It was late tonight that Tanifas and I had a meeting. I was tired and even though I had a new baby sister I felt a bit cranky because… well… because she was 2nd Amitzas’s. I did realize the emotion, the sensation was hardly fair, because she would likely not grow up to be like her father, without his baleful influence on her, but part of me was still nervous, still wary. And that was just crazy because she was just a baby. Just a blob, the way Ili had been. Just the same way I’d been. Just a baby. And I grew up to be not like my sire much. So she could too.
I remembered Binshala, as she taught me how to hold a baby, how to cuddle a baby; recognizing almost every move that I showed Ili. I sent a prayer for her up in Selestialis and hoped that she’d laugh at me teaching Ili what she taught me. Selinae be gentle to a gentle soul.
The dogs gathered around me as I settled down on the floor cushion, the one-eye’d bitch laying her head on my lap. When Tanifas came in, the white cat, my Altras, lay draped across the back of his neck, looking regal.
“Tanifas, is that a good idea to bring a cat to a dog party?”
He smiled his serenity at me like he always did and draped Altras across my lap and the bitch’s nose. She sneezed and he growled at her but didn’t move, and then she put her sloppy black nose across him. He put his nose in the air. “I’m the one in charge here,” Tanifas said. “The Marble Palace dogs and cats have always been raised together. It’s when the badly behaved moppets are brought in with the Aitzas families and various foreign guests that there is trouble usually.”
He settled down on his bench and began grooming a tiny fluffy that was new to the pack and needed some attention. “The last thing you said in our session last time was that you wished your father had seen you as a separate person. We’ve talked about this before. Even the very first time.”
“Yes. He never understood that I wasn’t just a kind of ‘free-running’ part of his body. He had these ideas about who and what I was that just… well…” I shrugged.
“That were not true?”
I couldn’t answer. It choked me up and closed my throat. I managed a nod. He looked down at the dog in his lap instead of at me. It was easier for me to say things when he wasn’t looking straight at me. We tended to look at animals instead, while we talked. “There is a Haian word for the pattern your sire showed. It translates into Arkan as ‘self-alone’ or ‘self-lover’.”
It was so appropriate that I had to snort. “That fits. There was no one but him. No other person existed but him. Except when he needed someone to fill a space, a role, that he planned.”
“So what did ‘e do when someone didn’t fulfil his schema of things?” I barely noticed his accent any longer. Tanifas put the dogling, fully brushed, down on the floor where it trotted over to have a drink. I looked down at Altras in my lap, and my hands stroking along his fur.
“Well. He forced them into what he thought they should be. If they didn’t go easily he’d torture them until they fit. Or kill them, saying they were liars or false. Because what he said was real. Not what they were.”
“Eh. He didn’t torture me.”
“No? Did he respect your body’s needs?”
“What do you mean? Like touching me too roughly? Or making me do things I didn’t want to?” Like coming against my will… I cut that thought off.
“Yes. That and forcing you to ignore your stomach’s limits. To eat when he decided instead of when you decided. And how much you should eat.”
“But that is every parent’s job, to rule the child till the child can become a responsible adult.” I set Altras down and got up to pace through the pack. The cat jumped into the warm spot I’d left and curled up. The bitch decided that she should follow me.
“No. That’s the extreme. You were told what to eat and what to wear and even how to react emotionally, no matter what you felt. No matter that you were full, no matter that the scene presented you called for tears, or screams, or laughter. You were forced to cut yourself off from what was real.”
My gut clenched. “That’s just him trying to make me more like himself.”
Tanifas nodded, calmly. “It is what a self-lover does. He decides who and what you are and if you deviate from his image he attacks you with all the power he has.”
That was a frightening thought. “All the power he has? Oh. But I’m not like him and that’s good.”
“Well, yes it is. You had enough other people around you that you didn’t succumb to that.” I took another turn around the kennel hall and the bitch at my heels began to whine. She nudged me behind the knees with her cold nose.
“So why is it that you are more uncomfortable when I tell you something so positive?” I stopped and pushed her away from me. She was trying to herd me back into the centre of the room, where I’d been calm. “Stop. Minis. If you shove her around like that she will be driven to bite you. You are in a weak position and using only fear. She’s reacting to your fear.”
“How should I not be afraid?” The dog was just standing, her nose at my legs. She wasn’t growling but I could feel the tension all through her. She was shaking with it. Her head was down, her ears flattened. She backed up and pawed the ground and made huffing, almost barking noises. “I’m not a sheep, bitch.”
She looked miserable, even as she showed the edges of her teeth. She was frightened, just as I was. I took a deep breath and sat down with her. She whimpered, backed up, shook her head. I sat down and breathed deep, until she sat down, head cocked to one side. Then she sighed and walked up to put her forehead against my chest and just leaned. I buried my hands in her ruff. Someone, probably a Mahid, had tried to command every breath she took once. “It’s all right, dog. It’s fine.” Without looking up I addressed Tanifas. “My father didn’t beat me if I didn’t act like him.” Like they probably beat her.
She and I breathed together, both of us panting as if we’d been running.
“No, he did not,” Tanifas said. “He didn’t need to. He just had to hurt you, make these other people disappear. You knew inside that they disappeared to no good fate. You learned to hide your differences in his presence. You learned to placate the monster before it bit you or clawed you again.” Offer a tiny bit of praise, offer some kind of reassurance, then threaten to take it away. Or take it away anyway because you’ve done something to offend them. Make the dog, or the child, live in fear, waking or sleeping that something they do is not perfect enough and hurt them when they do not already know what they’ve done wrong. Zinchaer said something like that. Impossible standards that only the parent knows, that the parent decides are real despite all evidence to the contrary, and a pattern of attacking anything that does not match that standard.
I was shaking as hard as the bitch was. Zinchaer had explained that before and I had forgotten. It seemed too easy, too blameful, as if I were somehow betraying my father by even hearing that, much less applying it to him. My head dropped lower and as I did that the dog matched me. I could feel her sudden relaxing under my hands.
The bitch collapsed onto me and I couldn’t look up. I felt sick. I felt weak. I felt small all over again. “I…” I took another deep breath. “Yes. I did. I knew I wasn’t like him. I knew myself separate from him.”
“You drew the line in your soul where you were your own.” I dug my hands into her chest fur and she sighed.
“I… suppose.” My nose was plugged. When had I started weeping? I hadn’t noticed.
“Yes, you did. You were even luckier that you weren’t forced into close proximity with him all the time. You had your nurse and your tutor and your servants… even your dekinas.”
“But I treated them all badly. That doesn’t make sense.”
“Yes, you treated them badly because you were supposed to. It was a way of hiding what you really felt from your sire, and he would pay less attention to the self you were hiding.”
“It wasn’t good.”
“But it wasn’t evil, either. We all have a shadow side and you can go there and pull it out and fling it around, but it is not all of you.”
“A shadow side? Oh, I know that one. It’s the muck at the bottom.” When I had forced the one young man to kill his brother. I have left enough time, perhaps I will write him again and see if he will speak to me.
“But I can’t just say ‘oh that’s just the bad part of me that my father gave me.’ That’s not responsible.”
“You’re right. The truth is that all the shadow things can be made right if you have the courage to face up to all their consequences.”
“All of them? That would take years!” A child’s cry. It’s not fair!
“Yes, it will. But with years and courage it can be done. Most people struggle through to some kind of understanding and it’s not just age or exhaustion.” I had to snort at that. Altras came over and started washing the bitch’s ears, for all the world as if she were a kitten with a dirty head.
The dog was showing me that I had somehow touched her in an understanding way. She and I were together. She trusted me enough to relax in my hands. I suppose it is because deep down my nurses taught me to trust myself. Chevenga taught me it was safe to trust myself and him. Gannara trusted me. Arko trusted me enough to take a chance and vote me into office. Somewhere I had learned enough, to trust.
“Sounds like wisdom.” I said.
He grinned at me and tossed me the glossing comb. “Could be.”