Cauldron Anthology Sphinx - 2 - Page 13

the lot of them. The crunching of the gravel under his feet matches the rhythm of my rocking chair. Back and forth. Left and right. Stone and wood. Woman and man. I do not recognize him, which is unusual. There are not many people around here, certainly not so many that my mind can’t keep track of them. This doubt, this vertigo, is new and harsh and I shiver in the sunlight. In a town of familiars, we are the oddities: the Kalip Women, living and dying in the big stone house by the Great River. No man ever climbs the lioness-flanked steps, yet a baby girl arrives once every generation, shrieking with the shock of living, there to grow and learn and take the place of the others who must die, one by one. In other places, in other times, we would have been hunted as witches or persecuted as Romani (who are a great and powerful people, though no relation to us, more’s the pity). But, for now at least, we are left to our solitude, only tasked with answering the questions of people seeking their own version of the truth. The man stops short of the stairs, peering up at me with a stranger’s eyes. I would remember those eyes, I’m sure of it. Not the color or the shape; they are nothing remarkable and, I suppose, easy enough to forget for most people. But those eyes . . . Those are old eyes, even if the man in possession of them appears to be about my own age of three score and one. Ancient eyes, telling of times long ago when the Kalip Women were the ones who asked the questions and woe to those who answered in untruths. I doubt my eyes would look as old if I sought my reflection in a still pond. I have never seen eyes like these before. ~ Time hangs in the air between us, like a still-ticking clock frozen between Then and Never. Is it pressing down on him the way it is on me? This is not the way things are supposed to be. On a normal day, the seeker, usually a man, will stumble over an embarrassed greeting. At a nod from me, he will place his offering on the ground at his feet and then ask his question. The questions almost always ends the same way: “What should I do?” And my answer is almost always: “What do you want to do?” But this is not going to be a typical transaction of clarity for money, reassurance for coin, wisdom for sustenance. This is not a normal day. Just silence from him and from me with only the creaking of my chair to give any indication of the passage of time. Back and forth. Back and forth. ~ Finally I can bear the silence no more. “Who are you?” My throat constricts at the novelty of being the first to speak. Seconds become minutes as we just stare at each other. Then . . . 13