Stories are not always formed in straight lines, but in circles.
Picture a conical pendulum. Can you see it? It’s just like any other pendulum, only it hits different points each time it swings. If you connect these points, you’ll end up with something round.
Back and forth it travels on its predetermined trajectory, always cutting through the center, always without a finish line in sight. This is how our story moves.
We’ll start at whichever point the pendulum decides to swing towards next. It’s beyond my control, you see. Everything is random.
But do not worry. I won’t spoil the ending— I promise.
1.) The woman is sitting at her kitchen table, a cup of cold coffee tattooing an umber ring onto the wooden surface. Light from the open window curtains her face, but she doesn’t notice its warmth. She stares outside, searching.
There are hundreds of them in flight, all circling the sun.
Finally, one lands on her windowsill. Toffee brown, golden markings around the neck, a delicate beak. She wonders if it’s the same one she used to know.
Maybe they all are.
2.) The first thing she notices are not the miracles, but the birds, though she’ll later discover them to be one and the same.
The introduction comes as soon as her foot passes the threshold.
“Welcome to Shadow’s Shop of Mystic Miracles,” boasts a voice that sounds a degree too jolly to be genuine.
The man called Shadow is a sight to behold— all electrocuted silver hair and rimless spectacles that seem to float above his nose.
His “miracle” shop is a hole in the wall, wedged between a bankrupt bakery and a store that sells secondhand sheet music. The space is deeper than it is wide, more hallway than anything else, and smelling faintly of burnt custard.
The woman steps forward cautiously, taking care not to bump her elbows against the cages. The metal contraptions come in all shapes and sizes, some petite and slipping neatly between the rest, while others cramp the shelves with their bulk.
Some contain birds, their small forms silent and watchful. The majority, however, sit empty.
“Hello,” she calls back, her own voice thin and nervous. “We spoke on the phone…”
“Ah, yes.” He emerges from behind his desk, approaching her intently. His glasses glint as he pushes them up his face, the glare whiting out his eyes. “Did you bring what I asked for?”
She holds it out to him and he snatches it up eagerly.
“Perfect,” he croons, stroking the lock of hair with the tip of a finger. The woman suppresses a shiver. “Follow me.”
Carelessly grabbing one of the cages at random, he leads her through the door behind his desk and into a storage room. The air smells of dust and old books, and she sniffs back a building sneeze.
Filing cabinets stand in rows like graves, stretching from wall to wall. He strides towards the center of the room with confident steps, flinging a drawer open and rifling around.
He quickly obtains what he’s searching for, extracting a small, short feather the color of burnt sugar. With a piece of twine that he unwinds from his wrist, he ties the feather to the bundle of hair, muttering under his breath as his fingers work the knot.
He places the spell on the floor of the birdcage, snapping the door shut. The woman patiently observes this whole operation, squinting at the antics with a level of wariness— but within the span of a blink, all her doubts are dispelled.
The sound hits her ears like music, the happy chirping of a little thing with brown feathers speckled with gold. She stares in shock, unable to form words.
“A perfect vessel for a perfect soul,” Shadow exclaims giddily, appraising his work. “I trust you remember all the instructions I gave you.”
The woman nods numbly, still in awe at the creation of something from nothing. “And this will work?”
“Like a dream.”
“I can’t begin to thank you enough,” she gushes, taking the cage from him with quivering hands.
Shadow raises an eyebrow at her in wry amusement. “You do not need to thank me,” he says, lapsing into an expectant pause.
“Oh yes, of course.” She flushes with embarrassment and fishes around in her pocket for the wad of money, which quickly disappears up the man’s sleeve.
He walks her back out the front door, imparting a final warning in lieu of farewell.
“Just remember— only in the moonlight, and then back in she goes. There is no place in the daytime for dreams.”
She only remembers at the last moment the thing she wanted to ask: “The effects are permanent though, aren’t they?”
But her words are lost as the door slams shut, sealing Shadow and his shop away from the light.
Her husband is not pleased when she arrives home.
“What is this?” He eyes the thing in her grasp, suspicious, yet unable to form his own explanation. The bird hums a note of greeting.
“It’s our daughter,” the woman replies breathlessly, still basking in the glow of success. “Don’t you recognize your own child?” She presses forward, urging him to look and to see.
“You went to that nut job,” he says, though he’s unable to deny the truth. The little bird is his little girl; the eyes, the patterning of the feathers, something in the way it hops and sings is undeniably her.
“I’ve brought her home to us.”
“She’s in a cage.”
“I know what I’m doing,” she tells him firmly. “The miracle worker explained everything.”
“There are no such things as miracles.”
“That’s not what you said once,” she shoots back hotly, but it’s as if he can’t hear her.
“We’ve been over this, sweetheart,” he says, shaking his head. “You need to give yourself time, not turn to quacks and frauds. Grief is not linear.”
He’s closing himself off, casting grays upon her moment of joy. She laughs bitterly, because it’s the only thing her face remembers to do other than to weep.
“I don’t care what sort of path grief takes. I feel like I’ve been walking it all my life.”
3.) The day her daughter is born, the woman grieves.
She’s heard that the instant you hold them in your arms, you fall in love with your child and out of love with the world.
There’s a moment— a microsecond— of silence, in which she decides that this was all meaningless drivel. And then come the first, resonant wails.
Her daughter’s voice; her daughter; herself. Everything comes together as one, all questions answered, all meaningless things given value.
And the world does indeed become a darker place, because everything can only but dim against this thing of pure light.
The window by the hospital bed is unshuttered, the pitch black sky telling of how long her labor had taken. Moonlight slinks into the room, seeps into the baby’s skin. She stares down at the girl’s face, kissed with silver. The most beautiful thing she’s ever known, and it’s come out of her.
“Look at her,” her husband says softly, his voice a hush. “She’s a miracle.”
The nurse procures a pair of long, glinting scissors, offering them up with a congratulatory smile. “Do you want to do the honors, dad?”
Some irrational part of her wants to stop the whole procession, but she can’t.
He cuts the umbilical cord, and with it, the safety net is severed. The child is no longer tied down to this world, no longer tethered to her. There’s a phantom pain there, greater than all the physical hurt, existing in that small gap between their bodies. It feels like an open wound.
Her daughter has become her own person, her own life.
With this one small cut, she now has the freedom to fly away.
4.) The first time they see her again, the moon is full and looming on the horizon, like a low hanging fruit. The cage has been placed on an open patch of grass in their backyard, in full view of the sky. Just as the woman had been instructed.
The light of that celestial pearl spills over their garden, paints the roses silver, flows into their mouths, balms all their wounds with incandescence. The skepticism in the husband is washed away; it feels like a miracle, because it is one.
Every night they follow the same ritual, and every night their child comes back to life.
The door to the cage is carefully unlatched, the bird left free to step out onto the grass. The second the moon tickles its dusky feathers, the materialization occurs. There she is, a small girl of eight years standing before their eyes just as she left them:
Smiling, beautiful, real.
The next month is bliss— dances till dawn, picnics under the stars. They comb her hair and pinch her cheeks, smother her to their heart’s content because they know that once the sun rises they will have to put her back, close the door on her, tuck away the dream.
It happens gradually, and though they pretend not to notice it, they do.
Every night their angel grows fainter, each passing day shedding another layer of opacity. One night, they’re faced with an inevitable request.
“I want to stay,” their daughter pleads. “I don’t want to go back. Please, let me stay with you tonight.”
They look at each other with pain in their eyes, but their mouths smile for their child and agree with cheerful tones. They take her into the house, set the cage down and don’t look at it again.
They pretend they don’t know the significance of what they’re doing, but they do.
The mother tucks her daughter’s face into her neck, breathing her in as she sleeps. Their legs are tangled and their hearts are beating against each other, once more fused as one.
As they hold her, they allow themselves one last blessing. One last silent night to pretend that they are not letting go.
But they do.
5.) Firsts and lasts can be so vastly different.
The first time, it’s a joyous thing. The air tastes of salt, the shore sinking beneath their squelching shoes like memory foam.
The woman sets her daughter down, water oozing between her bare toes. Her forefingers, enclosed within chubby little hands. A small stumble forward. Then, a semblance of balance.
Oh so carefully, she disentangles herself.
“She’s doing it,” the woman crows. “She’s doing it on her own!”
Her feet, so small. Hardly larger than the miniature tridents of seagull tracks running alongside her in the sand. Such innocuous steps, deceptively unassuming.
There’s a part of the story that goes like this, though no one likes to tell it:
Those same steps can also happen in the split second where attentions wander: parents that should have been holding on, a car that should have been stopped at the light.
Those same steps move forward a second too early, a second too late, wrong place, wrong time. Those same steps can lead somewhere that they cannot follow.
Lasts are never quite as sweet as the firsts.
From the center of the road, the fallen bird’s wings still tremble lightly in the wind.
6.) It’s her husband that shakes her awake; otherwise, she’s convinced that she might have kept on dreaming into eternity. It’s the best sleep she’s ever had.
“Look,” he says. His voice is tender, carrying the tonality of a heartbreak that is finally beginning to heal.
There’s an unfilled space between them on the bed, the sheets still warm where she had lain; the cage on the dresser is empty, its door unlatched and hanging open.
The tear is caught before it can slip down her cheek, gluing down the strand of hair that’s blown across her face.
The breeze flows freely into the room, though neither of them can remember opening the window.
Her husband looks down, and his eyes melt. He scoops something up, handling it with the same care one would have with a newborn child.
He holds his hand out, palm upwards, towards her. For a long time, they simply stare together.
“She’s gone now,” he says. “Miracles really don’t exist.”
But the woman is shaking her head with a knowing smile, and corrects him gently.
“She’s free,” she says. “And they do. They do.”
Our story is not linear. This is neither the end nor the beginning. It is only the thing that I am telling you last.
The last time I see her, she is sleeping peacefully. It’s the first time in months that her face can be seen so relaxed, like a piece of creased paper wound back in time and restored to smooth bark.
Between her and my father, a single feather adorns the blanket.
It is the last mark I’ll leave on the life I’ve known, before letting the wind carry me into the next. This small, tangible proof that I was born, and that I existed:
The proof of miracles.