Description: After "FIN2," an angry, grieving Gabrielle considers stuff, meets another ghost, and receives a very unique gift.
Thanks: To the Bardic Circle.
copyright July 2001Didja like it? MiladyCo@aol.com
I am naked on my knees in the blood-soaked grass. It's a beautiful sunny day and the air sings with mocking laughter. I stare at my hands and realize that my skin is permanently stained red. Suddenly I look up and there's Callisto, so big she blocks out the sun. She throws her head back as she laughs, her body shaking, her long blonde hair rippling down her back; she seems so free in her anger, so alive with it.
"When life gives you lemons, no matter how bitter they may be, you can still make lemonade," she explains, "It'll quench your thirst, if you can bear the taste."
"When I asked her to teach me everything she knew, I didn't mean for her to include despair," I answer.
I wake up. The campfire is cold. I don't care. I feel lost; she's been dead for seven days. There is no title now that I do not by rights possess, and I reject them all. What I am now is Nothing. I have realized that everything is an endless cycle; life to death to life, like day to night, as simple and as inevitable. An ever-turning windmill attached to nothing. Even love and beauty and truth are only fleeting things, only concepts. These days I travel alone. I am the thing that is and is not. I live and yet I feel dead. I have become my own riddle. Add that to my titles; The Riddle Once Called Gabrielle.
I plant seeds. In the days since I became Nothing, I have traveled, because that is all I know. I buy all kinds of seeds along the way and every night when I camp, I plant some. For myself, I plant flowers. Usually a protective ring around the campsite, sometimes in rows. And in her name, not that she needs one now, I plant herbs that are useful for healing. I spell out words with the seeds, like "why" and "always" and "love." Words are just words; it's amazing how long it took me to figure that out. Pretty things that they are, they're not life and death, they're not night and day, so they don't really matter. Life is: the beginning, the end, the beginning, and the struggle. But the trick is, the struggle is meaningless; the cycle itself is the only real meaning. How long can you look forward to meeting your challenges day after day when you know that in the end it's pointless? When you know that in the end everything beautiful dies.
As I am Nothing, I don't feel much. When I see people in trouble, which somehow I do almost every day, I help them. I help people because I can and because it's right; same as always. For me that's still real, like the sky is blue. But I don't feel for them anymore, I don't care about their lives. I never understood how she could lose touch with humanity the way she did, but now I understand. I believe I understand everything now.
There is only one thing that I feel anymore, and it never goes away. The searing pain of my love for her like a blade trapped forever in my chest. Each time I breathe it rubs against my heart. I don't know what to do to make it stop. Except of course cease breathing.
Tonight I planted hyacinth and cannabis. For dinner I had rabbit, as I often do; fishing makes me too sad and there's not much else around. I sit by the fire drinking wine and brushing my hair. I have decided to let it grow for a while, see who I become. I write in my journal. No matter how much good we did, how much we tried to help, our lives were always still full of pain. Clearly there will be no time now when it isn't so. So the question is, is it a fact that to live the life of a hero one must experience endless pain and an early death? And if so, what is the lesson there? The crickets chirp and I will not think of the hundreds of nights we spent together by the campfire. How nice it was to just be sitting there with her, even if she wasn't talking, even if she was angry or depressed, even if everything had just gone wrong again, it was always so right just to be with her. Why why why, when I tried as hard as I could, did I still fail? Why is it that I, Nothing, still rage against the ravages of fate? Dear gods, there is no "thing" that makes life fair. We even tried to be that thing, and we failed hopelessly. There is life and death, and nothing else has a reason and why can't I understand that? How could anyone who named that particular baby "Hope" ever understand something like that?
It occurs to me again that if I were dead we would be together. I write in my journal about the ways I could become dead, like terrible accidents, or fighting a losing battle, the way she did... Or I could just do it, just slit my own throat and be done with all this, all these unanswerable questions, all this pain, and again be by her side. I trace the tattoo on my leg, the one that is so much like the symbol she drew on her foot in India. I like the way the tattoos feel, as if my skin is stronger now.
Suddenly I recognize her presence, and she appears next to me on the bedroll. She is so beautiful and the fact that she wears the brown leather she always wore mocks my pain. She looks so sad. It rips my heart out but it is wonderful to see her.
"You," I say, tears in my eyes again.
"I wish--" she whispers and I cut her off.
"Don't. It won't help."
I put my arms around her and we fall back onto the bedroll. I unhook her breast plate and throw it across the clearing, and I lay my head on her chest; we hold each other. I can hear her heart beating and I want to ask her why it beats but I don't want to talk with her. I don't want anything but just to hold her. Her arms around me feel so solid, but she doesn't have a scent. Even as a child, I never really understood what "real" was. If the characters in a scroll move me and the townspeople do not, who is real? If the woman in my arms is dead but I can see her and touch her, is she not real? I don't want to go to Greece or anywhere I'm known. I don't want to hear them ask, "Is Xena dead?" or "Do you miss Xena?" or to have to tell the gruesome tale of how my beloved died. Because she isn't dead, not ever, really.
"I feel like I'm both of us now," I whisper into her hair, "It's like I have your confidence and your strength, like I carry on your legacy in the world."
"I'm so proud of you," she whispers back, "I think I'll have to go soon. I can feel myself starting to slip away."
I hold her more tightly. I'm not going to cry. "Come back soon. I miss you."
I can feel her heart beat faster, and then she's gone. I realize that I have to learn to enjoy the even littler things in life.
I've started to have dreams now when I am awake, I think. Or maybe I've just opened myself up to seeing ghosts. There's no way to tell at this point. I try to remember to write it all down.
I sit on the sand by the lake. The moon is high so it's bright and suddenly she appears to me. A beautiful woman, dressed in the style of Chin, she seems to step out of a door in the air before me. I rise to meet her and we look into each other's eyes. My heart beats quickly, and I tell myself I am awake.
"Your every step is thunder to me as you travel through Chin," she says, "the beautiful warrior-poet and her ghost. Your presence makes my consciousness take form again, it focuses my spirit."
"You know me?" I ask, still taking her in, long dark hair, flowing red silk.
"Yes, and you know me as Lao Ma, as does your ghost," she says, smiling at my surprise.
"She's here?" I ask.
"Not at this moment, but often enough."
"It's an honor to meet you, Lao Ma," I say, inclining my head. Suddenly everything I have seems insignificant and dirty, in comparison to her. "Have you any wisdom to share with this luckless, melancholy soul?"
Her laugh is charming. No wonder my ghost was so in love with her.
"Gabrielle," she says, smiling at me, "there is nothing I could say that you do not already know."
"And yet you are the great wise woman," I joke, staring at the vision in the moonlight, listening to my voice deepen and crack as I speak, "I was foolish enough to believe that love and beauty and truth were things that could last, that they were things that I could fight for and win. I can't help thinking there's something more to learn, to understand, and that when I understand it, the pain will lessen."
Lao Ma smiles indulgently at me in the moonlight. She moves a step closer and quickly pulls a long, black pin from her hair. One end of it is carved into a crow's head, with eyes ringed in Egyptian gold. She hands it to me and it is heavier than I thought it would be; metal not wood.
"It belonged to your ghost," says Lao Ma, "We gave it to each other more than once." She pauses, smiling, remembering. "The thing I tried hardest to teach her, she did, in the end, learn from you."
"To conquer herself." I turn the hair pin in my hand, imagining my beloved, young, angry, and confused.
"Yes. She gave in to the will of the universe, and put her own aside."
"Will I ever be able to do that?" I ask her, "In the end, all I wanted was her. I didn't care if others had to suffer."
"You must learn to accept things as they are; that is the beginning" she says, and she starts fading away.
I am alone on the beach, holding a hair pin. A hair pin, a pot of ashes, and a chakram. I could write a story about that, if I had to. I guess I'm too rigid. Too full of rage and hope. How odd that hope would be something one has to give up to find peace.
The universe is kind enough to grant me a sensual dream tonight; my ghost lover comes to me and we kiss. She makes love to me with a tenderness and an abandon that leaves me weak when I awaken the next morning in the sunlight. Another day of traveling until I'm at the edge of Chin. I hope that Lao Ma will come to me again. I wear the hair pin in my top; the metal is warm against my breast. I break camp and continue my journey. If my ghost is near me often, I will speak to her. It couldn't hurt.
"In case you're around, I thought I'd share some of my thoughts with you. I bet I could still talk non-stop for hours if I tried. Ready?" I glance up at the sky, behind the trees, hoping to catch a glimpse of her. "This morning I wonder, as our souls travel together, and this is the destiny of yours for now, what does that say about me? Who or what am I in this picture, when I hurt more at your death than you do? Have we both done such terrible things in previous lives that we must always suffer so? Is the only joy in the life of a hero the knowledge that you have done the right thing? Because I know now, no matter what, my life is basically cursed. I have known all the love I am to know. I will know no peace, even if I travel far away and change my name. I'm strong and I can protect people. As there's nothing else in the world but pointless cycles, I can't withdraw from society; I must continue to fight. I feel like I have no choice." I take the chakram in my hand and stare at it, "I wanted to bring peace to the world, I wanted to teach people about love. Remember how much I wanted to do that?" I replace the weapon and continue along the road.
And then my ghost is there, walking at my side. She looks down at me and smiles. It makes me want to die, it feels so normal.
"Great warrior," she asks, "I hear you have done some impressive things in your lifetime. Would you do me the kindness of relating some stories to inspire me on my lonely way?"
"Well, let's see," I say, taking her hand and playing along, "I've led many armies into battle, and I fought at Troy. I've traveled through most of the world, and a number of underworlds. I've won many barding competitions, and seen many a fine performance. Babies were named for me, and I've died more than once. I've been a queen and I've helped change the course of history more times than I can count. I've met people from the future, and I've had hundreds of extraordinary adventures." I pause, because my natural flair for the dramatic won't allow me not to. "And I spent six years with the most wonderful woman, experiencing the kind of love most people only hear about in stories, the kind of love that continues on into eternity, far past death."
"Sounds like you've had a fascinating life, you should feel happy for that. Who's the lucky lady?" she jokes.
"Her name was Xena. She died."
"But you said your love continues past death."
"Yeah, but it's not the same."
"It all works out in the end," she says.
"There is no end."
As she begins to fade away, she notices the crow's head hair pin attached to my top, but she's gone before she can speak.
"This is crazy-making," I say aloud. I walk all day and try not to think about the past. All my senses are always aware now; no one, dead or alive, will ever sneak up on me again.
I finish my day of walking and not-thinking, to set up camp by another shore of this endless body of water. I'm sure Lao Ma would know what it was called. I hope she will come to me again tonight, for I believe it is my last in Chin. While dinner cooks I practice with the chakram. I'm starting simply, banking it off a rock and catching it; tomorrow I'll try two rocks. Though I'm not much more than nothing, I don't really want to die. I want to find a way to feel okay again.
I am about to begin another conversation with my possibly absent ghost, when Lao Ma steps through the door in the sky, and onto the beach.
"Tell me," she says.
"I always feared that there was no point to life, that bad things just happened to good people for no reason, and I hid this fear in the very back of my mind." I look at the sand while I speak. To admit my deepest fears to someone so flawless is terrifying. "I loved her so much, Lao Ma, and she always seemed so unstoppable, that I thought it would be safe to make her the only thing that mattered. Loving her became my reason for being, my great joy, my rest at the end of a days hard work, my substitute for everything else. Even at the end of the world, there she would be, still standing. She was my way, my one necessity, my own soul. I loved her more than my self and I can't count the times I did wrong in the name of that love. I don't regret it." I look at Lao Ma almost defiantly, but I know she understands.
"She did what she had to do. You would have done the same," she says, and then smiles slyly, "In fact, I believe you would have preferred it that way."
"For a million reasons," I say, "I just can't believe this is the answer to her life."
Lao Ma smiles. "It is an answer. It is what happened."
I nod. I wait. I know that if anyone knows, she knows.
"To have faith that things happen as they should is to make peace with the way of the universe."
"Look at me. I'm a warrior. I don't make peace, I fight for it." It is as if I've been a warrior forever and yet I wonder how it happened.
"I would not presume to tell you your path," says Lao Ma, "Tell me why you plant seeds."
"Why?" I ask myself for the first time. "If a traveler finds just what they need at just the right time, because I planted it there, I'm helping people I will never meet." I pause. "And I guess I want to make up for some of the bad things we did while we tried to do good. Flowers in the grass instead of blood. I guess I still care more than I thought. Thank you."
I stare at her in the moonlight. Lao Ma fades back into the night sky, a smile on her face. I lie back on my bedroll and stare up into the stars. I hold the hair pin in my hand, feeling its weight, the weight of some kind of future.
"Nice hair pin," says my ghost.
I jump. I'm about to fall asleep and I didn't realize she was here.
"Yes. Lao Ma gave it to me," I say, suddenly feeling as guilty as if I'd slept with her.
"I suppose she pulled it out of Ming T'ien's skull herself."
"I imagine so." I am sitting up now, half asleep, staring into my true love's eyes. "I'm going to grow my hair." If I had eternity I'd spend it just like this, same if it were only thirty seconds.
"You were always at your best without me," she says.
"My best, maybe. But not my happiest."
She slips her arm around me and I lean into her. I smell her and realize that as she has no scent, the smell of nothing has started to remind me of her.
"What did Lao Ma have to say?" she asks.
"She suggested that conquering myself was the way to go."
She laughs and kisses my head. "Some things never change."
"You know she's right, of course. Yet still I like to think that this could all be a dream," I whisper, "Or perhaps as we get farther from Japan things will be different. Is this another universe, or a spell perhaps?"
"It's not the Fates, it's not Ares, it's not something I ate," she says, quoting herself directly from one of my older scrolls, "I have no poison dart marks, I have no Bacchae bites."
"You never were all that funny," I tell her.
Perhaps I am a fool, but I like to think that some day we will be together in a way less bittersweet than this, but until then, I endure. Usually, I admit, the people I meet call me "warrior." I never tell anyone who I was, the name that used to be mine, the name she uses when she speaks to me. Maybe I want that to be only for her now, the way she is only for me. I travel on, armed with symbols; my chakram and my sais, my hair pin and my pot of ashes.
I leave Chin and I still don't know where I'm going. It matters a little less each day. If I am lucky, I go where the universe wills. If I am lucky, some day, I will no longer care.