I wrote a total of 16 pieces of poetry and prose for the Fantasy Faire SL's LitFest Writing Challenge this year. This is the final piece of the seven that were written with a specific dedication, for someone in my life who has had a direct relationship with cancer. It has been a wonderful, soulful journey.
A Thing with Feathers
by Judith Cullen
"I brought the wine," she said. She sat down beside me, deftly handling the two glasses and the bottle. The red wine poured elegantly. Everything my friend Kathryn did was elegant, stylish, done with a certain understated flair that spoke of intelligence and class. She's the only woman I have ever seen gracefully maneuver timpani down a hill in two inch heels. She handed me my glass, and we watched the ebb and flow of the gossamer fish in silence.
"Not Butterfly," I said.
"Totally wrong for it," she replied.
"Maybe Menotti's The Last Savage. It would be a stretch," I suggested. "Or Vivaldi's Argippo?"
"Maybe," she sipped her wine thoughtfully.
After a moment she grinned and I knew she had found just the perfect piece, as she always did, "Bizet's The
"Oh yes," I concurred. "Wouldn't THAT be splendid to stage." The gold-trimmed white marble and the translucent aquamarine water were a little high class for Bizet's subject. Yet with opera you can get away with a certain heightened theatricality. Life, death, passion, revenge, hatred all on a grand scale - that is opera.
"Mind you, I don't think Bizet had this kind of market in mind. Have you seen these shops? They are fabulous!"
She refilled our glasses, and rose, leaving the bottle nestled under the bench. I followed her, as always a little in awe that someone so stylish should choose to share company with me, Queen of the Rumpled.
We walked from shop to shop, her trademark heels clicked along the bright marble walkway. My shoes did not. She had to drag me out of the shop with exquisite Celt and Nordic inspired furnishings, "Hey! I might need that for something."
"Come along, we are not shopping for scenery."
She didn't answer me. We continued on, looking up to watch the fish looping over the concourse, occasionally dipping low enough to pass right through us, leaving the residue of a tingling sensation, like a child's laughter.
We moved along, shop after shop. Kathryn predictably admiring clothing that was skillfully tailored, generally black. She rarely wore bright colors except as accents. I defaulted to the comfortable looking things. "Drop that cotton!" she commanded at one point, "That's not what we are here for."
"Are you actually going to tell me why we are here?"
She ignored me, and we moved towards the other concourse. As we turned onto it she stopped, hesitating in a manner that was rare for her. She gulped, breathing in deeply.
The gold trimmed white marble of the rest of Aetherea faded through a dusty charcoal to black.
She visibly steeled herself, "Nothing. At least, nothing new." Taking a deliberate step, she raised her chin and her eyes narrowed in determination as she walked down the darkening concourse. I noticed that she subtly looked about her as she walked, more than casual observation. She was looking for something.
"He's not here," I said softly.
She continued to walk, head up. "He's always here. It's just easy to forget that in the daylight. The dancing with the Unweaver does not end, it just reschedules to a different season."
I remembered how she had faced down the Unweaver. How she had endured the assaults, the therapy, the constant rounds of appointments. She'd never flinched. Never shown the slightest sign of the battle she was waging. Not to most people, that is. That was her very private way.
She slowed and turned to catch my eyes. "This place, it's like life. There is a balance, and it is not all about the beauty and convenience. There has to be dark, or the light is meaningless. Some battles were meant to be won, and some are meant to rebalance."
"We are not talking about your life, here, as a re-balancing. I refuse to believe that, had the Unweaver taken you, some how the world would have been a better place - that some imbalance would be redressed."
"No, that's not what I mean." She stopped and turned to me.
"Whether it's cancer, or one of the other Unweaver's kin, death reminds us of our responsibility." She looked down at her shoes, for a moment collecting her thoughts. "It's easy to take it for granted, the gift of life. Easy to squander and fuss about the little things and forget that this gift is not meant to be protected, allowed to languish, remained wrapped up securely."
She turned, heading for the nearest shop, "That's why we are here. You need unwrapping!" she called over her shoulder.
"What! Me? How did this become about me?" I rushed after her, catching up in a shop filled with lovely clothing. Kathryn was looking about, murmuring purposefully.
"Something bright, but not too bright." Her hand lightly danced over fine wools, rich silks, all stunningly vibrant. It finally came to rest on a beautiful velvet in a deep red.
"This! I think this will fill the bill!" She turned to me with a broad, radiant smile.
"It's lovely. Fill what bill? When are you going to let me know what this is about?"
She dropped the fabric and stepped towards me.
"You have been fortunate. You haven't had to battle the Unweaver and his ilk. Yet life has not always been easy on you, and I know you have struggled - not all battles are visible ones."
She dropped her voice so that I was the one who had to step in this time.
"I danced with the Unweaver, and that dance will continue. But I never let it stop me. I balanced budgets, produced operas. I got on with things. All the hits you have taken, they have made you tentative. You need to stop that. You weren't always that way."
She stepped back, reaching for the dress again, and pulling it out so that I could see the full sweep of the skirt and the intricacies of the bodice and the feathers.
"Feathers?," I queried, "since when am I a feathers kind of person?"
"Silly. You keep rooting around as if you need to find your wings. You already have them. They never went away. You just forgot you had them."
She fluffed the soft feather cape of the gown with her hand so that it waltzed in the air.
"It's time to take flight again, my friend. And the question is not will you find your wings, it's what are you going to wear with your magnificent feathers!"
Images by Aoife Lorefield for Fantasy Faire SL, "Atherea" region created by Alia Baroque.