Pedestal or Cage?
Later that day, with the house quieter than it’s been all week, I creep around the hallway outside of Kor’s office. Everyone except Kor and Cyra has gone down to the match. Wanting to give Tirigan some more time to get over our little spat, I decide to stay back as well. Kor put Cyra down for a nap almost as soon as everyone left, then disappeared into his office.
I walk casually past his door, peeking in as subtly as I can manage. He’s facing away from me, sitting in a large, swiveling leather chair and leaning back with his feet on a bookcase against the wall. It reminds me of some of the commissioned photographs in my father’s portfolio. A rich philosopher attempting to make his personal space even more pompous with photographs of himself being incredibly, well, pompous.
Despite the stage he’s set, though, Kor doesn’t remotely resemble the people in John’s portfolio. His head is down, completely absorbed in his book. The air around him is welcoming, approachable.
Still, I start to talk myself out interrupting him so I can ask about Calla. I don’t want to bother Kor if he’s busy, and who knows if he even wants to talk about my mother? He doesn’t seem to hold anything against her, taking us in and everything, but that doesn’t mean he’s eager to discuss her either. What if he resents her in some way? Resents her for getting out and having adventures without him?
I decide to try again later and walk past the door to Kor’s office, but the older man’s cavernous voice pulls me back.
“You know, I had a Cornish Rex like you once. He’d stare at me from the corner of the room. I swear he was reading my thoughts, finding out all there was that made me, me.”
Hesitantly, I step into his office, feeling equal parts encouraged and confused by his greeting. Kor lifts his feet off of the bookcase and turns his chair around so he’s propping them up on his desk instead, facing me. He discards the book he’s reading onto his desk and takes his reading glasses off, placing the end of one of the arms between his lips for a moment, before continuing to speak.
“It’s an interesting concept, of course, because our thoughts make us who we are, do they not?” He tilts his head softly, as if considering his own theory for the first time. “So, if my lovely feline friend could get inside my head and conjure all of my thoughts for himself, does he not then become another incarnation of me?” Kor shrugs and puts his hands behind his head, scuffing the back of his hair up a few times. His eyes dance around the ceiling for a moment, obviously lost in thought, before they land on me once more. He smiles wryly at me and tips his head to the side again. “Thoughts?”
I don’t think much before I answer him. I’ve learned very quickly to just go with the flow when speaking with Kor, even if he isn’t making any sense at first.
“Well, speaking from experience, being in someone’s head doesn’t suddenly turn you into them. I can hear all kinds of things in Tirigan’s head, and it doesn’t make him any easier to understand.”
“But the very act of reading another’s thoughts! You delve into their psyche; it exposes their every whim and desire!” Kor’s hands come up from behind his head, and he gestures wildly. “If you have my thoughts at your disposal, you have my very soul!”
His enthusiasm makes me laugh, and I take a few steps further into his office.
“No, that doesn’t make any sense,” I counter. “Your thoughts can’t make up your soul. Your thoughts can be manipulated. They change and evolve.”
“Hmm... yes.” He strokes his chin, something I imagine only very old people do and only if they have a beard to play with. “Your thoughts come and go, ebb and flow. To assign each individual thought to your soul would be a traitorous thing to do to yourself.” Kor’s lips pull into a smile, and his grey eyes sparkle up at me. “Don’t you think?”
It takes me a moment, but it isn’t long before I make the connection.
“This morning,” I finally say, looking down at my fidgeting hands. “The fight I had with Tirigan. You heard?” Kor says nothing, but his smile softens considerably. “So, you’re saying that just because I said something pretty horrible, it doesn’t mean I’m a bad person.”
“I haven’t the faintest. I just miss my cat.” The left corner of Kor’s mouth quirks up slightly. “But that sounds like some good advice to me.”
He stands abruptly, placing his glasses back on his face and turning around towards his bookcase. I snicker quietly, but don’t say anything else. The room’s silent for a very long time, me not having any idea how to broach the topic at hand and Kor thumbing over the spines of his books. Kor eventually saves me from having to come up with something to say.
“I may not know the answer to all life’s problems, Charlie, but I am fairly confident that you haven’t been dancing in front of my door so you can hear old stories about Tippett.” He reaches out and grabs a book from the shelf, sitting back down in his chair and opening it in his lap. “Care to enlighten me or should we play another round or two?”
“Oh, um,” I say awkwardly, still reeling from our earlier conversation and all that it entailed.
Kor’s mind works so quickly, it’s a little intimidating. It’s different than Tirgian’s. Living with my brother for the last seventeen years has done nothing to prepare me for Kor. However, the older Aérasian is very quickly becoming one of my favorite people, and the last thing I want to do is put him off with questions he doesn’t want to answer.
“I was hoping maybe...” I trail off, losing my nerve quickly, but determined not to give up entirely. I take another step forward and square my shoulders before crumbling slightly back into myself.
Kor looks at me more closely, taking in my body and the odd angles it’s accomplishing at this moment.
“Ah,” he says quietly after a pause. He closes the book and takes off his reading glasses again. “It’s Calla then.” He says her name softly, like if he doesn’t form the syllables correctly it would be a crime against nature.
I nod, blood pooling at my cheeks. Cravenness can’t be a good look for me. If Kor notices, he doesn’t mention it. He sets the book and his glasses down on his desk and walks around to the other side. There’s a certain level of thoughtfulness in his movements. It’s as if he’s consciously performing each individual step, worried he’ll forget how.
When he leans back against the edge of the desk, just barely sitting, Kor sighs.
“To be honest, I thought you’d be banging down my door with questions as soon as you could.” Kor smiles warmly at me, and a lot of my fear starts to melt away. “It struck me as odd when you didn’t come to me that first night, but then you were tired and your brother needed tending to. I kept waiting, expecting to be ambushed with memories of Calla, but that never happened. I was forced to sift through my memories of her alone and without preamble.” He looks down into to his clasped hands with an unreadable expression. When he finally looks up, I see something behind his eyes that wasn’t there moments before. Heartache.
“What changed?” he asks me, my heart thudding in my ears as the moment progresses.
“I… I decided it didn’t matter,” I reply. “No matter what you tell me about her, I’m still going to love her, and I’m still going to miss her. Maybe my perception of her will change slightly, depending on what you have to share, but then maybe my view of Calla could stand to be shaken up a bit. I mean, I guess I’ve always put my parents on a pedestal, you know?” I sigh and shake my head slightly. Everything just kind of comes out in a jumble. It feels like I’m about to unload a lifetime of personal problems to a relative stranger, which doesn’t feel right to me. There’s a chair in the corner of the room and I head towards it, plopping down gracelessly as I add, “And that isn’t fair to anyone.”
“Ah.” Kor holds his pointer finger up. “A wise notion, Charlie.”
“Can you tell me about her?” I ask cautiously. “What she was like growing up and before she...”
“Ran away?” he finishes for me, a slight frown on his face. “Calla was...” Kor sighs again and adjusts his weight against the desk. “Lovely. Your mother was lovely, Charlie.”
I can’t help the overwhelming disappointment in his answer. Not for the words themselves, but for the way they’re delivered, like a scripted report. It sounds like something that’s been rehearsed in a mirror, rather than an honest assessment.
“Lovely,” I repeat back to him blandly. “She was... lovely.”
“Yes,” Kor answers, obviously aware of my displeasure but pretending otherwise. “She was-”
“Lovely,” I finish for him, one eyebrow raised. “Really? That’s it?”
“I’d say it’s sufficient,” Kor responds, standing up from his position at the desk and rounding it to go to the other side. “Lovely is a perfectly good adjective. Can’t imagine what you’d have against it.”
“Kor, come on. If you don’t want to tell me about her, just say so.” I cross my arms in defiance.
He turns back towards me then, and gives me a leveling stare. “Charlie, I don’t know what you’re expecting…”
“The truth,” I respond simply. “Honestly, I just want to know her. I feel like there’s this huge part of my mother’s life that’s hidden from me, and you’re the only one I know who can tell me anything about it. I feel like I’ve always had this image of my mother and now…” I want to say that everything has changed so much and that Calla doesn’t fit in the box I made for her, but I can’t. Kor thinks Calla died when I was little. He thinks I’m just a girl trying to get to know her mother through her friend’s memories of her. He doesn’t know I’m attempting to rewrite history with a clearer picture of who my mother really was.
I pause, wracking my brain for something more specific to ask, something concrete that Kor can answer.
“Did she at least tell you goodbye before she ran away?”
“No,” Kor exhales sadly and leans back in his chair, his eyes going down to his hands. “Your mother left when your grandmother was very sick. We had an argument about Calla’s increasing disappearances and how that affected her mother, and then she stormed off. I never saw her again.”
A cold chill runs down my body.
Calla told us that her parents were dead by the time she met our father. She told us she was an orphan, raised mostly by family friends and the land. She lied to us. Again.
I guess I can just add that to the growing list of things to be angry with her about.
My stomach twists with the implications of Kor’s statement. “She left even though her mother was sick?”
“Yes. Calla left her younger sisters to care for their mother. Your grandfather was not the most nurturing man. He was of no help.”
My mind warps quickly to a dimension or timeline where Kor didn’t just say that. Instead of the truth, he says something about my mother having no idea her mother was sick and how she would have never left her. He doesn’t tell me about aunts I never knew existed. In a split second, I imagine my mother continuing to perch beautifully on that pedestal I set her on years ago.
Then I see the very real set of Kor’s jaw and the pedestal in my mind starts to wobble. His jaw clicks as it moves, a motion I recognize from a film I saw recently where the protagonist is in a faceoff with the man who killed his wife. His jaw was set just like Kor’s is now. They wear identical furrowed brows and pursed lips too. Just like the man in the movie, Kor’s face screams nothing but pain and anger that has yet to be dealt with.
The pedestal tips, threatens to fall.
I’m about to say something, anything to diffuse the moment and somehow keep my mother’s image intact, anything at all to make everything make sense again, when Kor closes his eyes and bows his head. He takes another deep breath, letting it out slowly as he looks at me again.
“Your grandmother died not long after Calla ran away. I tried to find her. I tried... but Charlie, your mother knew Beatrice wasn’t long for this world. Calla knew her mother needed her. She just didn’t care.”
And with the pedestal, my mother falls.
I stand in silence for a very long time. So long, I wonder if my legs might give out, and then I realize I don’t even know when I stood up from my chair.
Kor waits for something to bring me back for a few moments, but then he turns to leave.
“How could she not care?” I ask more aggressively than I intend, but I make no move to remedy it. “She must have cared!”
“Charlie-” Kor has his hand up, a comforting gesture that I want nothing to do with.
“You’re telling me that my mother knew my grandmother was sick, knew she was dying, and yet chose to leave anyway? She left her mother and siblings with a father who couldn’t care less about any of them? That’s what you’re saying?”
“I’m not saying anything—”
“Yes, you are. You said she didn’t care.” I’m suddenly shouting again. Why am I shouting so much? I’ve never yelled at anyone before, and now I’ve done it twice in one day to two different people. I’m overcome with anger, but I can’t get a manageable grip on it. “How do you know if she cared? Maybe she had to do it. Maybe she didn’t want to but had-”
“Why?” Kor pushes back, shaking his head in disbelief. “What could possibly be more important than her family? What was more important than—” He cuts himself off. “I don’t know what you want me to say. You asked for the truth.”
“The truth, yeah. Not your personal hang-ups!” I know I’m being unreasonable, but I still don’t stop. There are tears stinging at the edges of my eyes too, another thing I can’t seem to control. “I want you to—”
“Stop,” Kor interrupts, his voice low and patient. “We should put this conversation on hold until you have had time to think-”
“I don’t want to think.”
“—about what this means,” he finishes with some condescension. Kor looks at me like I’m one of his own grumbling teenagers. I guess I am now. “I’m sorry I can’t be of more help to you right now.”
And then he’s moving faster than my brain can figure out a way to get him to stay. He leaves me alone in his office. It’s just enough to send me over the edge, my tears falling freely as I crumble to the floor.