Buried deep in my chest my heart clicks like Scarab wings.
I hear you, world. But I cannot speak.
I am locked up, bound in a prison of linen and resin, trapped for eternity.
Music caresses the air, but my limbs cannot be carried in dance.
The sweet smells of libations tickle my senses, but nay, I cannot drink.
I track the star cycles in my heart, but in my eyes they glitter not.
The seed of the eternal was planted, passed to daughters through mothers.
They that reside, once again, in the heavens bestowed the elixir of the everlasting.
It was they who enabled the curse to be brought forth.
The sound of wind spattering sand against the outer wall of the palace soothes me, comforts me in a strange and familiar way. Spread out on reed thrushes, with adoring eyes, I watch Ankhesenpaaten, my older sister. She pulls an ivory comb through her smooth, dark locks. In silken strands it tumbles about her shoulders. She is Queen now, tied in marriage to our younger brother the beloved pharaoh Tut.
The palace is empty of the laughter that once echoed through its limestone halls. Our belongings have been packed into trunks, and loaded onto a caravan moving toward Thebes. What remains of our family will soon follow.
Rolling onto my back, my eyes trace the loops and curls that grow out from the blooms of blue lotus flowers above me. They cling to the ceiling in a profusion of gold painted tangles. I ponder the song of life, like these whorls twisting in delicate confusion—complicated and infinite and lovely. Babi, my baby monkey, chitters at my feet and nibbles on a plump fig. His small, black eyes look to me for approval. I smile and scratch the top of his head with the tips of my toes.
My sister waves her hand. “Leave us,” she directs the handmaidens. We watch them move swiftly through the linen curtain that separates us from the simplicity of the outside world. “My dearest, Neferet,” she says, moving toward me. Her voice sounds sad. With gentle fingers she pats the top of my head.
I can’t help but smile, hearing the nickname bestowed upon me by our father, the beloved pharaoh Akhenaten. His enormous energy had brought me much happiness. Our lives have, so distinctly, been altered in the short years since his death.
Sighing, I meet her glittering eyes with mine. “Sister,” I say. My words are meant to soothe. “You need not worry so. I shall be fine.”
She attempts a smile, but I can see her ruse. “You are old enough in years to take a husband.” She folds her arms across her chest; the bracelets that encircle them jingle a haphazard melody.
We have discussed this subject many times and my answer remains the same. “I do not wish to marry. I wish to travel and see the world,” I say haughtily.
“Dear sister, you live with your head in the clouds.” She sits down next to me, and with gentle fingers, sweeps a strand of hair from my forehead. “Many an appropriate suitor has been brought before you. Why do you refuse such noble offers?”
“Why would I accept? The Family lineage is secured by your marriage. Though I do not gather what satisfaction you shall reap by marrying a boy.” I press my lips together in a hard line, with great effort, attempting to hold my laughter inside.
Her features remain soft and calm. “The sanctity of marriage is not entered into simply for gratification of restless limbs, dear one.”
Scoffing, I say, “Agreed, Sister, but some gratification is necessary, nay?” Heat rises to my cheeks, burning my face with embarrassment. Hers turn red, resembling the deep rose of the pyramid of Sneferu. Her skin, the color of Nile clay, is powdered and sparkles with dust of gold.
Her eyes narrow. I can see her love for me, swimming in their depths. “You forget yourself. We are daughters of the much beloved, Nefertiti. You, my sweet sister, with your bountiful beauty, may choose any man whom would bring lands or power to expand the reaches of our Great Kingdom.”
“I want not any man of power or privilege for the simple desire to accumulate goods or lands.”—sigh—“I want he who is tender and worldly and brave. He, who through soothing and sensual words, will cause my heart to quicken and my loins to ache.” I flutter my eyelashes and purse my lips. Never has the thought of tying myself to anyone, except for reasons of love or making love, taken root in my mind.
Slowly, her head shakes. “Primal are your desires, Neferet. Trouble, I fear, is on your horizon.” She plucks a grape from a bowl sitting on the low lying table next to us and lobs it at my head. We laugh as it bounces off my shoulder, rolling toward the doorway of her sleeping quarters. Babi scampers to retrieve it and begins peeling it with his tiny teeth.
I sit up and embrace her. “To Amun I have beseeched your eternal joy.”
“And to you, as well, dear Neferet. If only you might pull your gaze from the fair haired champions,”—she giggles—, “perhaps then you might make our mother smile.”
My face falls. “Unlikely is she to be pleased beyond your accomplishments.” I look down into my lap to play with my henna stained fingers. My shoulders rise then fall under the weight of a disappointment I haven’t felt since Akhenaten, our father, was removed as pharaoh. Our mother, Nefertiti, under false name, ruled Egypt in his shadow until which time our blood line was prepared for the continuation of rule under Tutankhaten, our half brother. Things haven’t felt the same since.
She leans over and kisses my forehead. “You know not what you say. Who in this chamber has been blessed her namesake?”
I take a deep breath and allow myself a small smile. She smells of cinnamon and myrrh laced with lily. The scent defines her so completely.
Someone on the other side of the linen curtain that closes off her bed chamber clears his throat.
“You may enter,” my sister says.
Marveling at her beauty, her regality, I ponder how she favors our deceased father. She has his eyes—large and almond shaped—the color of aged resin.
He enters and kneels. “The Great Mother has summoned you both to her chambers,” he says, peeking up at my sister. His skin is pale and his hair is the color of burnished wheat. I guess him to be the same in years as I, fourteen.
I look at Ankhesenpaaten. A small grin pulls at her reddened lips and she raises her eyebrows, motioning with a sly quick glance toward the kneeling boy. Indeed, she knows he is the one I have taken a liking to.
Eureka Springs, Arkansas
There’s just somethin’ magical about Saturday mornin’ in the Ozarks, somethin’ peaceful and serene, sittin’ by your lonesome in the middle of Beaver Lake, waitin’ for a bite to hit your line. There’s nothin’ quite like it in all the world, I’m sure. Not that I’d been many places.
I enjoyed watchin’ the sun rise up over the Brillo of dark-green trees, the sky turnin’ the color of salmon eggs. And the world seemed quiet, like I was the only one in it. Like I could scream and scream at the top of my lungs and only the birds might answer back.
Again, casted my line into the middle of the lake, and reeled it in slowly, hopin’ for a bite. The sun bounced of the water and into my eyes. I lowered my ball-cap to block it out. I would miss these easy Ozark mornings.
My bait had seen better days. The pot goin’ off like a reekin’ alarm clock, sendin’ out rottin’ fumes. “Slippery little suckers. Next time maybe,” I said to no-one in particular. I pulled my line in and started the engine of my little aluminum yacht. It hummed its way back to shore where folks were startin’ to gather for a day at the lake.
I hauled my junk outta the boat and leaned in, loadin’ my tackle box and poles into the bed of my ol’ Chevy pick-up.
“Well, I’ll be, if isn’t Ryan Golden,” the familiar voice of Peyton Bailey cooed behind me.
I adjusted my ball-cap, spun around and grabbed my girl around the waist, pulling her in close. “What’re you doin’ out here so early?” I kissed the tip of her upturned nose. It seemed more outta habit than desire. No girl had ever really been able to capture my heart.
“Lookin’ for you,” she said, all sweet like. “Your momma sent me. Says she needs help with things over at your place, and I volunteered.” She fluttered her eyelashes, givin’ her best effort to make me crazy.
“Geez all mighty, that woman’s gonna drive me batty. She knows I don’t stay out here past sunrise. What’s she got her panties in a wad over now?” I let go of Peyton, and moved to open the passenger door for her. “You drive? Or you wanna ride back with me?”
She slipped onto the threadbare seat of my truck. “I got a ride down here and figured I could hitch one back with you.” Leanin’ toward me, she kissed me hard on the mouth.
“Mmm, mmm, mmm,” I muttered, hurrying around toward the driver side. I hopped in the truck next to her. The key had broken off in the ignition years ago, so I had no need to carry one, which was fine by me. With a quick turn of the ignition, the engine roared to life.
“So what’s the damage?” I asked her, turning down the tree lined street toward home.
“Oh y’know, same shit different day. Your momma’s puttin’ on the Nelson wedding at your place. And I’m pretty sure she wants somethin’ special done with the rose garden. You know how Janey can be.” She shrugged. It was typical for momma to reorganize and do special things for guests, but we all knew how particular Janey Hannigan could be. And seein’ since she was marryin’ Mayor Nelson’s son, Momma must be havin’ a dickens of a time dealin’ with her.
I took a deep breath, exhaling in a huff. I had my work cut out for me for sure.
The Golden family had owned the Brownstone Inn for generations. Grammy and Grampy left it to momma and me when they passed. I remember the way Grammy looked all serious at momma when she said, “Evelyn Golden, the Brownstone has been in our family longer than Beaver Lake has been housin’ the fishes. You best take care of her right and proper.”
I missed that wrinkly old woman. She’d puff on flavored tobacca outta the pipe Grampy had whittled for her, blowin’ smoke rings so I could try and put my hand up through ‘em. Course she died of the cancer from smokin’ that pipe, and Grampy soon followed. Momma said he died of a broken heart.
I never did tell momma that Grammy told me all ‘bout my daddy. She said he played the banjo for a blue-grass band, and momma and he had one of them lickety-split sorta relationships. Anyway, she said he never knew nothin’ ‘bout my comin’ into the world. But I was okay with that too. Momma did a fine job raisin’ me up on her own.
“Are you goin’ to the ball game tonight?” Peyton asked, breaking me outta my distraction.
“Yeah, pretty sure I am. Phil’s gonna come with me. Sure is crazy to think Reid will be headin’ off to Arizona next year.”
Phil Evans, Reid Jarret and me had been the best of friends since I could remember. Phil was headin’ off to Harvard to study law, which was reasonable since his daddy and momma had met there, studyin’ the same sorta thing. Reid had gotten a baseball scholarship for the University of Arizona. I don’t think my momma ever expected to have her only son headin’ off to Yale University with a full ride. I knew she sure didn’t get my obsession with history. She liked the romance of ancient Egypt, but couldn’t reckon why I’d wanna spend my life diggin’ around in the sand, tryin’ to unearth dead folk and their junk.
“Melody’s comin’ too and Jaime, I think. We’ll meet up at the bleachers?”
I winked at her. “Sounds good, sugar,” I said, pulling into the long driveway of the Brownstone. It was flanked on both sides by enormous hardwoods and a profusion of multi-colored flowers.
Payton scooted close to me and laid her head on my shoulder. “I’m sure gonna miss you when you go away. I wish you’d consider goin’ to Little Rock with me.”
I kissed her forehead. “Now how’d you know I was thinkin’ ‘bout school?”
Her baby-blues found mine. “Every time you do, you get this faraway look in your eyes. It’s like you’re not even here,” she said, pouty lipped and sad.
“Come now, baby, you don’t have to worry ‘bout that for awhile. We have all summer together.” I touched the tip of her nose then kissed it. “We have all summer.”