Kage Baker placed great emotional importance on omens, anniversaries, hallmarks and the like. The sight of a blue heron flying overhead always meant money was on the way. Looking up at just the moment the streets lights come on was fortuitous; hats on a bed or spilled salt were a calamity. Even hitting a string of green lights on an everyday street could give her a thrill, the anticipation of some greater good in the offing.
Everything meant something; everything was telling a story.
Was she superstitious? I would say yes. Kage would say, “Hell, yes.” Then she’d give you a sly, Long John Silver look (she practiced it) and add, “Do you know what’s out there?” And if you did not, or had simply never given it any thought – well, she’d tell you.
I remember one December morning as we were getting ready for a Dickens Fair opening: most of us were already in costume, the sets were dressed, the audience was lining up outside in gratifyingly large numbers, considering it was raining – and the electric lines were suddenly struck by lightning. (Yes. Really. Lightning.) The Cow Palace, which is where we perform that Fair, was plunged into darkness. It stayed that way for a couple of hours. The audience mostly remained, entertained by heroic actors who went out and busked in the torrential rains. Food booths sent out boys with trays; free popcorn was passed out.
Inside, we lit candles and lamps that had only ever been set dressing; wandered around in the dark playing parlour games (Hide and Seek, Sardine and several varieties of silly buggers) and actually had a very good time. A mated pair of dulcimer players came into my Parlour to practice by one of the few lights around, and never left – hey, John and DJ, well met in that storm! Kage, though, instructed to keep the kids in our group entertained, sat by the (faux) fireplace and told them ghost stories until the lights came back on. I was alerted to this when one of the kids, clutching an electric candle, began shrieking about the long white arm creeping down the fireplace flue – never mind that the “fireplace” was a plywood box nailed to the wall, or that Auntie Kage was sitting there smirking: no, under that story-teller’s spell, those kids believed.
So did Kage, at least while she was telling the story. She had that ultimate tale-teller’s skill.
We used to hit clouds of yellow butterflies on I-5, driving North – hundreds of the things, that would sweep across the highway around Buttonwillow and stick to every surface of our truck (we were driving on our own by then). We’d stop for gas and find drifts of gold and purple wings under the windshield wipers, or appliqued across the radiator grill; there were piles of them in the gutters beside the roads. It looked like Mardi Gras beside the gas pumps of Lost Hills.
Kage gradually developed an entire mythos around the butterflies: how they were the attendants of a Lord of the Middle Air, and they followed in his wake, helpless and mesmerized. He Himself sped down the road on a variety of steeds, that evolved over one panting summer into a silver motorcycle … every time one passed us, she would claim it was that Lord, and we had just missed seeing the face of a god. We would wail hymns and disappointment as the red lights vanished in front of us, with the gold butterflies in His train blown in through the windows and caught in Kage’s long red hair.
Chasing a Lord of the Air down I-5 all summer long … that was bliss, madness and bliss. And oh, did we believe.
Tomorrow: broken glass