Memory Games   2508.01.16*  
Written By: Whitney Ware
A simple child's game turns disturbing for both father and daughter.
Posted: 01/22/12      [12 Comments]
 

Illustration by Melanie D.
Rain pattered down against the last of the golden autumn leaves outside. Farscout and Copper spent the gray afternoon in the snug warmth of their den, playing games. The four-year-old sat in her father's lap, a sleeping fur spread fur-side down before them. Set on the hide was a dried starfish that had been dyed blue, a bone carving of a wolf, one of Brightwood's spiral bone-tusk earrings, a mouse skull, a piece of amber, and a rattlesnake rattle.

“What do you see?” Farscout asked.

“Starfish,” Copper replied, naming each item. “Bug-stone. Running wolf. Woodmouse head. Purple earring. And a rattlesnake tail.”

“Good.” Farscout covered the items with a fold of the sleeping fur. “What do you want to sing?”

“Butterfly song!” The lullaby was Copper's current favorite, and they'd already sung it dozens of times that afternoon, but Farscout joined in with the same enthusiasm as he had had for the first.

Butterfly, butterfly, open your wings
Fly through the woods and fly over the streams
Butterfly, butterfly, fly through my dreams
While everyone dances and everyone sings


“Now,” Farscout said, instead of starting the lullaby's chorus. “What's on the blanket?”

Copper frowned thoughtfully. “Running wolf. Rattlesnake tail and a mouse skull. Mother's earring. Blue starfish.”

Farscout pulled aside the fold of the blanket, exposing those items again to view. “Good!” he said. “Well done!”

“The Butterfly song again!” Copper asked.

“Butterfly, butterfly, open your wings. Fly through the woods and fly over the streams...” they sang, while Farscout set aside the mouse skull and pulled a replacement item from a small pouch. It was a a shallow clay candle dish, with tiny painted salmon leaping around its rim. He put it down on the blanket, then moved the rest of the remaining items around into new locations.

“What do you see on the blanket?” he asked, after they'd finished the second chorus of the song.

“Yellow bug-stone,” Copper replied, naming each item. “Toy wolf. Mother's curly earring. A snake rattle and a fish-dish.”

“Good.” Farscout let his daughter look at the items for a moment longer, then covered them again with a fold of the blanket. “What do you want to sing now?”

“The butterfly song!”

Farscout laughed a soft, nearly soundless laugh, but joined in again readily enough:

Butterfly, butterfly, open your wings
Fly through the woods and fly over the streams
Butterfly, butterfly, fly through my dreams
While everyone dances and everyone sings

Butterflies red and butterflies blue
Butterflies old and butterflies new
Taste the silvery morning dew
Taste the rosemary and the feverfew

All the pretty flowers growing in the spring
All the autumn mushrooms growing in a ring
Butterfly, butterfly, fly high in my dreams
While everyone dances and everyone sings


“Now,” Farscout said, as they finished another round of the lullaby. “What do you remember being on the blanket?”

Copper opened her mouth to speak, but then hesitated as if she couldn't remember. She frowned thoughtfully, then spoke up in a hesitant voice. “A little turtle shell. A dried yellow leaf. A big broken tooth. Candlefish on a string. A smooth stone and an arrow. And the green-and-purple knife.”

Farscout sat silent, one hand pressed down against the blanket. His daughter's random recitation meant nothing to him for a heartbeat, but then --

... he was a small child again, sitting in Lynx's lap as they played the memory-game.

“What do you remember?” Lynx was asking him. “What did you see on the blanket?”

The items had been arrayed in two irregular lines – the shell from a baby box turtle, a dried capnut leaf and a jagged bear tooth on the top, and below them a string of four candlefish, a stone smoothed by the river, and a knapped bone arrowhead. Briar had recited those items from memory, confident of his recollection and proud to please Lynx by doing so.

“Good! Very good!” Lynx had said, reaching for the fold of the hide. “But I think you forgot something...”

The boy had felt a moment of keenest dismay – he had fixed each item in his memory, he was sure of it, so what had he forgotten? Then Lynx turned back the fold of the hide, exposing the items to view again. And there in the center, between the two rows of objects, there was now a small knapped knife. It was of polished green glass-stone threaded with vibrant streaks of purple, with a carved antler hilt far too small for Lynx's big hands.

“Tsk, tsk, I can't believe you could have forgotten this, not after I made it for you myself...” Lynx said, the teasing tone of his voice hinting that he had, through some sleight of hand, just slipped it between the folds of the hide. “Pick it up – how does it fit your grip?”


Farscout sat silent, that memory as fresh in his mind for a moment as though it had happened yesterday. In his lap, he felt Copper twist around in order to look up at him. Her expression was distraught, as though her words disturbed her as much as they had her father.

“How do you remember that?” Farscout asked oh-so-very-quietly.

His daughter stared at him, her violet eyes troubled. “I don't know,” she whispered. “I just do.”

“Do you want to talk about it? About what you remember?”

Copper shook her head adamantly.

Farscout slowly let go of his breath, then stroked his daughter's red-gold hair. It wasn't the first such moment he had experienced with his child. He didn't understand how or why she seemed to know such odd things. He and Brightwood had puzzled over it in private, and had agreed that just maybe Copper had absorbed things from her long rapport with Brightwood during their centuries in wrapstuff. But Lynx's gift of the greenstone knife? It was a treasured moment from Farscout's early childhood... from before Brightwood's birth. And it wasn’t a memory he thought he had ever had reason to share with his lifemate.

Farscout pushed aside the sleeping fur, its items still buried from view. He hugged his daughter close and smiled for her. “Let's get our coats and walk down to the wolf dens to see Flea, shall we?” he asked.

Copper smiled with relief and scrambled to her feet. Farscout helped her get her winter coat down from its peg and was bundling her into it when Copper met his eyes again.

“It was a very pretty knife,” she said. “Wasn't it?”

Farscout tousled his daughter's hair, and for a moment he was at a loss for words. Then he nodded and kissed her forehead.

“It was.”

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