The Nightingale

Carry On Tuesday used an excerpt from Keats’ Ode to A Nightingale this week as their writing prompt..

My heart aches and a drowsy numbness pains my senses

Anyone who knows me knows how much I love Keats and that I would never even dream to include words written by such a great man in any of my lowly pieces. But the quote stuck in my head and a little story formed.

If they have the internet in heaven, I hope Keats will forgive me….

It still may be a dream. This pain. I still might be about to wake and be able to rejoice in the knowledge that the pain occurred in my dream and not in my waking life. Only in my dream.

The leaves of the great oaks in the woods brush my window. They are paring down the glass. Soon it will shatter and they will intrude into the house. There is already a sliver on my eiderdown, shining like a fragment of the moon.

My mother thinks me insolent. A fool. She chides me for my weakness. I am one of the lucky ones, due to inherit the riches of family tradition; the power of foresight and wisdom and grace. She will not let me cast those jewels aside like vegetable scrapings from the kitchens.

Keep up your studies, Cerise, she says.

Fine tune your magic.

Open your mind.

I did what she said. I opened my mind and in walked Armel.

Armel had no magic. Only the power of his smile and his heart. And, of course, his voice. The sound of his voice in song was like the cleansing wind coming in from the sea when it is still early morning and the webs of sleep cling.

His voice was laughter, a caress, a kiss. I could have walked the world from end to end without complaint as long as I could hear his voice. I could have forgotten terror and hatred and pain. When I heard Armel’s voice I knew the answer to the question of my life. So this is love, I realised.

My mother found Armel in my bed. Her horror shook the room. Her anger formed clouds of blackened breath.

You are the one of great promise, she shouted. And you waste your time on this piece of insignificance.

I had broken the rules. Witch and human ne’er shall mix. We are taught it from birth.

To talk to a human is just acceptable. But to love…

There is no going back from love.

My mother was merciful. It was a surprise. I had expected death for both of us. She turned him. A creature closest to him in spirit.

Now he comes at night, flitting through the trees, hovering at my window as the oaks do, grey-brown in the changing light.

He sings. Two notes ringing. A flute and an oboe in duet.

I cannot bear the silence before or after his song. It summons him to me then sends him back again. My cry stretches through the night. My love. You are with me but you are gone from me at the same time.

And my heart aches.

And the clouds whiten the dark.

And this is life.

And I am thrown into the fire.

And this is love.

For three nights I have drunk hemlock. It is less bitter than I thought. It fills my throat with fear and hope.

It is mixed with angelica and heart’s ease to protect my spirit so that only my physical body dies.

I have cast a spell so that at the moment of my death my spirit transforms and I can join my love.

The final draught is strong. A drowsy numbness pains my senses. My vision spirals to the stars. The world is larger than it was. The world is smaller. I am afraid the magic I have cast will fail me and I will plummet to the underworld alone.

The walls close in. All at once I am falling, falling, a rock thrust from a wall. I try to scream but I have no voice. I try to stop myself but I have no arms. I am dead or I will be soon. I will be gone from this world for good.

The softest wind beats at my back, at my throat. The ground looms, black, sharp-eyed.

A song lifts me, carries me. I am the air. I am the light. I am small but immense.

The song calls and I follow. I will follow forevermore.

I fly. We fly.

Two nightingales in the dark.

* Image by LonesomeAesthetic at DeviantART.

16 thoughts on “The Nightingale

  1. Great story Selma. I think I may have mentioned it before, but… many of your stories have the makings of a treatment for a film.Such, is this one. I greatly enjoy reading those with mystical,magical, themes. I’ll be in line at the box office when you turn one of these gems into a film.


  2. Oh Sel, this is soooo beautiful. I felt every line, deep inside. I know of what you speak. And I think you’ve done Keats proud!

    Congrats on the novel progress, fantastic!!! You go girl. I’ve got a very good feeling about this…


  3. Honestly, Sel…and I know I’ve said this before…how is it that you are not a published, widely known – and of course loved – author? Why don’t you gather your favorite stories from this blog, compile it into a book, and send it out for review. Offers will surely follow. The book will top the best seller lists, and then you can work on your novel while the world becomes acquainted with your exceptional talent. Yep, that’s how I see it playing out. …why not?


  4. Great Selma. It reminded me of The Story of Alcyone and Ceyx—from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Mermaid-i.e stories where the protagonist undergoes a transformation (usually as a punishment and at a cost) for love.

    I like how you blend this genre with the ‘magic(al)’ /supernatural’ genre that has been very popular for the last decade and remains so.

    In short, you know what the market wants and you – with your knowledge of classic and contemporary literary and popular fiction – can package that want in a familar, yet original way.



    “Originality is nothing but judicious imitation. The most original writers borrowed from one another. The instruction we find in books is like fire. We fetch it from our neighbours, kindle it at home, communicate it to others, and it becomes the prope” -Voltaire


  5. Selma… this is marvellous! You are truly a gift. I even love the names you chose…..

    maybe nightingales all have similar beginnings?


  6. Selma I just loved this, and I am so glad that I can upload your blog to my iPod touch and now never miss a post. Now I have stuff to read on the bus!!! I missed visiting your blog!!!


    That is a lovely, lovely thing to say. I really appreciate it!

    You know where I got that from? I was reading about nightingales on the net and apparently they are one of the few songbirds who can produce two notes at once. How incredible is that? So I tried to think of two instruments that would complement one another yet still have an air of similarity – that’s where I got my sound!

    If I am ever fortunate enough to see one of my stories in film form you will be at the opening night. I am very grateful for your support!

    There is something so mythical about the nightingale. You should read some of the early Persian poets. Nightingales appear in many of their poems. It’s lovely stuff.

    Believe it or not, i’ve actually made it to the 50,000 mark. I think I’ve got about another 30 – 40,000 words to go before I have something completely finished. It’s been a worthwhile project!

    What would I do without you? I mean that sincerely!

    I feel your comment warrants me using my son’s favourite expression at the moment – You are AWESOME SAUCE!!! I really mean that. Your support is very humbling!

    I didn’t realise before writing this that there was the depth of mythology surrounding nightingales that there is. Even though the nightingale has a cheerful song, the Persian poets believed they sang a sad lament and pressed their breasts against rose thorns while singing to ease heartache. How moving is that? And that got me wondering where the heartache came from in the first place. Maybe they were human to start with!

    Sorry to do that to you, but if it moves you I am thrilled!

    So glad you liked it. That means a lot to me!

    You can actually do that? I am so behind the times. I didn’t even know you could do that on an iPod. Nick is getting an iPod touch from his grandparents for Christmas, so I’ll use it when he’s not looking. Cool!


  8. Lovely and haunting at the same time. Kinda reminds me of Ladyhawk, but in reverse – instead of the curse being lifted, she chooses to become cursed herself. I have to agree with Steph – you should compile your short stories. Hey, if Ray Bradbury can do it, so can you! 🙂


  9. love it! I like fairytale-like storytelling and yes I also like the ending, that she should be with her love, absolutely love it, you know, I am a sucker for a happy ending


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