A Fairy Tale
Written by Moira Crone
Ilustrated by emerymcclure architecture with Kristi Cheramie and Sarah Young
Once upon a time, in the place where land and sea met, a woman laid an egg with a baby inside. The infant was within the shell for many days, until one morning when she woke with a terrible emptiness in her chest. Thrashing around, she cracked her home, and burst through. She discovered she was in a nest, on stilts, above water, with a beautiful woman watching her. Finding her mother’s breast solved her hunger. Her people, the Caretakers of the Coast, marveled to see her, and called her Ovala.
When word spread of her unusual birth, the Vizier from the Walled City appeared. In his deep voice, he said he’d have to take Ovala for a while. “Stay right here,” he commanded her mother, “I’ll get a cradle. She doesn’t belong in a nest!
Her mother took Ovala in a narrow boat and rowed out into the wide waters. Lying on her back, the child saw the grasses of the marsh, and a great heron high above, following them. Dark square clouds appeared. Her mother came to a pylon, tied up the boat, and climbed on to a platform. At the top, she pulled on a rope to bring one cloud in close. It wasn’t a cloud, though, Ovala saw, but a field of green, suspended in the sky. Upon the field lived a very old man, who was planting.
Ovala’s mother told the man, “I’m hiding from the Vizier. He wants my child. Why?”
“To study her,” he said.
“They are curious about everything that happens here,” he said.
With great clatter the Vizier arrived in a mechanical bird. He called down as he snatched the child, “Disobedient! You’ll never see her again!”
“Perhaps, perhaps not,” the old man said. Ovala’s mother wept.
The Vizier took Ovala to the scholars in the Walled City.
They picked her up and put her down and turned her over. They found strange nubs on her shoulder blades, said her hands would be claws, and announced, “We can’t study her. There’s no category for her---she too much of one, not enough of the other.”
The Vizier’s wife longed for a child, so he brought Ovala home.
Ovala loved the couple, even though they were strict. They believed there was only one way to live. That was in brick boxes on paved streets behind the Wall that kept them safe from water, seas, and storms. The earth was always below the sky. There were no patches of green in the air, just parks between the buildings on the ground. Ovala went to those parks every day and played until she was too tired to play anymore. When it rained, she ran out into it. The Vizier’s wife said she would get sick doing that. After every cloudburst the Vizier’s crews pumped away the puddles quickly as they could. The citizens praised the Vizier’s men for keeping the streets dry as bones.
In school, Ovala learned to sort and separate. Rich was to be kept apart from poor, tall apart from short, loud from soft, great from small, Walled City from the Coastal lands, dry from wet--- many, many rules. Ovala was taught the Caretakers of the Coast were enchanted, or crazy. The reason? They lived in houses above the water, traveled everywhere in boats, farmed on soils they caught from the Gulf and suspended their fields in the air like great carpets, roots hanging down. Why not just build a Wall?
But often Ovala dreamed of earth above sky, of water under land, of horizon upon horizon in layers, of her first mother, of the heron who followed them, and the old man. Remembering, she wept inside her dream, which is the saddest kind of weeping.
The morning she turned twelve, Ovala woke feeling an extreme itchiness on her back. In the mirror she saw dark feathers coming out in two spots between her shoulder blades.
She stayed inside her room, telling the Vizier and his wife she was sick. They came in at dusk to check on her, and saw the feathers. Ovala pretended to doze. The Vizier said, “No one will accept her like this. We’ll wait until they grow out entirely, then get them cut away. It will hurt.”
“Tell them to cut off her feeling then too,” his wife said.
When they were gone, Ovala went to her window. Through the shade, she saw huge shadows in a strange, greenish sky. Passersby were saying, “Ovala is a monster, growing wings,” for they heard the rumor. But then they ran in fright, because the heavy clouds burst open. Rains fell harder than ever, flooding streets, and parks, and houses.
The Wall began to crack. The Vizier’s men worked all night repairing it. Eventually, the flood did subside. The Vizier said, “The hundred year storms are here. It might not hold next time.” The citizens answered, “Impossible!”
That evening Ovala went to the windowsill again. With her very long fingernails, she slit the shade wide open, threw up the sash. She glimpsed a great heron high above, hovering, but quickly, he was gone. She burst through, and strolled with glee in the deep puddles still in the streets. She climbed to the top of a building like the pylon her mother had once scaled. She unfurled her perfect wings—for they had finished growing in the night--- and flew south. Soon, below her, she saw patches of green suspended above the waters, and fine necklaces of lights in the marshy seas.
She’d found her first home. She saw her mother waiting for her with the old man in the suspended field. She settled there, as if she’d never left, almost. The Caretakers fished and sang, planted the fields. The people called her “good luck” ---still, she was different. But no one trimmed Ovala’s wings.
The storms came, stronger and stronger, battering everyone. Where the Caretakers lived, the winds were fierce and the water rose. The hanging fields swayed, never fell.
The city fared worse, for the Wall cracked often. The Vizier’s men worked for years fixing it, but could never finish the job. Eventually he grew tired. The couple went looking for Ovala, as they longed for her in their old age.
Ovala was a young woman now, and she missed things about the Walled City ---the certainty in life, her childhood friends, even how “this” was always distinct from “that.” When the couple came, she asked the Vizier if they would take her wings away if she were to visit, and his wife said, “Just an operation, darling, then you will be a beauty.”
“No,” Ovala’s mother said. “She was born with them. Leave her alone!” The two mothers were about to come to blows. Ovala was torn, as well, wanting both to be happy.
The great heron, who had been watching all this time, flew in at that moment, and landed. He was astonishing, with fine white feathers on the sides of his face. He said to the Vizier and his wife: “The storm far out in the Gulf coming now is too strong. The only way to save the city is to let the Wall crumble, for you will all drown inside it. To the old man, he said, “The hanging fields are well established. It’s been a hundred years. It’s time. Lower them. The fields and marshes will protect the city. You have built new land--- it’s good for all. You have cared for the coast and cultivated it.”
Her mother said to the Vizier, “If Ovala can stay, we’ll see about lowering the fields.”
“How shall we live with no Wall?” The Vizier asked the heron.
“With water flowing in and out. Your houses beside rivers, canals. Otherwise, you will perish. I have seen far, and seen this.”
The old man gathered the Caretakers together and told them of the bargain. They agreed, for love of Ovala. They dropped the hanging fields upon the waters. The Vizier’s men in the city dug canals and made ponds where the streets and parks once were, and took the Wall down.
The Great Storm came. The new lands slowed its approach. The Walled City let the water in. When it receded, they had survived. When the sun returned to the Coast, the Caretakers walked out upon the marvel they had created, and began again to farm –on their new earth this time.
Ovala stayed at the coast, but visited the Vizier’s family often. When all was well, the heron visited her, and said:
“Follow me, on a world flight. From high above, you will see how one kind of land and life might merge seamlessly with another---without tragedy. I’ll show you a little of the future. It’s your destiny to show others.”
She obeyed. Taking off into in sweet currents of air, she felt home at last, for she was his daughter.