Laura-Blaise McDowell: Changeling

He wasn’t a superstitious man. He wasn’t afraid of what might be. It was the God’s honest truth. It was all his grandmother ever talked about- how when she was small, the town was overrun with them; green-eyed children with something amiss. Careless mothers who left their babies beside open windows would find them replaced in the blink of an eye. Changelings. He knew that people didn’t believe in fairies anymore, and he didn’t believe in ghosts or any of that carry on, not at all. But he knew, when his daughter was born she’d had blue eyes, like him.

‘And how would you know? You were blind drunk,’ his wife had snapped when he voiced his suspicions. She wouldn’t have been so defensive, holding the baby away from him, if he wasn’t right, he thought. She’d left that fucking window open in the kitchen; anything could’ve come in without her noticing, as inclined as she was then to fall asleep whenever the creature stopped squawking for five minutes. He knew it wasn’t his. He spent the child’s early years in a drunken stupor. ‘That open window,’ he would mutter. ‘She had blue eyes.’

Her mother made Siofra three little toys, a wolf, a bear and a swan, and told her that they would protect her if anything bad happened. The girl’s green eyes sparkled. She took the little creatures everywhere with her and held them close when her father would bring the thunder down. Her mother hoped that what she told her daughter was true. When Siofra was ten, she came home from school one day to find her father slumped at the kitchen table. The floor was terribly clean and her mother was nowhere to be found.

‘She’s fucked off,’ her father slurred. ‘Cleaned the place…spotless, the bitch! …Fucked off…’

Siofra ran upstairs and heard his glass smash on the kitchen floor. The shards lay there for weeks. As she got older, Siofra began to look more and more like her mother; black, curly hair, the shape of her face like a knot in wood. The sparkle in her green eyes faded though, and she walked with her head down. Meeting her father’s red eye only brought the devil out in him. Still, in the darkness of her school bag, lived her little wolf, little bear and little swan. Still she clutched them to her at night.

In the summers she often sought refuge in libraries, shopping centres, foyers of cinemas, where she’d pretend to wait for someone. As she got older, she smoked in parks, and as it got later, she drank in bars. There was always someone willing buy a drink for a girl with the ocean in her eyes. One night, she was drinking with a group of young men and women, all of whom were wrapped in glistening, luscious tattoos. She felt at home with them and the more she drank, the more she revealed about her mother leaving and her father’s fury. The weight of their arms around her was the first affection she’d felt since her mother left. She told them all about little wolf, little bear and little swan. In her memory, her words floated in front of her in little golden clouds and the others caught them on their tongues and the tips of their fingers. In her memory, they all had green eyes like her.

And then she woke up, and her memory stopped there. She was lying on a bench in the park near her house, coated in leaves, dew soaking her clothes. The dawn was dancing through the tree branches and her arms and chest felt raw. Sitting up, she looked down to find, inked onto her skin, little wolf on her right arm, little bear on her left arm and little swan on her chest. She stumbled home, head pounding, to find her father waiting for her at the kitchen table. A glass narrowly missed her head as she appeared in the doorway.

‘Think you can just run off? Just like your fucking mother, do ya?’ he yelled, getting up from his chair, steadying himself on the table and walking towards her.

‘Think you can just…just stay out? All night? And what’s…what’s this? Are those tattoos?’ he spat, grabbing her arm right around little wolf. The pain seared through her and she yelped, but it came out as a howl. Her father jumped back, aghast, as Siofra began to morph before his eyes. Grey fur burst from her, her teeth grew long and fierce, her shoulders burst forth until a wolf stood growling in front of him.

She felt her body change but it didn’t hurt, it felt natural, like reaching towards the sky. She leapt forwards, knocking over the table, sending her father flat on his back, and stood with both paws on his chest. His was a child’s face then. She stepped back, releasing him but he didn’t get up. Still growling, she turned and ran upstairs, her paws thundering on the wood, and into her bedroom. In front of her mirror, she saw herself become human again, her back legs stretching, her shoulders jutting back into place, her face shrinking. She looked at her arm. Little wolf’s mouth was open in a howl.

She crept downstairs to check on her father. Still he lay, spread eagled beside the toppled table. He did not stir as she approached. She laid a hand on his throat to check his pulse and all of a sudden his hand sprang up, grabbing the little bear on her left arm. She shrieked but it became a roar. ‘Get off me, you stupid little-’ but he was struck dumb as again, as Siofra began to rise up and transform, this time into a huge bear. She stood over him on her back legs, growling. He scrambled backwards and slipped on spilled drink, cracking his head off the sink. Siofra raised one enormous paw and her silver claws caught the light. Her father lost consciousness. Again she turned and clambered up the stairs, knocking down the frames from the walls as she thundered to her room. Again she watched herself transform back to human form in the mirror. She looked down at her arm. Little bear had a paw raised.

Worried that this time her father might be seriously hurt, she crept down stairs once more. She got a damp cloth from the sink and pressed it to his forehead. This time, he hand flew up right to her throat, catching the head of the little swan in his meaty grip. But he soon let go as he felt feathers in his fingers and Siofra beat her mighty wings against him, becoming a glorious swan. Her father sat, dumbfounded as she rose up, away from his reach, and out the kitchen window.

*

Biography

Laura-Blaise McDowell is a 23 year old MA student of Creative Writing at University College Dublin. Her work has appeared in The Runt, The Bohemyth, Silver Apples and Bare Hands. 

 

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