Delilah sat on her couch fresh from the shower, water slowly dripping down her shoulders from her wet hair, slippered feet tucked up under her for warmth, methodically turning the pages of the worn Intuit manual her mother had left her.
She wasn’t sure what she was trying to find there, just skimming the pages of wisdom of the ages and Intuit history and practical tips about keeping the sinuses clear (eat a raw pepper once a week) and the long hair tangle free (comb lemon juice through the stands every other day and braid immediately afterwards). But that kind of information wasn’t what Delilah was looking for.
At that moment she wished for nothing more or less than insight but not into the future, into the past. She wished with all her heart that she could look into a crystal ball and get clarity on that which has already past instead of that which has yet to come. She knew exactly what she would ask it – what happened to my mother?
Telling Jensen hadn’t been hard and she didn’t regret it but speaking it out loud had brought that tug for an explanation back to the forefront of her mind. She had started wondering if maybe it was their gift that had gotten their mother killed but was, once again, stymied by indecision over whether she actually wanted to know or not. If Intuit’s, or at least Intuit’s in her family, were destined to lead short lives she’d rather not hear her death sentence at the moment. Maybe the letter would explain though . . .
It all kept coming back to the letter, she thought, reaching the end of the book and running her fingers down the fold where it had been hiding for so long She pressed her palm against the page, thinking that her mother might have done the same thing many years ago and wishing she could feel her across time itself. It had been getting harder and harder to remember what her mother had looked like, what kind of person she had been. Madge helped, telling her amusing little anecdotes about things they had done in their youth, but it was such a far cry from the person that she remembered raising her that she craved for an answer even more. She had never seen her mother do any type of magic, still had a hard time believing it even after everything she had seen and learned.
Why hadn’t her mother told her about her future? Her hand reached up and caressed her necklace and it calmed her though it did not give her any answers, simply another question. If the necklace was so important, why wasn’t her mother wearing it when she died? Come to think of it, she didn’t remember ever seeing her mother with the necklace on her whole life.
She grabbed the phone and dialed without thinking. It rang three times before a groggy but cheerful voice picked up on the other side. “Hello?” it asked, clearly still asleep.
“Oh Madge I’m so sorry. I didn’t realize how early it was. Did I wake you?”
“No,” she answered and Delilah immediately knew it was a lie but instead of being angry she was excited. She was becoming better at doing the things other Intuits took for granted. It buoyed her confidence a bit and her question suddenly seemed less preposterous.
“Sure,” she said with a roll of her eyes. Just then the floor started shaking, her cabinet doors clapping and dishes rattling crazily. Things started leaping up off of her floor like kernels in a popcorn machine, jumping here and there. It lasted only for a moment but when it was done it looked like a tornado had ripped through her apartment, glasses shattered on the floor, clothes flung over the back of her kitchen chairs, books tumbled from the shelves. “What’s that? Did you feel that? Was that an earthquake?”
“What?” she asked groggily.
“Nothing,” Delilah murmured with a few sidelong glances around her apartment. “Sorry, nothing. I guess I’m just a little jumpy and tired.”
“Sweetie was there something you wanted to ask me?” Madge asked in tired amusement.
“Oh, yeah, there was. Remember when you told me that my necklace was very powerful and sacred and I shouldn’t take it off.”
“Mmmhmmm,” she replied drowsily before the question woke her with a start. “Oh Delilah, please don’t tell me you took it off and lost it. Please, please, Please.”
“No, no, nothing like that. I still have it, no worries.” She reached a hand up into the hollow of her neck to check, just to be safe.
“Oh good,” Madge said, breathing a huge sigh of relief. Delilah could picture her with a dramatic hand over her heart and smiled. “Because you can’t ever honey. That is irreplaceable. It’s protected by being close to you so it can’t be broken but you have to be very careful with it.”
“How did I get it?” she asked, picking it up and peering down into it, still getting the odd sense at times that if she looked at it just the right way it would give her all the answers she was looking for.
“What do you mean sweetie?”
“Well, where do you get them? Where are you going to get the one you give to Jam one day.”
“Oh I thought you were asking where the gifts come from that is an entirely different and unanswerable question that we really shouldn’t be getting into around seven am on a Saturday. You get them at Gilded Hill of course but once you try it on, that’s it. It bonds with you and becomes an irrevocable part of what makes each of us so special.”
“What happens if you lose it?” she asked, thinking again about her mother. “Or if you take it off?”
“Your magic is always stronger when you wear it so I suppose your powers would become weaker.”
“You mean,” she gulped, her heart starting to race at the possibilities, “that if I get tired of this whole smelling emotions, seeing the future thing then I can just take it off?”
Madge’s voice came out angry, a thread of power running beneath her words. “No that is not what I said! These are your gifts, they are yours whether you wear the stone or not but you should not take the necklace off. It protects you.”
“How? Like from danger?”
“Well it doesn’t make you indestructible or anything of the sort. You get hit by a bus it’s still going to hurt though it might not kill you. And at times it has been known to send out distress signals so if you were in trouble, real trouble, my necklace should burn and let me know that I need to get to you.”
“How come it didn’t work then?”
“What do you mean?” Madge asked in confusion though no longer from drowsiness but from the sudden edge of emotion and hysteria in Delilah’s voice.
“How come it didn’t work for my mother? How come no one came to rescue her when she died? And why wasn’t she wearing her necklace if it’s so sacred and important?”
Madge was shocked by Delilah’s questions for a moment, sitting in bed simply grasping for any kind of answer that she could give to not only help her find peace of mind but peace of soul as well. As Delilah waited she heard the sounds of the children in the background, probably running around in morning cheer, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and without a care in the world. She hadn’t been like that for a long time now, couldn’t remember if she had ever been like that actually, so unaware and unworried over the things that life would bring.
“Forget it, forget it,” Delilah said. She heard Madge’s voice protesting as she pulled the phone away from her ear and severed the line, keeping the phone off the hook so she couldn’t call back. She drew her knees up under her chin and stared without seeing at the book on the coffee table which might as well have been written in Swahili for all of the answers it was providing her with.
She sat there for what felt like minutes but must have been longer, had to have been. The knock on her door scared her and she jumped up in fright as it sluggishly pulled her away from her dark thoughts and persistent fears. And Madge wondered why she hated change? Every change, every new piece of information she found, only dug a bigger hole into her heart.
The knock sounded again, insistent, persistent. “Coming,” she grumbled, quickening her pace to the door so they wouldn’t knock a third time and annoy all of her neighbors so early in the morning.
Madge was standing on the other side, hand raised in mid-air to pound again, when she finally pulled the door open. She had a long jacket pulled over a pair of pajamas, looking like she had hopped straight from her bed to Delilah’s entryway. Delilah didn’t even get a chance to say anything before Madge made a maternal clucking and rushed her, enfolding her into her arms.
Delilah didn’t know how long she stood there wrapped in Madge’s embrace, tears falling freely from her eyes but it was long enough to drain away the whole pool of sadness and tears inside of her. After she had cried herself out she sniffed inelegantly and backed away, rubbing a wayward hand across her eyes. She turned from Madge so she couldn’t read the feelings in her face (though considering who Madge was she needn’t have bothered) and caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror. She gasped out loud at what she saw there. Her eyes were white, only the inky iris peering out from behind her eyelids. She started to panic but Madge was behind her, laying a comforting hand on her shoulder and guiding one of Delilah’s stray fingers to her necklace, calming her on contact.
“I hate it,” she spat, wishing to wrench the thing from her neck and hurl it across the room. “I hate that it has so much control over me, can calm me with a single touch. If it’s so special than why didn’t it protect my mom? Why didn’t it save my mom?” Her eyes were pleading with Madge who sighed and led Delilah to the couch.
“You don’t mean that. It’s hard to get used to and understand, especially at such an old age, but it’s a good thing. It’s good that it can clear your head when need be. We’re taught, trained, to see and feel emotions everywhere. It’s a good thing that it can clear our heads. That it keeps us sane and from going crazy at the overload from the emotional fight the neighbors are having or the depression of the guy walking down the street or the anger at the commuter in the car beside you. It is necessary for our survival to have that bond, this gift. It is essential.”
“I know,” she pleaded, her voice full of tears even though none fell from her face. “I know it’s true but then why didn’t any of that help my mom?”
Madge looked at her for a long time before she answered, choosing her words carefully. “Truth?”
“I don’t know. When your mom found out she was pregnant with you, she changed. We didn’t see her as much as before and then finally she turned her back on the community, just up and left. I still saw her but not nearly as often. I don’t think anyone but me had seen her for at least a year when she was killed.”
“Then why were you waiting for me? Why did you think I would come if my mom didn’t even want this anymore?”
A sad smile appeared on Madge’s face. “Your mother came to see me at least once a year, usually around your birthday and she came to see me that year, two days before she died. And after we talked and caught up, just as she was leaving, she repeated what she always said to me in parting, every time. She’d say ‘Take care of my daughter Madge if anything happens to me. Teach her the things that I no longer can’ and then she’d smile sadly and walk out.”
“Did she know something bad was going to happen to her?” Delilah asked.
Madge shrugged helplessly. “I don’t know. The older you got the more and more anxious she became until she barely ever came to visit and that youthful spark she used to have was completely gone. I always thought it was from the strain of being a single mother – she was so stubborn and would never let any of us help her, which we would have done in a heartbeat – but maybe there was more. Maybe I should have tried harder to find out.” She looked away from Delilah, staring off to the side with blank eyes, seeing something else besides the bookcases and furniture before her.
“It’s not your fault Madge,” Delilah whispered, leaning her head on her shoulder.
“She was my best friend and even though she pushed me away, I should have found some way to help her. None of us knew where you lived and I still pray every night now in thanks that the Conrads took you in and kept you safe when I couldn’t. Your continued happiness and safety was my last promise to Genevieve and I fully intend to keep it.”
She turned big, compelling, deep purple eyes to Delilah. “That’s why you can’t ever take the necklace off honey. I need you to be safe. I need to know that you are safe,” she implored with feeling, tears shining brightly in the depths of her eyes. There wasn’t much Delilah could do – she simply shook her head in agreement, hoping that it was a promise she’d be able to keep but doubting it all the same.