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