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“But how do you know it will never happen?” asked the exasperated boy trudging behind Daphne. Somehow the water jugs she carried grew heavier with every twist in this improbable conversation.
“Because Lemon doesn’t have a uterus,” Daphne said, “and puppies can’t grow without one.” Lemon cocked his head at the mention of his name but was soon distracted by the myriad of new scents on the water trail. Had it really only been eight years since her sons were this age? Daphne didn’t mind helping out a neighbour, but she’d forgotten how many questions a six-year-old could dream up in the span of a few hours.
“Oh, then where did Lemon come from? You don’t have any girl dogs.”
“He was a gift from Mr. MacArthur. He once traded with someone who had too many puppies.” She never would have imagined that a half-starved, flea-infested puppy would grow up to be her most treasured companion.
“Why did you name him Lemon? What’s a lemon?”
“Lemons are a type of fruit that people used to grow,” Daphne said as she lowered the jugs to the ground paused to catch her breath. “My grandfather made a kind of cold tea with them when I first moved here to make me feel at home.” He’d squeezed all of the juice out of them, added three rations of water, and most peculiarly stirred in the last few spoonfuls of his coveted stash of white sugar. Daphne thought it tasted as sour and sweet as the first happy day after a long period of grief. The boy frowned and opened his mouth as if he was about to say something.
“What would you like for dinner, Felix?” she asked. “Pancakes or vegetable soup?” Given the circumstances Daphne didn’t think it was good idea to mention how her mother had died or that she’d been just a little older than him when it happened. She rarely thought about what her life would have been like had her mother survived. The memory was too old and well-healed to cause her much pain now, but there was a small piece of her heart that would give anything for her sons to have met their grandmother.
“Soup,” he said.
MacArthur was the last person Daphne expected to see as she walked into her front yard. His sun hat was pushed back from his head and his cheeks and nose were rosy. Surely a man his age would know better than to get a sunburn!
Two thin ewes lay in the dirt next to his feet. Makeshift rope leashes were tied around their necks, but Daphne doubted they had enough energy to run away even if they hadn’t been restrained. She wondered what he’d traded for the ewes, and who had been willing to part with such a valuable commodity during the hungry time of year.
“I have bad news,” he said with a weak smile as she approached him. “There is an odd epidemic in Prescott. It looks like the flu but it doesn’t seem to predictably spread from one person to the next the way most diseases do. They’ll be shutting down the trade routes soon until this blows over. Do you need anything?
“No, I have everything I need. You should go home to your family.” She’d lived too many years to fear what might never happen, and more importantly she didn’t want to frighten the boy. He was just old enough to understand why certain words put such fear into the hearts of adults, and she fervently hoped he wouldn’t figure out why this was one of them.
After lunch she took her two small companions with her while she weeded and irrigated the garden nearest to her home. Flashbacks of her sons’ childhood flooded her mind as Felix asked her where the sun went after dark, why the gods were so easily angered, and why he had to be born with two souls.
His final question snapped her out of her concentration. His eyes – one brown, one green – studied her with a level of concentration only found in six-year-olds who discover two new questions for every one that is answered. How could she answer his question without disparaging one of the most widely held religious beliefs of the Mingus Mountain area?
Most of her friends and neighbours believed that sometimes two souls are reincarnated into the same body. One could tell someone had more than one soul if they had an unusual birthmark or other physical feature.
This wasn’t necessarily a good thing. If the souls had accumulated good karma in their previous lives the two-souled person would bring luck and prosperity to his or her family and community. Their parent’s land would be fertile, and their younger siblings would grow up healthy and strong. Sometimes new siblings would even arrive in pairs, and twins were always lucky!
If both souls had not lived virtuous past lives, though, their condition could be considered a punishment from the gods. Perhaps the better side of their nature had been told to overpower the bent one, or maybe two souls who had made terrible decisions in their last few lifetimes were sent into the same body so that they could hurt fewer people in this one.
The only way to tell was to observe the child carefully for signs. A birthmark that faded over time was a good sign. One that grew darker or larger was not because it meant that the bent side of their nature was winning.
Privately Daphne held doubts about this theory. The markings were often bizarre, but she wasn’t sure how a small child could have any influence on whether their siblings lived or how much rain fell from the sky. Between never marrying into an established family and bearing two children under such distasteful circumstances her unorthodox life was already a source of gossip in the community. The younger generations were used to her, but Daphne didn’t want to give her peers anything else to dissect.
“I don’t know,” she said. “Some things are a mystery.”