VI

The Hero of Mind had certainly been a force to be reckoned with. 

Hotautebz Az was just twelve when they were sent to live with their grandparents for the summer. They’d grown up in the city all their life, and so Hotautebz’s parents supposed it would be good for them to get outside some.

“You could use some sunlight,” His father said. “It might help your quietness.”

“Agreed,” his mother added. “And it might give you some extra energy.”

The boy said nothing. Hota had been prone to sleeping in, sure, and he was quite quiet, but (to him) it was nonsensical to assume that fresh air and sunlight would make him sleep differently and speak louder.

And Hota was right.

He was sent to live with his grandparents that summer up in the far, far North. It was freezing, and there was still plenty of permafrost on the ground, along with a solid half-inch of snow that glistened off the surrounding mountains in the sun. It was around midday when he arrived, and his mother parked the car in his grandmother’s driveway. 

“It’ll be good for you,” Their mother said. 

Hota said nothing. They’d never met their grandparents, and there was clearly some kind of generational disconnect between their parents and their grandparents. Though they were nervous about meeting their grandparents, they were somewhat happy to be away from their parents for a summer. 

Hotautebz’s parents were quite strict, and he often didn’t meet their demands. He wasn’t met with any sort of strict punishment, the look of disappointment on his parents’ faces was enough to make a grown man cry. Hotautebz had learned to ignore it for the most part.

Hota grabbed his bags out of the trunk, and started up towards the stilted cottage. Everything seemed tidy, including a set of winter bushes that grew up around the house, the perfect, sparkling white along the walls, and the painted staircase that led Hotautebz up to the door. He planted a gentle knock on the door, and waited.

An elderly man with a warm, gentle smile greeted the door. “Hota!” He exclaimed, wrapping the boy up in a hug. “Welcome! We hope you’ll like it here.”

“Thanks,” Hota whispered. 

To Hota’s surprise, his grandfather didn’t say anything about his voice. As a matter of fact, he didn’t say anything else about Hota’s oddities. (It was common for men in Ytos to use makeup, so that wasn’t really considered an oddity). 

His grandfather led Hota into the tidy house, where an elderly woman with pale skin and brown hair sat in a rocking chair, watching television. 

“Hota’s here!” His grandfather announced.

“Hota?” The woman’s voice was quite smooth and clear. “Ahh, grandson!”

“Hey pama,” Hota greeted in the Ytos fashion, sitting on the couch. “Thanks for having me.”

“It’s our pleasure, really, we’re so delighted to have you,” She responded. “I used to love spending summers up here in the Far North where the snow didn’t melt and the wind was strong. It made me happy.”

“Make yourself at home, Hota.” His grandfather smiled, sitting down next to them.

“Thanks,” Hota squeaked again before dissolving into silence.

His grandfather seemed a man of much wisdom, and clarity. He frequently read, and wrote, and tended to plants outside the house. Hota grew increasingly fonder of the flowers, and they eventually built up the courage to ask about them.

“They’re Ytos lilies,” his grandfather explained one day. “Most farmers call them ‘potato-killers’. I just think they’re pretty, and they grow well in the permafrost.” He smiled at Hota. 

Hota resisted the urge to ask to take one home as best he could, but he inevitably failed, earning a small seed in a flowerpot from his grandfather that he was instructed to water weekly and keep in full sunlight. Something gave Hota the great jubilation of having something to take care of and think about, and he promised he’d follow his grandfather’s instructions. 

Hotautebz’s grandmother was a different story. She was energetic and scatterbrained, loving art, music, and dancing. While he wasn’t too fond of the dancing bit, he picked up quite the musical and artistic capabilities from his grandmother.

“Too much on that stroke!” She’d cry. “Much lighter, yes.” Or “No, no, you’re feeling the rhythm wrong. It’s supposed to feel like this.” From her, Hotautebz learned just how much he loved the arts and music.

One day, while painting a landscape portrait, his grandmother asked: “So, what do you want to be when you grow up?”

“When I grow up?” Hota asked. “Mom and dad always wanted me to be a lawyer or a doctor.”

“I didn’t ask them; I asked you,” she responded. 

Hota painted another teal line on the painting. They hadn’t thought about it from that perspective. Sure, they’d been quite sheltered and, up to that point, he hadn’t considered that he wanted to be anything other than a lawyer or a doctor–which, to be fair, were two completely different professions, anyway.

“What were you?” Hota asked.

“I was an ice fisher,” Their grandmother explained. “And your grandfather was a botanist. One would wonder how we met,” She chuckled.

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“How did you meet?” Hota asked, glad that the subject was diverted. 

“We met one day when your father had come up North to inspect the foliage. I had been fishing, and I yelled at him to get away because he’d been scaring our fish off,” She chuckled. “I wound up collecting his phone number for legal reasons.”

“That’s an odd way to meet,” Hota remarked.

“Well sure,” She chuckled. “Life’s unpredictable like that; one minute becomes ever so significant seventeen years down the road.”

“Seventeen years?” Hota frowned.

“It’s an expression, hotüüteb.” She patted his shoulder with a chuckle. “I knew him for about three years before we started dating. Then we dated for a year and got married, then had our first child, your pops.”

Hota ahhed. 

Their grandmother sighed and leaned back in the chair behind Hota. “Now, answer the question: What do you want to be when you grow up?”

Hota paused again. What did they want to be?

“I don’t know yet,” Hota admitted. “But I really like plants now, and I really like art, and music.”

“Well, if you don’t know,” she chuckled. “That’s okay. You’ll figure it out one day. Maybe it’ll be two years down the road, maybe four. Maybe twelve or twenty for all we know, but you’re gonna be just fine, Hota.” She rubbed his shoulder. “I have no doubt about it.”

Hota sighed through their nose, relaxing a bit. It was encouraging to hear those words and just believe that everything would be okay whether or not they did anything about it. They felt a creeping smile take over their face as they pulled another stroke of green across the canvas, added a touch of black to a shadow, and bleached the sun with another round of white.

“There,” Hota remarked, relaxing. “I think that will be good.”

The portrait was only mediocre in quality, but the paint was mixed well and the trees in the portrait at least somewhat resembled the conifers in reality. The sky was a tinge too light, and the snow was a tinge too dark, but all of that was okay. It was just an interpretation of what they had seen.

“It looks beautiful!” Hota’s grandmother cooed. “Oh you did an outstanding job.”

“You think?” Hota asked, noticing its flaws.

“Mhm.” Their grandma nodded. “Let’s take it in before it gets too cold and freezes.”

Hota chuckled, picking up the easel after their grandmother removed the painting.

Inevitably, the time of relaxation with their grandparents had to come to an end, and the end of the summer came. His mother arrived in her car again to pick them up, and Hota left with a spare trumpet, three paintings, and a pot of Ytos lily that had sprouted up during his time.

“Wow, they taught you to paint?” Asked his mom.

Hota nodded quietly.

“I thought they would put you to more useful work,” She remarked.

He went dead silent for the rest of the car ride.