Is love complicated or is it simple?
In The Third Angel, set in three sections in the 90's, the 60s, and the 50s, all in the same London hotel, it can be both at the same time.
I didn't realize until after I was through writing, that the novel could be read backwards or forwards and that a reader's understanding and knowledge of the story and the characters would be hugely different depending on what he or she knew or didn't know about the past.
In the first section of the novel, a writer named Allie Heller writes a book for children that can be read forwards or backwards. Every family has a family mythology --- Allie's story is one that her mother told her and her sister when they were children. In it a heron has two wives --- one on earth, the other in the sky. He doesn't mean to betray either, but in the end, he will.
How does he choose between them? Who does he love? It all depends on how you read the story. Allie's book isn't in the novel, and hasn't existed until now, but I don't think she'd mind if I shared it with you. After all, if you've read The Third Angel you know everything about her already.
A few nights ago, a night heron woke me in the dark, crying outside my bedroom. I can tell you for certain, his cries were some of the most human sounds I have ever heard.
The Heron's Wife
Out of Nowhere
She was standing in the marsh and everything was blue. Water, clouds, reeds. He was a heron in the sky, then he fell to earth and was human. They believed love could be simpler than it seemed.
Out of the Darkest Night
When he was in her house everything outside was hazy. Snow, fences trees. His broken wing had become a broken arm. His life in the sky had become tea, biscuits, a bed with blue sheets. There was a past, but it was far away. They believed love could be too strong to fight.
Out of the Blue
She was high above them so she could see everything clearly. House, laundry on the line, pillowcases, sheets, shirts that were his size. When a heron cries the salt falls to the earth below. The world of the air meant nothing to her. She couldn't taste anything but her own blood. She tried to be human, pulling out her feathers, but there were too many and she was unchanged. She believed love was everlasting.
Out of Mind
He saw the feathers on the ground. Blood, bone, blue. He remembered things that the fall to earth had shaken out of his mind. He thought of nests, heartbeats, wind, her body beside his. He believed he had made a promise, but to whom had it been spoken?
Out of Honor
He couldn't ignore the before just to get to the after. He had seen a trail of blood, feathers plucked from her own chest. He cast off his cloak and became who he'd been before. The earth became distant, but he could hear it calling him back. He believed he could leave and never look back, even though he saw it spinning, so beautiful and blue, whenever he closed his eyes.
Out of Hope
She waited every day. She waded far out in the water. Crabs, shadows, songbirds. She took the feathers she found on the ground and sewed them to her dress. She pinned them to her shoes, her hair, her coat. She climbed into the highest tree, where the branches shook in the wind. She looked like blue leaves about to rise. She looked like heartbreak, faith, desire. Why wouldn't he love her, come back to her? Why couldn't she fly away? She believed she could find him, but more than that, she believed in fate.
Out of Ashes
They both saw him, his wife on the earth and his wife beside him, and then they didn't. He was between them and then he wasn't. Hunters shot him as though he were a crow, as though no one had ever loved him, yearned for him, mourned him. The sky looked smaller than it ever had. A cloud stretched across the earth. They had believed love would keep him safe.
Out of Somewhere
They were standing in the marsh and everything was blue. Water, clouds, reeds. They did this every day. His wife on earth and his heron wife. They never spoke. They didn't have to. They believed love was more complicated than it seemed.