Shadows on the Ground


bella_icon.gif tamara_icon.gif

Scene Title Shadows on the Ground
Synopsis Bella invites Tamara on a walk.
Date May 20, 2011

New York University - Campus Library

Of all the strange places to find Tamara, this might be the strangest.

Green-leafed hardwoods shade the nearby windows, filtering the sun's afternoon intensity; vivid lights set in a high ceiling fill out the voids and shadows, ensuring that visitors can easily discern the fine details of letter and label. The young woman who stands beside a shelf, shoulder against its corner, holds a book in her hands. She thumbs through its pages idly, with stops and starts that to most would imply skimming, attention intermittently caught by some keyword or phrase of interest.

When asked to read, Tamara gets obstinate — which might be why her companion, seated in a chair beside the window, observes the girl with a quizzical look on his face.

The semester is over, classes finished, final exams next week; the library is a quietly busy place, studying students visible around nearly every corner. Aside from her unobtrusive watcher, Tamara could be one of them — she's the right age, dressed in jeans and a floral-printed white tanktop, short hair recently trimmed to length. No backpack apparent, but the same is true for many students.

What they wouldn't be doing is reading a book upside-down.

It will be only so long before Bella can no longer sport her badge, no longer cut an official figure through a college campus, research center, hospital, or — really — anywhere that is not what Bella presumes will be some awful, subterranean shanty town. The fresh spring air is savored as much as the coolness of the air conditioning as the psychiatrist navigates the straits of the book sensors and through the long halls, the sounds soft and ever so collegiate, tension and expectation making the air pregnant with studious concern. What a blessing, for finals to be the most serious thing on all these young minds. Bella would envy them, and for some passing moments maybe she does, but she’s here with purpose and that, if nothing else, keeps her worse but well cherished tendencies in check.

Because it wouldn’t do to intercede with flinty eyes and vitriol still tinging her words when she addresses Tamara’s handler, conversation is kept to the appropriate level of hush — Bella worked at school libraries for mad money, she’s up on the etiquette. Psychiatric evaluation requires confidence, confidence requires privacy. In short — get lost, buddy.

She approaches Tamara, taking a perch such that she can make sure — from the corner of her eye — that the third wheel is vacating to her preference. Bella’s expression is casual, her smile relaxed, and it’s not wholly an act — seeing the strange girl with her upside down book manages to take Bella out of the wretched depths of herself.

“Dr. Sacks,” she observes, reading the author’s name upside down, “any insights, from what you’ve read? I wonder what he’d make of your own neurological compensations.”

By this date, the routine — inasmuch as anything involving Tamara is ever routine — is old hat to her attendant. Technically, he's supposed to keep an eye on the Institute's young ward; at the very least, to stay within sight of her. But it's been demonstrated time and again that she's no flight risk — and Bella's sessions with her are sanctioned. He doesn't think anything of staying out of earshot — and the actual attention paid to them is minimal, because two women just chatting is not particularly enthralling. Chatting is all they tend to do.

Meanwhile, the girl in question looks up around the edge of her book, a sweetly close-lipped smile shaping her expression. It's a long remove from the skittish demeanor of their early encounters, a measure of time's change — if taken at face value. Upon Bella's prompt, she turns the book over in her hands, peering down at the orange-and-white mimicry of a visual testing chart which is its cover. As though by examining the dust jacket, she might interrogate the man who wrote it. Or perhaps interrogate the book itself.

"It looks out," Tamara finally replies, bringing the book's covers in, pressing its pages together into a single thick block. She holds the tome up so Bella can see its front cover, the oversized 'O' and fuzzy-edged other letters. "I don't think it sees too well. It'd be pretty boring to just have read." Or was that 'red'?

Slender fingers shift their grip on the book again, extending one edge towards the psychiatrist. "Do you want it?" the girl offers politely, tilting her head slightly in query.

“I’ll read it,” Bella says, tensing her statement in terms she is hoping Tamara will parse — Bella has read the book already, it being something like a professional responsibility, though all the same she reaches out to take the book, flipping it open, scanning the contents, finger tracing over the case study headings. “Were there any interesting readings? Any paths you took through the book that were better than others? At least less boring?”

Tamara may answer the question at her leisure, and in whatever way she pleases. A certain difficulty in communication is, Bella has discovered, actually sort of refreshing. There is suddenly so much less pressure in crafting the details of expression, in trying to judge consequence and effect. Just managing to convey and receive complete ideas is the real goal, a much less anxiety-provoking kind of interaction.

“I appreciate Sacks’ eye for the peculiar, the distinct. How he’s interested in the commonality within difference, rather than just commonality in and of itself,” Bella editorializes, briefly, before closing the book and holding it to her chest, eyes levelling on Tamara.

“You know what I came here to talk to you about? What I was trying to accomplish? Am now trying?” No point in trying to hide intentions or plans from a pre-cog, after all.

Tamara tips her head the other way, brows knitting in an expression Bella knows well — both from the inside and the outside. The one that says more eloquently than words: you speak Greek; I do not understand it. If she was pressed on the subject, an outburst would follow — but the woman doesn't pursue it. They are all thus saved the wrath of resident librarians.

The sudden and abrupt shift in topic, conversely, is met with a clearing of furrows, taken much more easily in stride. Transitions often are. "The chapter ends," the girl says simply. "They always do."

Chapter, not book, which means Tamara thinks there are still pages to go. Bella is left to wonder, and wishing she could ask, if Tamara considers herself the main character and whether or not this transition marks the end of Bella’s appearance in the tale. This would sound insane, stated that way, and paranoid if she stated it plainly. She’ll treat Tamara like a magic eight ball only as a last resort.

“I visit on the twenty-fifth,” Bella informs Tamara, stating her commitment to a course, hoping that Tamara will confirm, with foreknowledge, what she declares — or at least just agree, “I take you for a walk around the city. We meet some associates of mine and—” her smile is tight, but not insincere so much as just a little scared, “start a new chapter.”

Tamara gives Bella a faintly quizzical look, blonde hair shifting with the cant of her head. "All right," she says, lips tugged off-center in something that isn't quite a smile, but suggests some mild amusement. The girl brings one hand up, fingertips pressing lightly against Bella's shoulder; reassurance, perhaps, or confirmation, or simply some passing whimsy that has no greater significance.

"Should we talk about anything else?" she asks a moment later.

It's not usual for Bella to be on the receiving end of this question. This sudden mirroring takes her aback for a moment, and the light touch receives a look that would be nonplussed if her expression weren't still professional composed. "I —" she begins, before pausing to properly adjust to the oddity of the reversal, "just want to make sure you are ready. And — willing," yes, Bella supposes consent can't just be assumed, "and prepared."

This last is just courtesy. It's Bella's assumption that Tamara travels light.

She looks at Bella for a moment, blue eyes somber with the measuring scrutiny of the seer. "Were you prepared?" Tamara counters, in what is apparently all seriousness. After which she smiles, close-lipped but broad with amiable warmth. "It's okay if not, as long as you have good feet." Whatever that means.

"I will have been ready, certainly," Bella replies through a breathless chuckle of mirth-in-spite-of, "which isn't the same thing, but—" there's a straightening of her neck, a slight squaring of her shoulders, "there is only so long you can look before leaping is your only viable option."

The vague tracing of her copper brow arches. "The past is coming down on my ass hard. You're lucky that you don't have to deal with it." At least this is her conjecture. Tamara's full phenomenology is, as of yet, inaccessible. To walk a mile in her shoes.

"I am curious, though," she adds, "can you see further than yourself?" perhaps that needs to be rephrased, "can you remember when you're not there?" still, she's stepping around what she means, "what happened when you died?" Which will happen, save for maybe some wild, stray thread of possibility on which Tamara cheats death. Bella can only conjecture if she doesn't ask.

She's quiet as Bella speaks her replies and works her way around to the actual query; and quiet after, her expression distant and unreadable. Perhaps processing the question in some fashion — though Tamara doesn't exhibit the tells which, singly and together, indicate failing comprehension on her part. Perhaps she simply chooses her answer with care — though the reason for that, if any exists, remains opaque.

"They don't look," Tamara answers, words coming slowly, enunciated with deliberate care — thought not with the weight and projection that would suggest an insult to Bella's comprehension. It's attention on the girl's part which shapes their delivery. "Don't look beyond themselves, their road, the close ones." Not quite looking at the woman, gazing through the bookshelf at her side, Tamara reaches up absently to tuck blonde hair behind her ears. "But the mirror is many. All shadows on the ground. Waves stop each other only when making more."

She raises her eyes to meet Bella's, one shoulder twitching in a shrug as slight as the rueful tug of her smile. "The ocean isn't home. Can't be. But it doesn't like to leave breadcrumbs still."

Like with so much fortune telling, Bella cannot but get the sense that what she 'understands' of Tamara's words are as much her own projection via interpretation as genuine translation. The hope, she figures, is that the seer can evoke the right interpretations with her symbolic language.

Maybe she lacks clarity because of her own preoccupation. In any case, Tamara's words make a pretty parade through Bella's perception, but don't come to much. She extends her arms, offering the book back to the blonde woman. "I'm not interested in finding my way back," she says, "so I'll save my crusts for eating on the trip."

The girl takes the book carefully from Bella's hands, fingertips curled around either side. She turns away from the psychiatrist, stepping back between the shelves to place it in its designated location, restoring the sequence of call-number stickers to its former unbroken state. Momentarily tapping her fingers against them in satisfaction, Tamara then ducks back out. "Just as well," she replies to Bella with a lopsided smile, "if you like them that way."

A pointed glance over her shoulder summons the watcher's attention, the man who looks just that little bit too professional to be loitering in a university library. As he picks himself up out of his chair, Tamara directs her attention back to Bella. Two pairs of blue eyes catch, and hold; then Tamara nods, a single sharp dip of her chin.

And then she slips past Bella, sandaled feet inevitably striking anything but a straight path towards the distant door.

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