I have a new essay at Hippocampus on fear and writing. Beware of bugs and spitting.
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.
Learn more about Wing-Feather Fables here
Why are writers so often drawn to cats? For some inspiring possibilities, head on over to this month’s issue of Hippocampus and my article, “Oh, For the Love of Cats.”
“Ain’t nothin’ easy ’bout fixin’ broken hearts.”
Poor advice, but it was all that Grandma Lucy gave her when she died. That, and Spangle’s Heart Repair, the family business. Grandma Lucy had been sour, but that didn’t mean she had a market on the truth. Natalie picked up a wrench, set out to prove her wrong.
She’d grown up inside the wheels and gears. She knew the many ways that hearts can break and how to grease the chains, replace the shattered bearings, polish off the rust. Still, she eased in, slowly, mending hearts that weren’t much more than knocked about, no substantial damage. There were spurned accountants, teenage girls crushed out on teachers, boys who lost their hamsters. Natalie tinkered with the casings and the pins. “Good as new,” she said. They were. She built a reputation.
The challenges got harder. Widowers came, peering through the grimy window, lifting their fedoras. There were runaways and vagrants, soldiers who had “Dear John” letters crumpled in their pockets, nuns who’d lost the sight of God, bakers weakened by remorse, pianists sunk in sorrow. Tough cases, every one — and yet they each left whistling, healed. Word began to spread. Customers came flocking. Natalie often winked at Grandma Lucy’s ghost, transparent in the mirror.
She fell in love, and more than once. Eventually, she married. And yet, with all of that, her own heart stayed untroubled, like a lake without a ripple. She had a child, a daughter marked with wild hair and sparkling eyes. Natalie named her Sunshine, and took to mothering with ease. All those years repairing hearts had set her up to soothe the early hurts of childhood, skinned knees and purple bruises, the cracks of minor disappointment. So many injuries could be fixed with kisses, a Band-Aid, a lollipop or cookie.
And Sunshine was a natural, gifted. Tucked beneath her mother’s wing, she learned to disassemble heartache, tally up love’s follies, replace the engine oil and fuses. Natalie was proud, replete, and so, when she felt the first awful, wrenching pull, she didn’t recognize the cause. She didn’t know her heart was breaking.
Sunshine had become. . . less sunny. She tripped and fell more often, broke places that a bandage couldn’t reach. Her fingers shook, and her spark forgot its language. Sunshine . . . .wasn’t, and Natalie could not save her, no matter how she bent herself, contorted, thrashed or prayed.
“Ain’t nothin’ easy ’bout fixin’ broken hearts.” Grandma Lucy squinted from the mirror. Natalie didn’t need to ask her what she meant. Her own heart was a lake that roiled, thrashing, inconsolable, bereft.
The fact is, she should have known. Broken mothers never came into the shop, never asked for her repairs, never splayed their shattered mainsprings. They held tightly to their wounded children, hands pared down to iron bones, no matter. They did not release the broken hearts that rived them to the core.
Natalie dropped her wrench. She took hold of Sunshine, and she
Learn more about Wing-Feather Fables here
For the past few months, I’ve been working in mama-bear cave land. I climbed out once or twice. And this is what happened. My latest piece for Hippocampus Magazine is about murderers and dictionaries (the really big ones), Shakespeare, nagging pebbles and shenanigans. I hope you’ll join me there.