TODAY’S BREW: Chocolate Cappuccino Chunk. Not Walmart brand.
Her eyes spoke of merciless things, wild and unrepenting, but only if you were looking.
“The wreckage is….” Mayor Whitley couldn’t finish his sentence. It didn’t seem like he’d finished one yet since he arrived at the tornado site. A war could not have created such unrecognizable rubble, such smoldering destruction. The occasional scream was still heard when a victim was moved the wrong way, or when some child was spotted that an aching mother never thought she’d see again. The mayor flinched with every human noise.
The woman stood next to Mayor Whitley, the two of them alone amongst throngs of emergency workers and police. The tornado had brought volunteers from counties within a one hundred mile radius. Ironically, the same span the tornado had ravished.
This woman was no emergency worker or even a do-gooder busybody, of which the county had plenty. The mayor didn’t ask who she was, why she was there, or why her face was so serenely peaceful at this tragic time. It never occurred to him.
“This path of destruction,” she said, her voice sea-glass smooth, “is one that your people will recover from.” She never looked at him, only out across the flat expanse of land, leveled to newness.
This made Mayor Whitley search out her eyes, disbelief dropping his jaw, head shaking slowly. “Recover? Ma’am, we’ve already found twenty-two dead. How will they recover? Their children, their wives?”
Her eyes were the shade of freshly turned earth and blossoming with as much life. “There are no answers for some questions,” was all she said.
Mayor Whitley took his eyes off of the wreckage long enough to look at this woman. She was both a part of the land and completely apart from it. Hair the color of beach sand cascaded in waves over her shoulders, which he noted with shock, were covered in a fox stole, under the sweltering sun— the head was still attached. Its beady eyes were humbly downcast. She was dressed in a gown of brilliant blue, transluscent , and marked like a peacock. No, when Whitley looked closer, it was overlaid with what had to be real peacock feathers. He had no doubt the snakeskin flat shoes she wore were real, as well. And the huge, raw jewel rings she had on every finger. She noticed the way he stared, and smiled warmly, like clouds being parted.
Her teeth were sharp, like a wild animal’s.
“How can you ask for such beauty that this world offers each day without a willingness to see it end? What gives you the right, my child?”
She observed him sputtering with detachment.
“There won’t be any more dead,” she said, and it was like an ancient tomb breathed the words. They came from a time and place where good and evil were the same. Where humans knew their place, cringing from desert storms and towering tsunamis. Where nature was king.
Mayor Whitley felt like he had been punched in the gut by something beautiful and terrifying, like he was being smothered by a million roses. “Who…who…?”
The woman leaned over to him, her whisper louder than the trucks and falling debris. Her face shimmered in the heat, becoming a thousand different images at a sickening speed; the serene Madonna, fearsome Cleopatra, a painted whore, a goddess with elk’s horns and tree leaves surrounding her head and a smile full of unassuming malice. Mayor Whitley fell backward, scrambling away like a scuttling crab, spitting and drooling, dumbfounded.
“Do you really want to know?” she said, her voice a storm in itself.
Mayor Whitley shook his head furiously.
She stood upright, her chin in the air, a vision of gorgeous cruelty and insurmountable power that hushed the air. A halo of pitch black moving clouds whizzed in the air behind her, and Mayor Whitley was terrified another tornado was coming out of thin air. But the closer he looked over her shoulder at the moving mass, he realized it was thousands of black birds, in synchronized motion, taking over the sky. One of them broke from the horde and came to land on the woman’s shoulder, twittering softly into her hair, nuzzling her ear.
“It’s called a murmuration,” she said, nuzzling the bird back, gesturing to the black wasp-like buzz of wings behind her, ominous and stunningly lovely. “It’s how the starlings communicate where to feed, and it’s a defense against predators.” All of the maternal softness she showed the starling evaporated as she focused on the mayor again. “But the starling population is declining, and murmurations are fewer. Because no amount of the birds together could preserve them forever. They are uniquely beautiful, but not eternal. Nothing is.”
Mayor Whitley looked slowly to the bodies behind him being moved into ambulances for no reason. They would not be any more alive with medical teams grasping for life for them.
Cold as a snowstorm, she said, “Nature must endure change to survive. Your sacrifices are not unique.” The starling flew off, back to the swirling black mass of its family. The woman gritted her teeth and looked out over the sadness that had engulfed the county. “But a mother’s sacrifices are. A mother makes the hardest choices.”
The murmuration was gone, quick as it came, the birds flying in a hundred different directions. The woman watched it go, tears in her eyes. Her voice was thick with emotion. “Creation always begins with destruction. And balance begins with creation.”
She began to walk into what was left of the woods, and the mayor would have sworn on a Bible that the trees bent to follow her.
A starling lay dead at the mayor’s feet.