Orfeia – Joanne M. Harris

They say the madcap Queen of May once fell in love with a man of the Folk, and followed him to his World, forsaking her life and her memory. All of Faërie grieved for her, and longed for the day when she might return, but the Queen had forgotten her kingdom, her glamours, her kindred and even her name, so that she could never look back, or recognize her people. Only sometimes, in her dreams, did she catch a glimpse of what she had lost, and heard the music of days gone by, and awoke with tears on her pillow. And yet she was happy with her man and the daughter they had together. But the lives of the Folk are as brief and as bright as skeins of summer lightning, and soon the man grew old and died, and the Queen and her daughter were left alone. Even in her grief, the Queen’s daughter was all she needed. But with the death of her father, the child had grown fearful and melancholy. Once as bright as the sun on the sea, she grew ever more listless and forlorn. Her hair, which had been long and fair, grew as fine as spider silk. And in her dreams, she saw a man with eyes the shade of a moth’s wing: a man who never spoke or smiled, and walking, cast no shadow. Almost every fairy tale begins with the death of the parents. But the death of a child changes everything. The death of a child means no journey; no coming-of-age; no adventures; no happy-everafter. All that remains of the tale is grief. Grief, the wingless bird in its cage, singing and singing and singing.

But a song can climb higher, live longer, see more than any bird that ever flew. A song can pass from mouth to mouth, changing with the seasons. And a song can pass between the Worlds, even to the Kingdom of Death, where the Hallowe’en King on his bone-white throne watches the Worlds through his all-seeing eye, and contemplates the honey-comb. This is the story of such a song. A song born of a mother’s grief, given wings by a mother’s love. A song of memory, and loss, and of the magic of everyday things. A song of rebirth, and rejoicing, and a love that lasts for ever. The song of a journey to Death and beyond. And it starts with the death of a daughter. Step on a Crack ≈ My plaid awa, my plaid awa, And ore the hill and far awa, And far awa to Norrowa, My plaid shall not be blown awa.

Child Ballad no. 2: The Elphin Knight One When Daisy Orr was six, she began to avoid the cracks in the pavement. It started as an unusual attentiveness to paving slabs, a reluctance to walk over cobblestones, and evolved into a complex series of skips and jumps and diversions, designed to carry her safely across the many pavements of London. Children are ritualistic. Their lives are filled with ancient lore. Step on a crack, break your mother’s back acquires a grim significance for a child who has just lost her father. But six is a resilient age. While her mother struggled with grief, Daisy was coming to terms with death in a way she could control. The pavement game was Daisy’s way of making sense of the irrational. This, at least, was what her mother believed.

Later, she came to reassess her reading of the pavement game. But by then it was too late and she herself had slipped through a crack, into a world without Daisy. There should be a word, Fay Orr tells herself, for a woman who loses a child. A woman who loses a husband can at least put a name to her loss. She is a widow. Her grief has a name. That name gives her a narrative. But this is a different kind of grief. She is a woman who has lost a child. She was a mother.

Now she is not. Now she does not know who she is. Now she is adrift, alone. Nameless, she casts no shadow. Who am I? she asks herself. What am I doing in this world? It all seems very wrong, and there is no one here to tell her what to do. She has tried counselling. It doesn’t work. Words and affirmations have no meaning any more. How are you feeling this morning, Fay? She wants to say something.

Really she does. But the question is meaningless. What is there to feel? Daisy is gone. Her daughter is gone. In her place there is nothing. Why don’t we look at your diary, Fay? Ah yes, she thinks. The diary. It’s supposed to help her counsellor (whose name is Janine, and who thinks that Fay would benefit from sharing her thoughts) understand how she fills her days. Fay would like to explain to Janine that she has no thoughts. She is only a mechanism, going through the meaningless rituals over and over every day.

You’re keeping fit. That’s good, Fay. Janine is a great believer in the healing properties of exercise. As if tighter calves or more defined abdominals might help her reach an epiphany. Fay knows better. The running has become a compulsion. King’s Cross to Trafalgar Square without stepping on a single crack. Euston Road to Regent’s Park without thinking of Daisy. The thing is, Daisy is everywhere. Daisy at three; Daisy at six; Daisy dead at twenty-one, stolen away by the Shadowless Man.

Children look to their parents to tell them monsters don’t exist. But what if they do? Fay asks herself. What if the monsters were here all along, but only Daisy saw them? This is excellent progress, Fay. Any more dreams? She shakes her head. There are no dreams she wants to share. Dreams are how this all began. Besides, there’s only one dream that counts. She has it almost every night. She dreams she could have saved Daisy, somehow. That she could have known what was happening.

It’s not your fault , Janine repeats. There’s nothing else you could have done. Daisy was suf ering from a neurological disorder. She was of her medication. There was no way you could have known. But that isn’t true. There have always been ways. Secret ways to see the world, through dreams and charms and mysteries. Daisy believed in the power of dreams, though Fay dismissed her fantasies. And now, every night, Fay dreams that she arrived in time to save her.

That instead of those twenty-four hours she spent in ignorance – watching TV, going to the gym, sitting in the garden and listening to the sound of the birds – she had somehow instinct-ively known. That instead of reading an email, she had guessed by osmosis. And now there is no way to banish the thought: Daisy fell through the pavement cracks. I wasn’t there to save her. And so she runs. She runs through the pain. When she can no longer run, she walks until she can run again. The pain is like a dark cloud that shows no sign of lifting. People are no more than shadows here. Only the cracks in the pavement are real.

Sometimes Fay wonders whether it is she who has slipped through the worlds, somehow. She feels she has become as flat and blank as a piece of paper; trapped between the pages of a continuous narrative, in which Daisy’s death replays over and over, like a fragment of dialogue that no longer has any meaning. Once, she might have turned to music to console herself. Music has been at the heart of Fay’s life; music, singing and the stage. It was her husband’s life as well – he was a concert pianist. But Allan Orr is as dead as an empty stage in the moonlight, and Daisy is a silent ghost that music cannot exorcize. And so Fay runs – always at night – along the towpath from King’s Cross: or along Euston Road into the West End, Shaftesbury Avenue, Leicester Square, Piccadilly Circus. She likes to run in the small hours, when there is no one else around but the homeless people. Barely visible by day, at night, when the the-atres and pubs are closed, when the last Tube home has gone, they come out into the light of the bright shop windows. And there they sit drinking and smoking on the tiled floors by the department stores, wrapped in blankets and bedclothes like children up late on Christmas Eve.

Fay feels no urge to speak to them, and yet she feels a kinship. They, too, have slipped through the cracks. They, too, cast no shadow. She has no destination in mind. She has no sense of time passing. She feels no sense of achievement at having run so far, so fast. The best she can possibly hope for, she knows, is the oblivion of exhaustion. And so she runs with her backpack through the broad, bare London streets in her running shoes that do not match her leggings or her T-shirt: runs past the displays of jewellery, of toys and household objects; feet pounding the pavement slabs; running, as if from a predator. And yet, there is something different tonight. Something in the air, perhaps.

She remembers that it is Michaelmas, the end of the harvest season. Even the city knows it somehow, in its ancient, forest heart. The shadows will lengthen after this: the city will swing into darkness. The leaves are already falling fast; there is a change in the sound of the wind. And tonight, the sky is cold and clear, with the full moon standing sentinel. There are no stars in London. The city is too bright for their pure, cold light to compete. But the moon is full for the second time this month, and larger than she remembers. They call that a blue moon, she tells herself. She does not recall how she knows this.

The blue moon rises above Shaftesbury Avenue, luminous as a jellyfish. She moves to get a better view, and as she does, her foot catches on something. Only on looking down does she realize that the paving stone on which she is standing is cracked right down the middle. For a moment she is still, looking down at the paving stone. It must be a trick of the moonlight, but in that moment it looks as if the stone is illuminated from below; as if there is a crack in the world, through which a light is shining. She does not know for how long she stands, pinned by that mysterious light. But it is in that time – seconds, or hours, she does not know – that Fay slips through the crack in the Worlds, into another story. Two She must have blanked out for a moment, she thought. Wasn’t the blue harvest moon supposed to have magical properties? Fay did not believe in such things. But there was something magical here.

She felt it like an ache in her teeth; her mouth was filled with sweetness. She looked down, but the light at her feet had been replaced by a shadow so dark that she could not see the ground. The lights from the theatres and billboards were gone, overlaid with darkness. And there was a scent, too; a distant scent of woodsmoke. Woodsmoke, on Shaftesbury Avenue? Looking towards Piccadilly, she saw that all the streetlights were out. On Regent Street; on Coventry Street; around the Shaftesbury fountain. The Coca-Cola sign was dead; and over Piccadilly Circus there was nothing but moonlight… A power cut, she told herself. Or maybe a cost-cutting measure. At this time of night, who would even know? And yet it made her uneasy to see the familiar landmarks darkened. It made her imagine all kinds of things hiding in the shadows.

She made her way slowly down the street towards Piccadilly Circus. The scent of woodsmoke was stronger now, mingled with something else; a scent of cedar and spices and sandalwood. Looking up, there was another surprise: she could finally see the stars.


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