Sometimes a bird by another name sings even more sweetly.
Before this goes any further, I need to tell you something about my parents.
Even for a devoted husband, I always thought my father went too far with the hummingbird thing. Until I was six, I didn’t realize that other people’s castles experienced the same weather as the lands around them. My father’s wizards kept our grounds warm and sunny all year long, so these colorful flowers could survive. I grew up in a fragrant forest of flowers, with hummingbirds whirling all around me, not realizing how unusual that was.
It pleased my mother. That was all that mattered to him.
My parents made several trips to Hyneaera, my mother’s homeland, even as the war got worse. They wouldn’t let me come. Too dangerous. Each time, they returned looking more grim. They brought back other flowers, and more hummingbirds, which struck me as odd, since we had so many already. After Mother started getting sick, they made one last trip. They only brought back two birds that time.
She didn’t even seem sick, which made it harder for me to accept. She’d be fine for a day, or two or three—totally recovered, I thought—then hide away in bed, sometimes for weeks.
Until one day, she died. Father said I wasn’t allowed to see her. Nobody was. It was the custom of her people. I cried and screamed, saying it was a stupid custom and I hated her people for having it. My father just held me tighter. He cried too, which helped, somehow.
I thought about her every day. I mean, obviously I would—she’s my mother. Still, I couldn’t help being reminded, with all her hummingbirds flitting around. Father maintained the gardens and the weather, like before. He sat outside watching the birds for hours. Sometimes I heard him talking to the birds, like Mother used to.
There was one morning I missed her especially strongly, because… Well, this is a little embarrassing, but I started my blood cycle for the first time. It was… ugh. Just trust me, a girl wants her mother then. So I sat in the garden with her birds, imagining she was there.
One of the hummingbirds hovered in front of me. It was so pretty, all iridescent blues and greens. I said hello to it. It made that funny chirping noise and kept hovering, darting back and forth, but not flying away. I had this notion to put my hand out for it to land on. I don’t know why. They’d never perched on me before, although I’d seen them land on my father.
As soon as I put my hand out, the bird landed. It looked at me, tipped its head like a person, then touched me with its beak. I felt a tiny tickle, like it had licked my palm. Or kissed it.
The walls lurched around me. I was spinning and collapsing. Everything blurred. Something soft and heavy fell on me and I struggled to get out from under it When I looked at myself, well, I know this sounds insane, but I was a bird. I spread my wings to admire them. Somehow, it seemed completely normal.
You’ve probably already guessed that the bird was my mother. She hadn’t died after all. She just couldn’t turn back anymore. So that was sad and wonderful and terrifying, all at once. It was so great to see her again that I forgot to mention my blood cycle. Later she told me she knew, because that’s when it first happens for girls.
My mother introduced me to some of her family, the ones they’d been able to smuggle out. I’ll admit, it was hard to keep them straight. I accidentally tried talking to real birds a few times.
With no warning, my guts wrenched, and I transformed back. This time was worse. I vomited a while before realizing I was naked, outside. My father was there, holding my clothes out with his eyes turned away.
He and I had a lot to talk about, but first we sat and held each other a while. Mother flew over and sat on his shoulder, and he stroked her feathers.
I realize this is hard to believe, but you needed to know the truth. Because since I’ve inherited this bird thing from my mother, the same thing will happen to me someday. Now, if you’re still serious about marrying me, there’s someone I want you to meet.
She’s waiting in the garden.
Submitted for Mutant 750 Writing Challenge #51. The photo prompt is above, and the word prompt is “whirl.”