I was up with the sun, not surprisingly since there was nothing between it and my eyelids. What did surprise me is that I was totally refreshed, with no residual soreness from my sleeping arrangements. Or from my midnight walk in stocking feet. It’s good to know that 32 isn’t too old to sleep on the ground, despite my penchant for a firm, comfortable mattress at home. Particularly since getting a Winnebago out to the island was going to be pretty tough.
There was one lukewarm cup of coffee left in my thermos, but I didn’t bother to start the fire back up to reheat it. I’d brought a breakfast bar and an orange which tided me over. Having roasted meat over a fire the night before, I didn’t feel compelled to burn bacon as well.
I poured a jug of water over the still-hot embers, then hauled another one up from the sea just to make sure. It’d be the ultimate aw-shit to discover a magical place like Avalon, only to burn it down through carelessness. Smokey the Bear would have scolded me for the rest of my life.
After toting a load back to the boat, I walked the wheel once more before leaving, holding the golden-haired woman firmly in my consciousness as I did. It was easy to recall the vivid details from my dream the night before. Her amusement at my coupling in the dirt, her frank examination of my nakedness. And most of all her answer to my question about who she was: ‘You have everything you need to figure that out.’
What the hell did that mean? I had nada.
I didn’t kid myself that I’d really had a vision. I was dreaming, just like I’d been doing for a couple of weeks now. The woman from my dream came entirely from my own imagination, as my subconscious worked through the problem. So it wasn’t really her that was telling me that I have everything I need to figure it out, it was myself.
Not that that helped any.
I pondered the puzzle all the way home, and then intermittently through a long overdue hot shower and a hot cup of coffee. Right up until I walked into Peckerwoods’, when Sabrina’s smile made me forget all about it.
“I was afraid from your note that you’d abandoned me for that hussy.”
“She wasn’t anywhere around here,” I protested.
“Not that hussy, silly. I meant your serious love affair, the island.” She ruffled my hair and filled my cup. “I can handle the one with the eyebrow ring and the beads all by myself, thanks. I’m just biding my time.”
Something about the way she said it made me think, “Uh, oh.” But I didn’t speak it out loud, merely ordered eggs and sausage, with hash browns since it was Tuesday. In a pinch, I could have made eggs and sausage over a campfire. But hash browns takes a more expert woodsman that I am, particularly with nothing more sophisticated to fry them in than a mess kit.
* * *
When I called Adeline that afternoon, I told her the details about my adventures on the island. After all, she was paying the bills and wasn’t going to get a lot for her money in the next couple of months except things that were more fancy than fact.
“The island is a place for visions, although they’re neither predictable nor dependable. I’ve built a sacred wheel out there, but I’m not psychically talented enough to command answers.” I recalled characters from the King Arthur books I’d read over the last couple of weeks. “Maybe if I were Morgan le Fay, perhaps, or Merlin, I could. But I ain’t no Merlin. All I know how to do is just hold space and listen.”
“So what did your visions tell you?”
“I’m not sure. I spent a lot of time thinking about the golden-haired woman, so I’m not surprised she appeared in a dream.” The only omission from ‘the details about of adventures” was that I’d been caught in flagrante delicto. “Told me that I knew everything I needed to figure it out. Or I guess her words were, ‘You have everything you need to figure it out.’ Not exactly the same.”
“So nothing new about Daddy.”
“In my dream I asked if he was with her, but she just shrugged. I don’t know exactly how to interpret that.”
“Since we’re way outside the realm of facts, what’s your best guess?”
“I think that the dream came from inside my own head, not actually from a golden-haired woman out there somewhere. Somehow the island focuses your imagination and lets your subconscious have its say, like meditation on steroids. So my best guess is that I don’t know the answer, so my subconscious sent me that piece of information in the form of a shrug.”
“If that’s true, then by extending that logic, your subconscious really does have the answer about who the woman is.”
“Well stated, Adeline. I can’t find a single argument to counter that logic.”
“So get off your dead ass and figure it out.” She laughed as she said it to show that she wasn’t too serious.
After a moment she added, “Maybe I need to come out to the island. Have any problem with that?”
I had an immediate vision, born in the darkest reptilian part of my brain, of taking Adeline out to the island and having my way with her. Happily I wasn’t in the room where she could see my face. Get a grip, Rick. The island is not a place where carnal desires are generated from thin air, it merely focuses what you’re already thinking. Chai and I were going to end up in bed together whether we went out there or not. You can take Adeline out there safely.
Mr. Lust happily noted, And if you’re wrong, no big deal. You won’t be the first person who screwed their boss. For some reason, he’s had a thing about Adeline from the beginning. It’s taken all of my professionalism to keep him tamped down.
“No problem at all, Adeline. I recommend the day tour first, however. If you like it and decide you want to go back and spend the night later, we can get you outfitted.”
“You’re right about that, Mr. Whittaker. I wasn’t planning to go sleep on the ground solely on the basis of your recommendation.”
* * *
That night, having no immediate plans, I called Mom and invited myself home for Thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday, at least since I quit believing in Santa Claus. Way better weather than Independence Day, with none of the commercial pressures of Christmas or the romantic pressures of Valentine’s Day. The idea of spending it with family, pigging out on turkey and the fixings, watching football with Dad, matching wits with Mom, and doing nothing productive toward figuring out who the golden-haired woman was sounded like a perfect vacation from the vacation I was living. I had nothing on my schedule except to make damned sure I was back at White Sands for Week Two of the NFL Sunday Spectacular—it absolutely would not do to miss that, and the excuse that I was visiting my family wouldn’t sit well with all the people who had gone out on a limb to make it happen merely on my suggestion. Fortunately for my plans, the Falcons weren’t one of the six pro teams playing on Thanksgiving.
Plus, that little voice in the back of my head reminded me, this may be the last year that Thanksgiving is your favorite holiday. Beltane may soon blow it out of first place forever. Yes, well, there was that too.
I’d been reading from George’s non-fiction collection for the last week or so, but it seemed more like work than total indulgence, so I grabbed a couple of novels to take along.
It was an idyllic three days. My sister Maggie, along with her husband and my four-year-old nephew Justin, drove over from Augusta for Thanksgiving dinner. Maggie is fifteen months my senior, and for some reason my mother was never willing to articulate, we were both named after monarchs from the House of Plantagenet—Richard I ‘the Lionhearted’ (at the time, mother had no way to know that I would grow up to be more rabbit than lion) and Margaret of France, Richard’s brother Henry II’s wife. Actually, I think she discovered it long after we were named and used it as a way to plague us instead of bugging us about not smoking or getting a tattoo. Mom is like that. Justin was full of questions about why the world was the way it was, and deciding which to answer truthfully and which to be silly about entertained me for the entire day. The grown-ups ended up in a cutthroat game of canasta and skipped the last football game.
I didn’t have to cook for myself although I did fix dinner Saturday night—noting that, when you got right down to it, I was as good a cook as Mom—and washed dishes whenever she let me. Watched Jeopardy and played Scrabble and read.
Saturday night, after my parents had called it a night, I finished the novel I’d been reading. It was after 11:00 and I was leaving relatively early the next morning, but I wasn’t really sleepy, so I pulled out the other one I’d brought and dove into it. This one was set on the Isle of Avalon, where a cult that still worshipped ‘the old ways’ held the ‘new religion’—Christianity—at bay.
On page nineteen a ‘yellow-haired’ teenage novice named Nyneve appeared on the island to dedicate her life to the goddess.
Wham. The room tilted, to the point where I had to hang on to the chair or risk getting dumped on the floor.
OK, perhaps I exaggerate slightly. But not much.
Was the golden-haired woman from the Arthurian legends? Is that why George had all of the books? Because he was trying to learn who she was or more about her? He’d named his paintings of her, in order: Apparition One, Two, and Four; Madonna and Child One through Five; Psyche as a Young Mother One through Seven; Our Lady of the Sea One and Two; Fantasy One and Two; Venus Ashore; The High Priestess One through Four; and N. Was “N” last because he’d finally found who she was?
Was it possible that she was Nyneve?
Did that mean the island was actually Avalon? And if yes (to either question or both), did that mean they were real or could they still be mythological?
I didn’t actually know who Nyneve was, and didn’t feel like getting up to go search the internet at this time of night. Tomorrow and the cold facts from Wikipedia would get here soon enough; tonight I’d just stay with make-believe. I ended up reading another hour before calling it a night, totally wrapped up in the story of a beautiful young teenage girl who was marked by the goddess to become the next high priestess of Avalon.