When she was seventeen, Eve found she could spin vapor thread from water, with a glimmer of light for a spindle. She could twist and filigree threads of vapor along her breath to patterns she saw in her dreams, and tether the apparitions to moonbeams – lighter than air and all the colors of stained glass. They were visiting the lake: she went out after Sunny and her father fell asleep to walk through its lapping hem, spinning white crests to prismatic clouds. And she knew that what people said about her mother was true.
She and Sunny had never known their mother, who had not survived to nurse them. So people said that proved what they thought all along: their mother was really a fairy. Flesh and blood women give birth, nurse, nurture, and wear away in mothering over many years. But fairies are mostly composed of air, and lose all their substance giving being to anything in the material world.
Sunny had come first. Golden haired, warm and cheerful, sweet and genuine as daylight. Eve was born a few minutes later, her translucent fingers already cold. Her hair pale flax, starlight to Sunny’s gold: she was a wisp of her sister, and nearly died learning to breathe. There wasn’t enough material leftover for Eve, people said. After her lungs had shaken, seared with their first fire, her mother stopped breathing.
So when Eve found she could spin water on her breath as if it were fleece, she knew they were right: like her mother, she was mostly composed of air. Their mother had lost her substance giving being to one fine human child, and another fairy.
In a few more months, the lake was exhausted in drought: no one walked through its lapping hem, then. But when they visited, the drought was just growing severe; and the lake was over half full when Eve first knew her magic. She did not know how to tell Sunny or her father.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
On their return home, Sunny went to tend her back garden. “Come, Eve,” she said. “Keep me company and tell me a story.”
Not that Sunny cared much for stories, but she knew Eve liked to tell them; and there was little else her sister could do.
Years ago father had tried to teach Eve to crochet threads of his spinning, when they found Eve too weak to hoe or mop or wash any but the slightest dishes: she had learned gingerly, but extravagantly, fashioning elaborate lace of her own design. A restful pleasure came into her father’s face when he examined the work: Sunny had seen that rest on him when he was listening to music. But there were a series of scars on Eve’s palms and fingers. The fibers cut her hands, she told in her high little voice. The gleam left father’s eyes, and he gave Eve no more thread. But he kept the fantastic lace in their mother’s hope chest.
“Won’t it hurt my shoes?” Eve’s voice and steps were timid at the edge of the garden. The earth was drying, forming into numberless hard, dirty fists.
“Your shoes have good soles,” Sunny encouraged. “The clods can’t crush them: they’re more likely to crush the clods!”
Eve stepped carefully after her sister, avoiding lumpier ground and the scratchy arms of plants. “One morning an otter princess looked out of a castle window,” her voice piped down a row.
The story featured an embassy of bears, and a magic squash. But as the embassy wandered by a dance of snowy trees on a frozen pond, they heard din in the house. Someone appeared at the back door. “Sunny!” he called. Sunny straightened, and shaded her eyes.
“It’s my aunt!”
So Sunny collected her things and went to help their neighbor’s aunt.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Sunny drew whatever strength her plants drew from the soil, tending her garden.
Their mother died before Sunny had been able to form a memory of her. Father was a gentle, silent man who needed housekeeping. Eve was tender and helpless, and needed mothering. Sunny’s earliest memories were of tying on an apron to knead dough, sweeping the floor, washing dishes, braiding Eve’s hair and helping her dress, cutting Eve’s food, listening to Eve’s stories. She had been in enough neighboring homes since – tying on her apron in other kitchens, sweeping other floors, helping through sickness, disaster, poverty – to feel that in spite of loss and oddity, her father and Eve formed a sweet haven.
But Eve and father, the poor and the dying and distressed drew something from her. A strength replenished not by her sleep, but by going out in her garden, sweating it out with growing things, drawing nurture with them from the earth and sky. In her own nursery of seeds, with small breezes that ruffle the shoots now and then brushing her face, she never felt motherless.
Today, the aunt of the man who came for her had fallen and twisted an ankle. Sunny bathed it, wrapped it in poultices, and made the aunt comfortable. The man who fetched her stood in the door, watching. “Shouldn’t you be at university, Will?” Sunny asked, clearing up.
“There’s so much chaos there now – no classes, only demonstrations,” he replied. There had been a dispute over wells along their region’s border: several villages had been attacked. “Some students are from raided areas. Others have farms nearby: they’re all in fear. – And who can say they’re wrong?”
“Do you think there will be war?”
The man still leaned in the doorway, blocking Sunny. He looked off, and swallowed. “Do you have any notion what that small word means for you?” he finally asked. Then he turned out of the doorway and let her pass. But she found him walking home beside her.
“Yes, there will be war,” he said at length. “Because we can find no other way to accommodate each other in this drought.”
“But what does this mean for you?” she asked. “What of your studies, Will? Must you now be a soldier?”
At which he stopped, held her still, and kissed her. She drew back, confused. She had grown up with Will: he was as familiar as the way home. But the pressure of his lips was unfamiliar. “I’m sorry,” he said, putting his hands in his pockets.
“Whatever else it means,” he explained desperately “– whatever lot falls to a soldier – it means your lot will be more bitter to me still.” His eyes were restless.
Sunny stood silent. Here, then, was another person who needed her.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Hundreds of threads stretched over father’s wooden loom, like strands Eve had once seen in the trunk of a harpsichord. Its curved lid had been propped half open, reminding her of a butterfly wing: she peered in. Each key had its own strand, father explained: when the musician pressed the key, a lever would lift and vibrate the strand. Then there was sound. When the musician pressed a pattern of keys, there was a tune.
All morning father sat at the frame of his loom, hundreds of threads stretching away, his feet pressing treadles that moved beams. Threads lifted and lowered while his arms passed a shuttle back and forth. But no tune came from the click, thud, click, thud of father’s movements. Sometimes he sat with a cloud of fleece over his arm, twisting thread onto a rising and falling spindle.
“What does your father do?” someone asked when Eve was little.
“He makes thread from clouds,” she answered.
The person had laughed. “Thread doesn’t come from clouds. Rain and snow come from clouds.”
That afternoon while Sunny was away, father rested from weaving. He took out his cello and sat awhile, drawing the bow across. It was a similar motion to the shuttle, back and forth; but these strings vibrated his own cells with their issue.
“Your arm looks like a shadow blowing,” Eve said.
Later he made dinner for himself and Eve and washed the dishes. She stood over the dishpan while he dried: when he turned, she had decorated the air with a fanciful pile of vapor. “It’s an otter’s castle,” she explained. “See: I made the moat with real water.”
Then he found his pipe in his pocket, went in the bedroom and opened their mother’s hope chest. Eve followed, got on her knees and looked inside. There was the lace she had spun as a child. There was a cloak. Eve reached out: it scarcely felt real. The unlit pipe hung from her father’s mouth. He took out an embroidered silk bag, and closed the chest. In the bag were tiny bottles – blue, vermilion, amber, coral: colors of sunset. They were so feathery light, Eve could carry them to the table without sinking down. Father sat opposite, took the pipe from his mouth, and held it in one hand. He never smoked but occasionally needed to pretend, while he considered.
“Your mother could do with stones what you were doing just now with dishwater,” he explained. “She could spin and fashion them on her breath. She fashioned these,” his pipe pointed at the bottles.
“I don’t think I can do anything with stones,” Eve whispered.
“Your mother could never do anything with water. Not even soup.” He winked.
“Why did you marry a fairy, father?” Eve’s voice was a tiny bottle, fantastic and frail and weightless. “Did you know she would die?”
Her father knew Eve was not callous: only her tenderness was so keen, like her mother’s. “Your mother knew that,” he said. “But she wooed me anyway.”
“Why did she love you?” Eve asked.
He put the pipe in his mouth and stared at the table. Then he held the pipe again. ‘I think it was because I hear music. I always heard her music. I can hear yours too,’ he added.
“What does it sound like?” she asked.
He listened and thought. “It sounds like a small boat with crystal sails on a windy sea,” he said. “Your mother’s sounded like a vaulted chamber full of wings.”
“Did you always know I was a fairy?”
“Did you tell Sunny?”
He shook his head.
“I could spin a frozen lake,” she whispered, “with dancing trees.” And she did.
Illustration by Will Kelly
Will is an illustrator who loves telling stories with pictures and sharing good things with others. He’s been drawing since he was very small. He has done work for various publishers & galleries, including Light Grey Art Lab in Minneapolis. The last time anyone checked, Will was known to be residing in Tennessee.