The Blue Jay’s Daughter: Commelina…Backwards, Part 19

dscn2413Monday the 13th – Year of Elders, 1967 – The Village of Almado

We’re all mirrors. All reflecting. All broken in some way, cracked from side to side, the fracture lines bringing with them our distortions. The way we can look at ourselves in what should be absolute clarity and yet somehow get ourselves all wrong. Misunderstand the world behind us, reflected backwards. The world in the mirror. We think we’ve interpreted the reverse impeccably, but we never account for the mirror being broken. What to do with such misapprehension?

The pond is not a pond.

I’ve been looking at it all wrong, deceived by the crack in my mirror.

This doesn’t mean that Commelina isn’t a swan, or that the pond, whatever it truly is, hasn’t become somewhat of a pond over time. If we look at things one way for long enough they take on aspects of the reality we impose upon them, like the box of my mama’s things. In the reality I have imposed upon it, all the answers I seek are within its clutches. That heavy object and the light one falling in its wake. This may not be the case, just as my mama may not be fading. That is my perception of her reality.

She may be experiencing reality very differently.

To her, we may all be fading and she the only thing still solid.

Who is to say whose reality is correct in this case? The simple answer? All of our realities, and perhaps none, because we cannot confirm them. We are the only explorers of our particular experience. Only we know what happens within the liminal spaces at the edges of our perceptions as they, supposedly, intersect with the real. Do we even know what’s real? I would argue we only know what we believe to be real. Any objective understanding of our subjective realities is impossible. Tell me we can place machines on those edges that define what we cannot. How would I respond?

Can a machine you have programmed from within your subjectivity ever be objective?

Maybe it reads what you want it to read, working with all the wrong information you believe to be right, functioning only within the limitations of your broken understanding. Your broken mirror.

To learn you have to let go. Allow yourself to drift.

After the receipt of my mama’s box I waited for a long time in my room, plagued by recurring thoughts of the mirror cracking, until it became unbearable. I decided then that I did not, could not, know. I went to my mama’s room, left the box on her pillow and went down to sit by the pond. Facing fears is the only way to neutralise them.

I sat and watched my Commelina swim to and fro, round and round, until we came to an understanding she and I. She stopped her agitations and crept from the water much like a frightened, bedraggled pup to huddle against my leg. Then we two sat, watching the water, the delicate striation of the crack, its soft rippling like the distant rustle of leaves. And I understood.

‘The pond is not a pond,’ I said to her.

‘So what is it?’ A voice from behind composed of two voices. I know these voices. My twins. My owls. My friends.

‘I don’t know yet,’ I replied. ‘If I’m quiet, it’ll tell me what it is in its own good time.’

‘And your mama’s box?’

‘I left it on her pillow. It belongs to her. I have no right to it.’

A hand on my shoulder, reassuring, re-imposing my place in the world though I didn’t realise how thin it had become until that moment, and they were gone, as if they were shed feathers whisked off by the wind.

I think perhaps they are gone forever. That they were only here for this. What did they call the box?

A catalyst.

Commelina and I are still here. We observe the water that is not water, the tide that is a crack, and we wait. We wait to be informed. Maybe whilst I am sat here my mama will open her box, will find what the twins saved of her, and remember herself. I hope so. The box is a gift. Not to me, never to me. I was merely the delivery girl. I find I am at peace with that. I have no connection to this reality, this life. If it is a dream, then I am ready for her to wake up and forget me. If she is my dream, then I want her to remember who she was before I wake up.

And if neither of us is sleeping?

Perhaps we should open our eyes.

 

© Ren Warom 2014

The Blue Jay’s Daughter: Commelina…Backwards, Part 18

Blue_FeathersMonday 25th – Year of Elders, 1867 – In the Shadow of Almado.

 

Extract from the diary of Helena Birch:

 

Sleep evades me here. Like dusk hangs on to the last of the sun, so too does my mind hang on to consciousness in this place. Turns over and over each tiny thought until, like stones in snow, they become massive cumbersome things that roll across my mind, leaving devastation in their wake.

Without sleep, I cannot dream.

If I could dream, I would dream of feathers, of the wind carrying me beneath the bellies of clouds, high enough to render the ground a study in miniature. In minutiae. That is all of life, the smallest detail, the myriad tiny moments that build a day, a life, a future. All of which I have lost. They have slipped between my fingers as I have slipped, lost my self, my way, the very thing that set me apart: my feathers.

Only a few hours ago I sat sewing in the waning light with Assumption and Avarice. We no longer need to speak. I feel a strange communion with them here, as if I have been enfolded into the twin-ship between them. As such I am uncertain whether this constant urge to let them take my place on the wire comes from my own mind or from that connection.

Do they want me to leave, or do I?

I almost asked them, but what use are words? Even the birds curtail their song here. All of us are silent, all of us are waiting.

Perhaps this is why, when our sewing was done, I began walking and did not look back. I heard them calling for me, telling me to come and get in my costume, but I am done with pretending. If I have no feathers I cannot fly and must resign myself to walking. They will dance the wire tonight. Simple as that. Almost too easy.

I have come into the centre of Almado, where I hope they will not look for me, assuming I have run away to the bustle of the town. From a distance, Almado appears formidable, the tall white walls of the houses like armour amongst the trees, but up close it’s a nothing village, composed of a few mediterranean-style houses, a school, a gathering of home-spun shops all nestled about a duck pond. I could have been happy here, I think.

Almado was abandoned before the turn of the century, in seventeen ninety-six, when the first big town was built nearby. We use the stretch of land beside it to entertain the townsfolk as it’s the only flat space for miles around, the rest of this area being composed of craggy hills or forest. Although we’ve been here every year for the last eighteen or so, I’ve never explored the village and I’m surprised by how perfect it is. How untouched. Undefeated by time or nature.

It feels as though everyone just now set down their cups, their aprons, their bikes and might come back at any second. The wind through the trees seems to carry their voices, as if I might turn a corner and find women laughing, men bartering, children playing. Even the pond looks only recently vacated, ripples carved across the surface as if a swan has swept its clumsy way into flight.

I stand for many minutes waiting for the ripples to fade, but they remain, stretched across the water like a crack in glass. I wonder then if this is a pond at all, or some reservoir of an underground tributary, flowing from up in the hills. Can reservoirs from underground source rivers have tidal activity beneath the surface? It’s the only thing I can think of to explain the persistent ripple.

I understand tides, they come without warning and sweep everything away

Flight. Freedom. All gone. Washed up on some distant shore.

I thought this was my shore, that I could find myself again if I only came and looked. But I have been looking. Peering in through dusty windows and the cracks between door and frame, finding nothing but emptiness, and silence, the sense of only just missing life by a hair, a feather.

Standing here looking at this tide, I understand I was mistaken. What I lost is not here, it was captured by whatever tide swept through my life and taken far away from me, somewhere entirely unfamiliar. Maybe too far for me to reach. Who knows how far a tide can flow, how distant the shore it might reach, tides are slaves to the moon, much as we are. Perhaps that is why we’re so vulnerable.

But do all tides flow in the same direction, and can I use that?

Tide against tide. Tide seeking tide.

I strip the clothes from my body. Slip into the cool enfold of the water. I will swim this tide over and over, searching for a way to reverse the damage done, hoping against hope that my arms will rise from the water covered in feathers. That I can restore myself. And then, perhaps, the birds will sing to me. Or I to them.

After all, with my feathers, am I not a Blue jay?

 

© Ren Warom 2014

The Blue Jay’s Daughter: Commelina…Backwards, Part 17

6a00d8341c589d53ef01538ec44c9a970b-600wiTuesday the 7th – Year of Elders, 1967 – The Village of Almado

The mirror crack’d from side to side.

It’s all I can think of. I keep returning to the pond to watch the line, to will it away. I am scared of the line. More than the silent birds, more than my mother’s gradual fading, more than these secrets between us that I am afraid to broach. I want to take my mama to the line and show her.

She’ll understand then. She’ll tell me everything I need to know.

Or she’ll disappear.

I keep seeing Commelina, though she no longer comes over to me. She’s agitated these days. She skirts the edges of the pond, her dark eyes scanning. I think maybe she expects Rio to return through that crack. She could be right. I’d prefer that. I’d prefer the return of her husband to my mama’s disappearance. Or mine. That’s what the line says to me. Endings. It began with the pond. Or at least I think it did. For me, anyway.

There are times I’m certain it began with my mama.

And that it will end with her.

This evening I visited Assumption and Avarice. They are also quiet with foreboding. They won’t speak of the line. They sent me to see it, and that’s where it ends for them. They serve me tea and cake, and tiny pastries filled with cheese so strong it makes my eyes water. And we sit in silence, a Blue Jay and two snowy owls, communing without words in the cool confines of the kitchen.

Steam rises between us. Obscures our faces. But we do not need to see one another.

I am here, and they are here. Until we are gone.

That’s how it should be. That’s how it always is, for everyone.

Before I left, they gave me a box. Nothing special. Quite ugly in fact. An old, battered tin box, fraying paper clinging to the lid on yellowed glue, dents and dings warping the once square shape out of skew.

‘What is this?’

‘A catalyst.’

‘Can I open it?’

They shake their heads. Synchronised swimming. ‘Not yet.’

‘When?’

One of them reaches out to touch my arm, just above the elbow. Such cool hands they have, their fingers smooth as marble. ‘You’ll know.’

‘It was mama’s, wasn’t it?’

I know I’m right. The knowledge came through my skin from the box itself. I tilt it just a little. Something heavy inside, and something that makes a faint scratching noise. Their hand goes from my elbow to steady the box. An admonition in that movement. Unmistakable. I feel like a naughty child, caught stealing.

‘Be careful with it,’ they tell me. Sharply. ‘It is a memory, and memories are fragile. They warp, fade, sometimes they change beyond recognition.’

‘But it was hers, yes?’

They share a look. One that cuts me out of the conversation. I am no longer in the room. In the world. I am a whisper, locked in a box, lost and forgotten. I hold myself in my hands. Then they look at me, and I exist again. It is the most peculiar sensation. Not entirely unpleasant.

‘It was,’ they say. ‘But she must not see it.’

‘Why?’

‘Not yet. Soon she will ask to see it. Then you may show it to her.’

I think this means that soon my mama will tell me her secrets. I hope it means that. There’s so little of her left though. If she takes too long to come around then she may be gone before she gets the chance to bring me into her confidence. I pass her when I come home, and we carefully avoid each other’s eyes. That’s how we communicate now.

It’s all we communicate. Our desire not to see one another.

I place the box in my dresser, where I know she will not go looking, and then sit staring at my face in the mirror. I don’t see my face at all though. I see the pond again. That mirror-smooth surface intersected by one long unbroken line. And I whisper it to myself. All of it. Daring it to come, and terrified it will listen.

‘The mirror crack’d from side to side. “A curse is come upon me”, cried the Lady of Shalott.’

 

© Ren Warom 2014

 

1815_Albino Barred Owl Crop

The Blue Jay’s Daughter: Commelina…Backwards, Part 16

1815_Albino Barred Owl CropSunday 5th – Year of Elders, 1967 – The Village of Almado

 

I went to visit Commelina. She’s been absent for a while at my wire walks. A few days maybe. I’d have gone sooner, but I’m ashamed to say I failed to notice her absence immediately. It was Assumption, or perhaps Avarice, who told me.

 

They come, alone, to the wire. It’s strange to see one without the other. They look limbless somehow. Reduced. As if the mirror that gives them substance in the world by reflecting their other half into existence is gone. I feel I should close one eye. Or both. They make me uneasy like this.

I step from the wire. Climb down to the ground. I think having ground beneath my feet will make it easier to see them. It doesn’t. The ground is real, it’s solid, but they are still wrong. Still singular and reduced.

‘Where’s Assumption?’ It comes out more of an accusation than I intended. But really, how dare they scare me like this. I am scared. I am afraid the other is dead. If I make them name themselves, then I magic the other back into existence. Names are power. So are words. But they do not cooperate, as if I could expect any different. They raise a brow, look upon me loftily. Something of the owl in that gaze. I am being hunted. Or something about me is.

‘Who?’ they ask.

If this is a game, I refuse to play. But then I make a guess, which is playing after all. ‘Avarice?’

They smile. Frost on berries. Is that amusement or anger? They show no emotion so easy to decipher. ‘Does it matter?’

This takes me aback. Does it? Is this their game or mine? Is it a game at all? I replay what they said, what I said, and realise how I have behaved. Why should they conform to my comfort? Any discomfort I feel in seeing only one alone is mine. I have no right to lay blame elsewhere. Shame is like acid reflux, it burns in the throat and heart. ‘No. I expect it doesn’t.’

They gesture to take in the woods. ‘Who else is missing?’

‘What?’

‘You heard. Think. Who is missing here?’

 

That’s when I knew. Without thinking, without looking. I knew she had not been here, not today and not for a while perhaps.

 

‘How long?’

‘A few days perhaps. She’s on the pond. You might want to visit.’

‘That’s all you came for.’ Know one thing, and all the rest falls into place.

‘She comes for tea. She misses you.’

‘So why doesn’t she come to the wood?’

‘You’ll see.’

 

They left after that. A ghost drifting between the trees. One they were gone I was uncertain if they’d even been there. Felt tempted to run fast as I could, beat them to their cottage and see if indeed both would still be there, laughing at their joke. It would be just like them to send a ghost to me and call it one alone. But I didn’t do that. Instead I went to the lake, to Commelina. Partially that was guilt, and partially worry. They gave me reason to believe something was keeping her away, from the wood at least. Or the wire. Or is it me on the wire in the woods? One of those perfect connections that shorts out the world? I know it. I feel it. Perhaps she does.

Visiting her gave me no answers. Not immediately.

In the last light of the day, the surface of the pond was smooth as glass. I couldn’t see Commelina at first. She was hidden, drowned in the embers of sunlight crackling along the far bank. The lake seemed different. It took me a while to work out why. And then I saw it. Right through the centre, from one side to another, ran a line, fine as a hairline crack in a window, breaking the surface. I moved to one side, then to another, but it wouldn’t go away. Not an illusion then. But of course it was. With a surprisingly joyful trumpet, Commelina broke away from sunlight and came flurrying across the water toward me, straight through the line.

That was the end of it. I forgot all about the line. Spent an hour and a half sat quiet with Commelina, watching the sun seep away and stars prickle through the darkening of the sky.

 

It’s only now that I am home, sat in front of my looking glass to brush my hair before dinner, that I think of the line.

And I realise.

When she swam through it, the line did not break.

 

© Ren Warom 2014

The Blue Jay’s Daughter: Commelina…Backwards, Part 15

Sequins_macroYear of Elders, 1865 – Somewhere beyond the state line

Extracts from the diary of Helena Birch:

I haven’t written for a long time. Not properly. Days passed like ticks in a box. Acknowledged but not explored. Treated how they’ve felt. Brief. Unimportant. Routine. We moved away from the shadow of Almado, where I thought I had found myself, but as that shadow diminished into days of distance behind us, then weeks, then months, I found that I had put myself down somewhere safe and forgotten where to find me.

I am still looking. I begin to wonder if I didn’t leave myself back there. Hidden in the shadow.

Remember when I had feathers from my neck to my ankles? I remember. Those days are gone. My feathers began to shed almost as soon as I realised how much of myself I’d lost. Luxurious growth to bare skin in mere days. I woke weeping the day the last feather fell, as though I felt it desert me in my sleep.

What have I done wrong?

Sometimes a small patch of them will grow briefly between my breasts. Or, if I’m lucky, they’ll spring up along the undersides of my arms. We set up my practice wire outside most days, and on those rare occasions the feathers come on my arms I’ll creep out in the middle of the night, climb the ladder to my wire and make my way out to the centre. Stand with my arms bare and straight. Feel the breeze on my feathers. Gentle fingers bidding me to come and play. If only.

I once thought I could fly on these feathers. I should have tried.

On these nights, offering the breeze my feathers to play with, I’ll toy with the notion of leaping into the darkness below my wire. That empty pit offering up only solid ground to me now. Just as when I had my feathers, I stop short of ever leaping. Perhaps that’s why my feathers started deserted me. Because I didn’t leap when I could.

Fear is the loss of the means to fly.

Year of Elders, 1865 – Somewhere beyond the state line

Extracts from the diary of Helena Birch:

Assumption and Avarice came to me today whilst I sat outside my caravan sewing sequins onto my costume. Without my fancy feathers I need sequins to stand out in a crowd. Except this crowd wears enough sequins to fill a stadium to the brim. Instead of standing out, I blend in.

Perhaps that is my problem?

I looked up from sewing to find them standing there. They rarely make a sound. I used to jump every time they appeared this way, silent and still, waiting for me to notice them, but I don’t jump anymore. It’s as if my body has become resigned to their ability to appear as if from out of nowhere. Even the wondrous becomes normal if it happens often enough.

I smiled good morning, and one of them, it doesn’t matter which, said to me, ‘Teach us the wire.’

‘We know how to dance,’ said the other.

Which is true. They are finer dancers than I am. More graceful, more ethereal, their bodies capable of shapes mine would sooner break than form.

‘Why?’ I didn’t know if I wanted to know or not. Who can truly know what goes on in the minds of those two? They are as strange and wonderful as the pearlescent hue of their flesh, the pink jewels of their eyes, the silken fall of their ghost-white hair.

They huddled closer together, as if for warmth, their hair rising like the feathers of baby owls gathered in the hollow of a tree.

‘Will you teach us?’ asked one.

‘Or not?’ added the other.

They stood there, arms folded about each others’ waists. They were like a sculpture of ice and blood. I could have asked why again, why this sudden urge to learn my skill, but it occurred to me that ‘why’ was a pointless question in this instance. Who cared why? They asked a favour of me, one I was able to perform, so I should perform it.

Life is often this simple. It is our inherent reach for cruelty that often makes it less so. A favour asked is power. And who amongst us does not feel the temptation to warp beneath that particular burden? It is a siren song.

‘Of course,’ I said, and resumed sewing. ‘Be at the wire this evening,’ I said, trying to avoid stabbing my finger. I am a terrible sewer.

When they didn’t answer, I looked up to find them gone, and the needle stabbed directly into my thumb. Deep into the pad. My blood was the colour of ripe plums. I smeared it beneath the sequins and carried on sewing.

What else can we do but carry on?

When this costume is finished, I will wear it on the wire and know that some of these sequins harbour the secret of my blood. Flush to the fabric, I know these sequins will keep my secret well until one day, when the threads rot or break, and everyone will see how I bled.

 

© Ren Warom 2014

The Blue Jay’s Daughter: Commelina…Backwards, Part 14

5122643511_f3fd9fa433_zWednesday 25th – Year of Elders, 1967 – The Village of Almado

 

I stand in my room in the darkness. A pool of it. A valley of shadow between windows bursting with light. Slow, so slow, I rise up. Heels first, followed by the roll onto the ball of the foot, the pop to the toes. My arms rise as I rise. Into the light. One red, one blue. Warmth bathes me from finger-tip to shoulder. My skin shudders, pores emulating my feet, and with them my feathers ruffle. A perfect crest along the rise of each arm.

Feathers like leaves turn to the sun.

They rustle in the quiet of the room.

I hum to them. I imagine the breeze sings like this to birds. Calls them from the branches to play between the clouds, diving and swooping. I teeter, my toes dancing on the bare polished wood of the floor. I dream of flying but am grounded. I dream the wind will catch me but I dare not leap.

I stand like this on the wire every day.

Standing here in the dark between windows, my arms swimming in sunlight, I am transported to that moment where I hang suspended. Only a wire between my feet and the wind, between my feathers and the sky. Birds wheel around me, unafraid and yet so silent. Why are their beaks closed to song, to chatter? Are they waiting for something? Is it me?

If I did not doubt that I am a bird, would I have already flown away?

I hear my mama’s dress brushing the walls of the stairs, a rhythm in time with her swaying hips. The sound brings me back to earth with a thump. Dream to reality, pointe to flat, arms to sides. Warmth to cold. I remember that I am all but naked on top. If mama sees this… I snatch my jumper from the floor and pull it on. Without it, in only my bra, and sometimes not even that, I am all feathers now.

I feared they might grow on my face, making it impossible to hide them, but they stopped beneath my collar bones. Bird or girl? Skin or feathers? Perhaps both? Girl and bird. Skin and feathers. I can be everything at once, I feel the possibility deep within now I have walked the wire. Now I have played with the wind. Dared it to carry me.

Her knuckles brush my closed door.

‘Are you in there?’ she whispers.

I want to answer, but this is a game we play now. My silence, her hesitance. A change of our narrative. She fears for me. Fears me. Not in the sense of horror or of threat. She fears what I am becoming. Not woman. Maybe bird. Maybe both. I have known for some time, though I would never reveal them to her, that she senses my feathers beneath my clothes. I see her awareness of them in the way she looks at me.

There is a secret she wants to tell me. It is in her eyes. Locked like a box.

I do not have a key, and she will not give it to me. This is why we wrangle in silence and and hesitation.

‘Sweetheart?’ There is entreaty. My heart aches with it. I want so to answer, but she will not give me the key that I require.

‘Would you come down for dinner? Please.’

I hold my breath. Until I have that key, her only reward will be silence. This is unnecessarily cruel, I know, and I am viciously unnerved by my own cruelty, my resolve, but it has not and will not break. I hear her breathing in the absence of mine. Shallow, wavering breaths, as if her chest is hurting.

I know that pain.

I put it there.

I close my eyes, still and silent as a Blue Jay in the dark well between bright windows, between blazing beams of sunlight. How long until my cruelty renders me this dark, this cold? I should stop this foolishness. Perhaps ask the twins to tell me what she hides in her eyes. But I know they will not tell me. I hear their voices as if I had already asked them and they had already replied.

‘It is not our secret to tell,’ they say, and they are more somber than usual. Almost reproving. ‘You should not ask it of us. That’s not how it works.’

‘There’s a natural order to things,’ one of them, perhaps Assumption, says.

‘We break it at our peril,’ the other adds, placing a teaspoon to the table with an angry thock. It makes me jump.

And together they say to me.

‘Your mama knows. Ask her.’

My mama turns from the door. I cannot see her, but I feel it in every feather, every inch of skin. The swish of her dress retreats to the stairs and accompanies her down them. As she descends, I breathe again, and rise. Heel to pointe, arms to sun, reality to dream.

But the ache in my chest follows me to the wire and the woods.

Even the wind cannot carry it away.

 

© Ren Warom 2014

The Blue Jay’s Daughter: Commelina…Backwards, Part 13

6385235808db11e3b1b722000a1d0aba_7Wednesday 13th – Year of Elders, 1860 – In the Shadow of Almado

Extract from the diary of Helena Birch:

Who are you when you sleep?

I am not Helena Birch when I sleep. I am not a wire walker. I need no wire, I have my wings. In my dreams I take flight, and I leave. In my dreams there is no tent, no billowing prison. I am beholden to no one but myself.

Who are you when you sleep?’ I ask.

Assumption and Avarice tell me that when they sleep they are one and the same person. They slide together under the same skin, their thoughts one, their heart beating in time with each breath. I suggest that this is a metaphor, that they are so alike in life that in sleep they lose the ability to differentiate between themselves. They are not sharing the same dream, but having the same dream in different bodies, just as they are living the same life in different bodies.

They laugh at me.

‘Who are you when you sleep?’ they say, speaking in one voice; every note, every inflection an exact replica.

I look from one to the other. Mirror twins but each so symmetrical that the mirrored image is not mirrored at all, but copied. Doesn’t matter which side of the mirror either of them stand, they are the same.

‘In my dream,’ I tell them, ‘I am a blue jay. I fly away.’

‘Maybe it’s a metaphor,’ says Avarice, pouring me tea.

Today, I am told Avarice sits to my right side and Assumption to my left. If they did not tell me I wouldn’t know, but I think I don’t know anyway. They are both Assumption and Avarice. Both the same. Two bodies, one person. I think I am getting closer to understanding that.

I pluck a single feather from between my breasts and place it on the table.

Bright blue, it sits on white cloth like a scrap of sky. If I were small I could jump into it and disappear. How I long to be small.

‘Who am I when I dream?’ I ask them. ‘It’s not just a metaphor, is it? This is not a metaphor. It’s a feather. A real feather. I can see it, touch it, it hurts when I pull it out. That’s no metaphor.’

Assumption reaches out and places a hand over the feather. When the hand is lifted, the feather is still there. ‘That’s a real feather all right,’ says Assumption to Avarice.

‘Indeed it is,’ replies Avarice. ‘More tea?’

‘Quite.’

Avarice pours the tea. Plucks the feather from the table and places it back into my palm, curling my fingers around it. ‘If it hurts to pluck them,’ Avarice says. ‘Perhaps that means you should let them grow.’

‘Tell me, Helena,’ asks Assumption. ‘Who are you when you wake?’

And I find that I do not know the answer.

 

© Ren Warom 2014