© 1997

This story was rewritten many years later as "Her Mother's Child."

       "My name is Iris," she says. "For the last time today, my name is Iris."

       Touching her face, I nod yes.

       I will miss her when she is no longer mine.

       She stands naked in the room, touching the walls and the ceiling with her glances as if reminding herself once more that everything is bare now. The ribbons and dolls of her childhood are packed away. Her string creations and sand art are stored for later.

       Her body is clothed only by her long, dark hair. The thick, wavy strands hide most of her upper body as she stands with a kind of grace, needing no ornamentation to be Beauty. She is a daughter of mine, surely, but I could never quite see that kind of beauty in myself. She must have acquired it herself from the earth and the sky.

       I come and take her hands. Covering her in white, my fingers touch her. I silently speak to her with my face.

       Something scared meets me from behind her eyes, as if she is wrestling with something inside her that is crying. Puzzled, I brush her lips with my fingers, willing her to speak.

       "I am worried," she admits.

       I nod and smile.

       "That's okay?" she asks, a bit incredulous.

       In answer, I draw her to me and stroke her hair.

       My ivory daughter of night, I love you, I wish I could say. I trust as always that she will understand my unspoken words. I rarely wish that I could speak.

       Her tears have disappeared from her eyes by the time I take her hand. She is not the first of my daughters that I have guided, but every time it is different for me. This time, I choose powder and flower petals. Silver and blue dust will tint her eyelashes, and the sweet-smelling petals will be strewn in her hair. She will wear feathers and moonlight and love tonight. I paint her lips with honey for a sweet journey.

       Stepping back, I look at the child. She glows radiantly, and somehow it has nothing to do with what she wears. The shine comes from inside her. It was there when she was a little girl. When she smiled at me from the trees above, her face was luminous as the moon against the contrast of her hair.

       "It is no wonder your name means 'rainbow,'" I had told her at the time.

       Iris stands looking back at me as I admire her.

       "Is something wrong, Mother?" she asks, half-whispering.

       I shake my head no.

       She blinks at the ceiling as if looking to the stars.

       I come to her and touch her cheek, telling her it is time. She makes the sign of the Goddess over her heart, and I bless her with my own hands and lead her outside.

*                     *                     *

       Iris is a blur of footsteps, music, and magic.

       She is sandy and full of the breeze. I think she can make the wind sing! Hers is the only voice making sound, but I believe she is accompanied by Nature itself. She is a beautiful singer.

       It delights and surprises me that she can sing; I do not feel that there was ever any melody in me to have passed on to her at her birth. She must have acquired it herself from the heavens and the birds.

       Her voice is charming the wind, making swirls of leaves turn in miniature storms that obey her song.

       Her hands are burning now, her fingers on fire. I can feel the blaze in my own soul. The grasses around her are aflame. She kneels and the flames bow to her, acknowledging her as another new master.

       Next she is dancing to our drums. I do not play tonight so that I may join in her dance. All of us dance together, and Iris leads us. She moves with the utmost grace and precision, not even blinking out of rhythm. I want to scream out the pride I feel for my daughter's perfect, whirling dance of jubilation, but I could not scream, even if I had a voice. I send my love instead.

       While we are dancing, a flock of bats joins our celebration. They are the raucous birds of the night, bringing ghosts with them. I can tell that some of the people see the phantoms. I know I do, and it is certain by her expression that Iris sees them too. I watch her make peace with the dead.

       Finally Iris goes to the river.

       I watch her take her last steps as a child, down into the cold winter water. She goes bravely in. Two men close the bushes behind her, hiding her choice from our view. We wait and the wind does not tell us her secrets.

       When she emerges from the water with her white gown clinging to her, she is with another woman.

       A laugh bubbles up inside me, along with my memories. When it was my time to choose long ago, I was sure for months in advance that I would choose a woman as well. As it happened, I was led to my future husband, Aubrey, and had pleased my mother with six children, which was a blessing and a surprise. I'd always thought of myself as a woman-loving woman. But Aubrey was my true beloved, and I stayed with him despite the fact that I thought men were strange.

       I wonder now if my daughter imagined herself with a man and was surprised at her lot as well. I can only detect radiance from her expression.

       Iris comes to me and takes my hand, then puts her mate's hand in mine.

       "Mother, this is Laurel, and she has given me my new name."

       I take both of Laurel's hands and close my eyes.

       She squeezes my hands.

       I squeeze back. I open my eyes and ask with my face.

       "Your daughter is to be named Grace," says Laurel.

       I nod to tell her this is acceptable, then join their hands in union. I tie my daughter's right hand to Laurel's left with a braided grass rope, and I send them on to Aubrey, who will make their union a blessed one. I watch them as they go, hoping their engagement becomes successful. They both seem so happy, so I wish for their peace together forever.

       Whether she stays with Laurel or not, her name will remain the same.

       I see that Aubrey has blessed their union also, now. Laurel and my new daughter Grace go to the fields to explore each other's bodies and souls for the first time, and I stand by the river, stirring my thoughts until everyone has gone, including my husband.

       This is the first of my daughters to go to a woman. It was not rare so much as it was unlikely. There were so many more men for girls, and so many more women for boys. I wait, thinking, for the morning. I dream of seeing my new daughter in the sun.

*                     *                     *

       Her footsteps awaken me.

       "Hello, Mother," she says musically.

       I stand and turn.

       "I love Laurel," she says. "I think we might stay together."

       I notice she is holding the broken grass rope, twirling it between her slightly smoke-stained fingertips.

       "You aren't upset?" she says when she does not detect displeasure.

       I put my hand over my heart and shake my head.

       "Of course not," she laughs. "I knew you'd understand, Mother. I'm sure my sisters will have plenty of children for you."

       I put a smile in my eyes.

       "I like my new name," she ventures. "It feels good to be Grace."

       Touching her face, I nod yes.