Serving House: A Journal of Literary Arts
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Flash Fiction
461 words
SHJ Issue 2
Fall 2010

Erato’s Judgment

Clare MacQueen

In memory of Lyn Luria-Sukenick

Early spring. A drowsy Sunday afternoon, and breezes whisper through windows above my bed. A riot of birdsong ricochets between trees and mirror and wall. I lean back against the feather pillows, notepad abandoned, assigned Muse forgotten as I listen to music of another: She who speaks through mockingbird and finch. My eyes are closed to savor the notes, so clear I can almost see them oscillate through my eyelids—but I feel something watching, a radiance above and to the left.

I open my eyes. A blue goose?! Here?

But no, not as large—more like a Teal, I think, as my eyes focus. Trying not to scare it away, I sit up carefully, mesmerized by the fantastic fowl suspended a few feet from my face. The only bird I know with such mastery of hover would zoom to my nose to inspect me; hummingbirds can be rude that way. But this whatever-it-is, this bird I’ve never seen even in guidebooks, hangs back. In wariness maybe, though the word “politely” might serve as well.

How can it float like that, on such flimsy-looking wings? Iridescent, fragile: they remind me of wings I’ve seen on fruit flies, flashing prisms under the microscope’s lens. And its feathers! They shimmer with tones so vibrant I feel seasick. Magnify a hundred times the blues and greens of the peacock, and wash with constellations of gold. I feel unbalanced, queasy. My left hand turns palm upward and reaches toward her. Some hormonal intuition assures me this colorful creature is female, though I know avian males are generally the more flamboyant.

She glides forward and dips her head, pecking between my fingers as if searching for something. Long and elegant, her beak clips my flesh, making me wince and retreat, yet I sense no malice in her. At first I think she’s attracted by stones in my ring: three diamonds and four emeralds. What a silly thought. She’s no common bowerbird, visiting to admire trinkets that adorn my nest. Or is she?

She seems impatient but only jerks that shimmering head in silence, her eyes opaque, as enigmatic as those of the mortal muse who teaches me to dream while awake. What can she want? Hesitating, I offer my other hand, the one that still holds the pen.

This she contemplates while seasons change, while tectonic plates grind and shudder below, while birdsongs cycle once, twice, three times seven. Spindles of sunlight trembling. Particles of down drifting. Featherdust clinging to my skin. My hand itching faintly—yet I dare not move under those eyes, those inscrutable eyes that watch me clearly now with reproach. I have ignored her, those eyes pronounce. Her disenchantment burns my fingers. The pen melts.

“...we have been born here to witness and celebrate. We wonder at our purpose for living. Our purpose
is to perceive the fantastic. Why have a universe if there is no audience?” — Ray Bradbury