Lake—Lauren Hunt

Imagine he had shot me. 

I wonder if the crossbow bolt would have cleared me, cleaved my bird body with a butcher’s precision, left only a gaping wound, squirting blood onto my feathers during my slow, floundering descent down. 

Maybe it wouldn’t—maybe it would have stayed, lodged through my long white neck or through my ribs like a crossword column, a horizontal among verticals. Maybe the arrow—still lodged—would have thrown me off balance, sent me tumbling, my tiny black feet kicking uselessly in the air as I went down. 

I imagine the dumb shock on his beautiful face as sun set and I turned into a woman again, curled inward against the killing blow, gasping against a punctured lung, blushing and blanching all at once. 

I’m working on a joke, and I don’t know how it goes, but I know the punch line is “fowl play”. 

“Jesus, it’s not funny,” he says from the kitchen, with a sternness that makes me feel like I am on stage and forgetting all the steps. He doesn’t like it when I joke about it. He’s sensitive, I guess. 

Fact is, he did not shoot me. He hesitated long enough for the magic to wane, for me to flutter down to the earth with long graceful sweeps and shed my magic self like a fur coat with nothing underneath. Surprise! 

As far as first meetings go, it’s relatively unique. I would have rather tried to buy the same fish in the market, but I don’t mind. I love him, and he loves me, and I know because I am not a bird anymore. Dawn comes, and I do not feel that faint prickle of magic under my skin. I lay there with his arm hooked around my waist and the sun rises and I stay. 

I am adjusting to married life, to mortal life, to human life. I am not a wild thing anymore. My hunter-prince broke my curse: loved me enough to rinse the magic away like soap scud, and (maybe most importantly), didn’t shoot me with a crossbow. It’s the little things. I am happy, now that the story is over. I am so happy I think this is the part where I stop existing. 

I miss flying. The wizard’s curse was particularly male logic: punish me for refusing to let him flip me over by turning me into a vessel of flight. That’ll teach her. Idiot. I never felt cursed when I was flying. It felt like that was the best part of me, rising from the earth, my long neck stretching parallel to solid ground. There were moments soaring above the woods, when I felt so triumphant, so victorious, I could have shrieked with laughter. Sometimes I did—a luxuriously ugly HONK that echoed for miles. I was so free then, free from my own beauty, free from loving someone enough that the things I wanted felt small. When I was cursed, I had to come home every night, but love is just like that. 

The first few months, I still found the occasional feather in my hair. I could open the window and listen to the woods wake, still understanding the aubades of scurrying dawn. But I have scrubbed the house clean, and the woods have no words left. Not for me. 

I long for flight. I try to hold the feeling of it in my mind, sharp and clear, but it dulls around the edges. I would rather forget my own name. 

My hunter-prince is still desperately, madly in love with me. I am the thing he almost lost, the mythical woman who spent nights in his bed and disappeared through an open window each morning. He cherishes these days with me, presents me with flowers from the woods, honey, tea, shucks mussels all day until he can give me nine freshwater pearls. He brings me a coat, russet red, lined with soft, creamy baby fur. I gasp, mock horrified. “I was wondering why I hadn’t heard from Fox!”

He laughs, thunder in a canyon. He does not mind if I make jokes about him killing, as long as he is not killing me. That part of our lives is over. We are normal people, good stock, desiring nothing but a simple, grateful life in the country. And I am grateful. I am trying. 

Someday, my hunter-prince will turn over, and I will not be the cursed princess that might disappear before dawn, a puddle of pillowcase feathers where my naked body used to be. He will no longer worry I might slip through his fingers, dissolve into mystery. Someday I will be an ordinary woman, the mother of his cygnets (I am still making bird jokes), and neither of us will remember that I used to be magic. 

Lauren Hunt is a Sales Assistant at a Publishing House in San Francisco. She has a BA in English and Political Science from the University of California, Santa Barbara. 

photo by Dorothea Oldani (via unsplash)