All day they trudge through the creek sludge, looking for a hair, a thread from her red slippers, a fingernail she bit off. Last night’s downpour washed the muddy banks slippery as the metal slide in the playground. One, two, three, four silhouettes against the colorless sky, all with army experience, wearing camouflage, tramping grids onto unkempt bramble. The four silhouettes lead the crew of neighbors, show what clues to see and what crumpled litter, buried twigs, decomposing squirrels, to ignore.
The mother follows behind, the grief and fear no match for the large empty tinning spot in her head, in her brainstem, the ancient bit of her brain where the id resides, where the instinct takes over, where that nagging belief in telekinesis or ESP or whatever the heck it was resides, the part that showed images, that part of her brain tells her the girl was not unharmed. Flashes like lightbulbs show her leotard torn, her hair ripped from the scalp, her left slipper lost. Why isn’t the slipper floating down this muddy water?
Still, hope swells. Fills the emptiness.
A flash of red by the scrub up the bank. Red behind the low barren sumac, red fluttering the tiny twig trees. The mother swallows her call, the urgent words, I’ve found something, swallows, again and again preserving a spark for herself, preserving a sense of control, preserving that desire to be the one who finds her girl no matter what has happened, who holds her close and never lets her go again. Red. She sees red. She climbs up the slick to the red. Red splotched in the brown leaves, red. It’s a bird, a slip of a bird with red. A bird not native to this Michigan woodland creek mud, a bird that had been kept in a cage and is now out in the wild, missing a tuft of feathers, a bald spot in the back with blood, bird blood, a red lory’s red blood, no reason for being there, only there for her. The bird hops around, one wing missing, matted fluff growing in its place. A bird with red that needs her, a bird that she cradles in the palm of her hand, a bird she takes home.
“Transubstantiation” first appeared in Moria Literary Magazine, 2021.
IMAGE: Jules Breton “The Wounded Seagull”, 1878. Oil on canvas, 36 1:2 x 30 3:8 in. (92.7 x 77.2 cm). Saint Louis Art Museum, Missouri.
Wendy BooydeGraaff's fiction, poems, and essays have been included in The Ilanot Review, The Brooklyn Review, Porter House Review, Miracle Monocle, and elsewhere. Born and raised in Ontario, Canada, she now lives in Michigan, United States.