Rye — 2273
All readings are the same. They all begin the same way, with stepping off to some sim, known or unknown, where she would arrive a good hour early. There, she would wait or walk or drink her coffee or tea. Would it be a bookshop this time? Would it be a library? Would she run her fingerpads along the spines of books, counting known and unknown titles?
Perhaps it was a cafe, and she would get herself a little pastry, some crumbly thing to eat while wandering lazily outside or inspecting the various pieces of art lining the walls within.
She would get there an hour early and simply inhabit the space.
As time drew closer, as her contact would come out to meet her, she would feel the excitement begin to prickle at the back of her neck, and she would have to restrain herself from letting her hackles raise or her tail bristle out. Some long-forgotten and perhaps-imagined reaction to danger tickling both human and skunk parts of her mind. She would feel her scalp tingle and her tail threaten to hike, and she would sit in that sensation. She would bathe in it. She would relish every shift of every strand of fur, and as she sat, legs crossed and coffee or water cradled in her lap, listening to her contact chatter, she would delight in the nervous anticipation of the reading to come.
“Will you be reading from a physical copy or an exo?”
“Oh, an exo,” she said, smiling. “As much love as I hold for the physical tools of the trade, I hold yet more for all of the tools at our disposal. Especially when they let me be more dramatic.”
They laughed. “Right, you were an actor before, yeah?”
She nodded. “Of a sort, yes.”
“And how long will your reading be?”
“I have a variety of segments prepared, from five minutes to an hour.”
They blinked. “An hour? Holy shit.”
She shrugged gracefully, smile still lingering on her muzzle. “Perhaps another artifact of being an actor. I could talk the ears off a fox.”
“Shall we aim for somewhere in the middle? Twenty minutes, perhaps?”
“That’ll work, yeah. You’re the only slot, tonight, but that’ll still give you at least forty minutes for Q&A.” They smirked, adding, “Which I imagine you’ll need. I read your book, by the way.”
It was her turn to laugh, musical and joyous. “I am pleased to hear! I trust that you have questions of your own?”
“Delightful,” she said, clapping her paws together. “I shall look forward to them, then.”
This conversation echoed a hundred times, a thousand, in her memories. This conversation and so many others like it set the stage. This conversation and so many others like it became one of the steps in that liminal space between the waking world and the dream of her stories.
She would step away from home or from a meeting or from a cocladist’s and at that moment, at the precise instant she ceased being there and started being here, she was in a place between. She was in a time between times and a world between worlds.
She dwelt, then, in the world of the Ode. She knew where it was from, her name. Not just the Ode itself, but the place the line itself referenced. She had talked to the poet in her own way — perhaps it was closer to prayer, but she bothered not with distinctions such as these — and she knew the scene ey had been painting. She knew that ey had sat at the edge of the natural area some few blocks away from their high school, sat on the fencepost and looked out east, out beyond the natural area and wind farm to where the coarse shortgrass prairie dissolved into rectilinear fields. Tan, perhaps, or brown or gray, they would all shine the same beneath the moon, beneath the stars. They were all dear to em. They were all dear to her.
So as soon as she would step away from home and before she would step up to the lectern, she would dwell there at the edge of the natural space. There is where she would feel her hackles threaten to rise and her tail threaten to bristle. She would look at the art and see nothing. She would drink her coffee or tea or eat her pastry and it would have a flavor she did not experience. She would have her conversations on autopilot, and her earnest smile would be no less earnest for her absence from the space. She would do all of these things and overlaid atop her vision would be fields silvered by starlight. She would do all of these things and her tongue would be coated with the taste of sweet night air, of dust and pollen and petrichor. She would strain to hear her contact through the soft noises of wind and crickets.
And then, with all the suddenness of dawn, a chorus of birdsong crashing through her mind, the moment would come. Her contact would stand before the gathered crowd and introduce her — her! Dear The Wheat And Rye Under The Stars! She was published! She was an author! The realization would never not startle her — and she would brush out her tail one last time, run her fingers through her mane, and step out of the liminal space of the Ode and into the dream of her story. The nervous excitement would wash away and she would be here. She would be now.
And then she would read.