Firelands-The Beginning in SASS Wire Saloon Posted October 24, 2020 Linn Keller 11-22-13 Esther leaned forward and patted Edi's neck the way she used to. They looked down into the Jewel, hovering at ceiling height, smiling as the couples took the floor and the waltz took the moment. "She dances well," a voice said, and Esther jumped a little and gave a little squeak of surprise, and her niece Duzy smiled at her. Esther's mouth fell open and she turned without dismounting -- she didn't stop to wonder how she did it -- but she blinked and seized Duzy's hands and looked her up and looked her down and then she abandoned all propriety and hugged her, hugged her tight, and Duzy was solid and real and warm and laughing, just the way Esther remembered her. "How," Esther squeaked, and Duzy's eyes smiled: she leaned back and looked approvingly at Esther. "I love that gown," she murmured. "Turn around, let me see --" Esther's eyes widened, her hands went to her mouth. "I, oh dear, oh, no," she murmured.Don't worry, Edi commented dryly. Duzi laughed, took Esther's hand. "Step over to the mirror," she smiled, and Esther followed her over to a large, multi-panel mirror, the kind a woman will use when she wants to see herself in the back as well as the front. Esther's mouth fell open and her eyes grew large and round. Duzi laughed. "They're called wings," she giggled. "Go on. See how they look!"You used mine often enough, Edi grunted. It's time you tried your own. Esther spread her wings. They were twice as wide as she was tall, gracefully curved, and a bright, shining, rainbow-tinged, emerald. Angela looked up, her eyes widening: she'd been sitting for a little bit after being danced by Nelson Bell, and she sat with Polly and Opal against the side wall, under the stage where the fiddler was playing the dancers with his fiddle. Angela looked up at her Mommy, her face shining with delight as her Mommy put her finger to her lips, and folded her great, shining-green wings.You must not tell, not yet, Angela heard whispered in her mind, and she nodded her understanding. Edi looked at Angela, and spread her wings as well, and Angela laughed and Edi heard her exclaim "I was right!" and Angela felt Edi's approval.We women keep many secrets, Angela heard her Mommy's whisper as Esther descended into the room: Angela felt her Mommy-touch, feather-light, on her cheek.Remember what the Parson said last week, Angela heard. We are surrounded by a great cloud of believers. Angela looked around, wondering why nobody paid any attention to her Mommy, and the beautiful woman with her, the one with sunset-pink wings. Or the horsie with big white wings.They can't see us. "Oh," Angela said aloud, as if that satisfied everything. Sarah looked up, and smiled, and opened her mouth as if to say something, then she closed her mouth and gave a little wave, as if she was shyly saying hello to someone without wanting to appear conspicuous. Angela felt a surge of delight.Sarah saw her too! she thought, and hugged herself with delight. Jacob danced with his sister, and with his wife, and he arranged the minor distraction as Sarah and Daffyd slipped out: the party was in full gear, food was being eaten and drink was being consumed, pretty girls were being danced, and Jacob slipped away as well. Angela was starting to droop so I slipped out as well, and my little girl with me, and I picked her up and carried her home. It wasn't that far and I needed the walk. I stopped and looked toward the cemetery hill and I recognized Jacob in the moonlight and I knew he was going to his mother's grave. We went in the house and I carried Angela to the kitchen. I sat her in her chair and I heard the maid approach and I selected a knife that satisfied me. The maid baked a cake earlier and iced it and decorated it and I was not going to let it go to waste. "Angela," I said, "this is your Mommy's Happy Birthday cake." Angela nodded solemnly. I sliced into the cake. "Happy Birthday, dear heart," I whispered. Later that night I sat on the side of the bed. Our bed. The bed we'd shared since we were married. The bed where she birthed our newest child. The bed where she died. I groaned and lowered my head into my hands. I'd gotten Angela in her flannel nightgown and got her tucked in and kissed her forehead, then I came over here and hung up my coat and my vest and pulled off my boots and that's all the strength I had. I sat there and listened to the silence. The bedroom was empty ... utterly, completely empty. "How will I manage?" I whispered. "I don't know how to raise a little girl." I looked at the closed door. "Our son needs you ... hell, I need you!" I swallowed, took a long breath, and the door opened. Angela came in, rubbing her eyes, her rag doll locked in her elbow. "Daddy," she mumbled, "I can't sleep." "I can't either," I admitted. Angela climbed up on the bed beside me and leaned over against me. I laid down, still clothed, and Angela laid down with me. She rolled over and cuddled up against me and I ran my arm around her and pulled her in close. Alfdis would have the baby, I knew, but for now ... I knew I needed my rest, and so did Angela. "Happy Birthday, dear heart," I whispered.