Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: SEA CHANGE or TREE CHANGE (07/13/17)
TITLE: Things Washed Away by the Tide
By Jan Ackerson
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Her mother pushed Juju’s pointing finger down with her east arm, the one used for discipline and instruction. “Don’t point, love. It’s not polite. Some people just have three.”
Bibi hustled Juju away, turning her so that she couldn’t stare. But Juju was an observant child and she didn’t miss the look on her mother’s face. She’d never seen a look quite like it before: pity and disgust mixed, along with an intense desire to put some distance between her daughter and the three-armed person. Juju looked over her shoulder as they hurried away. Except for the missing arm, the person looked like everyone else—pale blue skin, feathery hair, large golden eyes.
“Is that a bad person, mama?”
“Well, not to say bad, love. We just don’t associate with them. They have their own ways, and they feel more comfortable with their own kind.”
She looked back again, despite her mother pulling her forward with a firm east arm. “But that person looks sad,” she said.
“Juju, I’m sure they’re perfectly fine.” Bibi’s nose wrinkled. “Let it be.”
It was considerably later when Juju saw her next three-arm. She was with two friends, sitting on the grass of the park, eating sassaberry sticks. Popo gasped and pointed, and Juju said, with the superiority of one who knows everything, “Oh, that’s just a three-arm. We don’t have anything to do with them. They aren’t like us.”
Popo said, “But they have no west arm! That’s the arm used for eating!” She waved her sassaberry stick in illustration. Teetee, a little frightened, shushed them both, but Juju just said, “I’ve heard they eat with their south arms.”
Popo and Teetee gaped, and Juju said, “Let it be. We’ll just go sit under another tree.”
More time passed, and Juju developed a philosophy about three-arms that seemed quite elegant to her. I’ll be kind, she thought, and even compassionate. They’re really quite unfortunate, and they often seem so sad. But that doesn’t mean I have to sit next to one, or talk to one, really.
That philosophy was sorely tested when the District Baron passed down a new edict: three-arms were to be educated in the same schools as four-arms. Juju spent the next few years smiling grimly and trying to avoid sharing her table with anyone with less than the full complement of arms. In her time outside school, she formed the Four is Fine Fellowship, and her earlier determination to be kind and compassionate slipped away, replaced by sneering haughtiness.
When Juju was old enough to leave home, she found a perfect little cottage on the shores of the Purple Sea. “It’s lovely,” she told the seller, “but…who are the neighbors? I mean…are there any…well, you know what I mean. How many…” she shrugged all four shoulders, giving the seller a questioning look.
“Oh, you’ve nothing to worry about on that account,” the seller said. “We’re all quite normal around here.” Juju bought the cottage.
And the very next day she saw, playing on their shared private beach, a whole family of three-arms. After they’d eaten (with their south arms, just as Juju had been told), they bundled up their belongings and headed into the cottage next door, stopping for a brief friendly wave (north arms). Juju found it hard to breathe.
Well. It has taken years, but you’d hardly recognize Juju now, so completely has she changed toward three-arms. What happened between the day she saw the family on the beach and now?
When Juju turned her back in disdain, one of them left a plate of honey balls at her doorstep.
When Juju’s pet skeeter ran away from home, one of them returned it with a pink ribbon tied around one tail and a blue ribbon around the other.
When Juju sat on her porch one evening, plucking the strings of her gistin, one (or two) of them sang a haunting melody from their own nearby cottage, the sounds of instrument and voices meeting gloriously in the air.
As the tides receded each day, they took with them the grains of Juju’s arrogance and disdain, and returned every morning awash with kindness and humility.
Juju and Sy have two children of their own now, and the little family has a total of fourteen arms.
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