Queen Dairy
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  • 16

    So, Pino is showered with gifts – there's banquets of peach tarts, bowls filled with meat turnovers and cheese pies called pirozhki and vatrushki (baked by the cook just hours ago). On the top of this heap, they've left the empty baskets wrapped with pink ribbons. Lil is left ablush from everyone's kindness.

    At the fair, she feeds Pino small pieces of peach tart. It's so sweet - she knows it because she's tasted it already, so it's a delight when her toddler munches on them all. Lil wipes the crumbs away with the pastel-striped bib around Pino's neck, as she turns a glance towards Vincent, hammering rounds at the targets.

    He hears the siren blare. Pulls the trigger. The pellets rip through the board, covering the outline of a monsterous rabbit in fluffs of wood.

    Vincent manages to take a good look when the gun clicks empty. It's not a bad attempt, considering he's managed to slice across the poor rabbit's neck.

    "Forty points!"

    The ride operator hands him a fluffy panda bear, with a pocket in its back. As Vincent is about to head back, he spots out of his eye a lucky clover necklace, dangling among the prizes. There's something about it which really appeals to his eye: whether it's the deep green hues it has, or the intricate gold emboss pattern. He gets the idea of sneaking it inside the bear..

    "Vincent!" Lil shouts, rising from the table. "Sorry, Pino, he's having too much fun with the gun. Vince!"

    "Vin-cuu.." Pino goes, a blush spreading across her cheeks.

    Hurriedly, Vincent rushes over to the family. He sees Lil's eyes grow agape; she's fawning over the bear.

    "- that is so.. adorable!" Lil says, cradling the stuffed animal in her arms. "Pino, see, he got this for you. Vincent.. my darling, what should we name it?"

    Vincent gives the panda's buttoned eyes a glance. Under the sun's gleam, he recalls his co-worker Pablo who'd meet him in the locker room, being chatty about the latest gossip at the mill.

    "He looks like a Pablo," he goes.

    "Pablo?" Lil blinks, before looking at Pino (as if for her approval). Something about the name doesn't sit right with her; there was this crime lord she'd read from one of the history books, and she didn't want to be reminded of the horrendous acts he did to others.

    "How about, why don't call it a she.. how does Belle sound?" It rolls off the tongue better, and Pino is giggling, grabbing the panda and hugging it. "You love her already."

    Even though Vincent is non-plussed about the name picking, who would want be irked, when your daughter is beaming joy and it feels like the whole world for you? Just to spend these wonderous moments with your family..

    Lil has always dreamt of horseback riding, like the way those frontiersmen do from the old tales. Outside of town, a field ranch near a lake, where the sunset glimmers easily atop the waters and the lights beam through the cacophony of pine trees.

    The chestnut horse is a stalliant beauty, with its black mane, long and flowing as you see it trod over the wheat. Lil rides atop on the saddle, her hands over the reins as she grows used to the horse's rocky, uneven motions – this isn't like sitting in a carriage, you know. Her felt hat, with its wide brim and finely-laced covering, lets her see the field without being blinded by the glare, but the laces never catch in her face.

    Then she approaches the path by the lake, where it meanders uphill to the mountains, and Lil, indulging in the urge to embrace the wild, implores her horse to go faster, and faster.. past the point where the passing trees are just whirls of undefined motion.

    Soon, in a whirl of momentum as she encounters the open hill, she's joined by a cavalry of cows, who barely manage to keep pace with her. A horde of 'Mooos' and cowbell noises, as the cows are herded by the farmer's pig, and she presses her horse further onward – onward – as if determined to outrun a pursuing avalanche.

    She arrives at the top, where she meets Vincent and Pino, waiting for her by that lone tree. By then, the sun is a diminishing blur, and in a few more minutes, the stars would emerge. Even when she struggles to haul her other leg over the saddle, a graceful flow in her movements, and where Vincent holds her steady as she hops off, he finds that pang – that inexplicable pull, as he feels with his own being her radiant, entrancing warmth.

    "I almost had you worried, didn't I?" Lil says. Vincent's face, under the golden hues, it makes him look perfect as he tells her "No," while she knows deep down it's another white lie. The little hint of a smile she gives, it is worth waiting an eternity for.

    And soon, the dusk gives way to a starry night. The fireflies twirl by in a dance – and Lil falls asleep resting by the tree with Vincent, while Pino is kept awake a little longer by the serenity of it all.

    For Pino, as young as she is, on some nights she'd find intimations of thoughts from some faraway place – where it's troubling, dark, and cold with an impression of being ensnared by a spider. She'd wake up crying in her crib, and it would be Vincent who'd tell her she's sound asafe.. where no one would dare harm her, and no spider would get by without being squashed.

    "Vince, do you love me?" she goes.

    "With my soul."

    "And if you die..?"

    To calm her, Vincent would haul her up in the air, a dance of just the two of them, with an unspoken promise that he'll never leave her, ever. Not as long as the sun would shine, every day. The stars on the bedroom walls would become as majestic as that special night on the hill, and the sensation of flying in his arms would lull Pino back happily asleep.. he'd be in the same room as her – until morning, when the fresh sizzle of eggs and pancakes would make Pino hungry.

    "Feed some to Belle too!" Pino says by the dining table. She tries stuffing the panda's mouth with the eggs, and it would only spill out (stuffed pandas aren't meant to eat).

    It's so adorable, Lil snaps an instant photo, catching Vincent making bunny-fingers over Pino's head. She'll have it in the memory scrapbook, though it means having to rinse poor Belle by hand afterward, leaving the frizzled panda out to dry by the porch. And if you'd ask Belle what she'd thought of the eggs, she'd tell you nothing but the joyous sun beneath the heavenly blue on the garden, for stuffed pandas don't think – they just are.

    The bishops tap their canes upon the floor, and a hushed silence from the attendees, who were avidly singing and dancing, moments ago. The altar and candleabras are gone, as today is a special occasion: Wester Friday.

    Lil and Pino wait with the other mothers backstage, all dressed in white, and all waiting with their daughters to be anointed with the Holy Mother's blessing. Pino clutches Lil's fingers, her nerves heightened by that air of hopeful anxiety.

    "Lil-Lil, what's gonna happen?"

    "They'll give us holy bubbles to blow," she says, recalling what the visiting bishop had told her at the doorstep. "We huff, and puff, and our bubbles are going to clump together in the air—"

    Her mouth pops. "It'll be fun Pino, just you wait!"

    Then she imagines Vincent, toiling away at the mill. It's a holiday, but sadly, the mill has called all their workers for overtime. It's a shame he can't be here. Lil lets out a momentary sigh to herself.. at the back of her mind, still recalling sharing the taste of that fateful kiss which pushed them to a frenzied and passionate surrender (it's like a memory which never fails to leave her trembling), she'll hold him in her thoughts for the ceremony.

    I hope he won't come home too exhausted.. he's begged and pleaded over the phone last night with the company to be with us, but they wouldn't budge an inch over the matter. These Latino bozos, are they really that desperate for help?

    "Bubbles!" Pino's eyes widen, already picturing a thousand bubbles in a pink sky, with peach tarts and cherry blossom leaves. "I want to blow some!" But Lil hushes her.

    "They're going to call us up any moment.."


    When you think of religious ceremonies in general, you'd think of pompous moments, stuffy incantations, the organ thunderously piping out these baritone notes – and it would just feel stretched out so slowly as to be solemn, dignified.

    But this church, being a distant off-shoot from the Hellenic orthodoxy, the members celebrate in terms of joy and cheer, and beneath the hushed tones of the attendees, there's an emotional explosion just brimming beneath the surface – a fuse, waiting to be set off exactly by their lead pastor, Julius Trigg.

    "On this holy day.." Julius goes. His words echoing and falling over the sermon hall like a blanket. "Chaos, darkness and confusion once ruled ceaselessly over the world. Our people, our fore-mothers, grappled over each other because there was no more faith to be had in love, in honesty and in placing any trust in our fellow humanity. Imagine, if you will, if your friends and loved ones lost all faith in you to the point of contempt, and likewise you with them. The idea of Spirit fell to destitution, and you could not blame your neighbour if they gave in towards the heinousness of betrayal, lying, bloodshed, cannibalism, rape and carnage!

    "Being born back then was a travesty. Life itself meant nothing, except suffering. So our Lady, Tetiana, proclaimed to us a saviour, and her name is Manah!"

    Upon shouting out Manah's name, the entire hall erupts in a fervour. Even the organ music jumps the gun, but Julius – looking upon all with a confident smile – uses a simple gesture of the hand to get them sitting down again.

    "Manah.." he goes, tearing up, "saved us from ourselves. She gave her life, put herself on these bloodstained lands, so that we – all of us, each and everyone – we.. could find it in our hearts to cherish.. each other. To cherish what it is what makes life worth living: love, arising out of sacred femininity."

    The organ plays, joined in by the rock band, and all the mothers arrive in single file, with Lil and Pino, holding hands to form a circle around Julius. Now the hall has erupted into such song and dance, it is impossible to resist joining in on the joyous atmosphere, as the sun itself seems to beam directly through the stained glass, bathing the people under a multi-hued glow.

    Let me tell you now
    I got a feeling, I feel so strange
    Everything about me seems to have changed
    Step by step, I got a brand new walk
    I even sound sweeter when I talk

    I said, oh, oh, oh, oh
    I said baby, oh, it must be love

    Even Lil – as private and reserved as she tends to be, lets her social guard slip away. She joins in, wavering her arms with the others. This whole community is like her extended family; you don't have to draw solely on yourself just to feel safe.

    She catches Julius's eye, while he passes her, and she uses this little opportunity to ask a simple question:

    "Hey, this is being broadcast, right? My husband.. I don't want him to miss out-"

    "He won't miss anything, my dear. If he's welding steel, they'd be taking breaks to celebrate with us on this sacred day."

    Lil's innate alertness has her finding that the venue is being filmed by three cameras, perched amidst the crowd. And there's a funny feeling too – she swears there's a face from the past she recognizes.. but her attention turns back towards Julius, handing out bubble wands to the daughters.

    If she's had a second longer, she would have had her instincts proven right. It's Nowe, standing at the back, whose expression of dismay is terribly out of place.

    For he's travelled all this way to warn her about an impending strike on her family, as ordered by Antonioni.