The Poison Pie Publishing House presents:

The Ornithological Collection of Uwetsiageyv
(link to main page of novel)


 I. An Opening

2 chapters × 9 parts/chapter = 18 parts

Chapter 1. Uwetsiageyv

March 16, 2016
On the Meaning of Deformities
Within each individual is carried a genetic blueprint of their species, which serves at once as both a binding document, held in common with other members of the species, and a unique recipe, specific to their person. We have come to understand that this formula is not written in stone, but rather possesses an intrinsic malleability, which forms the fulcrum upon which the work of evolution is done. From this perspective, deviation from the formula is not only unsurprising but essential.

Given then the necessary distribution of forms, an understanding of a species requires observation of more than just a single specimen. In order to comprehensively describe a group, it is important to encounter both male and female, strong and weak, intelligent and stupid, beautiful and ugly, nimble and ungainly, arrogant and humble, empathetic and apathetic, hopeful and desperate in as many permutations as possible. Each could not exist without the other and only the perception of the whole is meaningful.

It is a particularly ill-advised endeavor to select a conspicuously unusual individual as a representative of the species, though one may be tempted to focus one’s attentions on the most courageous, most eloquent, most admirable. We present this introductory disclaimer in order to quiet the reflexive objection to the fact that we, in this narrative, ignore the approach of common sense and follow, instead, a single and distant outlier of Homo sapiens. Worse yet, she did not possess a host of virtuous traits that may have redeemed our stubborn choice in the eyes of the reader. On the contrary, the particular genetic makeup of this child resulted in a deformity, at the very least physical in nature though perhaps psychological as well, which led to her status as an orphan and an outcast. We choose to follow her not out of a disregard for prudence, nor a taste for sensationalism, nor yet for the individual satisfaction of deviating from the norm. In truth, we have no easily defensible justification for our choice, other than the fact that she was placed before us by chance if not fate and once we laid eyes on her we proved unable to pull our attention away.

March 17, 2016
A Memory
Ironically, she was named Uwetsiageyv, which means my daughter, though she had no father or mother. Of her father, she professed to know absolutely nothing. Nor had she ever met anyone who claimed to have any knowledge of him. As for her mother, much later in life, she was once heard to admit to a stranger, who bore a deformity of her own, the following words, “When she saw that I had managed to crack open my egg, my mother blessed me with a wink of one of her great black eyes and flew into the sky. I haven’t seen her since.”

There is no need to put literal stock in this statement. Still, it provides the only glimpse we have as to the light in which Uwetsiageyv held her absent mother. She felt tangibly the ancient blessing of her mother. Before we dismiss such a notion as the fantasy of a hapless orphan, we would do well to consider the positive aspect such an optimistic outlook had on her life. By giving her mother the benefit of the doubt, she opened herself to the same infectious optimism. Far from being a vulnerability, her susceptibility to fantasy provided a near constant force of buoyancy in her life, almost as if there was, by the dint of fancy alone, a preternatural lift keeping her aloft.

March 21, 2016
Orphans, like any other group of vastly disparate people, cannot be described in a single, swift stroke. The manner in which the separation from one’s biological parents affects a person reflects, of course, the nuances of the individual’s personality. However, orphans who spend a considerable period of their early life in formal orphanages, as opposed to being taken into an adopted family or moving through the government-sponsored foster-home system, often share a common trait. In an orphanage, one is surrounded by children, more or less indistinguishable from oneself. The staff who administer to the needs of the children were drawn to this profession by the virtuous desire to tend to the needy; they deserve our greatest admiration. At the same time, daily exposure and the practical limits of resources, time and energy foremost among them, inures even the most tender-hearted to the hardships of these children. Consequently, the physical needs of the children are satisfied while the emotional needs are neglected.

Individuals who were raised in orphanages therefore frequently mature into adults who lack at their fundamental core the reassuring knowledge that someone unequivocally cares for them, regardless of their actions, no matter how stupid or hurtful they may be. For those of us who possess the safety net provided by this measure of security, we act more freely for we understand an error on our part does not lead to the end of all things nor to an utter renouncing by those who cherish us. For the former orphan, who can recall years of faceless, unloved anonymity, movement is always calculated. Decisions are reached on a careful evaluation of the balance between the current stability of their situation and a resigned, destructive impulse to leap back into the void.

March 22, 2016
At school, they called her the hunchback, although she did not suffer from kyphosis nor any other developmental disorder associated with the spine or the skeletal system. Instead a tumor had formed in the center of her back over both shoulder blades. Initially, it was rather manageable in size. The tumor did not impact the movement or posture of the child, but it could not be ignored by her peers. Even in the orphanage, Uwetsiageyv was taunted and shunned.

Children show particular resilience in developing mechanisms to cope with their social situations. In the case of this girl, she accepted her isolation and retreated inward. She found a special solace in books of fantasy. To be honest, she considered all books, fiction and non-fiction alike, fantastical, despite their claims to historic, theological or scientific authenticity.

When she turned eleven and the first intimations of womanhood began to appear in her body, the tumor also began to increase in size. A physician was consulted. There was brief talk at the orphanage of a surgical procedure to remove it, but the cost of such an operation was deemed, after consultation between the director and his accountant, prohibitive. By the time Uwetsiageyv reached the age of thirteen, she was a young woman and the amorphous tumor weighed more than twenty pounds. She had begun to labor beneath it.

One night in late March, after the cherry laurel had blossomed but before the blooms of dogwoods appeared, the tumor split. It occurred while she slept prostrate in the top bunk of a shared room; the process was painless and did not wake her. In the morning, she discovered that from the lump a pair of wings had unfolded and now blanketed her. During the previous summer, she had observed at the edge of a pond the process of an adult dragonfly emerging from a brittle shell, abandoned in the form of its nymph stage. She had marveled at the gossamer wings unrolling and stiffening as they extended to their full size. She imagined something like that had occurred to her, save that she found no remnants of her former self about her and her wings were feathered in black.

March 23, 2016
The Departure
The revelation that the ugly hump, which Uwetsiageyv had been carrying around, actually had contained a magnificent pair of wings did not endear her to anyone. On the contrary, she encountered a fair share of resentment and accusations of duplicity, as if she had, all her life up to this point, been disingenuously parading the tumor for sympathy.

She fled to one of her favorite spots, a clearing on a bluff, more than a mile into the surrounding woods. We shall not pretend that she did not entertain the thought of flinging herself from the cliff and only deciding in freefall if it was worth the effort to determine if the wings were capable of bearing her aloft. However, she engaged in no such dramatic behavior. Instead, she tentatively beat the wings, exercising muscles that had been coiled and cramped. A thrill of exhilaration flooded her at the same time as she experienced an uncertainty for she was no longer a hunchback, a label with which she had always identified.

She did not immediately think of running away from the orphanage. It was the only home she knew and it offered at least regular nourishment and protection from the elements.

It was the words of the groundskeeper that prompted her to leave the orphanage that night and never return. She passed the old man as she returned from the woods.

“I didn’t expect to see you again,” he said, planting the head of the shovel he held in the ground.

“Why not?” said the girl. She discovered that her wings fluttered, registering her surprise. This drew the attention of the groundskeeper.

“Don’t you know of the damselfly?” When she gave him a curious look, he continued. “The nymphs may live years in the water, but once they get their wings they live no more than a few weeks.”

Such a thought had not occurred to the girl, who did not routinely dwell on her mortality. If her time in this form was limited, it seemed unwise to spend it within the confines of the orphanage. “Where would I go?” she asked, though she did not hold the groundskeeper in any particularly high regard with respect to the dispensation of wisdom.

The old man looked up into the late afternoon sky, as if to imply the answer was obvious. She would fly until she tired, then she would descend somewhere else.

On the following morning, when her bed was found empty, the cafeteria of the orphanage was filled with disparaging comments regarding Uwetsiageyv, who they felt, with the sudden appearance of wings, had become too high and mighty for the likes of their kind and had stormed off in a huff without so much as a thank you for the years of care she had received within these halls.

March 24, 2016
The Ascension
In the silver light of a gibbous moon, Uwetsiageyv discovered that her wings remembered a rhythm of flight that was unknown to the rest of her. It proved unnecessary to throw herself from the clearing over the bluff. Instead, she was lifted gracefully up into the night sky. Clutched to her chest was a small satchel in which she held the entirety of her earthly possessions, a change of clothes, her journal, fruit and bread taken from the pantry.

She was garbed in a bulky cotton sweater suitable to the early spring season and a gray wool skirt, which served as the girls’ uniform. White socks rose from plain black shoes and hung loose about her bony ankles. As she rose in altitude and the temperature fell, it belatedly occurred to her that she was ill-equipped for this undertaking. Of course, many individuals begin pivotal episodes in their lives utterly unprepared for what lies before them, owing to the fact that chance so often plays a part in casting the unwitting into roles from which they cannot emerge unchanged. She kept her course, despite the goosebumps that rose on her exposed legs.

At a certain altitude, the wind picked up and Uwetsiageyv traveled at a high velocity. She could remain unaware of the extent of her movement because of the lack of reference point. Caught in the middle of a current, she moved at the same speed as the air about her; it did not violently whip about her. Furthermore, she had ascended to such a height that landmarks below her shifted only gradually with respect to her position.

She experimented with the arch and angle of her wings until she coasted effortlessly, as seabirds, such as the albatross, are known to do. Soon she was able to cease beating her wings. With the canopy of stars above her and the unblemished darkness of the forested landscape beneath her, she was struck by a moment of caprice in which she imagined she might stay up here forever. While the thought initially frightened her, as time passed, she began to warm to the idea until she resolved to fly until she came apart.

March 28, 2016
The Storm
Uwetsiageyv was carried by the winds. Random thoughts of the life behind her appeared of their own accord, rustled around her mind and were then forgotten. Each minute seemed disconnected from the previous. In this manner, many hours passed. Dawn broke over an unending terrain of clouds laid out before her, shielding the Earth from her eyes. It only served to emphasize her feeling of severance from her past life.

At some point, due either to exertion, though it required little effort to remain aloft, or the overwhelming sense of isolation or, perhaps, just the prolonged exposure to the cold, she became confused. The sun ascended to its noon time apex then descended with the invitation of night. How many times this daily cycle transpired in reality was clouded by the fact that Uwetsiageyv relived the moment in her imagination as she was dwarfed by the immensity of these processes and her own accidental and utterly insignificant exposure to them. Her confusion did not transform into panic. Rather, she shifted her wings and climbed ever higher.

One night she discovered two things simultaneously—pangs of hunger in her stomach and lightning flashing horizontally among gray clouds beneath her. So jumbled was her state of mind that she wondered if the two events were related. She coasted gently into the storm.

When she was surrounded by an opaque mass of clouds, she realized her error for quickly the predictability of the various currents of air was lost to her. Unexpected gusts buffeted her on all sides. She tried to correct her course but found that she now moved at the whims of the storm, which relentlessly pushed her further into the turbulence.

Finding her wings worse than useless in this chaotic tempest, she folded them up and curled into a ball. In this position, she found a strange warmth, as she plummeted like the stone of a peach plucked by a god from the orchards of immortality and spit to Earth, to land where it may and cause what ruckus it might.

March 29, 2016
The Ocean
As she dropped in altitude, she found that the wind lessened. The rain, while heavy, fell in straight sheets. She stretched herself out and gradually unfolded her wings, slowing her descent, until once again she coasted under her own control. She continued to glide beneath the clouds in the predawn darkness.

Even when the sun rose, her range of vision was limited by the heavy rainfall but there could be no mistake that she now flew over an ocean. A deep blue surface, crossed by shifting waves and dimpled by raindrops, extended as far as the eye could see in all directions. Uwetsiageyv could scarcely believe the sight for the orphanage was located a thousand miles or more from any coast. Still, the evidence before her eyes was confirmed by an unfamiliar smell, that of the saline sea.

How many days had she flown? Where had she allowed the storm to carry her? Did it matter? Such thoughts filled her head until her wings began to ache and a sudden fear gripped her, for Uwetsiageyv could not swim. The recognition of her exhaustion seemed to immediately compound the sensation.

She scanned the horizon for signs of land but the water collected on her face and in her eyes and she saw only the blur of endless ocean. She drank rain while on the wing, thinking to sustain herself. She found some small comfort in the fact that the temperature was much warmer here than it had been above the clouds. When the rain stopped and the clouds cleared, surely she would find herself in a hot, tropical clime.

She continued to dance from one air current to the next for she had no other recourse. That she would drown at the end of her maiden flight occurred to her only at this point. She understood that the lack of alarm at her approaching demise was strictly a manifestation of her mind succumbing to the exhaustion of the rest of her body. For a moment, she cursed herself as a fool for her impulsive flight from the orphanage. However, she soon changed her mind as she allowed the experience of the foreign sea to fill her. This inhospitable scene, encompassing nothing but an infinite invitation to drowning, was a much more appropriate place for one such as her to come to die.

March 30, 2016
The First Island
She flew until the muscles in her wings refused to respond to her command and then she continued to coast on currents, exerting effort only when absolutely necessary. In this way, she managed to stave off the inevitable descent into the sea for as long as possible.

When a black dot appeared on the horizon, it provided a surge of hope such that she found some residual energy in reserves she had thought empty. A boat!

As she drew nearer and the dot increased in size, it turned out that the distance had deceived her. It was not a vessel at all but a small, isolated island surrounded by a ring of pale blue, shallow water. The island seemed nothing more than the summit of an immense underwater mountain. It rose to a peak at its center and was forested everywhere save the ring of sand around its perimeter.

Relief flooded through Uwetsiageyv as she glided lower over the surface of the water on her approach to the shore. She had never executed a landing before and she found it more difficult than she had anticipated. She was moving too quickly so, when her toes touched the wet sand, the rest of her spun forward and she landed with a thump on the sand, her wings spread out above her.

Such was her exhaustion that the pain of the impact did not register with her. Her chest heaving, she lay prostrate on the sand as the afternoon sun beat down on the black feathers of her wings and the backs of her bare legs. She had only enough sense left in her to crawl up the beach into the shade of some foreign, deciduous species of tree, in order to get out of the sun.

In the few moments before she fell into a deep slumber, she tried to convince herself that it was the same person lying on this island who had begun the flight from a bluff near the orphanage only a short lifetime ago.

Chapter 2. Kònèy & Chwèt

March 31, 2016
A Dialogue
Uwetsiageyv dreamt of a conversation taking place beside her while she slept. The dream contained no visual component, only two voices cloaked in darkness. The words of one of the speakers emerged in dissonant bursts like the caw of a crow lurching from its perch in a tree, while the speech of the other was mellifluous, with a pleasing variation in pitch, like the hoot of an owl.

“What is it?” barked the crow.

“It appears,” crooned the owl, “to be some sort of winged mammal.”

“Is it alive?”

“I am sorry to disappoint you,” said the owl, “but I think it yet breathes.” There was a note of apology in its voice, since it knew well that its companion feasted exclusively on carrion. Both were hungry.

“Give it a nip,” suggested the crow, “and see if it moves.” Perhaps, the body was close to death.

“I will not,” replied the owl in an offended but still musical tone.

The pair scrutinized the girl for several minutes in silence. “It is,” remarked the crow, when his inspection was complete, “an abomination.”

“In what regard?” asked the owl strictly out of politeness, since it already agreed with the assessment.

“It has a tangled mass of long fur on its head like a mammal yet its wings are feathered like a bird.” It noted too that the remaining portions of the creature revealed bare flesh, as if the feathers, which should have covered the slender body, had molted due to some malignant disease, perhaps a rare strand of avian mange that manifested only in undesirable hybrids, such as the one they found before them.

“As much as it pains me to do so,” said the owl in its lilting voice, “I must agree with you. Gazing too long upon it fills the mind with revulsion.”

“Perhaps it will die soon,” said the crow hopefully as its stomach rumbled in assent.

next month

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