Your mother was not allowed to touch the horizon.
“You may look at it, if you want to, but you cannot touch it,” your grandmother told her.
It sounded like a ban, but, in actuality, it was just a law. And you always wondered whether the law spread only on your mother or it was for everyone. Therefore you often violated it. This helped you to live the normal life of a child.
Your mother, on the contrary, never had a childhood. Once she was born she immediately became an adult because your grandmother knew her future. Your grandmother also made an attempt to find out your future, but it was inaccessible to her. So she focused on your mother.
“You cannot touch the horizon!” she reminded her each time.
Your mother just listened to her. The horizon was smooth and clear with a few blurred flourishes of clouds, which your mother tried to decode. She had the secret hope that those flourishes were for her and that once she read them she’d live happily hereafter.
Your grandmother didn’t take it seriously and often made sarcastic comments.
“What’s new?” she asked your mother staring at the horizon.
The horizon changed and each time there was something new. But your grandmother didn’t pay attention to it—she always got to the root. And the root was that your mother didn’t know how to read it. So, days had gone, and the horizon didn’t get closer, and eventually your mother realized that your grandmother might be right. And one day she found no changes in the horizon and she couldn’t wait for the next day to see if something had changed. Alas! The horizon was the same.
“It cannot be!” she whispered to herself. She scrutinized the horizon, but there was no sign apparent.
“It cannot be,” she tried to convince herself. “It must be me—I’m missing something. But I must know the truth!”
Each day the horizon got worse: it got yellowish and the flourish faded out.
“What if it’s dying?” she thought. “What if I’m losing it forever?”
She became somnambulistic. Each night she got up and walked along the skies, but she never approached the horizon—as soon as she got close to it she woke up and immediately fell down to her bed that was put under the skies by your grandmother in order to catch your mother when she fall. So, one day she decided to steal your grandmother’s magnifying glass in order to examine closely the horizon and see the true state of affairs. She waited until your grandmother went to the store to buy some freshly fading flowers (your grandmother loved fading flowers and she decorated the house with them) and took the magnifying glass from her table. The magnifying glass was dull and with crumbs of bread and sugar as if someone had analyzed meals with it. Your mother thoroughly cleaned the thick convex surface and looked through it at the horizon.
…At first, she didn’t notice anything but a large space paved with cracks, which turned out to be roads and paths covered with a golden brown. It was the end of July. Nature got tired of waiting for the rain and smoothly sank like a sandcastle the next morning. There was no one around, just an endless space with arid soil. She was sitting on the bench and slowly scratched the horizon with her fingernail as if it was a winning number under its silvery mist.
“I told you so many times—don’t scratch it!” your grandmother yelled out of the window.
A tiny blurred spot appeared on the other side of the picture and moved toward your mother’s house. She didn’t notice anything, but your grandmother immediately saw it. She got very excited—your mother could hear her running back and forth and rumbling with her keys. Then she leaned out of the window and screamed again: “Stop scratching it!”
The spot was getting closer. It expanded like a fog and covered the horizon’s suburbs, which merged with the earth. Your mother saw airy rivers gracefully streaming down the earth, which carried light triangles of sails on their waves. Your grandmother carefully observed the trajectory of the spot expanding through her magnifying glass.
“Go inside and get changed!” she ordered a few moments later.
Your mother obediently nodded and continued scratching.
“Stop it!” your grandmother screeched and your mother’s fingernail broke.
She had nothing to do but stop it and go inside the house to get changed. Her closet was piled up with her photos and it was difficult to find the appropriate one.
“How many times have I told you to put everything in its place?” your grandmother yelled angrily.
“Which one do you want me to put on?” your mother asked calmly from her closet.
“Take the one with forget-me-not.”
It was an old picture taken a day ago when your mother had no idea about the horizon. She looked much younger then—that expression of unawareness that makes one’s face angelic. She was thinking.
“What are you thinking?” your grandmother cried out from the other room.
“That picture is too young for me… I cannot wear it…”
“Nonsense! Pull it on, I’m telling you!”
Your grandmother cried hysterically. Your mother had never seen her like that. She tried the picture on. It was too tight on her. Her new expression was constantly showing from under that angelic face and your grandmother tried to pull it on. Eventually, it stretched in the middle and covered your mother’s face that now looked a little bit distorted.
“It’s nothing. You look fine,” your grandmother said.
The fog occupied the center and moved toward the house.
“Go inside and wait!” your grandmother ordered.
“Do I have some time?” your mother asked.
Your mother didn’t know what to answer. It was too obvious, no matter what she said.
“Well, I’ll tell you then,” your grandmother said, pointing at the horizon. “Nothing is in there for you. Do you hear me? I said—nothing! When I was a little girl I scratched it once and it was nothing—just emptiness. They promise you everything if you buy their books, but in reality you find nothing. They just want you to buy their unsold stuff. That’s all. Go!”
Of course, your mother didn’t trust her, but she believed her, and she was sure that if your grandmother said something then she knew it better. Therefore your mother went inside and waited until your grandmother called her.
The fog went through the door and clouded the windows. Now your mother couldn’t see what was going on outside. The only clear spot was in the house.
“I want you to meet your future,” your grandmother said.
Then your mother ran to the window, but it was clouded by the future. She couldn’t even see the present or the past.
“How can it be?” your mother thought.
She wanted to discern something outside and pressed her forehead against the window. The windowpane cracked in the middle.
… “Did I tell you not to touch my magnifying glass?” she heard a voice from behind.
Your grandmother entered with freshly fading flowers and looked with reproach at your mother trying to erase the crack.
“This was my grandmother’s present at my wedding,” your grandmother said. “I never got married thanks to it. No one was aloud to touch it but me.”
Your mother looked at the crack that widened and glittered with crystals. She touched it with her little finger. It was cool and fresh.
“Give it to me!” your grandmother ordered.
When she made a step forward your mother closed her eyes and jumped into the coolness of crystal waters. The crack meandered and carried your mother away—to the other side of the glass where you were waiting for her on the horizon with the book in hand. She had always dreamt about the book and she was willing to overcome any obstacles in order to get it. So you held the book above the waters and it shone like a lighthouse, pointing your mother the way to you.
“You cannot swim,” your grandmother said calmly. “Just come back.”
Her voice was reigning above the crystal waters. Your mother got scared. She looked around. She was alone. The book shone far away, but it would not help her much—she had to swim all alone. Then you signaled to her the contents of the first page—all she needed to overcome the river. But she didn’t know how to read it.
“You don’t know how to read it. Come back. You cannot swim,” your grandmother said.
She put her flowers into the vases. All her vases resembled urns. Your mother looked over, trying to find some support, but the only voice she heard was that of your grandmother. So she opened her eyes and found herself in the room again.
“She lied to me and I knew it,” your mother thought. “I should’ve swum.”
Then she looked down to see how deep the crack was. It was pretty deep—like a seven- story house. She bent over the bottom to see what was downstairs, and saw your grandmother serving tea to the future in the backyard. Your grandmother looked up and waved her hand.
“Come here,” she said, “it’s time to have some tea together.”
Then your mother closed her eyes and stepped forward.
For a few nights she was restless. She woke up and went to the closet that no one could hear her. Every evening your grandmother touched her forehead and sang her a lullaby about the snail. It finally worked.
Bio: V. Ulea (Vera Zubarev) is the author of 16 books of prose, poetry and literary criticism. Her book, About Angels, About God, About Poetry (Livingston Press, 2002), won The Top Book Award at the International Book Fair “Green Wave.” Her cycle of poems, Letters from Another Planet, was nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Her works have appeared in the Literary Review,RE:AL, Princeton Arts Review, The Bitter Oleander, Sein und Werden, Apollo’s Lyre, The Dream People, and other journals and magazines. She is the editor of the anthology, Quantum Genre in the Planet Of Arts (appeared in Paraphilia Magazine). Her collection of short stories, Snail, was published by Crossing Chaos (2009). Her new novel, Spherical Violin, is coming.She has won many prestigious international awards for her works, including, most recently, Bella Akhmadulina International literary Prize (2012). Her works have been translated into Czech, Ukrainian and German. She has a PhD in Russian literature and teaches classes on decision making in literature and film in the University of Pennsylvania.