Days Of Wonder
by Geoff Ryman
F&SF Novella ISBN/ITEM#: 0809GRSDOW
Date: 02 July 2008 /
Geoff Ryman has a deft touch and well honed sense of what might be, as he shows in this fine novella published in THE MAGAZINE OF FANTASY & SCIENCE FICTION, October/November, 2008 (On sale: September 2, 2008). When I started in on "Days of Wonder" I said to myself, "Well, this is nice, but it's more poem than prose...and it will get tired before it finishes." I think that was my last thought before the story took hold of me and and I flowed down its river of words to the end. From release/information:
LEVEZA WAS THE WRONG name for her; she was big and strong, not light. Her bulk made her seem both male and female; her shoulders were broad but so were her hips and breasts.
She had beautiful eyes, round and black, and she was thoughtful; her heavy jaws would grind round and round as if imitating the continual motion of her mind. She always looked as if she were listening to something distant, faraway.
Like many large people, Leveza was easily embarrassed. Her mane would bristle up across the top of her head and down her spine. She was strong and soft all at once, and kind. I liked talking to her; her voice was so high and gentle; though her every gesture was blurting and forlorn.
But that voice when it went social! If Leveza saw a Cat crouching in the grass, her whinnying was sudden, fierce and irresistible. All of us would pirouette into a panic at once. Her cry was infallible.
So she was an afrirador, one of our sharpshooters, always reared up onto hind quarters to keep watch, always carrying a rifle, always herself a target. My big brave friend. Her rear buttocks grew ever more heavy from constant standing. She could walk upright like an Ancestor for a whole day. Her pelt was beautiful, her best feature, a glossy deep chestnut, no errant Ancestor reds. As rich and deep as the soil under the endless savannah.
We were groom-mates in our days of wonder.
I would brush her, and her hide would twitch with pleasure. She would stretch with it, as it were taffy to be pulled. We tried on earrings, or tied bows into manes, or corn-rowed them into long braids. But Leveza never rested long with simple pleasures or things easily understood.
Even young, before bearing age, she was serious and adult. I remember her as a filly, slumped at the feet of the stallions as they smoked their pipes, played checkers, and talked about what they would do if they knew how to make electricity.
Leveza would say that we could make turning blades to circulate air; we could pump water to irrigate grass. We could boil water, or make heat to dry and store cud cakes. The old men would chuckle to hear her dreaming.
I thought it was a pointless game, but Leveza could play it better than anyone, seeing further and deeper into her own inherited head. Her groom-sister Ventoo always teased her, "Leveza, what are you fabricating now?"
We all knew that stuff. I knew oh so clearly, how to wrap thin metal round and round a pivot and with electricity, make it spin. But who could be bothered? I loved to run. All of us foals would suddenly sprint through long grass to make the ground thunder, to raise up the sweet smells of herbs, and to test our strength. We had fire in our loins and we wanted to gallop all the way to the sun. Leveza pondered.
She didn't like it when her first heat came. The immature bucks would hee-haw at her and pull back their feeling lips to display their great white plates of teeth. When older men bumped her buttocks with their heads, she would give a little backward kick, and if they tried to mount her, she walked out from under them. And woe betide any low-grade drifter who presumed that Leveza's lack of status meant she was grateful for attention. She would send the poor bag of bones rattling through the long grass. The babysquirrels clutched their sides and laughed. "Young NeverLove wins again."
But I knew. It was not a lack of love that made my groom-mate so careful and reserved. It was an abundance of love, a surfeit of it, more than our kind is meant to have, can afford to have, for we live on the pampas and our cousins eat us.
Love came upon Leveza on some warm night, the moon like bedtime milk. She would not have settled for a quick bump with a reeking male just because the air wavered with hot hormones. I think it would have been the reflection of milklight in black eyes, a gentle ruffling of upper lip, perhaps a long and puzzled chat about the nature of this life and its consequences.
We are not meant to love. We are meant to mate, stand side by side for warmth for a short time afterward, and then forget. I wonder who fathered this one?
Leveza knew and would never forget. She never said his name, but most of us knew who he was. I sometimes caught her looking toward the circle of the Great Men, her eyes full of gentleness. They would gallop about at headball, or talk seriously about axle grease. None of them looked her way, but she would be smiling with a gentle glowing love, her eyes fixed on one of them as steadily as the moon.
One night, she tugged at my mane. "Akwa, I am going to sprog," she said, with a wrench of a smile at the absurdity of such a thing.
"Oh! Oh Leveza, that's wonderful. Why didn't you tell me, how did this happen?"
She ronfled in amusement, a long ruffling snort. "In the usual way, my friend."
"No, but…oh you know! I have seen you with no one."
She went still. "Of course not."
"Do you know which one?"
Her whole face was in milklight. "Yes. Oh yes."
Leveza was both further back toward an Ancestor than anyone I ever met, and furthest forward toward the beasts. Even then it was as if she was pulled in two directions, Earth and stars. The night around us would sigh with multiple couplings. I was caught up in the season. Sex was like a river, washing all around us. I was a young mare then, I can tell you, wide of haunch, slim of ankle. I plucked my way through the grass as if it were the strings of a harp. All the highest-rankers would come and snuffle me, and I surprised myself. Oh! I was a pushover. One after another after another.
I would come back feeling like a pasture grazed flat; and she would be lumped out on the ground, content and ready to welcome me. I nuzzled her ear, which flicked me like I was a fly, and I would lay my head on her buttock to sleep.
"You are a strange one," I would murmur. "But you will be kind to my babes. We will have a lovely house." I knew she would love my babies as her own.