“My darling,” he greeted, stepping inside and pulling off his cloak so fast that a flurry of rain water went dancing through the air, shining like diamonds. “Did you have a pleasant day?”
He moved nearer the large cage. Its iron bars, painted gold in hue, gave off a pleasant hum when he touched them. Every movement in and around the cage was recorded, in his absence, by the simplest of spells and fed back to him through the tips of his fingers.
He closed his dark eyes, a smile pulling at his mouth. “You’ll only hurt yourself if you keep rushing the bars like that, my darling. This cage was built to withstand even your powers.” He opened his eyes, gazed at the wonder of the prize within. A bird of the rarest kind, thought to be extinct for centuries. Truly, you had only to know where to look. And, of course, how to hold.
She was large as a raven; legs pale as birch and lean with four toes that curled into smooth, opalescent claws. Her feathers reflected light with every move, glossy black throwing off an array of violet, green, blue, and red. She was stunning in daylight and he was sad that he could not take her outside more often. But after that last, almost disastrous, outing….
He shook his head, looked at the black, black eyes and the pale curved beak that managed so much contempt for features that weren’t meant to hold such an expression.
“Sing,” he said, moving to the kitchen, taking the bread from the shelf, the cheese and smoked meat from the larder. At her silence he turned, one finger raised speculatively to his mouth. “Sing. And I’ll let you out of that cage.” He paused, poured wine into a cup and sipped. “Sing for me and you may stay out for the night.”
The bird shuffled on her perch, head twisting to and fro before she stilled, ruffled the feathers along her throat and opened her mouth to emit a sound that was too pure for this side of the veil. It was spring rain and autumn sunshine filtered through the boughs of oaks in winter.
He closed his eyes, let the music wash over him, through him until the last notes crested and faded.
“My darling,” was barely a whisper across his lips. He went to the cage, sliding a key from his pocket and into the lock. “Come,” he said, one hand sliding through the door and the bird stepped gingerly onto his palm, allowed him to guide her out.
As soon as he set her on the floor, she shivered, feathers spreading. Her small body bowed, bent, arched under the pressure of leaving the form in which she was never meant to spend her life. The feathers shrank away from her pale legs, rose over her belly, revealing soft, white flesh beneath. The legs themselves lengthened, filled, took on curves and contours, human feet.
Wings splayed, became human arms, hands with delicate nails tipping the fingers. Feathers receded along her skin like tides ebbing, except for a strip along her head that merged into a long black mass, reflecting jewel tones in the firelight.
Her face was the last to change. Beak sliding back to form a narrow nose, with a delicate arch. Her face lengthened, revealed high cheekbones, large dark eyes surrounded by thick lashes and heavy black brows that gave her an innocently vicious appearance.
Black hair, like a silken ribbon, streamed over her shoulders and down her back, stark against her paleness, parting to give teasing glances of her breasts, the soft curve of her belly, the slope of her hips.
Mouth curving at the corners, he held out his hand once more, “Come. It’s time for bed.”
Title from Wallace Stevens’s “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.”
There are some days that you hope only happen once in your lifetime, if they happen at all. Some days that you hope only happen once in a lifetime or not at all. Days that cast long shadows and make you shiver. Days where what’s happening weighs on you because you know it’s not just, not right, not going to have a good outcome (even though you hope otherwise). Days that make you itch beneath your skin with the need to do something, even when you can’t quite pinpoint what that something is, for you.
On a day like Friday, January 20th, 2017, when someone—who is ill equipped for the status in both manner and experience—ascends to the highest office in a country of great influence over world affairs, after running a campaign where xenophobia and sexism and racism and bigotry were the order of the day, I encountered of all of these sensations.
This is not a political blog insomuch as I don’t actively post about politics here (I have other social media for that). But I’m certain, from some of the pieces I write, you can easily guess at my politics. Writing is personal therefore writing is political. And I’m getting more personal for a moment.
I’m an introvert. I subsist on a few close relationships and the company of books and notebooks and the quiet of sparsely populated rooms. I’m not flashy. I don’t bloom under attention. I’m not a great orator. That is to say, I’m not the type of person I think of when I think of a person leading social interventions, rallies, marches, movements.
But I will lead. When other people aren’t fit. When other people won’t stand up. When something is wrong. I’ll do it quietly. Forcefully, if need be. And I’ll do it my way.
My way means, first and foremost, with words. Words pouring out through ink and paper or keyboard and monitor. Through fiction and non-fiction. On social media and in emails and written letters to those in office who need to be consistently reminded that they are meant to represent me and people like me.
My way means calling out falsities when I see them, and there’s a lot of work ahead in that. This last year has been chock full of misinformation, both intentional and unintentional, garnished with click-bait headlines. And this misinformation runs from Breitbart to Occupy Democrats, from Fox News to CNN. The truth and a lie are not “sort of the same thing,” and a lie on the left, while maybe targeted to a different purpose, is just as bad as a lie on the right.
So my role is to call out, to corroborate, to cite reliable sources and to deliver the message: until you can corroborate a story – especially a story that seems too good to be true or too terrible to be true – with at least three or four other reputable, reliable sources, with at least one not having a stake in the story, consider it suspect.
My way is making a promise to myself to read even more in 2017, especially non-fiction. To explore realms of political and social science with which I’m only tangentially familiar, because I’m constantly realizing how much I don’t know. And it bothers me. (Though I realize, as much as I’d like to, it’s simply not possible to know everything.)
My way is involvement. A culmination of all of the above put into action through lending myself and my time and energy, as I have it, to some kind of outreach (social media, phone banking), to internal and administrative support for the people or organizations that need it.
My way is through my privilege. I’m not rich. If a catastrophic personal event happened, I would, inevitably, wind up in a place that most people do: with expenses I can’t pay and worries of losing my livelihood. But right now, I’m comfortable. Together, my husband and I make a decent living and we, unlike many, have no real debt. We’re lucky. We’re privileged. And it’s my job to use that privilege to make things better. So I’ll be “voting with my dollar,” as it were, donating to organizations and causes that are dear to me and that will help, not just affect positive change but to decrease the negatives that will no doubt come with this administration and maintain the gains we’ve made over the last eight years.
I’ll also be subscribing to at least one of my favorite journalistic outlets, because from what we’ve seen so far there is a tug-of-war going on with the media and I don’t want it to become a full fledged war. We have a very real need for strong journalism in this country. Not just today, but tomorrow and every day and every year as we keep moving forward. Accountability is key and, even when it has its faults, journalism helps keep the public, and those who serve the public, accountable.
And it will be hard.
For some people, these next years may be the hardest they’ve been through.
These next years will be exhausting, and thankless and at times, they will probably seem endless. We’ve passed the end of one era and are in the beginning of another but, eventually, this era will too end. We may not come out of it unscathed or without losses, but we will come out of it.
Note: This is part four in an ongoing series. The previous parts are listed here. The end of part three is in italics.
“Well, you were right,” Jasper said, glancing at her. “It’s big.” He turned back to Michael. “You, my friend, are wearing the body of a convicted murderer.”
“Are you sure?” Eva said.
“Positive.” Jasper drummed his fingers along the wood of the coffee table. “Someone snatches a spirit out of a body like this, it leaves behind a….shadow. Like an afterimage? Echoes of who inhabited the body before, where they’d gone, what they’d done. That kind of thing. I couldn’t see much. And I don’t want to see more, thank you. But the person who owned this body was a murderer. And also,” Jasper slid off the table to grab the remote control, “it’s been on TV.”
He flicked the television on, turned it to the local news channel and a few human interest stories later the face of the body Michael wore filled the screen, the anchor announcing that the body of a convicted killer, who had been murdered in prison, had gone missing during transport to the funeral home in Kingsland. The driver hadn’t realized it until he’d arrived on site and gone to unload the body.
“From what I got,” Jasper spoke up again looking at Michael, “he slipped away when the driver made a pit stop. Found you parked. Pulled you out of the car. Sound about right?”
Michael’s eyes focused on something in the distance, mouth drawing down at the corners, the silver-grey smoke nearly obscuring his face as he spoke. “I was at a light. I’d just sent a text to my sister telling her I couldn’t come for dinner this weekend. The door opened. He yanked me out. And—it felt like….” Michael closed his eyes, mouth thinning out, chasing the memory of a feeling. “Velcro being ripped apart. I was looking down at my own face, smiling up at me. I’ve never smiled like that before. He pushed me into a ditch. Took my car. I—“ He trailed off, grew inhumanly still, milky eyes distant, floating in the murky water of memory and then his body shuddered as he remembered to draw breath, make words. “I saw you. At your house. I don’t remember getting there.”
“Not surprising,” Eva said. “Death is a big enough confusion on its own. Displacement is even worse,” she continued, Jasper nodding along. “Your spirit wasn’t ready to leave your body.”
The room was quiet for a moment. Then:
“What do I do?” The words were simple. She heard them every day. But Michael’s voice was full of enough grief, enough despair that Eva felt her stomach churn and clench as if it were trying to devour itself.
“First things first,” Jasper said. “You need to get this boy a new suit. He can’t be walking around in the body of a dead murderer. That’s the opposite of low key.”
“Any ideas? It’s not like we can just walk into the body store and pick out a new model.”
“No?” There was edge to Jasper’s grin that Eva didn’t like. He stood, pulling out his wallet and fishing a card from inside. He handed it to her. “Try Blue Mountain. I’d recommend looking for ones with, ah, no grieving relatives…. There’s at least one that’s bound to be a better fit than…this.” He wrinkled his nose. “And it won’t be rotting, either. That,” he nodded to the card, “is a friend of mine. You tell her what you need, she’ll help you out.”
“And you,” Michael said, wary, curious. “What will you be doing?”
“Putting out a spiritual APB for your body. The thing about people like us, Michael,” Jasper grinned, gesturing to Eva and himself “is that we really do have eyes and ears everywhere.”
For the Inspiration Monday prompt “chasing a feeling.”
Loosely, for the Darkroom prompt “coming up for air,” at Our Write Side.
Oh, I admit, it’s loosely for both prompts.
It’s been nearly a year since I added to this piece. And I’m going to blame that firmly on grad school (which I finished this past summer, yay!).
And, as always, this piece is posted with little polishing, as part of my attempts to get over the perfectionist tendencies that plague me when it comes to first drafts.
New Year. New Job. New…..everything. I’m hoping I’ll be back with another response next week.
A miniscule challenge this weekend. The telling of an entire story with a short breath.