The Blue Jay’s Daughter, Part 1: Commelina…Backwards

1561555-bigthumbnailFriday 15th – Year of Elders, 1967 – The Village of Almado

I’ve been growing feathers again. Tiny ones between my breasts. Blue like a jay, and red like a cardinal. Why red? Perhaps because, like Pieter says, I’m becoming a woman now. I like the way he looks at me. I shouldn’t. He’s been married to Adeline for three months now.

I plucked them out whilst bathing. One at a time. Tiny stings. Needle-point pain, the same as when I crochet with nana. I’m so clumsy that I’m used to these small, sharp stings. I wiped the blood with a finger, smearing small dots to meaningless jabber, and hid my feathers in a trinket box beneath my bed.

I put one under my pillow.

A blue one. Pale, porcelain blue with streaks of grey, the merest hint of black along the tip.

The next morning it was gone. I found it earlier this afternoon, in a magpie’s nest, stuck to the remains of a shell. A Blue Jay egg. What came first? The feather or the egg? Next time I’ll pretend to sleep, and find out. Will there be a next time? Winter’s coming. Magpies will divorce soon.

Dear God, Constant is crying. We can hear her down the whole street when she starts. Since Aldo left her for the woman from the travelling show, all she’s done is lament and weep. She shaved half her head and wove the hair into many braids, wound with flowers. Forget-me-nots, clover, and widow’s tears. He’s not dead, silly Constant. Only cuckolding. Some men are like cuckoos, laying their eggs in all the wrong nests. So my nana says. I wonder if that’s where the word came from?

I found Constant’s braids in the river. Floating amongst tangled weed.

Who did she think would find them?

Dryads don’t bring your man back. They steal him. Nana told me so. I wonder if the woman from the travelling show was a Dryad? Word was, from Petra, who got to go the lucky thing, that she had webbed feet, like a swan.

I wish Constant would stop crying… she might drown.

I’d take her a mop, but papa might beat me for insolence. We were trying to eat dinner, and all we could hear was her wailing.

I asked my mama, gently extracting sweet snail meat from a curlicue shell, ‘Why won’t she shut up?’ and papa threw the pepper pot at my head. Sent me to bed, early and hungry.

That’s when I found the feathers.

I hope they haven’t come back. It was two weeks between the last time I found them and this time. They’re not ugly. I’m not revolted by them. I’d like to let Pieter stroke them. I bet he would. Even if he’s married to Adeline.

I kept Constant’s hair. Dried it on my window ledge, too high up for her to see from her cottage. They’re in the bottom of my drawer. If the travelling show comes back, maybe I’ll do her a kindness and take them to Aldo. Bind him with them, and bring him to her.

How can he stay away when she’s offered her hair up to bring him back?

Speaking of swans. Commelina is acting strange lately. I go to the village pond to feed her every day. She’s a vicious bitch. Bites and hisses, snatches bread and biscuit without thanks or care. Oh how my fingers are bruised and battered by her!

She’s been quiet lately. And sometimes missing.

Swans fly. But Commelina doesn’t.

She’s in mourning for her husband Rio. He was eaten by the Blacksmith’s dog two years ago, and she’s stayed on the pond ever since, her head hung low enough to drag her beak in the water. That’s why I feed her. She’d starve otherwise. She should be more grateful. No one else would bother with her, not with how how she bites and hisses. But I have a fondness for her, she was a black swan born to a white mating pair, and I am a curiously pale daughter for such dark parents. We are opposites and equals, both the wrong colour, and both lonely.

Between you and me, perhaps sometimes I like to bite and hiss, too.

Mama calls me her ghost child.

When he’s not angry with me, papa calls me the Blue Jay’s daughter. I asked him what he meant once, when I was small enough to be brave with my questions. He told me to go and ask my mama, but she just thinned her lips and turned away. I think it upset her. I didn’t speak to papa for a week. Then I could hurt him by not talking to him, now it only hurts me.

Where would Commelina go, I wonder? There’s not a pond like hers for miles and miles. And no swans as handsome as Rio.

When I’m done with following my feather, I think I’ll follow her.

© Ren Warom 2013

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