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The Flight Of The Blackbird

by Silver Serpent Books (Nathalie Daux) 4 months ago in Short Story · updated 3 months ago

Where do you go when the world is only interested in a name?

The Flight Of The Blackbird
Photo by v2osk on Unsplash

I had a family once. Or something like it. There were parties full of laughter. Teary goodbyes. Quiet evenings sharing fears, confessions, and tender glances. There was even the strange, drunk uncle who seldomly visited but always brought a brand of not-quite-believable stories with him when he arrived. We gathered ‘round shoulder to shoulder to listen to those wild tales. I bled for them. Cried for them. Would have rolled over and died for them.

Yes, I suppose I had a family once.

But it wasn’t meant to be.

I am Anja. My parents named me after my grandmother who was gentle and soft in every way a woman should be. Every way that I am not. They named me after I was born since I wasn’t supposed to be born at all. They had anticipated delivering a corpse and out I shot into the world, screaming and bloody and scaring all the nurses senseless because I should not have been alive. And they were all prepared for that. Maybe even hoping for it.

I don’t think they ever wanted me, just Anja.

At two I crushed a bug between my fingers and was promptly slapped across the face. That’s not what ladies do. At five, I laughed so hard I snorted. Mother taped my nose shut for a week. How terribly unbecoming. At seven, I played chicken with the boys on the monkey bars and was given a black eye by Father. How could you let them touch you? At nine, I joined a theatre group. Anja, you’ve made us so proud. What a good girl, Anja. Finally, I was Anja.

But father died later that year and mother slipped into a depression, leaving me run of the house. The laundry was done, folded into piles that didn’t look quite right and the house was cleaned but I couldn’t fix my error. I had killed Father.

You useless waste of space.

Mama?

The beautiful hand born to stroke ivory keys and wear rings came down like a torrential rain across my face, forcing red to blossom on my cheek.

You took him away, you filthy girl.

She never spoke a word to me again.

She didn’t want me. She wanted Anja.

I wasn’t Anja. I was a little girl that had killed her father with a fascination with the shadow of the moon. I wasn’t the glorious cardinal but the sinful blackbird nibbling on maggots. I was the filthy girl. A daughter that should not have been born.

The troupe became my home. I ran from school every day and pushed open those big bronze doors to the cathedral. The silence stuffed my ears with cotton and the smell of old wood and mildew welcomed me. Tall ceilings filled me with wonder but the altar, with a dead man strung up who resembled my father, reminded me of my fate.

I was going to Hell. Those terrible hallways filled with grieving marble martyrs and paintings of the punishment that awaited me in Hell carved a deep hole in my stomach and filled it with acidic terror.

And everything vanished, fluttered into the air like paper turning to ash when I pulled back the last wooden door. Colored stage lights and the raucous laughter of a group of misfits ushered me into my safe haven.

“Anja!” They would cry, arms raised and smiles plastered to their faces.

It was home.

I grew up there, transitioning from an inattentive nine-year-old to an obedient nineteen-year-old. The cathedral no longer harvested the flowering fear in my bones. Somewhere along the way, everything had melted into the sort of putty I knew how to shape. I had created something that resembled a family.

In the process of greedily grabbing and shoving these people into my life as permanent fixtures, we got good at what we did. We had tapped into the dark essence of the universe and learned how to harvest something from it.

More and more folks showed up to our shows. Just last summer the scuffed, splintered wood was traded in for a magnificent stage. It was a beautiful shade of honey and glittered beneath the new lights like a hard caramel candy. Everything was coming up roses.

One night, Jeanine, the mother of the group, approached me. Her cool brown eyes settled on my shoulders as they always did. I looked down, suddenly interested in my laces.

“We’re doing Hamlet, Anja. I want you to take the part.”

“Of Hamlet?”

“Of course, you silly girl. Do you want it?”

Anja got the part. The silly girl asked for clarification.

I nodded. Jeanine had reprimanded me for looking her in the eye, and threw me her satchel to take out to her car. I warmed up the inside of the old car too. She left, forgetting I needed a ride.

I walked seven miles home.

Two months later, I was shoved off the stage by that strange, drunk uncle who was staying on one of his extended visits. My line floated up into the air and wrapped around the rafters in just the sort of way that sent him into one of his fits. Too much strength and not enough sensuality for a woman. Try to be beautiful, he had spat out before the hands connected. I was never beautiful but Anja, finishing her lines in a breathy, mystical way as she fell was applauded.

No one even registered that I had gotten hurt.

The ground hit hard and fast and with a resounding crack that likes to snap through my brain on cloudy days. I yelped but the sound died under the applause of the twenty or so members viciously slapping their hands together. Anja! Well done! That’s our Anja. Just like that, Anja.

Finally! Anja was making her appearance on the stage. But I was biting my lip and drawing blood. I crawled back up on that stage and finished the scene, the pain drawing precisely the sort of sensuality that man had craved. Subservient. Compliant. Malleable. They all wanted a piece of Anja; of the girl I couldn’t ever be.

I broke both of my arms and shattered my right hand breaking my fall that day. Managing to make it to the emergency room, I had to forfeit my car to the parking lot. Worse, I had to succumb to the hurt settling into the dark crevices of my disjointed bones.

Surgery. Complications. A surprise attack of pneumonia. Depression crept in from the periphery.

It was inevitable, I suppose, the way I crumbled.

A nurse slipped into the room one night when I should have been long asleep. Her brown eyes were so untouched by the coldness Jeanine harbored in hers that I asked if I could see them before I could stop. It was the morphine, I mumbled to her. She laughed and that was warm too.

You can look as long as you’d like, Anja.

Specks of the universe glittered in the brown eyes. They were full to bursting with a golden glow that reached into my chest and shredded my heart. These eyes were nothing like the dead eyes of Jeanine.

I started to cry. Big gasps filled that sterile little room. The emotions dropped heavy like bombs onto the scratchy sheets and sent shrapnel out in all directions. A serpent of desire coiled around my belly. Sharp fangs sunk into something deep inside and made me need. The need bubbled and frothed on my lips and when I ran out of air from screaming, I whimpered “I’ll never be loved”.

Go to sleep, girl.

That was that. I flipped onto my side, enduring the pain in my forearm as silent tears soaked into the pillow. She had wanted Anja too. She never came back.

The cool nights of summer turned into the perpetual darkness of fall. World wilting and dying around me, I mimicked its color and became gray. Ill with something the doctors couldn’t name and didn’t care to try. Maybe they misunderstood what suffering was.

I shivered constantly and the food that got down never stuck to my ribs. The deep blue of my eyes had shifted into a colorless gray. Sometimes the edges of my lips were blue. Sick girl pretty. My hands trembled as they seized the edges of the sheets.

No one visited. No one called. Not my mother, which wasn’t a surprise. Not the troupe, which was. The child in me expected a stuffed animal. The teenager hoped for candies. The adult was ready to read the signatures everyone penned in. Nothing. No one. I watched the door all day but as the days passed into weeks and those weeks into months, I stopped expecting them.

I took to watching the green light flickering throughout the sleeping city. Red. Yellow. Then the streets were washed with green. Something about the steady pattern, the brilliant flood of emerald racing down the dark streets encouraged me. Whispered in my ear and begged me to come home. I wondered vaguely where that was.

Eventually, even the hospital tired of me. Men in white coats waved me off, grimaces on their faces for being unable to scrub the gray from my skin. I didn’t hold it against them.

I ran to my old car and murmured sweet, soft words to it. Begging it to start, it roared to life after a few hesitant clicks. This was what I’d waited for. Speeding to the cathedral, I hit every red light imaginable, watching with a growing feeling of dread as the lovely green flipped to a nauseating yellow.

It didn’t deter me.

Wrenching keys from ignition, I jogged into the cathedral, pausing at the entrance I sighed. After months in the gray walls of the dim hospital, I was free to go home. To rejoin my troupe. I pulled back the doors and smiled wide, flashing teeth and coffee stains.

Look who finally showed up. Jeanine's rage flamed up her neck and touched her ears. My smile dropped. We’re doing Othello now. You can watch. Blocked out. They even took the pamphlets out of my reach as they pointed towards one lone chair shoved off near the stage. No, we don’t need your help. Just watch.

I was frantic. When is the next play? I’ll do anything, please! Stop, you stupid girl. Leave. Leave? You’ve sluffed off your responsibilities for long enough. We don’t need you. We’re full.

My mouth rounded into a pretty little “o”. Jeanine’s eyes did not waver in their conviction. Behind her shoulder was the entire troupe, eyes sporting the same coldness. This had never been my home. I was too young and too stupid to see that.

They didn’t want me. They wanted Anja.

Just like everyone else.

Shoeprints pressed into the thick red carpet as I staggered out of the building, my last impression on this fading home. The last sound I heard before the clang of the wooden doors ushered me away was that drunk uncle shouting good riddance and the rest laughing.

I dropped into my car again. Heading first towards my mother’s house only to find my key no longer fit, I drove north for a long while before coming across a barren stoplight, black asphalt glittering with old rain. I opened my door and stood at its center, breathing in the petrichor. All the lights flashed red. On. Off. On. Off.

And then, a wild flood of emerald swept me back into the car.

The light to the north had gone green. The rest, a steady, solid red.

“Ah,” I whispered, a strange understanding dawning on me. The universe had delivered a dead child alive. It wanted me. “I’ll go North then.”

“To see the lights,” I mumbled to myself as a flash of green and purple far ahead of me twinkled. “Aurora,” I said touching my lips.

Yes, that was it. I'm not Anja at all. I'm Aurora.

Short Story

Silver Serpent Books (Nathalie Daux)

Bachelors in English and Creative Writing. Slytherin. Interested in all the rocks people have forgotten to turn over. There are whole worlds in there, you know.

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