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On the Edge of Miller’s Pond

by Rachel Leon

When Ellender Jones first saw the mass of dingy white feathers on the edge of Miller’s Pond, she thought one of the geese had died. But when she knelt by it, and searched for a head, or beak, or the bloody signs of a struggle with a predator, she found only two straps encrusted with pearls. Lifting up the feathers, she saw the smooth inside of a cape -- a bit dirty around the edges, to be sure, but nothing that couldn’t be washed later, when her mother pried her newest plaything off her back. She wasn’t supposed to be in the woods this close to sunset, and out of sight of her cabin, which sat on the edge of town and on the other side of the wooded slope from Miller’s Pond. Her mother would be taking the last of Mr. Minerva’s wash off the line about now. Then she would stir the soup in the pot too small to hold a wash load, put another log on the fire, and ring the great bell outside the door to call Ellender home. Her mother had an abundance of brown flyaway hair which she twisted firmly into a thick rope after she washed it every week. Her skin, which once was pale and freckled like Ellender’s, was now red from hours spent in the sun and over a wash basin, and her hands were large and rough. She had a faded striped housedress for every day of the week, varying only slightly in hue, and on every day but Sunday, she tied a large black butcher’s apron under her full bosom before plunging her hands into soapy water to scrub a dandy’s trousers. Mahaley Jones was 19 when she ran away with a green-eyed storyteller from the North who promised to take her away from the mining town of her birth. Take her away he did, and nine months later, leave her, in the small town where she now lived with her daughter. Too proud to return home, she brazenly pounded on every door until she found a few well-to-do clients who did not wish to wash their own laundry. Ellender liked to watch her mother as she worked; her muscular forearms flexing as she briskly wrung out a towel or waistcoat. Mahaley rarely spoke while she worked, but Ellender liked the daytime silence, which left space for thinking. She wondered, hopefully, if someday her thin arms would develop the hard, round contours of her mother’s. At night, Mahaley ladled stew into a Ellender’s chipped earthenware bowl, and gave her a chunk of crusty homemade bread, for dipping. She sat facing her daughter across the uneven slab of wood, and after eating, she would sigh and reach across the table to gently tug on Ellender’s braid. “So tell me, little duck,” she would say. “Did you find any golden eggs today?”

when Mahaley patted Ellender’s arm and asked if she had any golden eggs. Mahaley stoked the fire. and never told any story the same way twice. by the hearth. and whipped the cape out of her bag with a flourish.” she said to herself. and Ellender sprang up from where she had been sitting. and the way Mahaley said it. Ma. with her secret smile. but then I found this cape instead. nearly motionless. In the story of the knight and the dragon. Mahaley’s voice was deep and husky. Sometimes she stopped altogether in mock confusion and said. distressed. gathered Ellender onto her wide lap. She ran home.” . soft and low. warm and sweet. my dear. as she ran. spreading roots. the feathers whispering together as they slid. “Did you take this from anyone?” “No. “There was no one there! I just found it. None of the geese had ever yet laid a golden egg. a touch of sternness in her voice. feather cape drawn close around her neck. striking her knee painfully against the table in her excitement. always delighted Ellender. or laughed and tickled her mother until Mahaley gave an exaggerated sigh and finished the tale. *** Mahaley rang her bell. “But why have you been dragging it in the mud?” “No. Midway home. “I found it this way. no.a bird’s nest.” “You were out by Miller’s Pond?” Mahaley said. At first I thought one of our birds had died. or a tale of her own to share later. “It’s a coat of many feathers!” Mahaley said. but Ellender found her own treasures to bring back to Mahaley -. her thin legs a little red from the autumn chill. Ellender jumped up.This was a bit from one of the tales from the boy from the North. Every night. “The better to surprise you with. breathlessly. sometimes Ellender was the knight. a snakeskin. she untied the cape and thrust it clumsily into her knapsack with one hand.” Ellender said.” Ellender said. and sometimes the knight was the villain. although her bare feet would be cold from the draft. “I’ve lost my way. like the sap rising in an ancient tree with great. out by Miller’s Pond. And how does it end?” Then Ellender supplied her own ending. Ellender always sat. and a spot on her back would be just a shade too hot from the fire. and told her one of the tales she had learned from the boy from the North. That night. except for bath night on Saturdays. She had no book. little duck.

“No. and all she wanted in all the world was to be a fish.” “Once upon a time. which she batted around before throwing it resentfully on the fire while staring at her snoring mother.” Mahaley said. Ellender allowed Mahaley to pick her up and place her gently on the small straw cot a few feet away. Mahaley stroked her daughter’s forehead until Ellender feigned sleep. “Is it in a story? Did the boy from the North tell you?” “It is a story. and she was still just as much of a girl as ever.” Mahaley said. where she knit in silence. she’d talk to you about this. . and then she returned to her place by the fire.” Ellender muttered. and a firebird would roost in the apple tree. under Ellender’s watchful and disgruntled gaze.” Ellender began to tell herself a story.” she said in time to the sound of her heels. And then. “but if Mahaley were awake. Ellender gathered more yarn and made a little faceless doll. “The little duck must go to her nest tonight. “I’ll tell you two stories tomorrow night.” Mahaley said.” Mahaley promised.” she said. Mahaley wiped off the feathers.“I’m going to clean this and then put it away somewhere safe. “Once upon a time. Outside. the wind began to rise. locked the cape away. but when she arose. At last. I need other voices for that one. there was a gardener named Ellender. I will tell you tonight.” Ellender rolled onto her back and drummed her feet on the floor. “But Ma. “But I heard it from my own mother. and a draft caught in the chimney and whirled the sparks above the glowing embers. “Ma-ha-ley-wake-up-ma-ha-ley-wake-up-ma-ha-ley-wake-up. Her voice sounded small against the storm outside. and she kept a secret garden on top of a hill at the end of the world.” Instead. She sighed. and fell asleep by the fire. there was a girl who lived by the sea.” Ellender said. Ellender curled up by Mahaley’s feet and played cat’s cradle with a bit of yarn. She would wade into the waves and sink to the bottom and hold her breath for as long as she could. using her fingers to keep track of the characters. she had grown no fins. “If Mahaley were awake. “Did you know finding a coat of many feathers brings you good luck?” “Why?” Ellender asked. she’d tell you that story. Ellender heard a chuckle and turned her head to see Mahaley rubbing her eyes and shaking her head to wake herself. Resigned. Disappointed to miss out on a story.

I will show you that no one is there. Mahaley was sagging over her knitting. then. little duck. little duck?” said Mahaley. Mahaley looked genuinely frightened. in what she hoped was a bold tone.” Ellender said loudly.” She moved to shut the door.*** Ellender woke to the sound of a voice crying outside the door. little duck?” she said. “The wind does play strange tricks on us. “It is the wind. Barefoot. and carried the struggling child back to her bed. voice fuzzy with sleep. “Stay here. “It’s just the voice of Old Mother Wind. “What has possessed you? You need to sleep. “Come back inside.” Mahaley cocked her head to listen. a brisk pounding. “Hello!” Ellender said. “Ellender!” Mahaley said. She paused. For a moment.” “No. and so did the crying sound. “What did I tell you. Mahaley opened the door. “Open the door.” Ellender said. Then. after a brief interval. At first she saw nothing. Ellender jumped out of her cot and shook Mahaley’s shoulder. “No. Crawl back into your blankets before I open the door. I know I heard a child’s voice!” Ellender said. the wind died down. “But just to ease your mind. “Go back to sleep. trying to make her voice as deep and comforting as Mahaley’s. listen!” Ellender said. Then there was the sound of a knock on the door. “There’s nothing there. and thrust her head out of the door. only the unmistakable sigh of the wind. one round shoulder dangerously close to the hot coals spilling out across the hearth. at first soft and timid. “There’s a child crying outside our door. As she began to unlatch the door.” Mahaley said.” She pulled Ellender back inside. No sooner did she say those words than the keening sound broke into the ragged sobs of a child. and put on her gray wool coat.” Mahaley said.” she said to Ellender.” she said. shut the door. crying because she is so cold. . more urgently. “I think I hear words. she ran to the door and wrenched it out of her mother’s hand. and heard nothing. “It’s the wind. flat feet into slippers. Ma!” Ellender said.” She slid her wide. shaking her again.” “Show yourself!” Ellender said. “Ma!” “What is it. “Ma. There was no one there.” she said. Ma. And then she saw a glimmer of white around the side of the cabin.

At last she began to nod over the soup. “Do you want some soup. picking up the child. and twisted one leg in front of the other. Ellender stretched a pair of red wool socks over the child’s toes. smearing her tears across her cheeks with the heels of her hands as she sat up and turned toward Ellender. her bowl tipping perilously out of her slack hands.” she said to Ellender. cushioning her head with another blanket. Mahaley looked at Ellender and Ellender swallowed her remaining questions. guided the child’s head down to the floor. There on the doorstep was a pale. skinny arms through the sleeves. Mahaley dropped the poker.” When Ellender returned. “Where did you come from?” Ellender asked. “What’s your name?” she asked the girl.” her mother said. She set the bowl on the hearth and then wrapped the child in a blanket. Ellender shut the door as Mahaley carried the crying child to the hearth. broken by an occasional hiccup. Mahaley worked Ellender’s dress over the child’s head. little duck?” she asked the child. and swooped forward. naked girl child with long black hair. narrowly missing Ellender’s toes. . which she then filled with the soup still sitting on the hearth. Mahaley was cradling the child on her lap. and began to cry again. She drew her knees up to her chest. The child ate. She was shivering and crying as she wrapped her arms around her chest. little duck. The child’s wailing had settled to a whimper. The girl stared at her for a second and then buried her face in Mahaley’s chest. and her shins were bruised and streaked with mud. The soup had been particularly good that day: all potatoes and carrots and peas in broth seasoned with a little thyme. not stopping to speak or look up. “Go fetch your spare clothes and one of the dry towels from Mr. it sagged on the smaller girl’s frame. Ellender immediately followed her. and rubbing her bluish feet. thrusting the girl’s limp. craning her neck to see around Mahaley. “How about some nice soup to warm you up?” The girl gulped and nodded. Though the dress was nearly too tight for Ellender. “And now it’s back to bed. She blinked and looked at Ellender with brown eyes that were so dark they looked black. Mahaley rubbed the girl’s back until her crying died down. Mahaley set the child on the floor and got one of the two bowls in the cupboard. Minerva’s laundry. “Now is not the time for talking.She pulled the poker from the fire and hid it behind her back as she opened the door again. Mahaley snatched the bowl with one hand and with the other.

and that the child had the best spot already. “Can I come into your bed?” the child asked.” she said. naked. her damp black hair spilling out across the cot. her hair of one piece with the darkness outside. Startled. and Ellender thought again of the child as she had appeared at the door: pale.” Ellender wanted to say that the cot was too small for two. the child was gone. Mahaley looked at the cot. She was still shivering. Though the blanket muffled the outside noises somewhat. . Mahaley?” Ellender said. “Where did you come from?” Ellender whispered. The spare blankets and her spare clothes were back on the shelf. “Only if you bring your blanket. “I thought she was with you. and humming a fragment of an old tune to which Ellender did not know the words.” she said. and dragged it across the floor with a whispering sound. She amused herself with the exaggerated motions her hands could make. The child was silent for a minute. Ellender brushed a stray damp strand out of her eyes and spread both blankets over the two of them. “I am so cold. Mahaley was tucking the flyaway strands of her hair back into her thick braid. she pulled the blanket down and saw the child by the bed. She tried to silently tell herself a story.Ellender climbed back into bed and pulled her blanket over her head so Mahaley wouldn’t see her wide-open eyes. and then lay down next to Ellender. Ellender sat up on her cot. pressing her back against Ellender’s. So it was real. Ellender could hear the crackle of the fire as it died. The child wriggled closer. The child shuffled back to the fire to pick up the blanket. Ellender felt the soft pressure of a small hand on the blanket above her stomach. neatly folded. but she took pity on the child’s bare knees knocking together.” Ellender said. suddenly sleepy. and crying. as they were last night. and her fingers pranced across her belly under the blanket. rubbing her eyes. and the steady snoring of Mahaley. or at least had been. The wind was still whining around the corners of the cabin. *** When Ellender woke in the morning. She handed it to Ellender. and then rolled on her side. “I came from over the mountains. there in front of the fire. “Where is she.

“Where are they?” “They’re on the shelf. Weren’t you the one who put them on the shelf before running out to the pond to catch fish-kings under the ice?” “Ellender--” Mahaley started.” she said. then. “And I don’t even know your name. and Ellender stared at the child. “Where are your clothes?” Mahaley asked. and the fish dance below their glass ceiling. “I don’t know. as she fixed Mahaley with the same odd stare. “Oh! Oh.” the child said.” the child said. little --” Mahaley began. . so I can’t shout at you properly!” Ellender said. In her words.” Ellender said. She turned her head and looked at Ellender with her black eyes. loudly. “And under the ice. as the child stared at Ellender. Or a duke.” Mahaley said. “And you’re getting the floor all wet!” Ellender shouted. She was completely naked once more. Mahaley stared at the fish and then at the girl. Ellender hopped out of her cot and snatched the spare set of clothes from the shelf. The cabin was silent. perhaps from the heat of the fire.” she said finally. it’s nice and warm. Ellender caught a glimpse of the dance: of the fish who moved with easy grace through the sunlight that filters through the ice and water to glance off their rainbow scales. throwing them in the child’s face. But an important fish. Ellender felt guilty. but she smiled briefly at Mahaley and thrust the fish into her outstretched hands before snatching one of the blankets from the shelf and returning to the fire. crying child of last night.” the child said. finally. and I have caught the king and brought him to you. The child continued to stare at Mahaley. as she remembered the naked. like an inquisitive bird. going to the door and pulling it open.“Maybe she went out for a bit of air. then. “Here are your clothes.” and she stepped back. “Or the prince. The blanket had fallen away from the child’s back. as the child bounded into the cabin clutching a large trout in her hands. The child pulled the blanket over her face and began shaking. “I would like my clothes!” the child said. “But the ice. “The king?” Mahaley said. tilting her head as she did so. and Mahaley went back to fixing her braid. and Ellender could see her ivory skin was beginning to flush. “Would you like some breakfast. and water was streaming from her black hair to the floor. “Here. Then.

Ellender!” Mahaley said. waiting until Mahaley looked away before she rolled her eyes.But the child was giggling. “Fiona it is. *** . and carried her bowl to the wash basin.” “But --” Ellender pointed at Fiona. Her mother did not call after her. and put on her boots. “Ellender!” Mahaley said.” The child refused to sit at the table. She declined to use a spoon. Ellender got the door open just as her mother crossed the room. She’d forgotten to close the door behind her. “Ellender. quickly. putting on her mittens as she ran. Then she ran to the door. *** “Someone called me Fiona once. Fiona is nice. and thrust her arms through the sleeves of her coat. then. “Is that your name?” Mahaley asked. Ellender ignored her. “Wash your bowl. Ellender stuck her tongue out. and her anger warmed her limbs. Her teeth made tiny sounds against the rim. getting up from the table. get your elbows off the table. and run outside. “Sit up straight. She ate the rest of her porridge quickly. and instead perched upon her chair. Ellender straightened. and gulped her porridge straight from the bowl. “What have I told you about pointing your finger?” Mahaley said.” Mahaley said. She dashed out into the bitter morning air. “Ellender!” Mahaley said again. Ellender. We have a guest.” Mahaley said. Fiona was watching her again. shooting her a look that said. where she gave it a cursory splash and scrub before slamming it down on the counter. Good.” the child said at breakfast. “You wouldn’t be able to say my name. before Mahaley glanced at her. “But I like Fiona. and then pushed her chair back from the table. spoon halfway to her mouth.” the child said. and mittens. Ellender sighed as heavily as she could manage. boots. her toes gripping the edge as she squatted. with those large black eyes. Ellender slumped. intending to put on her coat. The porridge was warm in her stomach.

Fiona made a sound in her throat. I mean -. “They’re my spare clothes.” Fiona said. and I don’t know where to go. She didn’t look up. “I come from the North.a man.” Fiona said.” Fiona said. It had not occurred to Ellender that this strange child would have a mother. Instead. “How did she die?” “She didn’t die. she slid her fingers along Ellender’s cheeks and turned Ellender’s face to meet her own. and he came from the North. and now she’s somebody else’s mother. Her breath smelled like warm oats and honey. Ellender shut her eyes and felt the sharp cold air keenly across her raw nose and upper lip. It was a nice smell. I had to leave her behind. “Oh. “I lost her. You can have my clothes.” she said. and tried to rub Fiona’s back the way Mahaley rubbed Ellender’s.” Fiona said. but felt the child’s small body nestle down next to hers on the hard frosted ground at the far edge of the pond. “She was catching a fish. “But you have new clothes!” Ellender said. Ellender remembered all the stories.” “I don’t understand. She was crying again. but quietly. Fiona kissed her on her nose. and a man took her clothes. “I lost her.” The North. “And now someone’s taken my clothes.” she said. “I still don’t --” Ellender began. “Who are you?” Ellender said. her voice muffled by her sleeve. “The only stories I know come from my mother.Ellender was wiping the remnants of her messy cry across her coat sleeve when she felt a tap on her shoulder. and Ellender felt the last of her anger and frustration evaporate.” Ellender said.” Fiona said. not like last night. “I am going to the South. “You can have my clothes. simply. “Where is your mother?” she asked. I don’t mind. “They’re as proper as I’ve got.” . and her skin carried the faintly spicy scent of fallen leaves. She gave up the awkward attempt after a moment. which was tender and swollen from crying.” “These aren’t proper clothes!” Fiona said. I didn’t mean it. I’m sorry about being cross earlier. or who I belong to.with my eyes? He was a storyteller.” Ellender said. “Have you seen a boy -.” Ellender said. “He was my father.” she added. Fiona did not answer.

But one of the young men was more curious than the others. where she took off her feathers.” She picked at the fabric of her skirt. “We were the first to walk the earth.” Fiona said. and he ran back to his camp. and worshiped us. I mean.” Fiona said.” “Tell me. Without her wings.’ the oldest child said.” Ellender said. her children asked her what was the matter.” “Do your people have any happy stories?” Ellender asked. At last. He took her feathers. and he thought she was very beautiful. Ellender thought of the dingy feathers locked away in the chest by Mahaley’s bed. And he watched and waited. they’re all grey and flat. “What do you think happened?” “My mother told me a story about the feathers once. once. he followed her to the edge of a lake. “Her father put it away for good luck.” “And?” “And I don’t know. the lie coming easily. “It’s good. she looked just like one of the human women in the water. in a voice that was suddenly oddly formal. she bore him seven children in seven years. and left the woman at home with the seven children. The woman did nothing but weep and sing sad songs of the life she once had. In the seventh year. the woman came to him. . Fiona stroked her hair. I can’t make wings out of them. and dove in. where he buried the wings in a hole beneath a great stone. “In the early days. seizing her hand.” “We taught humans how to speak and they called us gods or angels. “Look. “I heard a story about a girl in town who found one. and was instantly returned to her former form.“No. by a river. She laid her head in Fiona’s lap. “Do you mean a coat of many feathers?” Ellender said. The woman spread her wings across her shoulders. ‘Why.” Fiona intoned. and though she never smiled. that was all I heard. He saw one of our own. he found nothing but a few stray feathers. and she fetched the wings from the hole beneath the rock.” Ellender said.” She stopped. when the full moon was high in the sky. I saw Father looking at them under the great stone. we ruled the air and the earth and the water. and she told them of her lost wings. And that night. the man went on a long hunting trip. before the humans began to multiply. When the man returned to his camp. isn’t it? This is just how my mother used to tell it. “Have you seen it?” Fiona said. until one evening.” Ellender said. but not before she turned her children into a flock of ducks. “It’s the oldest story I know.

“Yes. And as long as she has that feather. with a library full of books. Mahaley never doing another stitch of laundry in her life. her legs light and hollow underneath Ellender’s head. “I’ve never been without my luck before.“Well. “If I ever get my feathers back. Something -.” Fiona said. “But I did that this morning without any of my luck. The return of the green-eyed storyteller. A sudden wind blew Fiona’s black hair across her face. “What is flying like?” Ellender asked. but she does get her freedom in the end. her ink will never run dry. could clip its wings and make it lay a thousand golden eggs. Ellender skinned the bark from two fallen branches. She had the creature by the neck. we leave a feather behind. Ellender saw a tear course down her cheek. where Ellender had discovered the feathers only the day before. “If you could get your hands on a piece of good luck”--Ellender thought of the feathers around her shoulders. too solemnly. Fiona made them two crowns of leaves. “Sometimes--not often--when we fly away. Her head was still in Fiona’s lap. and then of Fiona’s arms around her-.” She fell silent. “But what would you wish for?” Ellender asked.” Fiona said. tying the stems together quickly with her nimble fingers. each a wish that could be hatched in her small warm hands. and the child shifted. little duck. I’ll take you.” *** Fiona took her to the far side of Miller’s Pond. Mahaley had said. and half of her mouth twitched.” Fiona said.” Fiona said.” She laughed. and when the gust died away. “And sometimes--not often--one of your storytellers finds such a feather.“what would you wish for?” “A rather large fish.guilt? longing? -. . “I don’t know what wishing is like. “Fiona.twisted in Ellender’s insides.” Fiona said. that one isn’t happy all the way through. *** Good luck. Ellender thought of a bigger house.” she continued.” Ellender didn’t mean to say it aloud.

until Fiona. “And I’ll get you your wings back. facing out toward Miller’s Pond. I don’t want to wait that long. propping herself on her elbows. lunging in a mock attack.” Fiona said. “Let me up. “What if you belonged to me?” Fiona shook her head.” she said. She stopped. It was hard to breathe. “But I want you to give it to me. about rubbing the belly of a lamp until it gleamed with the heat of desire. one wish then?” Ellender asked. catching her by the waist and throwing her to the ground. “You stole my clothes. But please. They fought until they were warm under the chill autumn sun. Ellender sat up all the way and held her. the woman had to wait until she had seven children before she found her wings again. She sat on a stump and assumed a regal posture. “On your honor.” She moved her right leg to sit sideways on Ellender’s lap. isn’t it?” . “That is how it works.. We can pretend we belong.“Are you making me your queen?” Fiona asked as Ellender handed her the staff. her black hair gleaming under the golden and red leaves. “No one is going to take you away.” “You can’t belong to me.” “Fiona. didn’t you?” Ellender said. straddling her. just spend the day with me. Then.” “So. and parried Ellender’s gentle blow.” Ellender said. I don’t know who I belong to.” Fiona asked. “Three wishes?” Her mother had told her a story about three wishes once. stand and fight!” When Fiona didn’t move. with a sound between a laugh and a sob. That’s not belonging. Ellender knocked the two staves together. When they come to take me away from you--” She looked down and drew a breath. “Anything. raw with excitement and the autumn wind.” Fiona said. laughing. yelled like a wild thing and dove at Ellender.” Ellender said. “You must grant me. “I like you. “I shall never give you the throne!” Fiona said. I don’t know where they’ll take me. dropping her staff. the breath catching in her lungs. “I don’t know what I want.. “I can’t belong to you. “No. We’re playing pretend together. “I don’t know how it works.” Ellender sat up halfway. She threw Ellender’s staff away and. “In the story. “I’ve never belonged to one of your kind.” she said.” Fiona said.” Ellender said. pinned her wrists to the ground above Ellender’s head.

” “She’ll know you were when I beat you back. “Where’s my North?” Fiona said. “Come look at this bird!” Fiona shouted. “If we take too long. “It knows you’re not a bird. and then she would -.she must -.” Ellender said. “Run. She wasn’t hurt. and flew away. she shook her head as if to clear it. “Get down here. Ellender raised her hand to point North. Soon the bell would ring.” Fiona said. The bell rang. She was perched on a branch about 15 feet up. and when Ellender helped her up.she couldn’t -. “Did I do it right?” she asked. and drew it back in a second later. It was only inches from Fiona. A woodpecker.” Fiona said. and she would take Fiona home. but not taking her eyes off the bird. breathless and laughing as she leaned against Ellender. and wasn’t looking.and that’s where she stopped. Good luck.” Ellender said. Mahaley will know we were on the far side of the pond. feathers mussed but clean. Good luck. Fiona hopped lightly from branch to branch. the bird twitched its head around. looked at Ellender.” Ellender said. and then lengthened again. but when she was still a few yards away. imitating the posture of a small speckled bird that hung upside down on the trunk beside her.” Fiona stuck her tongue out. “You learn quickly. a story to tell her own child one day. She and Mahaley had always been complete. Mahaley had said. fell from the lowest one. She tumbled. “I’m not coming up there after you. “Come here!” Fiona hissed. because she couldn’t bring herself to think of what happened after she put the feathers back in Fiona’s hands. Ellender crept closer to the tree. And all she’d have was a fading memory. No. She wished she’d never set eyes on the feathers.*** Ellender was acutely conscious of the passage of time as the shadows beneath the trees shortened. but Fiona had buried her head in Ellender’s shoulder. And then -.she would drag the chest out and unlock it and give Fiona her wings back. She felt like Mahaley when she added. and sprinted away. but now they would only ever be two out of the three. with a touch of smugness in her voice. She wished she’d never gone out to Miller’s Pond. and her head was cocked upside down. but it did not move or look at her. drilling into the wood of the oak tree. Mahaley said. . beckoning with her hand.

where she threw the feathers at Fiona’s feet. You’ve got your wings back. ignoring Mahaley’s exclamation of “Oh. The feathers moved and settled as she opened the chest. “I found them last night. .” Fiona didn’t say anything and Ellender closed her eyes. except then you told me. like they were breathing. very quickly. pushing her away. The feathers were shifting. smoothing. “You found my wings!” Fiona said. She looked so natural. She might cry or vomit. She couldn’t get the key into the lock. She looked like she belonged.“Why do you need wings when you can run that fast?” Ellender called after her. She ran past them and into the cabin. She looked domesticated. She couldn’t watch her take her wings and fly away. but she gritted her teeth and seized the feathered cape in her hand. her chest heaving. a story you tell your children. the pinions bending in her tight grasp. She didn’t know. Fiona was wearing the cape of feathers. and I’ll just be a story to you. then. “I wanted you to belong to me.” Ellender felt two hands on her shoulders. Because none of this is real. “Ellender.” Ellender said. She wanted to close the chest again. Mahaley. and threw the lid open. When she got back. She slipped her hands into Ellender’s. and shook Fiona by the shoulders.” Mahaley said. “No!” Ellender said. “I found them. when Ellender opened her eyes.” she said. “Ellender. “You don’t understand. and then she had her arms around Ellender. “You haven’t asked me what I want. “But you found them!” Fiona said. Ellender felt sick. This entire day was just pretending. keening child carried to their door last night by the autumn wind. “Don’t. so unlike the wild. her voice hard and flat. She couldn’t look up. straightening. “I heard they were good luck. I didn’t know they were yours. by Miller’s Pond. Ellender looked up. Back outside. “I wanted you to stay.” Fiona said. You can’t stay. because I wanted you to stay. Fiona was helping Mahaley take the wash off the line. Just go. and I meant to keep them. But you can’t.” The horrible sick feeling was getting worse. and you’re going to the South. there you are. realized she had it upside down. so matter-of-fact in Ellender’s spare clothes. couldn’t look at the surprise and anger and hurt that would flush Fiona’s face and dilate her pupils. and throw away the key.” The key to the chest was dusty on the shelf next to the silver teapot from Mahaley’s mother. she thought. “What?” Fiona’s voice was small.” she said. turn the lock.” she said. and I still didn’t tell you.

and you couldn’t leave. and cocked her head sideways.” she said. “Don’t forget your hat and scarf. Then she straightened.” Ellender remembered her hat but forgot her scarf. after all. and she was just Fiona in a cape of feathers.” Fiona said. and used his sparrow form to get into houses through cold chimneys and open windows. Mahaley said nothing when Ellender did the same. Then Mahaley told her story.” Mahaley said when Ellender opened her eyes the next morning. Ellender began crying.” “Today was real. curled in a ball. and Ellender found that she was laughing. entirely covered by her feathers. “No. “This is for Mahaley. “Ellender says you have the best stories.” Fiona continued. “I know what I want. and the room was dark and cool. When she awoke. as she wrapped a coat around her nightie and ran out the door. she was in her bed.” Ellender said.” She took Ellender by the hand and led her into the cabin. As Fiona told the story. where Mahaley broke the fish into hot. her borrowed clothes in a heap behind her.” “The woman had seven children and did nothing but weep. too. a bird-man who lived on an untended farm among the humans. she looked more birdlike than ever. “I did catch it this morning.” Fiona said after they washed the dishes. flaky pieces. Fiona was next to her. Fiona was barefoot by the side of the pond. “You make me happy. Many a farmer found his stock of seed diminished. She turned as Ellender approached. She plucked a feather from her cape and gave it to Ellender. Fiona ate with her hands. So Fiona told a story about a trickster. Ellender put an arm over the child. making sleepy clicking sounds in her throat. “Tell us a story. she imitated the strut and the sudden movements of the sparrow.” she said. Mahaley. . and Ellender felt the sick feeling dissolve. “I took your wings.” “Only if you tell us one. Ellender. When Ellender still didn’t respond. it’s just magic. and served it with carrots. or missed a coin or two from his purse. but Ellender did not hear it.” she said. and Fiona moved closer to her. *** “She’s waiting for you down at Miller’s Pond. and she perched upon her chair.” Mahaley said. because she was dreaming about flying south with Fiona. With her feathers covering everything from next to ankles.“I’d like to have supper with you.

stretching up to kiss Ellender on the cheek.Ellender’s throat filled with all the words she couldn’t say. “I wish to see you again in the spring. © 2013 Rachel Leon . and Ellender watched the swan fly out of sight beyond the line of trees. She held one of Fiona’s hands instead. Then her great white wings carried her upwards. leaving her alone among the eddying dry leaves at the edge of Miller’s Pond.” Fiona said.