Pige was not her name. It was not the name on her birth certificate, or the one her mother had chosen three days after her birth, naming her according to old legends of safety and sacrifice, but it was the one she had been called for so long that everyone, including her mother when yelling, called her it as if there never was another name. Her younger brother had never called her by anything else.
Pige, fetch the groceries from the car.
Pige, it's time for school.
Pige, set the table.
Pige, where's your homework?
Pige, how's your mother today?
Pige, well, aren't you growing up big?
Pige despised her name, and had tried to change it several times. Anything would have been better. Sweeping, romantic names like Arabella or Jasmine, or even a normal name like Jennifer or Mary. Still no matter how hard she tried it stuck. Pige, who hated her name and sometimes hated her grandmother for making it all happen, from that first time up to today.
Her fingers black and grey with the sidewalk dirt from picking up feathers while the few of classmates to spot her -- again -- sang 'Pigeon Girl, Pigeon Girl, picking in the dirt and swill' like it made any sense. But when had taunting ever had to make sense. Her face still flushed red, and her hands clenching, splitting plumes and snapping the weakest shafts.
The dirt smears still around her eyes when she would make it, dragging her feet and hating it every step, to grandmother's door, where she lived in the furthest back bedroom or their small five person apartment. Her Grandmother would look up from her little desk, older than Pige and Pige's mother, covered in bottles and boxes, her fast, foggy smile turning to an almost frown.
"You've been crying, again," she would say as she held out a hand.
Pige dropped the fisted feathers into the old, thin fingers. "I don't want to do this anymore. It's dumb."
Her Grandmother raised an eyebrow, hairier than her mother would ever let her own get, but almost majestic in its wildness over her small dark eyes, shadowed in the hardly lit room. Her attention turned to placing the feathers on a special silver cloth etched with arcane symbols around the edges. "Is it, then."
"It is. It's dumb. Pigeons are dumb," Pige said, looking away from her grandmother's eyes and toward the clouded window. "I'm not going to do this anymore."
Grandmother studied her still. Pige could tell without looking. She knew those eyes were still resting on her. Their keen knife-sharp darkness, that wasn't painful, but that cut to the heart of everything, and Pige's heart had already bled enough today. "What could the pigeons have done to cause you to think so little of them?"
"They don't do anything," Pige said, louder, huffier, feeling it growing in her stomach. A bitter ache of shame she could not label as to whether it was the action with teasing or the failing of her Grandmother who asked only this of her, but she couldn't stop it once it started. "They just shit on everything, and eat the garbage no one else wants."
"Maybe so," Grandmother said, quiet and unruffled. "Or maybe it is that they make a feast of what others have forgotten, treasuring and becoming guardians over that which has been lost. Have you ever watched one of them? Really watched them?"
Pige didn't answer, huffing another beleaguered sigh out her nose, looking at her grandmother and then her toes. Of course, she had seen the seen them. Some days it felt like they were all she saw. They were her trap. Cage. Shackles. Family duty. The one no one else had to do, because Pige'll do it.
"They are marvelous creatures," Grandmother continued. "They take off from the ground without looking down, without asking for permission, or clinging to gravity or the Earth for balance, flying up and up and up through mountains of sweeping glass, that mirror them all the way up in the the sky. Picking up and putting out that which everyone overlooks, and yet it is that which will sprout the flowers and plants anew in the cracks and paths where growth might never have come."
Pige's shoulders only sagged, as she rolled her eyes, trying to hide it under her bangs.
"Come closer, Pige-Girl."
Pige sighed at the name, but she dutifully stepped forward to her Grandmother's side.
"If you told a pigeon that it couldn't fly," Grandmother asked, taking her hand. "Would it listen?"
"Of course not." Pige frowned at the obviousness, even as her grandmother picked up a single feather.
It was slender and finger-mottled, dinged on the edges, but grey as dusk right before night with the smallest line of blue when it tilted at one edge, and Grandmother tucked it behind her ear, as she whispered, "Then, why should you?"
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