What Is The Most Precious Thing?

butterfly on globe amaranth - photo (c) http://www.flickr.com/photos/maynard/Butterfly on Globe Amaranth by  Nemo’s Great Uncle

I envy you, she said, as we were diving for the chilli-lime-honey mussels at the Apartment. It has been almost two years since I last saw her. Planes to catch, bills to pay, you know the drill. This dinner was long overdue.

I looked at her quizzically. I spent most of the night talking about myself that I lost track about what I said.

Sorry, I said, but envy?

I have a lovely daughter and a loving husband, she explained. I am happy and I am loved. You, on the other hand, don’t have a daughter and a husband. But your life is full with love. I don’t have what you have, and you don’t have what I have. Our loves…they come from different sources. But they are equal.

Yet, I can’t help but notice, the kind of love that you have comes voluntarily, not because of blood or because of a vow in front of God. You may not have a husband or a daughter, but you lack nothing.

I don’t wish to have what you have because I am truly, wonderfully happy with my life. And I can see that you are happy with yours. You are exactly where you want to be, and who you want to be. And I envy that.

We ended dinner with promises to catch up and more dinners. She felt guilty that I turned down her offer for a lift. We were heading to opposite sides of town. And the place that I live now, it is so easy to catch cab there because it is 20 minutes away from everywhere.

In the cab the driver started a monologue about the country’s state of affairs in a shrill, excited voice. I am used to it, so my ummm’s and uh uh’s came precisely at the right moments, just enough to encourage him to continue talking without realizing that I did not once offered my opinion.

Sh*t happens. To good people, to bad people. Sometimes you want to scream out in frustration about the unfairness of it all. But it is all just a test at the mouth of the dragon, isn’t it? It is not meant to be a destiny. Like the protagonist in The Lady of the Skulls, you ask yourself again and again the answer to the riddle: What is the most precious thing? To see it, to hold it, above all to recognize it and choose it?

You already know the answer.

This too is a true story.


IA’s note: The Lady of the Skulls is a short story by Patricia A. McKillip. It tells the story of a lady (once known as Amaranth, or love-lies-bleeding; the flower in poetry that never dies)  who keeps watch over a tower of deadly treasures and mourns the treasure seekers who continually strive and fail to penetrate the tower’s mysteries, until at last one comes who sees the true treasure the tower holds.

This story was published in 1992.  It was also published in The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror: Seventh Annual Collection, edited by Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling, in 1994 and in Treasures of Fantasy, edited by Margaret Weis, Tracy Hickman & Martin H. Greenberg in 1997 and  in Harrowing The Dragon in 2006.


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