The Birds of Paradise

    “What are you wearing clothes for?” I asked.

    My sister Helena lay flat on her back at my feet; she smiled up at me. Not quite at me. Past me, towards whatever the marble columns held up. The sky, probably.

    Her voice was deeper than I remembered. “Because they whisper. Listen.” She bent and unbent her knees; the cloth hissed softly as old folds fell apart and new folds were made.

    I put my hands on my knees for balance and stared at her face. “You look old.”

    Helena laughed. The sound echoed through the columns; filled the cracks in the mountains around our world. “Silly Lillian.”

    I smacked her knee, curved up on the ground. What I really wanted to smack was her distantly joyful face. “Don’t call me silly. You’re the stupid one. Let’s go sing at the flowers.”

    “You go sing at the flowers. I want to stay here.” Helena laughed again, one thousand vibrant bells, while I tugged on her arm ineffectually. I was just too small. When had she gotten taller? She let her arm flop back above her with dramatic flourish.

    “You’re going to grow up,” I warned her.

    Dimples and blush appeared in Helena’s cheeks; reflections of the fruit that hung in our orchards, waiting to be plucked. “I want to grow up.”

    My lips and nose burned with suppressed tears. “You’ll get old and ugly,” I snapped. “Your hair will get crunchy. The birds won’t play with you anymore.”

    Helena just smiled at me. “Maybe you’ll understand, one day.”

    My voice shook, small and furious. “I will never understand. I will never grow up. You’re just being selfish. I hate you.”

    She reached a languid finger up towards my hands. She was absolutely drunk with happiness, which just made me angrier. “Don’t be mad, sister.”

    “This is because of him, isn’t it!” I snapped, backing out of her reach and pointing.

    Across the portico, the boy looked up at my anger, chewing his lip. He wore clothing too. Dark blue pants too rugged to whisper. A strange shirt that came just to his waist, sleeves short and tight around his upper arms. A character I couldn’t read written across biceps. Short hair. Smooth, beardless face.

    “Isn’t he nice?” Helena asked.

    I bared my teeth at him.

    Too far away to hear our words, he winced.

    “I hate him too,” I said. “I think I’ll curse him.”

    Helena sat up, all in a rush. “Don’t you dare.”

    I really wanted to. I glared at him across the portico.

    He smiled at me, apologetically, unsure of the sin he committed, and when he did, the smile transformed his face entirely. When he smiled, he was young as me. When he smiled, I saw our mountains in his eyes and our flowers in his cheeks and our fruit in the line of his mouth.

    When he smiled, I felt a little older.
Author’s Note: This is my take on our prompt for Thursday, Maxfield Parrish’s absolutely dreamy painting, “Daybreak.”

12 thoughts on “The Birds of Paradise

  1. This is just so . . . true. It makes me think of the first time I really felt older than my sister (and yes, it had to do with a boy).

    Nice. Just . . . nice. I really like this.

  2. I *love* this story. I can relate – I was the oldest child and my sister was just seventeen months younger than me. We grew up very, very close and did everything together – until we reached *that* age. Suddenly I wanted to be older, different…and she didn’t. Very awkward, very painful for both of us. This story captures that *perfectly* in such a beautiful way.

  3. *grin* thanks Brenna. I had an older sister too . . . but I got older than her very fast.

  4. Love this. It perfectly mirrors what it’s like growing up. Except…I’m not sure if my sister and I have done so yet, haha. Not even boys can disrupt our silliness together. 🙂

  5. When he smiled, I felt a little older.

    Great final line! And the shift in Lillian is nice and palpable.

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