My doll hasn’t danced yet.
I’ve had her for two years as of today and she’s still in the same old position: Back arched, hands to the sky, golden face pointed at the heavens. Feet solidly melted onto the wood where she has been standing since I was born, waiting for me to do something to set her free.
And I don’t know what I’m supposed to do.
I’m sitting at the lunch table thinking about it instead of listening to whatever Joanne is chattering about this time. Two years. It’s been two years. I’m such a failure.
I wish I really was the way Joanne sees me.
“Can’t you guys just whip up a potion or something?” she asked me once, adding that I should ask my grandmother for an elixir to drink before bed so I’d get the answers to all my problems in my dreams. Whenever she calls us “you guys” and says something like that, I’m reminded of how little she really knows about us. But that doesn’t stop me from wishing I was as magical as she thinks we are, and it doesn’t stop me from beating myself up for not being as magical as I know I’m supposed to be.
So I say to myself, I should be able to do this . . . I should know what to do to make my doll dance. I’m supposed to have intuition. I’m supposed to be so spiritually in tune. But maybe I am a dud. I am supposed to be an insider, so why am I in the dark about the whole subject?
At the ceremony when we received our dolls, we were given inspiring but vague advice: The doll will dance when you connect to the world in a mature way for the first time. The doll will dance when you are a woman in the Goddess’s eyes. But was there any word on what I’m supposed to do to make it happen? Of course not. The outside world takes one look at me and thinks I’m some keeper of secret knowledge because of my family lineage, but inside myself I am just as directionless as they are.
“But when you were born, the Goddess presided over your christening,” Joanne once told me when I expressed some doubt to her. Seems like she’s always dragging my insecurities out in the open and trying to fix them with an easy sentence or two.
“It’s not a ‘christening,’” I reminded her. We argued like idiots over the meaning of the word; she thought it was a generic word for “naming ceremony” while I said a joining was something completely different from whatever her family had done to name her. At the time the argument had been a welcome distraction from my troubles, but at quiet times like today—the two-year anniversary of getting my doll while still being no closer to making her dance—my mind always returns to worries about who and what I am. I wish I could give my blood to someone who could make good use of it.
I would give it to Joanne if I could.
Joanne only started at our school in the middle of this year. On her first day, I saw her look up with interest when she heard my last name on the roll call, staring at me when I raised my hand and said “here.” I could see her looking me over for the telltale signs of my lineage. She glanced at my hair, and as soon as she spotted the charms among my braids her eyes automatically dropped to the place beside my desk, obviously looking to see if I carried a pouch, too. They always look for that when they’re wondering, “Is she one of THEM?” I would never dream of trying to pretend I come from a different family, so I wouldn’t try to hide it, but sometimes it embarrasses me at the same time.
Joanne probably knows more about Kinfolk than I do and I’ve been one of them my whole life. Apparently we’re one of her main interests, which makes me feel kind of funny. She came up to me after class that day and wasted no time buddying up with me, trying to get me to talk about myself. It’s really kind of awkward, but I am good about putting up with it when people are curious—and I was lonely, so I let her wear me down into our friendship. She knows a lot of stuff she really isn’t supposed to know, but nothing that breaks any of our laws or anything. She says the public library actually reveals a lot that we think is secret.
She’s never asked me the obvious questions because she knows why we carry a seashell and a compass around with us, and she knows the meaning of most of the little symbols we wear. She’s done her homework. But for all that, she still doesn’t really know what we’re about, and I think she knows it. She seems to think she’ll eventually capture the soul of the Kinfolk if she reads enough articles and gets the answers to enough questions from a real live one of us. But there is only so much curiosity a person can dish out without giving the subject a case of bug-in-a-jar syndrome. I wonder why she is so interested in us? I don’t exactly have many other people to pick from if I want friends, though. There are only two other girls who are Kin in our school and they are complete brats.
I used to sit with them at lunch. It just seemed natural. The other Kinfolk girls were annoying—I called them “the Bratkins” in my journal and in my head—but I figured I had to grin and bear it because compared to the outside world we were like family. It took a long time before I found the courage to decide I didn’t have to put up with their abuse. They had been nice enough when we were younger—maybe a little stuck-up—but once we’d gotten our dolls it was like some kind of race to see whose would dance first. And once it became clear that I was the dud of the group, they made jokes about how I “wouldn’t understand” their interests because I wasn’t “mature enough” yet.
Every lunch period it was like they were trying to outdo each other with dancing doll stories, and day after day I had to hear about how Seaira’s doll danced so many pirouettes and how JeLin got so into the dance she missed dinner. I couldn’t believe that they’d really gotten their dolls to dance; it was only supposed to happen to girls who were ready for the next stage of training, and these girls were NOT ready in my opinion. Especially not if I wasn’t.
And I’d think about my doll, with her gold feet rooted in place on her stage. I’d wonder how it was possible that something like that could move at all. The dolls look like statues. Even though I am not supposed to doubt, sometimes I do wonder if some of the things we are known for really happen, like in real life, or if they are just legends and complex metaphors. But my mother says they dance, and her mother says so too, and so does just about everyone’s mother that I know. Any elder Kin will say we have all sorts of “magic” given to us by the Goddess, but of course this is “personal” and shrouded in mystery even among our own kind. It baffles me. I can never really see myself calling the rain or doing healing rituals that really work. But again, I am a dud.
So, I eat with Joanne at lunch now, just the two of us. Even though she asks me lots of questions and chatters a lot more than I like, it is better than sitting with those Bratkins. After I stopped sitting with them I had no “crowd” to join—everyone had already made their lunch cliques years ago, so before Joanne came along, I spent several months eating alone. And I’d found that I preferred silence and slight embarrassment to putting up with their teasing. Joanne may bug me a little bit but it is nothing compared to what I used to face: JeLin used to give me a smirk as I sat down and ask me the inevitable “well, did you?” It got to be tiresome and embarrassing saying “no” day after day. At least Joanne kind of respects me in some weird way.
“Do you think I could do my hair like you?” Joanne asks me today.
She says that she’s considered doing it before but she is afraid she would come off as a wannabe when she just likes the style. I personally think that she would look silly, seeing as how she is obviously not Kin, but I do not want to say that to her.
“I’ll ask my grandmother if that would be okay.”
Joanne gets a sulky look on her face. “Why should I have to listen to your grandmother about my hairstyle?”
I give her a shrug like I don’t care. “You don’t have to listen to anyone. But if you’re just going to do whatever you want, then why’d you ask me in the first place?”
She drops her eyes. “Well it’s not against a law to copy a hairstyle, is it?”
“I don’t know,” I tell her honestly. “That’s why I said I’d find out for you. I have no idea if people would have a problem with you wearing our charms in your hair, but if you’d rather just do it and find out—and have a bunch of people asking you why you’re wearing it that way—then be my guest.”
“Fine then. Ask your grandma if she’s so all-knowing.”
Grandmother calls me “Seedling.” She only calls me by my real name when she is talking about me to someone else. When she addresses me I am always Seedling. I like the sound of her smooth voice saying it like it is a lullaby, with so much love on her face. And even though I am big now she still lets me sit in her hanging chair and twist with her. We talk about everything.
I have never told her that sometimes I think some of our so-called magic is hocus-pocus, but I have told her everything else that’s in my heart. I’ve even talked to her about the doll and why she doesn’t dance. Grandmother always says, “In time, Seedling,” and pets my hair like I am her little kitty. The funny thing is, she is wise but she really doesn’t talk very much. I find out a lot of the best things somehow just by having her listen.
“So what are you so daydreamy about today?” Joanne asks. When I don’t say anything she pokes my elbow with her fork.
“Ow. You got pineapple on me.” I wipe the juice off with my finger and smear it on her shirt sleeve. She frowns.
“Well somebody got up on the wrong side of the bed. What’s wrong?”
Instead of boarding the insult train, I just decide to tell her. She knows about how my doll doesn’t dance yet, but now I tell her how long I’ve been waiting. Two years as of today. I am glum because it is the two-year anniversary, and those other girls my age had theirs dancing in less than two months. She says she is sorry to hear that I am upset, and she offers to go with me after school to pass some time by the stream. I agree even though I really am not in the mood.
By the time school is over I’m actually kind of looking forward to meeting with her. I just want to walk and be out in nature and maybe hope something happens that will make me feel better. When I see her standing out in front of the building waiting for me, I actually return her smile for once and fall in step beside her.
“I was thinking, wanna go to the playhouse instead?” Joanne asks.
My face falls a little. “Not really.”
“I just don’t want to go there. It’s too noisy.” I’d rather be at peace for a while and talk, rather than end up automatically babysitting my relatives and their non-Kin friends like I do every time I go to the playhouse.
“Then let’s go to your house.”
I treat her to a groaning sound and an eyeroll.
“Come on, I seriously think you could sneak me in. I’d love to see your room. Really, I somehow doubt it will kill me.”
“Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha.” I say each syllable slowly to demonstrate how not funny that is.
“Do you really believe in that stuff, or do you think they just say it to keep outsiders away?” Joanne asks softly as we walk.
“I can definitely tell a difference when I walk into a protected building, Joanne—there’s something to it. It doesn’t matter if they’re exaggerating . . . it’s just not worth finding out the hard way trying to sneak you in my window, okay?”
We continue to bicker about it as we make our way to the stream. It turns out she thinks the whole mythology of charms on Kinfolk doorways is a lot more simplistic than it is; she’d been jokingly thinking that regular people were supposed to cross the threshold and drop dead.
“It’s more about cleansing than protecting,” I say. The charms are supposed to strip off “outside influences” so that when we are with our own we are always free of negativity and anything deemed unworthy of entrance. These same charms would supposedly suck the life out of any outsiders who entered, seeing as how they are outside influences themselves. Grandmother always warned me to never test it unless I wanted to hurt my friends. We always heeded the warning and played outside or in the community playhouse. Joanne likes the playhouse because it is the closest to being in our inner circle that she can get. It is sad that she wishes to be one of us, because I don’t think it’s really all that great. If only she knew. How would Joanne make her doll dance?
We pick a spot by the water and start talking about everything and nothing. I just let words fall out of my mouth, telling her some incidental events that have happened at home recently—mundane stuff about how I’ve been assigned to be one of six girls who gets to call the butterflies in a dance for the upcoming Bloom Day. I say that and before I know it I am getting the “Kamber you are so lucky” speech.
“What do you mean? What’s so lucky about it?” It’s not like it’s a wonderful assignment. She doesn’t know anything about Bloom Day or what dancing for it is like.
“I’ve read stories about this. I know about that butterfly circle thing. Don’t you dress up like flowers and do a ritual that actually calls real butterflies?”
“Not exactly.” I tell her she’s off on the dressing up like flowers—we wear bright colors, but we’re not trying to be flowers—and it’s not really a ritual that calls them.
“But I read that they kind of come in a swarm and land on the dancers and stuff, like they’re communicating with you. Is that part true?”
“Oh yeah, it is.”
“Then how do you get them to come?”
“It’s . . . it’s something most of us can do is all. We, uh, ask them to.”
“And you can do whatever it is?”
“Uh-huh. . . .” I’m starting to feel a little strangely proud now that she’s making such a big deal of it. I may not be able to make my doll dance but at least the butterflies listen to me. “Do you want to see it?”
“Okay, let me think.” Am I allowed to do this? I decide the answer’s yes—even though no one outside the Kinfolk can do it, I am allowed to show “outsiders” if I want to, because I don’t have to do anything complicated or even visible. It is something that I do completely in my head. It doesn’t demonstrate “motion, potion, or devotion”—no dances, no materials, no invoking of any deities by name, so it’s not one of those things that’s forbidden outside our circles. Supposedly bits of our lives can be “carried away” and “diluted” by being stored in a stranger’s mind, but I can show Joanne how I call butterflies because she cannot learn by watching me.
So we sit under a tree and I think back to my childhood days, remembering the time I learned to do this from a friend’s older sibling. “You just think of butterflies,” the girl had told us, “and then picture them thinking of you.” Now in the present my thoughts fill with wings, and I imagine butterflies thinking of me. I feel some sort of magnetism in the air—nothing intense or concentrated, just a little shiver—and soon enough we are covered with little blue wings.
Joanne is right next to me giving me another version of the “Kamber you are so lucky” speech, but it sounds a little distant. I’m wrapped up in my thoughts, realizing suddenly that to non-Kin “normal” people like Joanne, being able to do this is pretty strange. Maybe sort of magical—the kind of magic I keep thinking I don’t have. If I’m such a dud, how could I have just touched nature with hands regular people don’t have?
I close my eyes and mentally thank the butterflies for coming. They’re on my clothes and in my hair and I wonder if calling them here for someone else’s benefit was a bad thing. Was it unfair of me to pull them away from their lives? What do butterflies do anyway? I don’t even know and I tell them to drop everything and come over here. But they don’t seem to mind. I feel like maybe they like me. In my head I see butterflies, with faces and eyes on their wings. I see the eyes with their green shiny eyelashes blinking at me as the butterflies flit across my vision. Eyes on the wings. They see me. I see you too.
I get to my feet, which disturbs the rippling blanket of butterflies. I look at the tree we’ve been sitting under. It is a beautiful shade tree, and now I notice through a flurry of blue wings that there are hundreds of birds in its branches, giving us their attention. Joanne is oblivious, busy waving bye-bye to the fleeing butterflies, but I feel like something strange and sacred is happening here and the birds must be part of it. I stare up at them and feel like we’re all connected, like they know something about me, and I wonder if there’s something I’m supposed to know about them. I’ve never felt that mutual attention from any creature but butterflies and other people.
Joanne finally realizes I’m not entirely in this reality and belatedly looks up. Her face breaks out in a big grin when she sees we have visitors. She raises her hands up and pleads in that awkward way for them to flutter down and meet her. I privately think they would rather use her—or even both of us—for target practice, but they are not budging. They watch us silently, and the wind rustles the leaves and our hair.
Grandmother says she can understand bird songs. Once I asked her what the birds say and if it makes sense. She says they don’t say anything but that it does make sense. I told her that she did not make sense. And she laughed and stroked my hair and said in her purring way, “Oh, my Seedling.” She said that I would understand them too, in time.
And right now, as I look at the birds, I think I can hear them talking. But I know that I can only hear silence.
Joanne tugs my hand, making my eyelids flutter. “Want to walk downstream?”
“I want to stay a little longer and listen.”
“I think the birds are talking. I can kind of hear it.”
Her face flushes like she is excited and jealous. “What’re they saying?”
“Hang on.” When she asks me questions I end up missing what is happening up in the tree. I just hold up my hand and she is quiet, responding to my wishes like a butterfly might.
The way the birds move is part of their language. I see them cocking their heads at me, and my mind makes words out of it: “Who’s that? Let’s watch.” Some wings rustle, and my eyes interpret the movement: “When will we fly? Should we fly? Is there danger, or opportunity for us?” I understand this eloquent silence so well that when the spell breaks, my concentration doesn’t. The birds go back to acting like regular birds, making noise and moving around, but I am caught up in it. I feel as though I am the collective soul of the group of birds, seeing the world from a height that would normally make me dizzy, able to easily propel my light body at will with just a flutter of wings. I feel like a wind has moved through me, leaving me with a sense of peace. Now I am all myself again, standing on the ground looking up at the trees. That was fun. I want to do it again. I can’t; Joanne is here waiting for me.
I take her hand and we walk along the stream.
“What were you doing there?” she asks.
“Listening to the birds’ conversation, I guess.”
When she asks me what they said, I feel like it is a ridiculous question until I remember that I once asked it myself. I wonder if my grandmother thinks I ask ridiculous questions? Probably. I once asked her if the wind moves the trees or if the trees move to make the wind. She asked me which I thought it was, and I told her that I thought it was some of both. She said that I was right, and then we danced with the trees in the courtyard.
And now Joanne wants to know what the birds say. I tell her what my grandmother said: “They don’t say anything, but they make sense.” She is confused and then becomes frustrated by my answer, and says I am trying to make her feel dumb on purpose.
“I wouldn’t do that!” When I asked my grandmother to explain and she said the same thing, I didn’t think she was trying to make me feel dumb. Oh, that must be it. I didn’t feel dumb because she said I would learn in time. But Joanne probably won’t. Most people never do.
So I soften and try to explain to her. “Sorry, I don’t mean to sound high and mighty or anything.” She seems partially appeased by that, so I go on, and say the birds don’t speak or have any real language. They communicate by living. Their being alive is a signal to other birds, and to me. I explain that they do not have to “say” to “mean.” She understands. She is a smart girl.
We hold hands by the riverside and she shows me what she knows of making grass ropes. She makes me a bracelet out of grass and helps me tie it on. I like it that she made it for me, even though the bracelet itself isn’t very worthy of praise. I leave a clay bead on the bank where she was plucking.
It is funny that I am friends with Joanne. I decide that I really do like her, even though we started being friends because she was interested in me more as a subject than a person. I like her as a person, and I like what she is too. A link to the outside world—the one that almost everyone else lives in. Even though my life and practices are the ones shrouded in mystery, the regular people’s lives seem like a big secret to me. It is the standard; therefore it is never spoken.
I wonder what they fill their lives with if their time is not spent doing the things I do. I always have to do my share of chores, do my training and meditation, and attend celebrations and rituals. Except for my chores, it seems my whole way of life is focused around getting to know the Goddess and Her world better, and learning to use my own natural energy, and making the most of my potential. I bet the other kids do chores, but what does Joanne do when she gets home? What is she doing when I am watching my doll stand perfectly still? I ask her.
She reads, learns, watches television. She enjoys daydreaming, drawing, and swimming. But those are hobbies.
“But what’s, like, the core of your life?” I ask. “What does everything you do lead to? What’s the purpose of it all?”
“I guess there isn’t a single purpose, just to learn and enjoy and stuff. Just because I can’t name a purpose doesn’t mean it’s all meaningless.”
“But that’s not really what I mean.”
After a long period of confusing, argumentative chatter, I conclude that she doesn’t have a core of life. I wonder what that is like but I don’t push it, because it seems to bother her that I think she doesn’t have one.
“It sounds like you think I’m boring and stupid.”
“I never think you’re boring or stupid!” I really don’t. She is just so different from me and I don’t really even know why. Are we really born different or are we just raised that way? Like the trees and the wind, probably a little of both.
I have to go home early today because there is a mixed dance ritual tonight. Some of the older boys are going to light fires for us. I have been to a lot of these but never for someone I knew. Tonight will be the first time that it will be partially in honor of someone I grew up with. It seems like last week that I was playing in the garden with little Zinc Potter, being watched by his older sister. Zinc isn’t so little anymore, I guess, now that he’s going to be lighting fires tonight.
I wonder how he will look without his shirt on, by firelight. I always thought when I was little that I’d grow up and marry him. I remember the time that he spelled my name with blue and amber beads on rice paper and hung it on my window. He had to explain to me that he did the “K” in blue and the rest of my name in amber because without the “K” my name was “Amber.” I had never thought of that before and immediately thought it absurd that I hadn’t. We had fun being kids together. Now he is grown up. I wonder if he thought it was weird when I was old enough to get my doll. Or maybe he doesn’t think about me at all.
“I wish I could go to your dance ritual,” says Joanne.
“You know that’s not allowed.”
“Relax, I just said ‘I wish.’ I wasn’t asking you to take me.” She sounds huffy.
“Sorry. I wish I could.” I give her a small smile to placate her. “I kinda wish I could do your homework and you could go dancing instead of me.”
“Makes two of us. Want to do my homework anyway?”
“See ya tomorrow.” She tugs one of my braids out of its place and grins, then takes off skipping toward her house. She seems like such a happy person for someone who wants someone else’s life.
When I arrive home I take a bean from the basket and cross my fingers over it to make my daily wish. For the last two years almost every day my wish has been that my doll will dance, but tonight I do not feel like wishing for that. I make a wish for someone I don’t know and will never meet to be miraculously healed of some physical or mental torment. It is a thankless, silly wish but it comes into my head, so I shrug, kiss my bean, and toss it in my mother’s cauldron. I always wonder who ends up eating my wish at dinner.
I have finished polishing the silver, cleaning the incense jars, and sweeping the porch, so now I am free to go to my room and do what I like. It is a weird feeling to have free time on a weekday, but training isn’t meeting today since there is a ritual tonight. I write in my journal what I have done today, but my mind is not really on it. I don’t feel like recounting my feelings about it being the two-year anniversary. I’ve already felt bad about it all day and I don’t really need to moon over exactly how bad it feels. Besides, I don’t want to reveal too much in my journal. No one is supposed to read it and supposedly others respect my privacy, but people do cheat.
People cheat. The words crystallize in my mind. Would I cheat? I would never violate someone by reading a private journal, and even if I would no one comes to mind who is that interesting to me anyway. I don’t think I have ever cheated in any way that I can think of. Would I ever? I think I could. I don’t know if I would.
I could cheat with my doll. I could always say she danced. I have heard enough stories to know what it is like for a doll to dance, thanks to the Bratkins. And I could change her position so that she looks like she moved. I think about it.
No one ever really mentions it but anyone could make it look like a doll changed position. They are made of some alloy; they are metal. Easy. I could do it. We all used to play with scraps of metal in early training, just trying to see what silly things we could make our energy do. I could just put my fingers on her shoulders and make the metal soft, soft enough for her arms to come down. The same for her feet, pick her up and move her a little. Tilt her head to the side. She’s been holding her arms up for a long time. She wants to put her arms down. She is tired. She wants me to do it. I could, I can make the metal change its shape. She wants to put her arms down.
But why would I do that? If I can’t make a doll dance the way I am supposed to, how will I be able to pass the hurdles that lie ahead? If they think I can make a doll dance, they will think I am ready to try harder things. I could never lie, and I could never punish myself that way. If I am not ready, I really am not ready. And I am honest.
She wants to put her arms down.
At the ritual in the dark there is a lot of energy in the air. Funny how Zinc looks the same as before. I always thought he really didn’t look like Kin but it’s very obvious he is; this is living proof. The fire he calls is sort of blue, like his eyes. He is beautiful.
I wonder what started this. Why did we decide girls and boys are so different? Where did the symbolism come from? Why are men encouraged to bind with fire and air while we are assigned water and earth? I think it’s funny that because I was born a girl that means I’ll never dance in a fire ritual. And Zinc will never do the mirror magic, or be in any of our tree plays. He’ll never have to make a doll dance, either. I wonder if I feel sorry for him or if I want to be him.
After the women have called in the rain, we girls scramble out of the brook and try to catch the paper flowers. The men do a good job keeping them away from us with the winds they’ve called. The boys are using us for target practice, trying to induce the winds to drop paper roses into the hands of their sweethearts. I hold up my arms and squeal like I am very interested in catching a flower, because I am expected to care, but my mind is elsewhere. I wonder about men and women, girls and boys, and how things got to be the way they are. This wind is really knotting up my hair. I am tired. I want to put my arms down.
Before bed I sit in the hanging chair with Grandmother. She patiently unwinds the knots in my hair and admires my paper flower in a sing-song voice. I twirl it between my fingers. I don’t know who gave it to me, but it just as easily could have been a mistake. It probably was. Nobody controls the winds perfectly, after all; it was most likely an accident. I wonder how many poor girls caught flowers today and are smugly dreaming “who likes me?” dreams when some idiot just messed up?
I ask Grandmother about the boys and the girls.
“That’s just the way it is,” she says as we twist. “It’s a lot like names. How do you think a boy would like being named Kamber?”
That makes me giggle.
“How would you like it if your name was Shael?” That is my grandfather’s name. I laugh again. I tell her that I think girl names just “sound” feminine. She says that maybe fire and air just “sound” masculine, while water and earth “sound” like they belong to women. I ponder that for a while as we twist in the chair.
Finally I say that I do not think it is fair for men to be in charge of wind and fire. “What if I like fire better than I like water?” I ask, sticking out my chin in mock defiance like I am actually considering challenging the system.
“I like fire too, Seedling,” she agrees. “And it’s a good thing. We need both fire and water to keep the world going, just as we need both earth and air.”
I tell her that I understand that just fine, but that I think it’s kind of silly that I don’t get to practice fire just because I am a girl.
“Do you really want to practice fire or are you just asking questions?”
“I really do want to.”
She shrugs and tells me no one will stop me. I knew she would say that and I tell her so. Grandmother hugs me and tells me that if I ever manage to cause a spark, she’ll be glad to tell me how it looks from the outside. I tell her that I think I already can “cause a spark,” probably a lot more. She says my temper doesn’t count as a bonfire even though it rivals one. I get the hiccups laughing.
After I’ve calmed down and my hiccups have gone away, I lean against Grandmother and look at my rose. It’s made of paper. I will make it burn, right now.
There is always a fire inside me and I am not afraid of it. I cannot be afraid of a piece of myself. If it gets too big for me I can put it in a bubble, any time I want to. I think of it that way now, a flame with a bubble around it, in my head. It floats out through the top of my head and I can see it in the air, even though it is not really there. I can control it because it is mine. It floats in the air above me for a moment as I watch, until finally I decide to see what it can do and let it drift down to touch the top of my paper rose.
I knew I could do it. Paper has a pleasing smell when it is burning. Once it is real fire I do not control it as well, and it burns faster than I want. Grandmother did not think I could do something like this. Her surprise shows not in her face, but in the way her heart beats. I can feel it because we’re sitting so close together as the rose burns. The rose petals have turned to ash and the flame is devouring the paper stem. I am not afraid.
The flame dims, turns red, and eats itself before it gets to my skin. I am pleased but oddly not surprised. I knew I could do it and I did. Strange that I can do this any time I want to and I am a girl.
“You should not have tried it so soon,” Grandmother tells me. “You could have waited until you were back in your room, and then you could have burned something else and been able to keep your rose.”
I tell her I do not care; I don’t know who gave it to me, or if anyone did. She does not congratulate me or look especially pleased with my accomplishment, which bothers me. She just hugs me and tells me her usual nighttime dream wishes and instructions for the morning, then goes to bed, leaving me in the hanging chair. I sit for a long time after she is gone, holding a handful of ashes.
So on this night, of all nights, I dream about the Goddess. She is in the trees and dapples their trunks with Her many faces. I am in the forest doing a private ritual with Her, drinking a honey drink from a jeweled chalice. I am wearing rope shoes and some kind of dress that feels like it is made of moss. She is asking me to pucker my lips so that She can apply juice from red berries to them. I do as She says and then She gives me a mirror. She asks me to do a mirror ritual, and even though I am not old enough to lead one I figure it is okay if She told me to. Somehow I have all the supplies I need. I pour the water on the mirror and invoke the correct aspects, and in the middle of my saying the words like my mother the Goddess stops me. She says She just wants me to watch the mirror and tell Her what I see there. I tell Her I see me. And then I wake up.
Go, go! I’m walking to school, wishing I could fly. I take out my little mirror while I’m walking and check my hair. My silver charms are lined up perfectly along my braids. Good, I don’t have any corn kernels between my teeth. I look all right but I don’t feel very together. Oh no! Stupid! I forgot to wash up. I still have smoke-stained fingertips from pinching out the candles this morning. I don’t have time to stop in the girls’ room. I wipe my hands on my sweater, and then call myself stupid again. Now I look like I got dirt thrown on me or something. I am such a dork. No wonder I don’t have any friends. Stupid!
Something happened last night, I know. I called the fire and I controlled it, and then I saw the Goddess in a dream. I think at first that maybe the Goddess wanted to tell me to stick to female things instead of trying to be like a boy playing with fire. Maybe that is why there was so much female imagery there: The chalice, the water, the mirror ritual, the lip dye, the Goddess Herself. But then why did She ask me what I saw when I looked in the mirror, and why did She stop me from doing the mirror ritual? Maybe She is telling me to be true to myself. Oh, that sounds so hokey to me. I’m not good at this dream interpretation stuff. I wish I was better. Maybe I will wish for that on my bean today.
I am in homeroom thinking about fire. If I had a fire I would want it to be green. Green fire! What if I tried it on the wastebasket? That would be the dumbest thing I’d ever done. I think about it for a while but it never goes farther than the little green fire-bubble inside my head.
Language class. Stupid, stupid writing assignment. It is even less meaningful than my journal at home in which I dutifully record my experiences. My favorite television program is. . . . What a stupid prompt! I don’t even have a television. I consider for a moment, wondering if I could just make up a pretend answer since the teacher probably won’t know the difference. Instead, I go up and ask her what I should do since I don’t watch TV.
She gives me this weird blank stare like I just said I am from another planet and want her to come on my UFO. She says in disbelief, “You don’t have a TV?” Stupid, stupid! Girls are whispering behind me. I think it’s about me. They’re laughing. I tell her that no, I don’t have a TV and ask what I should write about instead. She is so thick it is like a fog landed on her.
“Well what do you do when you go home?” she asks, as if she can’t imagine that anyone in the universe doesn’t go home and plug into a box. What does she think I do?
Wisecrack answers suggest themselves, but I just tell her I’ll write about what I do when I go home if that’s okay. She nods like she wishes I just wasn’t in her class and I go back to my seat. I hate today.
I wonder if my teacher is one of those people who thinks all the Kinfolk are cultists or something. I bet she thinks I go home and sacrifice animals. Maybe I should write that I killed a chicken last night, ate its feet, and painted evil symbols with its blood. Hmm. It would be funny but not exactly helpful to our image if anyone were to find out I wrote that. I’m not allowed to make as many mistakes or have as much slack because I am high-profile even when no one is watching me.
I am having a bad day but I do not want to talk about it to Joanne. She is as nosy as ever, though, and I spill some of it.
“If it makes you feel better, I’m having a bad day too,” she says.
“Yeah. I banged my knee on the desk drawer and my sister stole my medicated moisturizer and left town, so my hands are all cracked and I can’t write.”
We will go to the stream again today.
I wonder if Seaira and JeLin got roses last night. I wish I could blow my ashes in their faces. Or ask them if they can light fires. They probably never tried and would act like I was gross for messing with male elements before I could control female ones. I can just hear them making fun of me in my head. JeLin would probably ask me in that sneering tone when I was going to get a ritual dagger, and I bet Seaira would ask kiddingly if she could be my girlfriend and ask for a kiss. Then they’d laugh at me and remind me that I am worthless because I can’t even make a doll dance. But still, I bet they’d be at least a little jealous, and I bet they’d try it in their rooms that night to make sure there was nothing I could do that they couldn’t. It would never do to be outdone by a dud.
At the stream today, Joanne soaks her feet. She says she wishes she could soak her hands too but she is afraid the water might have microorganisms in it that will infect her if she touches it with cracked skin. I tell her she should just bury them in the mud.
“The mud? What would that do?”
“Well, the earth has healing powers.”
“So you’re saying if someone’s sick you bury them outside.”
I give her a withering look. “Joanne, how can you be so interested in our ways and then make fun of us at the same time?”
She kicks at the stream. “I’m not trying to make fun. But it sounds weird, using dirt in healing. It seems like the opposite of what’s natural.” She looks up and meets my eyes. “Have you ever done a healing ritual?”
“I’ve learned some basics but nothing too in-depth. I’m not old enough.”
“Well if you want, you could practice on my hands. If you want. You know, since it isn’t a serious illness and there’s no pressure and stuff. If you want. Want to?”
“Not allowed.” I remind her about the “motion, potion, or devotion” law and explain to her that that would probably require all three. Then I tell her she can try it herself; just stick her hands in the earth, the element of healing, and ask the Goddess for what she wants.
She seems embarrassed and kind of annoyed that I both refuse to help her and expect her to try it herself, but very soon her curiosity wins out and she sticks her hands in the soft brown mud. Her face shows that she thinks she is being silly. But it really doesn’t matter that she doesn’t believe if I do.
I find that my hands are on top of Joanne’s over the mud, and my mouth is full of words I want to speak. I am not allowed. It doesn’t matter, though, because words aren’t real. Meaning is. I run through the usual words in my head; I’ve heard them in all-purpose rituals all my life, and they just form in my thoughts in the right order. Great Goddess, I ask for You to heal what is broken beneath Your brown earth. You have lent me Your strength many times and now I give back a bit to the Earth so that You might help my friend. It is a simple request and when I feel I’ve given it enough time to be honored I tell Joanne that she should just wash the mud off in the stream water, and this time she doesn’t bug me about microorganisms. She says they feel better but to me they still look cracked. It is probably her imagination, especially since I didn’t have any words, songs, or potions, not to mention that I’m not an adult, but I’m not going to doubt the Goddess. I just asked Her to do it if it was Her will; I didn’t do anything myself. Joanne soaks her feet again. I am not in a soaking mood.
I feel weird and disconnected and for now that bothers me, so I decide to do a little communing even though I’m not at my altar. I like it better outside anyway. I position my body against a tree and reach my arms up like branches, like I am in a tree play.
“What’re you doing?” Joanne calls over.
“Being a tree.”
“You look cute.”
I nod to her and she stands up to wade into the water.
I stretch my hands as high as I can above me, like branches, and pretend that I have many arms. I imagine that my arms all become more arms, ending in leaves instead of fingers, coated with warm rough bark instead of my thin white skin. And my feet don’t stop at the Earth’s surface; I imagine my feet sinking into the soil, my toes turning into roots, looking for nourishment and water, providing me balance. And when I look up, pretending to be a tree, I shut my eyes and I feel the sun. I try to feel it in the leaves I envision, to change it to nourishment the way plants can.
I have done this before playing the children’s role during tree plays, but I’ve never played a central tree. Even though there is no one watching, I take the role now, to see what it is like. My thoughts are slow and I am open to the gifts of the heavens. I stand for a moment, wondering if the magic I have heard about will strike me if I keep my arms up. My mother says that in tree plays the women feel what it is like to be a tree, and that I will know it if it happens to me. I can feel the sun on my fingertips, and I can envision the light soaking into my leaves to feed me from above as water from below hydrates me through my roots . . . but it is my imagination only, vivid as it is. I do not feel as though I am a tree even though I can pretend I am one. I realize, though, that I cannot work magic if I just stand there waiting for it to happen to me. From the outside, a person writing a poem looks the same as a person who is writing random words. The important difference is what is happening in the writers’ minds; it changes what is written on the paper. The Goddess only comes when my heart calls Her, not when I lift my hand and call Her name.
I wonder why my mother and my grandmother never told me what people think about to play a leading role in a tree play. It seems that when a girl is ready to take important steps, she is told so by her elders . . . but before they tell her, she knows, because the Goddess has told her first. My mother never told me what it’s like to “be” a tree because if she had, I would be able to have some picture of the experience before I’d had it myself. It wouldn’t be truly my own if she told me what it was like. It is not like when I got my first period; they told me what that would be like, because my knowing wouldn’t change the procedure. My body would not do something different just because I knew what to expect; my mind, on the other hand, would do just that.
I feel like I am falling asleep. Really, though, it does not feel like I am falling. I am flying asleep. And now I am dreaming, in this opposite-of-asleep state; dreaming of being a tree. It is a little too real for me; I am afraid I am actually going to sprout branches and get stuck in the soil, so I open my eyes. My hands above me look as they always did: Ten pale fingers with raggedy nails. My eyes can see the sky beyond them, and fringes of the forest canopy. I wouldn’t really be able to see if I was a tree. But I haven’t lost the feeling of being hyper-asleep, or of being a tree. I decide to relax and close my eyes. Maybe I am doing it, I think, but I try to can the thought so it won’t spoil the moment.
The wind catches my hair, and in the dream my branches sway. I am a dancing tree. And it is like yesterday with the birds, the way I fell out of my body to be the collective soul of the flock, only this time it is the forest. A tree has no true consciousness, and its being is spread out along its entire body. I didn’t know this before but now I know it because I am all of them. They have no sense of time, so now is forever, and there is no time to wonder whether I want to put my arms down.
But I am really a person, so I am really aware of time even in this state. A piece of me notices the wind and hears leaves rustling. When the wind has passed, I wonder if as a tree I can make wind too, the way Grandmother and I talked about the day we danced with the trees in the courtyard. When I tilt my body to the right, I feel my dream-branches taking air with them, a breeze. Is it real? Tilting left causes another dream-breeze. I cannot tell in my tree-soul state how real it is. I need to define what I am doing.
It is easy to just be myself again; I’m used to it so I return to normal consciousness effortlessly. I wonder if I can bring the air with me when I am not being a tree. Holding my hands up like branches and tilting does not seem to create any wind now. I wonder what I am doing wrong. I imagine that I am a small, top-heavy tree with many branches, and I try to feel the sun on my leaves. When I really think my imaginary foliage is occupying space, I tilt right again. And the air does move. I actually see it moving my hair when I open my eyes. Did I do it? Or was that a natural wind? I try again but it seems that the air moves more or less according to what I’m trying to do. I think I’m making that happen. It is hard to tell.
When I put my arms down my shoulders ache and my hands tingle. I have lost circulation in my fingers and my muscles are stiff. But I think I did it. It is worth it.
Suddenly I am scared, and frustrated. The wind. The air—that is a man’s job. What is with me? Why all of a sudden now? The Goddess gave up on me after two years of trying to be a woman, so now She’s training me as a boy? I try to calm down. No. I tried to do a healing, and I practiced being a tree. I can do girl things too. I’m just special, I decide, but I don’t feel any better. If I’m so talented then why can’t I make a doll dance?
I stoop by the foot of the tree to ask the Goddess for help and guidance, but I only find words in my mouth to thank Her. I’m whispering my tribute to Her and Her world, thanking Her for the experience I’ve just had. And I am thankful, and should have realized it earlier. Strange how I bent to ask Her for more and ended up thanking Her for what I already have.
I realize I do not see Joanne. She has wandered off. In a way I am glad because that means at least she did not see me flipping out. But now I wonder if she just got bored of me and went home. I go to the edge of the stream and my eyes find her a ways down. I go to her.
She is picking ferns and flowers along the stream, putting the most colorful ones in her hair. She looks like a large wingless fairy with all that nature decorating her. She watches me approach.
“What kept you?” she asks softly as she tucks her hair around the stem of a flower.
“Being a tree,” I say, not wanting to elaborate. I quickly grab a bead from my pouch and bury it where she was picking flowers.
“What’re you doing?” she asks.
“Paying for your flowers,” I reply. “Whenever we take something it’s good to give something in return.”
“So why does a clay bead—”
“It’s not about what you give back, it’s just that you do. It’s supposed to make you remember that you don’t own the Earth’s bounty, so it kind of creates a nice give-and-take feeling between you and your environment.” I shrug when she just stares at me like I’m lecturing her. “That’s just what we believe. It seems to work since we sure get our share of blessings back.”
“I never thought of that,” she says, and now she looks sorry.
I tell her that it isn’t a big deal, and that if she really feels bad about it I can help her out. I tell her she can carry beads or other gifts with her to leave if she takes, and she can make up for the past right now if she wants to. I quickly invent a ritual in my head for the purpose. She doesn’t know that no Kinfolk would ever do this, because none of us ever need to make up for the past, since we’ve always been raised to pay for what we take. That’s why it’s okay to show her; it isn’t really one of our rituals, but it is like them.
We make a Goddess-like figurine out of mud to personify the Earth, and I tell her to speak her own words to it silently, to state the purpose of asking Her audience.
“What should I say?”
“Tell Her why you want to talk to Her. Only you really know.”
“I guess that’s true. Then what?”
I tell her she should envision a piece of her own soul glowing in her hands, to lay at the foot of the Goddess. Then after we leave, the Goddess will make the creek wash up and grab it, and as the Moon waxes, she will little by little receive her energy back until the Moon is full.
“After that you’ll feel aligned with the Moon’s cycle for a while,” I say. “While it goes through its cycles you’ll feel a little bit like you’re waxing and waning too, until the Goddess feels like She has gotten enough energy from you that you’ve paid your debt.”
Joanne looks excited at the prospect of this and asks me to leave her alone to deliver her soul, which I gladly do. As I wait I wonder what the Goddess will think of getting gifts from someone who isn’t even Kin. Will She think it’s silly? Probably not; we’re all Her creatures. Some are just more aware of it, and aware of Her. It’s weird; I feel so much like a dud when compared to my peers at home but when I’m with Joanne I realize how much I really know.
Today has been a strange day for me. Maybe my doll will dance today; after all, I was a pretty good tree, wasn’t I? I tell Joanne I should go home and start on my housework. She says she wants to go home and sleep. I wonder if she is just pretending to be tired because she has supposedly given a piece of herself to the Goddess. After all, she has no training in these matters; she probably doesn’t know how to communicate spiritually. But I don’t say anything, of course. If it is real to her, that is all that matters.
I walk through the door and take a bean from the basket, crossing my fingers automatically. What was it I was going to wish for that I thought of this morning? I can’t remember. I freeze for a moment, trying to recall. Agh, I’m so stupid. My brow crinkles into a frown. What was I thinking about on the way to school? Ah yes, my dream. I want to be better at interpreting dreams. I toss the bean into the cauldron and set about cleaning the incense jars.
I finish my chores and go to my room to get my notebook. I look it over before I head to training. We’re on runes today, and I think we’re learning a new dance. That’s right, the drummers will be there. Cool.
In the training room, our group is reading the combined rune meanings that our instructor has scratched in the dirt. I’m pretty good at runes and most of them seem obvious to me. The ones that don’t only take a little thought before I get them. I’m a natural. Most people pass it off as something that came in my genes, since my father does scribe work. When I’m done I look at the other groups. Some are still learning rune meanings, and others aren’t doing runes today. A couple other groups are doing the same thing we are. JeLin is in one of the groups across the room. Goddess, I am so glad she is not in my group. I hope I don’t have to hold hands with her at all in the dance. I’m thankful that Seaira doesn’t go to this training room. Her mother does face paint for important rituals and so Seaira gets to take makeup classes. She has to take scribe classes on the weekends, for which I do not envy her. But then again, it’s just another reason for her to brag: when this is over she’ll know a lot more than I will. She thinks she’s so great. How in the world did she ever get her doll to dance when she is such a brat? How could the Goddess allow that?
Nothing is going on tonight, so once training is over I just go back to my room. I suppose I will work with my doll and write in my journal. I sit down at my altar and think about my doll dancing, her arms and legs coming out of the pose, twirling around in front of my eyes. It doesn’t happen except weakly in my imagination. My thoughts turn to other matters.
I made fire yesterday. I made wind today, I think. For a second my mind steps outside of itself and thinks like the other girls in my school, like girls who don’t know much about Kinfolk at all. How could I really make fire? How could I really call wind? Isn’t that impossible? What actually made the fire, how did that rose get hot enough all of a sudden out of nowhere to burst into flames? What actually made that wind, how did the air start to move when nothing pushed it? No, it couldn’t happen.
What in the world? It is almost like I am channeling a real person’s thoughts. I can’t believe I am thinking like that. All the men who are related to me can call fire and wind; it’s completely natural and it happens every day. Where is my brain? I need to bury it in the mud and let it heal for a while.
My doll hasn’t moved.
Why would she have moved? I didn’t do anything.
I stand up and hold up my arms, trying to see if I can call wind again. Indoors, it couldn’t possibly be just a natural wind happening to sweep by. If it happens this time, it’s definitely real.
Now it seems like this is something I’ve done all my life instead of something I learned to do four hours ago. My hair looks like it’s floating, tangling above me while I stand in a strange geyser of moving air. It is so sudden that the displacement causes my loose rice paper to fly off the desk. I stop what I am doing immediately and stare at the paper. Why did the air just respond to my thoughts like that? That was weird. I wonder if I could have done this any time I wanted? How long have I been able to do stuff like this and just not known it?
I take a sheet of rice paper and fold it into a rose, like the one I caught last night. As soon as I’m done I sweep it out of my hands with a gentle wind. It’s like something in a dream. I’m just as good as the men are! I could drop a flower to any girl I wanted, better than any boy I’ve seen.
I drop it on the rug of my room, barely seeing where it lands because of the sudden tears in my eyes. Why would I be thinking about giving roses to girls? It’s not like I want to marry one. This is so stupid. I am a girl and I should be making my doll dance, not making winds to drop flowers on some squealing maiden. I try to calm down. I didn’t really want to use wind to drop flowers; I just wanted to see what I could do with it. I have new magic and I want to practice. What’s wrong with that, even if it is a guy thing?
I give my doll a glance and then realize my eyes are going to the candles on my altar. I bet I could light them without matches. I’m not supposed to do that. I’m supposed to light them a certain way, with special long matches. I think about it but maybe it really would be disrespectful to just practice on candles that are supposed to be for devotional purposes only. I decide there’s no harm in trying to light the match without striking it, though.
Can I make the fire green? I’m sure I can. It’s in my head that way, so it’ll come out that way if I want it to. I pick up the match, hold it at arm’s distance, and let my fire bubble go. When it touches there is a moment of nothing before it startles me by bursting into green flame. My heart pounds when I see it. I did that, I know I did. This is cool! I light the candles on my altar with the long match and let the fire on the stick burn out. Three little green flames wave congratulations. The white candle on the left always seems a little shorter than the other two, it burns faster. Supposedly that means I’m still a “maiden.” I’d be a little worried if the mother or wise-woman candle melted faster. I’m not ready to be a mother or grandmother!
Come to think of it, will I ever be a mother? I caught a rose but does any guy really like me? I doubt Zinc likes me. It probably wasn’t him. He was just my garden friend. Hmm, Rinn Magnolia? He was a cutie, especially last night with his shirt off. Maybe I’ll marry his older brother? Hah, their parents are weird. Hallin Pathworker! Ha, ha, yeah, right. What would he want with me? Probably ask me over to babysit and then go out to date a real woman. Why am I thinking about this? It’s not like I can even have a boyfriend until after my doll dances anyway.
If I was a boy I bet I’d be well on my way. The boys have little gold foxes and they have to make them find food. I bet next time I try to make my doll dance it goes out and comes back with a berry in its mouth! And my parents will be in here while I’m at school and they’ll say, “Goodness, what is this berry doing on Kamber’s altar?” and my grandmother will tell them she knew they should have taken me to some doctor and gotten me a sex change. I’ll have to hide the berry before they see it. Oh who am I fooling, it’s not like my doll will ever move. The Goddess must be poking Her fingers in my eyes because tears are coming out again. I pinch out the candles and let myself cry.
I hear the dinner bell. I wipe my eyes with my fingers and look in my mirror, trying to see if I look like I’ve been crying. Oh, my Goddess. I have smudges on my cheeks from the smoke on my fingertips. Now I really have to wash up.
I wash in the basin and use my washcloth, then head out to the table. Mother’s got my plate all ready for me; I guess they couldn’t wait to start. Father smells like plum incense as he leans close to me to pull my chair out. I sit down and begin to eat.
Can my parents tell I’ve been crying? My mother used to claim she knew what I was doing at all times because of “mother’s magic.” Back then I didn’t know what was real and what was made up and I believed her. Maybe she does know some things I don’t know . . . what if she knows I was practicing wind today? What if she knows I lit fires in my bedroom? How will I explain? Will my father pat my back like a boy and confess that he always wished he had a son and I was the next best thing? My mind is getting ahead of itself. I feel a little sick.
“What’s the matter, Kamber? Swallow someone’s wish?” asks my father with a silly grin.
I shake my head and continue eating my beans.
Now it is late and I am letting my tears leak onto Grandmother like I am an over-watered pot flower. I have told her all about my bad day and explained my adventures with wind and fire. She listens with that wonderful non-judgmental ear of hers. I feel much better now that it is time for that wonderful non-judgmental mouth to open and give me advice. My tears keep coming but now my voice is quiet.
“So you really felt you were one with them, did you?” she says after a long silence.
“With the trees and the birds? Yeah, I did,” I say.
“‘Collective consciousness,’” she quotes me with a chuckle. “That is poetic, Seedling; you may be a poetess before long.”
I frown. She is not addressing my worries. I lean against her in silence for a while hoping for more, but it is not coming. I wonder if she is asleep and pull back to look at her, but her brown eyes are still solidly open, intelligent; her heart still thuds beside me.
“Grandmother?” I nudge finally.
“Yes,” she murmurs. Her hand touches my braids.
“What do you think I should do?”
Silence. The hand brushing my braids. Steady thudding heartbeat. Chair twisting, Grandmother’s breath on my skin.
“Grandmother!” I say, louder.
“Kamber, please be still,” she requests, with some kind of iron in her voice. She is thinking, that means. I am thinking too.
“Why didn’t you call me ‘Seedling’?” I ask.
“I’m thinking you may have bloomed,” she replies. The hand caresses my hair; a smile creases her face. She is not looking at me. “Just in time for Bloom Day, my lovely.”
“What are you talking about?”
“If you have bloomed, you can hardly be a seedling, now can you? Perhaps you have been a flower for a long time and I just have not noticed.”
“Grandmother.” What does she mean?
She leans forward, making me lose my balance. I almost topple out of the hanging chair.
“That’s all right, you can go ahead and get up now,” she says.
“What do you mean?” I am frustrated, and the Goddess has Her pinkies in my eyes.
“I’d like you to stand and show me,” she says. “I believe you, Kamber, I do. But I need to see it.”
“You mean the wind?”
I scramble to my feet to do her bidding. It is very easy to center myself and I am confident after my practice earlier. The wind just comes, as naturally as a bird can fly. And I feel proud, not out of place for doing something that usually is reserved for boys. My grandmother’s grooming job on my hair is reversed in an instant, but I don’t care.
She is standing, looking at me as I put my arms down after the short demonstration.
“I have something important to tell you,” she says.
“What is it?”
“I will talk to the others tomorrow, but I really don’t think that we can have you calling butterflies on Bloom Day.”
My stomach drops. “What?”
“I do believe we’ll use you somewhere else—”
I know that phrase, and it is always a rejection: You’re not good enough for this job, but I’m sure we “need” you somewhere else. I cut my grandmother off with a shout.
“No! I can call butterflies just fine! I really can, Grandmother. . . .” Oh, how could she think I can’t?
“Of course you can,” she says soothingly. I am getting mad as she continues. “I’m not doubting your ability to—”
“Then why would you take me out of butterfly circle?” I accuse her. “All I have to do is dance—I’ve done that dance a hundred times at least—and call the butterflies!”
“Yes, and almost anyone else can call butterflies and dance. Just because it’s high-profile doesn’t mean one needs talent to perform it.”
I’m ready to blow a house down. “I thought you said it was an honor when I got the job!”
“Kamber, please don’t talk again until I’ve given you permission to speak. I’m tired of this,” she says wearily, and a string snaps inside me. I close my mouth tightly and sit on my knees in front of her to show my respect. My anger is gone immediately. I have no right to sass my grandmother.
“That’s better,” she says, a little smugly. I wonder what I will be like when I am a wise-woman? She sits back in the hanging chair and leans back, taking her time as I sit on my knees. My feet will probably go to sleep before she is finished. It’s my own fault. I deserve it.
“It is my opinion,” she says grandly, “that you really are needed in another part of the festivities. I will suggest Caitrin to replace you in the butterfly circle.” Wow, my cousin Caitrin, almost two years younger. She’s ready for a leading role in a dance? “As for you,” she continues, “I really am considering having you wear wings.”
My stomach drops for the second time today, but this time there are butterflies in it along for the ride. I almost shriek “what?” but I stop myself in time. She’s forbidden me to speak. I shift on my knees.
“You may speak,” she says, with a funny glint in her eyes.
“Are you crazy?” is the first thing that comes to mind and out my mouth. She has definitely lost it, but it is hard to talk her out of something once she has her heart set. That means I am in very serious trouble.
Grandmother laughs. “Why would you think I am crazy?”
I get to my feet. “I cannot wear wings,” I say. “I have not made my doll dance, in case you forgot.”
“A formality,” she says, dismissing it with a delicate hand.
“Grandmother!” I am suddenly terrified. “I—well, if it’s a formality that’s all fine and good, but I still don’t have the training to do it! And my doll hasn’t danced so I can’t get the training, so what do you expect me to do?”
“So I’ll recommend you for the training. They won’t say no to me.”
A billion thoughts explode in my head.
“But Bloom Day is next week, and I—I—I have school, and what is it, thirteen songs? And—”
“Kamber, come here.” She wants me in the chair again. It feels creepy to have her call me by my real name. I’d thought “Seedling” was her special name for me and now just being called by my everyday name makes it seem like I’m not as special. And I’d never thought of it as meaning something; I never thought I would bloom from “Seedling” into something else. Now I am in the chair, sitting next to her but still practically panicked. The hand touches my hair again and begins to patiently work out some of the new knots made by my wind.
“Why do you think I’m ready for that?” I ask her quietly, with my voice trembling.
“We’ll start with that,” she agrees. “You are ready because you have grown up somehow when I wasn’t watching—”
“But what exactly did I do? Was it the wind?”
“Kamber, would you like me to silence you again?”
I keep my trap shut.
“You know what I mean by birds talking, my dear. And you stumbled across the wind and the fire somehow through extending your conscious mind to other places. I have no doubt in my mind that you could control female elements just as well; it just happens that these are the ones you’ve practiced, and these are the ones that called to you.”
“Grandmother?” I whisper when she’s been silent for a while.
“Yes, you may speak.”
I let out my breath. “If I am ready, why . . . why can’t I make my doll dance?”
“You’re obsessed with that stupid thing,” she says crossly.
“But I thought it was important!”
“It is important . . . but don’t let the doll’s dance worry you for now. You’re going to have—”
“If I’m so grown up I should be able to make a doll dance!”
“You’re far from grown up, Kamber. You keep your mouth closed and don’t interrupt me again, unless you’re interested in keeping silence all day tomorrow.”
No! Oh, that would be the worst, I hate that. “I’m sorry, Grandmother.”
“You listen here,” she says, “and you listen very closely. You may not be able to make a doll dance,” she says the word “make” with a sneer, “but you yourself can dance, with your body, your mind, your fire and your wind, and most importantly your soul can dance. Your doll will dance when a piece of metal moves on some piece of wood, but you’ve achieved the dance without a doll . . . in fact you’re beyond that! The doll only shows that you’ve achieved it, and I can see what you’ve done without looking at the doll. Do you understand me?”
“Yes, Grandmother. Oh, yes I do.” Wow, she doesn’t even care about the doll.
“I’m going to ask you and I want a calm answer. What else is worrying you?”
My billion thoughts come back and jostle each other on the race to my tongue. My grandmother must feel my heart speeding up because she puts her hand over my lips.
“Think, and tell me.”
“I have school,” I begin, “and there is no way I can go to school and do enough training to wear wings on Bloom Day. I mean, you know it’s way too much. . . .” I stop talking because I am supposed to say only one worry at a time.
“I’ll write you a letter,” she suggests. “You will go to school tomorrow and put your affairs in order, make arrangements to collect your assignments. After that you will not go to school until after Bloom Day.”
“Will they let me do that?”
“They have to.” That’s right, there is a law.
“They’ll wonder why I suddenly have all this training.” I put on my pleading eyes, finding a way to work in another worry. “Can’t I just do butterfly circle this year and wait until next year to wear wings?”
“That is not an option, you are ready,” she snaps.
“I’m scared,” I say, and I feel like I’ve split my soul open and gutted it like a pumpkin. My grandmother smiles sort of mischievously, like she wants to eat the seeds.
“You will get over that very quickly,” she replies, “I don’t know why you haven’t already.”
“Because I don’t think I know what to do.”
“But. . . .” I think about it. “Training can’t teach me the core of the meaning,” I say, knowing that training only gives tools; it can’t make a person learn. “Training can point me in the right direction but I still have to take the steps—”
“You’ll probably have to sprint,” she jokes, picking up on my metaphor. “You don’t have much time.”
“I know! And . . . well, I feel like I started five minutes before time’s up and I lost my map besides,” I say, using my whiniest baby voice.
“You’ll make it.” The hand tugs out another knot and we twist.
“Until this moment, Grandmother. . . .” I pause, gathering words. “Until today I thought I was a dud. It’s hard for me to shake that.”
“Saying ‘I’m a dud’ is giving up, plus it’s a lie.”
“I guess it is. But I’m still worried . . . what if I don’t know how to do stuff by the time Bloom Day is here?”
Grandmother stands up suddenly and I fall out of the chair, unguarded.
“Kamber, do you doubt my judgment?” She stares down at me where I am sprawled ungracefully on the floor.
“Then hear this,” she says, sitting in the chair again, but I don’t dare climb back onto her level. I scramble to my knees instead. “You already know what to do or I wouldn’t be recommending you to wear wings.”
“I do?” She hasn’t silenced me, so I can still talk.
“Grandmother, with all due respect. . . .” I dip my eyes. “I don’t know how to open a blossom. I don’t.”
I almost expect her to come and smack me or something, and my body softens in relief when I hear her laughter.
“Tell me something,” she says loftily, “you’re good in rune classes, yes?”
“Very good,” I say, and she knows it.
“Quickly: What is the meaning of rune Algiz?”
“No, magical usage.”
“Protection,” I say immediately.
“Now try this,” she says. And she emits a long string of blather that I don’t understand. When I just look at her blankly, she demands, “Well?”
“Uh. . . .”
“You mean you didn’t understand me?”
“Was I supposed to?” Was she talking backwards or something?
“No, not unless you’ve studied the language I’m speaking in. But I just asked you the same question.”
“You asked me about rune Algiz in another language?”
“You bet your bloomers I did.”
“Okay. . . .” I sit on my knees, meditating on that, but I still don’t get what she means.
“I illustrated that,” she says finally, “because I want to show you that the same thing can be said different ways . . . and no matter what language I ask you that question in, the core of its correct answer is that Algiz stands for protection.”
“I know about other languages. I know that.”
“Yes. Now think about this. I’m just saying that I think you know the ‘language’ you’ll need. The problem is that you just don’t know the name of what you’re doing.”
I am thoroughly confused. I just let my face ask.
“Kamber, you know the language of the heart. You have every bit of the knowledge you’ll need to open a blossom already; you’ve done it yourself. You just didn’t know that it was called ‘blooming,’ or that you could use what you know to ‘bloom.’”
I am slowly getting it. I have a question, though.
“But I didn’t understand what you said in that other language. Now that I know what you said, I still can’t give the right answer. I don’t know the language you used.”
She smiles. “You forget that hearts all speak the same language as nature does. Communication won’t be a problem.”
I am overwhelmed. And I want to sleep, right now. Grandmother senses that and gives me my dream wishes and morning instructions, and then I head to bed. I do not dream. The Goddess doesn’t need to tell me anything more because She has been speaking through my grandmother all evening.
I may not have dreamed but apparently Joanne has. She is bubbly at lunch, telling me all about how she actually had a dream involving the Goddess, she thinks. She dreamed that the Goddess came to her and “accepted” her gift, and then she dreamed that the statue we made out of mud was swallowed up by a watery hand coming out and sweeping it into the stream, along with the piece of her soul. And of course, Joanne checked to see if the statue was really gone this morning—and it was! It rained last night; of course it’s gone, I want to say, but I don’t. She is happy. She punctuates her speech by saying “oh my Goddess” like I do, instead of “oh my God” like they do. It sounds so weird coming out of her.
Now she’s talking about how she thinks maybe she is descended from the same people we are and probably has at least a little bit of Kinfolk blood somewhere, because she’s so attracted to our ways and seems to pick them up naturally and besides that her last name, Valentine, is so close to my family name, which is Valerian . . . She tells me to listen to them and note how similar our last names sound. Valentine, Valerian . . . she’s convinced there’s a link somewhere. She is a bit too energetic for someone who had part of her soul borrowed by a deity.
Oh no, why is she coming over here? Seaira is coming toward my table and I don’t know why. It looks like she is looking at me so I look at her. What does she want?
“’Scuse me, can I borrow you for a second,” she says, taking my hand because it is not a question.
I don’t reply and just come with her. She leads me over to the old table, where JeLin is sitting with her little wicker basket lunch. They don’t invite me to sit down but I don’t want to anyway; this should be brief, whatever it is. I want to go back to Joanne. This is weird, though; they look happy or something.
“Kamber, give us the goods,” says Seaira. “How’d you fix it so you get to skip classes?”
I frown. “How did you know?”
“Miss Cleissen asked me to be your note-taker for history while you were gone ‘preparing for the festival.’”
Stupid! Why’d she ask her? Miss Cleissen is probably one of those people who thinks it is physically impossible for Kinfolk to associate with anyone other than themselves. It can’t just be bad luck that she picked Seaira. Maybe she thinks we take notes in a secret hieroglyphic language. Stupid.
“My grandmother wrote a note,” I say, trying to excuse myself.
“No, come on!” JeLin says. “Ya know, we’d love to get out of class the week before Bloom Day too! How’d you get her to write you a note?”
“I didn’t ‘get her to.’ She did it on her own.”
“I’m going to make this very simple,” Seaira says. “Why do you get to get out of classes for a week when we don’t?”
Aha! I have a chance to brag now. If I’d realized that before I’d have searched them out and found some reason to tell them, though that wouldn’t have been nice.
“I need to train for the festival,” I say, trying not to sound haughty because the words that are coming will do plenty to make them jealous without my tone twisting the knife. “I’m going to be wearing wings.”
“What are you guys going to be doing?”
Big grin from me. I can’t help it.
“Um, I’m going to have no time to eat, so if you don’t have anything else to ask me I’ll go finish up.” I turn around to leave but JeLin calls me back. I shrug and point at my table, where Joanne and my lunch are waiting, and then continue on my way. Why should I satisfy their curiosity when it costs me precious eating time? If they want to talk to me so badly they can come to my table.
They take the bait and soon they are standing at my table waiting for me to invite them to sit. Joanne looks a bit intimidated. They ask her to leave so that they can talk to me alone. I tell them that she is my friend and they shouldn’t be so rude. Gloat, gloat.
“This is only our business,” JeLin says.
“Joanne is cool,” I say meaningfully.
“Well, it’s against the law for her to hear this, so. . . .” JeLin looks at Joanne, expecting her to get up. Before she can do so, I defend her.
“Hey, we’re eating now. If you can’t say it in front of her, you’ll just have to tell me later.” Probably they know I can easily escape them after school, then pretend not to be home whenever they come over, and I won’t be in school the rest of the week . . . I smile like I am willing to help them with whatever they need.
Seaira tells JeLin something I can’t quite hear. Then they sit down.
“It’s not against the law to talk about Bloom Day,” Seaira says grudgingly.
“Of course it’s not,” I say.
“Girl, what in the world is your grandmother thinking letting you wear wings this year?” JeLin says, getting straight to the point.
I tell her that I am ready to wear wings and my grandmother says so. She demands to know whether my doll has danced and I ask her, “What do you think?”
“It must have if you’re wearing wings,” Seaira says.
“But you never came up to us and bragged about it or anything,” JeLin says, pointing at me.
“Why would I brag to you? We really weren’t talking much anymore. It’s not like every time something happens to me I need to run and tell Miss Seaira and Miss JeLin, you guys.” I think about yesterday when I wished I could blow my ashes in their faces.
“That’s not fair,” Seaira says.
“So are you guys ready for the festival? I’m a little nervous,” I say, changing the subject.
They look at each other.
“I’m going to be training my butt off all week. I hope my wings don’t look stupid. Oh, Goddess, that would be a bummer wouldn’t it?”
“All right miss high-and-mighty,” says JeLin, leaning on the table to get close to me, “you can drop the attitude now. Just because your grandmother—”
“Get out of my face.” JeLin’s not my grandmother. She can’t give me orders or make me stay silent. “I wasn’t gloating or anything. Gloating would be going up to you and saying, ‘nah-nah, I’m wearing wings and you’re not.’ And why would I do that? You haven’t even told me what you’re doing in the festival, I mean, your dolls have both been dancing forever, right? For all I know you get to open the first buds.”
They are fuming. I don’t feel so great about it but they are bringing it on themselves. They don’t answer my question, and JeLin gets off the table and takes Seaira’s hand. They march proudly back to their table. I bet they don’t feel like eating.
Joanne’s face looks red like she is embarrassed or angry or something.
“I’m fine.” Then she asks me a lot of questions about Seaira and JeLin: which “famous” Kinfolk families they come from, why they’re so full of crap, and assorted other things. I am only halfway participating as I sit and wish I could just see what would happen if I incinerated their pile of napkins all of a sudden. I want to do it so badly. Just smoke them. And they wouldn’t know it was me because girls can’t do fire, right? Green fire is burning in my head. I can almost smell my hair frying.
At the end of the day I make sure to ask Miss Cleissen if she will ask someone else to take notes for me. I tell her that Seaira and I are fighting and I don’t know if she will do right by me. She agrees to assign someone else the job. I feel like I am on top of the world.
Before I go home, I meet Joanne and tell her to have a good week since I won’t be around for a while. She walks me a ways toward my home, holding my hand. She wishes me good luck and tells me she wishes she could be there to watch me dance. I remind her that nobody really “watches”; that everyone participates.
“Even the little kids?” she asks.
I tell her that if they’re too young to walk, they’re carried on their mothers’ backs, and if they’re old enough to walk, they’re old enough to dance. She tells me she wishes she could dance with us, then, and asks me if there is any way she could learn the dances just for fun. I disappoint her by telling her that it would be really hard to do without growing up with it.
“Then what do the people who marry in do? How do they learn the dances?”
“Like if someone who was Kin married someone who wasn’t.”
“That doesn’t happen.”
“You guys only marry each other?”
I just look at her, puzzled.
“That’s weird. Other religions allow intermarriage.”
“We’re not a religion. I don’t think.”
“So it really never happens? Since whenever you guys started or whatever?”
“I don’t know, but it never happens now.”
I know what she is trying to say.
“Some people marry out. No one marries in.”
“Ohh. . . .”
“We say it never happens because if someone can leave the Kinfolk we think they really weren’t one of us to begin with.”
“That doesn’t sound very fair.”
“It’s not, but it preserves our way of life.” We’re getting too close to my house.
“I guess I’ll see you next week,” she says.
I squeeze her hand and head home.
Chores, journal, then report to Grandmother. She takes me to another house this time to commence training. I am a little nervous. I feel like I made a mistake calling butterflies and accidentally teleported them into my stomach. I can’t do anything now, though. It has begun.
My training program is outlined for me by my grandmother, the grandfather of the Coltsfoot family, and Sandarin Eyebright, a young mother with a baby on the way. I feel intimidated with all these people concentrating on me, but I understand that I have an important job and that they are glad to train me. My trainers tell me I will spend the first four days with them and then I will join in the practice dance and song sessions with the other people who will be wearing wings. It will be a review for most of them. For me it will be a cram session.
As much as Grandmother says I know, she also admits I have much to learn. There is a lot of literal song and dance that will go on besides the “meat” of the ritual. It isn’t as important as the blooming part, but I do need to learn it all, and learn it well. Grandmother really doesn’t mention much about the blooming. I have watched it many times so I know what I’m supposed to do. I just don’t know how I will make the trees bloom just by thinking about them. What if they don’t want to bloom? What if I do it wrong? I quiet my mind the way Grandmother would quiet my tongue, reassuring myself with her words: “I can speak the language of the heart.” I sure hope the buds do too.
They send me home with a thick stack of rice paper printed with song lyrics and music. I’ve heard the songs before and Sandarin played them for me again on the recorder to refresh my memory, but it’s still going to be a lot of work memorizing all my entrances, cutoffs, and vocal lines. Not to mention dancing while I do it and looking like I’m having fun. Oh, this will be impossible. Why couldn’t I have just kept my wind to myself and been calling butterflies?
I ask my grandmother how I can find out where some friends of mine are going to be in the festival. Of course, I don’t really mean friends; I want to know what the Bratkins are doing since they’re so jealous of my wings. She tells me to give her their names and let her research it.
“But I don’t want them to think I’m snooping.”
“You are snooping.”
She asks why I don’t ask them, and I say that I did but that they would not tell me, and that I think they are jealous because they would like to wear wings. I tell her to snoop discreetly for me and I give her their names, but it turns out she knows offhand what they are both doing. JeLin is a flowergirl and Seaira is on a lilypad, of all things. I try to stifle my laugh but it comes out of my nose anyway. My laughter makes the chair twist funny. I guess Seaira’s makeup classes don’t help her training too much. This is too funny for words. And even before I got “promoted” I had a better job than JeLin, in my opinion. At least my old job is relatively glamorous and high-profile; hers is neat, but it is work.
“Grandmother?” I ask.
“What is it?”
“Why is Seaira on a lilypad if her doll’s already danced?”
“Actually, didn’t JeLin’s doll dance like almost two years ago? Why isn’t she at least doing umbrellas or something?”
“Like I told you before, when your doll has danced it means a metal statue has moved on a piece of wood. It doesn’t mean you’ve bloomed, necessarily, even if it is supposed to.”
“How could they get their dolls to dance if they are not ready?”
She shrugs. “People always find ways to cheat. But don’t you worry. Our system works fine. If their dolls didn’t really dance, they won’t really be doing anything that requires being ready. You can bank on that.”
“It did kind of scare me. I couldn’t see those brats really leading or doing anything.”
“Don’t let it worry you ever again. Obviously we know what we’re doing or you’d be the one on the lilypad and they’d be the ones with the wings, all because of words.”
Words? I decide not to say anything. I’m too tired to open another can of worms. Is she saying they must have cheated? Did they? I feel like laughing. They made me feel inferior over something they couldn’t do either? I bet one of them wanted to be the first and fastest to get her doll to dance and the other couldn’t stand the idea of being the last. I bet they bent the metal, or just made up the stories . . . I couldn’t see either one of those Bratkins really getting into a dance. I could see them digging up all the information they could about dancing dolls and concocting their stories out of what they heard. Too bad it’s all wrong. It’s not about the pirouettes. It’s about how dancing feels. I wonder if they lied about getting their periods, too! I bet they crushed berries in their underwear so that their mothers would think their babies had grown up.
But now I’m having trouble gloating at all. I feel sad for them, and for us because we must’ve done something to create people for whom everything is a competition. They are as fragile and afraid of failure as I am. But maybe soon they’ll figure it out the way I did. What else is there for me to figure out?
It’s the end of another day and my hands hurt. I was a tree for three hours today trying to “feel” what it is like to bloom. I don’t know if I bloomed or if maybe it’s just a funny feeling from my fingers being without circulation for too long. I lean toward the latter. My shoulders and arms ache and now my feet hurt too from the dancing shoes. When I’m not busy being a tree my head is full of “Ching ching-a-ree, oh ee-ee-ee, ching ching-a-ree, la-la-lee-lee” or some such nonsense. I can’t remember if the “ching-a-ree” part goes with the lemon song or if it’s part of the bridge from some arrangement of “Goddess Great.” Maybe it’s in both of them. I’m doing well with the dancing.
I stop to do homework, do chores, and eat my meals. Sleep, too, when I can. I get a nap this week during the day and I’m glad because I badly need it. While I train and cram, I think about people like Joanne, and wonder what it would be like if all I had to do when I got home was decide what channel to watch on TV. I bet Joanne would switch with me in a second. I’m not so sure I’d let her.
Somewhere in this blur of days I got fitted for my costume. My wings are so cool; they’re green! I hopped around in my little shoes doing a dance step as soon as I got them, and I felt like I was a dragonfly or something. Now whenever I can and no one’s watching I put them on and wiggle my hips to make the wings bounce. They catch the air in such a cool way . . . I feel like I could take flight. I am lightheaded with excitement, disbelief, and a small amount of terror.
I’ve joined the classes now. The first day I felt like I couldn’t wait to get out of there—not just because I was tired, but because I was the smallest one there. Not the shortest, the smallest. I am a toothpick girl. I have almost no curves at all. Our dance uniforms make it really obvious too! Women are so beautiful when they are mature. But I am still a white candle girl. I’m a “maiden” for a while longer. I couldn’t wait to get out of there because I thought they were all probably wondering why I was learning these dances, being obviously new and so young. I found out today I am the youngest girl wearing wings. I am the youngest by a lot. No wonder Seaira said I was a liar when I said I was getting wings; it is unbelievable. These are women. And if I am dancing with them, the important part of me must be a woman too. I don’t understand it, but I think a little part of me does.
I sing soprano. I want a low voice. The alto parts are so pretty. We sound very nice together; I wonder what people do if they are born tone-deaf? Are they not allowed to sing? Or does it just not happen? From the way our songs sound, it just doesn’t happen. Maybe it’s another blessing from the Goddess. I’ve never met anyone who was both Kin and tone-deaf. But then again, I’ve never met any Kinfolk people who can’t call butterflies either, and I know they exist—just as a fluke once in a while, sometimes someone can’t pick up the knack. Maybe they just don’t advertise it, like I don’t advertise my lack of success with my doll. Maybe when all is said and done these things don’t matter.
Now I am a tree again, practicing in my room because it is the night before Bloom Day. I am not nervous, but I know there are butterfly cocoons all set to hatch in my stomach, as sure as if I swallowed caterpillars. I am almost accustomed to the way it “feels” to have branches instead of arms, with fingers as leaves and buds that bloom when I tell them to. It is against the law to practice on a real bud, because it would hurt them to be opened before it is blooming time. I wonder if it is lawful to wait until it is technically Bloom Day and get up early and practice on my own, but I will not test it.
I decide to try to sleep; I need to sleep well tonight. I’ll need plenty of energy tomorrow!
The butterflies hatch.
I’m on the floor in front of my altar crying to the Goddess to help me sleep and make everything go all right tomorrow. Oh please, I’ll do anything. In tune with the hum of things as always, Grandmother knocks at the door, and I let her in. She carries some honeyed tea, which I drink like there’s a fire in my stomach, and it makes the butterflies’ wings stick together so they can’t bother me any more tonight. Grandmother sits on my bed and rubs my back, cooing comforting things until I only hear them in my dreams.
BLOOM DAY! Oh no . . . is my throat too sore to sing? Are my feet too raw to dance? Do I remember the words well enough to participate? “Ching-a-ree. . . .” Is it ching-a-ree or ching-a-ring? AGH! No, no, really. I’m fine. No, I’m not fine. I have a nervous stomach, I’m going to throw up. Oh, Goddess, HELP ME!
I’m getting dressed. I’m getting dressed in THIS outfit. It is so beautiful. Mother and Father are going to be so proud of me. That is, if I don’t fall over, or end up a dud on the field. I have to find Grandmother. I need her to help put my wings on so I don’t bend them.
I love Bloom Day but I am so amazingly scared. Is the first time like this for everyone? Nah, it can’t be . . . most people aren’t told “guess what, you’ve come of age, now is the time to learn to show you’re a woman—in just seven days!” I’m sure I have a lot more to learn but this sure is a major step. Ugh, I wish I didn’t have to take it in these shoes.
“Graaaaaannnndddmother!” I run through the house carrying my wings. She finds me first and catches me from behind. I squirm as she puts my wings on and starts smoothing the knots out of my hair. Today I wear special charms; they feel heavy on my braids and I can feel them swinging when I turn my head fast.
Now we’re going to LaRayen’s house to do my face paint. I’m glad I don’t have to go to Seaira’s mom’s if I don’t want to. I like LaRayen better and she does a better job face painting in my opinion. She uses green glitter on me when I ask her to. I ask her to.
I’m excited! Everyone will see me. And I won’t mess up. Seaira and JeLin will not be able to help but see me, and it will be at least another year before either of them gets to do what I’m going to do. At least! And judging from the ages of the women in the dance classes, even then they probably won’t get to do it. Who knows, maybe I won’t do it again for ten years. Oh well. I’m only going to worry about today.
The music’s starting but I’m still squirming around like a kid, trying to make my wings bounce. Oh, I’m so stupid, I hope nobody saw me wiggling my butt. Oh please don’t let them have seen me.
I’m singing. The Goddess must have kissed my cheek because I remember the words fine and my voice doesn’t break at all. I’ll be singing for a while now. I’m sort of outside myself, on autopilot watching all this happening. Who invented these traditions? It works like a well-oiled machine. Who came up with all this stuff? Who wrote the songs, who wrote them down? Who decided we’re in charge of making the trees bloom? Would they bloom on their own? I bet they would. They must. Trees were around so much farther back in time than we were. But I think maybe they help us bloom too. Maybe that’s what I’m supposed to be learning about in all of this.
Better keep my mind on the action or I’ll end up very sorry. And furthermore, I won’t be the one gloating in school the next day if I mess up. But I’ll keep the gloating to a minimum, I think. I don’t really want to enjoy their jealousy. If it hurts them, it hurts all of us, I think. We’re a group right now, celebrating something really cool: new beginnings! It’s springtime.
Rituals are not tests. I don’t have to prove what I know; I have to use it. Pretty much right now, too. So . . . as practiced, I am a tree. A collective soul tree. A collective soul person-tree, tilting to the right to make a nice breeze. The trees wave in the wind; are they waving at me? I am waving at them. And then Springtime, like a squirrel, climbs up my legs, up my trunk, and seeps into my arms and fingers. I can’t be losing circulation this early. I spread my fingers and lift my chin, sensing right where I am in the web of energy and feeling perfectly at home. This is blooming, I suppose. It is not what I expected. It’s not sudden, and it feels perfectly natural and is rather humdrum. But when I turn around to look at the tree behind me . . . WOW! It sure makes a difference looking at it from the outside. And that tree can spread its seed now through the blossoms. That’s so cool! I’m sure I at least helped with that tree. Time to go be the springtime fairy some more.
Finally all the scheduled trees are in bloom and little flower blossoms are drifting down. The festival continues, and I have to dance in these shoes when my feet were just getting used to being roots. We dance one number, and then the ladies with their parasols do their springtime rain skit, and we watch the drummers, then we dance to the drummers with some of the boys. The younger girls do their dance, and then the lucky six get to call the butterflies—I see Caitrin, she looks happy—and then there are flowers, drinks, and more dancing. Almost everyone is dancing now. And I am dancing springtime, the Earth is my stage, and my feet don’t care because I have wings.
My grandmother dances with us for a while, wearing her purple. She looks so pretty next to me in green.
“You look enchanting,” she says.
“That’s how I feel.”
“You were perfect, like a little doll.” She twirls around me with purple trailing off her arms.
“I think this is more fun than boring old dancing dolls.”
“You are my doll,” she says, “and you are definitely dancing.”
Yes, I am. I wonder if my doll is dancing too?
Oh, probably not. I don’t care about it now, because I think I can show I’m growing without doing that particular dance. I’m connected enough to the world to make certain parts of it bloom, and that is all that matters. I’ve been growing up for a long time; it’s just taken me a little while to grow up enough to look down. The view is nice from where I dance with my springtime wings.
See a drawing of the "concept art" for this short story
SHORT STORIES PAGE