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        ‘Moochie, what’s the matter, what is it?’ I was suddenly alarmed. I’d never seen Moochie uncomposed before. I tried to hug her bigness as I smoothed her thick tumbled hair, feeling totally useless in my feeble attempts to comfort her, to stop her tears. Gradually she quietened and raised a swollen face.

        ‘Thanks, Lydya,’ she croaked out. ‘Don’t worry. There’s nothing wrong, rely, I – I – I’m just a little drained after Berenice’s project.’ She blew her nose on an enormous square of turquoise and sniffed rapidly. ‘Look, have you a ciggie for me?’ she asked, with a laugh a long way back in her eyes, but there.

        I smiled in return and pulled out my Candeez. ‘Help yourself, honey chile. I’ll just get a cold cloth for you while you puff. You look awful.’

        When I got back with the towel, Moochie was once more serene, stretched out on her cushion, indigo against the plummy red, smoking intently. There was a look of singular concentration on her face, which she banished when she heard me. As I sponged her eyes and temples, she seemed to swing back to her normal exuberance. I knew that putting the music in did drain her, but I couldn’t lose the feeling that something had disturbed her deeply, shaken her to her centre. And whatever it was, it seemed she had no intention of confiding in me.

        By the time Cheva and I finally climbed into the flick and headed home, it was midnight. I was both exhausted and exhilarated. The viewing had taken hours , as I had expected it would, but they had been really good hours, with so much enthusiasm coming from the others that my energy level zoomed up and positively ricocheted around the dome. Moochie had kept waking Stella up. I was so involved in my own presentation that I didn’t do more than spare a quick glance at her little pointed face. I could see she was in that space between sleep and waking that keeps all your faculties stretched into fantasy. Tiamat knows what impressions she’d had of the whole thing! Moochie had been fully in control, with so many wisecracks and jokes that, for a moment, I doubted my memory of the afternoon.

        ‘If you let any other mind touch this mix, Lydya Brown, ‘she’d said to me threateningly, ‘I’ll personally find a way to set music to your nightmares!’ I was delighted. It would have been easy enough for her to give the work over to a junior, since she had so recently finished Berenice’s project. And as Senior in her field, she could pick and choose her projects. But I had never thought of anyone else doing mine. Cheva’s touch on my arm interrupted my musings. She pointed outside. We were flying high over still, black woods, and Luna rode in full majesty an armsreach away. Her light was streaking silver on the lakes and streams that wove in a through the furry blackness of the trees. Stars blazed and in the far north, rippling lines of pink, green and primrose sang the dance of the lights of the snow. Their beauty was just one drop too much. I hallucinated Home.

 

ooOOOoo

 

Time-Stream One

        The day was ice white and blue, pale winter sun spangling through the ice-thickened branches of the stoic trees. Darlene took a minute to absorb the day, the tinge of peach and smoke-blue the sun had brushed on to snowdrifts, the clarity of the air making the children’s coats blaze against the background of white. Living with Min had sharpened her ability to see, she thought, and made a mental not to tell Min so. Strange how difficult she found talking when she wasn’t with the children. She could talk to Shirley, but that was different - their talking was based on all the twin- years they shared and Shirley knew almost without words what she was saying.

        Lillian was easy too. Their loving togetherness filled some space in her, a space born she didn’t know when but it was connected with always being half, always being (until they were adults and adopted their own hairstyles and clothes) mixed up with Shirley, always being compared, and everyone’s property somehow because she was a twin. The joy of Lillie! The joy of finding a smile that answered her own, a chuckle that pulled hers into life, a matching leap of laughter that whirled them into dancing in the middle of a dark, rain-bouncing street. A smile curved from her lips into her eyes as she hurried forward into her working day.

        ‘Bonjour M’zelle, good morning Miss, hello Teacher.’ The greetings were a familiar part of the pattern of her mornings. The children looked too fat for movement in their bulky parkas, thick scarves, heavy boots, but they darted and rolled and wriggled nevertheless. Darlene stepped inside quickly to avoid being run into a by a group playing tag.

        A small hand slipped into hers. She looked down at Yvette with affection. You weren’t supposed to have favourites, but every teacher she knew – except Viner—did. This tiny-bodied child was hers. A delicate olive-skinned face, soft dark hair clinging in small curls to a wide forehead, tiny little ears. Watch it, she cautioned herself, don’t go overboard –she’ll be on her way into someone else’s class next year; crying for them as if they were your own was silly. But still she squeezed Yvette’s hand in a special hello and laughed as they slipped into the school.

        The staff room was a wide, untidy and attractive room with seats running under the windows on one side, plants in odd corners and hanging from the pelmet, books and paters everywhere. There were three very comfortable chair, seven moderately comfy ones and ten that were distinctly sever on the dierrière. The Marie Curie School for Girls was long on learning and short on funds and its teachers had an unspoken roster system for the chairs. If you had your period or were in crisis, you automatically got one of the three. If not, you took one of the ten three days in five. The school had an outstanding record of Junior Matriculation passes. Darlene had been delighted when, three years ago, she’d got the letter of appointment here.

        `”Hello chérie, how’s your wonderful twin today? She was superb on the radio!”

        Darlene struggled out of her thick blue peajacket, smiling at Lorae, a teacher her own age who had become quite a close friend.

        “Fine!” she replied, “went out with so much energy that someone should warn the computers or she’ll short-circuit them.’

        ‘Of course you’re discussing your clever sister,’ drawled Adele Viner as she walked through the door. ‘I suppose last night was a good work ploy, if a trifle epic.’

        ’What do you mean?’ asked Darlene.

        Adele shrugged her elegant coat off and hung it carefully on a padded hanger. ‘O defender of the community and all that. Caring for the rights of cabbagy housewives and squally brats. But very good for the computer business, I should think. Sound so right when someone like that seems to care for home and hearth.’

        ‘I think that some people think that everything is done with an ulterior motive,’ snapped Lorae. ‘Perhaps they’ve got one of those mirrors that only reflect themselves.’

        ‘How very unsubtle you are, Polski,’ said Viner.

        ‘Is that why you’d have done it, to look good at work?’ asked Darlene, genuine curiosity in her voice robbing the words of insult.

        Adele looked at herself in the small furry mirror and patted her hair. ‘Got to look after number one, haven’t you?’ she replied lightly, and strolled to the door. She paused, her hand on the handle. ‘I’ll ask my Ethics class, and let you know what they think – Ethics being so important these days.’ The door swung to behind her.

        ‘That woman drives me nuts,’ exclaimed Lorae, perching herself on the arm of the best chair. ‘I can’t figure out whether she’s deliberately bitchy, just acting superior or is so obscurely clever that my overworked brain can’t spot it!’

        ‘My trouble is, I don’t really care,’ answered Darlene. ‘Now move your ass, we’ve got to go to work.’ She gathered her belongings and went down the long chalk-scented corridor to her classroom. She liked her home room with the score of pupils’ drawings on the walls, the mobiles they’d made and hung, and the odd things they had on their own desks. She glanced at her watch. It was already twenty minutes to nine. Damn. Five more minutes of solitude, five minutes to get something on the board.

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