Auntie struck the table and all the glasses rattled.
“It is not acceptable. The train shall arrive. And then? Will we invite sorrow into our beds and wickedness into our hearts?”
She looked at each person in front of her. Her partner, Uncle. Her daughter, Mother, and her husband, Father. Her own brother, Widower. And the young girl, her granddaughter, Child.
“They might come by plane. Or by foot. We shall see their arrival, nevertheless. The two of them, each carrying a bundle of clothes hanging from a shoulder,” said Uncle, sitting on the other side of the table with cataract eyes. “I see them already. I love them already.”
Auntie scoffed and raised her arms to the sky. “You love only what you do not know. The traveller, the atom, the ghost. And how easy it is to love when one cannot see, when one can only pretend to see.”
“Ignorance is a blessing, amen,” muttered Child clinging to prayer beads. She was sitting on the ground, hugging her knees and facing the wall. “I am the fastened stare known only by my insubstantiability. I hear, I see — I ache.”
The adults looked at her, then away, embarrassed, as Father ran to cuddle the girl. She resisted his attempts at affection, her gaze always transfixed by the wall. She saw shapes that spelled possible futures, but could never tell which ones were to become truth. With her mind’s eye she reinforced a pattern here so it looked like a battle, a darkness there so it became a gaunt face. Whole worlds opened themselves to her scrutiny for a moment before disappearing. Already it was difficult now, to watch so many possibilities crumble into oblivion. She felt old and undone.
Mother turned to face Uncle. “And what if they are not as good as you think? If they are not angels? We can love that which kills us.”
“We only love that which kills us. That is the way of life.” Auntie crossed her hands behind her neck and stared at the ceiling. Her voice took a wistful hint of nostalgia. “Ask Widower. The reply will be the same.” She sighed. “I remember the times when there would be no discussion, when an auntie’s word was law and the law was followed.”
Uncle shrugged and lit some tobacco. “You know we all respect you, Auntie. You know that. But you also know that an auntie is nothing without an uncle by her side. We can see things you cannot, hear things you cannot. Never met an auntie who could listen to the crickets or read a botfly’s wings!” He got up, coughing, went to the shelf and came back with a football-sized glass vivarium filled with arthropods. “Come on, girl, grab one of these for me, will you?”
Child, now sitting on her father’s lap, looked about herself and slumped her shoulders. “Okay…” she muttered, closed her eyes and put her hand inside the sphere.
The aunt watched from afar, her brow furrowed in skepticism. “Just grab the first one, child. It’s all the same, it’s not like Uncle can really be trusted now. He will only see what he wants to see.”
Uncle gave Auntie a furious sideways look before Child gently deposited an iridescent green five-winged botfly on the palm of his hand. It buzzed for a minute or two, until it finally choked to death on the air of the room. Only one of its legs twitched when Uncle plucked out the last wing and laid it out with the other four on a dull grey metal plate.
“Here,” said he, pointing at a set of veins, “is the Cubitus. This is us, our household, our neighbourhood. It is flat, but also descending, decadent. It’s completely withered, dry and lifeless towards the end. Now this other one here, look,” he grabbed Child’s shoulder, forced her to look at the diaphanous wing. “This is the outside world, or the Costa, that which will enter our bubble. See how delicate it is, how beautiful it feels? That, little girl, is why the outsiders will be good to us. See how it divides into two here? That’s why I know they will be two.” Uncle touched his own wrinkly face, explored the wrinkles around his eyes, felt his eyes watering.
Mother slapped the vivarium and the creatures inside buzzed in unison. “Auntie is right. You are reading what you want to read, old man. The more you look at these dead wings, the more they tell you what you want to hear. Prediction is conception, clairvoyance is becoming.”
“What can a woman know about the future? An auntie is a creature of action, through and through. And action is…fear,” he said, dejected.
“‘For they bring no good and they will be known only by their star-studded stares and their general upbeatness?'” Child stared at the vivarium. “Uncle, is that what they are saying?”
Silence and astonishment took over the room. Father, speechless, took Child by the hand and took her away.
Widower was the first to speak, breaking his silence. “Perhaps it’s better like that. The travellers will still come.”
“Come they will, but for the sake of our children and our husbands and our families we can still banish them before they set foot here. They can sleep in the wilderness, eat slithering things and move on. We heard what happened to other places, we know the sad silence these men leave in their wake. It is absurd we are here, discussing it, poisoning a child’s mind with silly things. Is there any true objection to my decision?” Auntie looked at Uncle and raised her chin, bidding him to speak. He did not reply, but Mother wrapped her hands around her arms and shivered.
“Although we murmur…half-sentences dripping with judgement, are we righteous? Is their identity so different from ours?What is the cold I feel? Is that a side-effect of clairvoyance?”
“Get a hold of yourself. I need at least one other, reasonable person in this room. How many times must I re-read what news have reached us!” Auntie snatched a sheet of paper and accompanied her reading by brandishing a finger at each spoken word.
“They are among us and proposed simple delights. Their ends are violent, but violence has so many facets. It is not of the closed fist we are afraid of. We shall fall silent before them soon. We shall discover whether it is the sweet silence of rapture or the quietude of a barren life. Take heed of our tale and keep it close to your–“
Unannounced, Uncle started singing softly.
“How to find the commonality between / one’s experience / and one’s desire to create something that is not / quite like what already exists? / The smallest unit: / something like the self. / And they came and they went, / leaving empty the capillaries of life. / And they came and they went, / in the uterus of the road. / Not a thing in hand, not a touch at sight, / life is the experience of foetal content. / The mice that scurry / between orange vats are alone. / We, we see only a wilderness of pale silver beams.”
Auntie cleared her throat. Meanwhile, in the kitchen, Child was playing a board game with her Father when someone knocked on the door.