How can I help?
Yarrow Tallum had said those words all her life. She’d grown up in a family that had helped. She had gone to a church that had helped. She had moved to this city working with a not-for-profit that, above all things helped.
When the not-for-profit had turned out to be not quite what she wanted with her life – or they hadn’t wanted quite what she did, or something; it had ended, and it hadn’t ended in a fun way, and that was really, in the end, the bits that mattered – she’d taken the first job that had come to hand, and from there another one and now, seven years after she’d moved into this city, she found herself walking down a back street to what was very politely called “the place” by people who knew about it.
The weather was getting cold and it was only going to get colder. The snow had already started to fall, and the forecasters and weather-witches and all the old almanac signs all agreed, for once: It was going to be a long and very hard winter.
Yarrow had been hearing rumors for a while, the way you did if you listened to people, really listened. And they said that there was someone named Katydid. And that Katydid was doing things.
In this city, there were any number of things that one could be doing. There was a priest talking to the fae in a church that had once been drenched in fae blood. There was a woman reclaiming the Crossroads park. There was a person who sat at the same corner every day and sang, songs like angels had come down from heaven, songs that lifted you up and made your day better.
There was an amazing world out there, but Yarrow was not going down to “the place” because she wanted to rubberneck.
It was going to be cold, so she dug through her closets and she found the three winter coats that had never fit quite right and the packs of socks that her mother liked to send her. She found three blankets that she didn’t need, and a pack of scarves and mittens and hats.
She cleared out her cupboard of canned food, except what she needed for the next week, and when she had this all in a shopping cart, she ran back upstairs and grabbed a can opener and her camp stove. And a box of tea and her second-best tea kettle.
That ought to be a start, she thought. And she started walking towards The Place.
If you asked her, Yarrow would have told you people need help more than I need these things. But it was more than that. It had always been more than that. And some of it…. sometimes she had to admit it was a little selfish.
Bundled up, she walked briskly through town towards “the place” – towards where she was pretty sure “the place” was. She had cash in her pocket for panhandlers – but there were none on the road, no buskers, nobody hiding in the little alcoves and corners, nobody being sent away from the convenience store or the warming their hands over an air outlet.
It made the city feel too quiet, not alive enough. It made her both worried and hopeful. It made Yarrow wonder, more than where are they, what are they giving to the city normally, that we don’t notice?
All God’s children got a place in the choir, her father would’ve said. And every note that isn’t there is notable.
That wasn’t enough of an answer, but that was a question for another day. Today, she passed one skinny kid who looked both lost and drawn, that was it, and she said to them “I hear the Place is this way.”
“Isn’t the Place for, I dunno. Like…?”
“Are you hungry and cold? Then the Place is for you.”
The nerve of her, she thought, to say that when it wasn’t her place. But the words had come from somewhere and it wasn’t really her mind that they’d come from. Still, she added, “or. When I’ve dropped these things off, you can come back to my house. I don’t have much but I can give you dinner and a place to crash for the night.”
“I’ll… You’re going to the Place? I’ll come with you.”
Magic didn’t solve everything, that was one of Yarrow’s first lessons. The city still had its problems, steeped in magic as it was, some of them caused by that very magic. But kindness…
They walked in silence, except Yarrow passing him the mittens on the top of her pile and a meal bar from lower down in the pile. The kid looked sort of grateful and sort of embarrassed. She wondered how long they’d been wandering around, and if they had any place to go that wasn’t Yarrow’s house or The Place.
How did things get here? She wondered, but then, the way that she’d been taught, she also started to wonder how do we get things away from here?
When they reached the Place, she realized that someone – or someones – had moved on to the next step, the part where you stopped wondering and started moving forward.