Orphic Phantasia

22: The Night Everything Changed (Part One)

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She squeezed his shoulders a little bit too tight. “You shouldn’t worry so much,” she said. “I have enough of that from your father.”

Dante tried his hardest not to scowl but, unlike his mother, he couldn’t hide his true feelings behind a false smile. If his father cared so much for them, then where was he? Why wasn’t he here where they needed him most? Dante hadn’t seen him since they moved into the forest. His mother always made up excuses about him being ‘busy’, but Dante knew otherwise. He knew that was just another smile to hide the truth. His father was a dishonoured son of the Donara who betrayed his people to seek fame and fortune in the Apostle War. He was too ashamed to show his face here in the forest. It was easier to avoid the truth than to apologise.

His mother shook her head and signed. “Don’t give me that look, Dante. When I say your father’s busy, I mean it. Really, would I lie to you?”

He looked at her face, her forced smile, trembling to admit the truth. Maybe she read his mind, because the lie shattered into a sudden sob, and she clutched her son tight in her arms. It was starting again — the madness.

“I wouldn’t lie to you, Dante. I could never lie to you, even if I wanted to. Even if I had to.”

He helped her sit down and wiped away the tears. “I’ll get you some tea,” he said. It would help calm her nerves.

“Tea would be good,” she said. “I could do with a lot of tea today. It’s … it’s one of those days.”

Dante was reluctant to leave her alone, even though their burrow was small and she was never more than a dozen feet away. The madness fed on loneliness, or so Lady Mendoza had told him. Still, she needed her tea. He had to be brave.

The mushroom light cast an ochre hue over the kitchen’s clutter of cabinets and counters. The Donara built their homes in the shape of flowers, each petal a compact chamber lined with wooden beams. It might have been small, and sometimes a little too warm, but it was home — at least, for the time being. Dante fished the jar of tealeaves from out of the cupboard and set the kettle on the stove. While he waited for the water to boil, he washed a pair of cups and found a small box of biscuits. His mother pecked at one with a weak smile as he finished preparing the tea.

“Dante,” she said, as he poured the boiling water into their cups, “there’s something you have to know. It’s just that we—”

Her voice stopped dead. Without a second thought, Dante stopped what he was doing and raced to her side. He fell to his knees and clasped her trembling hands in his own.

“Mother?” he asked, but it was too late. “Ophelia Orpheus?”

Names were important, they told him. Names gave you identity. So long as somebody remembered your name, the Dark could never claim you.

His mother didn’t respond. She was in another world. He could see it in her eyes, wide like a frightened animal, their pale-winter hue giving way to a dull fog. Dante brushed the hair from her face. She was cold to the touch, shaking as if someone had turned out the sun and left her naked in the dark.

I’m sure Dante’s father is off doing something important right about now?