Quests and Other Such Adventures, by Jean Kari

Learning about Lughnasadh, which I’m still trying to pronounce, felt akin to attending my family reunion and discovering that my new best friend is my second cousin twice removed.  Every year, my family attends the local county fair; it’s our tradition to enjoy the rides, the food, the games, and the exhibitions.  When I learned the relationship between the local county fair and Lughnasadh, I was thrilled.

‘Quests and Other Such Adventures’ captures some of that county fair dynamic in the context of a slightly fantastic festival.  Within the festival’s playful energy, the protagonist engages in two quests: one given to her and the other drawn from her over the weekend.  The story reproduces the fair’s energetic tension: the fair itself calls us from our homes while reminding us that the quest for home is the only real game in town.

Quests and Other Such Adventures

Delia’s first step onto Fire Island threw her down a rabbit hole and shocked her into awareness.  The psychedelic seventies atmosphere of the island’s late summer festivities diametrically opposed the straightforward millennial, peaceful, seductive, because natural, energy of Suffolk County where she and her sisters lived.  Here, shirtless men danced and embraced openly; plain-faced farm girls flirted with tall, muscular, heavily painted divas.  Music raved, entrancing even the people-watchers.  And, Delia had just arrived, fresh off the ferry.  Two years ago, she would have called any poor girl arriving alone provincial while she herself turned to French kiss the nearest warm body, who, at that time, would have been her ex-fiance Tom.  But today that poor girl, Delia, had returned from afar.

By afar, Delia meant in consciousness, not in geography.  In this anonymous fb family world, Delia had been initiated into the Temple of Oye and had been living in time – intimately – with her sisters for two years.  They laughed together, fought each other, danced with each other, loved each other as women and sisters immersed in the wonders of their own co-creation.  Having made a hell of her real family and now knowing paradise, Delia had not wanted to pack, catch a ferry, and enter this tranced out wonderland, but she had no choice.

Every two years, the Temple sisters dispersed in all directions.  All twelve of them traveled to their real families, on dream vacations, to some place that might add to the Temple’s collective unconscious.  To be consciously intimate, for them, entailed periodic conscious separation, not uncoupling.  The truth is, Delia realized, I now need the Temple and my sisters’ companionship to feel complete.  I don’t even remember what I brought of my own – skills, gifts, joys, wisdom – to the community.  The sisters reminded her of the last place she’d been happy before them – Fire Island – and sent her there to play and remember.

The game, a quest, required that she retrieve five objects from five different people, representing the four elements and spirit in a weekend, starting that wild Saturday morning at midnight.  Each person would be available, Delia understood, at the designated time for the element.  Air would be available at sunrise; fire, noon; water, sunset; earth, midnight.  Spirit, she knew, could reveal itself at any time.

The retrieval method challenged how one established intimacy.  Through eye contact? Touch? A brief conversation? Sharing a bookstore table with strangers might lead to friendship or marriage or nothing at all.  “What makes the difference?” her sisters asked, “And what does intimacy look like?” If, at that bookstore table, one stranger clears everyone else’s trash for courtesy’s sake, has not intimacy been established momentarily even if no one says anything, but “Thank you!”

To earn the game’s objects, Delia needed to establish intimacy with five different people.  At the right time, they would offer the first line of an elemental couplet, and she would offer the concluding answer.  At the right time, they would offer her the object, and she would receive it.

But, of course, this is crazy, Delia laughed to herself, making her way through the crowds.  I can’t go up to everyone and wait for riddles.  I’ll have to figure out which riddle to expect from whom and so on.  Then, she remembered; intimacy doesn’t belong to the left brain.  I also have to pay attention and trust my observations.  As she thought about it, Delia realized that she hadn’t trusted her observations since Tom; in fact, she hadn’t trusted her own intuition since joining the Temple.  Standing in the middle of the crowd, Delia realized that trust mattered.  Presence mattered.  She remembered some poet, Rich, maybe, declaring intimacy a miracle.  “Amen, sister!” Delia mumbled in silent homage.  And then, she decided to dance.

By 2am, the main festival petered out.  The shirtless men exchanged Cinderella kisses before heading off to bed with or without each other.  Delia knew she looked delicious, though travel weary, but her strangeness made all interest merely curiosity.  Ahead of last call, Delia caught the sole bartender’s attention and ordered a Long Island iced tea.  Why not? The tall red-haired bartender laughed at Delia’s order, “Sweetheart, you are not a Long Island iced tea kind of girl!” Instead, the curly-haired woman gave her absinthe.  She prepared the drink correctly, pouring the maddening liquid slowly over a sugar cube, while her other customers waited.  Clear with a greenish tinge, the liquor licked the white cube as a kitten might kiss its caretaker’s face.  The time alone disqualified the bartender from being earth.  Yet either the sensuous preparation or the miss en scene of the bartender’s slim tan fingers caressing the glass aroused her.  Surely, this woman is one of my appointments, Delia thought, or, I’m just lonely.  Delia expected the woman at any moment to breathe earth’s couplet in her ear: “Created kingdom and glory!”

“What?” the woman said, glancing at Delia while pouring a pale ale for one half of a smooching couple.

I must be tired, talking to myself out loud, Delia blushed.  Then Delia lied, “I asked your name.”

“You’re lying, but that’s okay.  At least you cared enough about my good opinion to try not to seem crazy.  .  .  unlike most of my regulars.  I’m Ricky,” the bartender gave a throaty laugh, “and, also unlike most of my regulars, I am all double X.”

“I’m Delia,” she replied, warming even more to the double X’er as the woman bantered with her customers and danced to the complex rhythms of their demands.  Delia imagined a million different conversations to be had, jokes and secrets to exchange, experiences to share.  The woman not only aroused Delia, but also called forth some deeper sense of intimacy than interest, fascination, or mere arousal.  Pay attention, Delia heard in her head.  I want.  .  .  What do I want with her? What are your intentions, young lady? Delia giggled to herself.

Delia gave her arousal an image.  No bedsheets appeared nor sweat or wild night tangling.  Instead, Delia faced Ricky and, between them, exchanged breath, emotions, words, conversation.  The image exuded playfulness and a certain rightness that some would call good or meet.  Watching Ricky and daydreaming, Delia enjoyed her absinthe, believing she had just started the game.

The open-air club, Antlers, covered a central space just off the ferry around which the grounds formed a circle.  Lodgings had been built to the east and west.  A mini-shopping and restaurant area – Tourist Row – sprawled over the north.  The beach lay behind the club to the south.  With no lodgings, Delia wandered toward the beach where several couples and loners had already made camp.

Lying there on the sand, facing the stars, Delia relaxed her entire body.  Just shy of 4am, she could tell that sunrise, that colorful child, was tiptoeing in from her own private party early.  The last clubbers trickled out of Antlers to their respective destinations.  More joined her on the beach on a warm end of July night.  The sand, soft and cushiony, held her.  The lapping water sung its own secret lullaby.  For a few minutes, all was well, and time stopped for Delia.
By 10 am, the sun’s heat convinced Delia of one explanation for Fire Island’s name.  She stored her belongings in a locker and decided to freshen up in the campers’ communal showers.  There, she realized that, by communal, they meant communal.  Under the steamy rain, men and women showered sans separators and shower curtains.  When in Rome, Delia thought.  The fresh water healed her sand-and sun-soaked skin; she closed her eyes and pictured again Ricky’s hands, almost losing herself to the image.

Someone’s eyes, however, anchored her to the showers.  Searching the room, Delia saw the source: a black woman, like her, but with a bowling ball of hair shooting in every direction.  A real mane, Delia thought.  Delia observed the woman treating the routine of basic routine as a people-watching occasion.
“How are you?” the woman called from across the room.  When in Rome, Delia thought.

“Great!” Delia called back.  Needing no more encouragement, the woman grabbed her shower caddy and moved to the shower head nearest Delia’s.

“I’m Eve,” the woman smiled, toothy and warm, “You looked alone over here.” Eve tilted her head, “but at peace.  .  .  .  And maybe a little overly interested in your surroundings.” Eve gestured to Delia’s chest where Delia’s hands immediately went.  “Don’t be embarrassed! Being this open is hard work! I like watching how newbies react to this place.” Eve scanned Delia, “or how more aware folks react when they return.  I come here every year.  I leave my kids, my hubby, everyone, to work on being open.”

“Your hubby?”

“Yes, I have a husband, but he’s long since stopped trying to tame me.  I keep him alive.  He keeps me grounded.  We are exquisitely happy in the balance.”

As they talked and bathed, Delia noticed that she had long since stopped being “overly interested in her surroundings,” and that she desired to learn more about this uninhibited soul.  As Delia rinsed, she wondered how to broach continuing their chat, but Eve had already decided what to do.  “Well, let’s have brunch.  Are you clean enough yet? I want some more sun and some eggs, sunny side up!”

Delia followed Eve out into the locker room to dress.

“Why are you here?” Eve asked.

Umm, Delia paused.  Should I tell her about the game? How much should I share? Delia worried that she might give away too much too fast.  Or try too hard.

Again, Delia lied, “I’m on an adventure.  I heard of Fire Island, and here I am.”

“Well, welcome! This is one of the best weekends to be here.” True to her word, Eve ordered her eggs, sunny side up, and orange juice and a bowl of red grapefruit.  Delia ordered some pancakes and sausages, anticipating a long day.  They sat outside, so the sun beamed down on them as the day approached noon.

“Delia, either you’re lying or you’re hiding, and they really are the same thing.  At some point, you need to look at that,” Eve shook her head as Delia began to protest.  “Look, I know what I know.  I mean, why have an adventure now? You’re not exactly 21 anymore.  Have any lovers or kids?”

For a minute, Delia hated Eve.  “Perhaps you need a refresher in etiquette.”

“Perhaps you need a refresher in making friends.”

Eve’s words stung, but Delia realized their correctness.  Isn’t that what I’m supposed to be doing with this whole intimacy thing.  Delia allowed herself a moment to be present and consider.  Delia thought of Shannon, her long estranged daughter, and her heart ached.

“Okay.  I have a kid, but we’ve long been strangers.  I have no lover,” Delia paused, “but I have sisters.” And then, Delia saw why her sisters insisted on periodic separations.  “I have been here before, but I do want an adventure.  With my child not in my life, I have to make up what I look forward to.  And family’s never been enough for me.”

“Good lord! You said a mouthful.  But, I’m glad you decided to let me in,” Eve winked at her.  “Kids and lovers and family are stabilizing forces.  They ground you in the day to day, the minutiae.  They turn travelers into folks with home bases.  Would it surprise you to learn that I didn’t have a home base at all until I met and fell in love with Alex? If you long for a home, you’re not actually on an adventure.  You are on a quest, and home is your object.”

“Well, I do have a home, sort of.  It’s a temple really,” Delia did not want to share it all just yet, “we’re all traveling right now.”

“I don’t know that a temple can be a home these days.  What you’re talking about is a sanctuary.” Eve paused, enjoyed a particularly juicy grapefruit section, “A sanctuary is only a home until you get well.  Once you’re whole, you’ve got to find your way.  What is it that you want? What is your passion? What did you love to do?”

Delia remembered her dad then.  “I loved to sing and create games.  I used to do that when I was a child all the time.  .  .  until my father died.”

“Then what?”

“He used to sing with me all the time, and when he passed, I buried that part of me with him.”

Eve looked at her for a minute.  “Thank you for trusting me with a bit of your sorrow.  Today, I have good news.  It’s time to reclaim that part of yourself.  This weekend, you are playing a game, and you will sing again.  I’ll help you,” Eve smiled then, “but first you must answer me: “Prometheus loved and shared you.”

Delia blinked, looking at Eve, as if for the first time.

“Girl, you’re a little slow on the uptake.  I know you can be quicker than that.  Your sisters told me.  Answer me: Prometheus loved and shared you.”

Delia wiped the sweat off her face and really thought about how she should have known Eve represented fire besides the sting of the noon day heat.  She saw Eve’s passion and joy in Eve’s words and actions.

Delia answered: “You are my soul and my life, fire!”

“Now we can begin, and darling, not everyone will make it that easy.  I did because I was obviously your first.  Everyone you encounter at Fire Island may be the person you seek.  You have to reach out.  You have to pay attention.  You will have to seek the experience and the engagement.  Are we clear?”

Delia nodded.

“So then, we’re off.  There’s a bar on Tourist Row with a singing competition tonight and finals tomorrow.  You’re going to win.  I just know it.”
“But I haven’t sung since I was a child.”

“Well, it’s like riding a bike.  We just have to get started.”

After entering the competition, Delia followed Eve to the beach.

“You know how Beyonce got her chops, right?”

“No.”

“She ran and sang at the same time,” Eve grinned at Delia, “We won’t push you that hard, but you need to sing to these poor men and women out here.  What folk songs do you know?”

Delia recalled the songs her father, an Irishman, taught her.  Though the songs were mostly sad, her father knew how to make even the Irish blues joyful.  And, the crowd loved old folk songs.  Delia sung a cappella until a young man produced a guitar, and then the crowd joined her in song.  Meanwhile, Eve danced with men and women and sang along and otherwise encouraged people to enjoy.

They spent most of the day there until Eve began pulling her away.  “It’s almost time.  Come and rest in my cottage.  It’s time to rock it, baby!”

In Eve’s cottage, a much more luxurious cottage than most, Delia napped and then took a long bath in silence, humming intermittently to herself the song that she most loved to sing as a child: “Ring a ring a Rosie!/ As the light be kind,/ I remember Dublin city/ in the rare old times!” She’d never been to Dublin, but now Delia remembered her wanderlust and knew one day she’d go.

When Delia emerged from the bath, Eve appeared with a fiery red dress and a necklace.  They made Delia’s complexion glow.

“I was just kidding when I said you had to win the competition.  The necklace is yours to remind you of your joy and passion.  The dress is mine, but you do look good in it.”

At the competition, Delia’s beach audience came to encourage her.  They hooted when they saw Delia in the dress, and cheered her into the final three.  So Delia would compete Sunday at high noon for the weekend’s crown.

Afterward, the music got louder and more driven, and the dancing grew more passionate.  Eve disappeared for the night, but not before giving Delia a key to the cottage and promising to meet Delia there by 10 am to finish preparing for the finals.

Tired from the excitement, Delia watched the dancers, but the girl with the beautiful hands crafted drinks at the bar and lured Delia nearer.

Pouring one of her regulars a merlot, Ricky smiled at Delia, “You were amazing up there! Where did that come from?”

“Thanks! You know I haven’t sung since I was a child.”

“Well, you were off the charts.  Here’s a complimentary absinthe for your voice!”

Delia sipped the concoction and let herself feel loved.

“You know, I love your hands.”

“Oh, these things!” Ricky fluttered her hands.  Delia laughed.

“No, seriously.  I’ve always been fascinated by people’s hands, and yours are amazing.  Strong, yet delicate.”

“I carve driftwood on the side.  That’s my passion, carving furniture and boxes the old way, but the old ways don’t pay the bills.  This will, and it’s fun, and I can one day own a store where people can sell their crafts and/or learn some of the old crafts.”

“That sounds exciting!”

“I think so.”

They talked for awhile longer until Delia realized that the clock had moved closer to 10 pm, and she had a game to play.

“Thanks for the drink, Ricky! I’m going to look around a bit, but I’ll be back later tonight.”

“I sure hope so.”

Delia drifted a bit until she found a quiet corner with a view.  From there, the dancers’ sensuous movements pretended to earthiness, but Delia felt nothing.  Delia recalled a game she used to play – to see what didn’t want to be seen.  To play, Delia first closed her eyes and sensed whatever was out there and in her.  Tonight, anxiety lay within, an anxiousness to win the game – both of them.  Her belly warmed at the pleasure of winning and talking with Ricky.  Outside, Delia heard the depth and boom of drums, beyond the electronic music.  A drum circle.  What could be earthier than that?

Following the drumming onto the beach, Delia met a group of men and women drumming to complex rhythms.  A man, whose eyes she met as she approached, called the rhythms.  Somehow, she knew by her heart’s steady beating that that man knew earth’s couplet.  His hooded eyes watched her.  The stillness of his entire body, save his hands, fascinated her.  Rough and thick and hardened, his hands danced, pounding the drum’s hide and somehow binding the circle.  She sat to one side, noting how he knew the exact moment to call a new rhythm.

In time, the man called his apprentice to take over and then walked to the seashore.  She followed him.  “Do you play?” he asked without turning, catching her off guard.

“I don’t play, but I’d like you to teach me.”

“Is that really what you want?”

“In this moment.  Yes.”

“Then, tell me what is the “Created kingdom and glory”?

“It is my own, my mother Earth!” Delia answered.

“It is truly so, my precious daughter!” The man then turned to her.  “I will teach you how to drum tonight, and I will give you a rhythm for your competition song tomorrow.  Then, the song will be your own, not your father’s”

“You know about that!”

“We all know about that!” He laughed finally, flashing strong white teeth as he grabbed her hand and led her back to the circle.

As he brought her a chair and sat her down, he explained.  “In the circle, all points are equal, but you must not forget your point.  If you do, the circle is broken.  In the circle, there are many rhythms, but you must not forget your part, your rhythm.  If you do, the circle is broken.  The circle’s game is to keep each of the rhythms going for as long as possible, perhaps forever,” he smiled, “But don’t worry.  We never reach forever.”

“Here, I give you a simple rhythm.  Keep it.  Pay attention to it.  Love it.  Hear the silence and the sound of it.”

And, so he did.  At first, Delia stumbled over her rhythm; the others masked her mistakes.  But, the rhythm took her, and the circle brought her in.  Shortly after 1am, the circle played its last rhythm.  “You did well, Delia.”

“How did you know my name?”

“It is no matter.  Let’s say your drum told me.”

“My drum?”

“It is yours.  You earned it.”

“I will take it if you also give me your name.”

“Dian.”

Delia took the drum quietly to Eve’s for safe-keeping, stopping to get a change of clothes from her locker.  Keeping the necklace on, she changed into more comfortable party wear.  At the club, the men had gone shirtless again.  The women now danced on tables.  The music opened to her, and she heard individual notes and rhythms more clearly.  She danced with any number of people, feeling free.

But always, she could feel Ricky’s eyes on her.  In the last call, Delia noticed a rush of people getting drinks, and Ricky was again alone.  Delia decided to help.

Delia slipped behind the bar to Ricky’s side.  “I don’t know how to make any drinks, but I can work the taps and the register or take orders or ?”

“Why would you do that?”

No matter what, Delia wouldn’t lie.  Yet the truth frightened her.  “Look, just let me be .  .  .  help you.”

Ricky and Delia served together until just before sunrise.  Delia found it exhausting, but exciting, to dance at the bar and meet people and keep the excitement and serve drinks and more.  When the last person had dispersed, she met Ricky’s eyes and said, “Tell me.”

“How’d you know?”

Delia took Ricky’s hands, caressing them, and looked in Ricky’s eyes: “Breathing changes me changes you.”

“Hey! That’s my line.”

“Then, answer me.”

“You give me life, beloved air!”

They held each other’s gaze, breathing each other’s air, until they knew to let go.  As Delia put away the last dried glass, Ricky took off her apron.

“You know, bartenders are social butterflies because we have to be, but we can also be quite distant and hard to know.  Perhaps, I’m alluring because you feel this contradiction?”

“Ricky, in another life, I might have sought you out because you were so distant, and I always found the ones who were emotionally unavailable.” Thinking of Tom after all, Delia resolved, “But, I’m so over that.”

“So, you don’t want me now?” Ricky teased.

“Not for keeps.  I just want to play with your emotions.” They laughed.  And then Ricky locked up the bar, and then they played.

By that time, the broad morning sun banished any mystery.  Ricky found mimosas and fruit for them to enjoy at the beach.

“God, this beach is becoming my second home.”

“In two days?” Ricky grinned, “Really?”

Delia yawned.  “Aren’t you tired?”

“No.  But you are.  Learn to own your own feelings and desires, missy! You want to sleep.”

“Yes!”

“So go! I’ll be around when you get back.  Or not!”

“Good morning, Ricky!”

Delia arrived at Eve’s around 8:30am, with about an hour and a half to sleep before preparing to sing.  In the nap, Delia met spirit.  She told herself the truth: “I am that I am, and there is no one else, and so are we all,” and spirit told her where to find its object.

When she woke, she saw Eve ironing a long, green, slinky dress.  “I’m preparing your outfit.  Do you have a song?”

“I do,” she said, thinking of the drum circle.

“Well, let’s get ready to do it.”

For the competition, Delia improvised a call and response song with a long solo intro from her beloved Dublin song and the rhythm Dian gave her.  The song’s depth, the rhythm’s quiet joy, and the communion Delia shared won her the crown.

 Eve, Dian, and Ricky stood together at the bar, waiting for her.  Ricky handed Delia her glass of absinthe when she arrived.

“Normally, I would have been sleeping, but I couldn’t miss the queen of Fire Island, my girl!”

“Friend,” Eve interjected, “Oh, did I say something wrong?” They all laughed.

“I love you, Eve!” Delia smiled, “Ricky, there’s something at your house that I dreamed about.”

“You want to come home with me,” Ricky grinned, “I thought you’d never ask.”

At Ricky’s house, Delia walked straight to Ricky’s secret place: a niche behind the mirror.  There, in a wooden treasure box, an abalone bowl and an eagle feather for smudging lay waiting for Delia as they had in her dream.  Ricky gave her an anklet of silver bells as Delia turned around.  “You can also use it as a bracelet, but its music reminds me of you and the song you’ve brought to my life.”

Ricky kissed Delia then.  “I know that was trite, but I wish you could stay, and I wish I was water, but I’m not.”

“I know.  And, I realize that the timing’s off.  One day, maybe .  .  .  This will not be the last time I’m on Fire Island.”

“I hope not.  But, go! The sunset comes in a few hours.”

Delia walked the bowl and the anklet and the feather back to Eve’s and then found her way back to the beach.  My appointment can’t be far; there’s water all around.  Delia laughed to herself.

But no one appeared.  So, Delia sat and waited and played her feeling game.  The desire to complete remained, but peace emerged as well.  The tide would ebb and flow as it always had.  So, she walked along the shore quietly, processing all that had happened.  In time, Delia saw two children on the sandbars, building sand castles and enjoying the late afternoon breeze.  They invited her to play.

After Delia and the kids built an elaborate sandcastle with a moat, their mother appeared, calling for them.  The woman wore all white and a broad white hat as if to protect herself from the sun.  The sun behind her made her seem like an angel who had fallen into motherhood.  “It’s time to clean up for dinner, kids.”

Delia laughed at her own wild imagination, but she decided to try anyway.  Taking the kids by the hand, she led them to their mother.  “Here they are,” Delia smiled, “but I think you’re also calling me.”

The woman began: “Shapeshifter! Deadly sustainer!”

Delia answered, “The moon rises; my mother calls.”

Both women laughed as they watched the children’s eyes dart between their faces in curiosity.

“Delia, I’m Robin.” They shook hands.  “You must come to dinner with us! But first.  .  .  Children, would you like to see a magic trick?”

No longer surprised by anything, Delia watched with the children as their mother squatted, reached her long pale arms into the courtyard of the sand castle and deep into the sand.  From within, she pulled, unbroken, a crystal egg.  “It is yours to see beyond the surface and to know that whatever is yours is at your fingertips.”

“Oooh! What’s this trick called, Mama?” the children cried, having seen yet another wonder in one afternoon.

“It’s called,” and Robin winked at Delia, “deux ex machina.”

Dinner with Robin and her children delighted and saddened Delia.  Beyond the game, and far beyond the egg, Robin had given her a picture of what a happy family life could be, of what home could be.  Delia longed again for her daughter, and she knew – just as she knew she’d go to Dublin – that one day she and her daughter Shannon would love each other again.

Delia had just enough time to gather all of her gifts, say her very temporary goodbyes, and catch the ferry back to Suffolk County.  She had won her voice back, four new friends, and a playground beyond her sanctuary.  But more importantly, she had renewed hope for a home of her own.

Jean Kari

serves as an educator and writer in the sometimes hot and festive and sometimes polar vortex-y urban jungle that is Chicago.

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