Flutter of a Wing – creative nonfiction by Fay L. Loomis

Flutter of a Wing

“Hi, Becky. I’ve got a pair of silver tiebacks that were carried back from China in the 30s. I want some knotting done on them. Can you recommend someone?”

“Sure can. Stephanie. She’s the new girl in town. Seems to be able to do most anything.”

Stephanie spoke smartly.  “Sure, I’d like to do the job. Sounds interesting. I can be there in twenty minutes.” 

When she pulled up at the curb, I went out to meet her. She was as colorfully dressed as her van. Hmm. HippieWonder why she emigrated from San Francisco to our quiet little town in Southern California.

“Hi, I’m Stephy,” she said, pushing back the sliding door of the van. “Want to see my invention? It’s for disabled people. We need to do everything we can for those who need help.”  I stared at the contraption of cobbled wood, metal, and foam, crammed behind the driver’s seat. Her passionate flow of words failed to help me understand how this Rube Goldberg machine was going to help anyone.

I was relieved to go inside where we pored over knotting books from the library. When I had thumbed through them, I had been fascinated by the evolution of the practical sailor’s knot into exquisite art forms.

As if by osmosis, Stephy understood what I wanted and sketched out an intricate design that complemented the silver work.

“I’ll buy the cording tomorrow,” I said. “When would be a good time for me to drop it off?”

“Call me as soon as you have it.” 

 I parked in front of the hulking barn and slipped through an open door. Large sheets of fabric, appliqued with abstract shapes, hung on the walls of the workshop that was dominated by a commercial sewing machine. Hey Jude filtered through the swaths of cloth. 

“Hi, Stephy. You look busy.”

“I’m working on these panels that will be used as a backdrop for the Ramona Hillside Players’ next performance. Got my pedal to the metal.”

“I thought you just moved here. You sure don’t waste time.”

“Nope, got too much to do. Love that teal cording and giant tassels you have in your hands. Let’s go upstairs.  I’ll show you my place, and we can have some tea.”

We went outside, moved around the end of the barn, and hiked up long stairs that seemed none too sturdy. “Got to get these rickety stairs fixed. Been busy with lots of appointments.”

We weaved our way through a beaded curtain into a generous space.  My eyes were drawn from one interesting pocket to another, before they were pulled to her bed – queen of the room. The canopy, made of lovely twisted branches, was draped with diaphanous slices of pale blue chiffon. In the back, I spotted a 50s dinette table, surrounded by tree stumps. Quaint, though not my idea of comfortable seating.

“Why don’t you settle in, while I make tea?” 

I sat in one of the huge arm chairs Stephy had covered with a purple and red flame stitch pattern. Much as I loved that restless design, there was way too much of it for me to feel at ease.

She swept her arm toward the shelves behind me and said, “My object d’art collection. Really, objet trouvé, found art. I can enjoy these odd bits that I fancy or create pieces of art from them. You know, like Duchamp and Cornell.”  Wow, she knows some things. I hope she knows how to knot.            

Stephy placed funky mugs, with coiling snake handles, on a low table in front of the chairs. We drank wild sage tea made from leaves she had gathered in the field behind the barn. 

I headed for the door, shot a look over my shoulders at the jade fibers, and questioned whether she would be able to pull off this piece of art. 

I got my answer a few days later. Stephy phoned to tell me she was on her way. I nearly gagged when I saw what she had done. How could she have possibly thought I would like this gaudy stuff.  I didn’t let her down easily. “Stephy, this isn’t the design we agreed on, and I really don’t care for all the brightly colored beads you tucked in. All this busyness detracts from the simple beauty of the tiebacks. What happened to the sketch you made?”

“Sketch? I forgot about it. Sorry. Got lots on my mind. I’ll go home and redo it.”

The next time around, she had the knotting just right. She had added a simple silver bead that delighted me. “You hit the nail on the head,” I said, as I handed her a check.

“Thanks. I enjoyed creating these pieces for you. I’m glad Becky suggested you call me. Before I go, I want to give you a gift. I’ll get it from the van.”

She handed me a sorry looking rag doll, much too large and too ugly to be at home in a child’s arms. The once white figure, now a dingy grey, had elongated proportions, especially the flat head, outlined in metal knobs, and the flouncy pantaloons, all of which made it look like a caricature. Around the waist was a string of miniature objects: a beehive of twined rope, a wooden birdhouse, a metal watering can, and a round something with a dangly wire that defied description. When I looked closer, I noticed that the objects hung from a wire binding the doll’s wrists. A long stick, with a sign that read “HERBS,” was tucked inside one arm. The pièce de résistance were metal wings attached to her back. No doubt: the gift was created from Stephy’s found objects.

A flood of déjà vu washed over me: another godawful creation. I hid my feelings this time and said, “Thanks, Stephy. Let’s hang it on the patio.” She beamed at her child dangling from a hook.

A few weeks later, Becky called. “Hi, I’ve got some bad news. Stephy died while waiting for a liver transplant.”

“What? She never said a word.”

“Not to me, either. Or, her mom.”

“I’m blown away. 

“Me, too. The funeral is over, and her mom asked me to come and help clear out her belongings.” 

“Thanks for letting me know, Becky. I’m too upset to talk right now. Call you later.”

I sank into the couch, my eyes drawn to the beautiful silver tiebacks, enhanced by Stephy’s stunning design. Why should I be so shaken?  I hardly knew her, didn’t think of us as friends. 

When I moved from California to New York, I surprised myself by packing the gangly doll—even more so by hanging her on my deck.  How had I allowed her to entwine herself into my life, why was she still clinging to me as if for dear life? 

A few years later, on a brisk fall day, I was sweeping leaves and my many-colored-broom snagged something. I looked down and saw Stephy’s doll crumpled in a heap. After twelve years, she had finally bit the dust. Time for this clangy pile to make its transition to the garbage can. 

I lifted the lid, ready to release the droopy tangle. My hand froze and inexplicably reached for scissors to clip the threads that held the wings to the doll’s back. Light caught the curlicues that danced around the edge of the metal, revealing etched words. 

The letters were traced in gold—gold as pure as the knowledge in Stephy’s heart that life can change in the flutter of a wing. “My wish is that we could have done more things together. But that can’t happen. I just wish you a great life every day as best you can be happy.” In the center was her signature: “Angel Stephy.”

I sucked in my breath. “Thank you, Stephy,” I whispered, as my hands folded over my heart. 

Fay L. Loomis lives a particularly quiet life in the woods in upstate New York. A member of the Stone Ridge Library Writers, her poetry and prose have appeared or are forthcoming in The Closed Eye OpenLove Me, Love My Belly, Rat’s Ass Review, Ruminate MagazineHerStry, Sanctuary Magazine, and Burrow.

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