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Nightjar

Her sister, at five, speaks with the confidence and diction of a princess. “I told them,” she says, standing in the doorway.

“Who?” says Nightjar, feeling stupid. “What?”

“That you’d gone missing,” she says. “I would have confessed earlier, but I was waiting for Gnomon to leave.”

“So you’re a tattletale,” spits Nightjar.

“I saved you, sister. They wouldn’t have noticed you were gone.”

Nightjar slams the door. Confusion, anger, grief, chagrin: when she lets herself speak it’s a crack of thunder, and a crack in the dam.

POE, she whispers in her terrible new voice, and the ghost is there.

Nightjar

No more walking the road or wandering the grounds: she has three rooms, six books, embroidery and a closet for privacy. The books have lessons. Gnomon’s always a few silent feet away.

Her mother wakes her in the morning and her father tucks her in at night, warm and solicitous. They don’t blame her. She’s a child! She had an ordeal, and what matters now is her safety.

But Nightjar remembers the terrible freedom of the balloon, vulgar conversations, the danger of his hand on her arm. Remembers being an uneasy peer. Remembers Killington’s hat falling, in the spray of black.

Nightjar

Her new baby sister is the day, the joy, the light.

Nightjar’s seven. Her hair is finally long and glossy, as black as eyes. She has the run of the manor house and its grounds; sometimes, if she takes Gnomon, she’s allowed to walk the road of an afternoon. Not that she has a choice, about Gnomon. Her father spun him out of her shadow.

Gnomon is tall and thin, booted, cloaked and cravatted. He wears small, square pince-nez glasses. He has no mouth or eyes. Nightjar hates him and admires him: she begins wearing a cloak of her own.

Nightjar

Dark before day. Fear before joy. Coal before light.

They said the words over her when she was born, and smeared her head with ash. She sneezed and wailed. She didn’t like it.

Her hair kept trying to grow out fair, and whenever it straggled to an inch they’d hack it off. Finally, after six years, it’s starting to darken: blonde, honey, mahogany brown.

She hates her hair, hates more when they cut it. She weeps silently afterwards.

There’s always one who will speak to a hurt child, in darkness. “There, there, little Nightjar,” soothes hers. “Someday we’ll find your voice.”

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