Fakir she said and she was a liar he knew she was a liar this girl with dark hair and warm smile and empty eyes. He woke in the dark, heart pounding, his hand searching for the lamp. He lit it, his eyes turned to the right, there she was, asleep in her basket, white feathers and curved neck and he thought to himself, yes, here I am. I wake. I wake and then I dream.
Three o'clock she stirs and he glances at her, feather moving beneath his hand, scratching away at the paper, scritchity-scritch, dark, slanting lines welling up on off-white pages. He writes and his lines are no longer straight, but she blinks open her eyes and he smiles.
I'm sorry, he says. I woke you. It was a dream. I couldn't sleep. I thought I'd write.
She makes her way to him, short of grace as usual, moving like a waterfowl on land, butts her head under his arm and peers into his face. Only then does his hand still as he carefully sets down the quill. He reaches up and strokes her head. His eyes are dark and soft and sad, hers are wide and filled with light, more sky than sea and he thinks to himself again for the umpteenth time, You are the only duck to have blue eyes.
I'm all right, he says.
And he is.
She shuts her eyes, her face against his cheek, and hums.
He writes books, thick tomes or short, slim volumes, it doesn't matter. They sell well in foreign countries. He gets checks in the mail that he never cashes. No one at home reads them and he thinks it best that they don't.
They are full of small towns and surly boys, cheerful, ordinary girls, loving and hating, dancing and fighting, madness and heartbreak. They are full of the baker baking bread and the blacksmith striking iron and cats not chasing mice and if anyone in their village were to read it they would surely say, how ordinary. But, he thinks, if only it were so and goes on writing them. They have happy endings, all of them, because he can never stop hoping. He can never stop.
She brings him things from the bottom of the lake. Shells and baubles people lost years ago on another shore, carried by the wind and water, settling with the muck on the bottom. He thinks that she is bringing him pieces of another world and saves each one diligently. The broken hair pin, the locket with the waterlogged picture and rusted chain, an old shoelace, three colored marbles on which she almost choked, a belt buckle engraved with swans, and an armlet sparkling with sapphires. He places the last around her neck and she admires herself in a mirror before slipping it off; it is too heavy.
He writes about these things too. Writes stories about where they have been and where they are going, of the people who lost them, or people - not them - who found them. Everything can be written, he decided long ago. He has put his whole life into words.
There is a girl in the village, slim and dark, who reserves a smile just for him. Men send him envious looks and he ignores them staring instead at her pretty face and searching. There is nothing to find. In his next book there is a pretty girl who smiles and and has a happy ending but she goes away, far away, and a plain girl with bright eyes is who the boy in the village dances with. They dance together in the square and maybe they are not happy but when he looks in her face he cannot look away but smiles. For the first time in his life he smiles.
She glances up from the pages at him and looks at him and he looks back at her and says, Yes, just like that. Just exactly like that.
Once a hunter trespasses by the house, bow and arrow in hand, blood on his clothes. It is the only time Fakir is driven to violence. He says nothing as the magistrate shakes his head but stares ahead, jaw clenched and the villagers whisper amongst themselves and cannot fault him. For conviction is something they respect - the bloodied knuckles of his fist are another. Ah, they say, one should know better than to try and hunt the defenseless on that side of the lake for even they have a knight. The pen is mightier than the sword but he wields both - I know, I saw it once, the broken sword in his house.
In the end he is let off with a warning and goes home to where she fusses over him and bullies him into bed, pecking and flapping her wings.
I'm sorry, he says as she tries awkwardly to unroll a length of bandage around his hand with her mouth. He holds her tight and says, I'm sorry. I was afraid.
She stills and rests great feathered wings against him, and he thinks, I held her once, like this, but that was real and now I am dreaming. I can't feel the pain from my hand. Yes, I am dreaming.
But the pain in his heart will not go away.
He sees her once when he is asleep. They talk. She swings her legs back and forth and he watches her outlined against the sand and the sky and thinks, You are the horizon.
She laughs and he is startled by the sound of it and she says, Don't look at me like that. It's like you want to eat me.
I do want to eat you, he says, splaying his fingers against her cheek and she looks up at him with blue, blue eyes.
I don't taste good, she says nervously, flushing. I eat your crackers when you're not looking.
I know. He smiles helplessly. I've always known it. I buy them just to fatten you up. Come, just a taste.
Her mouth is soft and wet and tastes nothing of crackers.
They sit together, she in his lap, and he plays with the loose strands of her red hair, runs his nose along her smooth bare skin, the exquisite curve of her ivory neck.
She makes a noise, and he says, Talk, I want to hear your voice.
And she says, Fakir, Fakir, Fakir, Fakir.
Whatever are you saying that for?
She rests her forehead against his and whispers against his mouth, Because it is the most beautiful word in the world and if I must say anything, let it be your name.
I know one better. He kisses her eyes. Love.
Yes, she says, but I don't need words to say that.
He wakes and it is not yet morning but the dawn is breaking slowly over the horizon, a line of fire across the yellow sky.
Like a ghost he sees her body curled against him, and he blinks, once, hating himself for it, and the image fades and he sees feathers, white as snow. She is soundly asleep and he wonders if she is dreaming another dream.
He runs a hand along her feathers, and thinks of sleeping and waking and dreaming and living and all the worlds he shares with her, all the worlds there are where they are together and apart.
He slides out of bed and stumbles to his desk, quietly lighting the lamp. Before him is a fresh sheet of paper, in his hand is a long feathered quill. He dips it, once, into the inkwell, and then he begins to write.