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> Penelope in Plureality

“Some of our superpowers are like the kind in comic books. Some of them are stranger.” Trope smiled softly and turned away from me, looking out over the city below. The towers and lights along the dark horizon were parallaxing as the ship slowly drifted in the arc of its patrol. The stars and streetlamps and bending distances made me think of fairyland.   

“Can I go to fairyland?” I asked her. She brushed her shoulder-length hair back from her face. It was the same colour as the starlight. Turned back to me, began to reply, a long groaning sound rising from behind me, from inside the ship, its strange and ghostly engines. Trope paused until the noise faded.  

“There’s other places you have to go first.” I must have looked sad because she reached over and took my hand, and Trope didn’t really like to touch people that often, because of her training she said. “You will go there, though. You’ll have to, I suppose. I will take you, or maybe BurningBright. Or maybe even one of the Normals.”

Her eyes and voice had that deep feeling about them that made me a little scared and excited. A chime sounded from inside and her features became very still. I knew I would have to go. I imagined the inside of the gem and rotated it. It didn’t move.  

“Trope, I think the lock is-“  

Suddenly the sky was filled with a thousand dragons. And Trope was leaping off of the ship into the night, the city was burning, Alice Normal was holding me and saying “Take this, take this please” and leaning in to kiss me, it felt strange to kiss another girl, and I thought how strange that a Normal should make me feel so strange, but they always had, with the way they did magic all the time. And I was confused and terrified. And someone I hadn’t met yet – I hadn’t really met Alice yet either, in this Version – someone I didn’t recognize somehow reached out and twisted the gem by force. It opened and I was home on the couch.  

I was older here than I had felt on the ship. Early 40s, my blond hair tied back in a short tail, round hips, a scar on my forehead. I felt really anxious, really energized. Cleaning worked for the final hours of the night, cooking a casserole for the week’s lunches, packing each day’s serving individually in plastic containers, pausing to eat the remaining spoonfuls. Gathering dirty towels and underwear and socks to make a load’s worth, setting the pile by the washer. The early rush at the coffee shop would be over by then. I didn’t change or shower; I was trying to make my element Earth, like Sadhana Normal had taught me.  

The coffee was for the undine, the money it cost for the gnome, the cigarette for the salamander, reading the paper for the sylph. Joking with Herman at the counter was for the nymph, sitting by myself for the dryad. Judging the fashion of passersby was for the goblin. Writing down the fairy correspondences of my behaviours in my notebook was for the elf.  

I kept looking up at the sky. I would shiver slightly. Some hours later I walked the two busy blocks to the movie store and spent a while remembering stories and imagining stories, trying to find a movie to rent that would either amplify or soothe my mood. For a moment it reminded me of the gem, spinning slowly on a hundred invisible axes, following a secret pattern to align the necessary facet with the necessary light source to create reflection. My hand would rise slowly from my side towards a case then slowly fall away. I was like a breeze.   

There was no movie, or cartoon, or collection of tv episodes – I even searched through the videogames – that felt right. Like I was a scatter of stars in the night, and finding another light would pattern me, make me into a constellation. The search started to blur into everything I saw; the clothing on strangers, the names of stores, the colours of cars passing, each one a potential answer, a link that would join the strand of my mood and ideas into a loop, a necklace, something complete and wearable and anchoring. That shirt looked almost like a tunic so perhaps I was already in fairyland and it was hidden by glamours. Three blue cars, a burgundy, a red, perhaps a spectrum of signals like blood cells in the city’s circulatory system, and I was an antibody or an infection or maybe an alien implant. The side of the streets I walked on became declarations of allegiances. My posture waiting at intersections was tuning an antenna for different frequencies. I had detached from the Maps I had been taught and even from the echoes of the event last night, and I knew that according to Sadhana I had fallen from the earth into the sky and must make peace with the wind.  

“Dr. Durpa please.”  

“May I ask whose calling?”  

“Penelope Winter.”  

The receptionist transferred me. Sadhana came on the line with a rushed voice and I knew I shouldn’t have called, knew exactly how the conversation would go like I had seen the script already, but I had to see it through, like it was a prison sentence. She reminded me that calls between appointments were for emergencies only. I tried to explain that I was still feeling… and I listened as the words failed me, knowing they would even as I began. Then Sadhana offered a word – “liminal” – and I didn’t think she would, and the word surprised me. And I had the feeling that everything was going to be ok. So we confirmed my appointment for next week and I left the phone booth.  

The park was busy, the weather was nice, but all the people and trajectories had become a flow, gentle, after she had used that word. The grass was soft and so green, soft and waxy, tickling the palms of my hands and fingertips. I slipped off my shoes and socks.   

I was Penelope Winter and I was Liminal.