In all fairness, Mary was banished indeed. The makeshift team at the rock mound spared no effort in setting up means to detect her presence, if and when she decided to approach the apparently agreed upon meeting place and look for her aunt. Every day a small group of ladies took it upon themselves to check all the tracking markers, only to notice that their condition always changed. The wind, the rain, the little creatures of the desert trampled them over in their comings and goings, oblivious to the interests and goals of the humans and answering only to the larger scale of nature.
The group spent lots of time in meetings, trying to pick out the artifacts from the random patterns of being, an activity blessed with the same odds to succeed as finding a needle in a haystack. Every now and then someone in the group would single out a detail that looked like obvious proof of Mary’s touch and they made it their main goal to prove themselves right. The more someone else contradicted them, the more invested they became in the defense of their theory and when challenged they took it personally. The contradicted parties abode morosely by the group decision that the artifact was not relevant, but stashed the offending item in a coffer, certain that the truth will see justice in the end. That’s how the camp was blessed with an ever growing collection of sticks, rocks, sand pattern molds made of wax, drawings of quasi-random straw patterns, and even, for a reason nobody really understood, an abandoned bird’s nest.
There was no rhyme and reason to the cluster of artifacts as a whole, but if all the items were to be displayed together they would have made for a fascinating, albeit completely meaningless collection. Lucille showed up every now and then, since it was part of her Circle duty to be involved in issues important to the Village, and she listened patiently to all the hypotheses, proudly presented by Rosemary. The latter eyed her shrewdly, trying to catch some tell-tale reactions that might prove her suspicions with respect to Lucille’s fostering of unsanctioned behavior. Lucille had the composure of a gambling grand master, and exhibited appropriate interest for the artifacts, studying them closely to ensure she didn’t miss critical details and asking questions when she deemed appropriate.
“I find it difficult to believe,” Rosemary interjected, “that your niece hasn’t had any success in her attempts to get in touch with you. A three year old could track her down around this mound of rocks, she left a trail wider than a pheasant’s tail, I’m surprised somebody hasn’t caught up with her yet.” She paused to assess from Lucille’s behavior if she had hit a nerve. Lucille smiled back graciously, shrugging her shoulders, so Rosemary was unable to contain a bilious streak. “Quite frankly, dear, the girl was never all that smart.” She continued to look at Lucille, who said nothing, but donned a somewhat surprised gaze. “Surely somebody is helping her,” she threw two sharp darts from her eyes, determined to get to the bottom of Lucille’s involvement, no matter what it took.
Much like during the mirror incident in her youth, Rosemary was beholden to her desire to take credit for her qualities and achievements, or anything else that she had and other people didn’t, and couldn’t help brag about them, even when it wasn’t to her advantage to do so. Lucille continued to look at her, waiting for the inevitable outburst. Uncharacteristically, Rosemary contained her guile and opted for a probing insinuation instead.
“I just wouldn’t want to be the person aiding and abetting that delinquent, dear. You know how strict the Village laws are against the dissemination of seditious propaganda, and you,” she paused for effect, “well, with your unfortunate background, would be the first person they would suspect.” She was pleased with herself for having found the right tone, and continued. “I care too much about our friendship, Lucille, and wouldn’t want anything bad to happen to you, just because of that misguided girl you’re trying to protect.” She attempted a stare down, which, unfortunately for her, Lucille didn’t notice. She was mesmerized by a very intricate sand pattern that somebody had cast in wax to reveal every painstaking detail and whose repeating patterns looked almost hypnotic.
Rosemary insisted on making a point. “Just so you know, were you found to have disrespected our customs, I would not be in the position to help you.”
“What is this, exactly?” Lucille asked, still fascinated with the intricate pattern. It looked as if a million little feathers had touched the ground, all at the same time, caressing it for only a moment, and leaving behind traces more elusive than a wave on the sea.
“Something must have brushed against the sand,” the owner of the cast replied. “It didn’t look random,” she explained herself.
“It looks like the trace of a bird wing,” Lucille continued her fascination with the object.
“It probably is,” her conversation partner replied.
“It’s beautiful!” Lucille replied.
“See?” Rosemary snapped, irritated that the owner of the artifact was diverting attention from her. “This is why things are so dire around here and why the future of our children is at stake! How can we hope to stay true to our traditions when even elders such as yourselves waste their time in silly banter instead of attending to emergencies of this magnitude!”
It had been a few months since the chase for Mary had started and so far there was no progress in ensuring her capture, despite the plethora of evidence the clumsy girl had left behind for all to see. Rosemary thought that if she were ever that dumb she would certainly wish to get caught, just to get the agony of worrying about her situation over with, but didn’t say anything out loud and instead set the verbal barb back in its quiver, to be used another day. She cast aside the first track of the conversation and decided to approach her target from another angle.
“To be sure, dear, I don’t mean to bring you even more distress, goodness knows that it can’t be easy being in such an awkward position, but sometimes I fear for the worst, Lucille. It has been too long, surely the girl would have felt compelled to return by now, were she still able. As sad as the prospect makes me, I worry that she can’t survive in the desert much longer, even if she, by some miracle, managed to find some shelter and sustenance. If you care for her at all you’d better let us know about her whereabouts, I’m not sure how you would be able to cope with her passing.”
“Oh, yes, of course!” Lucille replied. “I worry about her myself every day! I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you going to such lengths to find her,” she continued, looking down with sadness. “I know that the sentence awaiting her upon return will not be kind, but she did go against our customs and I am hopeful that the ceremony in the desert and keeping her away from any form of water will eventually cure my dear niece of her curse. All things considered, any fate would be better than whatever agony she’s experiencing right now,” she sighed convincingly. “The loneliness alone…” she pondered.
“Whatever you say, dear,” Rosemary retorted bitterly.
“How are things going in the Village, aunt Lucille?” Mary asked smiling.
“Oh, same old, same old, darling. Just the same way you remember them,” Lucille smiled back.
“I want to show you something,” Mary glowed with pride. She ran to one of the cupboards and brought back a piece of artwork.
“Child, this is beautiful!” Lucille admired the craftsmanship, despite being taken aback by the subject of the piece. “Did you make this?” she asked, to allow Mary to brag about her work.
“Yes, I did!” Mary replied, beaming from ear to ear. “It’s a bird’s wing, it’s supposed to symbolize flight,” she felt the need to explain her artistic vision.