The writer’s tale – Hannah Wiles’ excerpt

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The writer’s tale – Hannah Wiles’ excerpt

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Excerpt from The River of Sorrel

It was one of those days where the world was suspended between two skies. Above, unbound from any word, syllable, or description was a sky that made every blue – cerulean – indigo – cyan – navy, perfectly green with envy. Under the influence of a flat calm, the lake became a tinted mirror. Clouds hung deep in the center, rimmed by prim rocks and leafy trees, bending over to see their reflection.

In the middle of the lake, a small, weary canoe drifted slowly, saddled with drying dogbane, a barrel full of plantain and sassafras leaves, wildflowers beginning to wilt, and a girl. She could hardly be seen, lying between the plants and a rare, intact glass jar containing a powdery yellow swallowtail. Mud and leaves covered her white spotty skin from her ankles to her neck. Her patchwork pants and vest made from animal skin camouflaged her against the boat. The birds flying over may have been convinced she was nothing more than a floating pile of dirt, had it not been for her brilliant red hair. It caught every eye in the sky. Even the sun seemed to shine down on her brighter than others, as if watching her under a fixed lens.

She could have done without the spotlight, as she gazed up at the sky. It was still low enough to the east that it didn’t bother her, but the steady course was heading directly above her.

If she thought about it, and she did as she turned to watch the delicate butterfly open and close its wings innocuously, she really should have been a bird. It just made sense. They were inquisitive, lived in trees, and most importantly, they could fly.

She wanted to fly, wanted it down to her bones. The sky called to her. Beyond her name, it needed her being, her presence. What she would give to take part, be among those lovely dreams it had. She could lie back all day and watch it mold into new shapes open to her imaginative interpretation. There, the budding of a flower, or the face of a fawn. But, to be among them, and to look inside-

Yes, she was quite certain that she had been meant to have wings. Big, beautiful red wings, with long light feathers. Not the wispy wings of the swallowtail. Those were better suited to Sophie; she would make a beautiful butterfly. Sorrel wasn’t meant to flutter. She was made to swoop, soar, dip, dive and fly just like the mockingbirds, robins, and chickadees that woke her every morning.

But, if she could fly, she wouldn’t have to make supply trips. That was an unexpected side effect she wasn’t sure she liked. She missed Mother and Sophie terribly, but it was her only way out of camp. There were chances to explore and discover. New sights waited around the corner, outside the valley. Still mostly forest, but it wasn’t mapped out to the every tree like the squared in area Mother confined them to.

I wonder what theyre up to. Sophie would be washing clothes, or making food, or maybe even fishing, if they had run out of food. It was very possible. In the few days before she had set out she’d done as much hunting as she could, to stock up while she was away, but it was difficult to gage what they could eat in two weeks. Sophie’s appetite was getting as varied as her moods. Of course, Mother would probably not eat much. She may even still be sleeping in the cabin.

The girl flinched. She hadn’t meant to stray to that thought. Thinking about Mother, about her increasing fatigue, the way her bones seemed to be forcing their way out of her body like her skin was a thick bag of plastic pained her. If only Mother would eat more. Then, she wouldn’t be so sick. She fought to get Mother to take better care of herself, and fought to make Sophie leave her alone. More and more, their home seemed plagued by fighting. This very trip had started in a fight.

“Why can’t I go with you? I’m a great hunter! You told me so yourself,” Sophie had exclaimed, pointing out words she deeply regretted. It wasn’t that they weren’t true; she had noticed, with some displeasure, that she had difficulty keeping up with Sophie when she had a bow in hand. However, the extent to which Sophie used the statement as fodder for arguments edged on her nerves.

“Because you’re too young,” she tried to explain patiently. “It isn’t all about hunting.”

“I’m not too young. I’m sixteen.”

“Don’t even try that with me. You’re not sixteen and you know it.” At that, she had ruffled through her hair, smiling.

“I’m probably close,” she retorted, waving the hand away.

“Then I’m twenty-five.”

“You are not!”

She laughed. “You’re right,” she admitted while the little girl pouted. “I’m probably not. But I’m older than you are.”

Sophie crossed her arms and stomped after her. “Mother’s older than you.”

“No. I don’t want you to go.” She looked nervously towards the cabin where Mother was. “Don’t bother Mother. She has nothing to do with it.”

“Why not? She would let me go.”

She turned around and grabbed Sophie by the shoulders. “I mean it, Sophie. Let it go.” Sophie’s eyes widened then narrowed down in hurt.

“When did you get so mean?”

“I’m not being mean,” she protested, letting go of her shoulder.

“Yes you are. You treat me like I’m a baby, like I can’t do anything, but it’s because you won’t let me do anything.”

“I do not,” she lied, knowing well she did it all the time. It hurt too much though, to admit she was growing up, that she wouldn’t need her quite like she had anymore. Underneath those dark eyes, there was a light, and it was fading. The light that used to brighten whenever she was around, that shone with admiration and awe, was going away.

“You do.”

“I don’t.”

Why couldn’t things go back to the way they had been, before Mother started getting sick and Sophie started gaining confidence?

– Hannah Wiles

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