Odessa pushed past the thick, wet vines that hung from the Guapo trees. The Storyteller's hut was invisible behind them; some women from the village, the ones who had never been given permission to go to the Storyteller, believed that she didn’t even exist- she was so hidden.
Odessa’s arms were full of melons, and a basket of meat, but the door to the hut was just slightly open so she pressed against it with her toes and it swung wide. She stepped in, coughed from the dust and in the middle of the floor, like they said she would be, sat the Storyteller, petting the carcass of a cat, long dead. The smell of death triggered deeply rooted instincts that told Odessa to leave and not come back. Fighting those instincts, she walked toward the woman and when she was as close as she dared, the woman reached out for her to come even closer. The further Odessa went into the hut, the more she felt the clammy air settle around her, making her part of the home, making her feel as though she would never be warm again.
Then ice shot through her as the Storyteller laid her old palm on Odessa’s skin.
“Sit.” She whispered.
The villagers had prepared Odessa for this. Each of them had pushed their way toward her with their questions burning through their eyes. They asked them once and then repeated them again and again as the crowd impatiently pushed them away, hoping to imprint them into Odessa’s memory. But all the voices overlapped each other, and Odessa could only recall a few of the questions on her way to the hut. Now, the woman's touch had stolen them all from her. Maybe that was how the Storyteller gave her answers. Or did the Storyteller keep the questions and the messenger? Odessa couldn’t seem to remember the last girl to come up here, or whether or not she had returned.
The Storyteller got up in Odessa’s silence, the cat sliding off her lap and landing with a thump on the floor. She walked in billows of dust towards a bookcase made of wood that had rotted in the humid air of the hut. She pulled out one book with a quivering hand and let the pages fall open.
“How long will the women survive without PeKapa’s amulet?” Odessa’s question spilled out of her mouth as if the Storyteller had just given it back.
“In the time of the Transition, the men of this village didn’t yet believe in the greatness of Pekapa’s power. They gathered their clubs, and their ropes, and their fires, and threatened to string up and burn the women who turned against them.” The Storyteller slowed and each word fell like an anchor on Odessa. “Some women were scared. They could not yet feel the difference in their bodies. But others faced the men with rage. With more strength than they had known before they brought down the men, locked them on a boat and let them sit for days with no food and only salt water.” The Storyteller stopped. Then opened to another page in her old book. Odessa waited, not sure she had been answered, not wanting to interrupt what was surely still to come. But nothing did.
“Is this the revenge of Turo? What preparations should we take? Do we need to elect a new general?” She wanted to tell the Storyteller that her next questions were important, that she and the people needed specifics.
The Storyteller took so long to answer, Odessa was sure she had made a great offense. She must have spoken out of turn after all. Odessa looked at the food still held tightly in her hands and wondered if payment was needed first. The villagers hadn’t said anything about when she needed to give the food. Odessa moved to place the food… where? Next to the cat? In her hesitance, one of the mellons rolled out of her grasp. Before she could apologize or pick it up the Storyteller started again.
“In the beginning PeKapa made a flower, a flower so beautiful that it moved Turo with inspiration and he made a tree. PeKapa made fruit from the love in her heart and placed the flower and the fruit on Turo's tree. He, wanting the fruit to last, gave the tree dirt. PeKapa and Turo made the earth together, each one supporting the other.”
Odessa’s grip loosened on the food. She was so weighed down but the words now she was sure she would never be able to leave, but it didn’t seem to matter because the Storyteller had given her nothing she could bring back to the village
Against her frustration, one question barreled out of her, one of her own.
“Does my mother deserve to die?”
The Storyteller swept her faded eyes across the walls of her home then said. “PeKapa gave us a gift. We stand in her world and we don’t even know it.”
It was as if a spell had been broken inside Odessa. The instincts in her that had been silenced released themselves from those chains and screamed out at her with a force that she could no longer ignore. She dropped the fruit and the food and did not even look to see where it rolled and she ran from the hut. She expected to feel the Storyteller’s cold hand, expected that if she did Odessa would have to stay with her forever. But even after she had made it back to the market Odessa was still certain she wasn’t safe.