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Wind Opera

In a dark and rotting town built into the cliffs overhanging a black sea, the fisherman and merchants, tall and glowing like angels in the thrown light of a fire, gather at the announcement of a birth. They step into the pool of firelight to see the child, to look upon her, but as if she is a tree twisted by the wind, flesh and bone carved by the wind’s cruel hand, she is disfigured. A red scar wraps around her body, from jaw to ankle, like a body constricted by a strong red snake. The people are afraid of her; the scar looks like the scratch of a demon, a mark of evil. 

As she grows up, the children learn to hate her, – the more a thing is not understood, the further into the realm of the despised it goes. Alone at night she walks – then, suddenly, a white blur in the still night, the only sound in silent darkness this whistle of rock – the other children wish to further maim her, to further injure. Her childhood is measured in stone throws, and she is a slow, bent-foot runner. 

The villagers draw together, draw up, pillars of flame, faces and bodies flashing, mouth and eyes blackened, they are making a decision: What to do with the evil girl, the outcast? She is causing trouble around the town, stealing matches, stealing gutted fish, making her bed in the corners of barns, sleeping in the smell of mould, the animals. They see her talking to the birds. And even in sleep, her ugliness stays. 

She is too disfigured to be a nun, but next to the nunnery, and the cathedral, in the green hills, is an aviary which requires a new caretaker. They send her away. She lives in a damp stone room with no glass in the windows. The cathedral hunches nearby like a man on his knees. In the morning, she watches the nuns bow their heads and walk into the belly of the cathedral. When they pass a pool of water, they admire their reflections, they tuck loose strands of mooned hair into their caps, they even crush berries to rouge their cheeks and lips. They do not look at her. She hates them, but she listens to them sing. 

In the wide field on the hills, when the nuns have hidden themselves in the cathedral, she is alone, surrounded by dew, by morning’s tears. She listens to the bleak praises of that unknown mother – the choir of voices is one long chant. She listens, and around her shoulders, like the touch of a friend, she can feel the hand of the wind. She can feel the grey eyes of this wind appraise her. 

She sings along with the nuns – when she sings, the air around her shudders. When she sings into the wind, they sing together. She continues to sing as she walks to tend to her work. She listens to the wind in the trees, and hears stories of his nightly travels. In the aviary, she scrubs the iron gate and the metal bars of the enclosure. She tends to the plants, watering and weeding. She prunes the branches of trees. She scatters the seed for the birds, and from their leafed hideouts they come soaring, then tremble along the ground like tossed stones, from seed to seed, between the moss and saplings. She crouches among them, among the shrubs, and watches: with their white flute bones, and their feathers, they spread their threaded wings and cry, and she watches them lift off in flight, and join the wind in a dance. She cranes her neck in synchronisation with their movements, a ten minute small-muscle ballet. She feels the drop of poison, the familiar envy, inside of her. 

In the afternoon, the wind picks up. She feels the air turn to the moment before rain, then out of every grey globe of being bursts soft water, and the wind blows the rain in waves that crash against each other. The ripped and stolen buds of plants and flowers become grotesque, infected with heaven’s water – they are almost reddened with movement, – earth blushed.

And the entirety of death that is sealed in mudded ash below the grass floats to the above and permeates all with soak. The grass and trees bend in submission, the rocks blacken. She is cold and deafened by the drum of water. Her hair hangs heavy and is pressed across her face, concealing it. For a moment, the wind grips the world. 

Then the loneliness of stillness returns. If she had a song to conjure the wind, the conductor of trees, she would always sing. In the evening she returns to her room and lies down to sleep. 

In a dream, her flesh splits open. Two long currents of blood run down her back, and from the wound, bone-coloured feathers bud and flower. She waits in pain. The wind comes to her through the open window and he runs his hand over her back. He cools her. 

Each morning the wind leaves her tokens of his travels on the windowsill. She imagines that with these things she can build his corporeal form. She finds red sand which the wind carried across a flat green sea, little hands of leaves curled in, dried grasses, which she ties with a string over her bed like brushed hair. On other mornings she finds the cold wings of a dragonfly, elderflower blossoms, a handful of volcanic ash, and feathers. All is perfumed in the rot of earth. She strings these goods around her rooms like charms, and believes she can see the body of her companion, the wind. 

She begins to make drawings of the wings of birds, the arched shape, the feathers like slats, the furling and unfurling. She gathers the thin branches of new trees, she steals candles from the church, she gathers feathers. On the highest of the green hills she builds the wings. She melts down the wax from the candles, she presses together the feathers. From her spot on the hill she can see the grass rolled out like bolts of silk, she can see the nuns walk into the blackened cathedral, the sky is white and grey, a globe of fog.

The wind whistles; she hears the murmur always of travels, of places unseen that he has woven himself through and into, like a stowaway on a ship; under cover of night he tears through every city, heard but unseen; on a stormy night he screams among the rooftops, he frightens the people. She both envies and loves him. 

The handmade wings curl in front of her on the ground like a great dead bird. When she tires she curls up to sleep in them, they are soft and warm, scented with wax and fresh wood, She sleeps and wakes in the darkness. She imagines that, like the birds in the aviary, she is shut in by silver bars that hover just out of sight. She imagines flying up on a swell of wind, as if the wind has lifted her in his hand, and reaching the bars, seeing the dark sky beyond, white hot stars and the night glassy like the black ocean she was born beside. She imagines feeling close to this endless expanse of darkness, that is the watery surface of the earth and the end of it, the border, as if the earth is a body cloaked in the dark cloth of the sky. 

These last weeks she has watched the moon slowly wax, like a shattered porcelain plate carefully stuck back together. 

Tonight the moon is round. The wings are strong and full, they could ride a current of wind like a ship, up the steep bank of cold air and down again. She ties them to her body with strips of fabric, they are heavy, as if metal. She can only walk slowly. They drag in the mud behind her like the train of a brocaded dress. She steps to the edge of the cliff, an outcrop of rock over the rolling valley, blue in the moonlight. She takes hold of the wings and stretches them wide, out, the wind rushes around her, she steps off the cliff. 

For a moment, before the fall, she is lifted, face upwards, hair behind her, for a moment soaring. 

The nuns find her body before mass the next morning, after a report of an angel sighting by the youngest in the convent. The young nun had awoken from nightmares, she went outside to pray in the garden, she saw above her a vision, an angel glowing in the furious light of the red moon, a creature of intense beauty and strength, frightening, spanning the sky. In death, her wings are folded beneath her, they cradle her in downy softness in the grey morning. But the red snake wrapped around her body still seems to writhe; the nuns fear her body as a sign of evil. The youngest at the convent, the one plagued by nightmares, who paces most nights in the dark garden, thinking of her life before the convent, suggests as she bends over the marked corpse, that the deformity was perhaps a mark of God, a sign of protection, a blessing. The nuns respond that one must take precautions, an unholy body can do such damage to the soil. They believe she should not be buried in the church graveyard. They bless her, strip her, lift her body onto a stone slab slick with moss. In death she is still, statue-like, a figure of marble carved over a tomb. The stone carries her. A figure in a black hood douses her skin and lights a match, burns her body until she is bleached as clean as light, until her blood is burned, her hair, until she is ash. 

The hooded figure walks away with heavy footsteps that leave marks in the mud. The trees sit, the cathedral sinks, the stones burrow deeper towards the core of the earth, the long low note of the nuns sounds, like the cry of a ship in the fog. 

And the wind, as if he has just arrived on this ship, takes her ashes in his arms, and carries her away with him.


Anna Winslow is an American filmmaker currently living in Berlin. @lovecrushr

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