle had reached their hands out, too. She clasped them both with her free hand, and Linda put her free hand on top of that hand-pile.
“I think it was Pearl’s mother’s sisters, and their mothers and aunts. I think there’s something about the family that works badly if there’s a pregnant woman in the Aunt house, and I think they do everything they can to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
“I think that nothing like that is going to happen to our Debs.” Danielle was firm. “We’re not going to let the grannies get in the way, and we are going to come up with a solution.”
Deborah found her sister’s confidence reassuring to hear, even if she didn’t share it. She might be the Aunt, but there was tremendous power held in the women of the family, especially the Grannies, as the younger generation called the older (but only when they weren’t listening). It did not have to be magic to be strong; the Grannies had the power of family behind them.
She wasn’t the only one not entirely reassured. “We still don’t know-” Linda began.
This time it was Danielle who found it. “I think I found something important.”
Linda, always the youngest, and thus used to being talked over, shut her mouth with a snap. They all turned to look at Danielle, who was holding up a hand-bound book, the covers looking suspiciously like home-tanned rawhide.
“Listen to this. ‘It is not that the power of the family’s Auntie rests in the womb, as some have speculated. Nor does it, as others had complained, rest in the mother’s milk.‘” She looked up at her sisters and cousin.
“Well.” Deborah didn’t want to get her hopes up. “That sounds like a good start?”
“Did anyone really think all the power sat in your belly?” Hessa was grumbling. Of course it was Hessa that grumbled.
“Clearly you haven’t heard the men of the family talk. Or, worse, some of the far-cousins who haven’t a spark of spark but still think that maybe they will be the next Auntie, or start their own line, because they have an empty womb.” Linda was getting grumbly as well. They needed refreshments.
Of course, they needed answers more.
“Keep reading, Danielle.” Deborah stood, noting as she did that she wouldn’t be able to hide her little problem much longer. Standing was beginning to get tricky, and the Grannies would definitely notice that.
“‘The power of the Aunties, indeed, of all our family, lies deeper still. After all, there have been men who have carried the power – not many, of course, and of course they cannot be trusted with it, but they do carry it, and they have no womb and no milk.‘”
Deborah set the tea kettle on the stove, and measured out the loose leaves into four cups that had been her great-great Aunt’s. “Interesting that they acknowledge the Uncles. The Grannies certainly don’t.”
“The Grannies don’t ever acknowledge anything that might mean change.” Linda, who had married a tall, handsome black doctor, might have been a little more aware of this than most of them.
“They’re supposed to be the anchor, like the cousins are supposed to be the sail.” Deborah had read that in another Auntie’s journal. “So that the boat of the family moves, but very slowly, and without tipping over.”
“Seems like that would just break the boat.” Hessa had her own opinions on matters. She always had.
“I think the assumption is that it’s just a really sturdy boat.” She pulled out bread and meats and cheese, and began throwing together a lunch tray. “Danielle?”
“‘The power of our family has always been twofold. First, in the family itself, root and stock, branch and bough. Second, in the thing that is sometimes called the Spark and sometimes referred to simply as the Legacy. The family has been carrying this spark as far back as any records I can find.‘” Danielle looked up. “Debs, what happened to the old records?”
“We hold on to them. When the family splits, like it did with Aunt Arvis, we make copies of some and just split up others. So, for instance, we have a hand-made copy of Aunt Fortune’s diaries, but we don’t have her Aunt’s diaries at all anymore.”
“It seems like we ought to digitalize it.” Linda frowned. “Or is that against the Auntie creed?”
Deborah clasped her hands over her belly. “I don’t believe I’m one to stand on tradition. Dani, is there more?”
Danielle frowned at the page. “‘The thing,‘” she read, “‘that one must always remember about this spark, the reason that, like cloistered monks and nuns, the holder of our power is always virgin, always female, always childless, is that it is only in our control because of concentration. The moment that concentration fails, we run the risk of doom.'”
“Oh.” Deborah curled around herself, unwilling, for the moment, to pretend to be strong. “Oh.”
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