The girl stood alone in her room, her mud-brown hair shielding her profile so anyone coming into the room could not really look at her.
“I’ll never move out of here. I’ll never have the best of friends. I’ll never have a secure future!” Delilah trudged to her bed and flopped down onto it. She was twelve years old, in the seventh grade and she was moving—yet again—to a new school—for the ninth time. This new house was the hundredth—no, maybe the twenty bazillionth—time she did so.
Well, that’s how Delilah saw what she did every two years. She’d been moving since her first set of bedroom stuff was packed away in ugly, beige boxes riding the moving van to San Francisco, California. But she wasn’t a bubbly, jumpy little girl at that age. Not even curious about the new school, house or neighborhood. Nope.
Delilah disliked moving as much as she disliked the fact that she’d never had a place to call her own. She wanted friends, because she was lonely. Delilah painted her imagination onto the canvas, her own special whiteboard filled with screeching eagles, hovering hummingbirds and trickster blue jays always pecking on the yellow finches who were busy satisfying their hunger with the little tan and brownish-beige feed tight-fisted in the hanging kerosene-shaped birdhouses.
Such a passion stole Delilah away for hours, but she still craved the beauty of staying in the same area until she leaps from high school to college or even when she is willing to let her husband lead her away from the current page of her life—moving around under her military parents—to a new one where he would kiss her goodbye every morning and greet her every afternoon for the next, oh, maybe fifty years of marriage.
But even graduation from middle school seemed farther than such a lifelong commitment to another person. Delilah looked absentmindedly at the portrait of ravens drawn almost professionally onto the canvas-white background with oak tree branches elongating like long, bony skeleton hands across the paper.
She grabbed her pencil from the tray below the canvas board and went to work on the other birds in the background. As Delilah scratched her pencil and colored markers against the sheet of whiteness expanding from one wide end of the tannish-pink board to the other equally boring-looking end, she looked at the winged animals.
“I want this beautiful masterpiece to make everyone like ravens. That’d be great if they didn’t think these majestic creatures were so associated with death and graveyards!” Scritch-scratch went the black pencil as Delilah colored the ravens, lining white along their wings to paint the picture of four friendly ravens, albeit their mouths not smiling. Delilah wanted them to look like real ravens, not her own imaginative ones. But they should be nice-looking, as in polite and respectful. Not ominous, intimidating and like all other ravens.
These ones were special.
Once Delilah was done running the coal-black color over the rest of her artwork, she stepped back, pushed her lips up into a satisfactory smile and basked in the glory of hard work displaying itself in front of her.
Delilah jumped. She blinked hard, suddenly lunged for her pillow and shielded it against her chest. “W-what’s going on?” she squeezed its sides and curled her sand-colored fingers around it, not caring whether the pillow got hurt. She was guarding her life!
“First, tell me what’s going on!” Delilah ordered the raven right in front of her.
It flapped its wings and hopped around on the branch to face her. “I’m one of your ravens. But I am a magical bird, for I can grant you two wishes.”
Delilah stared at the raven, too breathless with unbelief to acknowledge the bird’s presence right now. Then she exhaled and laughed dryly. “Me? Well…” She thought. Maybe it’d be nice to keep the stuff she’d been having instead of giving it away. Maybe it would be great if those giggling girls wouldn’t stand next to the bathroom and gossip about Delilah just because she carried a box of colored pencils and #2 pencils with her everywhere she went. Maybe…
“Hm.” Delilah pressed her lips together and furrowed her eyebrows, processing what she would want. “Well, I’ve always wanted to stop moving. To have a future. To…not have to have a life of this forever—a lonely, friendless girl a world of winding clocks. Of moving clouds. Of opening and closing doors. She just wanted to be freed from others changing her. To live her own life on her own terms. To be allowed to live her life independently from others’ constant restraints.
“Yes, we are.” One of the birds, the biggest it seemed, bowed to her. “We are your ravens, but you must listen to me, as I am able to whip anything up that you desire and make it come true with some swishing and flying around. But you must be careful what you want, for I can only make you grant two wishes. That’s it. And then you must accept what you have been given. Oh—” The bird flew around but was still on the canvas. “And you can’t just wish for whatever you want because you will be living that life. In other words, you will experience that kind of life, and you can’t go back unless you either visit a house with a canvas on it with birds—no, only ravens. Or come back here and have the ravens—us—be here on this canvas or another one in this exact house. You cannot go to any random house, expect there to be a portrait or, if there is a portrait, think you can just get yourself away from the place you don’t want to be. You must have us be there on a canvas in this house or visit a house with only ravens on it; no blue jays, robins or any other bird.” The raven flicked its wing, like it was saying “Shoo!” to an annoying bug.
Delilah put her head down and then blinked. “So… what if the house has different colored ravens? Or big ravens—”
“You must be in a house that has mothballs and dust bunnies in it.” And the raven flew out of the canvas into Delilah’s room and soared by the red and blue sun comforter decorated bed, wooden wardrobe and then back to the white canvas with the Oak tree branches and seemingly winter scene behind it. “You see,” it flipped a wing over to the wardrobe, and Delilah looked back over at the wardrobe, “you should look for a wardrobe because it has mothballs in it that will spill out if you open it.”
Delilah looked back at it. “Yes, but what if I don’t? What if I sneak into another person’s home? What if I can’t open the wardrobe?”
There was a banging sound and then a tiny voice yelled, “Let me out! Let me out!”
“What was that?” Delilah jumped, scared that there would be a person trapped inside the wardrobe and she’d have to rescue it—what if the person was scary and she...
“No.” Delilah set her foot down but not too hard. “I’m going to do this.” She went over to the wardrobe by jumping on her bed, rolling over and then landing on the other side with her both her feet under her. She then walked those lime green-colored socks over to the wardrobe and boldly opened the door, forcing herself to do what is scary but should be done anyway. Out came little dust bunnies. And moths. But they were…
“Moth…balls?” Delilah scrunched her face, confused. “What are they doing?” Delilah watched as the little balls of dust fluttered with moth wings and as quick as moth wings over through the room. Suddenly, sharp razor-sharp claws slashed through the air, ripping away at the mothballs.
“No!” Yelled Delilah as she scampered onto the bed and jumped up and down frantically, her little yellowish-tan arms swinging wildly everywhere to stop the raven from catching it. But it was no use—the raven had caught the poor thing in its mouth. It then flew back to its home, back on the canvas, and look at her gleefully. Maybe a little mischievously. But it was, in its own mind, having fun.
But Delilah didn’t think so. She saw it as a mean trick. “Fine—I’ll take it from you!” Delilah hurled herself off the bed and almost threw herself at the canvas as she slashed wildly with her long fingernails to get the moth out of the raven. How could she?
It didn’t matter. All Delilah had to do was—
“I wish the moth was alive!” Delilah yelled at the squawking raven, its wings flapping wildly and a mad grin on its face.
“Yes!” But then Delilah thought. She stopped dead, knowing she shouldn’t have made that decision. She then reluctantly said, “Take it back!” but the raven smiled at her.
“Can’t take wishes back!” It shrugged, but to Delilah, it was jerking its body up and down.
“No—please, I didn’t mean that.” Delilah begged, and the raven smiled all the more widely. A twinkle, well, twinkled in its eyes.
“Just kidding!” It squawked, spreading its wings. “Nothing happened. I knew that wish wasn’t real.”
Delilah sighed. “So with all those wishes—I mean, rules—can’t I just wish for something and it will come true? Can’t I just say, ‘Give me a friend at school,’ or ‘take my parents’ job of moving all over the world away’? Can’t that work?”
“Yes, but you must be open to thinking of being careful what you wish for. You can’t always just say it. That’s foolish. You must let yourself be known so you can show who you truly are instead of wrap it all inside you.” The raven wrapped its wings tightly around itself to portray this truth to Delilah. As if she needed an example.
But she knew the raven was right. She needed to break out of the keep-hidden-inside-yourself mantra and let others see her character, her interests and, most importantly, her life. She needn’t be ashamed of moving around constantly. Before Delilah could get her wish—to just live her own life—she needed to realize that life wasn’t meant to be lived alone. It involved people.
Delilah looked at the floor, back at the ravens and blinked on the one that spoke. “Um… I need to think about it.” She looked away, scratching her head and whisking her hair about in the process.
“Come on!” The raven cawed. “Spit it out!”
“Um…” Delilah suddenly pounced up. “I know! I wish … I was the most popular girl in the whole Mellow Creek Middle School!”
“You sure?” The raven cawed again, flapping its wings and readjusting itself busily on its branch.
“Yes! I want that—right now!”
“Okay…” The raven cawed and flew around Delilah, up into the air and then swooped down past Delilah and her dark hair and into the canvas again. It smiled knowingly.
“What?” Delilah raised her hands and looked around herself. “Where’s the party? Where are the guests?”
“Oh, my friend. You must wait and see.” Then the raven let out a screechy laugh and guffawed till its stomach hurt. Almost falling over, the raven quickly let itself leave the branch and then flew up to the thin bark and once again settled onto it.
Delilah looked right at the bird. “Okay, bird! If I don’t walk into school tomorrow morning and then next three days by this weekend with a couple of girls asking me how the week’s been going and girls following me like they want my autograph, then I’m not going to trust you anymore!”
The bird stifled a smirk and said submissively, “Yes, ma’am! And what else?”
“Well, I’ll have to think about it!” And Delilah looked at the time. “It’s 5:03 pm. I need to get my homework done.” She went over to the other side of her bed, grabbed something with red and blue fireworks coming out of the front and zippers hanging down waiting for her to use them to open it. Once Delilah opened her backpack open, she pulled a couple of books out, let them thump onto the wooden desk in front of her and sighed tiredly as she took out her binder and disrespected it, too, by letting it slam onto the desk and then having her mother yell up to her that she should use her belongings gently.
“Okay, Mom!” Delilah politely yelled down to her. “I’ll do that.”
“Okay.” Delilah scraped back her wooden chair across the oak floor and sighed again. She threw her elbows on the table and looked away from the work. “Some dumb essay I have to write. I don’t even care about architecture and what that means to me or how that ancient architecture affects my life today!”
She was about to slam the binder closed after ripping the cover off the desk when Delilah had a bright idea. “How about … I wish my homework would get done?” Delilah immediately escaped with her chair with the feeling people get when they’ve come up with a deliciously smart idea and almost yelled, “I wish that I was extremely smart and got all A’s!”
The bird cawed and then flew up and out of the canvas and then back again. “Okay. Your wish is granted.”
Delilah hopped back to her seat. “Now that I have my two wishes, I’ll get back to work.”
Over the years, Delilah noticed that while she was popular and got all A’s by knowing all the answers, she pushed people, sometimes literally, around the cafeteria and hallways at her middle and high school. Soon, Delilah was known as the girl who knew it all and had it all. Everyone knew Delilah, so they all went to her for answers and insight into her life—how to throw great teen parties, how to have amazing hair, skin, nails and clothes and how to ace all exams and quizzes. Everything was going swell.
Until Delilah had to move again. The summer before ninth grade was full of boxes piling up in the back of the moving van and then piling up in her new home as the fourteen-year-old gladly made the tan squares of stuff in them go from the musty metal home of the van to the Clorox-scented, vacuumed surroundings of their new home in the coldness and mountainy region of Salt Lake City, Utah.
This act Delilah had of popularity and straight A’s went great until her junior year of high school when she realized she had left her art canvas back at her old home in Detroit, Michigan. She freaked out for a couple of minutes late one night, but then remembered what the bird had said.
“…you can’t go back unless you either visit a house with a canvas on it with birds—no, only ravens. Or come back here and have the ravens—us—be here on this canvas or another one in this exact house. You cannot go to any random house, expect there to be a portrait or, if there is a portrait, think you can just get yourself away from the place you don’t want to be. You must have us be there on a canvas in this house or visit a house with only ravens on it; no blue jays, robins or any other bird.”
Delilah thought. She couldn’t just pop back to Detroit. Unless she flew or drove herself out there. Still, it’d take days.
But she did. Telling her parents she was going back to Detroit to retrieve her canvas, Delilah made her way over throughout Friday and into Saturday morning. Extremely early in the morning, Delilah decided to wait until the late morning to see about her old canvas to the people who had bought her old home. Soon, morning arrived and then late morning and then Delilah was free to step out of her car she had slept in and go inside to get the ravens’ magical white home, pencils and easel.
But when she had run almost into her old bedroom, Delilah almost fell backward with horror. She swung her hands around, gripping the right doorframe. No canvas in sight.
Delilah stood there and blinked at the ground. She exhaled and then inhaled again. She closed her eyes and then went to the woman who invited her in to look around.
“I’m sorry.” She responded, putting a cup of soup in the open microwave. “You’re going to have to go to the Thrift Store.”
Delilah squinted. Wait. She didn’t have to do that. Actually…
Driving was a pain. Every mile was a disaster. Delilah hated every second of it, wishing she could just wake up. Because nothing she saw or found at the Thrift Store or her old house had anything to do with wardrobes, moths, dust or even a canvas. Nothing had saved her.
So I’m stuck like this. A popular girl with straight-A’s but still not moving. Delilah promised to talk to her parents. Walking into the house with her clinking keys knocking into each other and other knickknacks on her chain, Delilah explained.
They promised they wouldn’t move until she left for college.
But Delilah was now a popular, straight-A college student. She liked it until the guy she was dating broke up with her because “I don’t like your selfishness and pride!” After a hideously bitter fight, Delilah didn’t want to talk to anyone, and neglected her homework, as “I am going to just keep my grades up anyway.” But she just ended up visiting the principal’s office. And rumors about Delilah’s ill behavior kept her from staying at everyone’s list of top conversationalists.