Jane unlimited, p.37
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       Jane, Unlimited, p.37

           Kristin Cashore
 
It’s not because there’s anything wrong with the appearance of the person in Ravi’s bed. It’s something else, something more primal.

  UD17 Jane and UD17 Ravi are in the massive bed together. He’s on the far side, asleep, turned away from both Janes. There’s some sort of metallic gold dye streaking his otherwise dark hair. One bare arm is visible above the sheets and he’s got the most gorgeous sleeve of tattoos. Jane sees Earth things curving and looping around his muscles. Trees. Poppies. Valleys. Cities of stone stretching away to the sea.

  Jane had, of course, realized that she might walk in on sex happening, but it’s only now that she appreciates how strange and overwhelming that would have been. To see herself doing something so intensely private, something she hasn’t even ever done, and discover what she looks like doing it. To see it, but not be feeling it.

  Instead, UD17 Jane is sitting up in bed, wrapped in a sheet as if cold, or shy of nakedness. The first thing that rocks Jane is how vulnerable she looks, how young, her expression uncertain, her hands twisted together. The second is how alone.

  Startled at Jane’s entrance, this other Jane yelps, then makes an indignant noise. Then, finally, seeing who Jane is, sits wide-eyed and stunned.

  “Hi,” Jane says. Real Jane.

  “Hi,” UD17 Jane responds automatically, then, glancing over at UD17 Ravi, shifts to the edge of the bed, farther away from him. “I don’t want him to wake up yet,” she whispers. “Let’s keep our voices down.”

  Is that how she looks when her face is moving, talking? Jane knows it is; it’s fundamentally familiar. But it’s also not quite what she’s imagined her own face doing. With a shock, Jane realizes it reminds her of Aunt Magnolia.

  Something else: Why does she find herself sharp with immediate . . . resentment toward this person?

  “You know about the multiverse, right?” she says quietly.

  “Yeah, of course,” says UD17 Jane, a little breathless. “We all do here.”

  “Do you—”

  Jane had almost been about to ask, ridiculously, if UD17 Jane knows how to breathe the way a jellyfish moves. Then she remembers that in addition to this being a weird question to ask after bursting in on someone, there are no oceans in this world. “Are there jellyfish here?” she asks quietly, then presses her palm to her forehead. “I’m sorry,” she says. “I’m overwhelmed. I can only think of stupid questions.”

  “It’s okay,” says UD17 Jane. “Really. I’m overwhelmed too.”

  Yes, Jane can see this. Her own feelings are reflected in the short breaths and guarded eyes, the baffled expression of this other Jane.

  “But I don’t know what you mean,” UD17 Jane goes on. “Are you asking me about an extinct fish?”

  Jane begins to roll up her sleeve. “It’s an invertebrate, jellylike, marine animal,” she says, hearing herself describing jellyfish to herself and resisting the urge to laugh hysterically. “Not a fish, actually. Look.”

  Jane turns her shoulder so that UD17 Jane can see the golden bell, trailing arms, and tentacles of her tattoo.

  “Wow,” says UD17 Jane. “That’s beautiful.”

  “They’ve lived in the oceans for over five hundred million years,” Jane says. “They’re the world’s oldest multi-organ animal.”

  “I think I remember hearing about them,” says UD17 Jane. “An Old Earth monster. They’re extinct now.”

  Jellyfish extinct? When they’ve lived for over five hundred million years?

  Jane begins to comprehend what it means that these people’s Earth was blown apart. How can she conceive of the loss of oceans? The loss of dirt, solid under her feet? True sunlight, warmth, rain? How would Aunt Magnolia have taught Jane to breathe in this world, if not like a jellyfish?

  Jane doesn’t hate this dimension the way Ravi does. But it’s sad, and impossible, and scary.

  And at least now she understands her resentment for this alternate version of herself. She understands it as it fades. Jane has felt as if faced with a person who’s stolen her identity. Stolen, even, her facial resemblance to Aunt Magnolia. Mocked her decision not to sleep with Ravi by sleeping with him anyway. As if everything special and unique about her has been appropriated by this person, whose existence, sitting there like a mirror, dilutes Jane somehow.

  But Jane is not diluted. Jane is Jane and it doesn’t matter who this person is. Jane is a person who lives on Earth, in a world where jellyfish have floated in the oceans for five hundred million years. Jane has a home. This place is not her home.

  Also, Jane is a person who decided not to sleep with Ravi. She decided to let Lavender escape. She sacrificed her umbrellas. She knows how to breathe the way a jellyfish moves. She has a girl named Ivy, whom she barely knows and whose counterpart is standing like an anchor outside this room. UD17 Ivy is doing that for Jane, not for this person, and Jane has no idea what will or won’t come of her feelings. She had a father who taught high school science, a mother who studied the science of falling frogs, and an aunt who swam with whales. Jane makes umbrellas. She can’t bear the thought of a world where there are no ailing oceans for Aunt Magnolia to try to save.

  She is her own aunt Magnolia’s child.

  “Are you happy?” Jane blurts out, because suddenly, despite all she’s just been thinking, she cares.

  That face grows quiet, in a cellularly familiar way. Jane knows that UD17 Jane is considering the question hard. “Not really,” she finally responds. “Not since my aunt Magnolia died.”

  It’s the answer to the question Jane came here to ask. The answer, now that Jane has it, is both crushing and not as crushing as she thought it would be. Would Jane really want to know a UD17 Aunt Magnolia? Would she really want to pile so much hope and expectation onto that person?

  Jane realizes she’s been wondering if this, the multiverse, is why Aunt Magnolia made her promise to visit Tu Reviens. So that if anything ever happened to her aunt, Jane could surround herself with other, different Aunt Magnolias. But no, Aunt Magnolia would have known that she was the one Jane had, and the one Jane lost. The only one she wanted.

  “I’m sorry about your aunt Magnolia,” Jane says to UD17 Jane quietly. “My aunt Magnolia died too. In Antarctica. She was an underwater photographer.”

  A look of comprehension crosses the face of this other Jane. “Is your tattoo based on one of her photos?”

  “Yeah,” Jane says, surprised. “How did you know that?”

  UD17 Jane turns to show Jane her other shoulder. A comet tattoo streaks up the arm of this other Jane, reaching all the way to her neck. “My aunt Magnolia was a galactic photographer.”

  Jane is speechless. The tattoo is so like hers.

  “And a spy,” continues UD17 Jane. “She died on a mission.”

  “Aunt Magnolia a spy?” Jane says, surprised.

  “Yeah. I never knew it, until she died.”

  “Wow,” Jane says, trying to imagine what that would be like. “Did that feel like a betrayal?”

  “Not nearly as much as her dying,” UD17 Jane says with a quiet bitterness.

  Jane feels the pressure of her own rising tears. Some instinct causes her to reach out, curiously, to touch the other Jane, to touch that familiar grief. The other Jane understands and reaches back. The two Janes grasp hands, warm, alive, and a perfect fit.

  Behind the other Jane, UD17 Ravi shifts, snores. Their grip on each other tightens in a strange sort of instinctive, mutual self-defense. Jane has a feeling that if UD17 Ravi wakes up and sees her, he’s going to invite her into bed. And she realizes, suddenly, why her own Ravi, home Ravi, who’s a better Ravi than this Ravi, is not for her. Ravi makes Jane feel excited, delighted, but he does not make her feel anchored in herself. Ivy makes Jane feel excited, delighted, and anchored in who she is.

  “Will you be okay?” UD17 Jane asks her.

  “I don’t know,” Jane says
. “But this has been a helpful visit.”

  “For me too. I think you’ve inspired me, actually,” other Jane says, “with the jellyfish.”

  “Are you an artist?”

  “I’d like to be,” says UD17 Jane. “I’ve been designing some pretty wild lampshades lately.”

  Jane’s mind flashes with images. Adornments for lights; jellyfish that glow in a world of no jellyfish. She lets out a laugh, surprised to recognize that she likes this Jane. Her next umbrella, she decides, will be a lampshade umbrella.

  “I make umbrellas,” Jane says. “I’ll have to make a lampshade-inspired one next.”

  The other Jane scrunches her face. “I think I know what an umbrella is.”

  “Look it up, if you like,” Jane says. “Umbrellas might be inspiring too. I could totally see them coming into fashion here.”

  “Thanks,” says other Jane. “I will.”

  “I hope you’ll be okay,” Jane says.

  “You too.”

  “I really mean it.”

  “Yeah. I do too. I feel like I have a vested interest.”

  This makes Jane laugh again. “I have to go back now. But a word of advice for you?”

  “Yeah?”

  “Don’t piss off the house.”

  UD17 Jane raises an eyebrow. “Okay. And one for you?”

  “Yeah?”

  “Don’t sleep with Ravi.”

  Jane grins, then nods, not mentioning that she’s already figured that one out. Something is tugging at her throat. It’s a conversation she wants to have with Ivy. A few conversations, really; she wonders if Ivy will want to have them with her. She has no idea. Anything can happen. She’ll find out.

  Holding the hand of this different version of her, Jane takes a deep, jellyfish breath. When a quietness suffuses her, she lets go and turns for home.

  A bell rings somewhere in the depths of the house,

  sweet and clear, like a wind chime.

  Mrs. Vanders, the little girl, Kiran, Ravi, or Jasper?

  Aunt Magnolia?

  The Strayhound, the Girl and the Painting

  Jasper is now sprawled on his stomach in front of the tall painting, his chin on the floor, his expression bleak, like a basset hound who’s finally given in.

  Jane decides.

  “Kiran,” she says, “I’ll catch up with you soon, but first I’m going to try to help this dog, okay?”

  “Yeah,” says Kiran, wrinkling her nose at Jasper, “what’s his problem?”

  “I don’t know,” says Jane, “but I’ll see if I can find out.”

  “It’s not your job,” says Kiran. “The staff feeds him.”

  “I know,” says Jane. “I don’t mind.”

  “Okay,” Kiran says, moving away. “I’ll be in the winter garden.”

  Jane turns to face the dog. “Jasper,” she says, “dear Jasper.”

  He jumps up eagerly, wagging his tail.

  When she reaches the landing, there’s something of a face-off. She tries to move toward him, but he dodges her, circles her, then runs straight at her from behind.

  “Jasper!” she says, trying an evasive maneuver. “How am I supposed to pet you if you’re running at me?” He shifts himself and slams into her calves.

  It’s no use; her balance lost, Jane begins an inexorable topple into the tall umbrella painting. Literally into the umbrella painting: She doesn’t come up against its surface, it doesn’t stop her. She falls on through. Crashing onto a hard horizontal surface, she scrabbles around in bewilderment. She’s flat on a checkerboard floor, in a lantern-lit room, in what looks like a fancy house. An unusual umbrella of greens and reds is drying on the floor beside her.

  Certain she’s just fallen through a crack in her own sanity, Jane scrambles to her feet and spins around to face the way she’s come. There’s a wall, on which hangs an enormous woven hanging. It shows the landing of a staircase in a big, grand house. A suit of armor, holding daffodils, stands on the landing, as does a basset hound. Across a great hall, another staircase is visible, rising from the ground to the third floor.

  As Jane watches, the basset hound in the hanging moves toward her. Suddenly he comes stepping into the room with her, through the hanging, a real dog, but—no longer Jasper. He pants excitedly just like Jasper. But his ears are small and pointy, his snout pert, and his body more proportional to his legs. His markings are similar to Jasper’s, but the whites are whiter, the blacks blacker, the browns softer.

  “Jasper,” Jane says, scaring herself when her voice comes out in a shriek.

  “My real name is Steen,” the dog says to Jane, somehow conveying even the spelling to her, S-T-E-E-N, and causing her to fall backward onto the floor in utter confusion.

  “I’m losing my mind!” Jane says to the ceiling, shaking her head from side to side.

  “Not your mind,” he says, trotting around to her head. “Your narrow and fragile conception of the world. Oh, I’m so happy to have found you!” he says, hopping and jumping like a puppy experiencing snow for the first time.

  “Dogs don’t talk,” Jane says to the ceiling.

  “I’m not actually talking!” he says. “Pay more attention. You’re understanding me with your mind, not your ears.”

  “What?” Jane says. “Do it again.”

  I’m communing with your mind, he says. His mouth doesn’t move. No sounds come out of him.

  “I guess that makes sense,” Jane says, then hears herself, and despairs of her reason.

  We need to move out of this room, Jasper says, before someone in Tu Reviens notices a difference in the painting.

  “What?” Jane says in her shrieky voice.

  We need to move, Jasper says. Look. There’s someone coming.

  And indeed, the hanging on the wall has changed again; not only has the basset hound disappeared, but there’s now a dark-haired person in a blue sweater, standing on the landing across the receiving hall, holding a small black box. It looks an awful lot like Ivy, with her camera.

  “Ivy!” cries Jane.

  Shh! She’ll hear you! Jasper says.

  “Good! She can rescue me!”

  Shhhhhh! She’ll see us in the painting if she bothers to look. Move. And stop thinking of me as Jasper! My name is Steen.

  “Help!”

  I’m going to bite you if you don’t move.

  “Go ahead! None of this is real!”

  Jasper takes her earlobe between his teeth, chomps down hard, and tugs in the direction of the doorway. The pain is real, and excruciating.

  “Ow! Jasper!” Jane cries out, pushing him away and scrambling to her feet. She runs—past the umbrella, through the doorway, into another room, a dark room, where she crouches against a wall, shaking and weeping. Her ear is bleeding and hurts terribly. Would her ear be bleeding if this weren’t real?

  Jasper comes beside her and leans against her. He’s warm and steady. Her arm goes around him. I know you’re inconsolable right now, he tells her. But I want you to know that I do know how you feel. The first time I went through the hanging from my world into your world, I felt the same way. And I was very young, and there was no one I could talk to. I had no idea where I was. I’m sorry about your ear. Are you okay?

  She pulls him into her lap and grips the silky fur at his neck, petting it hard. “Is this real?” she whispers.

  Yes, he says, snuggling against her happily.

  “Can I go back?”

  Anytime, he says, through the hanging. But only do it when no one’s in sight.

  “Where are we?”

  The land I come from, he says. It’s called Zorsted.

  Jane understands the spelling of that one too, pronounced ZOR-sted.

  We don’t actually have the same letters as you, he adds. I’m transliterating.

  “You
can spell?” Jane says in her shrieky voice.

  Is that so surprising, considering I can also commune with your mind?

  “Dogs can’t spell,” Jane says weakly.

  I’m not a dog. I’m a strayhound. I’m an excellent speller. I was first in my class, he says, what you would call the valedictorian. We don’t have to go anywhere today. We can sit here until you feel strong enough to go back through the hanging. You can think things over and not come back here until you’re ready.

  “Ready for what?” Jane says. “Why are we here?”

  I’m here because Zorsted is my homeland, he says. I brought you here because you’re my person.

  “Your person?”

  Every strayhound can commune with one person, he says. Some never find their person. I thought I never would. Then you came along. I knew you right away, even in your Other Land form. I could barely believe it. My person, in the Other Land! Did you recognize me?

  “Recognize you as what? I’ve never heard of a—strayhound. I don’t recognize you now!”

  You’re still in shock, he says. I’m going to stop asking you questions.

  He curls into a tight ball and snuggles deeper in her lap. Jane closes her eyes, leans back against the wall, and tries to stop her spinning mind.

  * * *

  When she opens her eyes sometime later, she’s still in Zorsted with a strayhound in her lap, but now she’s come to a conclusion: Either this is real, or she’s having hallucinations. And if she’s having hallucinations, she might as well collect more information to bring back to her doctor, Doctor Gordon, who always asks for details.

  She tries the name out cautiously. “Steen?”

  Yes! he says. Very good.

  “I’d like to go back,” Jane says. “But first, I’d like a small peek.”

  At Zorsted?

  “Yes. At Zorsted.”

  All right, he says. Let’s find a window.

  “Are we in someone’s house?”

  We’re in the servants’ quarters of the duchess’s mansion. The duchess takes in strayhounds who haven’t found their person, he explains. Come along, he says, leading Jane to a different doorway from the one she came through. The room they pass into is also dimly lit, by candles.

 

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KRISTIN CASHORE SERIES:

Graceling Realm

 


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