There was a bird's nest in the cemetery in December in 2020. I pointed it out to Maggie. It was in a hole in a tree trunk, just a few feet off the ground, and we could look into it. We could watch the mother and father tit flying in and out while Pavlina's family ate sugared wheat and cried at the wall of niches where the ashes were interred.
Baba Zvezda died during the Covid Pandemic at the age of 99. During her life, her house expanded, first to two stories, then to four as her older daughters and grand-daughters married engineers. Her younger grand-daughter and her husband became doctors. Her own younger daughter and adult granddaughter lived with her in the apartment her son-in-law built for them. Baba Zvezda settled disputes about the garden guided by her dreams and aided in the waking world with a shovel. She made sure her younger daughter, Danche got her medication for paranoid schizophrenia. For the past year, Pavlina had been trying to forgive the old matriarch for leaving her with this current mess.
On the way home from the funeral, I shared a car with Rumi, Danche's adult daughter and I commented on the beauty of the old cemetery, with its trees and bird's nests. "You must think it's messy and over-grown," said Rumi. "It's not at all like American cemeteries." I actually had trouble understanding her. When you're speaking a foreign language, you lean heavily on your expectation of what the other person should say, but here it seemed as if we were having two different conversations.
Danche and Rumi were now alone, directionless, with very little income, and at least one of them with unmedicated schizophrenia. "You killed my mother," Danche told her grieving niece, the doctor. She thought I snuck into her apartment to steal her father's documents, and told the story so convincingly that I felt guilty. Then Pavlina asked them if her grandparents (Danche's sister and brother-in-law) could move onto the first floor with them. Pavlina's grandparents have respectively bone spurs in the hips and senile dementia. It takes them an hour to climb the stairs to our apartment. Can they move in with you? "You think you can trick us into selling our land? This whole house is built on our land." Red and black threads began to turn up on the stairwell - witchcraft - and my younger daughter's bike went missing from our shared basement.
The cruelty of schizophrenia is the way it turns you against the people who would help you fight it. Danche is related to doctors, but she doesn't trust them to speak to her, let alone give her medication. An old lady in her seventies, should be surrounded by her family, but Pavlina and her cousin won't let our kids on the first floor, because what might she say to them? A few years ago, before all this, Danche left milk boiling on the stove and forgot about it. I smelled the smoke, went downstairs, and took care of the problem. Now she keeps her door locked.
Pavlina has done more than forgiveness exercises. She's spent the last two years looking for ways to either (a) build an elevator onto our house or (b) move her grandparents into an apartment building with elevators. Last week, my mother-in-law came home with a bottle of champagne and a signed contract with a construction company. Yesterday, she and Pavlina went to the neighborhood police to respond to an accusation of illegal parking and report a death-threat uttered during an altercation on my older daughter's birthday. Next week, we'll have security cameras installed in the basement.
This isn't a story about what ought to happen, but about what does happen. We move, as Pavlina likes to say, over problems, under them, and through.
I keep writing. The World's Other Side is now coming out now on Royal Road and Substack as well as here on Patreon. Which platform do you like? I'm going to do some more promotion in November, and we'll see if I can get some more subscribers.
Third Realm is moving, even if I'm not ready to post much from it yet. I had to cut back on my conlanging habit, but you might have noticed the tweaks I made to the map and place names. And here are some Central European megafauna, part of a subplot that came to me in a dream. Oooh!
And I read some things:
The Darkness That Comes Before, by R. Scott Bakker.
This was my first re-read, or rather re-listen-to, and I almost didn't go through with it because of the narrator. He did a good Esme and his Cnaiür was okay, but too often he just didn't understand the words he was reading. I kept listening because they were some good words: "and always, his own inarticulate hand drifts over the pool and, in a quiet moment of insanity, touches it."
The Waves Arisen by Wertifloke
A Naruto fanfic recommended by a friend after I complained about delays in the release of Jack Voraces's excellent Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality audiobook serialization. The Waves Arisen scratches one of the same itches as HPMR (playing with the rules of the source material's magic system), but with a disappointingly shallow insight into the characters. Only Naruto himself got some depth, and the author glossed over some big interesting questions (what are the tailed beasts and why do they want what they want? How can njinja and non-magic "civilians" coexist?) in favor of magic ninja battles. They were fun battles, but I'd recommend Will Wight's Cradle instead.
The Coming of the Terror in the French Revolution by Timothy Tackett
Tackett uses letters written by normal French people during the Revolution to summarize its history and make the point that the new government's reign of terror was caused by its own members' fear and insecurity. Fair enough, although I would have liked more and longer quotations from the letters themselves. The writers of the letters have clearly become real people to Tackett, but they weren't given enough time on the page to become real people for me. There's an episode where Nicholas Ruault sees an old friend on a cart being carried to his execution, and leans against a wall, helpless to stop his tears and terrified that someone will see him, and have him carted off too. That's something that needed to be in the first person.
Orbital Claims Adjuster by Andrew Moriarty
I read this one (the second in the series) without having read the first, which was fine. The setting is interesting: a collection of abandoned asteroid mining companies by have to cobble together a civilization before their tech all ages beyond the point of repair. The main character is interesting too: an accountant mis-cast as a space-pirate/spy. The plot didn't really come together, but it entertained me enough that I'll probably read the next book. I do warn the reader, however, there is not nearly enough claims-adjusting in this book. Hardly any at all, in fact.
The Night of Four Hundred Rabbits by Elizabeth Peters
I love the Amelia Peabody mysteries and I like Vikky Bliss, but this book was sub-par Peters. Part of the problem was that the main character is much more passive than Peters's other heroines, and spends most of her time as a victim. The other problem is that Peters doesn't seem as interested in the Aztecs as she was in the Ancient Egyptians or the Medieval Germans. The love doesn't shine through. The bad guy and the mystery are okay, but muddled. This was one of her early books, and Peters didn't have her craft figured out.
Daniel M. Bensen