Scenes from the novel IX

Patiently she worked over the surface of the wood, polishing it to a fine burr, until she could glide her hand smoothly over the hickory stick. When she was done with that, she screwed the top off the first oil jar. It had a nice smell – this first oil had always reminded her of butterscotch. She worked it in, all over the surface, making sure not to miss anything. Then she carefully screwed the cap back on and unscrewed the second jar. Three oils in all, in the proper order, just like Grandma used to do it. When she was done, the polished surface gleamed like fine marble. She lifted the hickory stick up in her hand, just feeling the weight of it. Then she swished it back and forth a few times. Strong, light, just a little flexible. Exactly right.

Then Emily held the stick straight upright with her right hand and placed one end gently onto her upturned left palm. Slowly, carefully, she took her right hand away. The stick seemed to sway a little, and then it held steady, pointing straight up to the ceiling. She concentrated, and into her mind came the words of the old poem, the one that Grandma had taught to Mom, and that Mom had taught to her. As she did this, the stick started to spin like a top, slowly at first and then gradually faster. Then it lifted up, and floated gently off her outstretched palm. Carefully she took her hand away, and the stick continued to spin in the air.

OK, so far so good. This was the part where she was supposed to say the poem out loud. No, wait, not yet. Not until the music. She let the rod pick up speed. It started to make a whirring sound, and then the whirring cleared and turned into a kind of musical whistling. That was it – that was what she was supposed to wait for. It was the old tune, the one Grandma used to hum. And now it was time to recite Grandma’s poem. Except it wasn’t Grandma’s poem anymore. It was Emily’s poem, because now everything depended on her.

Smiling just a little at the thought of that, she started to recite the words.

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