In a Glass Atrium
Pip Craighead /Portland, North America
"What are you doing in here?" a female voice rang out in the glass atrium, its tone not unkind. Celeste spun around to see its source. An old woman, tall and stately even from afar, was standing at the far side of the transept opposite. She must have appeared from around the side of one of the overgrown orange trees.
Celeste waved and smiled. "Just out for a walk. I didn't know there was anyone else here."
The woman drew closer, the hint of a smile playing upon her pursed lips. She walked with a light step, and as she came near, Celeste got a better look at her. She wore a light fur coat, her head was wrapped in a green scarf with white flowers, and her face, though lined with age, was beautiful. She looked like she could have been a princess in some earlier epoch, with her high cheekbones and glistening dark eyes. Celeste could imagine her slowly stepping onto a marble pedestal from a carved, high-backed throne before a waiting court.
"I come here every so often," the woman began, "but I haven't bumped into anyone else here in a long time. My name's Anise." She held out her right hand, and Celeste took it. As they shook, Celeste noticed a flash of light coming from Anise's ring finger; upon it was a silver band with an amber orb upon the bezel. Anise noticed Celeste noticing it, and she held her hand up, the amber gem catching the light; within it was a tiny white flower, its five frail petals suspended within the luminous resin.
"Star jasmine," Anise explained. "A family heirloom of sorts."
"It's lovely," said Celeste politely.
"It's supposed to be ageless, forever preserved in the golden sap of a long-gone tree. The ancient Athenian general Nicias said that amber was the dew of the sun, carried from the soil to the sea before being cast up upon the shores of Germania."
Celeste was unsure how to respond to this. Anise had a strangely regal way of speaking, but there was also a kind of sad lilt to her speech, as if she were used to not being understood.
Anise gazed up at the roof. Her skin was stretched thin upon her face, and strangely seemed both olive-dark and yet pale; upon it, Celeste could see the faint blue etchings of the blood vessels beneath. She must have been at least seventy, Celeste thought to herself. Through the clear glass above them, a vast flock of birds could be observed, surging and pulsing in inscrutable, weirdly magnetic mathematical patterns through the open fields of the sky. Celeste recalled reading somewhere that such a movement was called a murmuration, an appropriately poetic-sounding term for a phenomenon which, like the dawn chorus, seemed to belong to a secret realm of birds, filled with dances and songs known only to themselves and God.
Excerpted from the illustrated novel The Forest Museum by Pip Craighead - details at pipcraighead.com
Pip Craighead was born of Australian blood, but grew up in the shadow of the sun-kissed San Gabriel Mountains of Altadena, California. He dwells now in the forested metropolis of Portland, Oregon, wrote and illustrated the kids' book Little Francis Falls Asleep, and has his first novel The Forest Museum coming out this summer. More info at pipcraighead.com and @pipcraighead