Silver, a short story

She was named Silver at birth because, when she first opened her newborn eyes, the pupils shone like tiny mirrors.  It was as if the area behind the corneas had been silvered and all who looked into her eyes saw first their own reflection.

As you can imagine, Silver was a compliant, agreeable infant who grew into a compliant, agreeable child.  By age two, she was able not to just see but to reflect  although the silvery glint had lessened. Those introduced to the child assumed the name was given her for the pale, almost moonbeam-on-water color of her baby-fine hair.

Silver’s father was a carpenter named Richard.  Few knew his eyes had been mirrored the same way at birth.  Richard himself didn’t know.  He had been found in a small cabin in the woods, barely walking, with both of his parents curled into one another’s arms in a final, loving embrace—dead of a fever they shared. The hunter who found the boy buried the couple in a common grave near the edge of the woods.  He’d been unable to break the embrace and so put them into the earth in the same way he’d found them.  He took the boy home, named him Richard, and raised him as his own son.

Richard became a fine carpenter. He loved the scent and feel of wood.  Silver loved water.  From the time she first walked her mother, Clara, and Richard worried about the place behind their home where the river slowed and formed a deep clear pond. Their baby daughter seemed to feel the pull of water before she could say the word.

Once, while Clara was hanging sheets on a line beside their home—Clara liked to capture sun and wind in the sheets, said she could only sleep with the sun and the wind against her body—and, having nearly finished, she looked down to check on Silver playing at her feet. But the baby was gone.

She screamed for Richard who was working in the woodshop behind the house. When he ran out Clara gasped, “Silver is gone. She was here, and now she is gone.”

For one moment, Richard’s eyes grew wide and glazed, reflecting her own fear and love for their tiny daughter and Clara knew, suddenly, where Silver had gotten her unusual eyes.

“We’ll find her, my love. We’ll find her and she will be safe,” Richard declared.

His tone was so fierce and sure, Clara smiled in spite of her desperate fear.

They quickly scanned the yard, weaving in and out of damp sheets, and then widening out to search the meadow. They ran the path to the river pond, both imagining the same terrible possibility at the same time.

The pond.

They heard her before they actually saw her.  When they topped the low bank to the pond, both parents stopped, dumbfounded.  Silver, their precious toddler, was floating on her back in the shallow edge of the pond laughing in pure delight. A flock of snowy white geese surrounded the baby. They were using their beaks to push her from one bird to another in a playful game of goose chase.

Clara never forgot the sight of her baby’s hand rising out of the glistening water to stroke the beak of the goose nearest to her.

Silver was a natural swimmer.  She also seemed to have a special communication with all the birds and waterfowl that came to the pond to drink and bathe.   Richard and Clara took her daily to play and swim.  When the weather prevented them from allowing Silver her time near the water, she became inconsolable.  She wept and wept until her parents discovered they could ease her tears if they allowed her to bring a pitcher of the river water home with her.

The ceramic pitcher was plain, as dull blue as a late afternoon sky.  It had a small crack just below the handle, but it was Silver’s pitcher and every day she proudly carried it herself from the river.  It became a ritual and when Silver set the pitcher on the table, she would smile at her parents and say, “Sing. Sing to the river.”

Clara, delighted with her daughter’s fanciful mind, would sing lullabies with Silver into the blue jug. They sang “Hush, Little Baby” and other sleepy songs and, when they ran out of lullabies, they sang simple hymns and chants into the jug. When Richard was home, Silver would beg him to also sing into the pitcher and he’d add his own deep tenor to their girlish voices.

When they had finished singing, Silver would place her ear over the rim of the jug as if to listen, to make sure the river had heard the songs and was learning them in a good way. Sometimes Silver would beg her mother to pour them each a glass of the singing water and they would all drink together at the same time.  Richard laughed and called it “a Silver ceremony.”

Without even realizing she was doing it, Clara began to use Silver’s water to brew the morning coffee or tea, or would catch herself pouring from the blue jug to cook their morning oats, or make a special pudding for dessert.

The years passed and Clara had a baby boy, and then another, none born with the mirrored eyes. Silver adored her baby brothers.  She grew tall and slim as a willow branch with her long hair flying around her shoulders, now more gold than silver. She still loved the river but no longer carried it home in the ceramic pitcher.

When Silver was nine, her mother again gave birth to a child—but the birth was early and the mewling newborn was tiny and not quite finished. A girl. The doctor came. He left shaking his head and whispering sadly to Clara and Richard that the little one would likely not make it through the first night.

It was sometimes a hard life they lived, and Clara had never sheltered Silver from the harsh realities of the world. “Your little sister is not well, Silver,” she told her eldest daughter, tears forming a mirror of grief over her eyes.

Silver looked into her mother’s eyes and saw past the grief and into the deep pool of love in her mother’s heart. She had always felt that love, but never had she seen it with such clarity. In truth, Silver grew a bit toward woman and away from girl in that moment.

It had been many years since she had carried the blue pitcher up from the river but she had not forgotten.  Silver went now to the top cupboard and retrieved her jug.  Her mother lay in the bed cradling Silver’s tiny sister next to her body, trying to get the little one to suck at her milk-swollen breast.  Her father was sitting on a couch, the boys on either side of him, and she saw a cloud of sadness settling around them.

Silver went out the door and slowly walked the familiar path to the river pond. The sun was warm and low and lazy around her and she thought of her mother sleeping in wind and sun.  She turned her eyes now toward that sun and that wind and asked for help for her mother and her baby sister. The mirrors behind Silver’s eyes, unbeknownst to her, sent flashes of light out across the world and when she got to the edge of the pond, all the birds and waterfowl she had befriended over the years had gathered there once again. The sight astounded her.

There were robins, sparrows, and finches; there were ducks and geese and, on one edge of the pond, a pair of swans she’d only seen once before. Suddenly, she remembered all that the river and the winged creatures had taught her, and her heart lifted.

She knew the way. She knew.

Quickly she filled the plain blue pitcher with water, thanked the chirping, chattering birds for their many songs, and hurried back to the house.

When she crossed the stoop, the dense sadness had spread.  It nearly stopped her.  She pushed through—like wading through mud—and entered the house.  She took the pitcher of water straight to her mother and, smiling gently, said, “Sing, Mamma. Sing to the river.”

Clara’s eyes filled and tears rolled off her cheeks and plopped almost silently into Silver’s full pitcher. “Oh, my darling girl. I cannot sing right now. My heart is sore.”

Silver pleaded. “Please, Mamma. I’ll start. Hush little baby, don’t say a word, Mamma’s gonna buy you a mockingbird. . . “   Silver sang, thinking of all the birds who had gathered on her pond and, as she sang, her heart lifted with her voice.   Her little brothers, their eyes wide and dark, lit suddenly with little-boy understanding.  They crawled out of their father’s comforting arms and came to stand beside Silver to join her song.  She lowered the pitcher so their little-boy voices could fall easily into the water along with hers.  She nodded to them and they smiled and sang loudly.  They finished one song and the littlest brother began another.

Four green and speckled frogs, sat on a speckled log. . . .”

Silver laughed at his choice—but not at his heart—and so joined his song.  Richard rose slowly from the couch, a light flashing from his eyes, and started his own song when the frog song ended.   “I went down to the river and pray, learning about the good old ways . . . .

Clara couldn’t resist the singing.   Tears rolled down her cheeks but she sang along.

The dense gray energy of the room squirmed, grew uneasy, and began leaking out the loose seams around windows, out under the space beneath the door, up the chimney and out.

The tiny baby sister opened her eyes and looked out at the world for the first time. Her eyes were silver mirrors reflecting back to those gathered around her the greatest tenderness, the greatest love imaginable, and then she closed them with a small sigh of relief.

Silver went to the kitchen and brought back the large ceramic bowl her mother used to mix their daily bread. She took a towel, lined the bottom of the bowl, eased her baby sister from her mother’s arms and laid her in the bowl.   The baby’s pale, pasty skin looked like the dough her mother kneaded for their bread.   Silver ignored the sickly pallor, took the pitcher, poured the water into the bowl, and bathed her baby sister in the singing waters from the river.

The boys grew quiet and watched.   Richard watched.  Clara rose up on one elbow to watch.  A flock of geese passed noisily overhead as the family watched the little one’s skin lose its yellowish, bluish cast and ease into the pale pink of a spring tulip and they knew. Silver had healed the baby sister with the singing waters of the river and all would be well.

In the morning the infant suckled Clara’s nipple, hungry for more than just milk. She was hungry for life, hungry for all she had to do in this world.   Richard leaned over his wife and smiled at the busy arms and mouth. “And what shall we name this little girl, my love? Hungry one?”

Clara laughed and touched the pink, warm forehead of her suckling daughter and said, “I think Crystal. Yes, Crystal is a nice name.”

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