Planting Life in a Dying City (S3: Kolchais, E7)

Season content notes: ableism, internalized ableism, violence, autistic meltdown

They spent the afternoon singing and learning each other’s songs. There was no way to know what songs they would sing in the future. Family songs were always built around the family trade — the rhythm and pace of the work. But for now they had these songs to share and make their own.

When the last song ended, the Spinner set aside eir thread and began to hand-speak. Hesitantly, as if ey had trouble finding words, ey put voice to signs so they could all understand.

“My family… we get overwhelmed. Too much noise, too much movement. Too much to remember or to think about. To much change, or new things. The market hurts me if I stay too long. The spinning helps. It anchors me, protects me. And normally I am okay.

“Being here… it is difficult. So much I don’t understand, I can’t just follow my routine but constantly figure out what to do next, how to be. And talking. So much talking.”

Kolchais winced, ey had not realized how hard it was for the Spinner to be with them. “Perhaps it would be better if you stopped coming? We don’t…”

“No.” The word was flat, as the Spinners voice often was, but the hand-sign was as much a yell as the spoken word was not. “No. Listen. Talking it hard enough without interruptions.

“Is difficult being here, but worth it. Worth it make friends, maybe family. You listen to my hands, and you care, and you make me welcome. Difficult things are not bad things.

“I shouldn’t have gone to the market today. I should have rested. If I hadn’t pushed myself too hard, I would have seen that chaos-taken person. I would have remembered to be sure I was looking at my hands or the ground or the clouds because other families get angry when they think we look at them.

“But that does not excuse what ey did. When ey grabbed me, it was like thunder in my skin, like lightning in my mind, and all I knew was the pain of it.

“I lost the strands of my spinning and… I’ll never find them again. I’ll never find out what shipment the trader and shipfolk were arguing over or who the weaver thought was cheating em. And I had just started spinning the voice I swear was a pickpocket, and I lost it completely so I don’t even remember what ey sounded like.

“I spun just enough of the voices to know that there is some major change in the market. Prices on fabric goods have gone down, and cured wood have gone up, and the Spiral Carvers and Dark Masons are acting friendly with each other, and some of it is probably because of the new Temple the priests have been talking about building, but some of it is probably because of what you are creating here, and now I’ll never be able to fully piece it together!”

The Spinner looked up, and Kolchais realized ey was staring. Ey looked away, not wanting to make the Spinner uncomfortable, and saw the rest of the family, even Chestef, were staring as well.

When the Spinner didn’t speak further, Kolchais asked, “How did you hear all that?”

The listening-one (for so ey clearly was) didn’t respond, and Kolchais was afraid ey had asked too much, pushed too soon. But finally, the Spinner shifted and said. “One of my parents, who married-out to us, once told me that in a crowded room, ey could listen to just one conversation, and the other talk… faded into the background. Is that how it is for you?”

“Of course.”

“Not for me. Not for most of my siblings. We hear all of it, all the time. It is hard to focus on a single conversation and ignore the rest. I hear all of it. Whether it’s Chestef playing across the room while we talk or five different conversations at once in the market. Sometimes, I can get so focused that I don’t hear anything. But it’s everything or nothing.

“When I get overwhelmed, I don’t stop hearing. But what I hear stops making sense. Gibberish.”

“No wonder your family gets overwhelmed!” Chotaikytsai said with a shudder.

“And that’s why you need us to repeat things so often,” Paiokp added.

“Yes.” The Spinner nodded and started signing in a flurry Kolchais has no chance of keeping up with. And Kolchais understood why Lefeng called the Spinner dancing-one

When the dancing-one stopped, Lefeng asked, “Can you repeat that? Slowly?”

The Spinned laughed and repeated eir signs, saying the spoken word with each sign. “I hear you, but I can’t understand what you are saying, and I need to figure it out, like trying to understand writing, putting meaning to one word at a time.”

When ey finished, Lefeng laughed too. “Or like me with your hand-talk.”

“Yes.” Again, the voice was flat, but the hands showed delight and pleasure.

Kolchais smiled to emself. Ey was beginning to understand this strange maybe-spouse.

Conversation trailed off after that. They had sat around the fire so long that it was dinner time. Chotaikytsai pulled hot tubers from the coals, glistening with fat and spices. They ate quickly, laughing again over singed fingers and burnt mouths.

Kolchais watched the Spinner, trying to make sure ey was okay. Eir face remained impassive, but Kolchais noticed that eir hands moved lightly and quick, no longer weighed down or frantic. The hands would always be the key to understanding how the dancing-one felt.

When the food was gone, they sat quietly together.

Eventually, Lefeng got restless and took Tsouchm and Paiokp to start working on the walls again. The Spinner excused emself, saying ey needed to speak with eir siblings and parents. Then Chotaikytsai and Chestef took the dishes to wash.

Kolchais remained, staring into the fire and thinking.

Continue to:
Planting Life in a Dying City (S3: Kolchais, E8)

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Planting Life in a Dying City (S3, E1)
Planting Life in a Dying City (S3: Kolchais, E6)

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