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The Lay of the Time Kettle



“The Time Kettle—few have seen it.”

It is a tiny speck of a vessel, and yet it carries the flame for the entire universe.


It is grand, capacious even, producing steam that has moistened the Amazon, twice.


She turned it on months ago and it has flickered on and off with the opening and closing of an over loaded fuse in the basement, opening and closing and opening and closing like the door to all possible worlds.


Some swear the circuits are connected.


This morning, she takes the kettle off the fire, pulls it down from the hook that promises heat and yet imprisons the vessel upright.


She lets the kettle sit, lets the fog die down, and sees a shadowy figure smiling in steamy morning moonlight from across the room.


She does not rush.

She has waged and wagered and waited 13.8 billion years of his forever on the clearing of this watery smoke.

Grief and fear, it turns out, make an awful lot of steam—like burning green wood, not yet seasoned.


It was worth it, she thinks, having stretched her legs out of the time bubble, the giant shimmering zorb protecting her fragile human body.

Her seemingly human body.

Sometimes she forgets to misunderstand reality when she sees his face, the spirals of his hair, touched and oiled and loved and broken into form, the curve of his lower lip.


She starts thinking she knows things.


Looses him, loses him when the circuit completes and the kettle starts to glow blue and burble, mesmerizing as a captured creek.


“You have my axe,” she says, before a journey. He takes it, lays it down next to the fire.

"And my sword,"

His face doesn't move a single, shining whisper, but he takes it, and lays it down on a bed of pine needles.

"And my bow,"

She tugs the ribbon from her ponytail, and watches him wrap it once, twice, three times around his already-bandaged wrist.


She leans forward, feeling spent, knowing there is far to go, hands clasped around a long, L-shaped staff, head bowed, broad, tall, strapping, and humbled.


She keeps bees, and three swords hang on her tavern wall, which she shares with the man, where they welcome their friends and enemies alike to sup on honeyed mead and hearty stew. No one save the barkeeps understand how the swords got there. Fewer dare to ask, with all the notches they see in the blades, each filled in with some combination of starmetal, tenacity, and moonlight.

She turns to her friend, then.


"Now that you have everything, will you stay?"


"Not like this."


He steps out the back gate, into the wood, pack filled.

He fingers a letter that has rested in his pocket for months.


"Sweet one,


Find dry firewood. Build yourself a cabin.

Come back if ever you wish. I will be waiting.


I have waited millennia. I would wait ten thousand years.

Would collapse time into a singularity. Will do that, once I learn how.


Also, you will never, ever, ever find me again.


If you do not recognize me when next we meet, take my hand.

You will always know me by the work of my hands.


Godspeed, beloved."


He pulls out the letter, flips it over as he walks slowly down the garden path, toward the gate—hart-iron, intricate, lockless.


"If you dare to bring it back, the wood—and I pray you will, we can stand in the garden, hang the axe next to the rake on the shed, walk the old labyrinth and see if we want to hug, or kiss, or dance, or touch hands to hands at the center.


If you come back—and I pray you will, we can dance out between the stones like hopscotch—creative, play-pretend impatience, and I’ll pin you to the garden path, feeling your laughing breath gust through willing wisps at jaw corner and nape of neck, and we can feel our hands touch at shoulder height from hundreds of miles apart, like we’re goalposts who have finally closed the distance by bending the surface of the globe.

We, encouragers, appreciators, lovers, alchemists.

We, rivers and time-lapsed tectonic plates.


I love you. Be safe. Have fun."


He folds it back up, this tiny, inkpaper map, humming 12 universes of terrain.

He heads to the river.


***

She packs up, and flies to the sea, imagining her homecoming. I will hand him Riverstone, handfast, heavy, and soft, my granite friend who I fast-pitched at his face last week, and tomorrow, and I will ask him to carry it around in his satchel.


Yes.


It is an enormous breath of an ask, for while his time is infinite, his desires are honed, and his satchel is small.

The version of him she has built in her mind says, "I can smell your fear. It smells like clearcut forest and charred peace lily, and poison."


"Of course you can. Of course it does. Can't die in a house you've burnt to the ground."


"Have you caught wind of your breath, lately? Have you drank yourself, lately? Have you held that other soft hand of yours? Hugged those shoulders?"


"no."


He kisses the top of her head, and walks off, flicking her a lego piece that looks like a map, which she catches. He touches the minifigure mommet of the twin brother he always wanted that he keeps wrapped in silk in the pocket of his bright yellow linen suit jacket, and smiles.


***


She sends him a letter, this imagined man:


"About the fear, brother. I have done my best to speak it out of the house.

Yet yelling “I LOVE YOU!” at a guest who needs to hear it does not make them

want to leave, turns out."


I’ve taken to whispering "I love you’s" into Fear’s ears, my throat having gotten hoarse, and whaddaya know, the fellow has five hundred twenty Scheherazades worth of tales.


Thank you for helping me find him a job—A tinker’s vice pays kindness twice and all that.


He has promised that our coffers will never be empty and our hearth will never go cold.


He can pull a crowd from anywhere in a split second, and the tavern is all laughter and soup smells and emberglow.


You're welcome to come back, if it ever feels right. I coul