The crowd at the base of the Tower leaned in as Madame Alouette flipped through the blue-covered book. It was all there—the entire tale of an empire of ingredients. The kingdom of cakes remained intact.
Madame Alouette closed the book with a sigh of relief.
“You remarkable rodent,” she said. “You waggly-eared wonder. You murine marvel.”
“The mouse?” said Zhao.
“The mouse,” said Madame Alouette. “The mouse with the heart of a lion. The victor and the champion. That mouse is a hero.”
Hurricane looked away. He wasn’t used to being the center of attention.
Even heroes, he thought, must get anxious sometimes.
He gazed off into the distance in a way he knew must make him look even more dashing and adventuresome than usual.
“Our hero shrugged off the compliments, content to know that justice had once again been served,” he said.
“Squeak, squeak, squeak,” said Madame Alouette. “I have no idea what you are saying, but I will feed you cake any time you want.”
Edward held up the ring and looked up at Frances.
“Yes,” said Frances. She nodded her head.
“Hold on,” said Edward. “I haven’t asked you yet. Or have I?”
“Yes,” she said again.
Had he asked her a year ago? He couldn’t remember now. It didn’t matter. There was so much he had to do before he could ask her again. He needed things—important things. He definitely needed a bath. He was acutely, uncomfortably aware that he required a bath as soon as possible. He also needed new clothes. How could he ask her when he stood here in tatters? He should have a job, and a haircut. He should shave. He should have a house, a large house with white roses growing on a trellis at the front, and a little door in the large house through which he could carry her. And what about all the other things he needed to tell her before he asked? I missed you, he needed to say. I missed you terribly. My heart cracked a tremendous and terrible crack and when I looked inside I saw only an empty, bottomless well, and—
Frances placed her hand on his cheek.
“Yes,” she said.
Edward looked at the ring again.
Maybe, he thought. Is it true? I said I would find the ring, and everything would be right again.
“Yes,” said Frances.
Of course it’s true, thought Edward. I don’t even need to tell you. All I need is to look into your eyes, and you know.
The Police Chief walked slowly away and through the shadows. The sun had set and the blue twilight filled the Park. As he neared the arched entrance, he saw a star unhinge itself from the sky and fall.
In this city, as in many places, it was common to make a wish upon a falling star. And although the Chief had a very large wish to make, he did not ask for it to come true.
He had already made this wish too many times, he thought, and without success. All he had found was trouble.
I’ve done and said too much, he thought.
The Chief sat beneath the Statue of the Lost Poet and let the twilight fall around him. More stars appeared. Some fell, and others held onto the sky. People exited the Park in groups and in pairs, arm in arm and hand in hand. No one noticed the Chief until the young apprentice passed.
The young apprentice walked over and said, “I saw a falling star, but I did not make a wish. I won’t climb the Tower today, or ever. I’ve stopped pretending to be something I’m not.”
“I also saw a star fall,” said the Chief. “I didn’t make a wish either. I know something now that I couldn’t understand before.”
“What?” said the apprentice.
The Chief looked away.
“Not all wishes are meant to come true,” he said.
The next day, Ming Zhao woke and tried to remember his dream, but all he could think about was the clock, and the sparrow, and the long, extraordinary day when everything had happened.
What can come next? he wondered. What can follow the day after everything happens?
He lay in bed and thought about this.
The day after everything happens, he thought, is the day all the rest begins.
And so it did.
Zhao and Alouette invented a new cake recipe, and people flocked to the Teahouse to try it—including Hurricane, who took to eating breakfast there and regaling Madame Alouette with the tales of his many adventures.
“Squeak, squeak, squeak,” said Madame Alouette. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
A new apprentice appeared and repaired the clock, and the Park returned to the rhythm set by clicking of the gears and the sweet toll of the bells. The old apprentice went home and made his mother breakfast and told her everything that had happened, and she cried and forgave him. Wilhelmina Nightingale threw away her calendar and stopped worrying about her wrinkles and spent her days singing and giggling with the musician. They ate a lot of cake. Detective Weisell hauled several bags of watches, jewelry, and more to the police station. As he sorted through the bags, he grinned.
I am a good detective, he thought.
The tattered jay vanished, as well as the raven, although all the birds at the Chattering Pond agreed the two had left in separate directions. Even the pigeons thought so—for a moment—and then they happily forgot.
Wednesday had fled silently under the cover of darkness and confusion and flown from the Park unnoticed. She headed for the river and flew across, and when she reached the other side she kept going, and flew on into the night until at last she came to a new town she had never seen before. She zigzagged the neighborhoods until she found a new park—smaller than the old one, and without a tower, but still suitable for a raven with deep curiosity. She spent several long weeks thinking about Ella, and her blue eyes, and the loss of the collections. She shuddered as she remembered the noise of the clock exploding into motion, and the unanswerable riddle. Or did it have an answer? What had Ella said? She couldn’t be sure if it was a trick, or if was it true.
Wednesday built a new home hidden in the black bows of a lightning struck tree, and after spending a long time pondering these questions and feeling very small, she decided it was simply one big riddle without an answer. One of those days had arrived when everything could happen, and everything had happened to her.
Wednesday flew to the riverbank and hunted along the shore. Right away she found a scrap of blue cloth, and then a silver button, half-tarnished and half-shiny where the mud had buried it and the sand had rubbed it bright. This was a new day, a good one, and it was only just beginning. She returned to the blackened tree and spent several hours arranging the start of her new collections.
Cheerful, noisy people filled the park, and they stayed until the day waned and the shadows grew long. The evening grew pink with sunset, and then it faded into that glorious color found between green and violet. Wednesday loved the twilight, which was as blue as the bluest eyes she had ever seen. She watched the stragglers fold their blankets and pack their picnic baskets and hunt around for their belongings in the dying light. Beneath a tree, not far from her perch, a former Police Chief from a nearby city crawled around on all fours and swept his hands through the grass.
A woman approached and said, “Are you in trouble? Do you need help?”
“No,” said the man. His face flushed the color of hydrangeas, and he stood up and brushed the dirt from his knees.
“I think I lost my watch,” he said.
Wednesday moved back into the slippery shadows, and from somewhere deep in her throat came a coarse tck-tck-tck sound.
It was hard to tell, but it could have been laughter.
Later that night, Edward woke and went to the window. He looked at the city lights and across the Park and over at the Clock Tower. He had a sudden impulse to visit the birds at the Chattering Pond. He hoped it wasn’t too early.
He went to the closet and took out some clothes.
“What are you doing?” said Frances. “Where are you going?”
She sat up in bed and rubbed her eyes.
Edward looked at the shirt and trousers in his hands.
“I think I’m getting dressed,” he said.
“Now?” said Frances. “It’s the middle of the night. Come back to bed.”
Edward put the clothes away.
“I thought it was time to get up,” he said.
“I don’t know what time it is,” said Frances, “but it’s definitely not time to get up.”
Edward climbed back into bed. The moon illuminated the room. Over in the Park, the Clock Tower chimed once on the quarter hour.
After another minute he said, “When can we get up?”
“Not yet,” said Frances.
Edward picked up his watch and checked the time.
She was right, of course. It was early.
He held the watch above him and let it swing back and forth. His father had given him this watch. When Weisell found it mixed in with all the other items from the Tower, he knew it was Edward’s from the inscription on the back.
“Frances,” said Edward, “I’ve been thinking. If I didn’t send you those flowers, who did?”
“I don’t know,” said Frances. “I think it was just everyday magic.”
“Oh,” said Edward.
Everyday magic, he thought. That sounded about right.
Frances turned to him and said, “I’ve been thinking too. About the ring. I’ve been wanting to tell you something.”
“What?” said Edward. “Did we lose it again?”
“No,” said Frances. “I wanted to tell you that the ring was never the important part.”
She closed her eyes.
“I know,” said Edward. “I know that now.”
He lay there with his eyes open and thought about his long year spent in the Park. The watch dangled above him in the moonlight. He could almost make out the inscription:
Don’t be late, and don’t delay.
Today could be the day when everything happens.
Ella couldn’t sleep either.
She and her mother had made a new home in the Park, in a hollow tree near the Bird House. Their old nest lay in a distant place tucked somewhere under the horizon, and they knew they would never return.
Ella’s mother sat in the nest and breathed the deep breaths of a faraway dreamer, and in her head, a little lullaby looped around and around.
Ella adjusted her scarf and left the tree. She dropped down through a small, unlatched window in Ming Zhao’s Majestic Teahouse of Many Delights, and she opened a cage door and hopped in and sat next to Harold on his perch.
Ella said, “I miss the raven.”
Harold yawned and scrunched up his face and opened one eye and looked down at the sparrow.
“What time is it?” he said. “It’s still dark. Did you bring me food?”
“It’s not that miss her,” said Ella. “But I think about that riddle I told her, and I regret what I said about her heart.”
Harold reached down and nudged the little mirror with the worn yellow frame that hung in his cage.
“What color eyes do you have?” he said.
“Blue,” said Ella. “I have blue eyes.”
“You do have blue eyes,” said Harold. “You have marvelous, unusual, extraordinary eyes. No one else I’ve met can see things quite the way you do. Whatever would the world do without your eyes? How could we see where we are going, or where we’ve been?”
“I don’t know,” said Ella.
“No one does,” said Harold.
He closed his own gray eyes, and a moment later he was asleep again. Ella leaned against him. She too closed her eyes and listened to the night and the sounds of the big green parrot sleeping next to her.
Harold slept, and he dreamed. He dreamed he was flying. In his dream, Harold flew from his cage and out the window and above the Bird House. He spiraled up and up, past the trees and high over the Park until he saw the entire metropolis laid out below him. Harold’s dream grew larger and larger, and it soon spilled out between the bars of the cage and filled the room and reached up to the ceiling. It burst through the windows of the Bird House and flowed out into the Park and into the night.
In his dream, Harold heard a voice speak from somewhere behind him.
The voice said, “How do you like it?
“Like what?” said Harold.
“Flying. Flying, and soaring.”
“Is that what I’m doing?” said Harold.
“You remember,” said the voice.
“I do remember,” said Harold. “I’m flying.”
“What did you say?” said Ella.
Harold woke and looked around the cage.
“You were talking in your sleep,” she said.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” said Harold. “I would never do that.”
“Okay,” said Ella.
Harold leaned closer to her and looked out at the night. He thought about his big dream, and how it felt to fly and soar, and although the bluest hour before the dawn had not yet arrived, the view was bright and clear from where he perched and he could see very far. And then he didn’t have to think about it anymore. He knew why.
“Maybe you’re right,” he said.
Maybe, and maybe.
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© 2018 Colin Lewis · Brought to you by Unlikely Objects