riding the thermals,
tossed north and east in turns by the crosswinds,
heading toward a tiny wooden pier.
It's tinted gold and orange by the sunset.
“What do you think it would it be like?” Grace kicked her feet, her toes barely skimming the cool water of the lake, but her eyes were on the sky. She spread her arms as if she could feel the wind under them.
“What?” Stella didn’t glance up from the copy of Feather-Blessed she was reading.
“You sit in an uncomfortable seat and if you’re lucky, you have a window to look out of.”
“That’s not flying—that’s—being flown!”
“Don’t let Batty Hattie catch you using words like that.”
Grace ignored the reference to their English teacher, and looked up, up, up. Far above was a tiny wisp of—cloud? No. It was falling, like a snowflake, out of a clear blue sky on a summer’s day.
and the feather drifts downward,
over the dark girl’s head.
It brushes her forehead like a benediction,
and lands in her upraised hand.
“Look at this!” Grace turned to Stella, but Stella’s nose was firmly buried in her book. Grace’s book, actually. And it was a good book, that’s why she’d loaned it to Stella. Noticing that Stella was almost at the end, Grace took pity on her friend, and fell silent. It was that book that first triggered her longing to fly.
Grace turned her back to her friend, and her attention to the feather. It was fluffy, and curled—a breast feather, like from over the heart of a bird. It was a delicate pink, but in the sunset, it glowed with gold and orange and the purest, brightest white. And it was huge, longer than her hand. Just like in the book.
It pulsed, sending off tiny showers of gold light.
After a while, Stella looked up. “Wow! What a book.”
Grace stuffed the magic feather into her pocket, protectively, then turned. “It is, isn’t it?”
“Do you think something like that could really happen? A feather that—changes you?
“Nah.” Grace could feel the feather pulsing in her pocket. “It’s just fiction.”
Stella’s shoulders slumped, and she looked down. “I guess you’re right.”
“Hey, you were the one being cynical a minute ago.”
“Habit. But this book—“
“It makes you believe in magic. No wonder you’ve been staring at the sky for days.”
“Oh, stop playing dumb!” Stella moved to the edge of the pier, and trailed her pale toes through the water. “If one of those feathers came to you, which would you pick? Dragon, gryphon, or fairy?”
Grace considered. Hand, forearm, or shoulder? “I wonder what would happen if I pierced my foot?”
“You’d probably just waste the magic, doing that!”
“Ok, dragon, then.
“Not a fairy? Fairies can hide their wings, and stay here. Go to school, even.”
“If you were going to just stay here, why do it at all?”
Stella stared at her, her eyes bright and intense. “So, you’d really use the magic, change yourself, and fly away?”
Grace squirmed. “It’s fiction, remember?” Her pocket throbbed.
“If.” Grace looked up, imagining what it would be like to soar high above everything she knew. “Well, ever since reading that book, I have yearned for the sky.”
“You just finished it!” Grace picked the book up from the pier and turned her attention to the cover, where bright-winged fairies danced with colorful gryphons and dragons.
“What, you had to sleep on it to feel it?”
Stella kicked at the water. “If—if you did, would you just fly away from—“ She paused, not meeting Grace’s eyes. She twisted her pinkies together and Grace realized what she was asking. “—here?”
Grace grabbed Stella’s hand and linked their pinkies, swinging their hands together in their own private ritual, the book resting where it fell in her lap. “I promised I’d always be your best friend. I can’t just—wouldn’t just—fly away from here, leaving you behind.” But if the book was right, she’d have to do just that, enter a new world, all alone, and leave her friend behind. Even the fairies left, eventually.
She hugged Stella, ignoring the throbbing magic in her pocket. “If I found a feather, I’d—I’d throw it away.”
Grace nodded firmly. “Really.” She stood up, and jammed the book in her pocket on top of the feather, hoping to squash it into stillness. “Come on, I have enough money to buy us each an ice cream cone.”
shedding magic motes into the girl’s pocket,
and into the pages of the book.
It absorbs the cool, clean scent of ice cream,
and its colors deepen.
Grace ignored the feather and the book for the rest of the day, until she was undressing for bed. Then she pulled them out of her pocket. The feather was still perfect, still glowing and throwing off shiny sparkles.
Thinking of Stella, she didn’t drive the beautiful quill into her own skin, not the shoulder for fairy wings, not the forearm for gryphon wings, and not the hand for dragon wings. Not even a foot, for some kind of mystery adventure.
But she also didn’t throw it away. She stood over the wastebasket with it in her hand until her mother tapped on the door, reminding her bedtime was past. Unable to drop the feather into the trash, she shoved it into the book. “Ok. Mom.”
She pushed the book into the back of her closet, under her winter boots and ice-skates, and firmly closed the door.
All night, she dreamed of flying.
frilly edges glowing in the tiny, dark room,
waiting for a hand or a breeze to lift it
once again into the air.
Waiting for a dreamer to bless.
Copyright © 2010 Deirdre M. Murphy
There's a sequel here.
Please, leave me a comment below to let me know what you think.