Slow Auto Focus

Kage Baker didn’t think much of January 2nd. It’s pretty much overtaken by its predecessor, when all the fuss goes on … and through most of her life, Kage found herself returning to either school or work on the second day of a new year. That added no bloom for her, I can assure you.

Beginning on January 2nd, the world starts to come back into focus very, very slowly; like the Hubble, straining its servomotors and mirrors for one long last clear look into the light of the Big Bang. The world takes its time to return to firm reality. Kage never bothered to hurry it, either. January is largely a drag, especially for school kids. It’ll be weeks and weeks before one can even look forward to a chocolate heart, or those nasty hard little Candygrams that tasted like aspirin.

Once Kage was a self-employed writer, though, she grew fonder of early January in general. The holiday rush was over; Dickens Fair had been survived, the costumes washed, the props put away. Kage had time to eat her Christmas goodies and play with her Christmas toys in an atmosphere free of guilt and hurry. Most years, anyway – there were a few times she had to immediately wade heart-high into the stream of a neglected story; but when you only have to do that as a rare emergency, it gets a patina of romance and heroism. And that makes it a lot more entertaining to get through.

Anything was better than dragging one’s unhappy self to school, wrapped in blue wool and ugly plaids; with white polyester blouses that went transparent if it rained on you, (and NO interesting underwear), socks that wouldn’t stay up even with garters, saddle shoes like huge albino potatoes … the lot of a Catholic school girl when Christmas vacation ends is not a happy one. At least one silly hopeful tries out her new earrings or makeup in the hopes they won’t be noticed – but that trick never works. Though it’s amusing to watch, for those of us who didn’t have a brain fart big enough to think Mary Quant eye liner was going to get past Sister Callista’s scrutiny.

Having to go back to work, in later years, was actually easier than going back to school. At least you could wear your new clothes, jewels and makeup. And no office, thank all the gods, ever had that winter smell of oranges, wet wool and sour milk that was exuded in classrooms. Kage used to wrap her tartan scarf around her lower face like a Celtic Bedouin, breathing through its scents of Coca Cola and Red Door, her black eyes flashing with disdain.

How she got away with that scarf, I’m not entirely sure. Maybe because our high school was an ancient pile of rotting stone and wood, that closely resembled a model of Gormanghast faced with graham crackers. It was cold enough in there to hang meat, so she probably convinced her teachers the scarf was to ward off the mold and cold … in the spring, I recall, she’d tie it round her arm and claim it was a political statement.

(Note to any younger Dear Readers, or those whose next generations are entering the world through Catholic schools: you can get away with a lot more if you pick a radicalized order of nuns as teachers. It’s more interesting, too.)

Kage’s last January – well, in the first week of it, we were still convinced she’d get better. We were planning a trip to Pacific Heights in February, so she could work on a story about trolls and witches: some Icelandic illustration had caught her fancy, and started up a story line in her head. She told it to me, but I’ve not been able to make it come to life. Maybe a trip to Pacific Heights would help, even after all this time.

Looking through her books of history timelines – Kage collected them, and wrote comments and gibes in the margins – she decided not to die in early January. She said it was boring. Except, oddly enough, for January 2nd – today is the anniversary of the deaths of both Patrick O’Brien (1914 to 2000) and George McDonald Frazier (1925 to 2008), who are two of Kage’s very most especially favourite authors. If you, Dear Readers, are not familiar with the works of these gentlemen, I abjure and direct you to read them. They are magnificent.

But the anniversary date came too early for Kage to join their party; she still felt good and was sure she was going to live. So she dismissed it. I brought her home from the hospital a few days later, post craniotomy and with her long braid shorn to high school length again.

The world was coming into focus, all right, but it wasn’t the world we’d left on the other side of the New Year. We didn’t know it yet, but all of Kage’s time was rushing for the shore in a great King Tide. Everything was coming in, coming back, coming home; and the vessel looming into focus beyond the breakers wore the long white sails of departure …

But, hey – we didn’t know it. We ate leftover Hoppin’ John, and Kage watched her new restored copy of The Wizard of Oz.

You need something like that to liven up January 2nd, you know.

About Kate

I am Kage Baker's sister. Kage was/is a well-known science fiction writer, who died on January 31, 2010. She told me to keep her work going - I'm doing that. This blog will document the process.
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3 Responses to Slow Auto Focus

  1. First tear of the New Year. You write so beautifully.


  2. maggiros says:

    a model of Gormanghast faced with graham crackers… Oh lord, I can see it now. And all the rest too.


    • Kate says:

      It was the venerable Immaculate Heart High School, at Franklin and Western. We went there before the new high and middle schools were built, before the matching Immaculate Heart College up the hill was acquired by the American Film Institute: back when it was essentially unchanged since its beginning in 1906. It was partially covered in grape ivy, bats flew out from the roof at twilight, and there was a labyrinth of catacombs underneath the east wing … and I am not exaggerating a thing here, it really was like that. We loved the place.


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