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My Parent's Gifts

By Evelyn Baker


The jeweller's shop was small and unassuming from the outside, but within lay a world of treasure. As beautiful as the jewellery was, it was not what my mother had expected. She walked around the room, examining the hoard and not understanding.

She'd come to the store seeking the creator of the tiny jewelled owl she held in her hand. It was perfect in its construction; its golden body detailed with feathers, its claws were fine and shape, its two onyx eyes ever watching. It was the work of a master artisan and she was sure no such genius would pander to the whims of fashion by creating the trinkets she saw in front of her.

'Can I help you, Miss?' the man behind the counter asked my mother. She showed him her owl and asked if he knew who made it.

In response, the man reached under the counter and brought out a small box. Within were tiny horses, cats and an assortment of other birds. Each matched the care and detail as the little owl.

Once she stifled her awe, my mother smiled at the man and raised her owl to her lips. She breathed into it, and the owl breathed out, stretched its wings and fluttered away to rest on the counter beside the box of its brethren. My father stood there, dumbfounded, as my mother breathed life into all of his creations.

That is how my parents met, or so my mother told me once, the story changed between tellings, and she liked to tell it a lot. Though no matter how unrecognisable the story became, it always ended the same way. She would say that one of her wealthy suitors gave her the little owl and he chose well, for she fell in love when she saw it, just with someone else.

#

I grew up in a world of silver and gold, rubies and sapphires. My father's workshop was like the inside of a palace and I was this palace's princess. I would sit for hours and watch him transform meaningless pretties into things of real beauty. He created everything from puppies to sharks, with incredible care and patience. I only ever knew what a shark looked like from the one my father made.

When he was done, my mother would give them her breath and life. The birds were my favourite. They would flutter out of my mother's hands and perch wherever they could find space, on the backs of chairs and windowsills.

Beauty and magic, these were my parents' gifts.

Of the birds, it was my mother's owl that I loved the best. I called him Tee, though I couldn't tell you why. He would sit on my bedpost and hoot through the night. My mother gave him to me when I started having nightmares, she told him that whenever a worm of nightmare crept towards my bed, he was to catch in its claws and eat it. There were times when Tee was fat with nightmares, but he didn't seem to mind.

Between my parents' creations and me, the house was never quiet. Hoots, barks and hisses filled every moment. It was impossible to feel lonely in that house.

Until my mother died.

My father and I never knew how or why, but when the jewelled critters grew silent and became still, we knew something was wrong. My mother and all her magic were simply gone from the world. We buried an empty coffin to put an end to our waiting, but it didn't put an end to the questions.

The house was very still in those years after my mother's death. Lifeless, my father's creations seemed ugly to me. I think my father felt the same, because he stopped making creatures and worked only on jewellery for the frivolous, wealthy people, whose money paid for everything we had.

And I had nightmares. Without my owl to eat them, the worms buried deep into my dreams and refused to leave. Every night I woke screaming and my father would rush in to comfort me. After the first month, I learned to muffle my screams; father was looking to so grey I was beginning to worry at his lack of sleep. Without of his soothing words, I would take Tee from the bedpost and tell him about the nightmares. I begged Tee to wake up and eat the nightmare worms again. He didn't listen. He was just gold and onyx. Cold and lifeless.

My attempt to spare my father changed nothing; he grew sicker. He was tired all the time and his chest rattled like a snake with every breath. I cried and told him to rest, but he refused. He told me that if he were going to leave me alone, that he would leave me with his gift. Every day he taught me how to work the metals and stones into jewellery. He did not teach me how to make little animals, he said there was no need.

Soon, he had no choice but to rest. I cared for him as best I could, but it wasn't long before it was too much for me. He spent his last days smothered in the whiteness of the hospice. The only colour in that place was what I brought: my owl and some flowers.

The night after my father died, I had the worst nightmare I'd ever had. I dreamed hundreds of tiny owls pecked and scratched at me until I was blind and bleeding. When I woke, I slapped at Tee from his place on my bedpost. He flew across the room and hit the wall with a crunch.

My mistreatment had detached one of his gem eyes from his face. Feeling guilty, I took him to the workshop and made him well again. If only people were so simple. In apology, I kissed his mended wound.

Then Tee did something I'd never thought I'd see again. He breathed out and stretched its wings. I cried in joy as the little owl fluttered around me, found all the nightmare worms and gorged himself until he had eaten so much he couldn't fly.

I ran around the house, finding all my father's creatures, long ago shut away in cupboards and boxes to be forgotten. Like the princesses of other tales, they woke at a kiss. I apologised to them all and promised I would never lock them away again. Once again, they filled the house with their voices and I was no longer alone.

But it was not enough. I spent weeks trying to create more and wishing that my father had taught me how. My first attempts were poor, ugly things that I could not bear to bring to life. Slowly, my work grew better. But for a crooked wing or a droopy eye, these ones were almost perfect. Even though my latest creations have no flaw in sight, I like the almost perfect ones better. They were my first successes.

#

I didn't hide my gifts away as my parents did. I displayed them proudly in the windows of the shop and the whole city knew of my magic. Sometimes I felt as though the whole world knew and was crowded up against my shop window.

Once the novelty wore off, the crowds grew smaller, though children still came daily to gawk at my birds. The customers didn't wane, though; there were always more than I could cater for, though I tried my best. It seemed everyone wanted their own piece of magic and I was happy to oblige. I felt a little guilty, for I kept it to myself that they would die when I did, but I put that out of my mind lest it spoil the wonder.

I was polishing the birds in the front window one day when a customer approached.

'Excuse me, Miss, are you the one who makes these?' the customer asked. She was pretty and, from the looks of her clothes, a wealthy woman.

'Yes,' I reply.

'I have never seen anything more beautiful.' Her voice was breathy and her eyes gazed into mine. I told myself she was talking about my work, but that didn't keep the heat from my cheeks.

Tee, who had been playing with his cousins in the window display, gave a hoot and fluttered over to the customer, perching on her shoulder.

'I'm sorry, he usually doesn't do that,' I said, wondering what the little owl wanted.

The customer only smiled and reached into her pocket. She brought out a wooden carving of a butterfly. The butterfly twitched its antenna, flapped its wings and flew away, Tee close behind. Not that it could have done anything to it if it caught the thing; the butterfly was just as big as Tee, and I very much doubted he could hold it.

It took me a moment to realise my mouth was open. I snapped it shut and blinked at the customer. In that moment, I knew how my mother felt, when her suitor presented her with a little owl made of gold and onyx.


A/N Thanks for reading. If you've got time, please drop me a review or check out my other stuff.

~ Evelyn