My dear Sunny, Will’s letter began.
I haven’t written in a while. This occupation makes me feel unfit to write to you, though I think of you constantly.
I am writing now because I have bad news. I dread to write it. If I were with you I would find a way to steady you.
We were able to advance our line past the work site where they sent your father. He died in an epidemic, in the camp hospital. You know what a good man he was. He never shirked what had to be, and he had the kindest heart of anyone I know – except you.
Tell Eve as gently as you can. I almost hope she’s still playing with water, even though I can’t hope that without prejudicing your garden.
I sometimes dare to dream of our life together after all this nightmare, but my dreams are mostly casualties here. I wish I could say more to comfort you. The thought of you still comforts me.
All my love, William
Sunny read the letter by candlelight after a long day helping a neighbor through childbirth. The baby felt feverish: enough water to cool its head was hardly spared. She left the letter lying on the table and wandered out to her garden.
Withered stems and stunted shoots tangled upward in moonlight like a curse around one of Eve’s castles. Sunny knelt where she used to feel soft blades and brushes of wind. Some stems were thick and hardened: others were slender and brittle, and shattered under the pressure of a fingertip. She knelt and leaned her head on the scarred earth. So the tears came.
Eve had been fingering her mother’s bottle, propped on her pillow, while she watched Sunny read and leave the house. She turned in bed and saw through the window Sunny kneeling by a shrunken, deformed clump of plants, on the broken fists of the ground. Silent as a shadow wing, she lifted herself and saw Sunny’s head drop to earth. Then swiftly, with a power of movement she did not understand, Eve was beside her sister, her fingers like feathered shadows holding Sunny’s head. Sunny felt only a memory of breeze.
“Everything good dies,” she said to that lost mothering. “Everything weakens, and wilts. Nothing can grow here.”
Eve still had the bottle. Her fingers blew like memories of wind over Sunny’s face, and she slipped each tear in the bottle. Her sister’s tears were too precious to fall where nothing grew.
Later on, after Sunny had blown out the candle and gone to bed, Eve crept up again and opened the hope chest. The lid was thick, but a fairy’s hope chest will spring to a fairy’s touch. Inside, she spun a flowering vapor garden of moonbeams from Sunny’s tears.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The days grew colder. Father’s pipe was gone from the table: Eve wanted to carry it, but found it too heavy. “Will you hold it for me?” – So the pipe went about for weeks tucked in Sunny’s waistband. Now Eve got up a little every day and tried to help. Mostly, she tarnished things Sunny had polished, over-peppered porridge Sunny had made, and wore herself out with the broom, scattering dust; but Sunny’s heart panged and she said nothing. It was not the absurdity of Eve’s efforts, or how sparingly even plain porridge must be made, but the precious strength used that drew pangs. Eve still looked as frail as a paper lantern. Only little by little, light seemed to be flickering stronger within: and though her hands gripped objects even less securely than in former times, her senses were keener. “Can you forgive them for taking Will from his studies?” she chimed one afternoon. “His aunt says no one can forgive them.”
Sunny paused on the threshold of the main room seeing things in moonlight, in her memory. “It’s hard to forgive them,” she said softly. “It feels like trying to make the sun rise over a shadow I was in. – But Eve, when did Will’s aunt say that?”
“Just now.” Then she wrinkled her nose to say she did not like the smell of what Will’s aunt was cooking. Sunny listened and responded as she had to Eve’s stories, and only realized by bits that such reports were true.
One evening she sat knitting clothes from yarn left in the back room, while Eve sat on the edge of a chair struggling like a butterfly to draw a needle through a doll’s dress. ‘Did you sniffle?’ Eve was there, kneeling in front of Sunny’s chair: Sunny had not seen her sister move, and was startled. But she did not remember sniffling. Eve sat timidly again. When Sunny looked up later, Eve had gone out, leaving the door ajar.
She waited up, falling asleep in her chair. She dreamed that rain fell on her; and in the dawn Eve was there, whispering her name, trying to pat her awake, smoothing her hair.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The nights were chill. Sunny would often wake to find her sister gone; and Eve had taken to scribbling. One pocket of her dress overflowed with scraps of paper. The other pocket held their mother’s bottle. Eve gradually stopped trying to push the broom around, or shake pepper over pots. Sunny knew her sister now rarely slept. But Eve was a fairy, and Sunny did not know what habits to expect from a fairy.
Eve had heard a child crying the evening Sunny did not sniffle. When she slipped from the house, she found movement swift and sure: she seemed able to speed along in the slenderest shadows, carrying her weight like smoke. She found the child where it cried alone and flung her arms around it, wrapping it with herself like a windy shawl, stroking away its tears. The little one felt only a tingle of moth wings. Later Eve spun the tears with starlight.
After that, she lay awake nights listening. People all over the village were crying, and in other villages. She moved further and further catching tears in her mother’s bottles, spinning them in the hope chest, storing up vapor dreams. She could not bear that tears should fall on the fisted ground. Let them fall in feather soft fingers. She could move with effortless speed when the edges of the world were dimmed, but as she spent the nights listening and traveling, her dreams faded. And her frame ebbed. By day, she seemed to be flickering on the verge of the unreal.
One morning Eve had not returned. Sunny pulled on her coat and went looking for her. She found her in cold light, shivering under a bare tree. Sunny’s chilled breaths seemed as visible as her sister: she remembered a warp of cloth threaded over father’s loom, only air for its weft. A threadbare carpet of leaves lay around Eve’s feet. ‘I can’t walk on the points,’ she said.
“Why aren’t you wearing your shoes?” Sunny asked, covering her distress, going to her sister over leaf crackle.
“They were so heavy,” Eve said. “I took them off.”
“When did you do that?” Sunny’s face was full of concern.
“I can’t remember,” Eve whispered. “It was somewhere in the middle. I left them in an old chicken yard,” she offered, as if this would explain.
“Will it hurt if I carry you?”
Eve looked doubtful. “Like a bee? Should we take things out of my pockets? We could put them in a pail … or maybe in your shoes.”
“My shoes aren’t a burden to me, Eve. What do you have in your pockets?”
Eve said, “It is a burden to me.”
So Sunny emptied the scraps of paper and their mother’s bottle from Eve’s pockets into hers. Some of the scraps fluttered to the ground and Sunny stooped to gather them: they were scrawled with names and places: “a lady with a pearl necklace on the lowest stair”; “a baby in its cradle”; “an old man with a mustache walking in the river bed”.
“Eve, the river bed is miles away,” Sunny said.
“A soldier with bleeding legs in a ditch”; “The soldier with the pocketwatch under an embankment”. Sunny tucked them in her pocket, and carried Eve home.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
“Are you angry?” Eve asked. Sunny stooped to hear: Eve spoke loud as the drift of a skeleton leaf.
“Why would I be angry?” She had made a cradle of her hand for Eve’s.
“Because of the soldier.”
“Was it the same one, Eve?”
“What did you do?”
“I caught his tears. I spun them with silver gleams from the watch.”
Sunny’s face was stricken. “Eve, did you go on the battlefield? Oh Eve. You could have been hit with gunfire.”
“But they cry.”
Sunny looked away. She could see a fist battering into father’s face. She said quietly, “I hope he may find peace.”
“I think father was wrong,” Eve’s voice had loosened to a shimmery sail traced against vast air. “He said mother loved him because he heard her music. But I think it was because she heard his.” Her fingers lay in Sunny’s palm, a weight of a few pepper flakes. “I can hear yours.”
So Eve’s frame was lost. When Sunny went to put the pocketful of scraps, the bottle, and the shadow cloak Eve left with their mother’s in the hope chest – the vapor lace Eve had spun and stored in the chest flew out. Dreams are lighter than air. Hundreds of thousands of tears, latticed along Eve’s warm breaths and gleams of starlight, moonlight, candlelight, patterned to dreams, flew up and were lost with Eve’s frame in a bitter chill.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
As her sleeping dreams faded, Eve had relied more on memories. So the tears of the soldier with the pocketwatch had been fashioned to a dream of Sunny singing an old song, while she made clothes for a girl in the village. The tears of the man in the riverbed had been fashioned to a dream of her father’s arm blown over his cello.
That night these dreams and many others flew out of the hope chest and chilled in the upper air. Then they fell back to earth as flakes of snow. With feather soft fingers, they floated down and touched the ground. The next morning all the vapory, intricate filigree of grief Eve had traveled near and far to find and spin in darkness blanketed the earth in pure silence and glittering light. Eve’s breath lay over the village, prism colors, all the colors of foam. The patterns of Eve’s dreams were frozen to Sunny’s window. But like the magic of Eve’s vapor, they faded. Snow also melts.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
And years slip by, for time never stops moving treadles and beams on its silent loom.
It was now late afternoon: the sun was sinking. The backs and legs of chairs and of the table, flutters of lace, slats dividing glassy panes threw long shadows over the walls and floor. If the roof were propped up and a fairy peered in, would shadows be stretched across the room like harpsichord strings?
“Then what happened?”
Sunny had been telling the story to a child playing on the floor, while she sat in her mother’s rocking chair and sewed. She had paused; but being prompted, went on:
“The snow seeped into the ground, and days later, I found new sprouts in my garden. Not long afterward I had a letter from your father: he said there were peace talks. He wrote of how magically soft snow had come floating down during battle. And then their army heard singing over guns and cannonfire: it was an old tune many of their mothers had sung. So the guns hushed, and the singing was joined across the battlefield. At last the soldiers came out of their entrenchments and had snowball fights.”
“Sing the song, momma?” Sunny’s child asked. So Sunny sat and sewed and sang.
It takes the hushing
magic of the evening star
to see that dreams also subsist
among the many things that are.
Flutters of dreams have sometimes drawn
flutters from other wings.
Snow vanishes to seedlings;
starlight melts to sunny dawn.
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.