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Breath & Shadow

Summer 2022 - Vol. 19, Issue 3


written by

Paula Hammond

Mother Nature paints with air, and sea, and stone. Her elemental art is all around us, but never is it more beautiful than at dawn. Then, each piece of creation—bathed in the dazzle of the new day—is at its most glorious.

This morning, chill air hugs the ground. Mist echoes lie, layer on layer, like curtains of Baroque taffeta. Beneath it, the world is as soft and smudgy as a wax rubbing.

I hop from foot to foot, trying to shake off the morning’s foggy fingers but—no use. They cling to me, drenching my feathery beard with icy droplets that make me look ridiculous.

My brother, Hugginn, would have blinked his all-seeing eyes and cawed, in that irritating, superior way of his, that I always look ridiculous.

He may have had the brains but he was on slippery ground when it came to insults. I remember everything and I’ve a millennia of slanders in my arsenal.

“You’re a scobberlotcher, a klazomaniac, a gnash-gab”, I would bark.

And he would clack and stomp. “So you think I’m lazy, nosey, and complaining?” the know-it-all would scoff. “Well, who am I to argue? You’re the older brother, after all. Where you go, I follow.”

The All-Father once said: “I fear for Hugginn, lest he be lost, but for Muninn, my care is more.” I think that hurt my brother more than all our sibling spats.

Each day, we flew the world, reporting our discoveries to Odin. My brother detailed all that ‘thought’ had brought forth. Art, science, and song. Love, hate, and triumph. These were the things that he watched, noted, and reported. More than that: his wisdom saw wisdom in others. He recognized the sparks of great and tragic things and used this insight to warn the All-Father of things to come.

Mine was the lesser task. To remember each event and each bright, new thing, as it cried its first breath. Yet, what is memory without thought? What is experience without knowledge? How can we avoid the mistakes of the past, if we cannot learn its lessons? What is Muninn without Hugginn? Why would Odin value the one but not the other? I could not fathom it, but I did not challenge it, and the All-Father’s words clung to my brother like a bloated tick.

Today, as I’ve done since the first day of creation, I make my shrill dawn greetings to Mother Nature. I watch the mist creep and bob and, in it, I spy the wraiths of yesterday—those shadowy creatures not yet reborn to this new morning. They shiver in their slumber, but it won’t be long. The dawn chorus begins, and even in this hazy wetness, the Sun will not be denied.

Hunkered deep in a bramble pyre, a robin scolds me for being too close to its nest. A hare materializes, blinks its ochre eyes, sniffs, then promptly vanishes again. The Sun touches the earth and, with that, tiny thermals begin to spiral. I spread my wings, feeling each feather twist and flex. Then, I’m aloft and, for a moment, I’m giddy with the thrill of it.

Hugginn would have laughed—a deep and throaty caw-caw.

“There’s no magic to it, brother” he always said, haughtily. “It’s just simple mechanics. Weight, lift, drag, and trust.”

I, in turn, would remind him of Icarus, of da Vinci, of the Wright Brothers. Of the myths and legends, the struggles and successes of humankind to achieve a pale-imitation of what we do with ease.

“You’ve no poetry in your soul, brother. No feeling for the magnificent” I would say. “And you’ve no sense. No understanding of cause and effect. You’re a fool.” “And you, brother”, I’d retort, “are smart. But only in your head.”

And so we’d go at it, always testy and critical, always looking to get the upper-feather, until the day the All-Father made his partiality so painfully clear. After, there was less spark in our sparring and more seeming hurt in Hugginn’s barbs.

Now, the world is mine—alone. From my vantage point I see everything. Today, I make my tally of the numbers: 8.7 million species; 360,000 new babies born; 150,000 deaths; 2,000 islands; 1,000,809 mountains; 76 rivers; 1.4 billion cars; 4,500 books published; seven films completed; 1.8 billion photographs uploaded. My black eyes scan the heavens and in them I see 2,666 satellites, 102,465 planes. I see it all. But I don’t see Hugginn.

The All-Father is as angry and as unreasonable as gods and parents are. He refuses to admit fault and rails at me for not being more like my brother. I am as he made me, and I have no clever replies, just a hollow in the center of my being where Hugginn once sat.

Sometimes, I reach out, strain my eyes so hard that little purple and gold auras flash in the corner of my vision. I crane my head, forcing myself to see beyond the curvature of the Earth, into lands still in darkness. And, sometimes, I think I see a figure much like my own—black against the black—staring at me across the miles. Then, I open my mouth and I cry: “Come, you afternoon farmer, you fribble, you slug-a-bed! The day is wasting. Get up you lazy head. There’s work to be done.”

Some days, I reply for him, imitating his lofty tone, but the memory is a hollow one, because I didn’t speak for him when I should have done. Today, instead, I listen. I listen to the wind and waves and whirr of engines in the distance. And I wait for that irritating, superior tone of his with a longing too deep to tell.

Paula Hammond is a professional writer based in London, England. Recent fiction includes Adventures in the Spiritual Lost-and-Found, Third Flatiron, Stars and Stones, Abyss & Apex magazine. Her fiction has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and a British Science Fiction Association award. When she’s not writing, reading, or dreaming, she's vigorously flicking two-fingers at fibromyalgia and degenerative disc disease.

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