The cashiers and the butcher had eyed my wrist like it told them everything they needed to know about me. But the bracelet meant nothing to the raven. It was his toy, the part of me meant for him.
The wind chimes were his first sound. When he was new to me, and still learning the sounds of the human world. He delighted in the noises he could make with his tongue. Clicked endlessly like the chimes, till I forgot the weather, dressed for high wind, rain, till I dreamed of cyclones, wind turbines, steep cliffs. Sometimes I’d close my eyes, say, Sing the wind-song, and he’d part his beak and trill his tongue and turn the still day to a windy one. Sometimes it was hard to tell the difference between them—his raven sounds and the real ones. Sometimes that made me nervous. Mostly it was wondrous, raven magic. Pure Whisper.
I sometimes say I found him. Sometimes that he came to me. Really, he was brought on the wind. By the thunder.
It was after the kind of storm that knocks the world around, and my daddy and I were walking to check the land. Sixty acres with nothing but wildness growing wilder every year, Daddy always said. He liked it that way—just you and the nothing all around. I liked the nothing, too. And I liked bad storms, the shrieking ones, because my daddy always said a storm is a thing we all ought to fear, and I often felt alone in all I was afraid of.
The raven was grounded between cedars, crying out like a child. Almost hidden in the blanket of fir needles.
I started toward it, but my daddy said, You leave that thing where it is. Let nature run its course.
It was fledging still, a baby. Wrinkled skin showing through in places, some feathers still in pins. When I knelt beside it, it opened its mouth for me, so I could see down its throat, pink as a secret. It was noisy with need. It was ugly and imperfect.
I made soft sounds like a mother would. I pushed back my sleeves, careful of my wrists. Held out my hands to see if it would bite.
Dad said, Back away, Lila, but I didn’t.
I was thirteen, and it was the first time I tried to die. Just after. I still wore the hospital bracelet, and the raven loved it. After I brought him home, after he’d been fed and watered and wrapped in my favorite yellow scarf, he spent hours swaddled on my lap and playing. Turning the bracelet around on my wrist, pulling the clasp open with his tongue, biting my fingers when I touched it, too. At the market, the cashiers and the butcher had eyed my wrist like it told them everything they needed to know about me. But the bracelet meant nothing to the raven. It was his toy, the part of me meant for him. The raven didn’t care what I had done. It made me feel radiant. It made me feel forgiven.
The first days, we were in love, and it was simple. I fed him crickets and cooked eggs, ground meat and meal worms like I read to do in books. I used chopsticks to feed him after the first time he bit my fingers by accident. He learned to scream when he couldn’t see me, so I carried him everywhere. When I went for walks, he rode my shoulder or my arm. When I bathed, he walked circles around the edge of the tub, plunking the shampoo bottles into the water to make incredible splashes. When I slept, it was with his head tucked under mine.
My daddy wanted so badly for me to be alright—he allowed every raven thing. He borrowed all the books on corvids in the library, some of which were useful. In one, there were stories: A raven crossing your path foretells misery, a peek through a hole in a raven’s wing will show you your death. Nothing I needed. In one, a god kept a pair of ravens named Thought and Memory. I liked that, so I called the raven Memory in secret, when my daddy wasn’t around to hear me. Memory. Memory. I was embarrassed of the name, and of how much I loved him. I did not want my daddy to regret the raven, how he wrecked our things for fun, his noise like a baby’s screams. He was often screaming. I’d stroke his head, his wings, between his eyes, saying, Be quiet, please whisper, please just whisper, and once, in a voice like a distant computer’s, he said it back to me, his first human word. Whisper, he said, and I said, Whisper? and he said it back, Whisper. So he chose his own name.
Daddy said we needed a cage for when we left the house, to keep Whisper safe from himself. He meant the cleaning products in the bathroom cabinets, the knives in the kitchen. How he’d taken the locks out of all the doors when I was in the hospital.
We bought the cage from a woman who loved a white parrot. It was large enough even for me to live inside, stood from the floor to almost the ceiling and was wider than both my arms spread like an angel’s. She said we could have it if we broke it down ourselves, so Daddy unscrewed the perches from the insides, the sides from the top. It took thirty minutes to dismantle, and the whole time, the woman and I sat on the floor of her kitchen. She fed me juice and cookies and showed me pictures of the white parrot, and then a beautiful carved box filled with white feathers, pale yellow ones. Some were longer than my hand. Some, my favorites, were littler than my littlest fingernail.
I said, What was its name?
She corrected me, Hers, and covered her mouth for a moment, and her hands were shaking. She said, Her name was Kitty.
Like a cat? I said.
Like a cat, she said.
She didn’t cry for real until she saw the cage in the bed of my daddy’s truck. As we were backing the truck down her drive. She cried with her whole body. Covered her eyes but not her mouth. I thought, Mouths are for eating and for anguish.
I said, What would make you feel like that? and my daddy said, You. Only you.
It was my daddy who taught me to find the quiet in myself from the quiet of the woods. To make the lists—to tell myself the world as it was, as it really was. As I liked it, to keep things straight in my head. Like:Good smells—fresh bread; summer grass; spearmint gum; blackberry fennel cake; Whisper’s feathers dry, Whisper’s feathers wet; apple trees. On and on, until I felt alright. Whisper sounds. Whisper words. Whisper ways. He was the one who said You have what you need inside yourself, and after I tried to die, who revised, said instead, You have what you need in me.
We built the cage in my room. It was so large, we had to move my dresser into the hallway, but it fit. It faced my bed, so even when I slept Whisper could watch me if he wanted to. He always wanted to.
He did not like his cage at first. He was afraid, so I sat inside with him, hugging my knees and shifting when the grate pinched my skin. I tipped my head up. The perches and the toys above me zagged like tree branches, like a wild place. The woods, made safe. I told him, Nice, good, home, safe. I dreamed of cages fit for girls.
As the autumn wore on, the leaves turned the color of blood, the trees shed their skins. Whisper molted into his adult body and into some destructive instinct—nothing was safe. He tore a bag of flour, dusted the kitchen in white like a sudden frost. He broke plates, ripped holes in the good couch, pulled the stuffing loose like it was the wet inside the baby mice we brought him. His bites left bruises in the shape of the letter V, but he only bit when I deserved it. When he was afraid, and I didn’t do enough to prove he didn’t need to be. When he wanted something I wasn’t giving. Sometimes, I’d get so mad at him, I’d just leave him. Just stop what I was doing and walk away. He was learning to be a person instead of a raven, so he followed me everywhere on foot, not knowing what his wings were for. He’d chase me from room to room and punish me after. He was not easy to live with, which is why I called him a he. But he was also funny, and caring. He rolled on his back like a dog, played by himself when he was bored. He liked to be pet, held like a baby. He’d ask for it, pressing his head into my hands, pulling his beak through my hair.
When I was feeling bad, he’d bring me gifts from the yard and our walks, raven things. A magpie’s dropped feather, long and black and spackled white. Coins, buttons, small bones. A translucent stone that sparkled in the light. I kept them lined on my windowsill, every gift he’d ever given me, and through the first year, they piled up. I read them like a promise. Iterations of the word love.
Christmas morning the first year, and the three of us went walking. My daddy had given me another book of raven stories, an encyclopedia of mushrooms, a pair of long knitted gloves with holly berries and ferns patterned up the arms. I knew they were expensive, and he said, They were too pretty not to get for you, but I thought they were also because he did not like to see my wrists bare.
Whisper was pouncing in the snow, saying, Go! Go!, but Dad kept sneaking glances at me, at my gloves, like the berries might change. I wonder if he regretted the red in the pattern. How the ferns wrapped up, and around.
He took my hand and swung it between us. He said, You’re doing better, aren’t you, baby? He was so fixed on Whisper, I could look at him full on. There were snowflakes in his eyelashes, in his beard.
I’m doing better, I lied. Most of the time was what I meant, but I hadn’t given him a gift, and I thought this could be it.
Whisper turned somersaults in the snow. His talons kicked up puffs of powder, and with each roll, he squeaked.
Dad said, I’ll have to go back, in April, to the camp, and they—the foreman needs to know now whether I’m going.
You’re going, I said. No question.
But I didn’t want him to. I preferred our days our own, the walks after rain, the rides to town and back in his truck, when he’d put the windows down even in the cold so the wind could kick my hair around the cab. How, sometimes, cubing meat into the bowl for Whisper, he’d add a sprig of parsley or spruce tips, promise Whisper there’d be an upcharge. I felt better, with my daddy there, fall and winter and spring. Worse with my grandma in summers. But the winters wore on him, I knew they did, the months with no adventures, cooped up in the house with me. He liked logging, the power in his arms, the danger. Even if it meant he had to leave me for it. I asked him once what he could like about killing trees, and he just looked at his hands, large and scarred and suddenly mysterious to me.
I prepared myself, after that. Telling myself, He’ll go, of course he’ll go, each night till April. And then he did. He packed his bags and tidied his room for my grandma to take. Sent postcards every week with the same tree-cutting jokes he’d written every summer all my life. The worst ones, my favorites: How did the jackass hurt himself raking leaves?—He fell out of the tree! What did the beaver say to the tree?—Been nice gnawing you!
We’d taken for granted that Whisper was kind. He mobbed my grandma when she arrived. He was possessive, protective of me. She stooped to kiss my cheek, so he went for her eyes, shrieking. She said, I refuse to be blinded by a bird, so we spent days training him to like her and others—I hid behind trees in the yard, wore disguises, took them off to reveal my face. Grandma said it was working, but it made me cry when I thought about it—under every stranger’s face, my own might be hiding. Instead, I held him tight so she could scratch under his beak without getting bitten. I said, Nice Whisper, nice, and eventually, he grew bored of hating her.
The summer with Whisper was less lonely. We took wilderness hikes every day through our woods, the two of us together. Sometimes he walked beside me. Sometimes he rode my shoulder, sometimes my arm. He never flew, I wasn’t sure he could, and I was never afraid he would leave me, the way you are not afraid your tongue will leave your mouth.
He gifted me pinecones, berries, a snake’s shed skin. We shared ice cream cones, the pink dripping down my wrists and onto his beak, turning his feathers sticky and pale. We read—I read, and Whisper ripped the pages when I finished. We camped under the stars. We missed my daddy.
In September, Dad returned with two fewer fingers and a thousand stories. I held his hand, touching the new tissue, soft and pale pink, and remembered how sharply it ached to miss him. We threw a party for Whisper’s finding day, a whole year with him. I made him a white cake and smeared the frosting on his beak. Dad gave him a whole egg. Whisper cracked it on the floor, and said, Whisper! Whisper! Whisper! with the yolk running down his front. He always screamed his own name when he was happiest.
At fourteen, I had to have my tonsils out. Before the surgery I asked to keep what came out of me, because I knew Whisper would want to see, to know why I’d been away from him so long. I had never left him longer than a grocery run, and I was afraid for him, for me. The doctor didn’t say a word, but he gave me a look, and then he gave my daddy a look, but they saved them for me anyway, in a soft pink mound like shaved ice. I held the jar between my legs in the truck going home, and maybe it was the drugs or the pain or the pink in the sky matching the pink from my body, but I felt them throb like with heat through the jar. I didn’t like that, so I put the jar between my feet where I couldn’t see it. I wanted to chuck it out the window, but I didn’t, for Whisper. It was a raven gift, like the pinecones and the sparkling stones lining all the windowsills in the house, and the gift said I am sorry for being away, that I can’t make you understand why.
But at home, even with my tonsils in the jar for him, Whisper punished me for leaving him. He turned his back, pretended not to know me, bit me when I touched him. Whisper, I cried, and he would not say it back. I whistled the songs he liked, and he would not whistle with me. It was terrible, all of it. Holding my insides on the outside of me, seeing a secret part of myself, Whisper hating me and hating me. It made things bad again inside my head.
I tried to make lists, lists of raven gifts and lists of my favorite words and lists of the trees in our woods, but still I felt myself getting far and small inside me, I felt myself go in and out of my body for the first time since I tried to die, since I found Whisper.
I watched myself as though in a movie: Here was Lila, pulling her hair back. Lila, finding the jar of her tonsils open and emptied, and Whisper nowhere. Lila, hugging her knees, asking a cruel raven to love her.
I built a castle of a bedsheet strung over the bed, a moat of pillows around me to transport myself somewhere safe. I told myself, You will not leave this tower. I told myself, You will go nowhere. I built list after list after list after list.
My daddy brought soup and ice cream, indulged my make-believe because he thought I was only healing from the surgery. I said nothing. I slept, and made lists, and after a few days I woke to Whisper standing on my belly.
He was jerking his head, fast, in a way that made him look broken. I started to cry, thinking he was dying, but he kept jerking his head until his mouth filled with something liquid and light. He brought up the food from his crop, regurgitating like for a mate.
I can’t eat that stuff, Whisper, I said.
But he brought more up, emptied his mouth on the bed beside me. The food piled up, wet and bubbling a little, partly digested. He forgave me. Claimed me as his own.
I felt, for the first time in days, things go still inside me, settling quiet. I stroked his head. I said, Thank you.
Raven facts: In the wild, a raven may live up to twenty years, depending on what my books call “human challenges.” In captivity, a raven has lived up to forty. Ravens are some of the strongest aerial fliers—they can even fly upside down. Ravens solve puzzles in the wild. Hide their stores from others. Ravens mate for life when it suits them. Kill the young of others when they are hungry. Ravens remember wrongs done them. Ravens remember kindness. Ravens remember their dead, and grieve. A raven in grief will still eat the body of its beloved, so that others will not eat it first.
The morning after another storm, close to my fifteenth birthday, I found a wren caught in the chain link. Its head through one diamond, its wing through another. It was still alive, but not for long.
Daddy said, I don’t think this is agood idea, Lila, but I imagined myself an animal rescuer. That I had some magic quality outside just love, tenderness. That my lips could soothe. That my hands could heal. I untangled the wren from the fence and brought it inside, wrapped in a towel, safe in a shoebox.
Friend, I said, showing it to Whisper.
Friend, said Whisper, eyeing the wren.
Days, I fed that bird, mealworms and barley boiled to mush. I gave it water from an eyedropper, bathed it with cool water dribbled off my fingers.
This will be my life, I thought. Even the house turned over to wildness. The windows and doors forever open for the animals to come, take shelter, go. I saw myself waking, a fawn curled in my legs, a jay pulling leaves from my hair. This was the dawn of the rest of my days.
Live, I whispered each night to the wren, and be well.
I woke to the wren’s head on the floor and what was left of its body on the table. Whisper pulling the pages out of a phonebook, hopping, like a happy child, at the sound of the tearing. I cried a lot, felt bad for days. I couldn’t look at Whisper or myself in the mirror, but my daddy said, He loves you too much. He doesn’t want to share you, and that can’t be too bad, can it, baby? That’s just Whisper.
My fifteenth summer, my grandma stayed in the house with us when my daddy went to the camp, and this time, Whisper remembered her. He pushed his head into her hands to be pet, but still bit her for fun. Then, in the middle of June, my daddy called, and he never called. He said into the phone, I’m hurt, baby. Pretty bad.
He didn’t need to say anything else. The summer he lost his fingers, I didn’t even get it in a letter. Grandma and I got on a bus. I wanted to take Whisper with me in a dog crate, but Grandma said they wouldn’t let him in the hospital. I left Whisper in his cage with a bag of dog food split open, bowls of water, jerky hung from the cage bars to keep him busy. I didn’t know how long I’d be gone.
My dad had fallen between logs during a jam. The trees he loved turned some of the bones in his leg to dust. He would have three surgeries to get him on his feet again. Would forever feel the coming rain in his bones. He was lucky, everyone told me. Lucky it wasn’t worse, it could have been worse.
In the hospital, his eyes were shiny from the drugs. He held my chin when he saw me, called me my mother’s name. I said, No—no, I’m Lila, and he shook his head, said, But where’s Whisper? I don’t recognize you without your shadow.
I pressed my head into his hands like Whisper would. Bit his fingers to make him laugh.
When he was well enough to come home and take hell, my grandma made sure he got some. I listened on the stairs many nights as my grandma hissed about how he was risking his neck when he could have a safe job, when he should be with me. Then I got it, too, or he did about me. I heard, Not a normal life for a little girl. I heard, No friends and no dreams and no goals and a bird doesn’t count.
We have a good life, he said.
A good life, I whispered where I knelt. I wanted to be hugged, so I hugged myself, but that didn’t help. I pulled Whisper across the floor to me. Tucked his head under my chin, stroked his wings. Pressed my lips to the space between his eyes.
Whisper games: Firing squad with snowballs. I’d hurl them into the air and Whisper would race to get under them as they fell, squeal and hum when they burst on his back. Races to tear intoboxes I’d wrapped just for him. Hide and seek on rainy days. Search and rescue, Dad called it. At first with cubes of meat I’d hide in the couch cushions, under bowls in spirals on the floor, under the bed. Then with his favorite toys. Eventually I hid, under piles of towels in the linen closet or in the kitchen cabinet where the tall pots slept. In the laundry hamper under damp clothes, in the shed behind Daddy’s logging gear. I’d hug myself, small as I could get. Cover my mouth to quiet my breath. But Whisper always found me, and he always bit me after, like he’d been afraid I was truly lost.
Whisper words: Hello. Whisper. Friend. Meat. Eat. Bad boy. Stop it. Bad. Come here. No. Ow! Hungry. Want.
Whisper sounds: The wind chimes in the yard. The truck’s horn. The ax cutting wood. Ambulance sirens from TV, and gunshots. A dog’s bark. The microwave’s beep. The oven timer. My sneeze, and my daddy’s. A clap. A cough. A kiss.
The next summer, I think because of the fight with my grandma, my daddy decided I had been okay long enough to be on my own a long time. Do you even want your grandma to come? he said, and I said, No, but I didn’t want him to go, either. I couldn’t believe he would, only a year since his accident and with his leg barely healed. He had scars from the pins they put in his bones, wide and pink like little mouths, and he still couldn’t walk like he used to. They’ll give me the easy stuff, he said. No jams, no big risks. Safe as a desk job, he joked, but we both knew it wasn’t. I didn’t understand why he’d still want to go, when he’d lost so much. When he’d nearly lost so much. Why he’d still want to leave me.
He stocked the freezer, and the one in the cellar, with food for me and Whisper both. He left a jar of cash he made me promise to hide where Whisper couldn’t get it. He packed. I helped him with the folding, which took him longer since he’d hurt his hand. He gave me a dreamcatcher—to protect me, he said, which made us both smile. The web was green, and fringed with a dozen of Whisper’s feathers, shining blue and green and violet in the sunlight. I fanned them with my fingers, bit my cheek, kissed my daddy. I held onto his good hand out the window of his truck all the way down the drive. He drew his hand back, slowly, so I grasped his wrist, then his palm, then his fingers. Then he was gone.
Lila, I said, and Whisper beeped and whistled.
Lila, I said, and he whooped like a siren.
I don’t know what I wanted. For him to know me. To remind me of myself. If there could be someone there to tell me, This is you, your body, hold onto her. I saw it as a precaution. A warding against my own worst nights. It wasn’t bad yet, I wasn’t falling out of myself, I wasn’t losing myself, but I had come to fear it like a storm approaching—the threat of far off clouds.
Whisper climbed onto my legs. Turned his head so one of his eyes looked straight into one of mine.
Whisper, listen—I said. Lila. Lila. Lila.
I was starting to cry, because I had said it enough that the sounds were growing strange to me, no longer a word I recognized.
I’m Lila, I said, and Whisper drew closer. Touched his beak to my shoulder, my throat. My face, my cheeks. His beak drew closer to my eyes, too close. I held my breath. I’d seen him crack walnuts from their shells with his beak. Pull the soft insides from pink mice. I did not pull away. Lila, I whispered, and he parted his beak. Touched his short black tongue to my eyelashes. I shivered, because it almost tickled, because I was afraid. I did not pull away. I told him my name, over and over. He preened my eyelashes with his tongue.
He never said it. My name. He never needed to. I was never far, only walls, only doors between us. I could read the tilt of his head across a room. One call from another. The slow beat of his heart against my throat when he dozed on my chest. Between us was everything unsayable. He knew me beyond words or naming, the space a person takes up in themselves. The you outside your body. When you sleep, the thing that delivers a dream. When your eyes are closed, how you know that you’re still there.
The day we found Whisper, my daddy tried to warn me. He said, You take that animal into this house, it can never go free. It belongs to you when it could’ve been the world’s. You alright with that?
Yes, I’d said.
You name that animal, anything that happens to it is your doing. It suffers, it’s you who made the cut. It dies, it’s you who killed it. You okay with that?
Yes, I said.
He said, Look at me, not at the bird, Lila—I need to know you hear me. You take this animal out of his world, he can never go back.
Yes, I said. I know. Yes.
The second time I tried to die, I first tried very hard not to try. I wanted to prove to my daddy that he was right to leave me here, not to send my grandmother to watch over me. I wanted to show him that Whisper was enough to save me like I’d said, that I was enough. But he wasn’t, and I wasn’t, and once you know a thing like that it is hard not to want to die. I pulled all the steaks out of the freezer and left them on the floor. I tied some of them in twine so Whisper would have a game in unwrapping them. I stuffed bones between the couch cushions. I tucked quail’s eggs in the folds of towels and rolled fruit under the bed. I opened the door, the windows. All so he’d know it wasn’t his fault. That I loved him more than my grandma and my daddy and my terrible brain, more than the first snow in the pines and fresh cranberries and everything. Everything.
I drew the bath. I shut the door, because I didn’t want him to see me, because I knew raven nature was scavenging and though I loved him, I didn’t want that for myself. I slid into the water. Made a list. But I didn’t get as far the second time as the first. Whisper was scratching at the door, shrieking so I couldn’t think. I pulled myself out of the tub, crawled to the door, lifted him onto my wet legs. Put my fingers in his mouth so he’d bite me, and he did, he bit hard enough for my head to clear. One finger after another, he bit me hard enough to bruise.
The first time, my dad took it pretty hard. On the way home from the hospital, he’d said, You don’t need all this, do you, baby? He shook the pharmacy bags. Inside, the pills rattled like the rain on the truck’s windows. He said, You like our life?
Yes, Daddy. I like our life.
He said, You tell me, when you’re feeling—his voice broke. I felt as sorry as I’d ever been. When you’re feeling bad, alright? And we’ll deal with it, in our way. Like everything else. But you tell me, alright?
Yes, Daddy, I lied. I wanted, then, to protect him from me. From the thought that he had not done enough.
If two lost fingers did not warrant a phone call, neither did my bad feelings. I didn’t tell him, the second time, and by the time he returned at the end of the summer with his thousand stories, I thought I had better have a thousand of my own, Whisper stories, happy stories, stories to cast worry from his mind like a stone.
Then, for a while, my summer alone with Whisper was easy as sleeping and waking and sleeping. I swam in the river, laid on my back in the water while Whisper turned stones on the bank, hunting bugs. We picked berries. I braided flowers into my hair and into chains for Whisper to destroy. We went often to town for ice cream, for adventure. Once, the boy at the movie theater let me in with Whisper in my backpack, his head sticking through the zip, and we sat in the dark muttering to one another, splitting a tub of popcorn. At the pet store, Whisper rode my shoulder while I held up dog toys for him to choose from. He always wanted the ones that looked most like himself—a stuffed black cat, a tiny plastic blackbird. The cashier asked me questions like what Whisper ate, and whether he was happy. He said, He doesn’t take off on you? Just leave? and I laughed. I said, Whisper doesn’t know he is a bird, and Whisper said bad boy when the cashier tried to touch him, which proved my point. But I started to feel bad, nervous that he might not know who he was, what he was born for, so I transformed our summer of ease into the Summer of Flight.
I dragged tables and chairs into the yard, set Whisper on them and walked five paces, then ten, calling him to me, praising him like a star when he fluttered his wings. Come to me, come here, come on, baby, good boy, good baby, yes. His first flight was short and awkward, from the bathroom sink and into my arms. I held him an hour after, kissing his head, his wings, saying, You did it, you smart raven, you big, beautiful boy. Soon he was flying across the house, from his cage to the bed, from the first floor upstairs, always to me. Soon he was gliding ahead on our walks, behind, where I could almost not see him. But always, he circled back to me. Always, he came back. I left the windows open, and the doors. I let him go as he pleased, because my daddy wrote me that he never loved me more than when he got to miss me, and wasn’t that one of the beautiful things about his logging months?
I was seven the first time I remember feeling bad, outside-myself bad. It was a golden fall, apple season, and we were in the big orchard. I plucked an apple the exact pink color of my elbows, and remembered the story of the women who turned themselves to trees to escape bad men, and then I fell out of myself. I heard my daddy calling but didn’t know how to answer him. I was not in the row of blushing apple trees where he’d left me, I was not in the next row or the next. When he found me, his hands shook. His beard was rough on my cheek and it knocked me back into myself. I said, Was I lost? and he said No, because the thing about love is it grows like a magnet in your head. And I said, A magnet? and touched my head, but he laughed, and pressed our foreheads together. He said, I could find you a thousand thousand thousand places. He buzzed like a magnet, and I buzzed back.
Whisper, I called, and I could hear him crying it too, Whisper, wanting to get back and not knowing how, needing to return to me and unable to find a way, or it was the trees throwing my voice back. But it was too dark to scan the trees, the sky. No moon and no stars. Bats trilled in happy flight, sounding almost like owls, which sometimes sounded almost like ravens. Whisper, I called, and the summer thunder wakened the woods, the valley. Shivering a thousand thousand thousand places.
I made a spiral in the yard. Raven gifts, to call him home in his own language. A grapefruit spoon, tiny with the saw-tooth edges. A fingernail. On my hands and knees, I placed a locket. A plastic gemstone. An egg, speckled tan and white. A green apple. Spiraling outward, a stone. The yellow scarf. The blue socks gone nubby with washing. Please. Please come back to me. A cube of meat, raw but warmed on my tongue the way he liked it. My spit, pink with the blood. Iron, heat. A lock of my hair. A quartz. A silver ring. Please.
Here is Lila, yanking at her panties, crouching to pee before sleep. Here is Lila, pulling venison from the freezer, the cutting board from the cabinet. Lila, testing the edge of the cleaver with her thumb. Rocking like a baby in the tub. Lila tracing the veins in her wrists with Whisper’s dropped feathers. Here is Lila, who forgets to eat, or wash, who walks the rooms of her father’s house, holding a book of raven tales. Here is Lila, holding the book like a body to her body. Putting the book in the freezer when she remembers, taking it out when she forgets. Here kneels Lila, licking spilled soda off the floor, pushing the pieces of broken glass around, cutting her fingers to save her tongue. Lila, touching items as though the touching might remind her of something she’s lost. The remains of the phone book. The freezer blowing clouds of vapor. It hisses, it whispers. Here is Lila, saying into the phone, I’m hurt, Daddy. Lila, saying into the phone, I’m hurt pretty bad.
Katie Knoll’s stories have appeared in Ploughshares, Black Warrior Review, and The Pinch, and other places. Her work has been featured as one of Narrative’s 2013 Top 5 Stories of the Year and as a notable story in The Year’s Best Short Stories 2017. Her story “Red” was selected for First Place in The Masters’ Review’s 2016 Short Story Award for New Writers, nominated for a Shirley Jackson Award, and appears in The Year’s Best Weird Fiction 2016. She is a recent graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.
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