Author’s Note: This is an odd little bit of flash fiction that came to me, more or less, in the parking lot of the grocery store. Years later, after asking myself about the dog made of bone, it became one of the building blocks of the novel Nettle & Bone, though the godmother in that story is somewhat different.
You came to me in your cloak made of tatters, with the dog made of bone at your side.
You came to me and demanded to know why—why hadn’t I been there? Why her, and not you?
What had she done to earn fairy gifts to smooth her way? What did she do to earn the golden dresses and the silver shoes, the care of old women and the kindness of princes?
Why did she get to dance, when you had to carve your path of thorns, and bleed for every inch?
I told you that fairy godmothers are a little less than angels. We are given only enough power to hold in our two hands. There is not enough to go around.
I told you that we spend it very grudgingly, and only on those who cannot succeed without our help.
The dancing princess would have died. She would have withered at the first harsh word. She could never have woven the rope from nettles, or built her own dog out of bones.
So I helped her and not you.
I told you that even in the cradle, I knew that you were strong.
You swallowed that, even though the taste was bitter. You were already proud of your strength. (And why wouldn’t you be? You have done amazing things. I wish I had the right to be proud of what you’ve done.)
You walked away, with your tattered cloak swinging, with the bone dog clattering at your side. You walked away, and all you left was the handprint on the doorframe, with your left hand stained with the prince’s blood.
I watched you go, and picked the bits of lie out of my teeth with the tip of a worrying tongue.
Truth is, there are too many broken people in the world.
We bet on the ones we think will make it, like birds who feed the strongest chick. We pour love out on those who are already loved and magic on those who only need a little, since a little is all we have to give.
There was nothing much to recommend you as a child. You squalled and whined and cried. You were timid and afraid of strangers.
(And I have to tell you that your breathing was annoying, you made little “uhn! uhn!” noises in your throat at every breath, and certainly this is petty but also it is true.)
Mostly, though, you were easy to forget, so I forgot you.
I did not expect you to survive. You should have died a dozen times and yet you lived, for all you went a darker way.
Well. Good for you. We don’t always get it right.
I waited too long to clean the handprint off the doorframe. I left it there for days as a reminder. My eyes dragged over it every time I went out.
I think I hoped that I would learn something.
In the end I washed it off, or tried.
The white paint underneath is stained. In sunlight I hardly notice.
But sometimes now,
before I light the candles,
I see the shadow of your hand against the door.