The lost wings

This is a story my granny told me. She heard it from Maggie Molloy, who lived down by the pier, and where she heard it from I don’t know.

Many years ago, there was a master glass blower, who had been away to study his trade, and now was coming back to see his old mother, and set up a workshop here on the island. He’d travelled far and wide, and it was time to settle down. The ferry brought him late one evening. The moon was full, and the night was bright, and he decided to walk round by the shore for old time’s sake. He passed a group of young folk, splashing and swimming in the water, and they called to him to join them, but he laughed and shook his head and walked on. A little further on, he came upon a little heap of things he took for glass. He picked one up and looked at it closely. He’d never seen anything finer, and the craftsman in him was delighted with it. They didn’t seem to belong to anyone: tiny wings made of fragile glass that shimmered in the moonlight. He couldn’t resist one particularly pretty pair, and put them carefully in his pocket book, and walked on to his mother’s house.

Next day, after breakfast, he strolled back down to the shore, but there were no shimmering glass wings there now, just a beautiful girl, shivering and crying. The craftsman in him was delighted with her, she was so finely made, but the man in him felt pity for her, and took her back to his mother’s house, where she was warmed, and dressed, and fed on bread and honey in front of the fire. She couldn’t say who she was, or where she was from, but she was so pretty and dainty that of course he fell in love with her, and it wasn’t long before they were married.

There were two calls on the glass-maker’s heart – his pretty wife, and the tiny glass wings he had found. He spent his days making glasses and jugs and bowls, and his wife packed them carefully in straw to be sent to the mainland. In the evenings, he spent his time blowing the finest glass possible, and making tiny glass wings, just for his own delight, until he had a whole chest full of them in his workshop. At night, he listened to his wife singing, or watched her brushing her long hair, and thought he was the luckiest man alive. His mother grumbled, of course, that between the workshop and the wife she saw so little of him that he might as well never have come back.

Months passed, and then years, and the glass-blower and his wife had 3 pretty sons, and one beautiful daughter and they passed their days and nights happily enough, until one day the daughter went to explore her father’s workshop. She looked at his tools, and the lumps of glass he would make into airy bubbles of light, and eventually looked in the great chest in the corner of the room. Inside were hundreds of tiny glass wings. She couldn’t resist – maybe she had a craftsman’s heart, too – and picked out a pair.

Later that day, the wife found the daughter playing with something, and asked to see it. When she saw the little wings, she started to cry, and then she got the daughter to show her where she’d found them. With tears rolling down her cheeks she sorted through the chest, through the hundreds and hundreds of delicate wings, each finer than the last. Right at the bottom was that first pair, and she clutched them to her, crying all the while.

There was a full moon that night, too, and if you’d watched the house you’d have seen it lost in a whirling cloud of moths, and bees, and wasps, and flying ants. Every kind of flying insect swarmed around it, until those inside couldn’t see out, and those outside couldn’t see in. And in the morning, the wife was gone, as if she’d never been there, leaving nothing but three pretty sons and a beautiful daughter.


This is for Jane Dougherty, who asks for a folk tale about wings, inspired by flying termites who lose their wings after their first flight. This is a little long for flash fiction, I guess, but there you go. 


Leverett Island transcripts #22 – for Jane Dougherty

So, you’ll have heard plenty of stories from the island now. It’s a shame my mother isn’t still with us, she had a fund of stories. To hear her talk, the island was a dangerous place in past times, what with fairies in the hills and sea-folk down by the shore.

This is a story she swore was true. When she was a young girl, 16 or so, her best friend was Jeannie. Jeannie was the prettiest girl on the island, and maybe would have been the prettiest girl on the mainland, too, if she’d ever gone there. The two girls would often walk down by the shore, and out to the little headland where the sea-pinks grow. They would sit and talk, like girls do, about the man they’d marry and the lives they’d lead.

Only didn’t one of the sea-folk fall in love with Jeannie, for her yellow hair and her blue eyes? He’d stick his head out of the water and call to her:

“Come and be my bride, Jeannie, I’m dying for love of you!”

“Come and be my bride, and be queen of the sea folk!”

“I will drape you in pearls and crown you with white lilies, and you’ll never have to work again!”

And Jeannie would tell him to be off, her mother was waiting for her back home.

Still he called, and still she went to be called to, until he told her one day he had a magic pearl she could pop under her tongue, so she could breathe under the water.

Well, Jeannie waded out to him. My mother swears she watched her, and saw the Sea King pop something small and shiny into her mouth before they disappeared. My mother ran back  to the house, shouting and wailing, but there was nothing to be done.

Of course, nobody knows what happened next, but not a soul saw Jeannie for seven days. And then her poor body washed up on the strand, all crowned in white lilies, and draped in pearls. He’d told the truth about that. But my mother said everyone that saw her whispered she could only have drowned that day, and not before, so where she’d been and what had happened, I couldn’t say.

They buried her in her crown of lilies. I don’t know what happened to the pearls. If you go to the graveyard, out by Steadman’s place, you’ll see the grave. White lilies flower there every year.

This is a short (not quite micro) story for Jane Dougherty, who offers this beautiful prompt, a painting by John Bauer. The italics in the story are the adjustment I made at Jane’s suggestion. She’s always worth listening to…