This is a work of fiction.
“Before we go,” my wife said, “why did that man want to kill me?”
I told her about the bicycle cart accident just as the mother bird had been landing.
“My daughter,” my wife said when I’d finished speaking, “would you please help me pull him out of this house?”
“Are you sure?” she said.
“Yes. He belongs with his wife and although he tried to kill me, I don’t want to leave him trapped here.”
I listened to the splashing and sounds of effort that my wife and daughter made, and soon, the head of the man who had cursed me broke the surface.
“Dad, can you lift Mom and me up, please?” I did. The young bird reached out and grasped the body of the man who had cursed me with the claws of her other foot, and then took firm hold of me. She took off, and flew us up out of the flood. As soon as we were over dry ground, she landed in a clearing.
“Thank you,” I said. She chirped and let go of me.
My daughter picked some berries, and we all ate, then the young sitting bird flew us to where the female Leader of Worship and the children were. I was spent, so I washed myself, dressed the wounds in my sides, and lay down.
When I awoke, it was the middle of the night. I heard a sound that was both familiar and strange to me. I had fallen asleep in a small shelter that my daughter’s love had built. I went outside, and saw my daughter sitting on the ground with a candle burning beside her. In her lap, there was a piece of paper, and in her hand, a pencil.
I didn’t look but asked, “What are you sketching?”
“I’m designing my wedding dress, and Mom said she’d make it.”
“When is your wedding?”
“It will be in the deep and dark of winter, back up at the mountain top. There will scarcely be any daylight, but the sun will shine from our hearts, and we will know the darkness not. On the way up the mountain, we will leave the man who once cursed you near where his wife died.”
“I miss your sketches,” I said, afraid I was going to break down and weep. “They were destroyed when I fell into the cascade.”
“When I fell from the cliff, I had a bag strapped to my back,” she said. “In it, I had clothes, food, and a large case. In the case, I had the originals of every sketch I’d ever made. Nothing was damaged, so I still have them now. I believe I gave you 287 of them, and I’ll copy them through the long days of summer, until you have them all again, and then I will make even more for you, for Mom, for my love, for the children and their mother, and for the child in me.”
She did. The summer passed us by in a frenzy of activity. I harvested fruits and vegetables, my daughter’s love caught meat, my daughter caught fish and sketched, and the female Leader of Worship took care of her children. Autumn came, leaves fell, and the air grew cold and fresh.
One day, there was a light fall of snow, and we all agreed that it was time.
The female Leader of Worship knew how to preserve bodies with leaves and roots, and I had made a coffin out of wood, and the man who had once cursed me had lain in it for the duration of the summer. Now it was time to lay him to rest. The young father bird took the coffin handles in his claws, and my daughter’s love climbed into the small wooden seat on his back, and most of our possessions were loaded into the bags that were strapped to the seat. The young sitting bird was outfitted with a large bicycle cart on her back, and in it were my wife, my daughter, the children, their mother, and I. We took off separately, lest my daughter’s love meet us, and the birds flew steadily during the day, stopping only to eat and drink, and landed at night. We slept in the bicycle cart, and my daughter’s love doubtless slept on the ground.
One frigid day, we arrived at the cleft in the mountain, and found the coffin containing the man who had once cursed me exactly where I’d asked the young father bird to leave it.
I grasped the handles on my side, and my wife and the female Leader of Worship took up those on theirs.
Once we had walked to the correct spot, we stopped, and put the coffin down.
My wife said, “Man who once cursed my husband and attempted to drown me and trap both of us forever, I have liberated you, and I have brought you here to be with your wife again. I forgive you.”
“I forgive you,” I said. “I call you neighbor.”
“Neighbor,” the female Leader of Worship whispered. “Be free.”
We left the coffin and went back to where my daughter was with the children.
“It is done,” I said. “Let’s go on up.”
It was strange to see the temple again. It stood so proudly on the highest point of the mountain, and although I wasn’t sure if I still believed in the gods, the place filled me with a kind of awe.
My wife and I went to our old house, and my daughter, the children, and the female Leader of Worship went to clean out the temple and make it ready. My daughter’s love stayed in another house on the other side of the temple.
Seven days later, a long, dark night gave way to a cold, clear morning, and the time was right.
I sat in the temple with my wife on my right, and watched with joy as my daughter, dressed simply in a pale yellow dress, marched up the aisle to the rhythm the children beat out on small drums. My wife and I added stamping feet to the glorious sounds. Just as my daughter reached the two pillars of stone, a man stepped into the space between them from where he’d been waiting in the hallway beyond.
The female Leader of Worship whispered the lines, and the children spoke them in high, clear voices.
Together, the children called the names of both my daughter and her love, and then said, “Do you love each otehr?”
“Yes, we do,” they answered as one.
“Do you want to be married forever, until death and beyond?”
“Yes, we do!”
The female Leader of Worship said, “In the light of the sun, in raindrops or fresh snow, in moonlight, in prosperity and in adversity, in all seasons, forever in time, you are married.” She spoke their names: Matthew and Felicity.
I got up and walked over to my newly made son-in-law.
“I am your father-in-law, Curtis,” I said.
My wife said, “I am your mother-in-law, Anna.”
“Thank you,” he said. “What may I call you?”
“Are your parents still living?” I asked.
“No,” he said, “but I still call them Mom and Dad in my thoughts, so you must have different names.” We nodded.
“Call us Ma and Da,” my wife said.
The female Leader of Worship walked over to us.
“I have an announcement to make,” she said. “From now on, I am a Leader of Worship no more. I will conduct only births, weddings, funerals, and other ceremonies of family and friends, but I will not perform rituals of the gods ever again. My name is Sophie. Call me mother, neighbor, and friend from now on. My children, please say your names.”
“Melody,” the female child said.
“Oliver,” the male child said.
We all cheered. Then we left the temple.
For most of the year, we live in the valley, just high enough not to be caught in spring floods, but each winter, the birds, who now have young of their own, come and fly us up to the mountain top. There, we play in the deep snow and dance in the sunshine of the place that will always be our home. After a few weeks, the birds fly us down again, long before the terrible storms that herald the coming of spring.
My daughter has six children now — three of each. We are as one family, and all the adults nurture all of the children and vice versa!
Of the gods, we think and hear very little. The temple is no longer a place of fear, but of time, becoming, and of life.