The room had tall, high-pointed windows from waist-height to the ceiling far above. Framed in one sat a girl with long, straight, flaxen hair and large spectacles. She wore a black-and-white sailor school uniform. She rose to greet the newcomer. Perhaps she would have spoken, but a shorter, red-haired girl stood up from a seat at the long table and spoke first.
“Rayati, newcome sister, and welcome. My name is Trilla, and this,” she indicated the girl who had risen from the window seat, “is Hermya-chei. What is your name?” Trilla bowed rapidly with her hands at her sides.
“My name is Goldenhead.” She hoped they would not laugh, but the idea seemed not to occur to them.
Trilla bowed again, rapidly bobbing up and down. “Rayati, Goldenhead-chei.”
Hermya placed her hands together and bowed more slowly. “Rayati, Goldenhead-chei. Please give me your loving indulgence.”
Goldenhead placed her hands together like a steeple before her forehead and bowed slowly. “Rayati, Hermya-chei. Rayati, Trilla-chei. Please give me your loving indulgence.”
Were they saying these words in English? Probably not. But such was their import, and they made perfect sense.
“I have seen you before, Goldenhead-chei,” said Hermya. “Do you remember me?”
“I don’t remember much very clearly, I am afraid,” said Goldenhead. “Everything was like dreams or imaginings until now.”
“It was for me too,” said Hermya. “At least, mostly it was. There were times when I could see more clearly, but never as clearly as now.”
“Do you have a body—somewhere else?” asked Goldenhead.
“Yes, I have. And you?”
“Yes. It seems to be sleeping very deeply now. I think it is not well.”
“Yes, that is how it is with mine. What about you, Trilla-chei?”
“The same with me.”
“Does it worry you, your body, I mean?” asked Goldenhead. “I feel it should, but it doesn’t. I am happier here. I belong here.”
“How can you belong here if you know it so little?” asked Hermya. “I feel—lost.”
“I feel lost too,” said Goldenhead, “but I was lost in the other place as well. More lost than here. I feel strange here and a little afraid, but I also feel at home.”
“That doesn’t make sense,” said Hermya. “‘At home’ is the place you know. The people you know. You can’t be at home in a strange place.”
“You can!” said Trilla with sudden fierceness. “You absolutely can!” Hermya and Goldenhead were both a little frightened by the suddenness and ferocity of her outburst.
“Oh, I am sorry,” said Trilla. “Please forgive me. A gentilmaid should never alarm blondes. Please forgive me.”
Hermya spoke in a tone so gentle and reassuring that it added to Goldenhead’s surprise at the whole episode. She spoke as if she were calming a child with infinite love: “Of course I forgive you, dear Trilla-chei. I was just being a silly nervous blondie.Your behavior has been quite unexceptionable.”
Trilla smiled, and Goldenhead supposed the crisis to have passed, but suddenly Trilla turned distressfully to her.
“But you, Goldenhead-chenya, won’t you forgive me also?”
“But of course I forgive you,” said Goldenhead. “Truly there was nothing to forgive, it was so small a matter.”
“You are very kind, both of you,” said Trilla. “And Hermya-chei, you are right that one can truly only feel at home where the people are that one knows and loves, but, ma’am, such a place was not where I was before or ever have been. This is the nearest place to home I have ever come, and I hope to come closer still to this place now that I am privileged to be here more fully.”
“But what—” asked Hermya gently, “I mean, what if your body, your real body, recovers?”
“That is no real body of mine, and I hope it never recovers.”
Hermya looked taken aback. “Oh, Trilla-chei, how could you?”
“I think I sort of know what she means,” said Goldenhead quietly. “It wasn’t my home, that place—not even that body really.”
“That must be terrible,” said Hermya, “to live in a place you really don’t belong. I can’t imagine what that would be like.”
“Not good. Really not good,” said Trilla. “But it’s over now. I am here and I am a brunette. I can do anything.”
“Because it is like a dream?” asked Goldenhead.
“It isn’t a dream!” said Trilla, almost returning to her previous excessive forcefulness. She checked herself and spoke gently. “I am awake now. I have never been so awake before. Have you?” She looked intently at the other two.
“No, I don’t think I have,” said Goldenhead.
“Yes, I have,” said Hermya. “I have felt more awake than here, I think—or perhaps differently awake. I have been lucky, haven’t I? I have always belonged.”
“A blonde should always belong,” said Trilla. “Goldenhead-chei, I am sorry you have been in places where you did not belong. That is not right for a blonde. Back there, I was not a true brunette, a true melini. But, you know, a brunette can withstand even that—even not being a true brunette. It is not easy, though. I am happy now. I am myself again. I am a true brunette, and I can do anything.”
Goldenhead looked at her. She looked like a redhead. Dark, fox-red hair that strayed wildly over her face. A cute dark-red sailor uniform. She was shorter than the frail-looking blonde Hermya. In a way Goldenhead could not understand what she meant by being brunette, and in another way she somehow could. And by being able to do anything—
“What do you mean?” asked Goldenhead.
Trilla pulled a little two-girl bench from a corner of the room. “Sit here, both of you,” she said, then added, “if you would do me that great kindness.”
Both blondes sat on the little bench, and Trilla walked behind them. Suddenly they were hoisted in the air. Trilla had picked up the bench and raised it over her head. The bench wobbled a little as Trilla adjusted her hold. Then they heard her snap her fingers.
“You hear?” she said.
“Yes!” said Goldenhead. “You are holding us with one hand.”
“Be careful, please, darling,” said Hermya. “Do put us down now.”
The bench was lowered to the ground.
“Brunettes can do anything, you see?” said Trilla. She was out of breath. Perspiration shone on her forehead, and she wiped it with a careless hand, plastering fox-red strands across her sticky brow. Her eyes were shining.
The signs of exertion startled Goldenhead a little. Whatever Trilla had said, Goldenhead had imagined that she was talking in some sense about a dreamlike ability to “do anything”. But this was nothing like that. This was real, physical exertion (or something close to physical, in any case). Trilla was energetic and determined, but her statement that she could do anything was hyperbolical. She could not do anything. She had clear limits. But she was very strong. Much stronger, presumably, than her former body had been, and she meant to test and increase that strength. It made her more admirable. It also made a shift in perspective. Even for the girls in this room—girls who had bodies elsewhere—this was no dream, nor anything very like a dream. It was a world with limits and parameters of its own. Different ones, no doubt, in some respects. As Ixititia had said, things were solider. One would not be able to fly here. There were degrees of solidity. But one was definitely someplace. Someplace that had limits and edges—and possibilities. Because, when not anything is possible, there are possibilities. That seemed somehow obvious.
The three of them were quiet. It seemed that Trilla’s small feat had triggered a point of reflection in each of them. What was it in the other two? Goldenhead wondered. What, indeed, was this room? It was quite large and had a big table that could be used for meetings or something. But here were just the three of them. The little, boundlessly energetic red-haired girl, the quiet, black-and-white uniformed blonde girl, and herself.
“What is this room?” she asked.