The Cabinet of Curiosities
Jar of eyes

The Doll Collection

May 14 (Day #3 of being here):

I’m scared, and this is crazy, and I don’t have anyone to talk to. So I’m writing in this diary I got for Christmas, because this place is so weird, and I’m so lonely, and I don’t have anyone to tell.

My mom is housesitting. Or supposedly “we’re” housesitting, because I need to be Just As Invested as Mom is, supposedly. That’s the kind of thing she says now she has this new job. Blah.

It’s her new boss we’re housesitting for. Viv. She’s tall and super beautiful and pale and wears a black velvet coat even thought it isn’t cold outside. When we got here three days ago, she showed us around.

IMG_4143

The house is way nicer than our house and in a way nicer part of town. It’s over a hundred years old, skinny and four stories high, near the center of the city. Viv fixed it up, Mom says. It’s all shiny dark wood and soft carpets and deep colors and window seats.

I don’t like it. The street is noisy, and I’m far away from my friends, and I have to take a bus to school—not a school bus, a city bus, with a bunch of grownups who look like they’re really mad they’re on a bus.

And we had to leave our cat Spooky at home. She’s called that because she’s still kind of wild and shy, even though she’s lived with us for two years. I found her when she was starving, and fed her and petted her till she stopped biting me. Then I let her in our house, and ever since then she hasn’t ever even tried to leave. I really miss her. My friend Mabel is feeding her for $5 a day, but I bet Spooky feels so lonely in our house alone.

I feel lonely in this one. This house has its own cat, a weird one exactly half black and half white, with small, pinky, bloodshot eyes. It doesn’t seem very nice. But maybe it’s just lonely for Viv.

The worst part is my room. It’s supposedly really nice I guess, but the walls are the color of blood—which, in a bedroom?!?? And even though it’s on the top floor, way above the street, at night I still hear cars and drunk people and screamy laughter, or sometimes just screams, and I can’t tell if they’re the laughing kind or not.

But that’s not even the bad part. The bad part is that this room is where Viv keeps her doll collection. As soon as I walked into the room, I felt a giant NO inside me. I said real fast, “Is there another room I could have?” And Viv said Not Really, the only other ones are the master bedroom where Mom’s sleeping, and Viv’s home office, which is Off Limits.

My mom said, “It’s so much nicer than your room at home, honey. Really, it’s all gorgeous, Viv, I don’t know what she’s thinking.”

I think she knew exactly what I was thinking, because she was in a hurry to get out of that room and look at the rest of the house. Anyone would be.

These dolls.

There are like hundreds of them, sitting on these dark wood shelves against the blood-colored walls, sitting on the ledge of the bay window, sitting on the bed, and on the floor, and just everywhere. All different sizes and kinds of dolls, regular plastic ones and old china ones, wooden painted ones and blotchy old tin ones. All different clothes and colors, boys and girls.

All different, except for one thing: they all have big, bright, open-mouthed smiles. Open mouths, where you can see their teeth.

DAY #4, Morning: I am almost 100% sure that when I woke up, all the dolls were one inch closer to my bed. The ones on shelves were closer to the edge of the shelves. The ones at the end of the bed were closer to me.

And the ones on the window ledge–all their heads are turned to look at me.

Night: Just now I was brushing my teeth in the little old-fashioned bathroom by my room. When I looked up into the mirror, there was a doll looking into the mirror too, right behind me, with its big open-mouth smile.

That doll wasn’t on the bathroom shelf before.

I texted Mabel to tell her and she texted back “Now I’m gonna have nightmares weirdo shut up.”

DAY #5, Afternoon: When I woke up this morning, the dolls were closer again, and half of them were upside down, still smiling their giant toothy smiles.

I hate this house.

And I hate my mother’s new job, which is making her weird. She wears a TON of makeup to work now. Her face looks weirdly too perfect. She’s wearing fake eyelashes, they look ridiculously long, it’s embarrassing.

Night: I found a linen closet with extra sheets. I didn’t ask permission. I hung them over the shelves with thumbtacks and I don’t care if the shiny wood is ruined. I draped some towels over the window dolls. The dolls at the end of my bed I stuck under the bed. I am not going to wake up to those horrible dolls again.

Day #6, Morning: Somehow in the night the bedsheets got torn down, and twisted into like ropes, and tied into hard knots around the bedpost. When I woke up, a doll from underneath the bed was halfway up one of the twisted sheets. Like he was climbing it. His big smiling mouth was turned right at me.

I texted Mabel again. She hasn’t texted me back.

The towels I put over the window dolls are on the floor, and soaking wet, but not with water, with something dark and sticky. I threw them in the wash, then I washed my hands for like ten minutes. The water ran the same red color as the walls.

So maybe it was paint?

I gotta get out, we gotta get out.

Day #7, Morning: Last night I tried to talk to my mom about the dolls. She laughed at me, this funny, robot-y sounding laugh, like “HA ha ha ha. HA ha ha ha.” She sounded like the laugher at some creepy fun house.

She was straightening up the living room in this funny stiff way, bending at the hips. like her joints didn’t work so well any more. She is wearing the same lavender-flower dress she wore yesterday. She looks smaller, somehow.

Something about this place.

I couldn’t even write in this diary, I just lay there saying “I won’t cry, I won’t cry,” until I fell asleep.

And then this morning I woke up with three little bloody bite marks on my arm, just like when I was taming Spooky. They sting really bad.

One of the dolls right across from my bed, a big Pinocchio with a long nose and a red hat and a wide smile, has a little streak of blood at the corner of his mouth.

DAY #7, Night: 

After school I saw that my mother is definitely smaller! She’s almost my size now! I asked her what was happening, why she was shrinking?

She said “HA ha ha ha. HA ha ha ha.”

When she tucked me in she had a big wide smile on her face and her eyes with their long fake eyelashes stared right over my head.

I secretly called Dad, which I am not supposed to do except in a giant emergency. I think I woke him up because of the time zones. I told him mom was getting smaller and laughing weirdly and he told me I was having a bad dream, go back to sleep, tell mom to call him later. Then he hung up.

DAY #10

When I woke up yesterday morning the dolls were all around me–some tucked under my pillow, some with their legs wrapped around my arm, some lying on my stomach–but every single one with their faces tilted UP at me. One big doll wearing some kind of peasant costume had her wide, smiling mouth around my hand. Its teeth were resting on my skin. I screamed. I ran downstairs.

Mom was sitting at the edge of the sofa, her legs hanging down. She was maybe two feet tall, still in her pale purple flowered dress, her black hair long and neat. “HA ha,” she was saying, “HA ha.” But like she was tired, like she was winding down.

So I took her home. I put her purse in my backpack. I left a bunch of food for Viv’s stupid ugly cat, a whole bag full on the floor. I held the doll that was my mom in my arms and waited for the bus to come. I asked the bus driver which stop to transfer at to get to our address, and she gave me and my doll-mom a funny look, but she told me.

Last night I slept with my doll-mom, I held her and talked to her and tried to talk her back into being my mom again, but it made no difference. She’s smaller this morning, she’s doll-sized for real now.

All morning I’ve been laying in my room, whispering to the doll, “Mama come back, come back.”

Tuesday I think

We’ve been home alone for a while now. We’re almost out of peanut butter and noodles. I hope I got mom out in time but I don’t know. I don’t know if I did. She can still move one arm a little, and creakily say “HA ha. HA ha.”

But so could those dolls at Viv’s house, right? So maybe she is gone all the way. I don’t know.

I’m lonely, I’m lonely, I’m scared. But I can’t call Dad or Grandma or anyone, and say “Mom turned into a doll.” No one would believe me. They’d take her away from me.

So I don’t answer any texts from anyone.

At night in bed I hold her in my arms, my mommy doll, my mommy doll, and I try not to cry. And every morning I wake up with these tiny little bite marks on my arms, and my mommy doll has blood on her big, smiling face.

But I was thinking, maybe it will be like Spooky. Maybe she’ll bite me and bite me and then see I still love her anyway. And then after a while, she’ll give up biting, and give up being a doll, and be my mom again.

Friday

The most terrible thing happened. The police came, and Viv came with them.

They kept asking where my mom was, or who was taking care of me. I said “she’ll be right back in minute” in this high, obviously lying voice.

The police looked at each other. Viv smiled a tiny, mean smile.

Then she said to me, in this fake nice voice, that she knew I had stolen a doll, this supposedly really valuable doll, worth thousands of dollars. At first I didn’t even know what she was talking about, like I would STEAL one of those horrible things?

But then the police lady starts reading a description that says “long black hair, brown skin, brown eyes, lavender-flowered dress”—and I realize she means my mother. My mother, she means.

Viv wants my mother back for her collection.

I run to my room to get to her before they do. I lock the door, but the police start banging on it, yelling OPEN UP MISS. OPEN UP.

I grab my mom-doll, and now I finally do cry, for the first time this whole time, I cry all over the place. “Mama,” I cry, ”you have to come back, you have to.”

“HA ha,” she say softly, and lifts her hand a little.

“Mama!” I say. My tears are pouring all over her hard little face. I think for a minute–but maybe it’s just because my eyes are full of tears?–that her plastic face starts to soften a little. I think it is softening, though–it’s like the tears are ruining the perfectness of the plastic, and making it a little bit alive again.

But there’s no time to keep watching. I hear the police backing up to smash down the door. So I throw the doll behind me and get ready to fight.

I know it’s useless, but I have to try.

And as the police bust through the door, in that one second, I can see it all happening, the rest of my life: Viv taking my mother away to put in her collection, and I never see her again, never again. And they send me to some place for crazy children, my Dad and Grandma standing in the door crying while they drag me away. And people say “What a shame, poor girl, what a shame.”

The door smashes down. The police stagger in. Then they blink, and straighten up.

“Mrs. Everton?” they say. “We didn’t realize you were here, your daughter said—“

“I was asleep,” says my mother, from behind me. “What in the world is going on? What have you done to our door?”

And behind the police, I see Viv’s face twist up in rage and disappointment. I see her slip quietly away.

And on my shoulder, warm and real and right-sized, I feel my mother’s hand.

May is for Collections

Although we Curators enjoy telling our stories, and naturally hope that you enjoy reading them, this Cabinet’s true raison d’être—if I may shock you with French—are our collections.

What haven’t we braved to feed the collector’s chief obsession? Which is, of course, completeness. Curator Trevayne once climbed an immense and ancient tree to find the nest of a winged ghoul, otherwise occupied, whose infant hatchlings greeted her with gaping mouths full of tiny, razor-sharp, bloodstained teeth. I cannot imagine how, one by one, she managed to pull those teeth—now prominently displayed in her Dentition of the Necrophagi exhibit—but I hope someday she will tell us. So far she insists she’s just trying to forget.

Curator Legrand once slept under a young child’s bed for 13 nights in a row in order, finally, to slaughter and stuff an enormous gila monster—which was just as well, as the monster had taken to sleeping under the covers at the end of the terrified child’s bed, occasionally licking her feet with disturbing interest.

Curator Bachmann once disguised himself as a snowdrift to record the domestic dispute of a pair of yeti.

I myself, for the sake of a collection, braved a 7th grade gym class. The horrors I witnessed would strain your sanity, but it was worth it to capture a splendid specimen of Adolescent Voodoo Experimentation, including a little blonde doll that may still be causing weight problems for a certain cheerleader.

But of course, these stories we tell you form a kind of collection themselves—a collection which, in fact, will be magnificently published in a few short weeks, on May 27. In honor of that massive and remarkably beautiful tome, we will devote the month of May to stories about collections, and collectors, and all the pleasant horrors they entail.

Ariel

Drawing by William Kentridge.

Drawing by William Kentridge.

The cage was far too small for such a large bird. Any cage is too small for a bird; but this dusty iron one was hardly bigger than the bird herself. Her own waste festered on the floor of the cage, which no one ever cleaned, and the fumes rose up around her all day.

Once she had had a nub of bone to chew on, but she’d chewed that to dust long ago. Now she gnawed on the bars of the cage—not with any hope of escape, but only to push away her fear and loneliness.

The bird had been in the cage almost, but not quite, her whole life. Faint memories of some of other place and other kind of time haunted her. She worried over it. Was there really such a time? Could she open her wings full and free once?

Was there really a place called Sky: infinitely blue, infinitely accepting?

When memories of Sky came like hot arrows into her fearful heart, she would pull out her own feathers, one at a time, to forget. It hurt terribly, but the pain eased or hid the pain of missing Sky, at least for a while.

Sometimes she was certain she only imagined Sky—that Sky only stood for a place and time that was not this place, and not this time. But whatever Sky was, she longed for it.

The bird lived in an old, high-ceilinged apartment, well above the city streets, with a thin man in a red coat and a little girl in a purple, frothy dress. Once a week, the thin man would seize the cage and carry it outside, banging the bird inside to and fro, through noisy, smoke-blackened streets, and into a dark building. Once inside, the man’s wiry hands would reach inside the black bars, seize the bird, and stuff it inside a suffocating black sack. Then he stuffed the sack inside a black hat and left.

For hours, as the bird struggled for breath, she would listen to muffled noises: first shouts and curses and laughter; then the blare of off-key trumpets; then the sleek and booming voice of the man in the red coat.

Then, without warning, the sack was opened, and the bottom of the hat was smacked, forcing the stunned bird into the air. It would flutter desperately, awkwardly, stretching wings that had not been used in a week. Bright lights blinded it, the rising roar of a crowd made it flutter, terrified, unsure where to fly. Within seconds, the man’s hard hands were back around the bird, thrusting it back inside the sack. And soon enough, it was back in its cage on its table again.

It was the job of the girl in the frothy purple dress to give the bird food or water, but often she forgot, and when she remembered, her hands were not always satisfied only to leave the food, but had also to touch the bird, and her hands were hot and rough and cruel.

Once, after slipping the food in, the girl seized one of the bird’s wings and yanked, nearly breaking it. In pain and fear, the bird struck at the girl’s hand, hard. Then there was no food or water for many days, not until the bird was crumpled at the bottom of her cage, breathing shallow and fast, and the thin man shouted and hit the girl.

But mostly the girl and the thin man ignored the bird. And mostly the bird turned its back on the room to stare at the wall beside its cage, watching the changing light. The light was all it could see of the outdoors.

One day, the light shifted—or perhaps the thin man or the rough, forgetful girl had accidentally shifted the cage. In any case, on the wall behind the caged bird, another bird appeared: a dark, shadow bird, in a shadow cage.

Shadow bird, said the caged bird: look, your cage is only shadow. You could leave at any time. Open your wings, shadow bird, and fly.

But the shadow bird did not move.

Shadow bird, said the caged bird: My cage is iron bars, but yours is made of nothing at all. It is only the dream of a cage. The window is open, I smell the street and the dirt and the trees outside. Fly away.

But the shadow bird did not move.

Do you stay for me? asked the cage bird. I think you do. I think you came to keep me company, and you stay so that I am not alone in this place, so far from Sky. If birds could cry, the caged bird would have cried with gratitude. Not to be alone was more than she had hoped.

To show her gratitude, the caged bird raised her wings the few centimeters she could raise them. In response, the shadow bird raised its wings much higher, much fuller. The shadow bird’s wings were bigger even than the shadow cage itself.

So things seemed almost a little better for the bird, for a little while. And then without warning, they were much, much worse. Because one day, for fun, little girl put glue on the caged bird’s perch. The bird pulled and strained in agony, trying to free herself.

Just then the thin man, running late and impatient to leave, strode in, opened the cage, seized the bird, and pulled hard. The bird shrieked in pain, and as the cage swung through the city, the blood from her talons trailed across the street.

And when the hat was smacked, and the bird was flung out before bright lights and roaring crowds, she could fly no more than a few inches before she fell to the ground.

The crowd laughed.

When they got home, the thin man tossed the bird and its cage furiously onto the table. The bird’s ruined feet could not bear the perch, so she lay on her side on the the cage’s filthy floor, facing the wall and the shadow bird. The shadow bird lay down, too, in its shadow cage. They held each other’s eyes.

In the room, the thin man and the rough girl screamed at each other.

“I didn’t do anything!”

“Except cost me money and reputation with your stupid tricks! The bird’s useless now!”

“It isn’t my fault, it’s the stupid bird’s fault!”

And then maybe—because by now the caged bird was feverish, and its head felt too full and light—maybe the cage door was yanked open, and a small hand pulled her out, shouting. “Fly! Fly, stupid! I didn’t hurt you so bad, you’re just lazy!”

Maybe the small hand flung the sick, wounded bird into the air.

And then—at least it seemed to the caged bird that this happened—then, somehow, the bird found strength in her battered, half-feathered wings. She pulled at the air, and the air carried her up. She flew near the top of the ceiling, and then she turned and faced the man and the girl.

“See—“ the child began, in triumph. But then—or so it seemed to the feverish bird—the child’s eyes widened in fear. The bird-no-longer-caged could see herself, she thought, reflected in the child’s black pupils. She could see herself, and she could see her own bloody talons outstretched, and her sharp beak open.

She could see herself, as she stabbed and stabbed at the child’s soft face and throat, until those pupils could not see through the blood.

And when the thin man came at her, snatching at the air around her, waving his wiry arms—then it seemed to the bird that she served him just the same, over and over, and over and over, until his face and hands and hair were as bloody-red as his coat.

The man and girl lay still and quiet on the floor, then—oh quiet, quiet, quiet.

That is what the caged bird thought, at least. But if you were the policeman who entered the room, after neighbors reported terrible screams, and then terrible silence, you would have seen a bird in a locked cage, lying on its side, facing the wall, still and cold and dead.

On the floor, you would have seen a child in a blood-spattered, frothy purple frock, and a thin man in a red coat, their faces and throats pecked into bloody mess.

And you would see, if you were a noticing policeman, a shadow of the dead bird’s black cage against the wall.

But you wouldn’t see the shadow bird. Because the shadow bird was gone. The shadow bird had flown. The shadow bird had done what it had come to do, and had returned to the Sky.

The North Wind Doth Blow

When Curator Catmull was a girl, which was, perhaps, in the late 19th century, she particularly cherished the book At the Back of the North Wind, by George MacDonald. So the tale below interested her particularly, as it casts a much different light on the North Wind of that book, who so tenderly cared for a dying boy named Diamond.

Perhaps she never recovered from his loss. If so, what awfully bad luck for the children of this age.

800px-Occluded_mesocyclone_tornado1_-_NOAA

The wind raced behind Ruby, chasing up the street from tree to tree. As she reached her door, it caught her, tangling her hair into her face as she fumbled with the key. The windchime bounced and jangled overhead, and her phone chimed in her pocket.

In the stillness inside, she read the text: Working late sorry sweet. Lasagna in fridge (is delish). Say it with me: TV stays dark till homework done. I love you. Ruby texted back an emoji sticking out its tongue, to indicate her feelings about homework and being home alone.

In some ways, though, she wasn’t so sorry to put off seeing her mother, after what had happened today.

An hour later at the kitchen table, a half-eaten plate of lasagna sat next to her math book, and her pencil scritched away on a problem. It was already dark outside, or nearly. The windchime jangled again, more insistent now.

The lasagna sat heavy on Ruby’s stomach. She had spent some time the principal’s office that afternoon. It wasn’t 100% that she was going to be suspended, but it wasn’t looking good, either, and her mother would have to take off to come for a meeting the next day, and that would not go over well.

Ruby knew she shouldn’t lose her temper. But also: people shouldn’t talk to her that way. Not people wearing prissy little perfect white dresses; not when she was holding a full lunch tray containing a sloppy joe, a bowl of tomato soup, and mess of chocolate pudding.

Her pencil worked more furiously. What was I supposed to do.

Scritch, scritch.

The windchime’s jangle became more urgent, like a warning. The wind was picking up, had found a voice, as it swept and whined around the corners of the house. Ohh, said the wind. Ohhh, oohhhhhhh, OHHH.

Even inside, it felt colder, and Ruby put her sweater back on. The whole house was dark except for the little pool of light where she sat. She cleared her dishes, turning on the kitchen lights as she passed, stuck the plate in the dishwasher, lasagna back in the fridge

SSssssssssssssss, said the wind. SSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSssssssssssssssss aahhhhhhhhhhhh.

Ruby turned on the living room lamp for good measure and returned to the kitchen table. For a few minutes she worked at her math again, but it was impossible to concentrate with that wind. Fine. No choice. She took her homework to the couch and grabbed the remote. Something dumb on TV would drown out the wind and help her concentrate. That was cheating a little, but so what.

If Mom wants me to do my homework first, she should be here to make the house not so scary and weird. 

The flat black screen filled with color and laughter. Outside, the wind rose and wailed louder. No more ohhh and sssssss — now the windchime jangled like a fire alarm, now the voice of the wind was a howl. Ruby pulled a throw blanket around her shoulders and turned the television up. A man on screen turned slowly to the camera with a round O mouth. The audience laughed.

Then the screen went black. Everything went black. Outside, the wind screamed and bent the air like you bend a saw.

Eyes wide in the darkness, Ruby huddled on the couch, feeling around for her phone so she could text her mom: electricity’s out, what do I do?

The wind’s scream rose higher and higher, insistent and mad.

And then, without warning, the picture window exploded. Shards of glass tore through the curtains, ripping them to the floor. The wind screamed, and Ruby screamed, too.

Then: silence. The wind stopped. And Ruby stopped; but her mouth stayed wide open.

Standing before her, luminous in the weak streetlight, was a tall woman, almost as tall as the ceiling. Her icy white hair floated all around her head. Long, ice-blue robes and scarves floated around her. Her eyes were black as holes, and she was smiling, and her face was pale blue, quite beautiful, and entirely mad.

“Diamond,” she said. “Come, my Diamond.”

“My name is Ruby,” whispered Ruby. Her teeth chattered in the near-darkness.

“But I will call you Diamond,” said the blue woman. Her voice was low and rich, with a hint of howls and whines and roars behind it. “I will call you Diamond, because I miss my Diamond. Come, Diamond, come see my world.”

“No, I want to stay,” said Ruby. She pulled the blanket to cover her face. It isn’t real. It isn’t real.

The blanket was ripped from her hands, and the woman’s huge, furious face was inches away. “Climb on my back, my Diamond, before I grow angry. Climb on my back, and I will show you the world, and what I make of it.”

“Please, I don’t want . . .” Ruby began. But a huge, invisible hand seized her; a wind as muscular as a python swept tight around her. Within seconds, it dragged her through the window and into the night sky.

Ruby found herself lying face down on the tall woman’s back—the tall woman who was far, far taller now. She clung to the woman’s ice-white hair, trying to find her breath. Clouds pushed aside as they rushed through; the world below was small dark squares and twinkling golden lights. Ruby’s stomach turned over and she closed her eyes.

“Are you happy, my Diamond?” called the wild, mad voice. “Is my world glorious?”

A sound emerged out of the roaring, keening air: a roaring sound, but mechanical, deafening, and familiar. Ruby opened her eyes.

The North Wind had overtaken an airplane and was playing with it. Ruby and the wind swept around and around the plane, slamming one wing with a sudden blast, then diving beneath its nose, then pushing up on the tail. The plane bucked and reared, rocking on its wings. Streaking past, Ruby saw through yellow windows mouths open in terrified screams, passengers struck by flying books and laptops.

“Please stop!” Ruby screamed into the howl of the engine and wind.

They flew just inches from the face of a young woman clutching an infant to her chest. Both the woman and the infant had their eyes tight shut and mouths wide open, sobbing. At another window, a man bent over, frantically texting, as the man next to him threw up.

The wind grew bored, swept on. Ruby turned, trying to see if the pilots had managed to keep control, if the plane was still aloft, oh please, please let it be. But she saw only the clouds closing behind them.

The wind flew over a black and moonlit ocean. As they descended, the waves whipped up, higher and higher, high as skyscrapers, reaching upward. “COME,” cried the wind, in her deepest howl. “COME. COME. COME.” The whole ocean rocked towards her.

In horror, Ruby spotted a ship caught between two skyscraper waves. As it foundered and tilted, tiny figures ran across the deck, unhooking lifeboats that broke free and sank uselessly into the black water. Another enormous wave swelled up, sucking the ship towards itself. Even through the wind’s wail, Ruby heard the sailors’ thin, terrified cries.

The North Wind laughed her howling laugh.

“No more,” whispered Ruby into the cold white hair she clung to. But the wind ran on.

Ruby saw many terrible sights, that long night.

At the edge of a small town, the North Wind became a tornado and turned a pretty yellow house into a pile of broken sticks. Afterwards, one curling hand thrust from beneath the wreckage. A dirty toddler sat beside the hand, pulling on it, crying.

In a blinding snowstorm on a deserted road, Ruby saw a couple in a stalled car, wrapped in each other’s arms, his coat around her shoulders. Both were as blue-white as the wind, and purple around the lips.

“Take me home,” wept Ruby into the snowy hair. Her tears froze into hard bits of ice.

In time, the wind did take her home. As light dawned at the horizon’s edge, Ruby saw her own street, saw through a smashed window her mother on the couch, blowing her nose, surrounded by police officers.

As they sank toward the house, the North Wind turned her mad smile toward Ruby and whispered in the girl’s ear. Then she slipped her gently onto her own front yard and swept away.

***

The police said “hypothermia” and called an ambulance. Her mother wrapped Ruby first in a blanket and then in her arms as they waited. “But I don’t understand what happened, love, I don’t see—and your hair, how did your hair get this way? We’ll have to cut it off, it will never comb out.”

Ruby stood still as stone, her eyes black and wide.

“Darling, say something,” said her mother. “Sweet girl, you’re scaring me. Please speak, if you can.”

‘I’ll be back,’” Ruby whispered. “That’s what she said. She’ll said ‘I’ll be back tomorrow night, my new Ruby Diamond. And I’ll be back the next night, too, and the next, and the next. I love you, my Diamond, and I’ll be back every night, as long as you live.’”

 

Chicken; Egg

See a city street!

See a yellow summer evening, oh see. See it in a city. A lovely, perfect heat: unless you are a man in a black wool suit, watching the flickering rectangle in your hand, as your shiny black shoes clip-clip against the concrete as sharp and quick as hooves.

See the man! He sweats in the heat, brooding of clients and contracts. Striding, striding, watching as words flicker in his hand.

See him look up.

Hear the sharp clip-clip of his shoes go silent.

Across the yellow evening he sees a woman, a strange woman (strange to him!). Strange, her dark blue dress, the darkest blue of a near-night sky. Strange the white patterns swirling across the skirt!

(But are the patterns strange, or are they so familiar? Think, sweating man!)

night sky with swimming stars

See her! Bright white hair stands out around her head. Daubs of color streak her face like shooting stars, white and midnight blue. Her feet are bare and dirty. Around the woman flow the city’s evening walkers, like river-water around a rock. Yet no one seems to see her but the man.

She does not see him. Up and down the street she looks, and bites her lip, as if she has lost her way. (A TRICK!)

Ah now, now! See what the man sees! See what the woman holds, in both hands, pressed tight against her belly, but showing just a little, just a little: just to be sure he sees.

It is an egg! A golden egg. A glittering golden egg, swirled with patterns of tiny jewels, sapphire and diamond, like the patterns on her skirt (oh think, sweating man! you know those patterns!).

Oh the man sees the egg! He sees it and sees it. His eyes blink twice, three times, four. The man is rich, or almost rich. But an egg like that, that is the riches of the moon and sun.

Now! The woman looks upon him, startled, her eyes shocked wide. (A TRICK! A clever trick!) One hand lifts her midnight-blue skirts; she turns.

She runs.

The man gives chase! (She meant him to!) His phone goes skipping across the cement, his abandoned briefcase offers paper to the winds. The man swings into an alley; sees blue skirts flip around a corner; follows.

He follows and follows! When he cannot see her, he listens for the swish of skirts. He chases her down narrow streets and broad ones, dodging cars and hot dog stands, calling Wait, wait, I only want to see the egg.

At first, he calls. But soon, he stops. Does he stop because he is out of breath? Does he stop because she does not respond? Or—oh worst thought of all the worst—does he stop calling because to see it is no longer all he wants?

Still: see how the woman leads him, as the sky darkens the city, how she waits when he tires, how she flies when he nears. To the alien edges of the city she leads him, over unfamiliar pavements in decaying districts, running lightly on her dirty bare feet.

Through narrower alleys, past wooden-board lean-tos, past rusting automobiles. . . .

The woman stops! She stops, she stands still, in a lightless, deserted street. Beside her sits a low box made of wires and rotten boards. They have arrived!

The man and the woman stand, panting. The sky is dark as the woman’s skirt.

And now it is darker!

And now, oh lovely now, in the dark sky, the tiny lights begin, so delicate at first! The beginning of a symphony, the whisper of lovely strings. The tiny lights come: one, two, three, six, eleven, more and more, winking like the jewels on the golden egg, and to my ear—I mean, to the woman’s ear—each jewel-light blinks on with a soft, pure voice, until the constellations are great choirs of harmony and counterpoint!

Are they stars, those tiny lights? Or are they bright fish, swimming in and out of constellations, singing their star-fish song?

Watching the tiny, swimming lights, the man’s face is open as a bell. He says, The sky, but the sky—is this what it always is?

With joy, such joy, the woman kneels! (Does he see, as her skirt billows out, that her dress is a pattern of milky galaxies and stars? He does, he must!) She kneels by the rough box and pulls a board aside. Inside, in the dark, the man can just see—what? What do you think? What do you guess?

The most wonderful thing: a chicken! Inside the box is a white chicken with a red comb, rather dirty, like the woman’s dirty feet, and seated on a dirty straw nest.

The woman slips her egg beneath the chicken. Then, with great care, she lifts them all—nest, chicken, egg—and stands. She smiles now, at last the woman smiles at him! At last she can give him the glorious gift she has led him here to find!

I say—I mean, she says—oh, well, it is me—did you guess it was me? I am the woman! It has been me all along, telling this story!

I say: My dear, my dear boy, I have a gift for you, a glorious gift, all you’ve ever asked for and all your dearest heart desires.

With full heart, I offer him the chicken.

But oh, the worst happens!

For somehow, during the long and merry chase (it was merry! I thought it was merry), something has happened.

He began the chase with, Let me see it, let me see your egg. As I wished him to feel! So that he would follow me here!

But somehow, in the course of the chase that feeling became, My egg. It is my egg. Give me my egg.

So when I hand him the chicken, joyfully—oh the beautiful, dirty, clucking, odd-smelling chicken—he strikes it! He pushes it away! It falls, the chicken, it flaps wildly to the cement, squawking—and it hurries away.

Oh lost, the chicken lost!

And oh no, oh worst of all, oh ruin—the man seizes the egg in his hand!

NO! I cry, oh no, oh no! as I feel myself yanked into the night sky, as if pulled by a string from the stars: No! I cry, oh no, he didn’t mean it!

But it is too late. And for him, my cries fade fast. For him, soon, I am only another tiny silver fish in the dark, constellated sky.

From the sky, I watch through tears, as he looks at the egg, at that little golden planetarium and its jewel-constellations.

I watch through tears as the egg splinters in his hand—as it must! As all such eggs must splinter when grasped by human hand!

The golden egg shivers to dust at his feet. All that is left in his hand is what was once inside the egg: a tiny white chicken, curled in a ball, wet with egg juice.

Inside the egg, it was alive and growing. Now it is quite, quite dead. And dead is the tiny golden egg inside that tiny chicken; and the tinier white chicken inside that tinier egg, dead too; and the even tinier egg inside that tinier chicken—all dead, all dead, countless chickens, countless golden eggs, dead, dead, dead.

And yet the stars sing on around me!

For the rest of this man’s life, I will watch him from the sky, as he struggles and fights and wars the world to earn another golden egg. I will watch him battle, watch piles of green paper grow taller around him, watch the other black wool suits shake his hand.

But he will never be happy. I work so hard, I work so hard, he will think, all the rest of his life. Where is my egg?

From the night sky, I, the man’s own star-fish, I will weep, as I do tonight. What will it matter, how hard he works, when he works for the wrong thing? What does it matter how hard he works for the egg, when only the chicken would have made him happy? Only the chicken, the beautiful, odd-smelling, squawking chicken, that he was freely given by a star who came with dirty feet to answer his heart’s desire, his own swimming star-fish, who can never come again.