Flapjack Donovan

"To Rebecca," toasted John-Between a bit thickly, as if he was talking through wet wool. His glass shattered in the fire and a flame went fat with alcohol.

Then they all looked at the TV for a moment - even the Franklin and the man in the black suit - as if that silent game played far away from us at the Dancing Frog could make things normal. Maggie-May-I was looking hard at John-Between, the way a cat'll stare at a hole in the wall.

It was her what broke the fragile silence.

"Wind's picking up some," she noted. "Be needing more stories."

Flapjack Donovan rose quietly from his chair, pointed to a dark bottle behind the bar and held up four of those long fingers of his. He motioned first to his own mouth and then to his twin sister, who began to speak.

"Jack's got his tale," sighed Gillian, struggling to push the words through her thin and puckered lips. The Franklin came over with four glasses, and held one gently to her mouth.

Meantimes, Flapjack began to sway slowly. His feet began to shuffle. The ripples they made in the sawdust became waves as his feet moved faster and faster.

He began to flap his greatcoat, letting out one long and mournful note that echoed from somewhere empty. His unlined face became like stone.

"Jack's remembering when the birds were his friends," wheezed his ancient twin. "He knew all their music, and whistled their songs. They'd be with him at his chores: great coloured flocks of songbirds; great happy clouds of song. His joy was so big, it even worried our folks.

"Mam thought he was simple, but canaries and thrushes and warblers would sing, and Jack's smile was bigger than the sun. It melted her worry. Pappy whupped him once for being a fool, for bringing the birds to the hayfield and singing with them when the sun was highest. 'Don't be bringing their attention on us. Let the Host be, Jack,' our Daddy told him."

On the floor, Jack's dance slowed and stopped. He looked up and twisted his mouth in a broken arc. He flapped his coat violently, then wrapped himself in it completely.

"He was up on Hamm's Hill, he says, when they came to get him," wheezed his sister. "He was picking winterberry for Mam's preserves. He was heading home for his dinner. Silly boy was happy, so he called his friends and they had themselves a song and dance.

Right at the top of the hill."

Gillian stopped for breath.

Flapjack squeezed his eyes shut and shook his head violently. He stretched out his arms, flapping his coat wide open. He shook his head again, slowly this time. Suddenly, he brought his fists hard to his breast, flapping the coat shut.

Gillian's small chest heaved as she continued in a wavering, rustly voice.

"But he wouldn't bring them birdsong. He couldn't. His friends wouldn't come, he told them. Their song was not of this place, he told them.

They brought him our Mam then."

She faltered, and drank slowly from the glass she lifted with both bony hands before speaking again.

"So Jack tried. He tried so hard. But even with our Mam there, his songs were gone. His friends wouldn't come."

Flapjack walked heavily back to his chair. He raked his fingers down his face, covered his ears, and hung his head. Gillian tried to reach out to touch her younger twin, but her arm failed her.

"They kept our Mam," she whispered. "And they took Jack's smile. And they kept his voice."

She drew a long, leaky breath and finished Flapjack's story.

"You can still hear it every wintry night; still hear Jack's stolen voice struggling to make birdsong when the wind whips through the rocks up there."

The End

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