Sunday, June 29, 2014

Book Spotlight: Nakoma – A spirit’s destiny by Gala.J

Nakoma – A spirit’s destiny

Author – Gala.J
Amazon Link
•  Paperback: 378 pages 
•  Publisher: Gala (March 12, 2014) 
•  Language: English 
•  ISBN-13: 978-0615985206

About the book :

Nakoma – A Spirit’s Destiny is a haunting tale of mystery and intrigue that grabs you from the first sentence and doesn’t let go until the last word. This suspenseful, page-turning journey of one woman’s search of true love is an inspiring reminder that one can draw on inner strength to fight any force and overcome any obstacle. But every choice has its price. Born into a dynasty of healers, Lena Jones is destined to fulfill the family legend of the one whose powers will exceed boundaries and set new limits. Groomed by her Grandma, ‘The Witch from Ojai’, Lena is initiated into a world of spells, potions, and incantations. As a healer, Lena devotes herself to past life regression therapy, which not only brings insight to her clients, but also unlocks important clues for her own journey. Living in parallel realities, where magic and sorcery co-exists with the pastoral and normal, Lena is searching for The One, whose face she saw when she was six years old. She knows he is her soul mate, the man that invades her dreams and haunts her thoughts, yet has been dead for centuries. In her spellbinding rite of passage, Lena surmounts a major betrayal that culminates in an epic battle as she fights against the powers of dark magic that threaten her destiny, her sanity, and her soul. “The forces that we deal with have two sides: one is good and helpful and the other is dark and dangerous. Part of your training is to learn to distinguish between them, and know when to use which.”

Chapter 1

The first time she dug a grave Lena was six years old.  The night was very quiet. No coyotes howled; no owls hooted. There was no moon in the sky, because it was a dark moon night - that mysterious point between the end of one lunar cycle and the birth of a new one. The stars glittered, blanketing the sky with countless brilliant lights. Perhaps that was the reason Grandpa Henry decided to leave that night and become a star of his own. 

There were no early warning signs of his departure. He drank his tea with small, loud sips, blowing a little before each sip to disperse the steam away from his fleshy nose. Then he went into the bedroom, brushed his teeth, put on his pajamas and went to bed, falling asleep, as soon as he laid his head on the pillow. When Elizabeth got into her side of the bed, a few hours after, he was fine as always. 

Grandma Elizabeth and Grandpa Henry lived in a small house on a cliff overlooking the Ojai valley. Lena and her parents had come the night before for Friday night dinner. They rarely stayed overnight. Such occasions would leave their mark on everyone, especially on Lena’s mother Helen. Every night she spent at her childhood home made her weary. But this time, after eating and talking until late at night, they had decided, as fate would have it, to stay and return home the next day. 

Grandma prepared Helen’s old room as it had been when she left for college and never returned.  Except for the sewing machine that now stood under the window, the room was frozen in time. Lena fell asleep first. George carried her to the narrow double bed, placing her in the center to leave space for Helen and himself. After a last cup of herbal tea they said good night and fell asleep under a psychedelic print duvet, on either side of Lena. 

Only Elizabeth could not sleep. She cleaned the remnants of dinner, brought in the empty teacups from the porch, wiped the counter with a damp cloth, squeezed it out well, and folded it into four equal parts. When she finished, she wrapped herself in her thick black sweater, and went out to the plant shed, where she made and stored her treasures. Her gnarled fingers gently checked if the lavender stems she had hung yesterday had dried. She decided to leave them another day or two. Then she arranged the amber glass vials containing plant tinctures in descending order of potency.

The large wooden table in the middle of the shed was packed with crystals, each possessing unique healing powers. Elizabeth misted the crystals with saline water to quench their thirst. With a straw broom she swept the floor, gathering plant debris and sand, tossing it into the bin that was filled to the brim with dry strands and roots. When she was done she turned off the light and stepped out into the cool night of the dark moon.

The brisk air gripped her, and she tightened the cardigan around her thick body, unable to defend herself against an internal chill that stabbed her flesh and made the hair on her neck rise. She looked at the sky dotted with stars and wondered why she was so restless. Not that inner tension was foreign to her; in fact, she had passed most of her years restlessly. A sense of urgency always drove her to perform odd jobs. "It’s better to keep busy. Idleness is the mother of all evil," was her answer for those critical of her overactive nature. She was determined not to allow others to meddle in her life. 

Later Elizabeth would wonder how she – an expert in reading other people’s futures - did not know, did not feel, that a significant change was about to occur in her life. One day she may realize that she actually knew but did not want to see, because this time it was close to her, very close. Her husband of forty years was leaving this life and she was not ready, was not prepared. Strange, she would probably conclude, as she often did whenever she did not want to get to the bottom of things.

But at that moment as she looked at the stars and wondered about the disquiet swirling in her stomach, about the fact that she was getting older  and it was more difficult to fall asleep, Elizabeth was overwhelmed by the beauty and majesty of the twinkling sky’s blanket and the sweet smell of jasmine in the air. She breathed in the familiar smell, remembering when they had moved to Ojai and bought this land, eventually planting jasmine vines on all four corners of the little house. They had planted eight vines: two in each corner. Ever since, summer nights were perfumed with the aromatic smell of jasmine, symbolizing home for her. Even now, twenty years later, the jasmine was still blooming, getting thicker from year to year, with its height exceeding hers. She remembered how she used to tower above them, her broad shoulders hiding their stems. And it was not that her height had lessened, nor that her strength had decreased, yet she felt that her shoulders had curled inward, cascading after her heavy breasts gravitating toward the ground.

The hair on the back of her neck bristled. For a moment she felt an evil presence had snuck up behind her. But when she turned to look over her shoulder, no one was there. Elizabeth went inside and, reluctantly, put on her worn and faded nightgown and got into bed. 

Henry was lying with his back to her, snoring lightly. She stared at the dark ceiling and could not remember the last time Helen stayed here along with her family. She loved when they came. Rather, she was willing to love them too, as long as Lena came with them. For her, Lena could move in with her, to this home, the place where she belonged. Elizabeth knew in her heart that Lena was the one she had been waiting for, the one who had been born especially for her.  She also knew her mission was to train Lena, to pass along her knowledge to her. The healing gene, inherited by the women in the family, had passed over Helen, her only daughter, but shone with great intensity in her granddaughter Lena.

Although not blessed with the special gene, or perhaps because of that, Helen felt it was better for her mother not to have many opportunities to indoctrinate Lena with her beliefs and spells, herbal potions and crystal energies, and other magical rituals she prepared for her clients. "Look who seeks your help," Helen used to snap at her when she was a teenager, and her reedy white body would shake with rage. "Only helpless, miserable women, on the verge of total despair seek solace in your spells. Does that feel normal to you?" she would scream, her voice hoarse from choking back tears.

Elizabeth's nostrils would flare, and it was possible to imagine a jet of steam bursting out of her prominent nose. But then the nostrils would return to normal and Elizabeth would say nothing, causing Helen’s red eyes to bulge out even more: "What kind of a mother are you that doesn’t even answer her daughter? It’s all about you and your opinions! You aren’t the only person in the world, you know!" Elizabeth accepted these outbursts with equanimity.  She attributed them to Helen's adolescence. Indeed, as Helen grew up and the music world consumed her, leaving no space without twisting and curling notes, her protests had gradually faded. Actually, now that she thought about it, Elizabeth realized that it had been a long time since she had heard those accusations from Helen.

She did not think they had come to an understanding, but the situation was less volatile. Now she must hurry and prepare Lena, who glowed with high potential. Elizabeth made sure that Helen’s opposition would not affect Lena. Lena’s fate had already been determined and Elizabeth’s main role, and perhaps her only one was to raise this child to wonders and magic greater than ever known in the family. Elizabeth must not miss the opportunity - perhaps Lena was the one the legend, which had been passed from mother to daughter for generations, talked about: the one who will find true love, who will succeed where others hoped but failed. Her mind whirled with the possibilities as she sank into a deep sleep.

She did not feel it when Henry contracted suddenly, his hands clutching the edge of the blanket, as his heart stopped. He fluttered for an instant, when his eyes opened in surprise from the electric shock that woke him up sharply. But before he could make a sound, he was free of his body. He hovered above and from the ceiling he looked at himself and his wife sleeping beside him. Since it was five o'clock in the morning everyone was asleep and no one else knew what was happening. Even when Elizabeth woke up as usual at six, she didn’t notice anything abnormal. Her thoughts lingered in the dream from which she had just emerged, where she stood on the edge of a cliff waving goodbye to someone. She tried to delve deeper and remember more details about the identity of the departing figure, but the dream faded too quickly, and Elizabeth gave up.

She got up and put on the fur-lined black boots she wore all the time, indoor or out. She tied her heavy black sweater around her shoulders to protect herself from the morning chill, and was just about to go into the kitchen to put the kettle on. Yet something about Henry caught her attention. She examined her husband with his back to her. Perhaps it was the way his clenched fist gripped the edge of the blanket. Maybe it was his still back. She did not know, but when she went around to his side of the bed and stood in front of him she instantly realized what had happened. Henry’s eyes stared at her blankly. It was clear that Henry was neither sleeping nor awake. He was dead.

A mix of emotions washed over her as she watched her dead husband. But because she did not know which feeling to choose, and since she was not the kind driven by emotions, Elizabeth did not experience pain or sorrow, longing or regret, but the urgent need to act.

Out of habit she gathered her thinning white hair in a bun with a rubber band. Now she wished her daughter and son-in-law were not sleeping in the next room. In this situation she would rather be alone to take care of things in her own quiet way without having to deal with their emotions. But the fact that Lena was in the house made her happy. Lena was designed to deal with such matters, and now was the time to acquaint her with the appearance of death. All the ceremonies, blessings, and items required for preparing the dead for burial passed through her mind. 

Elizabeth closed Henry’s eyes and kissed his forehead. Her eyes lingered on his wrinkles, on the pure white stubble of his beard. His full lips were still pink, his face soft and kind. “Like a puppy,” she thought. For a moment she felt affection for this man with whom she had spent a significant chunk of her life. And yet it seemed as if they had met only yesterday, as if she had just recently given birth to Helen and discovered that their love was not like the movies. For convenience they had maintained a mutual life side by side – drifting apart quietly. Was it good that they used up their time together?

Elizabeth knew she was not a suitable wife for Henry. He needed a more loving woman that would be able to give him the warmth he yearned for. There was no malice or design on her part. Her mission simply did not require a man in her life, certainly not a marriage of commitment and full partnership. Henry was not related, like her, to the world beyond. He was a farmer at heart,  a simple and good man who loved the earth and enjoyed sitting quietly on the porch in his rocking chair reading a book, happy with every day that passed and finding the good in every situation. Yet there was one place where they fully connected: the plant world they both loved and knew well. Henry had a green thumb. Each plant he nursed had developed surprising proportions.

Elizabeth knew the types and varieties of plants, their healing properties and energies. In their younger days they enjoyed going into the fields, picking cuttings, pulling out wild plants by their roots and transplanting them into their garden. This is how the purple lupine bushes that adorned the entrance with its thousands of blossoms came to their home. In the same way they brought a root of white sage, which they planted alongside of the gravel road that led to their house. A silver, dense shrub had developed, presenting a shimmering welcome to visitors. Elizabeth would burn a lot of white sage today for the purification of the body during the burial. She went to the kitchen to make strong verbena tea to soothe everyone’s nerves. She did not wake the sleepers, preferring they rise on their own. Meanwhile, she had much to do.

Lena got up first. The digital clock radio showed seven and her parents were still asleep.  They snored lightly - her father with an open mouth and her mother with a tightly closed mouth. She slipped out from under the covers and tiptoed barefoot down the hall. For a moment she hesitated whether to go into her grandparents’ room, but hearing noises coming from the kitchen she assumed someone was already awake. In the kitchen Grandma was stirring the contents of a large steaming pot with a wooden spoon. By the strong smell Lena already knew she used silver sage and St. John's Wort. But there was another smell she did not recognize. Strong, pungent, almost like mint, but more sour. What were the uses of this plant? She always had the urge to know what each plant was used for. "Good morning, Lena," Grandma said, without turning her head. She always knew when someone was coming.

"Good morning, Grandma," Lena said and sat down on one of the two chairs standing by the small dining table. The kitchen was narrow and short, and it seemed as though the small table had stood there forever. Two people could eat comfortably at it, even three - if they pulled up another chair. 

"What are you making?" Lena asked, pointing to the bubbling pot.

"This is a special potion I don’t normally make," Grandma said clenching her teeth.

"What for?" Lena asked, her little legs dangling together, to the left and then to the right, never touching the floor.

"A special event," Grandma replied, "an event of a lifetime."

"Good," Lena smiled, "I love special events. And the potion - what is it made of?" She got closer to the pot, "Can we drink it?"

"No!" Grandma said sharply, and this time pressed her lips together so hard it seemed that she didn’t have a mouth. Lena flinched a little and thought how strange Grandma looked. Suddenly she noticed that her mother actually did look like Grandma.

"Are your parents awake?"

"No. Do you want me to wake them?"

Grandma hesitated for a moment. "Yes, go and wake up your mother," she said, and Lena jumped up and trotted merrily down the hall to the room where her parents were sleeping. For a moment she thought she saw Grandpa's face floating on the wall, but when she turned to look at him  he disappeared.

"Mom, get up! Grandma wants you! She’s in the kitchen."

Helen turned to her sleepily. "What does she want?"

"I don’t know," Lena said. "You. Come to the kitchen."

"Okay, I'm just going to the bathroom. Tell Grandma I'll be right there."

"I'll tell her," Lena said cheerfully and skipped back into the kitchen.

Again she thought she saw Grandpa's face hovering. This time on the wall where the pictures were hanging. But when she turned to look, nothing was there. She shrugged and walked into the kitchen.  Grandma turned off the stove and put bagels in the toaster.

"Do you want a bagel with cream cheese?" she asked Lena, and the girl nodded enthusiastically. "Mommy's coming," she said to Grandma. Before the bagel was ready Helen had come into the kitchen, her hair disheveled, wrapped in a red robe that had been hers in high school. The robe was kept hanging on the old door so she could use it on the rare occasion when she stayed the night.

"Good morning, Mom," Helen turned to Elizabeth, who  scanned  her daughter from head to toe with narrowed eyes that searched for some sign that would testify that she felt something was  wrong. After finding no such sign, she fired the harsh words at once: "Your father died of cardiac arrest last night. He did not suffer. He died in his sleep. We need to arrange a funeral."

The words were like a knife in Helen’s heart. She collapsed into the chair behind her. Her eyes filled with tears, and her confused gaze quickly shifted back and forth from her mother to her daughter. She seemed to be trying to grasp what exactly she had just heard, but without success. Lena cracked the wall of silence that filled the kitchen. "Grandpa didn’t die. I saw him before in the hallway," she announced solemnly.

Elizabeth smiled at her with understanding, and repeated her words like a news broadcaster: "Grandpa died during the night. He is still lying in bed, but he's dead." This time she looked at Lena, though the words were intended for Helen, who ran to her parents' bedroom before Grandma and Lena managed to move. A long painful wail was heard and Helen's sobs shook the house. When Grandma and Lena went toward the bedroom, George, who woke up from the keening, appeared and immediately was swallowed up in the bedroom doorway.

"Stay here; your Mom will go crazy if I let you in now,” Grandma ordered. Lena obediently stayed in the hallway, standing perfectly still. Grandma entered the room. Muffled cries and weeping could be heard from inside. Lena wanted to see what was happening, but she did not dare to violate Grandma’s commands. She looked at the opposite wall, where some old family pictures were hung. Some showed them on trips, some were of holidays they had spent together. A small family: grandparents, mom and dad, and Lena as a baby. There were also two pictures of a man and a woman: Grandpa’s brother and sister-in-law. An angry conversation could be heard from the room now. Although Lena could not make out the exact words, she knew that a fight was taking place, between mom and Grandma. Their quarrels had a special sound, like breaking ice with a spike, a kind of muffled noise splashing sharp fragments. Lena knew these conflicts well, even though they had always tried to keep her out of them. Helen believed that if they spoke quietly, and the child was not in the room, Lena wouldn’t know. Grandma knew better.

The corridor’s wall started wobbling as if it were breathing, and just in front of her, between the hanging pictures, Grandpa’s kind face appeared. A big smile spread across his face as soon as he saw her looking at him. “Sweetie,” he said silently and winked playfully ... that’s what he called her from the moment she was born. ”I love you”.

“I love you too”, Lena replied without saying a word out loud. “Aren’t you dead?”

“Yes, I'm dead”, he winked again. “But that's fine, I don’t have a problem with it”.

Lena smiled at him and wondered if she had a problem with it. No, she didn’t.  “They are fighting in there,” she thought at him.

“Yes, I know”, he thought back.” Don’t worry, they will resolve their issues”.

Lena agreed, and then his face disappeared, and the wall turned white and solid again. But after a moment his face protruded again from the wall. “Don’t be sorry for me, Lena”, Grandpa said.” My time had come. But I want to ask you to do something.”

“Yes Grandpa”, Lena’s face lit up. “I'll do anything you want”.

In my nightstand drawer there is a pocket watch given to me by my father, given to him by his father. I want to give you this watch to remind you that time is finite. You should enjoy what you have and not think about what you don’t have. Do you understand that, Lena?”, asked the  face in the wall.

Lena felt she understood a bit of what he wanted to say. She had to take the watch and keep it. She wanted to tell Grandpa not to worry, she’d do it, but the face disappeared again, and the voices from the room got louder and clearer: "No need to call a doctor," she heard Grandma say. "What can a doctor do here? He is dead!."

"You cannot bury someone without a doctor seeing him and declaring he is dead," Helen's voice sounded strained, on the verge of explosion. "We live in a modern world, Mom, not in the Wild West. It’s time you act like everyone else."

"We don’t need a doctor, Helen." Even Grandma’s voice sounded strained. "We need to get a coffin and dig a grave. We need to invite people to the funeral this afternoon, and to buy refreshments to serve the guests after the funeral. That’s what we need!"

"Your way, again! Wake up, Mom. Our lives have just changed!" Helen sounded angry and upset, and Lena knew what would happen from here on out. She would start crying, would lean on George who would embrace her and move her to another place, one that was away from Grandma.

"Relax," George’s pleasant voice was heard cooing. Helen stopped talking and sobbed quietly.

"George," Elizabeth’s deep voice was stable now, "Can you go into town and buy a coffin from the undertaker? It does not matter what kind, as long as they can deliver it by four. I suggest we hold the funeral at five-thirty."

"Don’t worry, Elizabeth.  I'll do whatever is needed, and we'll get through it together," George said softly.

"Lena, where's Lena?" Helen said, suddenly remembering her daughter.  

"She‘s in the hallway, waiting for us." Elizabeth looked reproachfully at her daughter, who was leaning against her husband. Helen's face was whiter than ever, and her curly hair was sticking out.  It looked as if, without George's mighty grip, her thin, fragile body would crash to the ground. If it were up to her, Elizabeth thought, Lena would have been standing here with them, around the bed. Death is a part of life, not an event that children must be shielded from. Death is the most powerful ally of life: ticking the time away, a reminder of the need to use the time while it is still possible.

"I'll go to her," George said, "You wait here."

"Hey, Lena," George knelt down to match her height as he spoke to her. He held her to his chest, and she clung to him, leaning her curly head on his broad shoulder as he stroked her soft hair.

"Don’t worry; everything is fine. It is sad that Grandpa died, I know but everything will be fine. We will go through it together." Lena cuddled deeper, sniffing his clean smell that reminded her of trees after the rain. George moved her back a bit and looked at her face that bore no tears or sign of sadness. "You aren’t crying?" he asked.

"No," she shook her head and her big blue eyes stared at him. She probably doesn’t understand, he thought. And rising to his feet he gave her his hand as they went into the kitchen.

"Mom and I have to go to town to run some errands. Would you like to stay here with Grandma, or would you rather come with us?".

"I want to stay here," Lena replied firmly. She was not going to miss any concoction or potion Grandma was going to prepare from the plants.  

"I’ll tell Mom," he said and looked in her eyes softly. Grandma entered the kitchen loaded with bundles of dried plants and white fleshy roots, which had been thoroughly scrubbed. George and Helen got ready to leave. Helen’s quiet sobs were followed by her husband’s soft and soothing words.

"Do you want me to go with them or stay here with you, Grandma?" Lena asked as Grandma lifted the lid of the pot on the stove. Vapors billowed and hovered overhead.
"Stay with me," Grandma's eyes were fixed on Lena's.

As soon as the car disappeared down the dirt road, trailing a dust cloud, Grandma put on the black rubber boots. She gave Lena a similar pair that had once belonged to Helen. "They’ll be too big for you, but you’ll manage," she said, and she stepped out with heavy, decisive steps. Lena slipped her feet into the giant boots and trudged after Grandma. "Take the small shovel," Grandma directed, handing Lena a shovel that was twice her size. In her other hand Grandma held the big shovel with the pointed tip. Lena pushed her hair out of her eyes and held the heavy tool in her tiny hands.

"To the edge of the cliff," Elizabeth pointed towards the picnic table that stood at the edge of the plot overlooking the Ojai valley. Grandma stomped heavily but vigorously, her boots crunching tiny gravel that crackled with every step. Her broad body swayed from side to side, and Lena felt she was walking behind a huge wall towering over her. She tried to walk at a similar pace to keep up, but the big boots and heavy shovel hindered her and the distance between the two grew. Grandma never looked back until she stopped by a group of old oaks that grew alongside the mountain’s rocky slope. By the time Lena reached her, Elizabeth had decided on the appropriate burial place for Henry. It was a small patch of grass that sprouted among four oaks. The sun could reach it, despite the great canopy of the trees. The ground was still damp from the winter rains. Grandma lifted her shovel up and brought it down with a powerful thrust, slicing into the soft grass. She pulled back on the handle and lifted out soft, dark chunks of soil. “This is where we dig,” she said to Lena. “I’ll shovel out the earth, and you move it aside.”

Grandma started digging, dumping dirt in Lena’s direction, who tried to sweep the heavy clumps aside. The shovel was too big and heavy for her small body, and she struggled with the muddy dirt. Under her thin nightgown, her body shivered from the morning chill. I’ll get warm soon, she thought, and kept moving the clumps Grandma dug out from the pit that was opening before her.

Elizabeth dug diligently, as if it her existence depended upon this excavation. She trusted the shovel forcefully into the ground, cutting and tearing chunks of fresh green grass, piling heavy clods on the shovel and tossing them aside. Again and again the shovel penetrated the hole and came up packed with wet dirt. Grandma paid no attention to Lena. She did not notice the cold wind whispering in the oaks, nor did she hear the sound of dirt thudding on the ground. She increased her speed and lengthened her swings, wanting to finish the job as quickly as possible. She did not realize that the deeper the hole got, the wilder her throws became until she tossed the soil directly on Lena, who was struggling to keep up . Lena was frightened the first time the cold, wet clods hit her, and she tried to shake them out of her hair and off her nightgown. But as the soil continued to pelt her, she grew used to it and kept working as if nothing had happened. Her fair hair was covered with a dark film of dirt and flying debris coated her nightgown and wedged itself into her boots. Her hands were sore and tired from the hard work, and she paused to rest. Grandma dug like a machine, and Lena felt bad that the old woman continued while she stopped to rest. So she continued working, even after painful blisters started to form on her tender hands and her legs began to tremble. She prayed that Grandma would stop digging, so they could go home and drink hot chocolate. 

The pit grew deeper. Grandma was inside of it now, dumping dirt around the brim. For a second Lena thought that Grandma had disappeared in the hole. She bent down to look inside, but the flying dirt chunks confirmed her existence. Lena almost cried at the thought that Grandma was digging a hole to bury herself, and one day, even if not now, she would lie there, and Lena wouldn’t be able to visit her anymore. A small tear rolled down her cheek, tracing a clean path on her mud-stained face. Lena did not want Grandma to ever die. She was not ready for that. Some people are harder to lose than others. And Grandma was one she could not afford to lose.

When Helen and George returned from the city, it was already noon. The digging had ended, and Grandma had bathed Lena, not wanting her parents to notice the marks the digging had left on her. A simple wooden coffin was tied to the roof of the station wagon and Elizabeth helped them unload and bring it inside. Helen looked miserable. Her eyes were inflamed and her eyelids quivered nervously. It was evident that she was very distracted, since she paid no attention to Lena, who was tying dried sage bundles with black ribbons and stacking them on the kitchen table. If she knew their purpose was to be burnt by Grandma at the funeral for protection against darkness, she never would have allowed her child to observe these preparations, much less participate in them. While they were in the city, Helen and George had gone to the hardware store owned by one of Grandpa’s friends. They told him about the funeral and asked him to notify the friends with whom Henry played cards on Thursdays. They also posted a funeral notice at the entrance to the shop: Henry Waterbell had passed away during the night and the funeral was to be held later that same day.

Helen aimlessly walked through the house. Eventually she found a white cloth, spread it on the dining table and arranged the refreshments that   were to be served to the guests. She had always disliked hostessing, since her organizational capabilities were limited. She felt as if her head were swirling in a whirlpool and that soon her entire body would be sucked into it and disappears forever.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth and George lifted Grandpa’s body, which almost slipped from their hands, and laid him in the coffin. Grandpa was heavy and both gasped as they noticed how the body listed slightly to one side. Grandma straightened it, covering Henry with a white sheet so no one could see he was still wearing his pajamas. They did not make him up in the customary way, but Grandma did slide his hair to one side to cover his baldness. Two fellows from the hardware store came by and ceremoniously escorted the coffin to the open grave.  Grandma called the priest. "I'm very sorry," he said. "Henry was a man of great stature, a quiet man with soulfulness. I am honored to accompany him on his last journey." Grandma didn’t really care about the customs of religion, but she knew Henry would have liked it.

Helen needed to rest. She got into bed and curled up in a fetal position. Grandma got in the shower. Lena sat in a rocking chair on the porch, showing her doll the surrounding views. George walked around the house, checking everything, then he went to the grave site to see if it was deep enough, since he found it hard to believe that Elizabeth was able to dig a deep enough hole on her own. He had not thought about the need to dig a grave, and even when they came back and found that Elizabeth had done it, he didn’t realize the size of the task. But now, when he had a moment to himself, he was amazed at the capabilities of this older woman, who never ceased to surprise him. It never crossed his mind that Lena had assisted.

The funeral was modest. About twenty people came, most of them old friends, some of them neighbors. There were also some of Grandma’s clients, who came to her so she would sew clothes, whisper spells, and give them potions.  "Henry was an honest, humble, peaceful man," eulogized the priest. "He lived an honorable life. May he rest peacefully in heaven."

Lena, holding Helen's hand, was wondering what heaven looked like, and if Grandpa was out of the wall in the hallway. Helen cried, choking on her tears, and even George wiped a few tears that fell under his round glasses. Lena did not cry, not even when the coffin was lowered into the pit. She looked around, observing the emotions on people’s faces. Sadness was something that everyone feels differently, she decided.  What makes one sad does not necessarily touch another. The sky was clear and there was no wind blowing. Grandma’s face was clear, but her eyes were fixed on a point very far away. She was on the lookout, standing vigil over the ceremony, so that everything would go as it should, and not even a small particle of evil would break in at the last moment.

The undertakers, with George’s help, began piling the same dirt that Lena had recently moved away onto the coffin. Grandma took the straw basket containing the dried sage bundles that Lena had constructed earlier and handed one to each woman standing around the grave. As she lit the edge of it with a steady hand, heavy sweet smoke billowed from the burned sage. As more bundles were lit, the air grew so thick and heavy that everyone almost chocked.

Elizabeth started to hum an ancient Indian song Lena had never heard before. Yet, she knew it somehow. She joined the mournful humming with Grandma.  It was a very sad song, and even if no one could understand the words, they understood it was a funeral dirge. 

The heavy smoke blinded Lena, and for a moment she was enveloped in white smoke and melody. Suddenly, a beautiful face appeared in the haze.  The face of a man she had never seen, yet she knew that this man was hers, and she his, as only those who truly loved know their lover's face. An old pain pierced her heart and a vague memory shattered and burned in her throat. Her eyes flooded with tears, and her heart was filled with ancient sadness. She reached toward the face in the smoke, to touch it, hold it, but her little hand groped only air. The smoke cleared, and her hand dropped, limp with disappointment as  the beautiful haunting face etched itself deep into her young heart.


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