She kept the house quiet for her mother’s sake.
The children played outside. The twins, Myrtle and Mace. Linden, the tiniest one. They ran around in circles. They pretended to trip dramatically, doing a tumble-roll when they hit the grass.
Situated by the window, Ianthe Trotter had the perfect spot from which to watch their backyard games.
“Tea, mother?” Zinnia set the tea pot down on the end table beside Ianthe’s chair. Knowing she wouldn’t get an answer, she proceeded to pour it into her mother’s cup. She handed it to her. “It’s spearmint.”
Ianthe clutched it close to her chest, the steam wafting over her face.
“One of the pigs is pregnant.” She had to pick her conversation topics carefully. “Father says she’ll yield a decent litter.”
Ianthe didn’t speak.
Zinnia continued, “our livestock’s been improving. You should see it some time.” She sipped from her cup, the taste of the lavender-hybrid washing down her throat. Having woken up later than she wanted, she’d missed her morning intake. “I’m considering making some curved shelters for them. Quonsets. I saw them in a magazine.”
She smiled to herself. “I’m only hesitating because I know every pig and its mother will fight to get into the quonsets. You know how they are. They have to have the best of the best.” Zinnia sighed. “I’m not sure the Diallos have enough metal to spare, though. They’ve got their own business to worry about, and it’s not like they’re swimming in wealth.”
The Diallo family didn’t give discounts. Their prices were their prices, and that was that. There may have been other alternatives in town—the Montcalms, for instance—but the drop in price tag came with a drop in quality. Zinnia didn’t want to build the huts with rough, overly-worked steel. The pigs deserved better than that.
“Theres told me the quonsets were a good idea. Then she said she was sorry her father was being such a grumble goose about the prices.” Zinnia said. “I told her it was okay. He only has so much time and steel. It’s not like he has it out for us. We’re not the problem.”
A shriek rang out across the yard. Zinnia rushed to the window. Ianthe didn’t move.
The kids erupted into a fit of giggles at their sister’s face.
She turned away from them. “I don’t know what’s gotten into them today. I apologize on their account.” Zinnia returned to where she’d been standing. She drank the rest of her tea, sharing her mother’s silence.
For a brief moment, she allowed herself to picture their situation as normal. Mother and daughter having tea together. Mother and daughter filling each other in about their lives, the mother more of a listener than a talker. Mother and daughter watching the youngest three in their family, the ones too young to fully understand and appreciate the world around them. Blissful ignorance.
“I’m going to get ready for school. It’s about time I change out of my gear. Don’t worry, I’ll walk them to theirs and make sure they don’t leave. Farewell.” If Zinnia sounded curt, she hadn’t intended to be.
They just weren’t normal, and weren’t going to be ever again.
They weren’t going to go to the market together and haggle down the cost of a bag of pears. Her mother wasn’t going to help her pick out a dress for her first date. Purple because it matched her skin tone the best? Yellow because it made her look fun? No, Zinnia would never entertain those questions with her mother.
They weren’t going to cook meals together or stroll through the town like so many other mothers and daughters do. None of that was in their future.
If Zinnia skipped out on her schooling, her mother wouldn’t care. Her mother wouldn’t show concern, worry, anger, anguish, sadness, all-of-the-above, or insert-anything-into-the-blank because she herself was a blank that’d never be filled.
What happened two years ago had taken too many things from them. Her mother’s voice. Their social standing. Zinnia’s respect for this awful, vile town that’d act neighborly one day and turn its back on you the next.
And worst of all…
The one whose name she was forbidden to say in the house or to anyone else. Her father acted like she’d never existed at all. He’d been the one to throw out all of her things from the bedroom she’d shared with her, not bothering to ask anyone’s permission. Artwork was shredded. Books were burned. Clothes were torn. Her bed was broken down and tossed into a bonfire.
Zinnia sat down at her bedroom mirror.
She’d kept the other half of the room empty, not knowing what to do with the space that shouldn’t have ever become hers.
What look should she go for today? Studious and capable? Cute and dependable? She settled on something between those two looks, something simple with a muted palette. Her hairpin gave her a splash of color that’d remind her to fix her smile every time she saw it. She put on a just-because necklace that Theres had made for her a long time ago. It was supposed to be some beetle known for its tenacity, but it looked more like a dented coin. The necklace made it clear that Theres was a blacksmith’s daughter, not a jeweler’s.
She rubbed some of the lavender-hybrid solution into her neck, at the pulse point. Her supply was getting woefully low.
It was as she was doing this that she took another look at herself in the mirror.
They were starting to look alike. Eyes. Nose. Face shape. Everything.
Everyone did all they could to drive out Freesia’s spirit, but there she was in the mirror.
Zinnia covered it up with a sheet and left to get her siblings.
~ * ~ * ~
Gaurin’s class was mostly empty that afternoon. Since it was a drop-in class serving people of all ages, that was to be expected. Sometimes, other obligations prevented people from attending.
Ellie had been a no-show for a while, in spite of her not having any obligations of any kind. Zinnia took more diligent notes because of her absence, on the off-chance that Ellie would have a personality transfusion and want to get caught up.
The current unit they were working on was the subject that lit the academic fire in her: anthropological studies. Her main interest lied in the study of language development within a cultural context. How did particular ways of speaking come about? What are the morphological differences between languages like Casternian and Erzyan, and what impact did those country’s cultures have on how those languages came to be?
Peeking into a world outside of her own enthralled her. It was in the classroom that she could explore far-off places and go on adventures in her mind.
Henrik Stenberg sat in front of her, his head down on his desk. She poked her pencil into his back. He jolted upright, his pencil case falling to the floor. Sergi Puig, an older merchant, couldn’t hold in his laughter.
“Thank you, Miss Trotter.” Gaurin said. “As I was saying, pragmatic competence is your ability to successfully interpret the meaning of someone else’s words. That is, the meaning that they meant you to understand.” He turned around, writing his next words on the chalkboard. “Pragmatics are not to be confused with semantics. Mrs. Yida, what are semantics?”
Damali Yida flipped through her notebook. “The meaning of words in relation to one another.”
“Correct. Mr. Muk, what are pragmatics?”
The son of a carpenter, Hae-il Muk never failed to show up to class without wood shavings all over his clothes. “The way you change what you’re saying depending on your environment.”
“Mr. Stenberg, is there anything you’d like to add to that?”
“I agree with Hae-il’s answer.” He lifted his glasses and rubbed his eyes.
“Mr. Puig?” Guarin asked.
Sergi scratched his beard in thought.. “Hm… It’s about the interaction of the speakers and the words that they’re using.”
“I’ll settle for that. I’m afraid that we’re out of time today. We’ll carry on with this lesson tomorrow.” He clapped his hands together. A cloud of chalk rose in front of him, making Zinnia cringe. “If you didn’t sign in at the start of class, then please do so before you leave.”
She shoved her notebook into her bag, and slung it over her shoulder. Henrik kept his in his arms, the pages folded and in disarray. He was two years older than Zinnia, but treated his things as well as someone half his age.
“Is Linden coming over today? Agatha wants to show him her tooth.”
“Shouldn’t a fairy have taken it away by now?” Zinnia asked. The other students filed out of the classroom, some of them breaking off into small groups of their own. Gaurin stayed seated at his desk, reading through a textbook.
Henrik shrugged. “She didn’t want to give it up until your brother saw it. And, I’m sorry to break it to you, but…” He cupped his hands around his mouth and whispered, “fairies aren’t real.”
“Don’t tell my brother that. He’ll have a fit.”
“So would Agatha. Want to see a face so red it’d put an apple to shame? Make her cry.”
“That’s cruel. I thought you were a helpful sort of person, not a harmful one.” Zinnia teased him.
“I am helpful! I’m going to be a doctor. That’s one of the most helpful kinds of people you can be.” Henrik said.
That sounded familiar. “Pulling a Johanna?”
“Yeah. From what she tells me, Baekstadt’s a beautiful town. The university there has everything. It’s not just for medical students.” He picked up his fallen pencil case. “You should apply for a scholarship. We could go together so it’s not as lonely.”
Zinnia shook her head. “It’s too soon. Besides, I highly doubt Chieftess Navarrete would like another Stenberg leaving her.”
“You could take my place. My job’s not too hard, and it pays well.”
“I’d rather not. I’ve got my hands full enough already.” His job was too depressing for her tastes.
“I wasn’t being serious. Anyway, I’ve got to go get Agatha and Linden.”
“Do you have room for Mace and Myrtle? It’ll take a huge load off of my shoulders if you do.” Zinnia asked.
“A load off of your shoulders for what? Are you doing some night time farming?” He raised an eyebrow.
“Something like that. The pigs have been fighting lately and I want to check on them as soon as I can.” Zinnia said.
“Okay, yeah, I can bring them all over to my house. My parents won’t mind.”
“Thank you. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“See you around, Zinnia.” Henrik gave her a smile, then hurried off on his way. The children’s lessons would be ending shortly, and their building was thankfully next door. He’d be able to round the four of them up without any problem. Linden, Mace, and Myrtle loved Henrik like he was the older brother they didn’t have.
He deserved better than working for the Navarrete family. It wasn’t fair.
Zinnia hesitated for a moment at the doorway.
Gaurin’s pencil scritch-scratched across his pages. He didn’t look up.
She removed her hairpin, shoved it into her bag, and then left.
Walking down the street, she caught sight of a familiar face flanked by two animals. Ellie. Marietta. Sunflower. Sunflower had an obvious limp, and she was leaning on a stick for support. Ellie was rushing them along. She seemed torn between letting her dog rest and getting them to wherever they needed to go as soon as possible. Dr. Cuthberht wasn’t an animal doctor, but it seemed like they were on their way there.
She put her curiosity on hold. She’d have to talk to Ellie later.
~ * ~ * ~
Zinnia once heard that Arntzen District was a place for people who didn’t know what was good for them. She disagreed. The people who lived in Arntzen District were more than aware that they were living in a cesspool. They just couldn’t get out of it by conventional means.
“Work hard and you’re guaranteed to get yours” may have been Zinnia’s favorite lie. People touted that saying as if it was something that fit for everyone. Someone could work hard, and never make it up the mountain because, surprise, they reached an impasse they didn’t have the tools to make it over. They could climb that mountain, and be forced to pay for somebody else’s mistake and slip all the way down because of it. Anything could happen.
She walked with her head held high, careful to keep her eyes ahead. The wrong look could look like an invitation if she wasn’t careful. Zinnia wasn’t in the mood to deal with that kind of misinterpretation.
Something she’d never understand about Arntzen District was its residents’ ability to shove trash into any space necessary. Sure, life was shit, but why force your surroundings to look that way too? She counted her blessings that her father had too much pride to move them into Arntzen, not that they weren’t a half second from having to move here. They were a bad livestock supply away from being Arntzen’d.
Everything felt darker in Arntzen, too, like it even made the sun recoil.
Zinnia stopped in front of the house with the red door. The address number was slanted, hanging off of the nail keeping it up. 163 Mafalda Street. She rapped her knuckles on the door. A woman opened it, her mouse-colored hair frazzled.
“Oh, it’s Baby Z. Come on in. Pull up a chair.” Gracja laughed to herself. She moved aside so she could get in.
“I’m not here to chat.” Zinnia clenched her jaw. She needed to keep a serious face on.
Gracja’s house stunk of incense. Sweet, musky incense. Zinnia recognized that syrupy reek. Gracja shouted over her shoulder. Lucio bumbled down the hallway, a big ol’ grease stain on the front of his shirt. He still had shaving cream on his chin. Zinnia pointed it out to him.
“Thanks, girl. What’s up?” Lucio wiped his face. The cream left a streak across his sleeve.
“You know what I’m here for.” Zinnia crossed her arms. “Is Noemi here?”
“She’ll be here soon! Why don’t you relax?” Gracja twirled into the dump she considered a living room. Her couch was missing a leg. The only other chair she had had gotten smashed a week ago. The story behind that hadn’t been coherent enough for Zinnia to understand.
Lucio grinned. He was missing a tooth in the front. “I know what she’s looking for. Me and Gracja have got you covered. Gracja, get our favorite lavender runner girl what she wants.”
“That’s for Noemi to handle.” Gracja said. Zinnia reached into her bag. “Nuh uh. We don’t touch the money. Wait for Noemi.”
Without any other choice, Zinnia sat down on the floor. She wasn’t going anywhere near their questionable couch.
Noemi better get here soon, she thought to herself. She only had so much of her sanity to spare.
A/N: Chapter 6 is a bit of a change of pace from the others. A new POV character, cool. Hope you guys liked it! As always, feel free to leave a comment. Voting will end by Sunday at 11:59 PM EST.
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