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Clouds Gleam Across Her Eyes

Nebula-nominated Beth Cato is the author of the Clockwork Dagger duology and the Blood of Earth trilogy from Harper Voyager. She's a Hanford, California native transplanted to the Arizona desert, where she lives with her husband, son, and requisite cats. Follow her at BethCato.com and on Twitter @BethCato.

I held my newborn in the hospital delivery room, and I saw fluffy cumulus clouds billow across Ivanova's eyes. Right then, I knew. Already, she looked to different worlds.
A week later, Mom visited. "Yes, she's like my mother." Grief rattled in her voice. "You'll need to watch her closely and get her ready."
Ready to be like the grandmother I had never known, the woman who, since the age of ten, had flitted between time streams and universes like a butterfly between flowers.
I clutched my newborn--my warm, stinky little miracle--and I vowed our family cycle would change. I would protect Ivanova.
When I returned to work, I became the nightmare mother who checked with daycare providers constantly. At night, I awakened often to peer into her crib. She acted like any baby, but I knew that would change. Always, always, clouds flickered in her eyes.
At age three, Ivanova pointed at a bush. "Mama," she said, "A little man waved at me." I grabbed her and ran.
Soon after that, grimalkins began to stalk our apartment complex. I knew about them from my mom. They resembled normal cats until you glimpsed cirrus clouds gliding across their pupils. They'd come to guard my daughter, but I hated what they represented all the same.
"She can use her intelligence and magic to save this world," I said to a ginger tabby one day. "She doesn't need to traverse universes."
His disdainful glare said nothing and everything. My denials wouldn't save her. In a mere instant a portal could open, and off she'd go to train as a sorceress and battle against darkness.
Oddly enough, I was never jealous of Ivanova. She was born with power and destiny while I was practical to a fault--I worked as an accountant, for God's sake. No clouds ever glinted in my eyes. My childhood had taught me the importance of clipped coupons and common sense. Mom loved me, but I always knew I was never enough. Her childhood had been spent in foster care, her mother's visits rarer than falling stars.
With Mom in my thoughts, I changed tactics. I would prepare Ivanova for what would come.
We camped in the mountains, in the desert, on the beach. She learned to fish and scavenge and farm. She took to horse riding with supernatural ease; not a surprise, as her grandmother rode a warhorse made of summer thunderstorms. I enlisted her in karate, kendo, archery. I practiced with her. I made fires with sticks. I became a sharpshooter.
I knew other people viewed me as an obnoxious mother who over-scheduled her kid. As Ivanova grew older and realized how easy other kids had it, her view of me started to change, too.
"All the other kids see movies and watch TV shows, and I don't even know what they're talking about." Her eyes filled with tears. "I know I'm supposed to do hero things someday, but not yet, right?"
I felt as if the grimalkin's gaze had seared me again. I readied her to be a heroine, yes--but I also wanted her to love me, to love Earth. I thought of my mom, then dead a year, and what her childhood had been like.
"Let's skip today, then," I said. Her jaw dropped. "And we'll talk about your schedule."
"We can lighten the load? Really?" Purple midnight clouds roiled across her eyes. She was ten. She needed the chance to be a kid.
"Yes, really. We'll work out a new balance together."
She gave me an odd look. "You know I know you love me, right? Even with all this." A hand wave summed up our busy lives. "I get that this is about Grandma, and her sucktastic super-wizard mom."
I planted a kiss on her forehead; she grimaced. "It's about them, sure, but most importantly, it's about the two of us. Always."
Ivanova had some friends at school, but no one quite understood what they saw in her eyes. The two of us became close as she entered her teen years. While she was brilliant and fanciful and flighty at times, she trusted me to keep it real. My head was never in the clouds.
I was preparing supper one day when she ran in, gasping for breath.
"There's a portal," she said, "and--"
For the first time, I saw my grandmother. She looked little older than me, her body swathed in silks. "It's time," she said.
No greeting, no apology. I thought of my mom, of her frail hand in mine, how she had desperately hoped her mother would return one final time. Now, this was why Grandma had returned.
Chilled and composed within my rage, I turned off the stove. "I've had a travel bag ready for years. I need to make a call, then we can go." Ivanova and Grandmother gawked at me. "What? I've trained with her since she still had baby teeth. If my daughter needs me, I'm there." Though in that instant, I was afraid to look at her. I focused instead on Grandmother.
That woman didn't even flinch at my dig. Mom's birth probably happened centuries ago to her. "But Ivanova's the one who--"
"Has magic. I don't, and I don't need it." I didn't need anything else on Earth, either, not with Mom gone.
Ivanova's sweaty hand gripped mine; I released a long, shaky breath. Grandma considered us a moment.
"You'll be vulnerable like any of our soldiers. You'll likely die soon."
"I could be dead by the time she returned here, anyway. I never intended for her to go alone, no matter if she was three or thirty-five when her time came. If she wants me along, I'm going."
"The two of us. Always," Ivanova said softly.
Clouds flickered across her eyes, and I knew my own eyes reflected the reality of whatever I looked at. I had eyes only for her.
Together, we crossed to other realms.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, May 31st, 2019

Author Comments

So many stories focus on the Chosen One. I'm a mom. I'm interested in what the mom thinks about all this destiny nonsense. Even as a kid, though, I found that aspect of Terminator 2 to be the most fascinating by far. What can a mom do to prepare their child for what is to come? At what point does it become abusive? I wanted to study that dilemma, but through the perspective of a portal fantasy rather than apocalyptic sci-fi.

- Beth Cato
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