The story gets a bit weird here, likely because I wrote it at two in the morning when I couldn’t sleep on my flight between New York and Washington. Oh well, this one’s for the birds…
Adriana, Made of Light
Adriana found the birds perched in a willow tree on the edge of town. Equipped with a few coins from her last time thieving, she settled on bribing the birds to take her to the sky.
“Excuse me,” she called to one of the birds on a lower branch. It turned its head away from her. “Excuse me, excuse me,” she called to each bird in turn, moving up the tree like a spiral staircase. In turn, each one ignored her.
“Snobs, the whole lot of them,” came a voice from behind her. Adriana turned and saw a lone bird, tall and slender with eyes like glasses, round and reflecting. “Funny thing about them, a group of ravens is called a ‘kindness,’ though you’ll get none of that from them.”
“Better than a murder of crows, I suppose,” Adriana answered. She sat on a nearby rock and sunk her head into her hands.
“What’s your trouble, kid?”
“I was told the birds could take me to Cloud Cuckoo Land. I’d like to go there to find out if it’s where I belong.”
The bird hobbled a few steps and stilled. “Well, nobody really belongs in Cloud Cuckoo Land. People end up there. And you’ve got it wrong: it’s not the birds, it’s the bird. That’s me, at your service.” The bird tipped her head as though she wore a gentlemanly hat. “Consider me your ferry captain to the clouds.”
Adriana rose and clapped her hands with excitement. “When may we leave?”
“After you pay the fare. This trip doesn’t come for free.”
Adriana emptied her pockets. The bird scooped the coins with her beak, the silver twinkling in the moonlight. “Let’s go.”
Through the clouds they rushed, Adriana frightened of the great distance between her and the ground, and the bird clenching Adriana tightly in her talons with a promise of safe travels. “Did you know a group of owls is called a ‘parliament?’”
And they were. In Cloud Cuckoo Land, the owls made all the laws, though of course in a place like Cloud Cuckoo Land, there was no such thing as rules or laws, so they held court every day where they accomplished nothing at all.
“Motion to dismiss nothing,” a weathered old owl yelled in front of the court.
“Motion sustained,” the presiding owl ruled.
“I’d like to pass a bill regulating visitors to our land,” a young owl with feathers pointed like daggers said. “We’re letting in an awful lot of riff raff these days,” he added with a sideways glance to Adriana.
“Motion overruled. Unless you’re here to pass a bill on nothing or sue nobody, get out. Doing things puts you in contempt of court,” the wizened old owl said and banged her feathers, gavel-like.
Adriana wasn’t sure she was cut out for Cloud Cuckoo Land anymore than the sea or the land. Down was up, up was down, and you had to stand on your head to make any sense of it.
“I thought I’d get to see the sun up here. When will we do that? I’d like to know its brightness.”
“You don’t get to do that. Nobody gets all the way to the sun. Think of this place as the suburbs of the sun.”
“But I wanted to be closer to the light. I thought I’d have more fun up here, but I don’t fit in and I feel so far away.”
“You hear of Cloud Cuckoo land when you’re down below, think it sounds like a circus, a bit of merrymaking, but it grows tiresome eventually,” the bird explained to Adriana as they hopscotched clouds. “Besides, it’s not easy up here if you can’t fly. Just look at the ostriches.”
Adriana followed the bird’s pointing wing and looked upon a group of sad, cloud-stalled birds. Surely she didn’t belong with them, with their cold reptilian eyes and flight jealousy. She could survive up here on legs alone. She spent the day balancing on one leg with the flamingos, but she had to switch legs far more often than them. Besides, they were no fun to talk to—such gossips.
Adriana caught a ride on the back of a hawk who was willing to take her to one of the far reaching clouds on the outskirts of Cloud Cuckoo Land. The cloud swelled with rain, and Adriana quickly became damp from sitting atop it.
The bird swooped in and made herself cozy on a neighboring cloud. “Home sweet home?”
“I’m not sure I have one,” Adriana answered. She grabbed puffs of cloud, soggy like wet cotton.
“I can take you back down to solid ground, if you’d like. The return trip’s on me. Or maybe you’d prefer the sea—about as unstable as up here, but at least there you know how to swim.”
“I don’t want to be in any one of those places.”
“So by logic (and don’t tell anyone I’m using that up here) you want to be in all of them. Why choose one when you can have it all?”
“Yes. You know deep down where you belong.”
Adriana thought of the ocean, of the moments after a storm when the clouds parted and the sun’s rays extended like a handshake. She thought of the land, where she would fall asleep in a sunny spot in the park, curled cat-like and comforted by the sun’s blanket. She thought of up here, where the light danced through the clouds like ballerinas.
“I’d like to live in the light,” she announced and rose triumphantly from her seat on the dwindling cloud. It was emptying itself of rain like a towel being wrung out. She hopped to the cloud where the bird sat pruning her feathers.
“Adriana, made of light. Think of how you’ll shine so bright,” the bird said in a singsong way.
“How do I live inside the light? Can you take me to it?”
“There’s no destination, my dear, when you’re already the map.”
“So I don’t go to the light, I become the light? How do I do that?”
“That’s easy, you’re already made of the stuff.”
“What do you mean?”
“Darling, you practically glow.”
“So what do I do to become the light?”
“You just be. You just poof,” the bird answered and her eyes widened emphatically.
The bird flew beside Adriana as she hovered on the edge of a cloud.
“Poof,” Adriana mouthed.
In an instant, the bird swept Adriana from the cloud and flew them out of Cloud Cuckoo Land. “Adriana, made of light,” the bird sang on the return trip.
Close to the ground, where she could see land and sea resting gently side-by-side, Adriana called, “Now,” and the bird released her grip.
Adriana felt the rush of falling like exhaling after you’ve won a breath-holding contest. She closed her eyes and thought of Aurora Borealis and electric light bulbs, lightning and candle flames. She was a shooting star and then she was fireworks. She crackled incandescent and sparkled luminous.
Adriana was everywhere: in the lighthouses that guided the captain and his wife safe to shore, in the matches the prince and the mathematician used to light their cigars, and reflecting in the tinfoil stuck in a tree that caught the bird’s eye. She fireworked across the sky like a thousand twinkling jewels. She was like the firefly’s light when you jar it, only she was free.