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  • Writer's pictureAlan Allinger

Swimmers of Sky and Fire

                                 Swimmers of Sky and Fire

I went walking down the beach from Malibu to Santa Monica to meet my mother for a drink, carrying a reliable thermos full of our current favorite cocktail, a venerable mixture from the prohibition era. The sun was already setting as I rounded the curve and found Mother standing ankle deep in saltwater, releasing streaks of light from a roiling cloud that writhed just above the waves.

“Did you bring us Champs-Elysses?” she asked, with her feral grin. She held up one hand, holding the small bands of brightness in stasis for a moment.

“Yes, I answered. “I had to stop and get cognac, and we have to do something about the Chartreuse situation soon.” I detached one of the cups from the thermos, poured her a measure, and handed it to her. “Even if it means us going to France and taking turns charming the monks.”

“I’m not averse to charming strange men in France. Some of them are quite attractive.” Accepting the beverage, she turned her attention once more to releasing the strange streaks of brilliance that gathered, letting groups of them fly forth from the sea foam.

“So. Hi, Mom,” I said. “What are these? I feel as if I should know.” Her answer was unexpected.

“The purest form of love. Other mothers. Dead ones.” She took a sip and watched the lights for a moment. “Those fortunate enough to have transformed into Fire Otters, so they can swim within the Aurora Borealis.” Using the other cup, I poured a drink for myself. The ice cubes clunked softly on the metal. “They use the Aurora and rainbows to travel to and around this world when they can. There’s a huge sun storm today, it’s affecting everything magical.”

“And here,” I said, “I thought I’d heard everything.” She took a sip of her drink.

“Oh, you haven’t,” she said. Her familiar, endearing smile in the half-light made her look like she would make fun of your shoes while she robbed your corpse. I advise only reliable footgear be worn around my mother, especially on nights like this, when she’s on the edge.  

“These are the basis for Fire Fox myths?” I suggested. She shrugged, her attention mostly on the bands of light as they leapt from the sea at her gesture, heading skyward, racing inland. “How did you come to find them?” Her expression changed, and she turned from the sea to look at me.

“They sometimes come to dance here beside us, to see if they can cross and espy the lives of the loved ones they preceded from this world.” I envisioned these lambent ribbons trying to be seen and understood by today’s average human, and it wasn’t a cheering thought. “You and I”, and here she made a small gesture, “can see them in their dormant form. When I do see them, I free any I can, to go their way for as long as they might last outside the Aurora.” As I thought about that, a question presented itself.

“Do their… surviving children know?” I asked. “Do you think the humans can they feel the light from the love of their own departed?” She smiled again, a very different sort of smile, as we watched the Fire Otters go streaking towards those loved ones they had left behind in mortal lands. Without a prompt we tapped our tumblers together from long habit, and they made an unexpectedly sweet chiming sound.

“Certainly,” my mother said, “but there is an ‘if.’” She took a sip of her drink and smiled. Our eyes met, and I saw hers were filled with memories. She went on. “If- those who are left here know their departed love them still, then of course they can feel their presence. A simple incantation allows them to converse, so simple it needn’t be said aloud, but most don’t think to voice or even think it- not today, not in the world as it’s become.”

“I know those words,” I said fondly. “And if you should ever become a streak of light, I will speak them aloud to you.” Mother laughed and shook her head, tossed back the rest of her drink.

“When the world was younger and less complex,” she said, “that sorcerous phrase, ‘I love you, Mom,’ wasn’t very difficult to come by.”

She paused to take a breath, for even a minor magic can tax the lungs, and sent the rest of the Fire Otters on their way with a quick gesture.

“It could still be deduced with a moment’s thought, you know, but these modern people make things overly complicated.” I nodded, understanding.

My mother and I have never been overly demonstrative; she isn’t quite like your mother, because she wields astonishingly powerful magic, she’s regrettably unstable, she’s a dangerous slayer of monsters and sometimes even friends at bad moments. But she is my mother, the only one that I will ever have.

I took a moment to think that ancient incantation through carefully, three times, because it is Mother’s Day weekend here in Los Angeles, and the third time through she gave a small start. She turned her head slightly to look at me, and her cheeks took on pinkish tone I rarely saw. She took a quick breath, looking away for a second, but then she gave a slight, almost approving nod.

Mother said nothing to me but held out her glass; I refilled both of our tumblers. Together, we sipped in mutually comfortable silence and watched as those final unbound streaks flew inland, the bright pennants of love defiantly colorful against an ever-darkening sky.

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