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Memory of Magic
    by Jacob A. Boyd

Memory of Magic
Artwork by M. Wayne Miller

This is how I imagined it.

Coppers Rest would band together and dig Daddy free before the year's first snowfall. Standing with one foot still in the mine, Daddy would squint at the sun and smile. A breeze would ruffle the wispy, auburn beard which would've grown down to his chest, while a broad-winged hawk kited overhead, its body a russet blaze against the limitless blue. Sprays of violet asters would line the path down to camp. The mine would reward Daddy for his suffering, his endurance, his example. Wearing a formal top hat, the mayor would shake Daddy's hand. They'd hold the pose and wait for the reporters' sulfur bulbs to flash. The story would chitter out across the transcontinental wire.

But there was no use pretending.

As I lay in bed reading the last book Daddy had bought me, the world was the wind howling down from the pass, colder each day. It was the walls of the shack creaking. It was the squeal and crumble of mine carts unloading and making up for lost time. A lantern flame and too little oil.

It was, and couldn't un-be.

Madame Blye agreed. While she rarely made house calls, she said she had made an exception for me. She ran a house for working girls, but she hadn't come on business, rather something more important. School teacher Strobel told her I hadn't returned to class since the cave-in. His best girl, thirteen years old, I should've been someone to look up to. Where was I instead, burying my head in a book? Yes, I had a right to my sorrow, but it wasn't sustaining. I should've faced facts sooner. The exploratory tunnel was closed. Daddy was gone.

She wasn't telling me because she was heartless. She wanted to take me in until I left for my Aunt Claire's back East in the Spring. It would take at least a season to grieve.

It was, truly, a pity.

From the way she said it, I knew her compliments to Daddy about my grace, about my tender eyes, about my silken black hair, so much like her own, had been strokes of a blade on a whetstone.

I ran away at nightfall.

Crouching among the short pines below tree line, I peered back at the shacks and buildings of camp, their outlines like so many boulders painted with cold moonlight. I darted for the train snaking along the Banner River on the valley floor.

Rounding a granite outcropping, I almost stepped on you. You made a breathy little noise and startled me.

At first, I mistook you for an abandoned baby. But you were smaller, more like a baby mouse, pink and hairless with dark, swollen eyes you couldn't open, tiny limbs reaching out for a kind touch.

Daddy had said little wizards lived in the mountainside woods. He said that was how he had ended up with me. He had found me, too. I had been a little wizard. I just couldn't remember the magic I had in me -- I would one day, maybe. It was the way he told it to make me feel better that Momma had died of a swift sickness before I could remember her. School teacher Strobel had told me about it, told of how strong Daddy was to stick it out with me. His word trumped Daddy's. But seeing you, I felt I had betrayed Daddy by smiling at him like he was making fun.

When I picked you up it felt like God had crawled inside my skin and was trying it on to see if I still fit.

I wrapped you in my blanket, hid you in a hollow behind spiny brush, then returned to camp.

I was too old and too far gone; I had grown into the world. I couldn't remember the wizard I had been.

I was going to make it different for you.

Four things I knew:

One: Anyone who saw you other than Madame Blye and Old Jain would take you away and put you in a home for lost children. There, you'd forget the big wizard you had been before too much magic had stripped your mind bare and shrunk your body.

Two: If Madame Blye saw you, she'd take you and rear you and put you to work beside her man Big Roy.

Three: For the right price, Old Jain would keep anything secret.

Four: When reared back into the big wizards they had been, little wizards can perform miracles.

I went to Madame Blye's house for working girls. In those days, it was a multi-storied jumble of mismatched additions extending from a barracks-like dorm. I told her I'd very much like to take her up on her offer. I couldn't stay in Daddy's shack. She said she had visited the shack the night before. No one was there. She had been afraid I had fled before proper respects were paid. She was glad I hadn't. It would've been a shame. Daddy's eternal rest aside, I lived in the real world. After being released at the end of the month, Daddy's final pay would've languished on the mine's books until it was marked as abandoned. A girl alone like me could use that pay. Daddy wouldn't have wanted his hard work to go to waste. I was making the right choice to wait for it.

I told her she was generous and thoughtful.

She smiled and said I must be hungry and tired, then had Big Roy show me to my room on the side of the house opposite where the girls worked, the newest addition. The door struck the bed when opened. The room was windowless and drafty, big enough for a sleigh frame bed with cushioned mattress, nightstand with candle, and a standing oval mirror. No sooner had I looked at my growling stomach in the mirror than Big Roy delivered a meal the likes of which I hadn't seen except for when Daddy cleared new tunnels leading to rich veins of gold. Big Roy left, closing the door behind him.

A contented swoon overcame me once I finished eating, and I fell asleep. Throughout the night, heavy boots dragged across floorboards in the hall. Strange shifting lights from foul-smelling chemical lanterns reached through the gap under the door and almost touched the bed.

In the morning, I asked Madame Blye about the noises, the lights. She said though my room was far from where work was done, the men who frequented her services roamed the halls. They didn't consider much off limits, but I shouldn't worry. She had a special eye on me. And there was always Big Roy.

Stories told about Big Roy:

Big Roy has never spoken. When spoken to, he only understands Madame Blye. They have a secret language, which so closely mimics common language it's indistinguishable. It's tonal. Pitch has something to do with it. And body language. Timing, too.

Big Roy does whatever Madame Blye tells him to do. When he has no instructions, he sulks about the house looking for her. If he can't find her, he works himself into a dither. It's like he's playing a game of hide and seek with serious consequences. Once worked up, he can only be calmed with lullabies. His favorite is Still, Still, Still.

During a fight in which Big Roy killed three men, he was stabbed a dozen times. He was acquitted on grounds of self-defense; he was unarmed. At the men's funeral, Madame Blye spoke for Big Roy and said he felt bad it had all happened like it did. Before the judge, his face, like his body, was broad and strong and challenging, as if his skin stretched over unchanging stone. Everyone who saw his face during the fight was dead, so no one could say whether his expression had remained unchanged then, too, like it was before the fight and at the funeral.

Big Roy never limps. Or coughs. Or sneezes. Some say he never blinks, but that's an exaggeration. He blinks when you blink.

A working girl named Sally once tried to thank Big Roy for throwing out a drunk who had flown off the handle due to an unfortunately timed giggle. She took down Big Roy's overalls and was confused by what she saw. She quashed her repulsion -- men are built in all manner of ways -- and did her best with her hand, then her mouth until Big Roy left without becoming aroused. The next day, Sally was gone. Madame Blye told the other girls Sally had been sent down the valley to the salvation home for girls who had gotten themselves into a situation. Sally never returned.

Big Roy eats rock candy all the time and his teeth never go bad. Madame Blye buys it for him. He's not allowed to handle money. He's no good with it, doesn't understand it. When he has it, he gives it away or loses it.

The pines around Old Jain's shack grew so thick that it couldn't be seen from Madame Blye's house for working girls. Only when a plume of steam rose from Old Jain's liquor still was it easy to pinpoint. Even then, the trees and berms and boulders and streams had a way of leading one's eyes and one's mind in the wrong direction. On the ground approaching it, the effect was claustrophobic, with the only safe passage leading away from Old Jain's.

When I returned to the working house after searching for the right path, Madame Blye eyed my wet boots, torn dress, and the muck caked under my fingernails. I told her I had needed time alone and a long walk to think about things. Her nose flared as though scenting my trail on me.

By the end of the week, her interest had grown so acute I resolved to take you with me during my next foray. I couldn't wait until I found a safe route. There were none. The routes I hadn't tried were so dangerous that if I were to have died, it would've been a gentler mercy for you to die with me than for you to dehydrate and starve to death while swaddled in a hollow.

It is enough to say that I was not much hurt, and you not at all, though I was certain at times my footing would plunge us into dark recesses, only to find the rocks and hummock as firm as my certainty that they'd provide my last steps on Earth.

Old Jain's shack looked like it had crashed down the mountainside in an avalanche, then decided to stop and rest and crumble awhile before it continued down to the valley floor. Old Jain opened its door as soon as I saw it. She looked like she had made the same decision to wait and crumble awhile.

She said I should come in. She couldn't turn me away now that I had come so far. Yes, she'd take my child, but there was a price, and if I didn't pay it, she'd eat the child, bones and all. I didn't see any children running around her place, did I?

I showed you to her before introducing myself. Her voice sharpened with excitement. She asked where I had found you and how long I had you and a welter of other questions she garbled half in a language I didn't understand, then apologized. She hadn't seen a real little wizard for a very long time, and had forgotten herself, like it was old times.

I told her I had been hiding you and keeping you warm and dry. The hollow you were in muffled your cries. I had been sneaking away and feeding you milk and cream from the food Big Roy brought me.

Old Jain bolted into her shack and returned with a small bottle of dark green liquid, which she poured into your mouth. It smelled like swampy frog legs. You became violently ill and pale and spat up with horrible retching noises. I yelled at Old Jain for poisoning you. She said it was for the best; the convulsions would pass. Trembling, thinking I had protected you only to deliver you to a hateful old harridan, thinking perhaps I should grab her bottle and drink the rest, I held you to my chest, and your convulsions passed. Color returned to your cheeks.

I told her you were mine, I intended to keep you, and she shouldn't try that again. Old Jain said it was unlikely she could hurt you without hurting herself. She hadn't found you. I had, although it was probably more the other way around, a joke in which I didn't find much humor. She was a queer sort of woman. She had lived alone so long I had a sense that her protective shell of self-preserving thoughts could be trusted, if not the words she used to express them.

I pleaded would she help me. I could no longer hide you in the woods. Madame Blye had grown interested in my long walks, and might begin accompanying me to talk things over before I did anything rash. If she did, she'd keep me away from you, and you were so small.

Old Jain's face scrunched with a grave expression of thought. She said I was so young, the girls didn't normally come so young, did I know what I was doing?

I told her about my hopes of teaching you the world again and rearing you back into a big wizard so you could raise Daddy from the mountain. Together, we'd leave Coppers Rest. Daddy never wanted this to be his final resting place.

She asked if I was prepared for such a thing.

I told her it didn't matter if I was prepared, I was going to do it with her or without her, but with her, it'd be easier. And hadn't she said she'd take my child when she opened the door?

She was silent for some time, and I felt I had made a mistake by trying to be rough with her.

She said she was old and it had been a long time since she cared for a little wizard. Last time, it hadn't gone so good. I said I'd pay her, and her expression became calculating and sad. I told her I'd do anything, name her price.

We agreed, price to be named later. She wanted to think on it.

Stories told about Madame Blye:

As a child, Madame Blye flew until taught not to by her parents. She has since forgotten how. Still, when walking on snow she leaves no footprints.

Madame Blye can't get pregnant. Some say it is because a snake slithered inside her and bit her womb. Of those who say that, some say it's still in her. If she didn't always wear her whalebone corset cinched so tight, she'd allow it room to move and grow, perhaps to burst free. She is never seen wearing anything but clothing that conceals all but her demure hands. Often she wears gloves, too, and big, fancy hats with wide, curvy brims adorned with raven feathers. Others say she was born infertile, yet grew so beautiful that men couldn't help themselves from a very young age. They say it was their ardor which led her to her line of work, since she couldn't stop their advances, only manage them.

Every year, Madame Blye selects one of her house's clients and personally attends to him. She is a screamer. Though the miner she selects always looks pleasantly dazed for weeks on end and babbles when asked what it was like, mentioning maybe the scent of burning strawberries or a sound nobody else heard during the act, like tolling bells, there is always concern when the act is in progress that someone is getting murdered.

Madame Blye knows the first poetry ever written and sometimes recites it under her breath.

Big Roy was Madame Blye's first client. He stays with her as a form of apology. She keeps him because it hasn't sufficed.

Madame Blye can give a man an orgasm just by looking at him. She taught some of her girls the trick. It doesn't always work. When it does, the men are so effusively shamed they return day after day to pay and prove their virility.

Madame Blye once said she thought about being a miner, but decided working on her back was the easier way to get the gold out of the mountain. Besides, there are deeper things than gold.

The price Old Jain and I agreed upon was no less than everything Madame Blye would let me keep. If I didn't pay it, she'd know. How, she didn't say, but I felt it prudent not to cross her even in thought that could lead to suspicion.

I told Madame Blye I'd need as much money as I could muster for my trip back East. I wanted to work. She said working for her wouldn't be proper. Her house had a reputation. I said I understood. She sat beside me on my bed and regarded the mirror as if her reflection looked out at her, not the other way around. She explained in great detail what men who spent twelve, sometimes twenty-four hours underground hired her girls to do. The least of the things they performed made me second guess raising you back into the world. The worst made me lightheaded. Madame Blye called for Big Roy to bring a cold towel and hot cup of licorice tea. She asked did she need to repeat any part of what she said? I said thank you, but no. She looked glad for it, as though she disliked explaining it to me, but I suspected it wasn't the descriptions she found distasteful, rather it was the honesty. She said I should be aware of what others would think of me for lending my labor to her establishment, for small things like beating the rugs or opening the curtains to the morning light, what they might suspect of me even now.

I told her I'd need to take some long walks to decide. She asked if I'd like Big Roy to accompany me, for protection. He wouldn't understand me if I talked to myself. I told her no, thank you; I needed to be alone-alone.

Old Jain looked cross when I explained to her why I had nothing to give her those first couple weeks. She said it had been a long time since she ate a little wizard. They fought going down and tasted gamey. Also, the indigestion. But that wouldn't stop her. I said it wasn't my fault. I explained to her about Daddy's final pay, which was scheduled to be released at the end of the month. Madame Blye would count it, and apologize that it fell short of the expenses incurred while boarding me. Then she'd act like she saw something in me, like I had known and taken advantage of her. It was all part of her plan. She intended to put me to work in her lineup, like she had with the other girls whose Daddies died digging for gold. Then, I'd be making money. But things had to take their course. Madame Blye had to talk herself into it, had to think I deserved my lot.

Old Jain looked sad, and asked if I was sure I wanted to go through with it. She didn't usually renegotiate, but if I wanted, I could back out of the deal before things got out of hand. She said she'd dispose of you humanely, out of sight, and I wouldn't be responsible. I told her I already was responsible, and if I was the kind of person to constantly renegotiate my convictions, I'd end up at Madame Blye's working house anyway, but not on my own terms. She said Daddy must've been quite a man. I asked her please not to talk about him. She said she wouldn't, but she needed something more than stories to show I was acting in good faith.

I told her I'd bring something.

Back in camp, the door to Daddy's shack hung open. The one room had been rummaged through by looters, left bare to the walls. Wind whistled down the stovepipe where it protruded down from the ceiling and opened to the sky. Only the last book Daddy had bought me lay on the floor, half its pages missing. What remained was the first half, which I had already read. I brought it to my room in Madame Blye's. Big Roy greeted me as though he wanted to say something. His quiet, embarrassed gaze lingered on the book like he recognized it and it worried him. Madame Blye escorted Big Roy away, then returned and asked what I had. I explained to her that it was all that was left from Daddy's shack, a silly story book about things that weren't even real. She nodded and said it was unfortunate that people could be so cruel, but I had to learn to live with it.

The route to Old Jain's hadn't grown easier with practice. When I eventually reached her and presented the book, tears streamed down my face. I told Old Jain the book still told a story, just not all of it, and I didn't mean to ruin it. It was all I had. She accepted it with kind solemnity and said I shouldn't worry. All I had was all she asked.

Stories told about Old Jain:

Old Jain lived in the mountainside woods long before the haul from Coppers Rest grew so large it couldn't be ignored, back before it had been named to hide it from would-be claim jumpers. She had a husband then. He had been the first man to join the mine operation, and the first to die for it in a cave-in. On dusky nights, she can be seen on the high snowfields basking in the moonlight directly above where his body resides in the mountain. She leaves no footprints and can make herself look like a boulder if you look too close.

For each glass of the liquor she distills, Old Jain controls how many fights it'll contain. It's in her recipe. To minimize their occurrence, it's best to remain on her good side and never say anything bad about her. Her hearing is excellent. She can walk on tiptoes for miles. Still, there have been bloody, drunken rows for no identifiable reasons -- no one admitted to bad-mouthing her. After them, people loudly talk about their bruises and pains, so Old Jain can hear and add an equal measure of songs and laughter and kisses to her next batch.

Old Jain eats children who stray too far out of sight. She eats everything, leaving no trace whatsoever the child existed. It's bad luck to have one's child eaten by Old Jain. Best practice is to forget the child altogether and never mention the gruesome affair.

Old Jain never tells secrets.

Old Jain knows where all the gold in the mountain is, but it's a secret.

Old Jain can touch her elbows together behind her back, touch them to the tip of her nose, and kiss them smack on their points. She can fold herself down to fit inside a hatbox. She can whisper so low ghosts can hear her.

Madame Blye counted Daddy's final pay with severe disappointment. She asked whether I thought I was smart. Did I think the food I had been eating was free? She said she would've given me the normal fare, but I had acted confident that what I was given was well within my means. Hers was a working house. Hadn't she explained that? I had said I was listening. Yet there I was, going off on long walks all day, avoiding class, working up an appetite. With room already tight, did I plan to freeload? She could turn a profit in my room. It wasn't right.

She continued with such a purposeful account of the slight I had repaid her for her generosity that near the end of it, I wondered if yes, it was true, what I had done was wrong, and didn't I need to repay her in her fashion? It was only when she left my room that I returned to my senses and trembled. At some point, I had nodded when I shouldn't have, and it was all going to happen faster than I had expected.

Big Roy returned with a rug and an elaborate wire rug-beater twisted to look like a series of concentric hearts. I dragged the rug out front and draped it over the hitching post. Each whoomping beat reverberated through my body and numbed my hands. Sooty dust stung my nose, sending me into flights of sneezes. When I finished, Big Roy unslung it and brought another. And another. And another. I was determined to show Madame Blye she couldn't break me with something so menial. I imagined myself sweaty and spent, all the rugs clean, me victorious. But one never knows how strong something is until one cleans it. And to do the job well and quickly would only have hastened what Madame Blye had for me next, perhaps even worsened it, since it would've proven I was capable and stubborn. It was a poisonous, regrettable thought, which prolonged the task so I didn't finish until the miners who came off shift left the bathhouse and began entering Madame Blye's past me. They smiled when I defiantly met their eyes, like my resolve was a small, comely thing; they were men who worked in the dark with pickaxes and granite. They worked around explosives.

Big Roy escorted me back to my room and brought a shallow tin dish of watery corn meal, a boiled potato half-submerged in its center. He did not bring utensils. The potato looked like an egg, but tasted old and earthy and over-boiled. It tasted like something was missing.

I slept in fits with my back against the door, and woke intermittently to drafts that reached under it and fondled me. My head hurt, my stomach churned, my skin crawled.

After the rugs, it was the curtains, then the floors, the woodwork, the walls, the windows. Then, finally, the mattresses. Each day's meal made me feel more normal, allowed me to sleep further through the night. When I woke I was hungry, and the meals set me right.

The other girls remained out of sight until the mattresses, when I went into their rooms. They were wan in their corsets, like their clothing constricted so tightly their blood took its time passing through each exquisitely shaped limb. One after another, they offered advice in spitefully courteous whispers. Don't wear yourself out, you'll need your strength. Make this last as long as you can. You're Madame Blye's favorite. She has it out for you. Don't think about tomorrow. Tomorrow is the only thing that matters.

I was imposing on them. I was giving them a moment of relief. My presence told them they were being replaced, their experience not worth a damn. I was the only person they could tell the things they had learned and make their experiences meaningful. I was someone they had to teach. I was someone they had to discourage. If they couldn't, I was someone to break.

Madame Blye delivered a tray of food to my room when I finished with the mattresses. As I ate, energy quickened through me, something fully returned to the meal that had been missing since those first weeks. Madame Blye's gaze approvingly slid over me, and she said I could take one of my long walks, if I wanted -- alone-alone.

Old Jain said she had been expecting me. She showed me how you had grown and were causing trouble. You had crawled into the stillworks and gotten stuck and afraid. She had to disassemble it all to free you. A dark shock of hair curled on your head like a wick. Your eyes were dark blue. They focused on me with profound, wordless intent. I hefted you, and told her you were bigger, but that you felt lighter than I remembered. She looked into my eyes and pinched my tongue and poked at my gums. She looked sad and asked if I had forgotten about our agreement, did I have anything for her yet? I said no, but soon. I began to nod off. She said I couldn't sleep there. It wouldn't be good for me. I said I'd just close my eyes. She said I didn't understand and took you and made me leave.

Back at Madame Blye's, I undressed before my room's standing oval mirror and examined my body in the candlelight. My determination had been wrought in strong lines upon my limbs. I was beautiful. I slumped onto the bed. Madame Blye knew what she was doing. I felt her eyes on me, like my own eyes in the mirror. She didn't just want a clean house. My beauty, my strength, my resolve, they were traps, and they had captured me.

I cried, silently, so those who passed in the hall would suspect the room was nothing more than a broom closet.

The next day, I took my first client.

Stories told about school teacher Strobel:

School teacher Strobel doesn't need his glasses. He can see with his eyes closed. He can see behind him. He doesn't hold eye contact because he doesn't need to.

School teacher Strobel never sleeps. Instead, he paces.

In case his students would poison him, school teacher Strobel drinks a little poison every day to build up a tolerance. It's why he's such a short, wiry sneeze of a man, why his mustache never grows in right. He has many bottles of poison, which he hides all over camp. He checks and rechecks that nobody has gotten into them, and regularly moves them. He can be seen darting through camp late at night like a shadow between the buildings.

School teacher Strobel was the mine's first gang boss. He was a ferocious bellower. His voice caused so many cave-ins, he lost the job. Since, he has not raised his voice above a breathy falsetto. He promised the lost miners he'd do better by their children.

School teacher Strobel can read the handwriting of the dead. It's written everywhere, invisible vandalism to most -- dirty limericks making fun of the living. He scrubs it from the walls and desks and floor of his classroom. The ink the dead use gets on his hands and seeps into his mind. At times, he can be heard reciting the limericks to himself. He will not repeat them if asked. He doesn't know he's doing it. They aren't his words, and while he recites them, his body isn't his body.

School teacher Strobel knows how many children each of his students will have and what their names will be.

School teacher Strobel has never married; he prefers men. Or children, or animals, or the company of the dead, depending on who tells it.

Big Roy opened the door to my room for school teacher Strobel. School teacher Strobel entered and sat beside me on my bed without making eye contact. Once Big Roy closed the door and his footsteps retreated down the hall, school teacher Strobel asked why wasn't I dressed like the other girls?

I told him Madame Blye had yet to finish making me in her image. He said he hadn't known me to be blasphemous, but I hadn't been to class since . . . I told him please not to talk about Daddy. He told me I should come back. I told him if he had come to talk, there wasn't much to say. I was where I was. He said it didn't have to be that way. I was smart. I could stay with him. He'd pay my way back East. Daddy was a good man. He never made fun.

I looked at my reflection in the mirror. We were two people, we were one. Daddy was? Daddy is?

I wanted to tell him the plan wasn't to go back East. I wanted to ask him could he overlook that I was keeping a little wizard? Would he please not send you away? Please not punish me? Please not punish Old Jain? I wanted to tell him Old Jain was feeding off of me like Madame Blye was feeding off me, just from a different end. If I went with him, everything he had would become what I had, and he'd lose it.

Instead, I told him what he'd listen to.

I placed a hand on his leg. He jumped like it was ice on his bare skin. He told me stop. I told him Madame Blye would know if we didn't. He said he didn't care. I said there was Big Roy, too. He said he didn't want anyone to get hurt. I said it was too late for that. There was wanting and there was what was. He said they were one and the same. I told him no, he had to choose. He said he could hide me, if I was afraid. I told him hiding wasn't enough. He said Daddy was gone. I wasn't. I had to face facts.

I slapped him hard across the face, and asked how much money he had paid for me. He said it was just to meet me, to talk. I set my arms akimbo and thinned the color from my lips. I said I was tired of people trying to make of my life what they'd have of it. He may not approve, but I made my own choices. I opened the door and called for Big Roy.

When they were gone, Madame Blye handed me the money school teacher Strobel had paid. She said she never kept the first turn. It was mine. I could do with it what I would, go with it where I wanted, if anyone would take me, take it.

I told her I'd be back.

Old Jain took the money, and said it looked like I had made my decision. She showed me how you had grown. I said there must've been a mistake. It hadn't been that long. You were too big. Your dark eye evaluated me, searched the line of my body for meaning of who I was. She said that was how it happened with little wizards. They grew up fast. Sometimes so fast they forgot they had ever been wizards at all. That was what had happened with Madame Blye, not that she could've kept the magic in Madame Blye forever; the world worked on Madame Blye, men worked on her. Old Jain regretted it. I asked her what she could possibly regret. She had a home, a baby, a working still for money, and no one bothered her if she didn't want them. She was perfectly shut up from the world. I was in it. I was out there. She wasn't.

Old Jain's eyes grew cold. She said she wished she could just make the mountain disappear sometimes. She raised a fist before her eyes, blew across her knuckles, and flattened her palm so she glared at me across it. Like that, she said. The way she looked, I felt frost crawling up my spine.

She said that during long nights, it had occurred to her Madame Blye might be responsible for the cave-ins that followed the one that claimed her father. But she couldn't believe Madame Blye would go that far. What she could believe: after the cave-ins, Madame Blye always got the girls who reminded her of herself when she was little. She never let them get away. When she had them, she made them just like herself. Old Jain said she could've done better by Madame Blye. She would do better with you. The trick, she said, was not letting little wizards forget magic, not letting the world work on them and make their memory of it seem impossible. She said one had to frequently remind them. Even if they didn't understand. More often, if they didn't understand. What's more, one had to keep little wizards from overusing their magic when it came back to them, or it'd strip their minds bare again and shrink their bodies, making them unsuited for the world. It was a delicate balance.

I asked how much she'd need to do that. She looked at me like she didn't want to answer. I told her she didn't need to say it. I already knew. The deal hadn't changed. She needed all of it. But not from me. I couldn't make any more. I wouldn't make anymore. It had to be the other me who paid Old Jain, the me from the mirror. She'd have what it'd take to keep you safe so you could grow into the wizard you were, not me.

Stories told about Daddy:

Daddy slept on a bed of snow the first winter he was at Copper's Rest. He never complained. People suspected it was good for his back and tried it for themselves, but they couldn't take it. They said it gave him character for when he'd need it. Daddy fell asleep right when he closed his eyes. When the seasons changed and the snow melted at camp he slept on a rock. He only bought a bed when he met Momma. She wanted a mattress and blankets and a fire in the stove. He provided them, and she warmed him. After she died, snow wouldn't melt in Daddy's hands.

Daddy had a way of listening that told him if someone was lying. It was something about the words that gave them away. And the silences. And the spaces between. He wouldn't teach people how to listen like he did, because then they'd know how to lie and keep people from knowing it. He never played poker, wasn't welcome.

Daddy could dance all the dances people had forgotten, but he couldn't perform them on command. They occupied his limbs for their duration whenever they liked, and once satisfied, they left. Sometimes the dances lasted for minutes, though often they lasted for only a few steps. A leap. A tilt of his head. A spin. Sometimes they came upon him so he danced inside tight tunnels where others struggled and pulled themselves along with their elbows. The bigger the room, the more the dances got lost and couldn't find him.

Daddy couldn't lie.

Daddy could take a punch. One was never good enough for him. He always asked for two.

Daddy was never young. He was always as old as he was when the exploratory tunnel caved in.

Daddy could hold his breath for a day and go a week without eating. He stared into the sun so that he could see in the dark. He knew all the colors of the sky.

One day every year, Daddy drank a bottle of whiskey, climbed to the top of the mountain, and hammered a spike into the summit to keep it in place. The mine made him do it. Someone had to. It wouldn't let anyone else.

As long as Daddy is alive, the mountain won't go anywhere.

It's a strange thing when you do something and it changes you forever, or let it be done to you.

Madame Blye said it wouldn't always be like that. It'd get easier. Or if not easier, more familiar. I asked her if she remembered her first time? She looked into the mirror at the foot of my bed for so long I thought the question had gotten lost in her mind. Then she said no. She wouldn't look at me. She spoke to my reflection like I wasn't there anymore, only my reflection. She said I shouldn't lie to her anymore. She knew about school teacher Strobel. I asked her please not to hurt him. She placed the money on the bed, and said she shouldn't do this twice, but since the first time wasn't real, I could go on one of my walks if I liked. Take it, she said. Men always paid more for the first time. It wouldn't always be so much. If I wanted the same, I'd have to work for it. It was, she added, probably enough for a train ticket.

The trees and boulders and streams and berms that led to Old Jain's weren't in the right order. I had to backtrack and restart from Madame Blye's. Cold billowy fog spattered me with drizzle. Once I got there, you opened the door and stared at me and called inside for Old Jain. Your dark eyes were prepossessed with suspicion and fierce guarded challenge. Old Jain appeared and shooed you inside.

I told her you were so big, and the way you looked at me, had she told you about me? She looked sad and said no, she hadn't. She couldn't if you were to grow back into the wizard you were. I asked her if she could please tell you just a little about me, the right things, nothing that would keep you from becoming the wizard you were. She asked what could she tell you? Lies would be bad enough, but the truth would only make you suspicious, make you seek more truth. I asked how she'd explain my appearance in the rain, why she didn't ask me in to at least warm up and dry off. I was lost, she said. That's what she'd say. I needed directions. It was best I got to where I was going instead of linger. Someone was waiting for me.

I handed her the money. She counted it and asked if I was sure? I said yes. She said you didn't have a name yet, and she couldn't keep you forever without one. Would I like to name you? I said no. If you had found me, then you'd find yourself. She said that was an old way of doing things, and there was no telling how long she'd be able to keep you safe once you chose a name. I asked her if that was a bad thing. She shrugged. It was an old way, she said. Things change. Things change back.

I told her I'd continue to pay her. She looked sad and understanding. I described the hollow where I had hid you when I first found you, and told her I'd put the money there. She nodded. All of it, I said. I know, she said.

The way back to Madame Blye's wasn't as I had remembered it. It was longer, steeper. The streams were louder and faster running. The trees taller and more shadowing. The moon less bright. The boulders loose. They slipped free under foot and tumbled away. I sped on to escape the instability before seeing its effect on the trail behind me. It is enough to say that I was not much hurt.

Madame Blye was waiting for me under a lantern outside her house, where I collapsed against the hitching post. She called for Big Roy to carry me to my room and bring me a blanket and a proper change of clothes.

Big Roy was gentle. He looked down at me in his arms like he was sorry. He brought me a blanket and a corset and petticoats and undergarments. Madame Blye asked if I knew how to button myself into all of it. I said I didn't. She asked Big Roy to leave, then undressed to show me. When she removed her corset, her body expanded. Stretch marks stitched her slim stomach and stippled over her hips in little wavy lines. Her belly button was an outie. She told me not to stare. Her girls didn't stare. Besides, it could happen to anyone, despite how careful they were. The trick was never to let on that it had happened. Men would grow possessive and jealous if they knew. She dressed piece by piece as instruction, then called for Big Roy. When he arrived she told him to cinch her in. With deft hard tugs, he tied her corset. She said he'd do the same for me. Don't worry, she said. Not now. He'd be back in the morning.

I woke to the sounds of hammers and saws and heavy twanging lumber falling in stacks. They were building a new addition to Madame Blye's, and they were in a rush to get it completed before the first snowfall. It was long overdue.

Big Roy wouldn't let me eat before cinching me into my corset. Only after, when I was breathless and dizzy, my fingers and toes tingling, did he bring a meal. He lingered at my door while I ate. I stopped eating and watched him. He pulled something from his overalls pocket, tossed it onto the bed beside me, and fled before I could say anything. It was the second half of the book Daddy had bought me.

It seemed so long ago that I had read it, I couldn't remember what had happened in the first half. While reading what was left I lost myself in making up what had led to it. I hid it in my petticoats.

By the time I received my first month's wage, snow blanketed the valley and was as deep as the hitching post. The money wasn't much. There were deductions, my clothing for one. Heating, too. Food. Clean linens. Hot bath water, unless I'd like it cold.

I couldn't make it down to the hollow. I would've left a trail in the snow. People from camp would've followed it and emptied the cache. If they emptied the cache, nothing would've stopped them from continuing on in search of more that had been covered by snow. They could've found you. Worse, you may have seen their tracks and followed them to me.

Madame Blye paid me once a month. Her interest in me slackened, and she took notice only when I exchanged glances with Big Roy, when I touched his hand in passing, when I hugged him for no reason. It was harmless, and she had found another young girl, besides. They say the new girl was eleven years old.

When the seasons changed and the snow melted from camp, the hollow wasn't where I remembered it.

Stories told about me:

My name is Bonnie. My name is Winifred. My name is Delia. I am never the same person twice. That way, ghosts can't find me. They're confused by change.

I write prayers to the mountain and hide them up and down the slopes. They can be found mouldering under rocks, blowing along the mountainside, and stuffed down inside pockety hollows. They are rarely found intact. Those that are, are covered with cairns designed to warn miners away from them. To take my prayers is to court disaster. The mountain doesn't always receive my prayers, but it receives enough of them to know if something was missing.

I can make a man have an orgasm just by looking at him.

School teacher Strobel was my first client. I search for the bottles of poison he hides around camp. If I find them, I won't move them. I'll increase their potency. On moonless nights, I can be seen darting between the buildings of camp like a shadow, always a step behind school teacher Strobel.

My fingers can grip so tight Big Roy is afraid of me.

I am attuned with the growth of the mountain. When men are with me, they feel it. It is slow and sure and steady. It is tectonic.

I do not drink. I only eat snow. When it is summer, I climb to the summit snowfields which never fully melt. Every day, I sit in boiling hot bathwater until my body freezes it into a solid block around me and I must be chipped free. The movement of the mountain inside me is the only thing that keeps me from freezing solid -- something ungiving pressing against something else ungiving to create heat.

Whatever you hear, believe this:

I am your mother.

I am waiting.

Daddy is waiting.

The mountain is going nowhere.

I will look like all the other girls at the selection rail. I will look like Madame Blye. But you will be able to tell it is me by the tears I haven't cried which will shine in my eyes. No one else can see them. You can see things others can't.

You can do anything.

You are a wizard.

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