The Seventh Hour(2)By: Tracey Ward
“No. This is a first.”
“Do you want to tell me why you’re out there?” Metal jingles together lightly behind me, like discordant, dented bells. “Or why your shoes and necklace are in a pile on the ground?”
I shake my head without a word. My eyes brim with cold tears, the sting of the wind flooding them, sending salt down my cheeks in rolling tracks of ice. I don’t know where the emotion is coming from. It hits me hard out of nowhere the way the claustrophobic feeling hit me on the deck twenty minutes ago when I tore the heavy jeweled necklace from my throat and freed my feet from the painful confines of my shoes. I felt like I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t see. Like I’d be sick there on the deck, and before I knew it I was climbing. I was on the bowsprit in the wind with the waves splashing underneath me. It felt a little bit like flying, or as close as I’ll ever come to it. I pushed farther and farther out on the beam until the ship was behind me. Forgotten. It felt like the entire ocean, the entire sky, was all that surrounded me. It was an incredible feeling.
And now it’s over.
“They’re too tight,” I tell Gav, carefully keeping my voice steady.
“Your shoes are too tight?”
“So you kicked them off and climbed out onto the front of the ship?”
“In your dinner dress?”
“Okay,” he agrees quietly. “Alright.”
“Don’t talk to me like that,” I scold sharply.
“Like I’m crazy.”
“I don’t think you’re crazy, Liv.”
I laugh incredulously, the sound shaky even to my own ears. I quickly wipe away a tear trailing down my cheek.
“I don’t,” he insists. “But I am worried about you. You haven’t been yourself lately.”
“I don’t even know who ‘myself’ is.”
“I do. I know you, and this isn’t you. You’re stronger than this.”
“Stronger than what?”
“Than whatever it is that’s crushing you.”
I take a shallow breath. “Lemons.”
He chuckles, the sound deep and full. Rich in a way I can’t remember how to be. “Lemons are crushing you?”
I nod my head, my long brown hair rippling behind me.
“How?” Gav pushes gently.
I swallow, trying to steel myself, praying my voice is stronger than my spirit. “When I was eight Dad took me to the city for the first time. We took the headless Dasher to the big ship, just him and me.”
I glance to my right, to the south where the massive ocean liner pushes violently through the waves. It’s home to the majority of our tribe. Three thousand people aboard it, including herds of animals and long lengths of hydroponic farmland. A hospital, schools, and a library to make the history of mankind jealous.
“He took me to see the animals,” I continue. “The kitchens, the orchards. They gave me fresh cherries and apples, and then I saw the lemons. They looked like sunshine, they were so yellow. He cut one open for me and the smell knocked me backwards. I loved it. Everything about it. It was my favorite thing in the world for so long.” I turn my head to look over my shoulder at him. “Do you know what I smell like?”
His face twists in a look of confusion, his dark eyebrows forming a hard V on his brow. “I’m not in the habit of sniffing my sister.”
“I smell like lemons.”
“I’ll take your word for it.”
“My clothes do too. It’s in my soaps, in my laundry. They put lemon on my fish and in my drinks. I swear to you, I sweat the scent. Since I was eight I have smelled, tasted, and touched lemon almost every minute of every day, and do you know what?”
“You’re sick of it,” he guesses correctly.
“I can’t stand to look at it. I loved it, but now I can’t get away from it. That’s what happens when you give people a piece of yourself. They define you by it. Box you inside it until you can’t see your way out.”
When he doesn’t respond I get nervous. I’m anxious that he doesn’t understand, that I haven’t been clear enough, but what I want to say is nothing I can say out loud. Not easily, not even to him; the one person on the entire planet that I trust.