when you have lived so long with feathers, it is difficult to remember that you will not always float. that the benign freshwater will grab onto the tendrils of your hair and pull you down towards the murk and the weeds below, the lady of the lake taking you for a creature of the earth and not the skysea. the water is dirty down here, up there; it stings my eyes, and my throat is perforated with sharpsand, handfuls of shredded stone mincing my lungs. sunlight reminds me of something, scuds winklike flashes in all directions, inconsistent as will o’ the wisps. i have flown and i know now that it is no different from sinking. there is not even a reversal. land and sky, i have always been going the same direction, and i know that i am now about to reach the end.
ii. odette & odile
— you could tell your father no.
— i wish i could.
— there’s nothing to stop you. he would let you go. you might be the only creature in the entire world that he wouldn’t hurt.
— i know.
— so tell him you won’t. let us be happy.
— i can’t.
— why the hell not?
— because i might be the only creature in the entire world that he wouldn’t hurt.
iii. the curse
him, with those gigantic eyes. a beard that rested only on the very edges of his jaw, thick and distinct. a mouth that curled, dark pit above the upper lip, anger in the teeth but none in the gaze. instead, calculation.
him, not ugly, but something worse. he who would be beautiful if he were an animal, but who does not fit right into the lines of a human. he with all the universe’s power in nothing more than a glorified twig. him pointing to her, and changing her world. him disfiguring her into something that is beautiful, something more beautiful than she ever would have been otherwise. him reforging her into something that can fly, but only until the atmosphere or her wings run out.
there is too much woman to be contained in these new hollow bones. no words from a mouth that she doesn’t have. now, she is treasured. now, she is pristine. she is the stuff of tapestries and taxidermy, of feast and folk song, and
she cannot speak.
iv. the hunt
it’s difficult to say what makes the prince hesitate. he has, after all, only ever been taught that beauty is something to be captured and stoppered up; there is no greater way to honor an animal than by mounting it on his wall. he will tell himself later that he knew all along she wasn’t an animal at all, and he will, of course, be wrong in that assumption, but she will be too tired to correct him.
as it is, in this moment, he pauses. his weapon, the bow/rifle/phone/prod/leer, is almost slippery beneath his sweaty fingertips. he looks at her and he wonders, with his tongue at the edge of his lip, whether he can do something more with her than kill.
v. the ball
i’ve missed you so much, darling.
and i you.
you must know she is different, you must feel she is different, smell it, tell somehow. she is telling you. she is screaming it. look in her eyes. just once, won’t you look her in the damned eyes?
you’re a good dancer.
my father taught me.
vi. odette & odile
if you are in love, which is doubtful, it is a love born only of circumstance. it is an alliance of her skin and yours. you like the smell of her hair, prefer to sleep with your stomach to her back, so that you can nuzzle near her neck and not think about her eyes, about how they, through no fault of hers, hold everything from which you have been trying to escape.
it occurs to you that men have made you their tragedy yet again, and as you die you are furious.
all is as cyclical as the torrent of lake and sky. upwards. you are moving upwards towards the kelp and the sand and the smooth stones in so many subtle colors.
you are unused to the water on your skin, raw, no feathers to armor you. it is very, very cold. too cold, or perfectly cold, but you have no time to measure whether the fire in your chest is born from pain or relief before it — all of it — is extinguished.