Talenkynic woke before dawn, full of night terrors, sweats and flushes. Witness to too much destruction, her unconscious mind revisited nightly. As she woke she caught the merest glimpse in the corner of her eye, a shape, a shadow, nothing tangible.
She couldn’t remember, she couldn’t forget.
Shards of her past were clear shining like crystals in the midday sun, huge facets though were left hollow, without form.
Emotions ran riot within her, she possessed them, she contained them, she fought with them whilst maintaining the serenest veneer of calm. Only now, alone, in the twisted sheets and twisted mind of the night were they let loose.
A morass of limbs, thoughts and thread count. She asked herself each time, “How did I get here?” As if the stillness of the night, with the humming of nature could answer.
She began to pack.
She was always on the move, migrating south, along highways and byways, following rivers and streams. At nightfall she pitched her tent, unfolded her sheets and lay down between the cool layers, daring herself not to sleep. A dare she lost each night, the hour unknown, only the brutal awakening was remembered.
Talenkynic walked towards the town she’d seen the day before. Hoping for a day’s work in a diner or hotel kitchen, she began her campaign. A little dust on the face and hands to make her look more impoverished, her shorts were ready to be tugged down for a female boss or tugged up for a male. She marvelled at the simplicity of folk.
“Bing-bong!” the diner door announced her arrival, just as dawn appeared. Silhouetted against the brilliance of the sun,
“Hello, are you open yet?” she called into the darker reaches of the store.
“Goodness, my first customer. You’re an early one, come on in, sit yerself down, coffee?” The owner, a middle aged woman of vast proportions tottered along the inside of the counter.
“May I wash up, first? I have travelled many days,” Talenkynic with her opening gambit.
“Yes, of course, dearie, through the back there. Here, use this towel, you could wash your hair. I often do if I’m running late for Harve,” the diner owner poured coffee for them both and set sugar and creamer on the counter for her customer.
Rose, or Rosie De Bois, according to the diner’s signage had lived and worked in Ellisville since her wedding day. She was originally from up the county in Laurel, but she liked it here, quieter, more peaceful and easier for her to bury her sadness away from her family.
Talenkynic appeared with the towel binding her hair in a turban, “Is this okay?”
“For sure, Ben will be the next in, but not for an hour. Will I fix you some breakfast?” Rose smiled at the gangly girl before her.
“Oh, well, umm, maybe some toast and more coffee please,” Talenkynic began a wistful smile and let her eyes move up to Rose’s.
“When did you last eat, girl?” Rose countered.
“Yesterday, I found some berries and ate them as I walked, they were so juicy, popping in my mouth,” her next play out she let her eyes close briefly then looking down and blushing ever so slightly.
“Hey, cheer up, my name is Rose, this is my diner, I will feed you breakfast, lunch and dinner if you work for me and I will give you twenty dollars wages plus any tips you make. Mind they’re a frugal bunch round here, not many tips to be had. Or maybe that’s just me. What do you say? What’s your name, girl?” Rose unknowingly had walked into Talenkynic’s innocent trap.
“Tally, I go by Tally, and yes, oh thank you, thank you so much,” Talenkynic gushed thanks and beamed a smile in appreciation.
Later after her fill of eggs and ham she wiped down tables, set up condiments, filling where necessary, all the time keeping an eye out for customers. She hummed as she worked, a folk tune from home, barely audible and unheard by Rose who was busy baking biscuits and peeling potatoes for her morning men.
People came into the diner at regular intervals, with a snippet of a story, either theirs or Rose’s. Talenkynic was building up quite a picture of Ellisville and Rose, a widow with no children, a heart of gold, always with a smile, never one to hold a grudge. Saint Rose, she thought, as she served the hungry diners with food that even Talenkynic found appealing.
Rose was also talking throughout the day gently probing the young girl. Tally rushed back and forth with orders and dirty plates. She was hard worker, Rose thought, but very closed. As she pulled down the blinds at the end of the day she learned nothing except her name and she was moving south.
“Tally, when you’ve eaten, would you like to walk with me some, before the sun sets?” Rose asked as she turned the key in the lock.
“Um, yes, sure. I mean, I have to get going but a small walk would be okay,” Tally spoke brokenly partly due to stuffing biscuit, gravy and fried chicken in her mouth and partly due to a sudden yearning to spend time with the widow Rose.
They walked, to Talenkynic it seemed aimless, a little left, a little right. To Rose, there was a purpose, she was bringing Tally home. Turning into the path that led to her house, she turned to Tallenkynic, “Tally, you are welcome to rest for a few days or for a while. You look so tired, exhausted, you need to sleep in a bed. Come?”
“I suppose I could stay for a night and see from there,” was her cagey reply.
Rose made the most of having a guest, plumping pillows, running a bath and making hot chocolate and cookies. She sang spirituals, reminiscing when she first moved into the house as a newly wed, hoping to fill the home with kids and animals. Settling for one mangy cat that would never come in but sat on the porch with disdainful mews.
Talenkynic sank into the deep mattress, surrounded by fluffy pillows and soft toys, trying desperately hard to stay awake but without the usual will and she soon slipped off into a deep sleep.
As Talenkynic slept her mind, warped by memories of a distant time and place, scenes played out, one by one projected above. Rose awakened and watched horrified, silent tears falling, as she watched the annihilation of a species, Tally although younger retained her eyes and Rose saw the girl watching her family, her community, her entire hold killed.
After the first twenty minutes or so, she slipped into bed with Tally and held her, still watching. Babies, old people, children and women all killed, it took some working out but it seemed certain girls were saved, the men were not there. Rose had never spent the shortest night at the movies but she was riveted to the screen all night, until just before dawn as the violence that Talenkynic endured became more horrifying, the experiments, the torture. No wonder she was always moving, she thought.
Talenkynic woke sometime after seven, rested for the first time since arriving on earth, the smell of coffee wafting up the stairs. “Ah, you’re awake, here have some coffee and we’ll get off to work,” Rose breezed in, smiling.
Their life together began, Rose watching and holding, Talenkynic slowly recovering.