Kage Baker was especially busy this day a year ago. True, she was confined to bed and asleep a lot of the time – but when you are dying, finding a comfortable place in bed and getting some sleep is work. It takes a lot of concentration. Otherwise, you just sort of zone out and waste the time you still have.
At least, the only person with whom I have conversed during the critical process so informed me. And she was an expert, both on work and on wasting time. It was a basic tenet of Kage’s nature that she threw herself into both with total concentration. This day a year ago, she was on an upswing – energy rising, strength peaking, alert and alive and full of ideas. We thought it was the comforts of being home, that she was responding to the good vibes of her own place. Somehow, it never occurred to me that it was the flaring of a candle before it goes out.
This day last year was a Friday, and we were expecting guests: sister Anne, her daughters Kate and Annie, and our niece Emma Rose. Bear in mind, this was a festive occasion – we thought Kage had a month or two left to her, and Anne was initiating what she planned as regular visits. Kage was looking forward to playing hostess from the comfort of her bed. I was looking forward to guests. I spent a lot of the day frantically cleaning house (not too well, it had piled up a lot of neglect …) but I managed to arrange it so all our guests would have somewhere to sit and somewhere to lie down. Sometimes that and food is all one can manage.
Between the Dyson and the Swiffer, Kage and I plotted. Literally. She called these brainstorming sessions, and they had a lot more in common with flying upside down and sideways through burning barns than they did with sudden cerebral lightning. Kage’s planning sessions were volatile and interactive, and swooped from topic to topic as connections were made in her mind. I remember that that day we worked on Who We Did On Our Summer Holidays, and some more details on the troll-witch marriage story. Some more adventures of Lord Ermenwyr, including some that will never see the light of public publishing; we laughed a lot.
We talked about the garden – what to plant in the next few months, how the heritage Roman hyacinths were naturalizing (those were her favourite flower, and finding them was quite a prize), whether or not to plant a plum tree. We had one of our In A Series discussions of old candy – the sweeties we had loved as kids: which were extinct, which had changed, the virtues and flaws of alterations in recipes and packaging. Kage could talk for hours about the histories of the candies we ate when we were kids. So can I, at least after doing it so many times with Kage: though my own memory is not so good that I can still sing the Bonomo Turkish Taffy jingle. Kage could.
She talked for some time about a pet project she had cherished for years: the life of Long John Silver, post-Treasure Island. Kage adored Long John Silver; he was, I think, her ultimate father figure icon. She had a novel all worked out in her head, that would have sequed from his own father and improbable youth into his fabled career. His mother would have been a daughter of Baron Samedi, and his own wife (there’s a Mrs. Silver mentioned in Treasure Island, did you know?) a priestess of Erzuli …
I will never write this one. I don’t have Kage’s love of the sea, her love of rum and orchids and Caribbean nights, her love of big bluff sailors … her special voice. Some of her voice I possess, in the blood we share, but some is uniquely hers and cannot be duplicated. I wish it could; this sounded like a hell of a tale. But it is beyond me, just as it was beyond her a year ago.
We sure had fun talking about it that day, though.
Back to the job, now – the Ladies are all stripped down and greased up and poised for attack; Mr.Pickett is about to be blitzkrieged with foix gras, plum duff and the intensely focused charms of Lady Beatrice.