Sunday, October 18, 2015

Cricket Van Buren must be in her seventies now, though you'd never know it to look at her. Maybe Valen was right: after the first, few mono-syllabic answers to his initial queries, she started to talk. She seemed to forget that anyone else was in the room, and directed all her answers to Galaxy. There were long pauses, when she seemed lost in thought, but Galaxy waited, once or twice shooting Valen a look when he tried to interrupt.

She'd joined Bay Zen Center nearly forty years earlier in those first few years when sitting in silence with gentle Roshi Anh had seemed the answer to the cacophony of a bitter, angry divorce. Later she'd almost stumbled, but even that was forgotten now, it was so far in the past. The twisted bun high on the back of her head had been white now for many years, her face settled permanently into a gentle smile. She walked in quiet joy, as if slightly removed from her surroundings. Her steps were a bit less certain now, her hearing slightly less good, her eyes less sharp, but they still twinkled above the apples of her round cheeks, maybe just a little less red than in years gone by. She’d spent most of those years in these mountains, where she knew the turn of the seasons, the sound of the bells, the voice of the creek as it rose and fell with the rains. She knew where the wild strawberries were likely to ripen first in the Spring and how to keep the biting brown flies at bay in the first few warm weeks of summer.

She’d been Tenzo, Ino, Director, and dishwasher in repeating turns. Now, finally, she no longer had any designated title—she was the mistress of Masiana and in many ways mother to all the Way-Seeking minds who passed through. She’d been here longer than anyone, now. Most of the companions who had first made this place a home were long gone. Some had left for good, hearts and spirits broken by Hara's betrayal, some had gone to other Sanghas, some to their next incarnations. She didn’t even visit the shrine much anymore, the place of sacred ashes. The way was very steep and she didn’t need the carved stones to remind her.

Although she missed Roshi more lately. “Kicket, ” he would say, the r’s ever eluding him, “is not good name for you. You are lucky, like kicket, yes,” he’d say, “but calm, like deep still water. Quiet, but strong. ” At her dharma transmission he’d given her the name Keisui, Strong Water, and later it had seemed right that she’d ended up here. But the waters of Masiana Creek were more moody than her own, rising with terrifying swiftness after a winter storm, and sulking to a trickle at the end of the long, hot summers. Cricket’s waters had always run at a steadier flow.

She recalled the two young people before her, noticed how beautiful they were, and how they unconsciously leaned toward one another, unaware. She smiled, and answered their questions.

They finished the interview, and Galaxy watched from the doorway as Cricket headed down the path.

She came to a stop, feet aligned together, and bowed deeply from the waist, palms facing each other in traditional gassho greeting as she passed Devon, who did the same. It was an automatic response that brought her out of her reverie into the here and now. Devon straightened and continued on, her face expressionless. Sometimes the faces blurred together now. Some of the current residents had been here long enough, like Devon, to have become part of the Valley. Others were like children, no matter their age. And, anyway, they were all so young! Children that came and went. Each unique. Sweet and warm, or cold, or harsh for a little while; then passing, like the seasons.

Her own childhood was another lifetime ago. She’d outlived her only brother; barely recognized the family name on those few occasions when she happened to look at a San Francisco paper. His children gave to the Opera, won big court cases, were photographed at the Symphony Gala. Their children went to the right schools, here and in the East, were scouted by law firms and political parties in their turn. Except for Macie. Her path hadn’t included a mate, or children. Not yet--Cricket reminded herself gently. She'd hoped Raine would be happy. With her new husband. And finally, the father she'd always longed for.

Until the shocking revelation a few days ago, Cricket hadn't thought about Hara in a very long time. The news that he was Raine's father--which meant that he and Cat--didn't hurt her as much as it might have, once. She had never doubted his devotion before. They had all benefited from his tireless efforts. The fund raising. The Outreach programs. The well-known names he'd brought into the Sangha. She had perhaps been guilty of pride, Cricket admitted to herself. Had remained above the machinations of money, and power. And thereby, quite by accident--there are no accidents! she reminded herself--avoided what surely would have been a terrible mistake. One that how many others had made? She thought of beautiful Cat, how she'd wasted away that winter, even as the child within her grew.

Stranded after that terrible storm, they didn’t notice that Cat was eating even less than the rest of them. They piled all the clothes they owned under and over their thin robes and no one even noticed that Cat was pregnant. They all walked around in a daze. They didn’t know what to do, they were cut off from the outside world for months. They sat for hours, for days, for weeks in the old, unheated Zendo. Freezing. Starving.

Now Cricket thought she understood. It had all passed over Cat like a high wave--and she'd made no effort to keep her head up and breathe. She moved, when she moved at all, in a dazed trance. She refused to name the father, refused to talk, ate only what was put in front of her. She stewed for hours in the one hot plunge that had survived the collapse, froze for hours in the Zendo. But the child was strong.
It remained.

And grew in spite of her. Seemed to take its nourishment from her flesh, grew as she wasted away. She had been slender, with generous curves, warm like the island sun. She grew gaunt, never really recovered her health, looked too old too soon, the skin hanging off her too-thin frame. Raine Tanawe Ladyblossom was born in Pine Cabin 12b, caught like a fish in the old tin tub they used to wash potatoes. By then Cat must have known that he was gone for good. They couldn't get her to look at the baby, hold her, name her. Finally, when pressed, she held the surprisingly healthy thing to her shriveled breasts and stared at the storm raging again outside. "Rain," she said. It was all she said for a very long time.

Cricket filed the paperwork later, added the 'e.' Mother and daughter found one another slowly, protected there in the ravine from the worst of the ravages outside.
But Raine would never know the Cat she had been.

Cricket’s own children, James and Ivy, had been raised in material comfort in San Francisco. When she’d found her refuge at Bay Zen Center they were already in college; they’d found their way more often to their father’s new house in Marin for a few years, let him keep paying for winter ski trips and summers at Stinson beach. Roshi told her to wait, to sit. Eventually they found their way back home, back to her. She’d been waiting, sitting.

They weren’t Buddhists—or as Roshi had often said, they just didn‘t know it yet—but they were good people. She tried not to be too proud.

They brought their own children to Masiana now, also not children any longer but bright, confident young adults themselves. Sarah, the oldest and nearest to her grandmother’s heart, had just started med school. The youngest was still in high school, busy with sports and dances and electronic gadgets in neon colors. Both families came every summer, at least once, and over the years had grown as comfortable here as the residents. The annoying young man Ivy had married treated the place as his own private refuge. She knew he went where he shouldn't. He liked the privacy of the one remaining plunge in the old abandoned bathhouse across the creek.

He wasn't the only one, she thought. She'd seen Evan sneaking over there these last few months, too. Another entitled, cosseted son...She stopped the thought. It was unworthy.

Cricket went to see the family as often as she could stand. Christmas, mostly, and for the big occasions. She had grown comfortable in their homes, had her own room at Ivy’s with a warm, soft bed and the luxury of her own bathroom. Nobody spoke yet of a time when she wouldn’t be able to stay at Masiana any longer. But she glimpsed it, sometimes, out ahead of her. Getting closer. A time when she’d have to go back down into the harried noisy world she’d left such a long time ago. She could sometimes feel the great Wheel turning now. And tried not to hope that the time would never come.