“The leaves of memory seemed to make
A mournful rustling in the dark.”
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, The Burning of the Driftwood.
I’d guess I was four or five.
The crèche was jiving, so I shuffled off to my nook. Our crèche-room had six nooks for privacy: there were many more than six of us, but few enjoyed solitude. I’ve always valued time alone; usually, nobody bothered me when I relaxed in my spot.
I was studying three fluorescent tubes in the ceiling, which normally cast a glare; but, for about a week, two of the tubes had been dark and lifeless. The third tube was dimly lit, and evenly spaced grey bands flowed noiselessly through its length. I marveled at the bands of shadow as they were emitted — like puffs of smoke — close to one end of the tube, floated mysteriously through the tube, and were absorbed near the other end. I sat calmly, hushed, hoping nobody else would notice the phenomenon. I was afraid the tube would be replaced if it was observed being different.
“Kurt?” Dr. Jhertzen appeared from around the corner; a small girl was beside and slightly behind him. “Oh. There you are,” he said, and propelled the girl toward me.
I looked into her deep, dark-brown eyes and smiled; she smiled back and we hugged. Her soul was pure. She smelled of lilacs, though it was many years later when I made the connection.
Dr. Jhertzen pulled us apart and said, “Kurt, this is Callie Lambda. Could you teach her to mesh?” The girl’s eyes widened when she realized she might be staying with our crèche.
Jessie was our de-facto leader, so I wasn’t sure why Dr. Jhertzen was leaving the girl with me (perhaps it was due to the scarcity of Lambdas; Callie was the only other Lambda I ever met), but I said, “Sure.”
I never argued with Dr. Jhertzen, but meshing wasn’t something you could teach: it was a thing you just did; like breathing. Meshing makes groups fit; it blends personalities together so that the edges disappear. Meshing is like the rounded corners of our crèche-room, where ceiling, floor and walls subtly curved into one-another without abrupt joints. Jessie said I was a genius at meshing, but she was much better at it when leadership was required. I couldn’t lead people, I could only mesh. Sometimes it exhausted me.
Dr. Jhertzen looked at Callie, said, “Don’t disappoint me,” and then left.
She was nervous, so I gestured toward the ceiling, at the two tubes that were burned-out. I said, “He didn’t even notice they were dead.” It took her a while, but she finally noticed the bands moving along the third tube and pointed them out to me.
I led her back to the group: “Hey, Jess,” I said, “come and see what Callie found.” Everyone followed, and they all thought the shadow-bands were pretty awesome (the three light-tubes were replaced later that day).
Callie died in an experiment a few weeks later.
I will never completely forget my crèche-mates; but, to the outside world, they are ethereal shadows (and, even to me, they are melancholy ripplets, fading into the past). I am certain that they are all dead. In memorandum, I’ve decided to list them, in order of their passing:
The ‘sickly’ boy: I think his real name was Isaac (or Isaiah). He used a powered wheelchair, had a wracking cough, and did not last more than a few years past infancy. Dr. Jhertsen told me that the boy — a Mu — had great promise, and his death was a tragedy.
Eduard. I cannot recall his designation. He was a gaunt child, filled with nervous humor and haunted by nightmares: he often awoke — screaming — in the middle of sleep-period. He died during his second experiment in a three-day period (an uncommon occurrence when we were young).
Jarmie Beta, who I remember as a bright, happy boy. His heart stopped in his sleep.
Callie Lambda; from another crèche, who we barely got to know.
Mattie Gamma: defiant, proud, and argumentative, but she had a natural warmth that only became apparent when I grew close to her. She and Argent were like oil and water. She was strangled to death in her sleep (Dr. Jhertzen told us it was an accident).
Walter Epsilon; quiet and strong. He followed Mattie everywhere, even through the veil of death. He lost the will to live after she was gone.
Carol Iota, one of the Iota ‘triplets’ (see Barbette and Charles below). Carol never spoke, deferring to Charles, the Iota spokesman. Carol passed away during a nighttime experiment (the first time one of the triplets had been in an isolation experiment); afterward, Barbette and Charles were never the same.
Argent, an Alpha-prime, though he refused to accept the designation (a prime is an interbred construct). He despised Jessie (he was clear about that); and, by association, me. Argent, Rudy and Alma formed a group that opposed Jessie and me, and we eventually had him barred from our crèche, and probably murdered by Dr. Jhertzen, or his ilk (it was inevitable, but that does not eradicate the stain. Argent did not mesh, but he did not deserve to die).
Saul Gamma, my exemplary, steadfast friend. His character was unimpeachable. Jessie thought he was sanctimonious (she would argue the point if she could, but that’s the way I saw it). She did, however, love Saul, who died saving her.
Sara Mu: Argent suggested that her name was short for Cerebellum (the idea stuck with the rest of the crèche: we all called her Sarah Bellum-Mu, and I think she enjoyed it). She was the smartest, but communication was a challenge for her. She had an uncontrollable stutter; once started, it was relentless, and she would refuse to speak again for days. Jesse attempted to develop a sign language, but Sarah wouldn’t cooperate.
Barbette Iota, a mousey, fidgety person. She was like a furtive bird; her head was in constant, jerky motion, looking this way and that, ever vigilant for signs of danger. She only spoke to me a few dozen times in all the years we shared the same space, cuddled, ate and slept together. She lived in mortal fear of Argent, and walked in Charles’ shadow.
Charles Iota was a large boy who developed into a larger young-man. His speech was slow and deliberate, yet a shrewd intelligence lurked behind his deep, dark-brown eyes, and his sarcastic wit often caught even Argent by surprise.
Alma Theta, a contemplative person. She was closest to Saul; she adored him, and vice-versa. Alma and I were close, but there was always a tension below the surface; nevertheless, I would have gladly died to save her, and I know she felt the same toward me.
Rudy Theta shared a body with Ruby. Argent always said that “they are of two minds.” And, although he meant it as a pugnacious comment, it was an accurate portrayal. Rudy was obstinate, introverted and pessimistic. And he thought Argent was a divine being.
Ruby Theta shared a body with Rudy. She was the most encouraging person I’ve ever had the pleasure to know. She was polite, outgoing, and altruistic. And she could convince Rudy to do anything, which was a miracle. Ruby could control Rudy, but Ruby was narcoleptic, and Argent took full advantage.
Ruth Epsilon was devoted to Argent. She was cleaver at manipulating people who should have known better (including me). She and I never saw eye-to-eye on any subject, but she was a sentient being with her own motivations and ethical tendencies; I suppose that, like the rest of us, she was making the best of her situation.
Jessie Beta. I cannot depict her succinctly. She was a warrior-angel; an Illuminati who jazzed the crèche and kept us whole. Without her, we would have been plunged into the depths of insanity. I owe her everything and accept life’s challenges with the memory of her verve — a palpable energy within — to guide me. It is said that our eyes are the windows to our soul; I could never even recall the color of her eyes; there was too much soul to view; she was open, honest, filled with potent energy, and she was real. She had no interest in intrigue; rather, she resided wholly in truth, which was often used against her. But words are inadequate tools; Jessie was a being beyond description: everyone who met her was enriched, even Argent would have granted the veracity of those words. I wish I could express my admiration for her remarkable character, but words —meager messengers — fail me.