Title: The Birds That Wanton in the Air
Date: January 4, 2009
Word Count: 2500
, for this
. (Which everyone should be reading. Go! Read!)
The Birds That Wanton in the Air:
Elphaba peered into the blackness of the well. "Hello," she called. The word echoed all the way down.
"Hello, hello, hellooooooo."
The effect was temporary. Silence descended.
She thought she heard a splash; probably her imagination.
Then she heard a woman's voice; definitely her imagination.
"Miss Elphaba, talking to the fish. Haven't I taught you better than that? People will think you're weird."
"I've failed, haven't I?"
The voice got closer.
The hand that touched Elphaba's back, that rubbed all the way up in one languorous stroke to her neck, that sent heat through her spine against the coldness of the cellar--that, too, was her imagination.
"We've all failed in our way," Elphaba said.
She turned around but couldn't quite see Glinda in the darkness. Just an outline of a woman lit by the light from the staircase. If she'd expected a glowing entity of some sort, she was disappointed.
"Sarima?" she asked.
"Honestly," Glinda said. "You're as crazy as everyone says."
"That's not what the fish told me," Elphaba said.
"Or the monkeys, I assume."
"The monkeys can hardly say banana."
"Elphie, Elphie. Anachronisms, you once said, are like clues."
"Clues to what?" Elphaba asked.
"Like I paid attention to any of that."
Elphaba blinked against the darkness and against the sense-memory of Glinda's touch on her neck. Fleeting.
She wanted it back. She wanted to lunge at Glinda, to crush her enough to feel her. She wanted to close her eyes and hold perfectly still enough so that something would happen.
She wanted to die, too. To throw herself into the well and feel the burn of the water just before she disappeared in a puff of green smoke.
Maybe Glinda had come to talk her out of that.
As if logic wasn't enough.
"Shssh," Glinda said, stepping forward. She placed her fingers on Elphaba's lips.
Glinda wrapped her free arm around Elphaba's waist and hugged her tightly. Elphaba hesitantly settled her hands onto Glinda's shoulders. Fully-formed and tactile--quite an elaborate fantasy--had she done a golem spell in her sleep?
Had someone else?
Elphaba succumbed to the embrace. The sustaining, full, life-giving, warmth-giving embrace of another human being--apparition, whatever--she groaned at how tightly Glinda held her.
Physically, she was nearly breathless and unable to move, though her heart pounded and the tips of her fingers tingled.
Mentally, she cataloged each sensation and ran through the litany of things she needed to tell Glinda. To ask Glinda. To accuse Glinda.
"Elphie," Glinda said against Elphaba's neck.
Were those Glinda's lips moving against her skin?
"Breathe, Elphie," Glinda said, and gave her a pop on the back for good measure.
Elphaba sputtered. Glinda stepped back.
So that's all there was, then. All she would get. She felt cold and crossed her arms over her chest. She pressed where Glinda had pressed and there was no comfort.
She could, though, imagine Glinda smirking in the dark.
"Isn't it ironic," Elphaba said. "Funny ironic--misused ironic. That you have more political power than I do. Legitimately. And all you had to do was marry
If she'd offended Glinda, she couldn't tell. The apparition merely shrugged and said, "Terrorists do have power."
"I'm not a terrorist."
"You and terror are synonymous."
"Well, welcome to my life. It's hardly my--"
"Fault? Maybe not at birth, but ever since they refused to drown you you've made it worse. To be Other is unforgivable enough. To be educated?" Glinda moved closer. "Awful. But to be right--that's the most terrifying part."
"Gratifying," Elphaba said.
She knew that she was arguing with herself. Glinda didn't put much stock in philosophy. Not even on a sociopolitical level.
Glinda reached up and brushed Elphaba's cheek with her fingers. "Elphie--"
A bell clanged.
Glinda whispered, "Find me later," and disappeared.
Not literally disappeared--she could have just retreated to some dark corner. Elphaba didn't see her shadow pass the stairs. But her presence vanished like a gust of wind all the same, leaving Elphaba cold. She glanced at the well.
Down there would be even colder.
She shook her head and descended the stairs for dinner.
The meal was elaborate and disgusting--cold porridge and shriveled vegetables and indescribable mutton. Elphaba barely ate and the family barely paid any attention to her, except for Liir, who stared at her with such fascination that she knew he was crazy, too.
She was sorry for it.
Nor elbowed him.
Elphaba was sorry for all the rest, too. Being right and being powerless was the worst--Glinda hadn't finished that speech properly. Elphaba hadn't let her. There were only so many hours in the day she could face her shame.
After all, terror was useless for freeing people--only for taking things away. Animal rights, travel, borders, food--terror was useful for terrorizing.
But for giving? If she was going to just be what everyone thought of her, she had ended up on the wrong side. She should have--the Wizard--
Sarima coughed, and Elphaba came back to the realization that she was staring straight ahead at nothing, with her fork digging into the table.
Elphaba narrowed her eyes.
Sarima asked, "Are you quite done?"
"I am," Elphaba said.
Liir looked away.
The crone cackled.
Elphaba went to her tower. From the well to the tower was the whole scope of her territory--the only places where her foot touched the ground. She tried to think of it as a prison, but she failed. It was just a castle. His castle, but a castle all the same.
Underneath her, water. Above her, sky. Uninhabitable, both. She'd counted the stairs between them. The number never changed.
There was more shame to inventory--the shame that had her squirming in her seat at the dinner table--the shame that Glinda's embrace brought, that anyone's embrace would bring. She was not quite normal
. She was an aberration. Glinda's touch brought a rush of warmth from the tower to the cellar--all the way through her, pooling where it should not pool.
Better to be alone in her room when she relived those memories.
Occasionally news would travel as far as Kiamo Ko. Sarima, to torture her, would read the social pages from the Emerald City or Gillikin or Munchkinland. The Glinda on those pages, dried ink on old paper, was not quite like Elphaba remembered.
Her life had become a whole series of false memories. As if she would ever go to college and study history and science. As if she could make the Emerald City hers. As if the Great and Terrible Wizard of Oz even existed as more than propaganda. As if she could ever meet him.
Not even the stairs were real. She expected every day to plummet through the floor to her death.
And was mildly disappointed when it never happened.
The moon rose outside. She snatched up the broom. Frustrated--sexually frustrated--she threw herself out her window. In defiance of all that was normal, she flew.
* * *
Contrary to popular belief, witches could not appear anywhere at any time in Oz. Flying took time. Elphaba would go east, or south, or north, and she would fly each night for days, and sleep in the forests or in the farms below. But on the crest of something--on the very edge of it all--she turned back.
The reality of her life was inescapable.
Glinda had forgotten all about her. Elphaba wished everyone else would, so she could hole up in her tower in peace. Instead, she flew east--directly east. Each night she'd rise with the setting sun and fly into the falling darkness.
The air was too cold and too thin for the swooping and diving to be enjoyable. The skies were emptier than she imagined starting out. She could see for long distances but really, what was there to see? Everything worth seeing happened below. In houses and castles and gutters and trains.
Dark specks moved along the ground. Man, Animals, magic, science. She wanted to fly closer, and would have if they wouldn't scream when they saw her.
On the third night, about a day's journey northwest of the mauntery, or about a day's journey east of her sister's mansion, an hour from turning back, she saw a flash in the sky.
Actually, as she squinted against the wind stinging her eyes, it was really more of a glow--white and ephemeral.
"What the--" she asked out loud, so much was her surprise. Those were the only words that escaped her, because the glow was coming fast, as fast as light, and it hit her, blinding and--hard?
The broom plummeted, enveloped in the light Falling, gasping, she reached out and grabbed whatever was there.
Whatever was there was pink and shrieked at her touch.
"Glinda?" she asked.
"Fly!" Glinda shouted.
Elphaba got control of the broom. The descent slowed. Elphaba found herself in a cloudy bubble, damp and a little chilled. They landed in the gully of a field. Mud squelched underneath them.
Glinda sat up and put a hand on Elphaba's shoulder.
"Are you real?" Elphaba asked.
Glinda laughed, making a hard and bitter sound. "I fly around--and I think you're dead, because you must be dead or you would have--"
"You were married!" Elphaba shouted.
And Fiyero was dead, and Liir born, and her life ruined, but that was beside the point. She was very far away from Kiamo Ko.
Glinda clamped her hand over Elphaba's mouth. "You," she said.
Elphaba grabbed Glinda's shoulders and pushed her down into the mud. Glinda kept her hand against Elphaba's mouth.
"I can't believe it's you," Glinda said.
Glinda's body under hers was remarkably solid and giving off heat and Elphaba pressed closer. Looked closer. Glinda's face betrayed her age. Wrinkles and a softness to her cheek that Elphaba didn't remember. If they had met later, she might have only found a husk and not a living soul.
Glinda moved her hand from Elphaba's mouth to her cheek, and then the side of her neck.
"Did we fall out of the sky?" Elphaba asked.
"I pushed you," Glinda said. "Out of the sky. Onto the ground. You--You have no idea what my life is like."
"Your life? Do you have any idea what I've been through? The--"
"Is it empty?" Glinda asked.
"As the sky!"
Elphaba felt all of it rising up in her, burning her stomach and her throat and her fingertips until they crackled with green energy. The anger and the humiliation and the passion were all there, inside her, trapped by her own silence for ten years, unleashed on her only friend.
She'd only ever had one friend.
Glinda cupped her neck. "I went looking," she said. "Even when I stopped believing--stopped believing in you, I looked for you everywhere. In shadows. In reflections."
"Me too," Elphaba said.
"Where do you--" Glinda started.
Elphaba cut her off by kissing her. If Glinda was going to drag her out of the sky and into a muddy gulch, if Glinda was going to be real and present and warm and hard underneath her, then Elphaba was going to do exactly what she wanted. She crushed her mouth against Glinda's.
For a brief, aching moment.
Elphaba broke the kiss, panting, apologetic, adding it to her list of burdens.
Glinda pulled on Elphaba's neck and drew her into another kiss.
"Please," Glinda said, kissing Elphaba's mouth and her chin and her cheeks--each damp touch stinging--"I can't keep waiting."
"Not here," Elphaba said, with her hand already pressing Glinda's hip.
"Where? Where can we go?" Glinda asked. She looked past Elphaba's shoulder and up at the sky.
Elphaba followed her gaze. The night was charcoal gray above them. No starlight. If she were in the sky she would be able to see the Emerald City's glow. Just as she'd seen Glinda's. The ground held all the darkness.
And Glinda's kisses, too.
"Hurry," Glinda said. She took Elphaba's wrist and pushed it to her skirts.
"Are you late for something?" Elphaba asked.
"No," Glinda said. "I'm afraid."
Elphaba tore at Glinda's gown, scattering sequins and buttons, rending cloth, brushing Glinda's breasts, but making little progress. Glinda found her breast, cupping it gently, and Elphaba stopped struggling, giving into the sensation of Glinda's hand. She remembered her lover's touch from long ago, and then she looked down, into Glinda's face, and there was only Glinda's touch to remember. No one else's. Glinda squeezed. Elphaba swallowed hard.
"This is going to take some doing," Elphaba said.
"Have you become an expert?" Elphaba asked.
Glinda twisted underneath her, pressing her knee into Elphaba. Elphaba groaned. She held herself up with one hand in the mud and one on Glinda's breast. Glinda hissed with appreciation.
"See," Glinda said, abandoning Elphaba's chest to stroke her side, "It isn't hard."
"I know that you are Gillikinese, but I have heard that people do this naked."
"Barbarians," Glinda said. She shoved Elphaba.
Glinda shoved again and said, "If you want to see me naked, you're going to have to get off me."
Elphaba scrambled back.
Glinda knelt and reached behind herself, contorting to reach the bow on her lower back. Elphaba discarded her cloak--easy enough, and then her smock. She stood in all of her dusky greenness and watched Glinda wriggle around on the ground.
"Do you have like, a knife?" Glinda asked.
"What do you think I do out here?"
"Kill chickens? I don't know. Elphie," Glinda whined. "Help me."
Elphaba pulled Glinda to her feet, intending just to get a better angle on the gown, but as soon as Glinda was steady they were kissing again, tight in an embrace that left them swaying, but one. Glinda's mouth was hot against hers, and Glinda's tongue, and Glinda's hands on her bare--
"Please help me, Elphie," Glinda breathed.
Elphaba pushed Glinda back into the mud. Glinda landed with an indignant splat, her legs bent, her shoulders propped up on straight arms. Elphaba knelt and threw back Glinda's skirts.
"Oh," Glinda said.
Elphaba still contended with petticoats, but she eventually found Glinda underneath, and she stretched her fingers into the heat. Again she experienced first a pang of memory and then the obliterating present as her mouth descended onto Glinda's.
"Elphie," Glinda sighed. She opened herself up to Elphaba.
Elphaba touched her, took from her as much as she could, filling her mouth and her soul with Glinda until Glinda cried out for her to stop. Glinda sobbed, turning away from Elphaba so that her tears fell into the dirt. Elphaba straightened Glinda's skirts and thought about fetching her own cloak.
She decided to stay a grassland nymph a little longer, and settled down against Glinda's back, and held her.
"Elphie," Glinda said.
Glinda grasped backward until Elphaba took her hand, and Glinda brought it around to her chest. Elphaba felt her heartbeat. Thud, thud, thud against her fingers. Glinda rolled over, into her. Elphaba squirmed into a more comfortable embrace. Glinda met her eyes and smiled. She drew lines on Elphaba's breast with dirt, and then brushed it away, and then lowered her mouth.
"Does it hurt?" Glinda asked.
"Don't even think about it," Elphaba said.
"I won't, then," Glinda said. "I have so much to tell you."
But she didn't say anything more. She kissed Elphaba's chest, and then her collarbone, and then her shoulder, while running her fingertips up and down Elphaba's back. Elphaba, hyperaware of every touch and keeping utterly still, thought that Glinda might never be done.
That it might not ever end.
From the distance, over the grassy hills, came the thudding, creaking sound of a wagon and the low rumbling conversation of dwarves and dragons.