All the Little Pieces by Maple
Written for a quote challenge. Quote: "Over the years you have left parts of your soul in many places. Those pieces must be retrieved for you to survive the rituals." A Distant Magic by Mary Jo Putney
Oscca pulled the jar of clover honey and the small sack of raw almonds from her bag and placed them down in front of the old woman.
The old woman studied the precious objects for a moment. She touched a fingertip to the top of the honey jar. "Fine payment," she said, "You shall have all of my assistance."
Oscca was relieved. She had been worried that perhaps the gifts would not be enough. This was her last hope to figure out what was wrong with her. She'd been to doctors and scientists, not a few psychologists and psychiatrists, and none of them had divined what ailed her. "What do I need to do?" she asked.
"Come and lie down here." The old woman motioned to a small cot in the corner of the room.
Oscca did as she was asked and waited as the woman got some small things ready. She didn't know what the woman would do exactly, but she was near the end of her rope and willing to endure a great deal just for the small sliver of hope. This old woman--Wendaley Stonewheat, was her business name--had been recommended to Oscca. She practiced dream-sight, she had been told, out of her little house.
It would cost her, though. Oscca had been advised to bring the honey and almonds--rare items now that honeybees were endangered, although Oscca had always had an affinity for bees and kept a few colonies on her own. The almonds she had bartered for with a man who grew them and desperately needed her bees for pollination. The honey she had enough of.
"Sleepy?" asked the old woman.
"A little," Oscca admitted. The room was warm and stuffy.
"Good." The old woman came into view above Oscca. Her hair was grey, though it looked like once it may have been black, and pulled back into a severe bun. Her face was wrinkled and lined. But her eyes were clear and deep set. "It won't hurt, but you may feel slightly twisted."
"Twisted?" Oscca asked.
The old woman made a motion with her hands, of wringing out a cloth. "Just close your eyes. Let me see what there is." She sat down in a chair next to Oscca and was quiet.
Oscca waited for what seemed a long time before she finally dared to open her eyes just a little bit. Nothing had happened, yet, and she'd wanted to make sure everything was alright. "Wendaley?" she asked. But the old woman was not there. In fact, as Oscca looked around, she realized that the stuffy little room in the small house of Wendaley Wheatstone was not there.
She sat up, bewildered.
Even the cot wasn't there. She was sitting on the ground. It was a nice bit of ground. She was in a green field somewhere, and the field flowers were out. She immediately recognized the clover, although the rest of it was unknown to her. It was obviously summer, but the air was chilled and dewy, like it was still early morning.
She stood up and dusted herself off and looked in all directions. A small path started at one end of the field and vanished into a wood. That meant there had to be people or animals that made the path.
Still, Oscca hesitated to move away. She wasn't sure if this was part of the old woman's skill, or something else. She hadn't been given enough instructions to know what was right or wrong. Perhaps it was wrong to disturb anything in this unknown place.
She heard a familiar sound and found a small honeybee had landed on her shirt sleeve. It looked different, though, than what it should have looked like--it was brighter, somehow. She didn't touch it or try to move it, and it stayed on her shirt, slightly crawling around, enjoying the warmth.
The sun was getting higher, she thought. Soon there would be more bees in the field, gathering pollen. She closed her eyes and turned her face to the sun.
When she opened her eyes, she was back with Wendaley.
"Had a short trip, did you?" she asked.
Oscca sat up. "Yes, how did you know?"
The old woman pointed to the small bee still on her shirt.
"Oh, no," Oscca said. "Can you send it back? It needs its particular hive to survive."
"That's true," said the old woman. "But I believe its hive, so to speak, is you." She reached out an old, boney finger and nudged the bee. It flew off the fabric, but instead of buzzing around, it grew brilliantly yellow and glowed, larger and larger, until it dissipated like a fireworks display falling in the sky.
Something inside Oscca sweetened, just for a moment, and she felt ever so slightly better.
"I don't understand," Oscca said.
"Your trip took only a moment of time," the old woman explained. "And I was able to dream-see you. Your soul is very old and has been through many lifetimes. And each lifetime you cling to, to keep some it of it with you. To do this, each time you have left a little piece of yourself behind. There is enough of you missing now that you feel it in your daily life, and it is making you unwell. You need to reclaim these parts of your soul."
"Reclaim them?" Oscca tried to understand what the woman was telling her. She repeated it in her mind. "But won't that take a very long time? All these other lives?"
"It will take both a very long time and hardly any time at all," the old woman replied. "A few minutes here could be lifetimes to you in your memories and in the dream-world and the past where you have left these pieces of yourself." She stood. "Let me make you a cup of tea." She vanished off to her kitchen to leave Oscca to think of her predicament.
Oscca fiddled with the tassels on her coat, trying to digest the strange pronouncement. She should have been scared, she supposed, but the explanation seemed true and right. The double vision, the aches and pains, the difficulty sleeping, the strange dreams, her exhaustion, and all her other vague symptoms and illnesses made sense in this context.
She'd always been a bit too sentimental. She had boxes of old letters, the seashells of every beach she'd ever visited, and numerous other things tucked away. She was a saver, a hoarder. She never wanted to let go.
It didn't seem surprising that she would have created links to her past lives by leaving something of herself behind. But that wasn't how past lives were supposed to work, were they? One was meant to grow and evolve from life to life, but not remember all those trials and tribulations. But she never could let go.
Now it was interfering in her current life, all those bits and pieces of her strung out over time and space. She thought of her parents, who worried about her, and she thought of her fiancé, who loved her fiercely. How could she concentrate on them when there wasn't even enough of her left to concentrate on herself?
The old woman came back into the room with two steaming cups of tea and handed one to Oscca. "You've had some time to think. Are you prepared for this journey?"
"Yes," said Oscca, and she sipped at the tea. "What must I do?"
"Drink your tea, and lie down again. See where your thoughts take you. You have connections to the parts you left behind. You need only to go and collect them."
"Okay," said Oscca. She tasted the tea again and wondered if the old woman had given her a drought to help her travel. "Have you done this before?"
"A few times," the old woman replied. "You're not the only one. It can be hard to leave behind old loves and precious family, perhaps children, and all your friends in the years past." She glanced to an old photo propped up on the top of a cabinet. "Most people leave a piece of themselves behind in some special place, with a particular love or friend. It's very common. You've just left far too much behind."
Oscca finished her tea and set the cup aside. She leaned back and stared into space in front of her, willing her mind to quiet down. It buzzed with fragments of thoughts, and she leapt from one idea to the next. What lives had she lived? Was she ready to see all those past memories and thoughts? But how could she resist? She wanted to see who she had been, who she had known.
"Just close your eyes," the old woman said. "I'll help you with the hard dreaming."
Oscca did and waited. She didn't wait as long this time, but when she opened her eyes, it was the same as before. The stuffy room was gone, and instead she was elsewhere.
The bed she'd woken up in was small but comfortable, and there was a doll beside her. It was an old fashioned sort, and looked pristine. But of course, it would be, she reminded herself, because she was back to the actual place.
She spent a few minutes orientating herself to the room. It was a child's room. The frocks were lovely--rose and sky colored. A few books were tucked here and there. There was an inkwell and a stiff-nibbed pen on a writing desk, and a journal.
Oscca thumbed through it. If this was her room, then she was a very privileged child. And an only child. She hadn't had enough time to get beyond the basics in the little diary, when a knock came swiftly on the door and she jumped.
The door swung open to reveal a handsome man in his late twenties, with dark hair, and a happy expression. He looked very familiar to Oscca, though she couldn't exactly place him. "There you are. Writing again? My little Elssa, there'll be time enough to be an authoress later. Frederick is waiting for you. Don't you want your riding lesson?"
Oscca looked around for a moment before she realized that he was actually looking at her. Did she appear to be a small child to him? She put the journal down and took a few steps toward the man. "I lost track of the time," she ventured.
He swooped in and kissed her on the forehead, obviously not noticing that she was much taller than a child. "You always do," he said, though it wasn't unkind. It was more like a father who'd had to scold his daughter a hundred times before for the same thing, but was entirely too indulgent to actually be harsh. "You must promise to keep better care of the time, you know. It will be more important to you as you grow older."
"I promise to try," Oscca said. That part of her personality hadn't changed over the years too much, then. She was always running late for everything.
The man--her father--lead her by the hand into a carpeted corridor and down a grand staircase and outside to where another man was waiting with an already saddled pony.
"See, miss? Frederick was very anxious for his ride today," said the gentleman who held the pony by the bridle.
Oscca took a step back. She was entirely too large to get on a pony! She'd hurt the poor thing.
"What's the matter?" asked her father.
Oscca took a deep breath. It had been so easy the first time. How was she supposed to find her soul-part here in this old and complicated memory-world?
"I want to ride very much," Oscca began. Whatever she said or did, she didn't want to upset the past, even if she wasn't entirely sure she was in the real past, or just a shady memory of it. She leaned in toward her father. "May we walk for a moment first and talk?"
Her father looked surprised for a moment and then nodded. He took charge of the pony from the other man with a quick nod. "Of course."
They walked for a few yards down the drive. Her father led the pony and Oscca walked along beside them both. Oscca found the trees lining the yard to be beautiful, tall, and old.
"You know you can tell me anything, Elssa. Is there something the matter?"
"Yes and no. I…I woke up feeling very strange today," she began.
Her father instantly put his hand to her forehead. "You feel unwell?"
"No, not exactly," she said.
Her father stopped the pony and pulled her around to face her, each hand on a shoulder, and he squatted down. He must have thought they were face to face now, but Oscca had to bend her knees quite a bit to look into his eyes. "If you don't feel well, you must tell me immediately." He brushed his fingers through her hair with a tender, fatherly movement. "When we lost your older brother…." He couldn't go on and just shook his head. "We don't want to lose you, too."
"Oh, pappa," Oscca said, moved by his depth of loss. Behind her father, the pony flicked an ear. Oscca patted her father's shoulder and shifted forward, trying to catch the little bee that was buzzing around Frederick's ear.
"Elssa?" he asked behind her, but she'd finally cupped her hand over the little insect. It buzzed violently and she hoped it wouldn't sting her and die.
"I caught a bee," she said and turned, but the entire scene had changed. She was standing in a little cemetery off to the side of a white clapboard church with a pointy steeple. It was winter, with snowflakes swirling all around, though she didn't feel the cold at all.
The little bee was still in her hands and she unclasped them. The bee did what the other one had done, and turned into a small ball of glory-yellow and faded.
Oscca swayed in the little cemetery, light headed and full.
Oscca put out her hand to steady herself, touching the cold marble stone of a marker. The woman who had spoken came closer and took her by the elbow.
"Now, dearie, enough of that. Come inside now, it's time to quilt."
Oscca let the woman lead her into the church, and down into the basement area where it was crammed with women in old fashioned dresses. Fabric and thread were everywhere, and a very large quilt frame was set up in the center.
"Wow," said Oscca.
"What'd you say, dearie?" The woman that had led her in now took her to an open position at the quilt frame. The small section in front of her was white fabric and the thread was also white. "Here now. You're famous for those steady stitches of yours. Seventy years and I still say you're the best quilter I've ever seen."
"Oh, I wouldn't say I'm very talented at it," Oscca replied. She stared at the small expanse of empty white fabric. She could quilt, but only very poorly. She'd never put very much time or effort into it because she'd always been so busy with other projects. How would she ever pull this off?
The woman wandered away and Oscca busied herself with preparing the little quilting needle with thread. She glanced at the others to see how they were doing it to make sure she had it right. All around her the conversation ebbed and flowed. These woman had a rhythm to their work, both in their hands and in their tongues.
Oscca punched the needle though in one spot and started to quilt. The woman next to her paused for half a stitch as Oscca raggedly pulled the needle through and then stabbed it down again. "If you just want to sit for a moment, Becca, we'd all understand. Has the arthritis been bad for you again this winter?"
Oscca kept her eyes down and nodded. She clipped the thread and pulled out the three stitches that she'd managed.
The woman clucked her tongue. "And it's the first year without your sister. I know that must be difficult for you still."
"Yes," Oscca said. "It is." She wondered if that was why she'd been in the little cemetery earlier. A sister. She didn't have a sister herself, but she'd always wanted one. Either an older one to look up to or a younger one to boss around. Both seemed equally grand and, she supposed, equally annoying. Siblings weren't all fun and games.
So, in this life, she'd had a sister. And if she had arthritis, she was probably an older woman. She wondered what her sister's name had been.
"Here," said the woman next her in a very kind voice, "slide over and I'll work your area for you. I used to do that sometimes for Victoria when her hands hurt her. It's the thought that counts, I say, when it comes to a quilting bee. And the company always makes the stitches go faster. The quilt will get done and in time for the auction, don't you fret about that."
"I won't, thank you so very much," Oscca said as the woman moved down on the bench. Victoria. It had a sisterly sound to it.
The woman finished off the square of white in almost no time and then everyone pulled away from the quilt for a few minutes while the frame was turned and a new area of virgin fabric was revealed. The women rethreaded their needles and went happily back to work.
The patch in front of Oscca now was an appliquéd basket overflowing with grapes and flowers. A very small patch of white stood out where two flowers bent away from each other. Tentatively Oscca picked up a needle and thread. The woman next to her gave her a brilliant smile. "It's the thought that counts. You do what you want and I'll finish up and give you a hand."
"You're very kind," Oscca said. She pushed the needle into the fabric. In her mind, she formed the outline of a honeybee, and as skillfully as she could, she made her thread conform to that outline.
"That's so clever, Becca," said her new friend. "A little honeybee amongst the petals. It's a beautiful detail."
"You helped to inspire it," Oscca said quietly. She finished the last stitch of the bee and sat back to look at it. She frowned. The little patch of white wasn't clean anymore, it looked very lemony. But then she realized that it wasn't the fabric that was stained--it was the little figure of the bee exploding into a brilliant starburst of honey-color. She felt it infuse into her.
I left my soul at the quilting bee, Oscca thought as she closed her eyes. The warmth of the little bee suffused into her and she began to feel very much at peace. That's three parts of my soul returned, she realized. She didn't feel so empty anymore. The warmth of her past lives was precious to her and had been full of good people. She saw how she had been so tempted to leave her heart and soul behind with those lives. A fresh outdoor field, a doting father, a circle of woman friends sharing their troubles and giving each other comfort. She'd had what seemed to be three very wonderful lives, even if she'd only seen a glimpse of each.
No life was without its own sadness and weariness, but the ones she'd seen looked more full of love and goodness than of bad times.
How many other lives had she lived? And how many pieces of her soul were left to find? She didn't feel that it was very many. She already felt nearly full to bursting with her own vibrancy.
Perhaps it was only the good lives, and the good people in them, that she had tied herself to. She doubted that she would have left a part of her soul behind if her life had been a terrible and desperate one. So, she could have had many other lives and just not be drawn back to experience them. She would have to remember to ask Wendaley.
Oscca opened her eyes and found she'd been taking a nap on a well worn leather couch in front of a fire now gone to coals. She yawned and stretched, feeling comfortable and sleepy. No one was around and everything was quiet so she put a few more logs on the fire and stoked it up until it was again giving off warmth.
She explored the space she had arrived in. It was cozy and tidy, full of beautiful things. She wandered to one of the small, round windows. She gasped. She wasn't in a house--it was some kind of boat. She went from window to window trying to see more of the outside world--she wasn't ready to risk going above deck just yet--and she became sure that she was docked on the Seine in Paris.
She turned back to exploring the inside of the boathouse. She found clothing for both a woman--taller than she herself was--and a man who was just about her own fiancé's size. The kitchen was tiny, though functional, and fresh vegetables and fruit dominated the refrigerator.
Part of the space looked like it was an artist's studio. Charcoal and inks, and thick creamy pieces of paper were present--as if the artist had just been sketching and grown tired and paused to take a short nap.
Oscca fingered the papers. The one on top was of a park area--flowers and children and puppies. Very touristy. She flipped through to the next page and found a striking picture of a beautiful woman with short dark hair and a mischievous expression. Could this be herself? Oscca studied the portrait but ultimately decided it wasn't. There was too much of a hint of haughtiness and mystery--it was someone else.
She flipped through to another and found a portrait of a teenaged boy on the verge of manhood--he was laughing and seemed very good-natured, although he'd been given an air of slight goofiness, too. The owner of the barge? Or just a passerby as the artist people-watched?
It was a beautiful life, certainly, and she could see why she'd left a part of her soul here. But where to find the little bee that she needed? She sensed that this lifetime was the end of it. After this one, she would be whole again and ready to take on her own life without these other, though happy, lives pulling her away in their directions.
Absently, she flipped to the next sheet and caught her breath. It was her fiancé.
He stared up at her from the page, darkly serious, and smoldering, as handsome as when she'd seen him that very morning. How could that be?
She'd heard that souls traveled in clusters and groups--were his and hers so entwined that they were destined to find each other again and again? But that didn't explain how or why he looked exactly like he did in her life. Could he be his own grandfather? Great-grandfather?
She rummaged around in the desk until she found a calendar. 1993. That put this lifetime over fifty years in the past. She supposed it would make sense if Duncan were reincarnated as his own grandson. She would ask Wendaley. Perhaps that was why she had begun to feel uneasy and ill. It had been time that she understood about how she and Duncan's souls were destined to travel around each other for each lifetime. After all, they had just become engaged and were planning on a wedding in about a year. What better moment to understand that they were meant to be together, lifetime after lifetime?
It was a too romantic notion, of course, but it sounded pleasing.
She wandered to the kitchen to make herself a cup of tea. If she didn't discover the missing piece of her soul soon, would Duncan's grandfather come home and greet her? She could ask him some questions--Duncan was so mysterious sometimes about his past--and finally understand some things.
The kettle whistled and she poured it over the tea leaves. After steeping, she found a small jar of dark clover honey in the cupboard and drizzled a bit into the cup.
She was just taking her first sip when she felt someone step onto the boat. The hair rose on the back of her neck and she realized that she didn't have to find the actual bee this time. The honey had been enough--the sweet warmth of fitting a final puzzle piece in filled her from her toes to her fingers to the top of her head.
"Tessa? Tessa, are you there?" Someone was calling as he entered, but Oscca was already fading away into the brilliant sunshine that had nurtured the clover where the bees had busily gathered their pollen.
And then she opened her eyes--she was back in the stuffy little room of Wendaley's.
"Hello, there. Did you have a fruitful trip?" asked the old woman, though she must have known it had gone well because she had a face-splitting grin.
"Very much so."
"You have a very powerful spirit to guide you," the old woman said as she brought her hand down to cover the jar of honey that Oscca had brought with her. It seemed like a long time ago now, but a quick check of her watch told her it had barely been an hour since she'd arrived. How much everything had changed in just that one short hour. "The bee is a hard worker, and determined, and loyal. It will sting only once, and to its own death, so it chooses its battles well, and only to save its life or those of its hive. It admires the beauty of nature and produces the greatest of arts--that of honey."
Oscca nodded. "Yes. I think I'm finally starting to understand. Thank you so much for your help."
The old woman nodded. "You're welcome, very welcome."
As Oscca left the small house, finally whole, and surprised that she'd never realized before how much of herself she'd been missing, she promised to ask Duncan about what she had seen. Perhaps he would finally tell her about his family history.
She reached her car and stopped. Several little honeybees, rare and almost never seen in nature anymore, were buzzing around the wildflowers and dwarf sunflowers that spread out in the little garden space. A single bee flew up to graze against her fingertips and then it refocused its efforts on the wildflowers.
Oscca blew them a kiss, wished them luck, and went home.