Today I Read…Triptych

Today I read Triptych, the debut novel by J.M. Frey. http://jmfrey.net/

They came from another world. They needed our help. Some gave them help, comfort, home, love. Some didn’t.

Kalp was assigned to work with Gwen and Basil, but their relationship gradually deepened until they become an Aglunated Unit, the proper grouping of three adults together. And isn’t Integration the goal of the Institute that they work for? Unfortunately some people don’t agree, and are willing to go to any lengths necessary to prevent mixing. Any lengths…and any times.

The first time that I saw J.M. Frey after reading Triptych, I told her “I hate you a little for killing my favourite character. But thank you for not bringing him back.” I think that’s still the best review I can give this book. It’s always a bit of a cop-out for time travel stories to kill someone and bring them back at the end just to pull the emotional strings. Frey doesn’t use that trick. Instead, Kalp dies at the start of the book. The reader sees the reactions of the other characters, and then meets Kalp, the newcomer to Earth, the refugee from a dead world who has lost almost everything. The reader gets to know his loneliness, his fascination with these strange, squishy, leaking beings who have taken him in, and his genuine desire to help those who have helped him. We watch him explore our world, the beauty and the terror, and especially the bits that don’t make any sense (there’s a lot of those). We hope he lives–after all, it’s time travel, right?

Wrong.

And it hurts. But it’s almost a good hurt, because it’s a hurt that changes. ‘Tis better to have loved and lost… Frey’s gift is to create someone totally different from us who is just like us.

Everything comes in threes in Triptych. Past, present and future. Gwen, Basil and Kalp. The proper number for an Aglunated Unit. Stranger, friend, family. Life, death, and life again. Love, death and hope.

******************************************************************************

“You know,” Gwen said again, “those movies where the aliens come to Earth, and they…I dunno, they try to steal our natural resources, or create a nuclear winter so they can turn the Earth into slag, or they melt the polar ice caps and New York is under fathoms of water, or they clone us for slaves, or create terrifying bioweapons and wipe us all out and use our cities for farmland, or…all that stuff?” Evvie’s heart trembled. She could taste her pulse and her fear, thready and metallic on the back of her tongue. “Yes,” she said softly.

(Please, no.)

Gwen looked up. “It was nothing like that.”

********************************************************************************************

“First task of Integration,” Basil says cheerily, “is learning which lunch lady to flatter at the canteen, innit?” He talks slow and enunciates clearly. Gwen must have told him to speak so in order to make his words more easily understood, and Kalp is startled at the caring that the gesture shows on both their parts; Gwen for thinking of it, and Basil for following her advice.

Basil’s mouth stretches, displaying his small white teeth in pleasure. This is a joke, Kalp is sure, but what sort he was unsure of. Slapstick? Sarcasm? Is Kalp meant to be the Straight Man or to reply? Panic surges. The tension twists tighter, and Kalp feels as if his air passage is closing.

Basil goes on: “Down the hall, take the second right, say it’s for me and they’ll know. Gwen wants coffee, black — bloody Canadian — and you get whatever you fancy. Cheers.” Kalp blinks. A desperate tightness presses at the back of his throat.

These were things Kalp has never been taught! Coffee, black? Is not the steaming beverage brown? How does one fetch black coffee?

Where does one find it? Take the second right to where, and how does one pick up a “right”? Who is bloody and do they need a medic?

He understands the last command, at least.

He lifts a hand in the air and stretches his mouth wide and says “huzzah!” with what he hopes is the appropriate amount of enthusiasm, anxious to get this one little thing right, to prove that he is not stupid, that he is useful.

***************************************************************************************

There are also several human mothers or fathers nearby with their offspring. Catching sight of the first, Kalp is unable to breathe for a moment. A child. He aches, deep down, remembering how strongly he and his Aglunates had been hoping for one of their own. It hurts to see this perfect little being, so far away from his ruined planet, safe and happy and completely unaware of the horrors that had happened a galaxy away. This child must be very young. Perhaps it had not even taken its first breath when Kalp’s Aglunates had taken their last.

His eyes burn in sorrow and Kalp turns away, covering them.

“Kalp?” Gwen asks, and her voice is soft and filled with concern.

Kalp forces himself to look up, to fake a smile, but she can see that it is fake.

“The child,” he says. “I…it hurts me.”

Basil frowns. He balls up the empty wrapper of his sandwich and keeps pressing at it with his fingers nervously. “Hurts you how?”

“You would say…’my heart breaks.’”

Gwen sucks in a little gasp of breath and her eyes become wet again. “Oh my God, Kalp — we never asked. I feel like such a heel.

Did you lose anyone? Stupid, obviously you did, I just meant…I mean, we didn’t ask. 

To lose is an euphemism for die.

Kalp shakes his head. “My parents. Maru and Trus…my Aglunates. We were merely hoping for a child.” Gwen snakes out a hand and wraps it around Kalp’s. He notes with strange detachment that he no longer recoils from the feel of the secretions of her skin and the almost invisible swirl of wrinkles on the tips. He only takes pleasure in the warmth and intent of her touch.

“I’m sorry,” she says softly.

Kalp knows that this is not an Apology. Kalp has heard these words uttered in this way many times since coming to Earth. They are an expression of condolence. Basil pats his arm on the other side, and it feels good to be between them, to feel the warmth of their skin, the patter of their hearts, and know that he is protected and is precious.

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4 thoughts on “Today I Read…Triptych

  1. Pingback: Today I Read…Return of the Library Dragon | wadingthroughbooks

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