Kage Baker lived hope. She did not believe in it – that implies faith, which means you believe without proof. She knew hope was real. She was determined to succeed, and hope was an integral part of her. She meant to finish what she devised, and she did that until the day she died.
She defeated death half a dozen times in that last year. She wanted to live. Being her, she simply never quit – she had never quit when she determined to acquire a certain book, or film, or rare piece of Catalina pottery; she never gave up when she meant to live. She just did not succeed, which is not the same thing at all. When she closed her eyes for the last time, she meant to take a nap. Death ambushed her while she rested, but she never invited it in.
It was my job in this pavane to make sure she had what she needed to keep on. I did that. It was also my job, as it had been for most of our lives, to make sure she was uninterrupted while she worked out the resolution. I did that, too. She was at home in her own bed, surrounded by loved ones, when her strength ended. That was what she wanted, and that was what she got. Kage, as we used to say in the family, had a whim of iron.
Me … I need hope. I believe in it, and sometimes that belief falters. Nothing in my life betrayed my hope like Kage’s death; it crippled me, and there is no way that wound will cease to be. However. as the doctor who contracted the disfiguring disease he studied said: On me, it does look good. I can go on with half a brain, a gimpy heart, static on the frequency of hope that used to come in strong and clear. My life has gifted me with such extraordinary resources that half of what I used to have is more than most people are ever granted.
And at least the missing half of my brain left instructions. In neatly bound volumes, no less, with risibly bad cover art; enough to make a stack nearly as tall as I am. Side by side with that stack, I cast a shadow not too dissimilar to the one I got used to over the last half century. Luckily, I have bad eyesight – I can squint, and everything looks normal.
So I change. I grow, I heal, I scar over. I walk a little bent, but I am still on my feet. Some days I sleep like one of the extras in the Sleeping Beauty’s castle: a lumpen figure covered in dust, slumped over her work in a corner. But I always wake up, and when I do … I’ve changed a little more. I’m something new.
I’m something sad, something broken, something crippled: but not dead. Something that remembers how to hope. Some days I sprint forward; some days I crawl. Some days I just mark the map for the next day, when I hope to stand up under my pack and stumble on a ways. It’s a weird system, but it works.
The horizon is not freedom, but only another line to aim at, to cross. I’m not pupating into a butterfly. My wings fell off; the next stage doesn’t seem to fly. I’m not sure what it does. But it does something, and that’s better than nothing.
I go on. Not with Kage Baker’s certainty, but certainly with hope. I go on.