“Making a Sparrow”
by Tracina Jackson-Adams
I am making a sparrow.
To call the Ladies, I go into my dreams and find three crow feathers, one for each. I watch the ripple of blue over black, sucking in my breath at the milky shafts. Three is always important. I know that.
I walk down to the river and watch for them, holding the feathers. The river is like the one I live near, but there are no coal barges on this one, no tipples running down the hill to the river, studded with lights all along their length, looking pretty if you’re far enough away to see the lights and not the steel. I see the flat-bottomed rowboat, like the one I played in as a little kid, and the Ladies are in it, and they make it look special and strange even though it is just a rowboat. I watch them all across the water, until wavelets push out from the river enough to wet my feet and the boat quietly runs itself aground. The Ladies step out onto the thin strip of gravelly bank. I stay where I am until they gather themselves together and turn my way. I am always glad just to be near the Ladies. They are dark—they are always dark—and we meet in night places, like here next to this river, which does not have coal barges or tipples or the neon Hills sign glowing on the water or docks by the 84 Lumber store where the trains run.
“Ladies,” I say politely, because my Nana taught me my manners. I stroke the edges of the perfect crow feathers in my left hand and fan them out. The blue-blackness of them seeps into the night all around me, until I am holding only three pearl shafts. One of the Ladies takes them graciously from me and shares them out among the three. They each slip them into their hair, and even the shafts are gone then.
“Thank you, Elise,” they say.
“I am making a sparrow,” I tell them, and reach into my pocket and gently pull out a tiny clump of broken wings and dangling head and pinprick flat black eyes. One of the Ladies turns over her hand for the weightless body and cradles it tenderly. “I took the BBs out,” I tell her, stroking the beak. “A boy shot it. For fun.” The Lady’s fingers twitch.
“A sparrow,” one says, so softly I almost don’t hear. They are all quiet for a long time.
“A sparrow is a hard thing to make.”
“Because of the innocence.”
“Yes,” I say, “I remember too much when I try to do it. I need to know—how do you put away anger so you can make a sparrow?”
The wind ruffles the Ladies’ hair, and I take a deep sniff of the river. The Ladies are large dark shapes clustered around the sparrow body in one cupped hand. The water goes swissshhh swissshhh swissshhh against the bank.
The Ladies all look at each other. Finally one of them says to me, “You have to want the sparrow more than you want the anger.” And I think about this, and I say thank you very much, and she lays the handful of sparrow back in my palm and touches my head as goodbye.
Ricky and I both live in the same trailer park and we both get beat up a lot, but that’s about all we have in common. I feel sorry for Ricky because he gets hit so much, but he turns around and hurts something else to feel big and I hate that. You don’t have to turn mean just because.
I lie awake for a long time, thinking about Ricky and the sparrow and what makes someone mean. I think about how much I want to make Ricky stop it, and how much I want to make the sparrow, and I think that I can do both as long as I keep being mad out of it all.
I get out of bed and go outside into the scrap of woods along one side of the trailer park and find the tree where I tucked the sparrow inside one of my old socks. I climb up to where I put it and I hold it while I think.
It’s almost morning when I figure out that Ricky wants something from the sparrows, something he thinks he can get by taking. He’s wrong, but he doesn’t know it. He thinks you can get anything by taking, if you do it enough.
This time I go and find an owl feather, and I find it next to the empty rowboat, which doesn’t have any oars. I get in and stroke the water with the feather and the boat pushes itself out into the middle of the river and starts floating with the current. I watch the banks and when I see the place where the trailer park is on the other river, I touch the water again. The boat pulls over to the bank, just like I knew it would. I hold the owl feather in front of my eyes like a mask and walk up the hill until I see Ricky. He looks scared.
“Ricky,” I say, and he jumps and looks all around but doesn’t see anything. “Ricky, I want to give you something.” I take a sparrow feather out of my pocket and hold it by the thin little shaft. “Ricky,” I tell him, very very carefully, because it is very important to get it just right, “this is what you’re looking for.” And I stick the feather straight into his heart.
Everything ripples like water around a stone, and then the Ladies are all around me, even without any crow feathers, and they are laughing and crying and saying “Another one! Another one!” And I am holding something in my hands that is fluttering and trying to get free, and I open up my thumbs and kiss little pinfeathers and whisper, “Fly.”
And the sparrow explodes out of my hands like a tiny sun.
You—yes, you!—can contribute to Tracina Jackson-Adams’ collection of benign holy relics, precious gems, and rare garden statuary. Find out how at www.tracinashotfantasy.net. You won’t regret it.
Editor’s note: “Making a Sparrow” listed in the Honor Roll in The Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy for Teens 2004, edited by Jane Yolen and Patrick Nielsen Hayden, and the Honorable Mention list in The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror 2004, edited by Ellen Datlow and Kelly Link & Gavin Grant.
Story © 2004 Tracina Jackson-Adams. All other content copyright © 2004 ByrenLee Press
Art Director: Bonnie Brunish