Saturday, September 6, 2008

Blackbirds


BLACKBIRDS by Shay

I remember how he came in that night. Like a thick cloud across the moon, and just that way, he made the world dark. It's still dark, without Caroline in it. You'll think I'm a foolish old woman, full of stories. But I know. I was there. I knew she was dead from the look in his eyes.

Caroline was my sister. We were Mackinaws. Our father was French, but our mother had the same black hair we did, until it went white, like the fox pelts our grandfather used to trade. My sister was the east. She rose and burned. I was the west. She fell into my arms. Yes, it was like that, just like that. Why would we need anyone else? That's what no one understood, or understands now. We are like the wolverine. When I die, everything we were will die with me and be gone forever. It should not have been that way.

I was 16 when she married Dane. At the wedding, I dug my fingernails into my palm in a murderous rage. Later, still bleeding, I smiled and touched his cheek, leaving blood on it. I'm glad now that I did it. I was glad then, too.

My sister was never afraid of this land, or the winter. She moved into a house with Dane, out near Blackbird Pond. In summer, we would swim, naked in the sweet water, the mud between our toes and the cat tails high all around. Sometimes he would come down there to look at us. He was noisy as a moose, we always heard him coming. We would sink down to our chins in the water and stare at him with our black eyes. He would stare back, as if he wanted to ask us something. But he would only put his hands in his pockets and go back the way he had come. I would kiss Caroline all the more hungrily for him being so close by. It is sweeter to steal from under someone's nose. And anyway, Caroline was mine. Always. If Dane had understood that, she would be alive right now. I would kiss her with my next breath.

He knew about us. He would sit at the table and watch us with his eyes narrowed. We would only be making biscuits or stew. Two birds can fly as if they were one. I know he could feel our beating wings. We should not have teased him. But we did. We were young, and it was summer. What did we care?

He threw me out when he caught us. My fingertips were resting on her breast and she was sleeping. We both were. We had gotten too careless, too sure. We thought that we were magic together. We were. But even magic has its limits. He picked me up by one arm and dragged me out the front door. I wasn't wearing any clothes, and Caroline leapt on his back like a wolf, but it made no difference. Her heart was mighty, but Dane was a big man. Later, she followed after me with some clothes and a few of my things. We kissed beneath a great strong tree, the kind you might hang someone from. Then, with one last backward glance, she turned and went back to him. I wasn't finished. None of us were. It was nearly fall.

I would sit in the tall grass and watch him until he left. Then, I would walk right in the front door. I always spat as I did, because it was Dane's house. It kept my love away from me. I would have liked to take her with me and leave it burning behind us as we ran. But we never did. We should have. I could sleep with her under the same blankets tonight, if we had.

There are things that will have their way. You can't stop a river. Or the seasons. I kept coming. And he knew it, I think. In December, when the days are shortest, he caught us again. It had just gone dark and I was still there. I think I wanted it to happen. But not the way it did. The room was small. Dane had probably never hit a woman before. He broke my cheekbone. I lay on the floor against the wall and couldn't get up to fight. I heard both of them snarling like timber wolves over a kill. With one eye, I did see him walk out and come back with his rifle. I got up. I grabbed at him. Then I don't remember anything for a while. The night filled everything. There were no stars.

I don't know how long until he came back again and I knew it. Things were scattered, a lamp broken. There was blood all over the floor. I looked at him through my one good eye and saw no blood on him. But his eyes were full of what he had done. I heard a terrible scream, like an animal dying. It was me. It was my heart. He'd killed my Caroline.

I ran out past him. He made no move to stop me, all the fight was out of him. By moonlight, I followed blood on the snow and two sets of tracks down to Blackbird Pond. It was partly iced over. I couldn't find Caroline. Then I heard Dane right behind me. I turned around and faced him. I was shaking. "I killed her." he said quietly.

The sheriff came. There was no trial because Dane had confessed. He stayed in jail in Jackson for nine years. Then he died. I wasn't sad. But by then, I knew the truth. He killed her. But not the way everyone thought.

I was nothing but skin, bones and grief. I wouldn't eat. That spring, I sat by Blackbird Pond for days and days. I began to see things. I saw Caroline rise out of the water. I saw the bedroom, and the broken lamp. I saw Caroline's delicate foot, cut and bleeding. I saw her run out of the room, and Dane chasing after her with his rifle and his rage. I saw Caroline step out onto the ice. She was wearing a white nightgown and looked like a spirit in the moonlight. She turned to look at him. Her eyes were like a doe's eyes, when she knows the wolves will win. She went quiet inside and just looked at him, so sad. The ice made an awful cracking sound. I saw all this in the light of an April day, sitting on the brown grass, half out of my mind. I saw Dane's face change and saw him stagger once and moan. He turned in a half circle and then back again. He spoke her name as if he had never really known what it meant before. He moved toward Blackbird Pond and he pointed the rifle at her. He was holding it by the barrel.

"Take it," I heard him say to her. But she only stared, in that heartbroken way. Like a broken winged bird. That's when the ice beneath her delicate feet gave way and she fell into the water beneath. That water was cold. She couldn't have lived very long. I felt the chill myself. I shivered there, under the springtime sun.

I knew he hadn't killed her, not the way everyone thought. And after all, the man confessed. No one made him. I could have told someone what I saw. But who? The sheriff? The warden? They would have said, crazy Indian woman, go home. The truth is, I never forgave him for being her husband. He never forgave himself, either. So I never told anyone what I knew. Now I am telling you.

One day, probably soon, I will go to the land of the Mackinaw. I saw Caroline that day, rising above Blackbird Pond. With every beat of my heart, I have wanted nothing but to see her again. I have saved every kiss for her. Let the day come.

14 comments:

Cynthia said...

This is a stunning short story
sweet Shayfire!!! You've captured
everthing expertly:atmosphere characterization, plot, motivation,
love, revenge, loyalty, twist.

All with an easy readable flow.
Really, Shay, you must write more
like this, or a series with these
two young women. And the story is
so ripe for illustration.

I see this for adolescent to women
in thier twentys. Frankly, you may
want to protect this priceless Orchid, please submit her ~
You simply must.

Cynthia said...

Not to say all ages can't enjoy
this wonderful story, but that
age is so particulary drawned
to this type of imaginative love
story, and the market is so
open at this time.

I'm blown away!

Fireblossom said...

Well, you've read my mail, Cynthia. I would very much love to write for young adults!

And yes, I waited to post this here until I had submitted it elsewhere.

My friend Christene gave me the nudge I needed to write fiction again. Blame everything on her!

As always, I love seeing you here in the Word Garden. The blooms all love their Aunt Cynthia!

Sharkbuttocks said...

Wow, Shay, intense yet succinct. No superfluous words to distract from the images you paint. Amazing.

Fireblossom said...

Thank you, Sheena. I'm happy you liked it. :-)

Marty said...

This story was so perfect that I wanted it to be real, and then again not to be real, because I cared for the sisters in the story. Thank you Shay for this wonderful tale.

radnichole said...

As I told you when you sent me the story, Shay, I simply loved it and am happy to see you submitted it before posting it here.

You smith words quite well, my dear.

Thanks so very much

Fireblossom said...

Thanks, Marty. This one seemed very real to me as i was writing it, almost as if I were, indeed, recounting something that had actually happened. (But it didn't!) I always appreciate your visits and comments. :-)

Fireblossom said...

Thank you, sister mine. xox

Shrinky said...

Powerfully moving Shay, we see it so clearly, and ache along with the story teller in all her despair. This is so beautifully crafted,you hold a very precious gift with language which is nothing short of spellbinding.

So tell me, have you submitted her yet?

Fireblossom said...

Thank you so much, Shrinky. I set out to write a morally ambiguous tale. it really came together when I hit on the notion of making them sisters. That dod 2 things: it gave the narrator access, and it was, to me, the sort of thing that might push an average man over the edge. And yet, despite their unconventional relationship, i wanted it to also seem fated and right, if tragic.

It's submitted but no reply as yet.

Shrink Wrapped Scream said...

I had to come back in for a second read.

I know all about men and their jealousies (and cried again for a second time). Such a writer you are.

Fireblossom said...

I noticed that the page was wet, but assumed you must be a mermaid from northern waters, and the drops were just from the swish of your tail!

((((((((((Shrinky)))))))))))

Mama Zen said...

This is so good! I didn't know that you were interested in writing for this age group.