Sarah was beginning to feel that her life was one big inflated disappointment. She expected too much of people: she wanted men to be tender, she wanted women to be stalwart. Above all, being fiery and rather unpredictable herself, she wanted to find those who were as flexible and watery as she. Easier said than done.
She had a friend called Adinolpha who was the wisest person she had ever met. Ady managed to avoid disappointment by having no expectations of anyone. She said that we should only take what is freely given: we should not expect from people what they could not give. Those maxims had the taste of freedom. But Sarah could never quite savour it. She and Ady would often go to Pompeii, near where they both lived, and and they would sit in the soft light and think about the people who had lived there. They were like them. They were not like them. The warm rain which fell occasionally, and the ghostly presence of the inhabitants, made a glorious effect, but Sarah was never quite sure how to interpret it.
Ady died long before her time. Racked by grief, Sarah tried to catch a message from her friend. In the end, one came. Ady’s family had gone through her belongings, and had found a letter to Sarah, written not long before her death. Sarah opened the envelope and smoothed out the paper inside. It said: “Be Brave”.
What could this mean? Ady herself was volatile and expressive, and loved a good scream if she was annoyed or in pain. She was not one for the stiff-upper-lip, not she. And she had never believed in bearing up. So her message could not have been that we should practice fortitude. Sarah fumbled about in the envelope. There was something else in it, right at the bottom. She drew it out.
It was a feather. It was blue, shading to grey, and long. At the bottom, where it had been torn from the bird’s skin, there were traces of blood. If this was Ady’s message to her, it must have been this: that bravery sometimes requires flight rather than stasis, even though suffering may come in its wake.
Sarah now knew that there was more than one way to fly. She kissed the feather, and it seemed to glimmer in the light. You see, she thought, the dead can speak to us. But their voice can sometimes take the form of a bird’s cry or the flutter of a wing. You just have to be ready to hear it.