The Dance of the Crow Mother

When they tell me I will dance the Crow Mother, I cannot breathe.

I have practiced in the dark, in the wild grass of the hills, far from the glows of our fires. I have crushed the stalks beneath my feet, the bruised-green smell rising into the sky. I have held out my arms just-so and arced my body in circles. I have raised my voice to Her in song.

Since I was a small child, I have done this. For as long as I could remember the dance from one day to the next, from season to season, I have done this.

And now I will dance it in the circle.

I am not as light as I thought I would be, not as joyous. My heart is as tight as it is glowing.

I am afraid. Afraid I will fail. That my practiced feet will stumble. That She will not accept me as her dancer and will rain her displeasure down on my people.

I sit very still while they prepare me. My skin is dark, but the paint is darker. It runs in soft, curving lines across all of my body. My arms and legs. My breasts and stomach. Ne’hma paints my face, draws the patterns down my forehead and cheekbones, covers my eyelids in black. It is her honor to bestow because she holds the village to her bosom. She holds the village up to the gods. When she was younger, she was the Crow Mother.

They lay the shawl of feathers across my shoulders. I take a breath that shudders up my body. I step out into the glow of our fires.

The circle is clear, the faces of my peoples no more than shadows at the edges, lit in pieces by the moving flames. The air smells sharp and cold. It prickles against my naked skin. The silence presses against my ears. I am not sure I remember how to dance at all.

I raise my shaking arms to the night sky.

Hear me, Crow Mother, and welcome me into your dance.

My first steps are tentative. The ground feels foreign beneath my feet, though I have walked it all my life. The wind springs up hard enough to burn me with its cold, and I tremble. If She rejects me, we will have no new growth. I will doom everyone.

I close my eyes and pretend I am not in the circle. I am in the hills. I am standing on the wild grasses. I am in the dark, far from sight.

And my feet remember.

I stomp on the earth of the circle. I hold out my arms just-so. I arc my body in circles.

I raise my voice in Her song, and it does not sound like my voice. It is strong and clear and wild.

It is Her voice.

I open my eyes, and the fires leap up, stretch for the sky. I sing and I whirl, and my joy bursts out of me, catches all of my people in its embrace.

I am the Crow Mother. And the Crow Mother is me.

Leaving the Nest

She’d always remember that picture. The one that hung in the hall, visible when the guests walked in. Full of regal beauty, poise, and perfection on the day of her mother’s first principle role.

Odette spent her entire life trying to live up to her mother’s expectations. But her feet wouldn’t turn out just right, her legs were spindly, and coordination non-existent. And she hated her name – named for the white swan where her mother had always favored Odile, the black swan, despite the role being one and the same.

Time after time, day after day, year after year – her mother pushed her, prodded her, and scolded her in front of a class full of girls with the right figures, the right coordination and an actual ambition to dance.

In her twilight years, Odette’s mother wanted what her daughter would never be – a prima ballerina to take over the legacy, to continue the line of dancing royalty she’d created. And when it didn’t happen, Odette was shunned, locked away to think on her crimes, on her genetic failure to live up to her mother’s standards.

The bruises were easily explained away. No one thought twice about them considering Odette’s obvious clumsiness. Though they left no lasting external damage, the mottled purple fading through to green and yellow dug gouges in her psyche.

Until the whispers started.

At first Odette though they were from the other girls as she arched her back in a port de bras, but it didn’t take long for her to realize the voices were always with her. Soon, she began to take comfort in them, listen to them, and wish she could please them in ways her mother would never be pleased by her.

No longer alone, she bore the beatings with a smile, which only served to further infuriate her mother. Punishments lengthened and the ridicule became so nasty Odette could see the revulsion in her peer’s eyes.

She harboured the whispers, held them close, comforted them. Something would go her way soon, because she had a plan to be perfect – a plan to quiet everything once and for all.

The first thud of the golf club as it sunk into her mother’s skull had a sickeningly wet crunch to it. Sort of like a packed bowl of cereal with almost enough milk.

The second stroke resounded with a wet pop when she pulled it away from her mother’s head, the indent making a nest of blood and brains for that pretty brown hair.

The third stroke sprayed blood higher than Odette anticipated, coating her mother’s painting with an artful splash of red.

Odette stood there for a few moments as her mother twitched, as the eyes glazed over, and as the body finally lay motionless in a congealing pool of blood on the floor. She sunk to the ground, letting the golf club clatter beside her and smiled at nothing in particular. For the first time in her life, she found her mother’s favorite portrait appealing.