Star Dust: A Wing-Feather Fable

Fables-41 Aileen Murphy’s brother was stone-cold sober when he lost his left hand and his faith in the machinery of a fortune cookie plant. The sobriety, if nothing else, was entirely Aileen’s fault. Seamus was an amiable enough drunk, never fought or whored. Deep in pints, he bought his sister roses, knock-off Hermes scarves, and a white mouse in a gilded cage. It was the mouse that forced her hand, red eyes and midnight chitters. Their mother always said that nothing good could come of rodents. Aileen had to act.

Later, she wished she’d never lit those candles at St. Vincent’s, whispering her brother’s name three times into the flames. The miracle came quickly, Seamus off the drink and even wearing ties to work. He’d gotten her the job at Lucky’s, half a life ago, flipping small, soft pancakes from griddle to conveyor, watching as they vanished toward the plates that pressed them into butterflies. Seamus worked the batter vats, lifting, pouring, mixing, the muscles of his arms like seams within a rock.

They were the remnants of a family, sole survivors of a quiet dying-off. Each night, Aileen pressed her ear down to the floorboards and listened to the hollow clink of bottles. Once the miracle occurred, she was gratified by silence. It was hard to not feel smug.

Three weeks sober, then three months, and Seamus started reading brochures from the night school. He was buoyant on the line, and management took notice. Aileen felt their mother smiling down at her from Heaven.

Once, when she was barely out of diapers, her Da had pointed at the stars and described to her a world in constant motion, spinning planets, twirling suns, a vast, incomprehensible ballet. This is what she thinks of on the morning Seamus nearly dies. How many times before he fixed the line with Guinness in his veins.

In her memory, it happens in slow motion, his fingers in the gears, the awful stutter-grind and crack, a weight released, a massive lurch and bellow, fragmented bone, a slick of blood, strings of ligament and muscle.

In reality, the shearing-off was quick, a nearly-instant snap. The sirens keened, red lights swirled in puddles, and the paramedics carted him away like potatoes in a famine.

Seamus lived, but lost the hand that had delivered roses, scarves, a mouse. It was not what she intended, when she bent her knees to pray.

Back inside the shelter of the church, Aileen noticed shadows reaching, fingers splayed into the light. Stained glass glittered like a coded map of truth. Arches rose and crossed. Seamus sat beside her in the pews, quiet, sober, bandaged. There were so many pieces of this world that she didn’t understand — the hollowness of bird bones, the single-mindedness of ants, fortunes cast inside a butterfly of pancake. Miracles and mice. It was all fallout from the stars, she saw, bits of straw and sweepings from the dance floor, small confetti sifting, music, dusted from the skies.

~ Photo by Brenda Gottsabend; Story by Lisa Ahn

Learn more about Wing-Feather Fables here

Girls with Pens (Hippocampus)

“Writing,” by Kim Rempel

“Stories shape belief — about who we are and what we can become, about our history and culture. They are the stitchery of self, the seams that either liberate or bind us. Change the story, change the world.  If our girls grow up on tales of hapless maidens waiting for a knight in armor, then they will never lift the sword themselves.”

Please visit the June issue of Hippocampus for the rest of my essay on Disney princesses, Sheryl Sandburg, and the power of our words.

“Slick” in Quiddity

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Gorgeous, isn’t it? I love this journal, and — squee! — I love that I am IN this journal. My short story, “Slick,” appears in the latest issue of Quiddity, hot off the press.

“Slick” started out with a single and quite singular main character. A frog with attitude. He was joined by a girl who excelled at math, until she decided that fashion magazines were more “feminine” than fractions. In traditional fairy tales, the girl kisses the frog to get the prince. In mine, the frog must help the girl to save herself. Luckily, Slick has spunk, and he’s willing to bend the tale to suit the circumstances.

This was a fun story to write, with its twists and echoes of more familiar legends. It also emerged out of my conviction as a writer, teacher, and mother, that we can do better by our girls when it comes to STEM fields. My eldest daughter thinks in numbers, spins grids into the universe, and spices everyday with new equations. My youngest loves the magnitudes of science and carries an engineering backpack everywhere she goes. May they always do so.

Slick and I have got their backs.

If you’d like to take a listen, the full audio version of “Slick” is here.

Andrew Windershins Finds His Talent: A Wing-Feather Fable

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Andrew Windershins had failed at everything he tried. Even as an infant, he was a total disappointment. While other mothers bragged of babies sleeping through the night and gobbling their mush, poor Mrs. Windershins could only wring her hands and bite her lip. Andrew caterwauled from dusk to dawn and tried to snort his gruel. Violet asked her sister, “Do you think there’s something wrong?” but the sanguine Polly said, “He simply hasn’t found his talent.”

Mrs. Windershins was patient. But Andrew didn’t find his talent in the nursery where he jumbled all the crayons and spilled the paint, or in kindergarten where he consistently confused the letter B with 7s and tried to eat the blocks. First grade was no improvement. In fact, his entire elementary education was a mulligan of missives from exasperated teachers and clocks that somehow sprung their gears whenever Andrew was around. “It’s an unmitigated ruin,” said Mrs. Windershins. “Don’t exaggerate,” was Polly’s answer. “Wait until he finds his talent.”

After high school — a hash of nettled girls, botched chemistry experiments, and rank humiliation — Andrew tried to join the gypsies. They wouldn’t take him. “Our insurance premiums are through the roof. We can’t adopt a proven menace.” Luckily, the circus was less inclined to wade through public records. Beneath the big striped tent, Andrew tried — and failed — at acrobatics, clowning, and elephant waste removal. Finally, in a fit of desperation, the ringmaster tossed a bucket full of balls at him. Imagine his astonishment when Andrew — Hopeless Andrew! — started juggling like a pro.

“I told you so,” Aunt Polly murmured. He was twenty-one and an overnight sensation. Headlining every show in far-flung, exotic cities, Andrew juggled not just balls, but tangerines and lollipops, wicker chairs and ottomans, Hummel figurines and tightly-swaddled children. No object was too difficult for his gobsmacking pitch and twirl.

By thirty, Andrew Windershins was bored. “After the cactus and the armadillo, what’s the point?” he complained to his mother and his aunt. “Blather,” said Polly, “you just haven’t found your bête noire.” Andrew shrugged while juggling his lunch, taking bites of Shepherd’s Pie at every pass.

When the circus reached the Mirrored City, Andrew found his beast. In a metropolis built entirely of reflections, the population is not easily impressed. Andrew lobbed fire balls and scimitars before a bored and blasé crowd. He tossed sea urchins and hedgehogs, priceless violins and pythons — to polite, restrained applause.

It was nursery school all over, but without the blocks and paint. When they failed to marvel at a brace of beehives spun in tandem with forked lightening, Andrew set his talent loose upon the Mirrored City. Slowly, colonnades and cornices began to rise and spin. They were joined by fountains, gates, and stairways, and the audience in their seats. Andrew Windershins juggled up the City, swirling in his hands.

Now, he’s got it,” Polly said, and beside her, old Ma Windershins smiled from ear to ear.

~ Photo by Brenda Gottsabend; Story by Lisa Ahn

Learn more about Wing-Feather Fables here