I Ain’t Afraid of No Black Bird, Part VII: A Raven, a Rose

In which our feathered companion is dubbed by any other name as sweet…

Mr. Grenwald – descended from a long line of loyal stablefolk belonging to the Hartsbinder Estate – would have bet his idiot son and his young wife that even Great Great Grandfather Grenwald hadn’t suffered such obstinate airs and graces. It was this new rootless class of people is what it was – free from morals and limits and boundaries. The rich and the poor; they knew who they were, but these new ones, they couldn’t keep a boot planted in the mud if it rained. And the Fethermann girl, sure as the devil had horns, was one such one.

Millie knew she looked a mess – she knew this the whole time she was being observed bobbing up to the boxy carriage. Her white boots and the folds of her blue skirts swayed in time with her resigned and graceless pace – she was a wrecked and eccentric galleon. The raven waddled beside her in the mud, dwarfed by her skirt hoops.

Grenwald curled his tongue around his smoking pipe in an attempt to hide his disdain and then dropped Millie’s weekly payment into the inner pocket of his waistcoat (the wife shouldn’t know about this or she’ll be wanting a pot of face paint like the woman Doctor’s). As he hopped and fluttered onto the roofless carriage, the bird raised his feathery brow and shook his head so as to mime a huff. One might have imagined him exhaling a little breath through his nostrils. Millie noticed that he tended to bird-grumble and click his beak when indignant. She also noticed a dark red stain on the bird’s beak, but after determining that he wasn’t bleeding, shrugged it off with an “hmh”.

– “My sweet bird – ” began Millie, and their coachman pricked up his ears.

– “My sweet bird….” whispered Millie again, at which Grenwald leaned back as far as he could without driving the horse off the path.

– “We haven’t given you a name…”.

The black bird glanced up at Millie, who, forgetting the delicate fabric of her dress, sat down on the carriage floor to face him.

– “I have thought about it…you won’t be beaten, unlike the moths my father and I used to keep in the laboratory under the house…they would go to sleep in their shell, and then something would always hold their breath – their secret would never be revealed to us…but you, you broke this…this film! That’s what my father used to call it!” she checked herself, and hushed her tone ever further, “he used to say, “my girl, my Millie, there is, you see, a translucent film which covers every object, that is why you and I cannot see it, do you see?” and then he’d smile, but by the end it had turned into something else…” She stopped, and the raven jumped onto her lap.

They curled up close, for it was getting colder, not least from all this talk about the past.

– “You are truly the last stage, I wish you could understand…really the last stage beyond our last stage…we don’t have to stop breathing…and this is why I think that your name is Imago!” The raven’s name Millie pronounced with much quiet excitement, and then faltered, “do you like it?”

The raven, or Imago, we should say, gave out a faint raspy squeak. He brushed his head against her corset and then against her right hand, which had by now moved unconsciously to her breast.

The skyline was purple and red in the distance, the skies white and nostalgic for something unpindownable, and the Hartsbinder Estate at the end of them was pulling Millie and her Imago back to the place they were forced to call home…