After overhearing a fierce, if undervoiced, argument of her parents’, Cari lay awake well past midnight. Her father had left for a business trip, her mother had in all likelihood fallen asleep long ago thanks to the miracles of chemistry, and she had enough of her thoughts circling ceaselessly. She needed answers, but were could she get them – from a source she did not have to doubt?
As the digits of the clock slowly flicked towards one in the morning, she snuck into the sitting room. A streetlamp near the window provided illumination enough to see by. Cari lighted two candles in front of the ancestors’ shrine, enough to read by.
The bowl at the front was clean; her mother had emptied it before going to bed. It was less traditional than leaving the food offering overnight, but more practical than letting it dry to the stoneware. Cari had no idea if that was good or bad.
She was uncomfortably aware that for a long time she had treated the ceremonies, big or little, as pure gestures, chores to get over. She could not remember ever feeling a connection, discounting back when she was tiny enough to believe anything.
Trying to compose her mind, she stared at the memorials one by one. Wood or plastic, each showed the name of a person, and each held a part of them – the newer ones a lock of hair or a drop of blood, older ones might have a finger bone. Under her breath she recited the lines of ancestors for each starting with herself, followed by her father’s name, one of his parents’, on through the generations as far as she could remember.
This is not only to prove you learned names by rote, she told herself, slowing down from merely reciting, calling to mind whatever she could remember about those people, most of whom she had never met. Creating a— no, calling upon a connection that was there. Should be there.
“Your child calls on you,” she whispered. “Will you grant me the answer to one question?”
Silence, apart from the odd passing car, and stillness. There wasn’t even a flicker of candle-flame or a nervous twitch of her own muscles she could try to parlay into an answer.
Frustrated and bewildered, Cari had one more idea for something to try. She padded into the kitchen, and came back with a knife and a bit of plaster. She hesitated, blade set to her right palm, and instead made a shallow cut on the outside of her forearm. Less inconvenient to bandage. Gritting her teeth she squeezed a few drops of blood into the offering bowl.
Still whispering, but a bit louder than before, she said, “By our shared blood I implore you. Are you with me?”
She swallowed a sob. A strangely quiet part of her mind wondered why she had attached so much importance to an act that she had likely picked up in some melodramatic story. The rest of her quivered in hope.
Cari covered the cut. Feeling stupid for the attempt, for believing in childish superstitions, was the easier alternative. The other was holding her question answered. If she really was a bastard, her not-father’s ancestors had no reason to care.
No, I think this was silly, start to finish. Maybe he was just flinging accusations to hurt Mother, whatever he could think of. An unkind suspicion. She shook her head, trying to summon “we’ll see how it plays out when he comes back” and other practical thoughts to crowd out the worries. The bowl and knife should better be cleaned, to avoid questions.
She nearly dropped them. The bowl was warm. Gingerly reaching out her hand, Cari determined that it had absorbed heat from another source. It emanated like a candle flame’s from one of the memorials. Her mother’s mother. The only of those ancestors that had known her.
Think, Think, THINK. If that is the connection… Be sure…
Fingers spread wide, her hand hovered over the shrine, only just brushing the memorials. There was none for her maternal grandfather, who was still alive, but his – and his dead wives’ – parents’ plackets were warm to the touch. As were their ancestors’, if slightly less so. Her father’s side of the family… all as cold or warm to the touch as wood or plastic would be.
She had her answer, then. But what to do with it?