The Sun Birds

Granny wrapped the sun in ice. ‘A long time ago, now. Before the ice grew meadows and mountains and river falls, before the lumta herds took to the plains, their song echoing halfway around the sun and then back again,’ she said as she combed the tangles out of my hair. ‘What was it like?’ I asked as the icy blossoms of the nishla trees floated past the window of our small hut. ‘We didn’t know it would work. We just had to hope and try,’ she said. Her comb caught in one of my long curls. ‘This mop of yours is so tangled, even the knots have knots. Have you been running through the Icknam woods, again?’ I felt her gaze like pin pricks. Outside, ice-grasses swayed, lit from below by the sun. ‘Course not,’ I said. But she grabbed my hand, lifted it up, and studied my fingernails. ‘Then why are your nails stained purple?’ I wriggled my hand away from her. ‘So what? Why can’t I go to the woods?’ I said, my voice brittle. ‘You just want me to stay here with you all the time, spinning yarn from the kep reeds. You only let me go out to gather them from the river falls.’ I stood up and turned to face her. ‘I forbid you,’ she snapped, and she dropped the comb. And I ran outside into the nishla blossoms and let them cool my face. And the sun shone upwards through our silver world turning the edges of the blossoms and grasses golden. 

I didn’t go to the woods. But I dreamed. And in those dreams, the leaves of the oolm trees crunched under my bare feet and my hands trailed in the purple ferns, and I woke with my fingers stained. And sometimes, I woke with the songs of the sun birds beating through me like a strange heart. And I felt the woods pulling me like a kep reed is pulled by the river falls. ‘We didn’t know, of course. We didn’t know,’ Granny said as she spun the reeds into yarn. ‘Are you talking about the sun birds again?’ I said as I set a pile of the reeds by her chair. She just gave me a look like poison mushrooms. ‘Just stay away from…’ she began, but I didn’t let her finish because of the melody glittering in my ears. I was afraid she might hear it, so I ran outside into the bitter sparkle of the winds. 

‘The sun birds called them all down into the sun, all of my friends,’ she said as she combed my hair. ‘We trapped them, you see.’ But I could hardly hear her because of the song burning through me. ‘There are burrows and they lead…’ She meant to warn me, but my heart only beat faster. And when she was back at her spinning wheel and the creaking filled our hut, I ran to the woods. I didn’t know if the song of the sun birds was in the oolm trees and the ferns or just in me, but it carried me deeper into the woods to where golden light flared up the trunks of the towering lilies and the burrows glinted like cruel coins.



Rebecca Harrison sneezes like Donald Duck and her best friend is a dog who can count.