“The third planet is incapable of supporting life,” stated the husband patiently. “Our scientists have said there’s far too much oxygen in their atmosphere.”
“But wouldn’t it be fascinating if there were people? And they traveled through space in some sort of ship?”
“Really, Ylla, you know how I hate this emotional wailing. Let’s get on with our work.”
It was late in the day when she began singing the song as she moved among the whispering pillars of rain. She sang it over and over again.
“What’s that song?” snapped her husband at last, walking in to sit at the fire table.
“I don’t know.” She looked up, surprised at herself. She put her hand to her mouth, unbelieving. The sun was setting. The house was closing itself in, like a giant flower, with the passing of light. A wind blew among the pillars; the fire table bubbled its fierce pool of silver lava. The wind stirred her russet hair, crooning softly in her ears. She stood silently looking out into the great sallow distances of sea bottom, as if recalling something, her yellow eyes soft and moist, “Drink to me only with thine eyes, and I will pledge with mine,” she sang, softly, quietly, slowly. “Or leave a kiss within the cup, and I’ll not ask for wine.” She hummed now, moving her hands in the wind ever so lightly, her eyes shut. She finished the song.
It was very beautiful.
“Never heard that song before. Did you compose it?” he inquired, his eyes sharp.
“No, Yes. No, I don’t know, really!” She hesitated wildly. “I don’t even know what the words are; they’re another language!”
She dropped portions of meat numbly into the simmering lava. “I don’t know.” She drew the meat forth a moment later, cooked, served on a plate for him. “It’s just a crazy thing I made up, I guess. I don’t know why.”
He said nothing. He watched her drown meats in the hissing fire pool. The sun was gone. Slowly, slowly the night came in to fill the room, swallowing the pillars and both of them, like a dark wine poured to the ceiling. Only the silver lava’s glow lit their faces.
She hummed the strange song again.
Instantly he leaped from his chair and stalked angrily from the room.
Later, in isolation, he finished supper.
When he arose he stretched, glanced at her, and suggested, yawning, “Let’s take the flame birds to town tonight to see an entertainment.”
“You don’t mean it?” she said. “Are you feeling well?”
“What’s so strange about that?”
“But we haven’t gone for an entertainment in six months!”
“I think it’s a good idea.”
“Suddenly you’re so solicitous,” she said.
“Don’t talk that way,” he replied peevishly. “Do you or do you not want to go?”
She looked out at the pale desert. The twin white moons were rising. Cool water ran softly about her toes. She began to tremble just the least bit. She wanted very much to sit quietly here, soundless, not moving until this thing occurred, this thing expected all day, this thing that could not occur but might. A drift of song brushed through her mind.
“Do you good,” he urged. “Come along now.”
“I’m tired,” she said. “Some other night.”
“Here’s your scarf.” He handed her a phial. “We haven’t gone anywhere in months.”
“Except you, twice a week to Xi City.” She wouldn’t look at him.
“Business,” he said.
“Oh?” She whispered to herself.
From the phial a liquid poured, turned to blue mist, settled about her neck, quivering.
The flame birds waited, like a bed of coals, glowing on the cool smooth sands. The white canopy ballooned on the night wind, flapping softly, tied by a thousand green ribbons to the birds.
Ylla laid herself back in the canopy and, at a word from her husband, the birds leaped, burning, toward the dark sky. The ribbons tautened, the canopy lifted. The sand slid whining under; the blue hills drifted by, drifted by, leaving their home behind, the raining pillars, the caged flowers, the singing books, the whispering floor creeks. She did not look at her husband. She heard him crying out to the birds as they rose higher, like ten thousand hot sparkles, so many red-yellow fireworks in the heavens, tugging the canopy like a flower petal, burning through the wind.