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Monday, October 6th, 2014 12:29 am
The following is my second completed prompt for Ladies Bingo.


Early Morning

Fog rolled off the hills and over the land in the gray daylight. A servant helped me into a wicker chair out on the balcony, then leaned my crutches against the wall. He dismissed himself with a nod of his head. Penna, my companion, perched beside me on the frosted glass table. Light flickered in her blood-orange eyes; dew lingered on her feathers from her early-morning flight. She was a Matagot—an animal spirit—and took the form of an eagle owl. She had chosen my family as hers centuries ago.

There was a breeze, and I shivered, pulling my white shawl tighter about me. A thin, rectangular box wrapped in pink paper rested in my lap. I had stuck a blue bow on top of it. Penna pretended not to be interested, but I caught her glances at the package. I giggled. “Not being very covert, are you, Penna?”

“I do not know what you mean, meu caro.”

“We both know damn well it’s your birthday,” I said, teasing the ribbon. “I hope you haven’t peeked?”

“That wouldn’t be fair,” said Penna. “From one psychic to another.”

I placed the package on the table. “Open it,” I said, knowing she would hate it if I did so for her.

She hooted and hopped over to the gift. Using her beak, she snipped off the ribbon and tore into the wrapping paper. In her excitement, she hadn’t even thought to use her magic to do it. She did employ it, though, to lift off the cardboard cover.

“Oooh, Abigail,” she said. “My dear.”

“You’ve been hinting,” I said. “Want me to put it on you?”

I’d had a custom shawl made for Penna; a white one, like mine. She loved to match accessories with me.

“Yes, please. I hate tying knots with my magic. So bothersome.”

I draped the shawl around her shoulders and tied it at her breast. “Stunning,” I said. “If only Quilliard could see you now.”

She huffed. “I am starved. What did you order for breakfast?”

“You’ll see,” I said.

Sure enough, I heard the glass door slide open and the servant came through, bearing a tray of food and two mugs of hot black tea. He placed it all on the table and excused himself.

Penna examined the food: powdered white cookies with pecans and cinnamon; churros; poached eggs with a chocolate sauce; bread pudding with almonds; diced, fried potatoes. She hooted in appreciation while I filled our plates.

I stuck the sticky blue bow from the gift on her head and kissed her beak. She started to eat, but I chided her and said to wait. I sang a birthday song in my mother’s native language, one of Penna’s favorites.

“You are done now, yes?” she said, feigning annoyance—she was swelled up with pride.

I nodded. “Eat.”

It always amazed me how delicately Penna could eat. Granted, her magic kept her from looking clumsy—she could levitate and maneuver things with a sort of telekinesis—but she didn’t even get crumbs on her face. In fact, she lectured me if I so much as got a bit of powdered sugar on my lips. I’d laugh and call her the grandmother I’d never had—and I said so now. She retorted, “I am the mother you have never had.” There was painful truth to that.

“Speaking of Mother,” I began. “She said to tell you she is sorry she’s missing your birthday. She said she would have a gift for you when she returns next week.”

“Mm, as when she missed your sixteenth birthday last month?”

“She bought me two beautiful gowns, Penna.”

“And then ditched the lunch she was supposed to have with you.”

Sighing, I made a dismissive gesture. “Can we just enjoy today, please? How old are you, now? Two thousand?”

“I will nip that grin right off your face.”

We ate in silence, watching the sun climb higher in the sky. The fog dissipated. My spirits rose with the sun, and I said, “I thought we might take a carriage ride.” I had one more birthday surprise awaiting her.

The same servant from earlier prepared the carriage and our horse, a chestnut mare. After he helped me into the seat, we were rolling through the countryside. The air was brisk, and Penna and I covered up with a goose down comforter. I wondered if the route was familiar to her, or if she’d forgotten, maybe buried the memory.

I decided to pick her brain. “This is a lovely, scenic route, isn’t it?”

“The cherry blossoms are beautiful. Ooh, and look at the lilacs.”

“What do you think about tulip trees?” I said. Our destination had a tulip tree—one that was very special to me.

“We don’t get many of them here, do we? Pass me some of that chocolate you’re hiding.”

I tried not to let my disappoint show. Maybe that day with Grandmother—with Avó Rosa—had faded from Penna’s recollection. Sighing, I broke off a piece of the milk chocolate and popped it into Penna’s mouth. I thought of turning the talk to Grandmother Rosa in some way, and made a few stuttering attempts before giving up and humoring Penna about cherry-picking.

Soon, too soon, we reached the orange grove. The tulip tree was within walking distance, and I called the servant to assist me onto the grass. Then, he helped me tuck the bundle with the surprise I had for Penna under my right arm, and I asked him to stay with the carriage while Penna and I went ahead.

The ground was soggy from a night of steady rain, but I had navigated my crutches in plenty types of terrain. Penna hopped along beside me to match my pace. She started to offer help until I snapped at her. I hated looking weak just as much as she did.

And then we reached it. The tulip tree. I undid the bundle. I rolled out a small, thick blanket and spread it under the tree. I set aside my crutches and sat down. Penna eyed the rest of my bundle.

I breathed in the fragrant smell from the orange trees. “Well, Penna, do you remember this place?”

She shut her eyes. “I am surprised you do. You came here, what, one time, yes?”

“Yes. Just before Grandmother Rosa passed. Are you angry with me?”

She whispered, “No.”

I reached into my bag and pulled out a small painting of mine that I’d had framed. It was one of my better paintings, and that was saying something. I’d chosen oil. The painting featured my rosy-cheeked grandmother (“Rosa” was a nickname), holding up a small, skinny, four-year-old me so I could grasp the lowest branch of the tulip tree. Penna was perched on Grandmother Rosa’s shoulder, gazing up at me. I remembered everything about that day; Penna had muttered to Grandmother, “You know she will not live long, yes?” Both obviously thought I had not heard, and I elected not to say anything.

Now, Penna studied the painting. She emitted a small, sad noise.

I chewed my bottom lip. “Was this stupid of me?”

She was silent for some seconds. Then she said, “No. Is it lovely. You captured Rosa so perfectly. I will have it hung up in my room as soon as we get home.”

I placed the painting against the tree, then stroked the feathers on Penna’s head. I said, “I have one more surprise.” Again, I reached into my bundle. I drew out a bottle of champagne along with two plastic glasses. I filled both of them. We said “Cheers” and clanked them together.

And propped up against the tree, from the portrait, Grandmother Rosa smiled up at us.