It was a balmy afternoon on the sands of Newport Beach when Valdan Mechaieh–playing hooky in the month of May, his seventeenth birthday–first sensed his ice soul.

He’d been in science class with Dr. Wall.  That bloated blimp bastard had actually tried to make him study for and retake a test Valdan had failed.  He’d mentioned something about the behavior patterns Valdan used today would be harder and harder to break in the future.  That old fart pretended to care but didn’t know a damn thing about his life.  He told the old man that he hated science because it was pointless and he would never use it in his life.  Besides, he’d show that stupid jerk: He’d make a life for himself without him and his stupid science.

Valdan had involuntarily leaked a few tears and asked to go to the locker-room restroom, at which point he grabbed his gym bag, ducked out of school and puttered his moped out to Newport.  The Pacific waves were a sedative.  Wind rippled palm leaves overhead.  A couple on the pier talked in low tones of white hills like garbage trucks.  A bus screeched to a halt on West Balboa Boulevard.  Bell chimes announced someone shuffling inside the 7-11.  Sailboats scraped their hulls against the marina.

A trickle of sweat slid down the crease of his spine.  He arched his back a little so his Black Flag T-shirt wouldn’t cling.

All sound ceased… but for a final wave clapping the shore.  Not even the slightest of breezes stirred the palms.  An icicle crept down where the sweat had trailed.  Mechaieh shivered.  He flicked icy half-pellets stuck to his forehead.  The pellets sat on his towel like the half shells of albino ladybugs.  Mechaieh had not puzzled out their essence until they melted…. Waves clapped the shore, the bus pulled away, and boats again scraped the marina.

Mechaieh lay on his towel, trying to recall what he’d been thinking when this all occurred, when he’d received this gift, this sensing of another soul.  Valdan’s grandmother, a Jew of the more Heterodox variety, once explained there were thirteen souls for humans to discover.  Was this the fourteenth?

Mechaieh sat up.  Now he had something to use against Dr. Wall!  He’d freeze time, go look up the answers and then fill out a test.  That’d show him mastery.

It was Siobhan who woke me up.  The smell of honey wine does it.  Whiskey works too. To my surprise and hers, it still worked, even after so many years when no one left anything beside my notched stone.

Scared her bowels loose the first time.  I got a laugh out of that.

“You’re allowed one question a year, granddaughter,” I said out of the air beside her.

When she got her breath back she said, “I’m not your granddaughter.  She must be gone long ago.”

“I know that.  I spoke with her for years after; she’s moved on now.  I stay.  And so does the customary name.”

“Well then,” she said, drawing herself up.  Then she asked grimly, “There’s a man I want.  How do I get him?”

Oh, the living.

“The answer is in the question you asked, and the way you asked it.”

“What do you mean?”

“One question a year,” I answered, and went for the honey wine and apples.

“I hate you,” she announced, and went down the hill.

She was back again the next year with a bigger plate.

“You were right,” she said sadly.  “This year’s question.  There’s a man who wants me.  Should I have his child?”

“Certainly not.”

“You were right,” she said next year, holding the baby, a little girl with her same lively eyes and three-cornered smile.  But I’d said no because she’d put no value to herself.  I’m not all-wise; how was I to know that a baby would help her do that, instead of make the matter worse?

“There’s a job, overseas,” she told me ten questions later.  “I want it.  They want me.  A good job.  Will you hear me across the ocean?”

“I don’t know,” I answered.  “We used to stay at home, this family.  Try.  The baby and her father going with you?”

She smiled.  “Sarah’s eleven.  And his name is Ian; I’ve come to love him.”

“I’m glad.”

This year I was up early, moving things around in the grave, scaring birds off the stone, nervous.  Well after dark came the scent of honey wine and flowers, candles and apples, drifting across the salt sea, and I climbed up out of my old bones for a taste of it.  I heard her voice clearly, but with a sound of waves in it.

“Are you there?”  She asked.

“Yes, I am,” I replied.

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