Sunday, 5 March, 2017 – Ann Arbor, Michigan
“Oh, what beautiful wind chimes! And such lovely tones they make! How much do you want for them?”
Slowly, Arias draws her gaze down from the glowing mackerel sky to regard her booth’s latest customer: a plump woman wearing an expensive coat and an unfortunate hair style.
For the one thousandth time, Arias notes that if she does not want the sweet tones of her old wind chimes to attract customers, she should not hang them up.
“Oh, so perfect! Are these crystals?”
“Please don’t touch them,” Arias says, and the woman pulls her hand back as if burned. “And I’m afraid they’re not for sale.”
It’s already obvious that the woman is going to be a pest. This scenario has played out half a dozen times already in the weeks since Grizzly Park reopened after the holiday shutdown. Normally Arias doesn’t mind, but right now it’s time to be closing and she does not need the irritation. There was a time when Arias would have simply touched the woman’s mind and made her forget the wind chimes, the booth, and its proprietor. But that was long ago. A time came, however, when she realized that such tampering was worse than physical violence.
Over the centuries, Arias has come to understand all crime/sin/violence as a kind of theft. Murder is the theft of the remainders of the victim’s life. Enslavement is the theft of a portion of the rest of the victim’s life. The theft of an object is the theft of the portion of the victim’s life that was necessary to obtain or create that object.
In all cases, the damage to the victim is obvious: she has involuntarily lost part of her life. What is less obvious is the insidious damage that the thief inflicts upon herself.
In Arias’s understanding—what a child might refer to as her ‘faith’—the purpose of life is effective experience: the alteration of the soul through one’s efforts in the world, and one’s experience of the world’s responses. A young man desires to own a handmade samurai sword but it is so expensive that he must choose between it and the ownership of his beloved sports car. The experience of making that choice and living through its consequences and the changes that result; these are the value to his soul.
But suppose the young man had simply struck down the sword’s owner and stolen it! Then not only has the victim lost part of his life without recompense, but the thief has obtained a reward without the corresponding experience of achieving it! But that very experience was to have been the value to the soul—to the self—of that part of its own life. By mistaking the symbol for the value, the soul has effectively robbed itself.
“Oh, nonsense!” the woman brays, and gives Arias a demeaning smile. “There’s always a price. What are they made out of, anyway? Did you make them?” She unconsciously reaches toward the hanging crystals again, but then remembers and draws back her hand just as an eddy of the breeze stirs the chimes to new motion and wakens their gentle voice.
“Oh, so lovely!” the woman sighs.
The time came when Arias understood that her manipulation of the memories of the children, even to avoid trivially irritating moments such as this, was also a kind of theft. By increasingly relying on that ability, she was effectively editing her own reality, gradually turning it into nothing more than a mirror of herself. Robbing herself of experience even while robbing them of their rightful memories. A woman of the Filii Veritas turning away from the truth! On that day Arias resolved to never again alter the memory of any child for any purpose. Or what is the point of remaining among them?
“No,” Arias smiles. “They were made in Atlantis long ago. In a place called the Street of Artisans. The crystals are tourmaline, each one found in the perfect length rather than cut. And the metal is silver. A kind of silver. The street was close to the waterfront, and had breezes every morning and evening so I once heard them while I was walking. Just like you did just now.”
Arias has not pointed out half of the wonder of the piece. Each crystal is the deepest ruby-red on at the top, fading down to emerald in the last portion, and each matched so that the color transitions are aligned. The selection alone of the crystals required decades. These chimes are the finest piece she ever saw in her years in that doomed city, and the last keepsake she has of it. They remind her of what beauty humans are capable of, even while they may also create nightmares.
“Oh, what a beautiful story!” the woman looks directly at Arias for the first time. “You’re a poet! Atlantis indeed! What a wonderful idea, to invent a backstory for such a piece.” She sighs again. “Three thousand?” She pats her strikingly garish purse. “I have three Wilsons right here!”
“Not happening,” Arias says. “But could I interest you in some cannabis? I have Purple Punch quads!”
“Certainly not!” the woman says and quickly turns to strut into the thinning crowd, fearing that someone important might have heard.
Watching her depart, Arias smiles. All on her own, the woman has already forgotten the wind chimes.
With another long glance at the reddening mackerel sky, Arias places a mild ward around her booth. Once having seen something, the memory of that sight belongs to the observer and should not be stolen. That does not, however, mean that Arias must allow anyone to see anything at any time. Or even clothes would be improper! And then how would a fifteen-thousand-year-old woman accessorize?
With the ward in place, the hurrying children begin to ignore her booth, looking aside at others nearby for their last bits of shopping before heading to their homes for the night.
It’s time to be closing up.