Myths in Isolation alphabet – P is for Phoenix by Jane Wickenden

It is time to share this one I think. Hope really is the thing with feathers… if you enjoy it please consider buying me a coffee on Ko-fi. Thank you x

The Phoenix by Jane Wickenden

Where the phoenix trailed its feathers, ash stirred and embers gleamed. Where it trod, its claws burned coal so deep that the fire stayed hidden for years beyond counting. When it leaped into the sky, meteor showers followed windblown on its trail. It flew until it found the tree that had been waiting for it, whose trunk was hollow and the floor of the hollow soft with centuries of dust.

The phoenix was tired. Its pinions were the colour of molten copper and the feathers of its body the colour of molten gold, but some things lay heavier on it than any metal. Two most of all: the years, and the ways of humankind. Those creatures that used light taken from other things and heat from others still, and were of so short a time themselves.

It looked up, into the face of the moon above the open hollow. Time no longer, it whispered; and the moon smiled. Then the phoenix pulled the sky round itself like a cloak, shut out both dark and light, and nestled down in the dust of leaves, first lightly, then with a warm breathing intensity that might have been any size at all, or no size, in any place and time.

The boy’s name was Adham and the girl’s name was Noor, and they lived with their parents in a small square house of mud and breeze-blocks up against the shell of an older, larger building, on the edge of a city of tents. The old building had been a gracious home with a garden and a stream and shady trees; the stream still flowed, bridged by the trunk of a fallen cedar, and when there were no chores to do the children played here among the shadows and the long grass. For an hour, an evening, too short a time, they breathed a softer air that held no taint of burning, under a gentler sky where flew no shapes of terror, in a kinder place that did not smell of fear.

That evening, under a sky of eggshell blue, Noor crossed the stream on the fallen cedar, and Adham came to meet her. As their hands touched, the trunk crumbled, and they landed together in a laughing heap on a cushion of bark and wood. It was sunset, and clouds above them, curled red and gold, drifted like feathers. For a while they lay there, wondering at the sky’s beauty.

“I can hear music,” Noor said.

Adham listened. “I can’t hear it. But something. I can feel something.”

They sat up. For a moment they were still, then worked side by side, quiet and eager, scraping away dust and fragments, until in front of them was a hollow of scented bark. In it lay –

“An egg,” Noor said, bending low. “I thought there was music. But there isn’t; only something like music.”

“It is blue like the sky,” Adhem said.

Noor stooped, and picked it up, cupping it in her hands. “And warm like … I don’t know what.” She lifted it to her face. “It smells of cinnamon.”

“And cardamom and sandalwood,” Adhem said.

“Sunlight.” Noor caressed it. “It’s so old.”

“I think it’s new. Or at least, young.” They looked at each other. Adhem said, “All ages, then.”

“All times,” Noor agreed. “Let’s take care of it.”

“I think it can take care of itself, but it would be good to have it with us.”

They went indoors together. Between Noor’s palms the egg was heavy as gold, smooth as pearl. The music of it was on the edge of her hearing.

Adhem hunted in the chest where he kept his blankets and his treasures. “Here is the sandalwood box that our father’s grandfather carved his wife for a wedding gift.” The box was wood and mother-of-pearl and carved with feathers or fronds; they could have been either. “It was to wish her happiness.”

Noor gave him the egg, and went to her own room. “Here is the silk that our mother’s grandmother embroidered for her husband as a wedding gift.” There were palm-trees and letters in swirling calligraphy. “It was to wish him long life.”

They laid the silk in the scented box, and the egg on the silk, and set the box high on the rafter between their two rooms. “Will it hatch?” Noor said.

“Of course it will hatch,” Adhem said. “It has love and happiness and words and beauty. Sometimes they go away, but they return.”

Noor nodded. “They are always there,” she said, “even when we cannot see them. We have to give them time.”

They make time for themselves, the seed of the phoenix whispered to the scented darkness. And from love and memory they make more than time. All will be well.

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