feathers

The house is a cave of echoes, the kitchen table masked in dust. I’m restless, displaced: my skin itches. In the still and empty rooms a single black feather drifts in a shaft of sunlight.

The cupboards are bare save for a heel of bread. I close the front door gently behind me andย  wander down the path, breaking the crust onto the ground as I go. The starlings, elegant in glossy suits, chatter sociably as they peck at the crumbs. Their haematite eyes watch me sideways, knowingly. They don’t even startle as the gate clicks behind me.

The path is treacherous with stones, but it’s not far to the chasm. It’s deep, a cruel gash across the countryside; the sides are sheer and sharp with rocks, and dusty thorn bushes line the edge. Even here the starlings hop and peer. I crane over the edge, my skirts flapping in the wind, but I can’t see the bottom.

I tilt vertiginously for a moment, arms outstretched, then step carefully out into the empty air. Wind rushes past me.

The sky is filled with a sudden fluttering as the black birds surround me, tiny beaks and claws harsh but careful in my clothes and hair. They hold me up and I hang in space, astonished, while their cries beat on my ears.

The wind tugs my shawl from my shoulders. My arms are bare to the cold wind, and I feel the tingling pain of the feathers pushing through my skin in a sudden, urgent rush. My wings unfurl; I breast the air in startled flight, lofting into the opened skies amid a rejoicing of birds.

6 thoughts on “feathers”

  1. Great piece. I found the ending unexpected and magical, especially the transition from the ‘Disney birds to hold me up’ (which was more obviously fore-shadowed) to the darker, painful shape change at the end (which was a great surprise).

    I wish you had more emphasis on the contrast between the enclosed-caged-ness of the house and the open space and freedom of the chasm – an aspect I liked a lot in the piece.

    I like the conflict between the dark suicide themes and the sense of rebirth and remaking.

  2. Our Hero walks out of her house and attempts to commit suicide by jumping into a chasm. The starlings โ€” who she has just been feeding โ€” watch her, and after she jumps they catch her, lifting her into the air. After a moment she grows her own wings, and flies off under her own power.

    There are some great descriptions here with quite precise, elegant writing. My favourite description is right at the beginning, “The house is a cave of echoes, the kitchen table masked in dust. I’m restless, displaced: my skin itches.” It makes the house feel lonely, unlived in, perhaps unwelcoming. I love the starlings; they definitely remind me of how they behave up at UCT.

    “Vertiginously”: great word :)

    > tiny beaks and claws harsh but careful in my clothes and hair.
    A very small nit: when I first read this I stumbled at “harsh”, expecting a comma before it. After reading the rest of the sentence I realised that there shouldn’t be any commas.

    In the last paragraph I did stop to wonder if the feathers breaking through her skin where her own, or that of the starlings. Maybe it was because the feathers were “the” feathers?

    I enjoyed reading this. Thanks for sharing!

  3. I found this beautifully haunting and enjoyed it. Thanks. I didn’t get as strong suicide vibes as the others. I’m not saying it isn’t suicide, but it felt more mystical in a desolate landscape than simply suicide. It reminded me of work by Patricia McKillip. I particularly loved the first and last paragraphs.

    I liked the way the feather in paragraph 1 foreshadows the starlings outside.

    I also stumbled a little on the second ‘the’ in “and I feel the tingling pain of the feathers pushing through”. I think the rhythm of the sentence would be more fluid without it.

    Thanks. I really enjoyed this.

  4. I love this commenting process, people always react to the things I don’t expect them to :>.

    See, the second “the” with those final feathers is absolutely and perfectly deliberate. (As, I have to say, are most of my word choices, on account of over-anxious over-writing). Consider the difference: “the tingling pain of feathers pushing through my skin” brings in new feathers, hitherto unexpected feathers, general feathers. “The tingling pain of the feathers pushing through my skin” does that definite article thing of specificity: these are the feathers that have been there all along. The shape-change isn’t a transformation so much as a realisation. So I agree, cbraz, that the rhythm of the sentence would be improved without the second “the”, but the meaning would be subtly changed.

    And, yes, this is not quite about suicide. Reaching an ending, certainly. Abandoning something that has become empty. Discovering, with amazement, that an ending is also an beginning.

  5. This is a very beautiful piece of writing, you are very good at this!

    In some respects, this reminds me of your first piece in theme – the sadness, the empty house, the release into flight later. Very different, but obviously something your imagination likes.

    The language is very lovely, with many great turns of phrase. I loved the imagery of craning over the edge of the abyss, skirts flapping in the wind. Lovely.

    I am always slightly suspicious of adverbs, so “knowingly” and “vertiginously” did not sit too well with me, but it is a minor squibble.

    I see this as an open ended piece – is it suicide? Is it transformation? Is it something else? You don’t prescribe, and reality may be different for the protagonist than for the rest of the world (they may find her corpse at the bottom of the chasm, but that does not meant she has not become a bird too).

    Lovely and thank you.

  6. You certainly do have a way with these word thingies, Doc!
    Plz to save some for rest of us? ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Despite the eerie empty house, I didn’t get the suicide-y vibes.
    More like a walking away from a shell.

    Language, as usual, beautiful: “elegant in glossy suits” and “skirts flapping in the wind” being particular favourites for words and images.
    Also dug the “sudden, urgent rush” of the unexpected transformation.

    Very wispy, lovely, piece of writing.

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