The opening of the novel The Synchrony Tree.
IT WAS A FIREFLY — dropped onto the palm of her left hand, her fingers curling at once into a warm cage of flesh.
It was not a firefly.
It was a tear, fallen lightly, and perched moistly in the center of the palm of her left hand.
It was not a tear.
It was a demand; a demand of a promise of a Return, dropped like a warm sea pebble into the salty moist cage of her fingers.
It was not a demand. It was anticipation of a Return, a small light flashing with little shrieks of joy, warming the already warm cage the fingers of her hand made.
It was in her mind now, as she skirted snow dunes at two in the morning, shivering in her gray thrift-shop overcoat, black rubber galoshes crunching ice crystals underfoot. She was in departure, in flight actually, and that was why Return was in her mind, the heat of it, this arctic morning before dawn.
She wished she were a penguin, though she'd never seen one. Because it was so very very cold and walking was difficult, with a swollen backpack pulling her shoulders back, against her torso’s compulsion to fold into itself against the unbearable winter. As a penguin, she could slide on her belly and ignore the ice. She had never felt as vulnerable. Nor as strong, because running away also meant returning.
Her mind had circled back, to Ylang-Ylang, standing in the middle of the lobby of the airport terminal, giving her a firefly, a tear, a demand, an anticipation.
Beside Ylang-Ylang stood a nut-brown ten-year-old girl of fine features and fingers so long, so slim, each nail perfect, that one knew immediately this was a pianist, had always been a pianist and will be a great one. In her chocolate-brown eyes, the music danced, flashing like a firefly call.
Flordeliz’s heart had halved, one section falling with an unheard thud to the cold airport gray floor. Because she loved her family—Ylang-Ylang and the daughter she’d borne when she was only 17 and had named Scheherazade, after the woman in the stories her only male lover had used to read to her and which name got shortened conveniently to She – because she loved this family, she had to leave them.
And because she loved them still, even in her and their absence, she was now running, on possibly the coldest night of winter in Warren, New Jersey, throwing herself down to her knees behind a glittering snow dune, to avoid being spotted by a police car one intersection away, its own lights staining the snow with intermittent red and blue.
She feared her employers had called the police, had accused her of stealing. Not; she had only taken $200 from the kitchen money, what was due her. But she could be accused of anything: stealing, drugs, assault, rape, murder, etc, because she had committed the worst crime of all, the very worst. She had allowed her tourist visa to lapse, after two three month extensions, and she was now undocumented. No greater crime could there be. #
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